Readers Rule

...if the writer has the energy, determination and persistence to develop more stories, and is open to learning and perfecting his or her craft, then s/he can offer another story, and maybe get a second date, and a third, and perhaps become a couple. How great is that?

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Your Brain on Fiction

NeuroFiction

An article in the New York Times published on Saint Patrick’s Day caught my attention for its premise: fiction improves our minds. I believe this to be true, but haven’t looked too deeply into the science of it. Science author Annie Murphy Paul has. Her article confirms my personal experience of the effect of reading fiction on mental, social and life skills.

AMID the squawks and pings of our digital devices, the old-fashioned virtues of reading novels can seem faded, even futile. But new support for the value of fiction is arriving from an unexpected quarter: neuroscience.

This got my neural processors firing away in anticipation of a good intellectual workout. Paul makes a compelling case for the power of the novel to engage, exercise and improve the brain.

The brain, the article reminds us, does not distinguish between imagining an experience as we read about it and actually experiencing it in real life. To the brain, one is as real as the other. This is a key principle of achieving excellence in any endeavor, practicing it in our minds so thoroughly that our mind cannot accept less than the perfect execution.  High performance athletes understand this. Just as jet fighter pilots, high steel workers, leading corporate innovators, and neurosurgeons do. The fact that a good novel engages our mind and thrusts us into the heart of risk, danger, adventure, romance, achievement functions the way it does because our minds understand sensory details, evocative metaphors, and stimulating situations with such rich and complex experiences of reality that we discover and learn much as if we actually travelled, trained and risked as the novel’s characters do.

According to two scientific studies cited in the article, our experience of a novel hones our real-life social skills. The more we read fiction, the better we are able to understand other people, empathize with their challenges, and credibly see the world from their perspective.

Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.

Previously I held this truth to be self-evident. Now, I have proof that my preference for the novel literary form is pragmatic and has a basis in science.

Related Links

The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction by Annie Murphy Paul, NY Times, March 17, 2012

Annie Murphy Paul | Science Author  -  TED     Nov. 2011

 

 

 

Birds In Fall | Brad Kessler

Life is Fragile as Flight

This novel is one of those surprise discoveries. My wife brought it home for me on a whim with some journals. I read the opening sentence and sensed immediately that my priorities for the weekend had shifted.Birds In Fall by Brad Kessler

It’s true: a few of us slept through the entire ordeal, but others sensed something wrong right away.

I was hooked. Wished I’d written it. The voice possessed a sense of moment, a texture of imminent tragedy that gripped me and wouldn’t let me go. The first chapter transported me to far away Nova Scotia and continues to resonate in unexpected ways after the final page of the novel 238 pages later.

BIRDS IN FALL was a critical and popular success. An excerpt was published in The Kenyon Review in the spring of 2006. It won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. And the Los Angeles Times named it one of the ten best books of 2006.

A Novel for Novelists

The story begins aboard a transatlantic flight from New York City bound for Amsterdam. The style is contemporary, spare in setting, and emphasizes action.  It is told in the first person voice of Russell, Ana’s husband. The action is carefully and effectively modulated as he takes up conversation with the woman seated next to him, a concert cellist who is stressed by the airplane’s bumpy ride through increasingly violent stormy night skies.

For example, one of the most visually compelling moments is Russell’s presence of mind in writing his NY address on his forearm with the cellist’s Japanese Maple lipstick. He shows it to her and encourages her to do the same. Ironically, she encourages Russell to include his name in his message to his rescuers, yet he cannot bring himself to do so. This foreshadows his fate as another anonymous casualty of tragedy, vanished, forever lost at sea. Indeed, eighty minutes into its flight, the aircraft ‘enters the sea.’

From there we shift to a small community setting on Trachis Island off the coast of Nova Scotia and the events following the crash. The narrator’s voice changes to third person omniscient and never returns to Ana’s husband in any meaningful way. Despite several telling details set up in the first chapter, few are referenced later in the narrative in which bits and pieces of airplane, passengers, and luggage debris are recovered.

