Friday, January 30, 2015

My Battle Against Hitler: A Book Review

History is filled with stories of resistance fighters battling the Nazis, but it has forgotten those who fought with their intellect and their words. Dietrich von Hildebrand is one such warrior.

He was an ardent Catholic and professor of philosophy in Munich when Hitler started on his climb to tyranny. The professor recognized the danger that National Socialism represented, approaching his subject from the standpoint of Catholic teaching. He gave lectures, participated in seminars, and created a literary journal that were all put to use in combating what he saw as a deadly threat to the world.

The professor never got around to completing his memoirs, and what is presented in this book is a rather rough draft that can make for heavy reading. He drops countless names of his colleagues and acquaintances that will likely mean nothing to those who did not major in philosophy. Get beyond that and hone in on the heart of his story and you will find yourself in a world that did not recognize the danger that he saw with ease.

In his recollections, von Hildebrand describes his ongoing arguments, spanning almost the entire 1930's. He parries the points of those who found compromise with the Nazis as they gradually took over Germany, even as he counters what some saw as positive aspects of Hitler's gang. His influence is clear as he speaks of his need to flee from Munich and find refuge with a sister in Italy before landing in Vienna, only to watch with horror as Nazism drifted across the border despite his strongest efforts to combat the political movement.
What is perhaps most fascinating, as a Catholic, is his disgust with prominent clergymen and the bishops of Germany who either surrendered to what they felt was inevitable, found a way to live with Nazism, or went so far as to embrace National Socialism as compatible with the teachings of Jesus. Increasingly, his well-constructed arguments to the contrary fell on deaf ears and you can imagine him shaking his head in wonder at the inability of those with two good ears refusing to hear.

The book closes with a selection of von Hildebrand's essays that are of greater interest to an academic or a biographer, but are still intriguing. For example, he wrote an article that made the case for being against National Socialism, which only existed in Germany, without being against the German people. It rang of current events, as if he foresaw our present discussions about a stance against Islamic extremism equated to an anti-Muslim position.

The reader will come away with a deeper insight into the rise of the Third Reich, and how it could have enticed Catholics despite espousing values that were utterly contrary to Church teachings.

Female Authors: Advice Before You Die

Women writers, drop your pens and do something about your appearance before it is too late.

Don't end up like the talented author (and neuroscientist) Colleen McCullough, who has been memorialized first and foremost as "Plain of feature, and certainly overweight..."

Sure she penned The Thornbirds and Tim, a couple of outstanding novels that did more to generate interest in Australia than the country's tourism board ever accomplished. What "The Australian" newspaper put right at the top of her published obituary was a comment on her appearance. Don't let this happen to you.

If you have been as successful as Ms. McCullough, you can afford the extensive plastic surgery needed to shape your face into something that is not plain. As for your body that has been sculpted by years spent sitting in a chair (unless you write standing up but who does that?), there are plenty of diet programmes available. Why not ask your plastic surgeon to shave off the belly and the love handles clinging to your hips while he's re-making your nose? It would save time, especially if you're getting up in years and your time is short.

It isn't about your ability if you are an author of the female persuasion. At least not in Australia, where one of their iconic citizens was noted for not being a beauty. All of Ms. McCullough's accomplishments took a back seat to her looks. If she had only known, she could have done something about it.

So don't let your obituary open with a remark on your lack of physical attrributes. Take action at once.

That way, you'll just be another writer of talent who did not stand out because she looked like everyone else is supposed to look if they are female and write anything even faintly hinting at romance. Talent alone just won't win you a glowing obituary these days.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Query The New

Agents come up from the ranks, starting as interns at a literary agency to get a feel for the business. In time they might become an assistant to an agent and learn how it's done before moving up to the role of junior agent.

At some point, those who are eager to get ahead will move to a bigger agency. Some will leave that bigger agency and start their own firm.

Query the new agent who is looking to build a client roster. Query the newly independent agent who has a business to fill with clients.

Alex Glass has gone off on his own and he's open to queries. Not historical fiction, but if you have some literary fiction, family saga or YA, you might consider shooting off a query. While he may have brought most of his clients along with him in the move, he won't build up his business without fresh manuscripts from unknown writers. It's worth a try.

