Monthly Archives: April 2015

In hindsight

29 April 2015

In hindsight, I suspect that Neuromancer owes much of its shelf-life to my almost perfect ignorance of the technology I was extrapolating from. I was as far from the Sixties author who knew everything about cell-phones as it was possible to be. Where I made things up from whole cloth, the colors remain bright. Where I was unlucky enough to actually have some small bit of real knowledge, the reader finds things like the rattling keys of a mechanical printer, or Case’s puzzlingly urgent demand, when the going gets tough, for a modem.

William Gibson

John Steinbeck’s Pen: How the Joy of Handwriting Helps Us Draft the Meaning of Life

29 April 2015

From Brain Pickings:

Edgar Allan Poe believed that handwriting is an indication of character, revealing our “mental qualities.” Mary Gordon saw in its “flesh, blood and the thingness of pen and paper” a reminder that “however thoroughly we lose ourselves in the vortex of our invention, we inhabit a corporeal world.” Indeed, the marks we leave on the paper are our most human trails of thought. Few things exercise — and exorcise — the not always seamless collaboration between brain and body like that direct line between the tip of the pen and the tip of the neuron. To be particular about one’s writing instrument is, then, to be particular about thought itself — one can’t afford to be careless about the corporeal transmitter of creative flow.

John Steinbeck (February 27, 1902–December 20, 1968) captures this curious role of the pen as a negotiator between brain and body in a series of disarming observations in Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath — that remarkable volume that gave us a glimpse of how the great writer used the diary as a tool of discipline and a hedge against self-doubt when he embarked on the most intense writing experience of his life, the masterwork that earned him the Pulitzer Prize and paved the way for his Nobel Prize.

. . . .

In mid-July of 1938, three weeks into the work, Steinbeck makes an endearing note of his writing companion — that trusty conduit of thought:

This good pen holds up beautifully. I guess it will last out the entire book.

Then, on July 25, he records the growing intimacy with his writing instrument:

This pen writes thinner if it is steeper. This has been a good pen to me so far. Never had such a good one.

By mid-August, he is fully in love:

What a wonderful pen this is. It has and is giving me perfect service — never stops flowing for a second and never overflows and blots a word.

Link to the rest at Brain Pickings and thanks to Barb for the tip.

‘A Gronking to Remember’ Becomes Memorable Lawsuit Against Amazon, Apple

29 April 2015

From The Hollywood Reporter:

A self-published erotic novella entitled Gronking to Remember could be on its way to highlighting the dangers of stripping out the middle-men.

Last year, pseudonymous author Lacey Noonan hit the big time by cleverly picking a title that alluded to the way that New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski emphatically spiked a football whenever he scored a touchdown. The title was undoubtedly memorable — so much so that it got heated online attention and soon, mentions on The Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and other television shows.

The book took a detour from the best-seller list, though, when it was suddenly pulled by some online outlets.

. . . .

[T]he problem with the book might have been something else on the cover, as revealed in a lawsuit (read here) that was filed in Ohio by two anonymous individuals.

“The cover of the book contains a photograph of the Plaintiffs which was taken as part of their engagement journey leading toward their wedding,” states the complaint. “The photograph was appropriated by the Defendants for commercial gain without the permission of the Plaintiffs nor with the permission of any lawful copyright holder.”

The lawsuit targets Noonan, and also Apple, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble for allowing readers to access the work in iBooks, Kindle and Nook digital formats. The plaintiffs — captioned as “John Roe” and “Jane Roe” — are asserting violations of their rights of publicity under Ohio law.

. . . .

“The subject matter of the book, A Gronking to Remember, is less than tasteful and is offensive,” says the complaint. “The use of the Plaintiffs image has held them up to ridicule and embarrassment. This outrageous connection has been further aggravated when the book, with the Plaintiffs image, has been reproduced in the media nationwide. The book has been shown as a source of ribald humor on The Tonight Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live as well as being displayed and read before the press at media day for the Super Bowl.”

The lawsuit was recently removed to a federal court and appears primed to answer the question of whether Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act can shield an e-book service from publicity rights claims. That statute enacted by Congress in 1996 states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

. . . .

But how about Apple allowing people to “self-publish” stuff through its iBooks store? Or Amazon.com allowing authors to “self-publish” works on Kindle stores? Are Apple and Amazon not “publishers”?

That’s what one of the defendants asserts.

Link to the rest at The Hollywood Reporter and thanks to Bill for the tip.

PG says you need to get your photos for covers from reputable stock image suppliers.