From chapter two onward we follow the innkeepers Kevin and Douglas on Trachis Island and Ana Gathreaux, Russell’s ornithologist wife, who travels from New York City to the inn to visit the site of the catastrophe and learn something more about Russell’s fate. Other victims’ families travel to the island from all over the world for the same purpose. Over time, they each experience punishing, withering grief, hope, frustration, abandonment, and transformation into new lives without their loved ones.

The writing improves in this second voice and occasionally soars like the migrating birds that serve as such an apt metaphor for the flight of time, events, and souls. On more than one occasion, I was reminded of Michael Ondaatje’s poetic prose. That's profound praise for how deft many of Brad Kessler’s passages are.

Recommended

Birds In Fall is remarkable. It is rich with masterful writing and compelling insights into the lives, drives, and lessons that shape us as our migrations intersect across time, place and circumstance.

 

Related Links

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brad_Kessler

 

 

Carter Bays & Craig Thomas on "How I Met Your Mother"

http://vimeo.com/35983305 Recently, I produced coverage of An Evening with Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, co-creators and co-executive producers of the television comedy, “How I Met Your Mother” (CBS) at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles. The event was hosted by Michael Roth, President of Wesleyan University, and Jeremy Zimmer, Founding Partner and Managing Director of United Talent Agency. Here is a brief highlights video, edited by Ben Travers.

Look for the Conversation video, containing insights into the success of Carter's and Craig's television comedy series, soon to be released.

Read SAINT On KINDLE

The experiment 2,000 years in the making...

SAINT - The novel of intrigue - e-Book edition

 

Biogeneticist Andrew Shepard resurrects the memory of an ancient in a living human subject. Simon Peter is reborn.

For the faithful, it is a miracle. For the world’s political and spiritual leaders, it is a crisis. For humankind, it changes everything.

Peter escapes from the BioGenera lab in a desperate attempt to return to Rome and to confront the Pontiff, while being stalked by an assassin intent on silencing him once and for all.

First e-book edition

 

SAINT, my novel about the resurrection of human memory via biogenetics and neuroscience, is now available for download to the Kindle and Kindle-friendly devices including the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Droid and PC.

Read SAINT on Kindle 

 

Related Links

Kindle & The Evolution of a Writer

 

Novelist Ann Patchett Opens Bookstore in Nashville

Novelists are an adventurous breed. So are their readers.

For readers, all that is left after the decline, fall, and selling-off of Borders bookstores down to the fixtures, is grief. And memories of what a bookstore can mean to our quality of life. So many of my favorite weekend moments were spent in the stacks at my local Borders. Knowledgeable sales staff, friendly fellow explorers on the path to enlightenment picking through towering shelves of books, looking for one book, discovering dozens of others that informed new directions in their journey.

Sales of e-books surpassed sales of physical books earlier this year. This isn't a trend. We all know that our relationship to the written word is evolving. Schoolchildren totally get it; why carry a heavy backpack of textbooks when they can carry all the texts they will ever need in a featherlight tablet?  So what is the value of ink on paper? Sentimentalism?  For some, perhaps. For many, it is something deeper, much like the preference for live theater over cinema, or cinema over television, or television over netcast. For some, it is a physical connection, a tactile interaction with the process of reading. Like peeling back the layers of clues in a good mystery.

So what is to become of the book loyalist? Where is s/he to go? There is Amazon, of course. And Abe's, Powell's, Tattered Cover, Book Barn, B&N and others. Those are distant purveyors. The wandering weekend explorer has fewer options.

Karen Hayes and Ann Patchett

Now, in an interesting new reaction to digital media and the vanishing bookstore experience, we have the novelist opening a book store, a bricks and mortar emporium of the printed word. Whether Ann Patchett's new Parnassus Books in Nashville is the start of a new stage of publishing and distribution, or a quaint exhibit on the timeline of literature's evolution is to be seen. I hope it is the opening sentence in a powerful and engaging new story.

Related link

Julie Bosman | NYT:  Novelist Fights the Tide by Opening a Bookstore

IN THE WAKE | Per Petterson

When the Old Life is Gone

Per Petterson's novel of personal grief, guilt and redemption is palpably authentic as release, if not renewal.