At Curtis Brown, Kerry D'Agostino has made the move from assistant to agent and she needs clients. You could be one of them if your query draws her attention and your manuscript is so highly polished that she can see her reflection in your words. I'd query her myself but I just can't make myself write up a synopsis for the manuscript I re-revised last summer.

Then you've got Susanna Einstein who split with her partner and is going it alone. That's half the clients gone with the old partner, so why not got into line as a replacement?

The older, established agents can choose their clients because they don't really need to add to an already full stable. They'll go after the MFAs with a string of awards to their credit, and send you a quick rejection if they reply at all. Try hitting the agents who are hungry and possibly willing to take a chance on someone who is unpublished but shows talent.

Just make sure there are no typos or grammatical errors in anything you submit. No one is that desperate for a new client who requires an enormous investment of time to edit what has to be perfect before getting any kind of consideration.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Book Sales Shrink While The Rent Remains The Same

Eason's has been having a tough go of it, as have most other book sellers. The market is down as people struggle to meet critical bills which means they aren't buying books.

Last May, they shuttered the shop in Drogheda. The site had been losing money, and when the landlord wanted to take over the spot to install a cinema, it was not a difficult decision to make. When you are operating at a loss, you look around to see the source of the negative cash flow and you stop the bleeding.

While in search of savings to stay afloat, Eason realized that their location in the Liffey Valley shopping center was not as profitable as necessary. A large part of the loss was due to high rents. Fees that made sense in the glory years of the Celtic Tiger are out of line in our modern day of austerity. The owners of the shopping center were giving all sorts of discounts to newcomers willing to fill empty storefronts, even accepting pop-up type shops. At the same time, they held Eason to its lease, glad that they had someone paying full freight.

Eason was plagued by the fly-by-night operators who competed with its offerings but at a greatly reduced cost. Then there was the type of businesses that were opening and closing all around it. Who wants to shop at Eason and Sons if they have to navigate through a maze of vendors appealing to someone not likely to browse the stacks at Eason? It's all about the foot traffic and neighboring shops driving that traffic to your door. Eason and Son simply did not like doing business in an area that was in decline.

There was a bit of jealousy over the accommodations made to HMV as it fell into receivership. Like Eason and Son, the music vendor was losing to tough competition from Amazon and Apple, and the owners of the Liffey Valley center were willing to restructure HMV's lease while inventory was liquidated.

Where was the love for Eason and Son?

Ignored by the landlord, Eason and Son took matters into its own hands and held back 25% of the rent due. When that failed to generate any further discussion, the Liffey Valley location paid no rent towards the first quarter of 2015. Can we re-negotiate the lease now, the book seller shouted, and the landlord has finally responded.

By hauling Eason and Son into court over unpaid rent. Eason and Son owes over 400,000 euro in back rent, according to the suit, and the landlord wants to be paid.

Eason and Son is planning to ask for arbitration to settle the matter because they have a litany of complaints that the landlord has failed to address. Besides letting the neighborhood go to the dogs, there is an issue with smelly toilets that has put many a shopper off the browsing. The smell of raw sewage isn't amenable to a pleasant thumbing of books, and Eason wants the landlord to pay for the inconvenience and loss of business.

The biggest problem is not of the landlord's doing, or Eason's for that matter. Books have become a luxury and readers don't have the money to buy them. If the landlord were to adjust the rent to fit this modern hardship, Eason and Son would have the space free of charge.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Ireland's Loss Was Rosemont's Cost

Garth Brooks wanted to launch his comeback in Dublin, where his adoring fans would have welcomed him to the historic Croke Park with sell-outs and adulation. The location was perfect for attracting European Union residents who would have flocked to Ireland. Indeed, many of them had already booked hotels and made plans to spend a few glorious days awash in country music.

Those who manage Croke Park, however, could not meet all of the musician's terms, not the least of which was the number of shows that would be permitted on consecutive evenings. Despite feverish negotations, no middle ground could be found, and so the hallowed ground was abandoned as the site for the much-anticipated return of Garth Brooks live.

