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Showing posts from March, 2009

Editors: The New Disenfranchised

By Richard Curtis

Many of the pieces published in this column originally appeared in the 1980s or 1990s but have undergone revision to make them timely for today's reader. When I selected this 23-year-old essay I considered updating it, but as I reread it I was struck by its relevance to today's conditions. I've therefore decided to present it as originally published.

Just one background note. Up until the mid-1980s, hardcover publishers usually sold reprint rights to outside paperback publishers. But when both hardcover and paperback houses realized the advantages of merging the two formats under one roof, there was a spate of mergers and acquisitions, laying the foundation for the "hard-soft" publication deal that is the backbone of almost all book acquisitions today.
RC


I've always liked editors but I never used to feel sorry for them. That changed when the acquisition of Doubleday was announced.

Until then, whenever I heard that a publisher had been acquired b…

Back to Basics

By Richard Curtis

As the stakes continue to rise in the publishing business, writers are adopting a wide range of strategies to advance themselves out of the midlist and onto better-selling plateaus. I myself have recommended a number of such strategies. Recently, however, as I respond again and again to the question of what one can do to escape midlist oblivion, it's begun to dawn on me that many writers have been ignoring the most obvious answer: write better. The truth is that if all other things are equal, the author with better writing skills is the one who will rise out of the pack.

Instead of reviewing what's selling these days and who is buying it, I thought it might be worth reminding you about some of the most common and flagrant writing transgressions to be found in a typical harvest of fiction works that fetches up on my desk. I hasten to point out that the perpetrators are by no means mere amateurs, but professional writers as well, so let those who are without sin …

The Ten Commandments of Courtesy - Part II

By Richard Curtis

As we said last week, every society creates rules to prevent anarchy, and the society of author-publisher-agent is no exception. Of course, the more civilized the society, the subtler its rules and the more sophisticated its sanctions for reinforcing them. The publishing business certainly fits the description of a civilized society, comprised as it is of well-educated, literate individuals operating in highly organized (sometimes, anyway) corporate entities and dealing in the extremely sophisticated activity of translating ideas into merchandise.

The rules governing this behavior are codified into a system of protocols and etiquette called "courtesy." Courtesy is not always easy to define because editors, authors, and agents each have their own code and the three don't always harmonize. Authors who are unsure about the rules are advised to proceed cautiously.

In the first part of this article we discussed five vitally important rules. Three of the them we…

The Ten Commandments of Courtesy - Part I

By Richard Curtis
Every society creates rules to prevent anarchy, and the society of author-publisher-agent is no exception. Of course, the more civilized the society, the subtler its rules and the more sophisticated its sanctions for reinforcing them. The publishing business certainly fits the description of a civilized society, comprised as it is of well-educated, literate individuals operating in highly organized (sometimes, anyway) corporate entities and dealing in the extremely sophisticated activity of translating ideas into merchandise.

Actually, if you step far enough away from the sophistication of the publishing process you will see that it still boils down to a matter of seller, buyer, and broker struggling primitively with one another for dominance. Anyone who has lived in or studied the publishing anthill for any length of time can testify that there is as much plundering, treachery, rapine, and bopping on the head as may be found in the most aboriginal of civilizations. Th…