Petterson's set-up is inventive - Arvid Jansen regains consciousness pressed against a bookstore's closed glass door - and his writing is masterful. He hews close to a minimalist style with just enough character bubbling through to reinforce our sense of the narrator as human, in pain, and shouldering on. Arvid is flawed, not very much of the good person most of us hope for ourselves, yet he possesses the strength of the genuine loner. He is not railing against God or others. He is just afloat and fighting the drift.

Disoriented and beside himself, Arvid is buffeted by flashes of sorrow. We discover that his parents and brother are dead, killed in a ferry fire that was nearly his own fate. He is estranged from his wife and daughters, one of whom recognizes her father's free fall and is showing signs of  the girl child mothering the grown man. Arvid navigates turbulent dark emotions, confronts the paralyzing losses, climbs back to his feet and takes the first courageous steps toward resumption of life. Not his former life, for that is utterly gone, but a life to be lived.

IN THE WAKE is the novel that Petterson wrote prior to his breakout bestseller, OUT STEALING HORSES, which is a more restrained and ultimately more timeless work.

 

2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Winners

Congratulations to the two winners of the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Winner: General Fiction:

East of Denver by Gregory Hill

Winner: Young Adult Fiction:

Spookygirl by Jill Baguchinsky

Read by Amazon Vine reviewers, Publisher's Weekly reviewers, Penguin editors, and ABNA expert panelists--and voted on by Amazon customers--the two winning authors have each been awarded a publishing contract with Penguin, which includes a $15,000 advance. The announcement was made in Seattle.

There were three finalists in each category. The other four finalists were Lucian Morgan, Phyllis T. Smith, Cara Bertrand, and Richard Larson.

Storyselling: The Query

It is time to shake off the writing routine of the last year, and turn to marketing. Storytelling to Storyselling

The discipline, focus, and skills that were so essential while writing the novel must now make way for business demands and professional responsibilities. Characters that have been present in every waking thought for so long now have competition for my attention. And so it is with sharpened senses; heightened awareness of current events, business trends, cultural tremors; and unflinching focus on the mission that I turn my attention to the all-important query.

A good query letter is a blend of copywriting, letter writing, business writing, and the finest creative brief writing, all balanced for clarity and purpose. A great query letter rises above to the level of message that ignites the imagination. This hybrid of writing craft and style is an Everest of a challenge. It must inform, establish credibility, entertain, and entice. The craft part can be fun. It is energizing to chisel away at the non-essential content in my drafts, like Michelangelo did with his block of Carrara marble 500 years ago until David stood naked in the piazza, as if he’d only been waiting for release from the stone. The art exists inside the clutter, and each bit of unnecessary verbiage that is cut away sharpens focus.

The first draft usually has a kernel of the desired power in it. There is a sense of the story's marketing potential, yet this aspect requires different intellectual tools and skills that often feel foreign to the author who has for the past year been so immersed in research, experimentation, and passionate story-weaving. My letter may have have excellence within in it, yet seen from this new perspective, more work is needed to separate the wheat from the non-essential chaff.

My approach is to aim for three paragraphs:

Hook - the unique value proposition my book offers expressed in a succinct and engaging statement that captures the big idea in a way that resonates immediately;

Core elements - my book described in three talking points; and

Credits - a relevant professional credential to reinforce the confidence instilled in the preceding two paragraphs.

The goal is to spare the reader any of the process of the book’s creation.  It should be lean and purposeful, a clarion call to the reader to engage in the book.

No one knows the winning formula for the perfect query letter.  Like any relationship, the successful query is a happy mystery. A convergence of desire, hope, stagecraft, sincerity, belief, facts, fiction, charm, shared aspiration, willing suspension of disbelief, drama, humor, strength, vulnerability, intellect, nerve, sensory awareness, risk, hunger, selflessness, selfishness, and luck. It is ethereal and elemental. Ephemera and permanence. The editor dearly wants to be surprised and yet, to open themselves to surprise, first they must trust. If the letter arrived in a quality paper envelope, the address legible, the letter intact, and the single page inside emerges into the rarefied light of their office not too dense with gray type, you have metaphorically caught your correspondent’s eye and made it across the miles to stand before them.