Not only did Ireland lose the financial opportunity that the concert series represented, but all of Europe was not given a second glance. Instead, Mr. Brooks looked to the States to find a venue that would give him what he felt he had to have in order to stage a successful return to the concert circuit.
Garth Brooks and the Mayor of Rosemont. Note absence of Rosemont taxpayers

He found what he wanted in Rosemont, a mobbed-up suburb west of Chicago.

The town owns the indoor stadium where the concerts took place, and after all the stir in Dublin, some people wondered how Rosemont managed to appease the singer after Dublin's city council refused to budge on something as minor as the number of shows allowed but could not reach any sort of accord or compromise. Clearly the singer was being stubborn.

What did Rosemont give to Garth Brooks to entice him to stage his comeback there, rather than any other city in the entire United States? Sure the town borders O'Hare Airport, making it easy for out-of-town guests to arrive and not have to travel too far to reach the concert venue. But it is not the only place to have a similar arrangement.

The Chicago Tribune asked that very question, taking things a step further by requesting financial documents from the town. Since it is taxpayer money that is involved, all the records should be available to the general public under a Freedom on Information request.

Except this is Rosemont, and the town council swiftly passed a law that declared any financial dealings of their local indoor stadium were not public after all. The information that Rosemont gave to the newspaper's reporters was, therefore, so heavily redacted that it was impossible to determine what was given in terms of financial incentives or perks to lure the concert promoter.

Garth Brooks has his fan base, but not everyone cares for country music. Especially watchdog groups that are more interested in corruption than a song about dogs, rain and pickup trucks.

The town is now being sued by the Better Government Association, which is asking for complete records that will show how much the promoter recieved in a rebate. That was the public's money being thrown around, and the public has a right to know how much and where it was tossed.

So Ireland lost the Garth Brooks comeback concert series. Maybe it was the taxpayers of Rosemont who really lost on the deal.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

It's A Hard-Knock Life

Literary agent Sarah Megibow recently announced that she was opening her own agency, with the blessing of her mentor Kristin Nelson.

Thus was the Megibow Literary Agency born, as the year 2014 closed.

Here we are in the third week of the year 2015 and Ms. Megibow has announced that she is joined KT Literary Agency.

It can't be easy out there in the trenches, battling competition and a downturn in publishing that has editors demanding nothing but blockbusters. But only three weeks in business? Is it all that bad?

Did she not start her agency with sufficient capital to manage for the first few months? Unexpected expenses, a deal falling through that would have funded the operation until she got over the hump?

RIP Megibow Literary Agency. We hardly knew ye.

The Rush Of Bingo

The secret life of the bingo enthusiast
Does your grandmother frequent the bingo halls? You better check her nose when she comes home.

Gardai have alerted the public to the latest trend among our elderly, and it is a danger to their already precarious health. Yes, it's drugs. The old ladies with the sheets of numbers spread before them are playing bingo under the influence of cocaine.

Clearly the thrill of bingo is no longer enough of a rush for these grannies.

Helen Heaphy was arrested outside of Ireland's popular Rock Bingo emporium. Where bingo rocks, indeed. It's the whole rock 'n roll culture with all its excesses, the drug-taking and the binge bingo-playing far into the night when a respectable gran would be home in bed. Instead, they're snorting a line and buying another game card, burning through your inheritance by the way.

Ms. Heaphy is one of those grandmothers, although she claimed to be "holding" the cocaine for someone else who was supposed to take it off her hands. The quantity in her possession was small, indicating that she is no major player in the illicit drugs trade. In her defense, she said that she was not intending to bring the drugs into the bingo hall, but was only delivering them to some unnamed second party.

Delivering the cocaine to another grandmother, you can be sure, and most likely an entire party of retirees out for a night of wilding.

The judicial system cannot conceive of these supposedly innocent women seeking more stimulation than they would ordinarily find in the joy of winning a game, to say nothing of the thrill of waiting for that one critical number to be called.

The judge accepted Ms. Heaphy's expression of guilt and remorse without ever probing further. Who was she holding the cocaine for, and why was she waiting outside a bingo hall to deliver it? Who goes to the bingo halls but our grandmothers, those self-effacing angels who can't get out of the house fast enough on bingo night.

