Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Spy Novelist Who Knows Too Much

31 January 2013

From The New York Times:

Last June, a pulp-fiction thriller was published in Paris under the title “Le Chemin de Damas.” Its lurid green-and-black cover featured a busty woman clutching a pistol, and its plot included the requisite car chases, explosions and sexual conquests. Unlike most paperbacks, though, this one attracted the attention of intelligence officers and diplomats on three continents. Set in the midst of Syria’s civil war, the book offered vivid character sketches of that country’s embattled ruler, Bashar al-Assad, and his brother Maher, along with several little-known lieutenants and allies. It detailed a botched coup attempt secretly supported by the American and Israeli intelligence agencies. And most striking of all, it described an attack on one of the Syrian regime’s command centers, near the presidential palace in Damascus, a month before an attack in the same place killed several of the regime’s top figures. “It was prophetic,” I was told by one veteran Middle East analyst who knows Syria well and preferred to remain nameless. “It really gave you a sense of the atmosphere inside the regime, of the way these people operate, in a way I hadn’t seen before.”

The book was the latest by Gérard de Villiers, an 83-year-old Frenchman who has been turning out the S.A.S. espionage series at the rate of four or five books a year for nearly 50 years. The books are strange hybrids: top-selling pulp-fiction vehicles that also serve as intelligence drop boxes for spy agencies around the world. De Villiers has spent most of his life cultivating spies and diplomats, who seem to enjoy seeing themselves and their secrets transfigured into pop fiction (with their own names carefully disguised), and his books regularly contain information about terror plots, espionage and wars that has never appeared elsewhere. Other pop novelists, like John le Carré and Tom Clancy, may flavor their work with a few real-world scenarios and some spy lingo, but de Villiers’s books are ahead of the news and sometimes even ahead of events themselves. Nearly a year ago he published a novel about the threat of Islamist groups in post-revolutionary Libya that focused on jihadis in Benghazi and on the role of the C.I.A. in fighting them. The novel, “Les Fous de Benghazi,” came out six months before the death of the American ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, and included descriptions of the C.I.A. command center in Benghazi (a closely held secret at that time), which was to become central in the controversy over Stevens’s death. Other de Villiers books have included even more striking auguries. In 1980, he wrote a novel in which militant Islamists murder the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, a year before the actual assassination took place. When I asked him about it, de Villiers responded with a Gallic shrug. “The Israelis knew it was going to happen,” he said, “and did nothing.”

. . . .

Though he is almost unknown in the United States, de Villiers’s publishers estimate that the S.A.S. series has sold about 100 million copies worldwide, which would make it one of the top-selling series in history, on a par with Ian Fleming’s James Bond books. S.A.S. may be the longest-running fiction series ever written by a single author. The first book, “S.A.S. in Istanbul,” appeared in March 1965; de Villiers is now working on No. 197.

For all their geopolitical acumen, de Villiers’s books tend to provoke smirks from the French literati. (“Sorry, monsieur, we do not carry that sort of thing here,” I was told by the manager at one upscale Paris bookstore.)

Link to the rest at The New York Times and the Gérard de Villiers Amazon author page (check out the number of books) and thanks to John for the tip.

Why Apple is the stumbling block in Amazon’s ebook transition

31 January 2013

From Paid Content:

As the ebook transition moves forward, Amazon should worry that Kindle is not going to be the device leading the revolution. Apple and iPad will cut into its growth.

. . . .

U.S. book publishers are reporting slowing sales of adult ebooks: What was once triple-digit growth has fallen to the double digits. The revolution has also been largely limited to text-based titles — adult fiction and nonfiction — and categories like cookbooks and travel haven’t seen nearly as much growth from ebooks.

If the digital market for certain kinds of books is settling, as it appears to be, Amazon will have to find growth in other areas (though it doesn’t have to, and likely can’t, sustain 70 percent ebook growth for long). The company can expand Kindle internationally, as it’s been doing already, and it can still grab a certain number of ebook newbies.

Link to the rest at Paid Content

This article is similar to many commentaries about Amazon and its book sales.

As Amazon or any other successful seller of goods and services grows, its percentage growth in sales becomes smaller because it’s being calculated on a larger base. 100% sales growth from $500,000 to $1 million is wonderful for a $500,000 company, but it’s a different thing than growing from $1 billion to $2 billion or from $10 billion to $20 billion.

Outside of Amazon, is anybody in the book business growing at 70% annually?

Barnes & Noble? Nope, treading water while it closes stores right and left.

Big Publishing? Nope, not anywhere close to 70%. It has no stores to close, but continues to consolidate and lay off employees.

Apple? Definitely nope. iBoostore is stuck at #3 behind Amazon and Nook and is cementing its image with readers as a perennial also-ran. Does anyone know a serious reader who doesn’t have the Kindle app installed on his/her iPad? As PG writes this, he wonders how long it will be before Kobo begins to challenge Apple for #3.

Apple is the most extreme example of the problem a company faces when it tries to maintain high year-to-year growth rates. In terms of sales, Apple is primarily a phone company, but that business is in jeopardy. The iPhone is looking dated next to the latest handsets from Samsung. World-wide sales of Android devices now exceeds sales of IOS devices with the iPhone falling farther behind with each passing quarter.

Apple doesn’t do price competition which is a fine strategy so long as it can find megabusinesses it can disrupt with extraordinary hardware devices that lock in a giant market for associated content. Once a technology reaches the point where price competition becomes a reality (and all technology does that), Apple is in trouble because it can’t support its historically sky-high valuations with commodity margins on hardware sales.