Now what?

Who are you?

If this is my initial contact, I go for an arresting statement of fact that captures the essence of the book. If this is my response to their request for an outline or sample chapters, I remind him/her that I am responding to his/her request. Next, a spark of light on my credits. Something about why he/she can trust my work.

Then, that lean, mean, irresistible pitch in an understated, to-the-heart-of-it flow about secrets this book reveals, and where it takes the adventurous reader.

If I feel up to risking my reader’s patience with an extra paragraph, I’ll explain how my proposed book stands apart. I’m on thin ice here, but if I have the right stuff – a reference to one of his/her client’s works to which my work has a meaningful connection, for example – I may attract enough interest to inspire a second reading, and a sense of me that resonates a day or two later.

Finally, a simple and sincere request to send them a few sample chapters. Perhaps the entire manuscript? (This alerts the reader that the manuscript is complete.) Thank you, (editor’s name HERE). I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely yours, (judge for yourself whether sincerely is on pitch). Have you established an authentic connection for which sincerely is appropriate and reinforcing? If so, then sign off sincerely. If not, leave well enough alone and end with Thank You.

Sincerely,

M.R.

The Woman-Haters: A Yarn of Eastboro Twin-lights | Joseph C. Lincoln (1870-1944)

A short story evolves to become a short novel, and is published. The author achieves success with his modest yarns about life on Cape Cod. He publishes his tales in the Saturday Evening Post, enjoys a respectable living from his writing, summers on the northern Jersey shore, and dies in Winter Park, Florida. Through his stories, readers discover a Cape Cod populated by dreamers and doers, practical idealists who define success in terms of personal codes more than popular myths of the America's 20th century success machine. Readers travel from afar to experience his Cape Cod, and residents help them realize the dream. Soon, the Cape becomes a destination, an ideal of a better time in America, and a vacationer's mecca. In 1911, Joseph Crosby Lincoln (1870-1944), 41, publishedThe Woman-Haters: A Yarn of Eastboro Twin-Lights his story The Woman-Haters: A Yarn of Eastboro Twin-lights (A.L. Burt Company, NYC).  He was a third of the way through his career as a spinner of popular yarns set on Cape Cod, in a part of the country that was invisible to all but a few thousand residents and their occasional visitors from nearby Boston.  It was a place apart from the nation's rambunctious urban centers, a throwback to an earlier, self-reliant America.  Its people were taciturn, pragmatic, and passionate about life's possibilities. Lincoln distrusted modern progress and so he kept returning in his stories to the childhood home from which he had been taken after his father died and his mother moved him to the mainland. Lincoln's anti-modernist tendencies found expression in stories about this Yankee outpost on a narrow finger of sand so far out to sea that on especially clear days residents might fancy seeing their ancestors' old country to the east. Here adversity was vanquished, justice prevailed, and romance was eventually, ultimately requited.

In The Woman-Haters, once-married Seth Atkins and Emeline Bascom accidentally reunite on a beach at the extreme easternmost tip of the nation.  In this fantasy realm between sand and sea, they see their past actions in new light, comprehend their lives afresh, and rediscover their former attraction.

In 2010, enter Daniel Adams, a veteran writer-producer-actor-director who likes the cut of Lincoln's literary jib. Adams is one of movie-making's working class heroes who keep the dream of movie magic alive by gathering friends, locals, and would-be filmmakers together to put on a show. He attracts popular stars to his troupe, works long hours, stretches a dollar to the breaking point, and captures moments on film that become movie memories for the rest of us.  Previously, he had directed an adaptation of Lincoln's 1911 story, Cap'n Eri: A Story of the Coast into The Golden Boys (2009).  Recently, he adapted Joe Lincoln's The Woman-Haters: A Yarn of Eastboro Twin-lights a full one hundred years after it was published into the small feature film, The Lightkeepers.