Advice for an author looking for a literary agent

29 April 2015

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

Until last week, I hadn’t stopped to think about how often I’m advising authors about how to deal with the publishing business. I would imagine this is something that most of us in the industry find ourselves doing very frequently. There are, after all, a lot of aspiring authors in the world and when one’s a friend, or a friend of a friend, they ask. And you try to help them.

. . . .

Although we all know stories of self-published books that went on to have fabulous runs with a publisher (“50 Shades of Gray” being the obvious example), it seems that most agents think that most publishers see the previous publishing history as a challenge. If the book didn’t do well, they don’t attribute it to poor or non-existent marketing. And if it did well, they sometimes wonder if the audience has been exhausted.

Obviously, there are both agents and editors who don’t think that way, but I was really surprised to learn that so many of them apparently do.

. . . .

I have long had a formulation of how to recruit an agent which I passed along when asked.

This assumes the aspiring author is starting from scratch: they have a manuscript completed or in development and they need to start knocking on agents’ doors. What I suggest — not rocket science but most writers don’t know about it — is using the databased information at Publishers Marketplace to find which agents to target.

. . . .

I do know dozens of agents personally. But rarely do I have a sense of what they are looking for, what kind of author would be suitable for them. I have one friend in particular who runs a large agency and for whom I have very high regard. So, often, if I know somebody to be a good and competent writer, I’ll send them to him. But that’s a sloppy answer. I find I have no good way personally to distinguish among the dozens of agents I know. That’s why I send people to the databases at PM. I tell my writer friends that if they narrow down their search and let me know whom they’re targeting, I’ll introduce them to any targets that are in my circle. But that’s been the extent of my help and that’s as far as I’d thought it through.

. . . .

So I reached out to a very powerful travel publisher I know and asked for an agent suggestion. He gave me one name, an agent based in San Francisco and, as it happens, a person I know well. Since Rand and Geraldine are in Seattle, I thought that was worth passing along and I offered to make the introduction. That’s when I started to learn what even very smart people who know how to look have trouble finding out about how our business works. And I was forced to learn because Rand and Geraldine asked me about assumptions I had made that, it turns out, at the least required some explanation and perhaps required rethinking!

First I told Rand I had an agent to send Geraldine to if she wanted to connect with him. Rand passed me to her. She said that being in Seattle, she was as comfortable with people in NY as with somebody in San Francisco. But, she added, she had already reached out to a number of agents in New York. Some had gotten back. Some hadn’t at all. So, first she wanted to know, is that typical? Do agents often just fail to respond?

. . . .

This is yet another example of how granular publishing is: so many editors, so many agents, and then the numbers of them dwarfed by aspiring authors. In fact, they’re even dwarfed by the number of competent aspiring authors there are. Writing takes time. Reading takes time. Editing takes time. Developing a project takes time. Nobody gets paid until the reading takes place at a publishing house and a buying decision can be made. No wonder so many authors throw up their hands trying to break in and just publish themselves. Even with the best techniques and people with industry contacts to help make introductions, finding an agent is not easy for a writer.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Report

Debunking the Discovery Problem

28 April 2015

From BookBusiness:

Ever since ebooks gained traction the publishing industry has obsessed with what’s typically referred to as “the discovery problem.” The common wisdom is that discovery of the content will lead to fame and fortune.

I believe digital content’s main challenge is more about efficiency, less about discovery, and my inspiration for this point of view comes from a totally unrelated business: the coffee industry.

A recent Businessweek article noted that single-serve pods (e.g., Keurig) have eliminated coffee’s biggest consumer: the kitchen sink.

. . . .

It turns out that with Mr. Coffee and other drip systems a great deal of product ends up going to waste. The net result is that as the single-serve devices gain momentum we’re creating a climate where total consumption is lower and excess inventories are leading to lower prices for coffee beans.

In short, the article notes that while Americans still drink a lot of coffee, they do it more efficiently. Each cup in the single-serve model is more expensive but in total we’re consuming and wasting far less coffee now.

What in the world does this have to do with digital content?

I don’t think anyone would argue with the fact that we have an excessive amount digital content today. A great deal of it is being produced but in many cases nobody is reading it. This has led to an overabundance of free and cheap content which is being both professionally published as well as self-published.

Wasted coffee goes down the drain but wasted content simply goes unread.

. . . .

Just as nobody walks into a bookstore asking for the latest book from Macmillan, nobody is sitting around saying, “Gee, I wish I could discover more content.” What we really need is more efficient delivery of content that’s highly relevant to our specific needs and interests.

. . . .

At some point content efficiency will improve. I’ve referred to this before as the need for a “content concierge”, resulting in much better recommendations, tailored content streams and, yes, it will come at a higher price, just like the single-serving coffee pods.