The iPad is a fine device, but it’s nowhere near as large a seller as the iPhone is and unlikely to become such. It’s facing increasingly serious competition from lower-priced devices, including products from Amazon. Just as the iPhone isn’t looking all that much more impressive than Android competitors these days, the iPad is headed in the same direction.

The Apple of today is built upon three genius inventions by Steve Jobs – the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. Unless there is another presently unidentified Jobs-class genius floating around Apple, it won’t have another invention of this caliber to ride.

The most recent product launches for both the iPhone and the iPad were merely evolutionary and didn’t generate the kind of consumer excitement required for long-term premium pricing. PG believes there is a good argument that the 7-inch iPad was launched without Apple’s best screen in a clumsy attempt to make a sort-of pricing response to Amazon’s tablets.

PG is not alone in his concerns about Apple’s future. The stock market is very worried about Apple, cutting its stock price by about 36% in the last five months.

Once the consumer market moves past the stage where it pays a substantial price premium for a genius hardware invention, Apple’s market dominance will decline substantially. For an example of iPad’s future in 2-3 years, look at personal computers and Apple’s 10-12% market share in this mature market.

E.B. White Interview

31 January 2013


At what age did you know you were going to follow a literary profession? Was there a particular incident, or moment?


I never knew for sure that I would follow a literary profession. I was twenty-seven or twenty-eight before anything happened that gave me any assurance that I could make a go of writing. I had done a great deal of writing, but I lacked confidence in my ability to put it to good use. I went abroad one summer and on my return to New York found an accumulation of mail at my apartment. I took the letters, unopened, and went to a Childs restaurant on Fourteenth Street, where I ordered dinner and began opening my mail. From one envelope, two or three checks dropped out, from The New Yorker. I suppose they totaled a little under a hundred dollars, but it looked like a fortune to me. I can still remember the feeling that “this was it”—I was a pro at last. It was a good feeling and I enjoyed the meal.

Read it all The Paris Review

guest posted by Barbara Morgenroth

In The Capacity of *Writer*

31 January 2013

Lindsay Doran (producer), James Schamus (co-producer), Ang Lee (director) and I had met previously this month to discuss the latest draft of the script, which is what we’re all here to work through… Lindsay goes round the table and introduces everyone — making it clear that I am present in the capacity of *writer* rather than actress, therefore no one has to be nice to me.

Emma Thompson, from “The Sense & Sensibility Screenplay & Diaries”

Back in the Saddle

31 January 2013

PG has returned from vacation. Well, almost. Despite the mounds of snow surrounding Casa PG, he’s still surprised at his inability to locate any nearby beaches with unfrozen water.

Despite the fact that PG’s mind has turned to mush during the past couple of weeks, The Passive Voice has continued to provide useful information for authors due to the excellent efforts of:

  • Julia Rachel Barrett
  • Bridget McKenna
  • Barb Morganroth
  • William Ockham
  • Kat Sheridan
  • Brendan Stallard

PG expresses great thanks to Julia, Bridget, Barb, William, Kat and Brendan for their help.


Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing, Pros and Cons

31 January 2013

From The Huffington Post:

Publishing, no matter which path you choose, can be rewarding and equally difficult. Deciding which way to go has become increasingly more complicated with the pros of the traditional publisher being scaled down to match the pros of self-publishing in today’s evolving market.
Weigh your options. For some writers, there is only one way. For others, the pros and cons of both paths complicate the decision. There are risks and rewards choosing either, but knowing the process might help you decide what is right for you and your manuscript.

Traditional Publisher:


  • Your novel has a better chance of being available in bookstores
  • Editing and cover art is handled by the publisher
  • You are guided through the process from manuscript to publication by an editor
  • Some blogs only review traditionally published books on their site


  • You exchange control for the pros and prestige of being with a publisher
  • Contracts — may cost money to hire a lawyer to negotiate
  • The pricing of your book is determined by the publisher
  • Luck

. . . .



  • Full control of your manuscript from writing to novel form
  • Ability to set the pricing controls and to adjust to the market as it fluctuates
  • Playing a part of the creative process of cover design and marketing
  • Largest royalty percentage available for an author


  • All marketing is on you as the author
  • Personal financial investment
  • Responsible for distribution of your novel online through ebooks and/or print editions
  • Luck

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

Amazon: E-book Sales Soared, Print Crawled

31 January 2013

From Publishers Weekly:

In a statement accompanying its fourth quarter and full year results for 2012, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos neatly summed up where he sees the future of book retailing heading–especially for his company. “We’re now seeing the transition we’ve been expecting,” said Bezos. “After 5 years, eBooks is a multi-billion dollar category for us and growing fast – up approximately 70% last year. In contrast, our physical book sales experienced the lowest December growth rate in our 17 years as a book seller, up just 5%.”

To fuel the sale of e-books, Amazon has sold lots of digital readers and tablets, but has is its custom released no hard numbers other than repeating that at year-end, Kindle Fire HD, Kindle Fire, Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle held the top four spots on the Amazon worldwide best seller charts since launch. The number of digital products Amazon offered at the end of 2012 stood at 23 million, up from 19 million a year ago.

. . . .

Sales of some higher priced items were softer than last year, Tom Szkutak, Amazon CFO, said, as were sales of some consumer electronic products. Amazon’s devices did well, however, and Szkutak said Amazon ran out of stock of the Paperwhite.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

What To Do With A Paper Book

31 January 2013

Cara Barer knows



See other examples of Cara’s work at  Paper Art Love

Guest posted by Barbara Morgenroth



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