Whether The Lightkeepers is a commercial or artistic success is not at issue here. As of this writing, it has grossed an estimated 4.5 million dollars, which does not qualify it as a commercial success in 2010. The 1911 equivalent, by the way, would have been $193,500. Reviews are mixed. Some critics have faulted the language, the staging, and Richard Dreyfuss' interpretation of former sea captain Seth Atkins. Positive reviews have cited The Lightkeepers' grown-up love story, the palpable sense of place, and the distinctively Yankee knack for understatement.

What counts is that Joseph Lincoln lived life and wrote stories his way. He spun yarns that made readers feel good about themselves. And Daniel Adams is living his life and making movies his way. Hats off to both artists. Thanks for keeping the dream alive.

----------------------------------

Related Links

Joseph Crosby Lincoln (1870-1944), Author

The Woman-Haters: A Yarn of Eastboro Twin-Lights (1911)

Daniel Adams, Writer-Director

"The Lightkeepers"

Dan Douma (1946-2010)

In a recent e-mail to customers, Jesse Douma of the The Writers Store in Los Angeles writes that his father, Dan Douma, co-founder of the The Writers' Computer Store, has died.  This is a loss to the writers' community everywhere. In 1982, Dan co-founded The Writers' Computer Store with Gabriele Meiringer as a resource for writers on Santa Monica Boulevard in West L.A. It became a thriving hub for writers and filmmakers, provided world-wide mail-order services, training and support, a writer-oriented newsletter and special events geared towards creative writers, principally Hollywood screenwriters, but novelists as well. The rest is history. With success they moved the store to Westwood Boulevard and changed the name to The Writers Store. Jesse will soon move The Writers Store again to a new location in Burbank.

Working Writers' Heroes

By 1982, Dan and Gabriele had witnessed the rapid adoption of the Atari 2600, Commodore 64, IBM 5100, Apple I, Apple II, IBM 5120, TRS-80, the IBM PC, Kaypro II, DEC Rainbow, and saw the personal computer's potential for transforming the writer's process. At that time, veteran and aspiring writers throughout Southern California were still using Smith-Coronas and Selectric II's late into the long writer's night. The clacking of long-throw keys, the impact of metal type hammering away at paper, and return bells filling the air on summer nights - Muzak of the creative life - were about to be replaced with muted keyboard clicks and the whir of hard-drives.

Just as Dan and Gabriele were getting the shelves stocked in their new Writer's Computer Store, the era of personal computers dawned for real. Apple, already light years ahead, was soon to introduce the Macintosh. Others followed. The staff and consultants at The Writers Store were always up to speed on the facts, features, and benefits of every hardware and software configuration.

The staff at the Writers Store have long been valued colleagues. When I lived in Los Angeles, I stopped by the store occasionally to see what new books and software were available. Dan, Gabriele, and Jesse have always been helpful. No return to L.A. is complete without checking in.

Notices

Variety 7 June 2010

Los Angeles Times 10 June 2010

Publish or Perish

Ken Auletta offers a short course on the agency business model and the ever-evolving history of publishing.  This article also includes a situational analysis about the stakes for authors, publishers, bookstores, and device makers in the current competition between the printed page and the panel of pixels known as the e-Reader (Kindle, iPad, Nook and others coming online). The writer, journalist and media critic at The New Yorker has been a keen observer of media trends.  His Three Blind Mice: How the TV Networks Lost Their Way put the failing big three television network model in stark context for us in 1991. Now, he has once again captured a dynamic period in media history on the page. His recent article, Publish or Perish Can the iPad topple the Kindle, and save the book business? (The New Yorker, 30 April 2010), is similarly timely and incisive. A 'must read' for authors, agents, publishers and readers.

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/04/26/100426fa_fact_auletta

On Writing "The PACIFIC"

Bruce C. McKenna Goes to War

Recently, Bruce C. McKenna, co-executive producer and lead writer on the HBO television mini-series, "The Pacific," stopped by the Wesleyan University campus for an interview about his latest project. He provided valuable insights into the challenges of adapting history to television, the importance of persistence in getting any project to the screen, and the role of the writer in the process from research and design of story architecture to defending the vision during production and presenting the final product to audiences. Look here for a link soon.

