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Showing posts from January, 2009

Is There a Better Way to Compensate Authors?

By Richard Curtis

We recently reported that the Borders bookstore chain had agreed to retail a publisher's (HarperStudio) books on a nonreturnable basis. This plan flies in the face of a century of bookselling tradition. That it is a lousy tradition and a leading cause of the current calamitous state of the publishing and bookselling industries is more than sufficient reason to celebrate the HarperStudio/Border initiative and wish the parties success.

Whether they will achieve it depends on how effective is the publisher's strategy of according a higher discount to the chain - ranging from 58% to 63% - than the current publishing industry average of 50-56%. As enthusiastically as we are rooting for it to work, however, previous attempts do not give cause for optimism. Over the last few decades, publishers have talked endlessly about selling books on a nonreturnable basis and a few have tried to break the hammerlock of tradition. Some of the bolder experiments, such as one attemp…

Lawyers (Groan)

By Richard Curtis

Whenever an author asks me if he should show a publishing contract to his attorney, I emit a noise not unlike that of a rutting moose whose girlfriend has just trotted into the woods with his rival. "Please," I beg, "anything but that. Take my firstborn. Take my condo, even. But don't show your contract to a lawyer. He won't understand."

My attitude is by no means unique. Many publishing people consider lawyers to be humorless spoilsports placed on our planet to raise hypothetical questions about events that have only the remotest possibility of coming to pass. In response to our reassurances that "it will never happen" or "it doesn't work that way," they smugly cite Gumbo v. Dittersdorf et al. and send groaning agents back to the negotiating table to haggle over the nuances of such words as "book," "pay," and "publish." And whenever a breach of contract is imagined, these learned jurists…

Finding Opportunity in a Teacup

By Paula Margulies

I recently read Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin's Three Cups of Tea, the fascinating non-fiction account of how Mortenson, a mountain climber and American nurse, came to build fifty-five schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In one of my favorite parts of the book, Mortenson describes a 1998 talk he gave in a sports shop in Apple Valley, Minnesota, where the store staff was so busy he had to set up the seating -- over a hundred folding chairs -- himself. After weeks of publicity, including posters at a local college, an AM radio morning show interview, and segments in the local papers, he faced an audience of only three people: two store employees and a single customer, who hovered at the back of the room. Though he was dejected at the small showing and exhausted by his continual efforts at fundraising, Mortenson decided to give his talk anyway and began showing slides of K2's infamous summit and the eighteen schools he'd built so far in Pakistan’s r…

Common Problems in The Work of Beginning Writers

By Michael Neff

I was perusing that recent article at Poets and Writers, the one where they put four agents in a room and got them talking. Most of it is 101, of course, but useful advice nonetheless.

I liked the following because it reflects my own frustrations with writers who are too ignorant to be truly dedicated to the craft:

Tell me some common problems that you see in the work of beginning writers.

ZUCKERBROT: In a lot of cases, the story just sort of wanders off. You can say, "Well, there's great dialogue. There's great this or that." But if there's no real story anchoring it, who really cares, at the end of the day? You can have great characters, you can have interesting ideas, but there needs to be some narrativemomentum, some narrative thrust.

LAZAR: I would say to start the story where the story starts. So often, the story doesn't actually start until page five. Sometimes it doesn't start until page fifty, but page five can be just as bad. As a re…

Do You Try Your Agent's Patience?

By Richard Curtis

If you do something so horrendous as to provoke your agent to declare, "Life is too short," you'd better start looking for someone else to handle your work. It means you have tried his or her patience beyond its limit. You're a walking dead author.

We recently described good timing as one of the most important virtues a literary agent can bring to the job. There's another that most good agents possess, and that's patience. If timing is the art of "when to," patience is the art of "when not to." Unfortunately, that often means when not to knock my head against a wall, wring an author's throat, or hop in a taxi, race over to a Image by Getty Images via Daylifepublisher's office and trash it.

Although some people are born patient, for most of us it's an acquired quality. We attain it only with experience, and it is arguably the only significant benefit of aging.

If you are constitutionally incapable of practicing pat…

Recession Proof Your Publicity Campaign

By Michael Neff
Image via Wikipedia
Here is a good piece from Susan Schwartzman on the Writer Unboxed blog:

Recession Proof Your Publicity Campaign

Here is a sample:We keep hearing the bad news: publishers laying off dozens of staff, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt not acquiring new books until further notice, budgets being slashed – which, of course, means publicity budgets that were rarely that generous in the first place.The good news is this: there are many things an author can do that costs absolutely nothing and that will translate into booksales.For those of you who are tightening your belts for 2009, make a New Year’s Resolution to do as many of the following as you possibly can:Create a website (A must if you don’t already have one)Website optimizationBlogging & guest bloggingFreelance book reviewing on websites that review booksVirtual toursMyspace and Facebook

For Agents, Timing is Everything

Image via WikipediaBy Richard Curtis

Okay, hotshot, we all know you're smarter than your agent. At least, that's what you're always telling your friends. So let's see how well you can do at second-guessing him or her in a few hypothetical situations. For every correct answer, you get a free power lunch in the Grill Room of the Four Seasons with any publisher of your choice; for every one you get wrong, same prize but you treat.

* Your client has had twelve genre novels published in paperback. They've sold about fifty thousand copies each. She thinks the time has come to be published in hardcover. You tell her:
a) She's absolutely right and you're getting on the phone at once.
b) She should write another dozen paperbacks that sell fifty thousand copies each, then you'll move her.
c) Wait till her paperbacks start selling in the hundreds of thousands of copies each.
d) She's crazy to want to be published in hardcover.

* Your client has just turned in the man…