You thought it was all about bingo, didn't you. It's the cocaine they're after, delivered by one of their own who was just following the Jesuit axiom to be of service to others.

After little more than a slap on the wrist, Ms. Heaphy is again allowed near the Rock Bingo building. She has been given three months to pay her fine, a considerable sum for a grandmother separated from her husband, and with a family to tend.

There are other bingo parlors in Ireland where grandmothers need a little snort to liven up the night. Will the scourge of cocaine-fueled bingo binges be allowed to continue now that the door into this sordid world has been cracked open?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

For Love Or Money...Just Money, Actually

Money makes the world go around
The rich are different because they have things to fight over that the rest of us don't have. Namely, money. And when it comes to money, they fight like jihadists.

Men who make money by the millions are very appealing to women who would like to enjoy the lavish lifestyle that comes with wealth. No matter how not handsome a man like Bill Gates is, he can still command the admiration of the female sex. It's supposed to be all about resources for child-rearing, something hardwired into our prehistoric brain centers that helps the fittest survive. Just because said ugly man has a life partner, however, does not take him off the market for those who lust after money.

Ken Griffin made a tidy fortune by managing a hedge fund, and if all a lady is admiring is the size of his bank account, he's one of the best looking men in the world. His wife is equally driven to succeed, and managed her own hedge fund before settling down with the man of her dreams. They made a nice little family, with three children, over the course of an eleven year marriage that went wrong.

Chicago socialites would have noticed that the power couple stopped appearing together at various functions in 2012, when Mr. Griffin moved out of the family's home. Being polite, they wouldn't have talked about it, except among themselves. Who wants the servants gossiping about a person's private life?

Then the money entered and the divorce proceeding is very, very, very public and the servants, along with the rest of us non-1%ers, are shaking our heads in amazement.

There's little children involved, we say, and all these people care about is who gets the most money in the end? What's best for the kids? It doesn't seem to matter. Unless, of course, the kids can be used by the parents as pawns in this game.

And it is a game, one with winners and losers. These are high-powered, driven people engaged in a fierce battle over assets that go far beyond a bungalow on Chicago's south side. Millions of dollars in property and art are at stake, with the winner coming out of the war with the most trophies to display as evidence of their victory.

You might wonder what sort of marriage it was anyway, if the wife was paid monthly in accordance with a pre-nuptial agreement. Is it really a union if the missus tracks the required monthly payments that were her compensation for abandoning her own hedge fund to be a stay-at-home mother?

The court case is playing out in the newspapers, with every "He said, She said" dutifully reported. Pettiness is on parade as the aggrieved parties lob their little arrows that are meant to do damage. Accusations and counter-points fly, while those of us who cannot imagine taking a vacation beyond the Wisconsin Dells watch people with far too much money slug it out in a determined effort to keep as much of that money as the best lawyers in Illinois can manage.

And they haven't even started to fight over custody of the three children yet.

Maybe a price could be set and one of the other of the warring factions could buy them?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Memoirs Are As Real As The Reader Wishes Them To Be

Only days ago, we discovered that the boy who came back from heaven never went there at all. The memoir that was supposedly penned by Alex Malarkey is a work of pure fiction that was heavily promoted by those who were making a load of money off the book. It was a bestseller and flew off the shelves because readers wanted to believe what little Alex told them about the afterlife, reaffirming their beliefs in what awaits us after death.

Shin Dong-Hyuk wrote about his time as a prisoner in a North Korean camp. His readers believed what he said because it reaffirmed their theories on life in North Korea under a brutal regime. It is a land of human rights abuses as a way of governing, and the author provided plenty of evidence to back up that theory.

Except that everything he wrote isn't exactly true. That would make his memoir a work of fiction, not unlike the Malarkey memoir or the James Frey memoir or the memoir written by the woman who said she survived the Holocaust when she wasn't anywhere near where she claimed she was in her book.

ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14, as told to author Blaine Harden, is riddled with holes that the subject might have inserted in an effort to make his story all the more horrific. Were there lapses in memory that Shin Dong-Hyuk is only now recalling, or did someone do some fact-checking after the fact to puncture the human rights balloon? Certainly North Korea would have an interest in discrediting the memoir. As for the former prisoner, he's claiming that his recollections were too painful so he had to alter things a little. Is that true, or did he embellish to reinforce his argument about North Korea being a land of pure evil?
Another memoir, another scam?

The Guardian is now running an equally sensational memoir on its pages, written by an inmate of the notorious Guantanamo Prison in Cuba. Like other memoirs, it is being heavily promoted by those who believe every word written because it fits into their narrative. Mohamedou Ould Slahi reveals his inhuman treatment at the hands of his American captors in stirring prose that has been heavily redacted to avoid revealing classified information. His memoir is being used to lobby for his release from the prison, and strikes a chord with human rights groups who are at war with the conservative element that shouts them down with cries of "Security".

Has it been fact-checked? We've been down this memoir road before, with the book getting published amid a flurry of promotion, only to have the publisher pull back when certain elements of the story don't hold up to scrutiny.

You can't believe everything you read, especially when it's a memoir. They're not the most reliable narrators, the people who pen their life stories based on recollections. Sometimes they have an agenda and the whole, unvarnished truth just doesn't fit in as neatly as a writer would like.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Latest Fiction Genre Is A Load Of Malarkey

Once again, a memoir has been debunked and proven to be a work of fiction.

The average sceptic thought that THE BOY WHO CAME BACK FROM HEAVEN was completely made up, but among the believers, the book was considered a true and authentic bit of non-fiction. Who would doubt the word of a six-year-old boy, right? He said he died and went to heaven. Why would he lie about such a thing?
What? He didn't go at all? Who'd have guessed the story wasn't real?

Alex Malarkey was in an auto accident when he was six, a collision that left him in a coma. He claimed, or his father claimed for him, that he had an out-of-body experience and sailed up into heaven. It was grand up there with the seraphim and cherubim, especially if you're a fan of the harp. Choirs of angels singing away, and there was little Alex at the Pearly Gates.

Ah sure it was all a fantasy, Alex is saying today. Which leads to the question, how did it get written in the first place? And who sent it off to Tyndale House to be published? The average ten-year-old is not clever enough to prepare a submission, and a ten-year-old is definitely not legally mature enough to sign a contract. A boy partially paralyzed is not penning his memoirs by himself, either.

Another memoir gets shredded into a million little pieces as the author comes clean. Tyndale House has pulled the book from its catalogue, but have not yet offered to refund the purchase price for those who feel they have been scammed.

It's all quite sordid, this particular outing of a false memoir, because it involves a child being used. According to Alex's mother, who is divorced from his co-author father, the boy has made nothing from sales of the best-seller. So who did profit from the lie?

For the past couple of years, Mrs. Malarkey has been trying to get Lifeway Christian Store to stop promoting the book, so it would appear that she was aware of the lack of realism in the so-called memoir for some time. No one listened to her tiny voice, but when your chain of shops is selling something popular, it would take a strong dose of Christian morality to stop doing the unethical. 

Another memoir debunked. Another load of malarkey foisted on the gullible public who want an answer to the greatest unanswered question we will all face. What happens after we die?

No one's come back from heaven to tell us, have they?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

As Irish As Paddy's Pig (No Offense Intended)

Paddy's Pig - an offensive image to be eradicated
We're not to mention pork anymore. It might offend.

In the wake of the slaughter of journalists in Paris, authors who write educational materials have revealed their marching orders when it comes to writing educational content. They are not to mention pork in their paragraphs because it offends some people. The people who don't eat pork, and who will kill you because you do. Just like they killed the journalists for using words and images that the killers decided were deserving of murder.

Writers have been creating educational materials under stringent guidelines for quite some time, but no one paid much heed to the tight restrictions that were in place so that a book could pass muster in Middle Eastern markets. For that reason, the characters used in books to demonstrate ordinary activities had to be living as if they were Islamic. No mingling of the sexes like there is in the western world that makes up the bulk of the educational publishing materials market. No pork or sausages, no pig in the farm yard. No Israel.