Link to the rest at BookBusiness

For PG, Amazon does a great job as a “content concierge” for ebooks and a lot of other stuff. And it comes with lower prices.

Plus word-of-mouth is floating all over the internet and groups of readers enthusiastic about any type or genre or sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-genre of book (or power tool or videogame) abound. Providing information about books is a service better performed by enthusiastic amateurs or (sometimes) ad-supported professionals than by someone charging for book recommendations.

The disruption of the book business by ebooks and ecommerce means that a lot of legacy players are struggling to find a value-add that will justify their commercial existence.

Barnes & Noble is closing stores because readers have been and will continue to decide that the price of buying books there (in dollars, time and travel) is higher than buying books on Amazon. Barnes & Noble isn’t adding enough value with its in-store environment for an increasing number of readers to pay for its book-selling services.

Publishers are losing authors (or never signing them in the first place) because authors are concluding that the price of doing business through a publisher (in low royalties, time and hassle-factor) is higher than the value the publisher is adding via access to physical bookstores.

Amazon’s Whispercast expands to thousands of schools

28 April 2015

From C/Net:

Amazon’s efforts to grow in education look to be paying off so far.

Since the company in 2012 started offeringWhispercast — a free service for schools to distribute e-textbooks, course material and apps to hundreds or thousands of school-controlled computers — it has expanded into thousands of districts and universities. The e-commerce giant said Tuesday Whispercast is now used in more than 130 of the 250 largest school districts in the US and over 2,400 higher education organizations, including 24 of the 30 largest in the country.

To keep up that momentum, Amazon on Tuesday released an updated version of Whispercast to give teachers and professors more flexibility to purchase and share materials through the service. The company is also now starting to offer free expert guidance for districts to start using Whispercast.

. . . .

Whispercast is an important way for Amazon — which started as a bookseller — to gain exposure in the more than $20 billion market for K-12 and higher-education information-technology products and services, according to the Center for Digital Education. There are many other tech players, including Apple and Google, that are working to provide devices and services to schools, but the more schools Amazon can convert to its system, the more money it can potentially generate from it.

“We have lots of free books in our library, but there are a lot of books out there as well that do cost money,” said Dave Limp, senior vice president of Amazon Devices. “And we hope that by using Whispercast, some of those customers buy those books from us.”

Link to the rest at C/Net

Judge wants $10 million set aside for possible award in Fifty Shades lawsuit

28 April 2015

From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

A state district judge wants $10 million in cash or investments to be set aside for a potential award after a Tarrant County jury ruled earlier this year that an Arlington woman was cheated out of royalties from the blockbuster novel Fifty Shades of Grey.

. . . .

A Tarrant County jury in February ruled that Hayward defrauded Pedroza out of the financial windfall created by the erotic New York Times bestseller which also inspired a movie by the same name.

. . . .

Pedroza sued Hayward last year, contending that she conned her out of her rightful partnership interests in advances and royalties.

Pedroza and Hayward, who lived in Dural, a Sydney suburb, were partners in The Writer’s Coffee Shop, which started out as an online blog in 2009, along with Waxahachie resident Jennifer McGuire. Visitors to the fan-based website discussed books and wrote “fan fiction” stories.

McGuire did design work for the blog, Pedroza uploaded contributors’ writing, and Hayward worked with the authors, court records show. Later, Christa Beebe, another Arlington resident, joined and helped with marketing and distribution.

By 2010, Pedroza and Hayward had the Coffee House operating as a publishing house. And in 2011 it published Fifty Shades of Grey, a romance novel by E.L. James, a British author, as an e-book and print-on-demand full-length book.

The company published the sequels, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, in 2011 and 2012. The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy became an online sensation, selling 250,000 copies through e-book and print-on-demand, with another 20,000 print copies.

In 2012, Random House made a deal with Hayward and James to publish the books. Pedroza received a one-time payment of $100,000 after the Random House contract was signed, but she was never told of the full terms of the transaction. Random House was not named in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit acknowledges that the two Texans — Pedroza and McGuire — and Hayward never signed a prepared partnership agreement. But in 2011, The Writer’s Coffee Shop filed a partnership income tax return, naming Pedroza as a general partner, it says.

Pedroza contended in her suit that Hayward in 2012 secretly converted the Coffee Shop into a company she alone owned. The jury determined that there was a partnership between the women. Beebe settled her claims in December in a confidential agreement.

Link to the rest at Fort Worth Star-Telegram and thanks to Suzan for the tip.

As a general proposition, if two or more people start and operate a business together, the presumption will be that they have created a partnership unless they have an agreement signed by everyone to the contrary. The presumption can be rebutted, but the individual(s) who don’t want a court to find that a partnership existed have the burden of proving the business was something other than a partnership, that a person was an employee, for example, and not a partner.

