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Showing posts from April, 2009


By Richard Curtis

Agents don't like to admit that there are events beyond their control, and I suspect that is why it's hard to write about such contractual matters as forces majeures—acts of God—and bankruptcy. Such events serve only to reaffirm our human frailty and fallibility, our total helplessness before the awful natural and business convulsions that occasionally devastate the microcosmic world of book publishing. How easy it is to deny that they could ever happen or that there is anything we could do about them anyway. I am able to rationalize my omission of these subjects by telling myself that in the course of my career in the book business, I have never seen a publisher invoke fire, flood, strike, hurricane, insurrection, or war as an excuse for delaying or screwing up a book.

Yet, anybody who works in this business long enough knows that sooner or later Murphy's law will clutch us by the throat, and whatever terrible things can happen will, perforce, happen. Thes…

What's in a (Big) Name?

By Richard Curtis

Behold the two books I place before you. Both are thrillers by authors whose names are unfamiliar to you. But attached to the one on your left is an endorsement by one of today's bestselling thriller writers. The other has no such recommendation. Which will you be inclined to purchase and read?

The obvious answer to that question formed the eye of a tempest that swept through the publishing industry some years ago, leaving in its path a shattered deal, damaged credibility, and a dazed author and his agent wandering through the rubble seeking something to salvage. The only good to come out of this event is the possibility that the rest of us may learn something from it.

We take for granted that a plug from a star can give an enormous boost to an obscure author or an undistinguished (or even distinguished) book. That is why publishers go to considerable lengths to solicit quotes - commonly called "blurbs" in the publishing industry - by big-name authors for …

Of Taxes and the Writer

By Richard Curtis

Early in April a few years ago I got a call from a client who was preparing his income tax. This author wrote erotic fiction and wanted to know whether he could legitimately claim as a deduction his pharmacological treatment for a little affliction he had contracted in the course of “researching” one of his novels.

I told him I imagined the treatment would probably fall under medical deductions rather than research expenses, but the story does illustrate that even the most untrammeled literary spirits have to pay their obeisance to Uncle Sam sooner or later. With more and more authors incorporating, purchasing expensive computer equipment, seeking shelters for their taxable income, and in general being more businesslike in their approaches to the art and craft of literature, the accountant is becoming as important as the literary agent in guiding the destinies of writers.

The chances of a writer being audited by the Internal Revenue Service are a little better than thos…

Collaborations Part 2

In this second part of our discussion of collaboration, we examine a collaboration agreement and discuss the salient terms:

The first thing is how the money is to be divided when the book is sold. There are countless ways to do this, depending on the project, the amount of money involved, the relative importance of the celebrity and co-author, and many other factors. Let me outline a few scenarios.

• A famous actress is offered a lot of money by a publisher to write her memoirs. Though her story, like any other, requires a certain degree of skill to tell, she and her publisher agree that just about any competent writer will get the job done. They go to a young journalist eager to get his name on a book and offer him a flat fee of $10,000, which to him is a lot of money. They also offer him a “with” or “and” byline on the book, but no participation in royalties, magazine rights, or foreign translation or any other subsidiary rights. He accepts the offer because it’s a good opportunity to…

Collaborations Part 1

One of the liabilities of being a professional writer is that you attract people who want to collaborate with you. What author has not been collared at a party by a drunk who wants him to write his life story or has this fantastic idea for a novel?

Few such propositions have any commercial value. But from time to time you may meet someone whose story is compelling enough to entice you into collaboration with him. Or your agent may offer you an opportunity to team up with a famous movie or sports star, doctor or astronaut, beauty expert or political figure. If that happens, do you know how collaborations work? How the proceeds are to be divided? Whose byline goes on the cover of the book? Who pays the expenses of flying to Washington or Los Angeles or Hawaii to interview this person or to do research? Whose name goes on the copyright?

As a writer who has collaborated on seven or eight works of fiction and nonfiction and as an agent who has welded together scores of collaborations for cli…