It was HarperCollins making Israel disappear from a map in a textbook that started the exposure of political correctness gone mad. The publisher just didn't put Israel in the world atlas because, well, the people buying the book don't want Israel to exist so why even teach the children that it does?

For the same reason, outrage was stoked in Great Britain when an author dared to expose the political correctness that rules Oxford University Press.

Any material for education will not include any mention or image of co-habiting, such as is common in any university dormitory. There can be no alcohol, either, which would make it impossible to show that people in France drink wine while sitting at outdoor cafes and Irish people drink beer while sitting in pubs where they socialize with neighbors. No one in the world drinks alcohol, goes the message, or eats pork, because the whole world is just like you there in Qatar.

It must be a tremendous shock for the children of the Middle East to discover that there is a whole different world out there. Is it any wonder that they chafe at western culture when they emigrate and try to settle in to a new life? What they thought they would find does not actually exist, even though their teachers and the teaching material used indicated that things would not be so different between Algeria and France.

It is the governments of the Middle Eastern countries that demand the content, and publishers are only giving them what they ask for. The publishers could say no, of course, and refuse to participate in a whitewash that is largely the opposite of education.

As long as someone is willing to pay for propaganda, there is no incentive to not keep producing it. Competition is fierce in the educational publishing materials game. If not us, a publisher will say, then the profit goes to a rival who can use that money to grow bigger and stronger. As for the writers, they are largely freelancers who know that there is little enough money in their livelihood. Turning down a commission to make a stand against illiteracy is not economically feasible.

So what do the stockholders of these publishing companies think?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

More Characters Than A Russian Novel

One reason why Russian novels, like Anna Karenina or War and Peace, are so long is that half the population of Russia gets inserted into the story. You need a roster at hand, or some sort of family tree at least, to keep track of them all. Anyone following the latest round of changes in corporate structure at the Random Penguin publisher would like to have a roster of key players as well, to keep track of the endless procession of executives shifting duties.

Is there a big map of the corporate structure in some war room where the Penguin generals met to plot out a complex strategy?

At Penguin Random House, there is a great deal of realignment and reassignment going on, and it's not possible for any one person to have moved players around without using the sort of system that military men use to keep tabs on their battalions. The four-star general at PRH would be Madeleine McIntosh, more properly called the president of the new enterprise, and she has been very busy indeed.

Dutton feints right, Viking moves forward, Gotham is lost
Ms. McIntosh was hired to put her mark on the publisher, while at the same time combining two separate companies with two separate corporate cultures. Her job is to realize synergies, as they say, and cut the excess while streamlining the entire operation. Mergers cost money, and that money has to be recouped. That recouping must go on while the firm increases profits to provide nice little dividends for the stockholders, or the general gets demoted. No one likes losing a star.

So there she is with all these imprints and all these people running these imprints but not every imprint can make the cut. Which means not every executive is going to be needed, but at the same time, the imprints aren't really going away completely but will be absorbed in a sort of mini-merger. Say farewell to Clare Ferraro who once headed Viking but is being replaced by Brian Tart who is moving from Hudson Street which is ending its run as a separate imprint. Someone had to be sacrificed. War is cruelty and you cannot refine it.

It only gets more complex from there, with execs moving from one battalion to the next to reinforce the lines and rally the troops and lead them into battle against the competition. Editors fly to and fro, dragging their authors with them because authors are fiercely loyal to their editors. Write on, authors, write blockbusters that bring acclaim to Penguin Random House. Acclaim being profit, of course.

The whole scheme is so convoluted that Ms. McIntosh had to send a letter to employees to explain the revised chain of command, but all the troops really want to know is who their boss is, and do they still have a job as the merger takes hold and the corporate leaders trim away what they see as excess expense but the soldiers on the front line see as their financial life.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Finding Help On YouTube

You can't figure out how to do something, like remove the faucet from the kitchen sink. The first thing you do is try YouTube for an instructional video.

The video you bring up is, of course, free. That's why you're checking YouTube instead of running down to the library for a free book that will tell you with words and a few pictures how to get that odd-looking wrench around the nut. If you have to pay to learn how to fix it, you start calculating the cost of your investment versus the cost of your buddy the plumber who'd do it as a side job at a reduced rate.