On the same day, Bruce presented the fourth episode of "The Pacific" in the Powell Family Cinema in the Center for Film Studies at Wesleyan University. His answers to questions display the historian's deep knowledge of his material, the screenwriter's respect for storycraft, and openness to sharing his seven year experience. Here are his remarks.

Avoid Mind Reading

Except your own. Writing to the market always falls short of the mark. Besides being a soul-numbing experience (because you end up essentially writing someone else’s inspiration), it cannot be researched sufficiently, drafted, rewritten, edited, rewritten again, shopped, edited, and published in time to capitalize on the market trend.  So, you have invested valuable time, energy, and effort in a project to which you are less than 100% committed, and about which you are less than passionate.

Start with what you want to read. Do what you think is right. Draft your concept.  Outline it, write a few chapters and share it with someone whose skill, perspective, judgment, interests, and discernment you respect.  Odds are that those pages will jump to life in the reader’s mind because you care, because you’re invested in something you want to say, in a tale you want to tell.

Trying to forecast the market, or read editors’ or agents' minds wastes your time.  It also paralyzes your writer’s instrument.  The skills that you develop as a writer are important, high performance, precision tools.  Don’t use your scalpel as a screwdriver.  Don’t use your best sagacious voice to make someone else’s hero sound interesting. Respect yourself, your ideas, and your time.  Follow your muse, your heart, and craft the stories you think matter, the ideas, subjects, and characters that wake you at 3:00 am.

2010 Year of the Tiger - Tx2

There is no clear connection between the world's endangered wild tiger population and creative writing. Not yet, anyway. While developing my next novel project, the thought occurred: what if a story could succeed in bringing some small measure of the majesty of the wild tiger and the immediate peril it faces to the page? Not sure such a project, even if it were accomplished literary writing, would be viable in the current publishing market. The economic imperative reflects the larger problem for tigers and we writers quite neatly.  Still, wouldn't it be an accomplishment if someone could create a story that helped us five-sense the issues? Recognize the moment? Understand the life-and-death choices that we must make?

Random House Raises the Stakes

The climate for writers is changing as it is changing for so many other professions.  At least three writers I know believe that we are approaching a tipping point where a sustainable writing career might slip beyond the grasp of many talented and deserving writers. Contracts written prior to 1994, when Random House modified its contracts to include electronic rights, are subject to interpretation as to whether e-rights are covered.   It is primarily these backlist titles that are the focus of much of the current dispute.  Large publishers' legal departments see sufficient ambiguity in older contracts to claim the rights advantage before the courts intervene and define these terms for them. While publishers, agents, lawyers and judges argue whether imprecise pre-ebook contract language amounts to legally defined rights, the practical result is denied opportunity for writers.  This is not meant to ignore that the economic downturn and the paradigm shift in technology have also forced publishers into an urgent sprint to develop a business model that works for them.  My focus here is on writers and their ability to continue to create the raw material required by the publishing industries. Uncertainty in publishing leads to risk aversion among all parties, delay, and ultimately a degraded environment for writers whose professional survival is already a marginal existence. Last night, I dreamed I was a polar bear on a small floating patch of rapidly melting ice.  Nothing symbolic there, right?

Are traditional publishing's aggressive responses to the evolving e-book market threatening the careers of writers who invent, research, and craft original literary fiction?  Probably not in the long-term, yet it seems that way sometimes.

If you haven't already read it, here is the Authors Guild Dec. 15th Advocacy article, "Random House's Retroactive Rights Grab," in response to Random House CEO Markus Dohle's letter.

Golden Rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
or
He who has the gold makes the rules

Publishers are lining up for a high stakes confrontation with writers and agents. Traditional publishers are positioning for expanded control of individual author's rights, including wrapping e-rights into their traditional print rights contracts. Authors want to share in the revenues produced by e-books at a level that reflects the lower cost of marketing e-books vs. print books. If publishers will not honor this proportionality, then it seems reasonable that authors would want to retain the opportunity to market the e-rights to their books. The Authors Guild sides with the writer. Where will the courts side? Which Golden Rule will guide them? Ultimately, enterprise and economics will decide. In the meantime, we writers have to keep writing, keep finding ways to support ourselves while writing, and keep faith that our work will make a difference.