Absent evidence to the contrary, all persons who are partners are entitled to a share of partnership profits.

When there’s no partnership agreement, the way the business was run, who was paid how much, statements the parties made about the business, emails,  tax returns, etc., will be used to determine who is entitled to what percentage of partnership profits. The default presumption is that partners will divide partnership profits equally.

Partnership agreements can be very simple documents. However, without such an agreement, signed by everyone, resolving disputes over who gets the money can be very expensive.

The Sam Weller Bump

28 April 2015

From The Paris Review:

Bigger than the Zuckerberg Bump, bigger even than the Colbert Bump or the Oprah Bump—arguably the most historic bump in English publishing is the Sam Weller Bump, triggered not by a tastemaker with a megaphone but a sharp-talking, warm-hearted servant.

In June 1836, Charles Dickens published the fourth installment of his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, one of the many shilling monthlies that were the backbone of Victorian publishing. Printed on low-cost acidic paper and sold in pale green wrappers, they were aimed at the middle and newly literate working classes on the lookout for entertaining fare. But many of these readers had grown accustomed to the gobbets of melodrama offered by the cheap press—they were utterly uninterested, then, in the picaresque misadventures of Mr. Pickwick and his chums as they bowled through England collecting scientific information for the betterment of mankind. The first three installments of Pickwick barely sold four hundred copies.

But that June, sales began to grow by orders of magnitude: from four hundred to four thousand to an astounding forty thousand as the serialization drew to a close in November 1837. Everyone up and down the social ladder began to devour Pickwick,from butchers’ boys to John Ruskin, who read Pickwick so often he claimed to know it by heart. Copies were passed from hand to hand and read aloud as family entertainment. The critics effused with praise. Dickens, who was twenty-four and expecting his first child, had become a household name.

What changed? It was in this fourth installment that readers met Sam Weller, a cheerful young bootblack with a distinctive cockney idiolect—a character, in other words, in whom many readers could recognize themselves. Dickens gave Weller a fine comic entrance; his first appearance finds him in the yard of the White Hart Inn, polishing eleven and a half pairs of shoes. The half, he explains, belongs to the man with the “vooden leg” in No. 6. Dressed in a striped waistcoat with blue glass buttons, a bright red handkerchief wound loosely around his neck, and an old white hat worn rakishly on his head, Weller was thoroughly urban but with old country values—a good son and a loyal servant. As G. K. Chesterton put it, “Sam Weller introduces the English people.” Responding to the market’s roar of praise, Dickens brought Sam to the center of the novel by having Pickwick hire him as his valet: a cockney Sancho Panza to his naive esquire, Quixote.

. . . .

Sam Weller not only carried the lumbering Pickwick chaise to the top of the best-seller list, he valet parked it there for the next thirty years. Though it’s now regarded as one of Dickens’s weakest novels, Pickwick was his most popular book during his lifetime, selling 1.6 million copies.

. . . .

The Sam Weller Bump testifies not merely to Dickens’s comic genius but to his acumen as an “authorpreneur,” a portmanteau he inhabited long before The Economist took it up. Thomas Carlyle once remarked on his “remarkable faculty for business.” Driven as much by commercial success as critical acclaim, he juggled novel writing, journalism, plays, theatrical productions, charity works, public readings, and twenty-mile walks with an inexhaustible energy.

. . . .

Tomalin rightly calls 1836 Dickens’s annus mirabilisbut he made almost nothing from Pickwick. The profits went straight to Chapman and Hall, his publishers, who held the full copyright. It was a bitter lesson, and Dickens learned it well: if ever he felt underpaid, he quarreled with his publishers or simply broke his contract. Since he was England’s blockbuster writer, publishers conceded to his demands—Our Mutual Friend, serialized from 1864–5, earned him more than any other novel, though it sold less than half as well as Pickwick. By then, Dickens had arranged to share in advertising revenues, and he’d sold Chapman and Hall half copyright for six thousand pounds. They lost seven hundred pounds on the novel.

For a writer who made his reputation crusading against the squalor of the industrial revolution, Dickens was a creature of capitalism; he used everything from the powerful new printing presses to the enhanced advertising revenues to the expansion of railroads to sell more books. In a speech he gave at Birmingham, a factory town, he spoke eloquently about how the people had freed writers from the unseemly patron system. Grimly conscious of how his hero Samuel Johnson had been humiliated by his patron, the Earl of Chesterfield, Dickens was infinitely grateful to market forces—they’d delivered him “from the shame of the purchased dedication, from the scurrilous and dirty work of Grub Street, from the dependent seat on sufferance at my Lord Duke’s table today.”

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

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