If you are having problems living your life, however, you tend to turn to books for guidance. The self-help section of any bookstore is packed with volumes of advice from those who are considered experts in their field. There are enough Ph.D.s on the spines to fill a university. So you read up and think you have your answer, but what if your particular question isn't covered in enough depth? It's not as if you can call the self-help author on the phone and ask. And a counselor would cost a small fortune, so what's left?

Simon and Schuster have the solution to your self-help problems. It's YouTube, but without the free part.
Call me and I will fix your life with sage advice

The publisher plans to launch a new service that will bring you and your problems into contact with a problem-solver whose book you have read. It's not free, but it's not like an hour on a psychiatrist's couch, either.

Taking a page from online education, S&S will offer courses to those who wish to study under one of the publisher's self-help authors. Sign up and you'll get your workbook, just like the University of Phoenix but without the degree-seeking aspect. Then you watch the video, do your homework, and take advantage of the option of a question-and-answer session with your instructor.

Via YouTube outreach, the author can interact with more readers than they are likely to meet at a book signing event, and without the travel expense. Those who find help through the course would then go on to tell their friends about how much light they've seen thanks to the course, and those friends then go on to try the course themselves. Buying the book to go along with the course, and boosting the publisher's bottom line in the process.

A YouTube video is cheap to produce, which is a critical factor in finding ways to plug books when the marketing budget is tight. All an author needs is a suitable backdrop, something like a panelled office and a big desk that says "I am an expert", and a friend to work the camera. A friend who is handy with their iPhone or iPad would be perfect. Then it's a matter of downloading and posting and Simon & Schuster can accept payments online. Pay with PayPal!

Anything to sell books, and attract a few eyeballs that are going to YouTube anyway. The question is, will all those eyeballs pay for the privilege, or are they all looking at cute kitten videos that are available for free?

Friday, January 09, 2015

Outline The Plot And Keep Careful Records

When a writer gets lazy
As a writer of non-fiction, Lee Israel understood the importance of research. If you want to write a biography of a famous person, such as Estee Lauder, you cannot make mistakes. Readers will find those errors and call them out, creating the impression that the book you've written is not well-written at all. Sales slide on that kind of negative result.

Ms. Israel managed to write three biographies during her career, all well-received. At some point, she ran out of inspiration or the subjects she thought were worthy of a biography were not subjects her publisher thought were worth being written about.

What's a writer to do? If you don't have a secure job in teaching, you have to make a living somehow. The rent will come due whether your muse is guiding your pen or sitting in another room ignoring you.

How about trying some fiction? The work ethic is there. The understanding of outlining a plot and researching a topic are there.

Of course, it helps if you label your work as fiction, which is where Ms. Israel went wrong.

She used a collection of typewriters to invent letters composed by literary elites. Rather than use them in an epistolary novel, however, she marketed her prose as newly discovered correspondence from the likes of Edna Ferber or Dorothy Parker. Rather than sell her work to readers, she sold it to collectors. In short, Ms. Israel turned to forgery to earn her keep.

Forgery being illegal, the author came to regret her mis-identification. Friends rushed to her defense and claimed that Ms. Israel was an alcoholic, unemployable in any other field than freelance writing.

Is freelance writing so filled with drinkers? How does anything get written?

The author had a talent for making things up. She could have tried for a new career as a writer of historical fiction, but that's a pretty hard sell, even for someone with a decent publication history. Instead, she went for the quickest payout and put her writing skills to work in crafting letters that mimicked the writing style of whatever famous author she wanted buyers to think had written those letters.

Perhaps there was a rush that became addictive, the thrill of pulling a fast one and getting away with it again and again. Preparing each new forgery would have been fuel to that addiction, and to feed the habit Ms. Israel used her ability to write what were essentially short stories. Nothing she wrote was real, whether it was supposed to a letter from Noel Coward or one of Hemingway's missives. Far more exciting than slogging away working on a biography, fact checking and poring over documents. She got into a character's head and let the words flow, the mark of a writer but one too lazy to do the work involved in preparing a full manuscript worthy of publication.