DISCOVERY of the Day

Melville House Publishing and its informative MobyLives literary blog keep the literary flame burning.  For another perspective on the Random House story, take a look at MobyLives' Dec. 16 coverage.

How Much Does Amazon Want?

From The Authors Guild: Amazon Accuses Someone Else of Monopolizing Bookselling

Amazon made it official yesterday, filing a brief in the Google case claiming that someone else might gain a monopoly in bookselling. It seems we're compelled to state the obvious:

Amazon's hypocrisy is breathtaking. It dominates online bookselling and the fledgling e-book industry. At this moment it's trying to cement its control of the e-book industry by routinely selling e-books at a loss. It won't do that forever, of course. Eventually, when enough readers are locked in to its Kindle, everyone in the industry expects Amazon to squeeze publishers and authors. The results could be devastating for the economics of authorship.

Amazon apparently fears that Google could upend its plans. Amazon needn't worry, really: this agreement is about out-of-print books. Its lock on the online distribution of in-print books, unfortunately, seems secure.

The settlement would make millions of out-of-print books available to readers again, and Google would get no exclusive rights under the agreement. The agreement opens new markets, and that's a good thing for readers and authors. It offers to make millions upon millions of out-of-print books available for free online viewing at 16,500 public library buildings and more than 4,000 colleges and universities, and that's a great thing for readers, students and scholars. The public has an overwhelming interest in having this settlement approved.

(Reprinted with permission of the Authors Guild)

On Negotiation for Writers

Close the Deal

Anyone who has dealt with an agent, a publisher, or a producer knows that negotiation is part of what makes the writing life possible.  As organizing principles go, this is pretty straightforward. While we have plenty to think about in negotiating representation, publication, and (hopefully) production, one goal should remain clearly in focus: close the deal.

Remember a Few Key Points

Robin Davis Miller, General Counsel of The Authors Guild, offered some advice on contracts and the negotiation process at a seminar in Los Angeles. I have benefitted from her counsel. I hope you benefit, too. Here are a few notes:

  • Publishing is a moving target. Change is constant.
  • NEVER accept assurances for marketing of your book on the website or anywhere else.  Get it in the contract.
  • Avoid the OPTION Clause.  Agents tend to leave it in because it ensures their commission even if you leave your agent and place the book yourself.
  • As the author, you deserve to know the publisher's printing and circulation figures.  Publishers don't release this information easily.  They fight it.  Remember - by the time they make an offer, they know precisely how many copies of your book they will print.
  • Research your agent's and publisher's reputation for using sub-rights.  Has the publisher executed for others?  Has your agent executed for other clients?
  • Time is your ally.  The more time that an agent or editor or publisher invests in you and your work, the more reluctant they are to let you go.
  • Books are a business.  Think and speak from a business point of view.
  • Insert an out of print clause anywhere the publisher attempts to punish the author for underperforming sales.
  • Always insist on receiving a statement. Have them e-mail it if they are reluctant to invest in postage. How else are you to know they are doing their job?

More Advice

Ernest Bevin (1881-1951), British politician and statesmen, offered:

The first thing to decide before you walk into any negotiation is what to do if the other fellow says no.

e-Publishing Opens Doors for Authors

Good Times

Just as when the IBM personal computer arrived (1981), Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh with GUI (1984), the venerable Selectric and Selectric II became obsolete, and a universe of entrepreneurial and artistic opportunities opened to writers, the Kindle, Sony Readers, iRex, Lexcycle's Stanza and other downloadable readers have opened doors to a new world of publishing possibilities. While the major players sort out the e-Publishing landscape, engineer the infrastructure, and build the new e-pub world, we writers are exploring, beta testing, and blazing new entrepreneurial paths ... all while continuing to write, write, write. This is a good time to be a writer, don't you think?

Kindle UPDATE - Kindle vs. B&N Free eReader:  See David Pogue's PERSONAL TECH column, "New Entry in E-Books a Paper Tiger," in the August 6th edition of the New York Times.  Barnes & Noble's new e-reader offers PC access to e-books.  The eReader tablet itself is promised for later.