Now Lee Israel has died, but her legacy will not be the biographies she wrote legitimately. Instead, she will be remembered as a forger who wasted her talent. And what is even more tragic is that she remained proud of her forgeries even after she was caught and convicted.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Referencing The Wrong Author

It's a new year and time to send out new queries to agents who received the old query at the start of a different new year. The characters are historical so the names have not been changed, but there's a new title and a complete rewriting of the sample chapters. Who'd remember after fourteen months, especially when agents see hundreds of queries every week?

I decided to start with three queries, to get a feel for the effectiveness of the query and/or the opening pages. To get that required feedback, I selected agents who had rejected the previous query. Of course, three agents isn't exactly the best sample size, but I could get three queries done in the short time available and something is better than nothing.

No wait, this book is most like my manuscript
If only I had not selected Michelle Brower at Folio Literary, who prefers her queries via an online form.

I hate those forms, with those impossible questions. How did I hear of her? she asks, and it's only to find those who were recommended by existing clients. Like everyone other writer querying her, I found her name in the acknowledgements of a novel. The book was a work of historical fiction and that's what I write. No one sent me, unfortunately. I can only hope that something in my novel's title is enough to get past that first barrier.

What other book is like mine? Another difficult question because I read so much that nothing really sticks. My reading is more about the craft of writing, a study of how to write an opening that gets a reader to turn the page. As for the rest, any novel is about a quest and the protagonist's journey to succeed. It could be a woman seeking Mr. Right. It could be a man doing battle with his demons, or a female fighting the strictures of society. So my novel could be compared to just about any other piece of historical fiction that features a female protagonist searching for independence from male domination.

As for the query, well, this latest one is a bit of plagiarism. Why re-invent the wheel, when there is plenty of cover flap copy out there that was written by professional marketers? My novel somewhat fit into the description of a different novel, and with a few tweaks, I had a query letter that sounded more exciting than anything I had crafted before.

The online form mocked me in its blank spaces but I was not giving up. My opening pages were compelling enough to get three other agents to ask for the full manuscript. I had something to offer.

One space after another, I clicked away on the keyboard. Name, address, phone, title. It was easy. I was flying through the form.

What book resembles mine, the blank space demanded to be filled. The one I used to create the query letter, of course. It most resembled my theme and was somewhat close in historical time.

Submit, and wait.

Only to realize after hitting the submit button that the book most resembling mine should have been RODIN'S LOVER by Heather Webb. Heather Webb, who is represented by Michelle Brower.

The rejection should be following shortly.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Emerald Green And Hormone Free

From those of us with relatives in the cattle business, thank you, America, for buying Irish beef.

It's been a long time, going back to the mad cow days when the food safety regulators in Washington decreed that Irish beef was not safe. We've come a long way, apparently. Now our beef is not only safe, but it's preferable to the farmed slabs of bovine flesh that pass for meat in the average McDonald's franchise.

Cows in Ireland eat grass, and that grass is always green. Green means organic or sustainable to many consumers, so when you hear about Irish beef you'll hear the word 'green' constantly. There are no massive feed lots in Ireland. There's no room for them, to begin with, and then there's the cost of corn to feed the cattle. The grass is always there, growing merrily in Limerick, Mayo and Clare. How much more sustainable could you get than that?

Apparently, grass-fed beef is all the rage in some American circles, and Irish beef fits the requirement. Now that it's also certified free of mad cow disease, it will be in high demand by those who must have organic, sustainable food that hasn't been exposed to hormones. The Irish don't pump up their cows with hormones. It costs too much.

Bord Bia is putting together a marketing campaign to heavily promote Irish beef in all its sustainable, grass-fed deliciousness. They'll be dancing in the streets in Kilmallock once the notion catches on about Irish beef being 'green' and safe to eat.

So look for it in your nearest butcher's display case, genuine Emerald Green Irish beef. Sure it costs more. But you're willing to pay extra for the security of knowing that your dinner was grown in the same way that beef has been raised for countless generations in Ireland's cattle country. The Irish certainly can't afford that kind of luxury.

Times are still quite hard, but we're expecting a boom once the cattle industry makes inroads into American markets. And about time, too.