Jan 182006

I don’t have much to add to the voices chattering on about James Frey or “JT Leroy.”

Both come off as performance artists to me. Of the two I’d say the Leroy fraud is more appalling to me in the sense that he/she/they took advantage of many supporters who were there for “JT” for reasons totally unrelated to literature. It’s the same kind of fraud as practiced by those folks down the hill in Sacramento who pretended to be from New Orleans in order to scarf up on the relief funds.

Re Frey, I’m surprised that Oprah defended him on Larry King. I thought that authenticity was her hallmark. If I were Oprah, I’d be pissed.

A Million Little Pieces is number two on Amazon’s bestseller list as I write this, so the controversy hasn’t seemed to hurt sales yet.

The deeper problem for publishers and authors is that many other modern memoirists now become suspect.

It’s a shame, but in fact the list of literary pranks and liars is quite long.

Remember Hitler’s Diary? Howard Hughes’s autobiography?

Fraud of a different sort caught my eye last week, something that’s probably more insidious and dangerous than “memoir fiction” or imaginary authors: science fraud and fudging aided and abetted by Photoshop.

Perhaps everything we read and every picture we see should come with a disclaimer.

Jan 062006

Via Publisher’s Lunch — this article from the Detroit News is worth reading.

Makes you think about those used books sales on Amazon, which cause some publisher and author consternation already. Although I’m sure that the great majority of them are legitimate, I’ve heard of a few cases recently where thieves were hitting stores and stealing books “to order” for online sales.

Oct 182005

I’m the featured guest on a Guerilla Marketing Association teleconference this Wednesday afternoon at 4 PM PST. Clients and potential clients are welcome to call in, just send me a note and I’ll send you the number and access code. The show is run by Roger C. Parker and Jay Conrad Levinson, both bestselling authors with many years of publishing experience. The questions we’re covering include —

* What do publishers want these days?
* What is a “platform,” and why is it so important?
* Publishing alternatives: what are the advantages and disadvantages of trade
book publishing, as compared to self-publishing or print-on-demand?
* What are some of the common characteristics shared by the best-selling books
you’ve represented?
* What can a literary agent do for you that you can’t do for yourself?
* How do you locate a literary agent?
* What do you say, or write, when contacting a potential agent for the first
* What are most important parts of a book proposal?
* What types of books are in great demand these days?

  •  October 18, 2005
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Oct 032005

Jim Minatel at Wiley weighs in with a dissenting opinion on Google Library with Even Tim O’Reilly isn’t always right, and later adds a wry response to Rogers Cadenhead’s Throw the Book at Google.

Whether Tim is right or not, he’s certainly notable in putting his money where his mouth is.

Google indexes everything it can on the web, and most of that information is under copyright already, including this web page just by virtue of my posting it. Google indexes my copyrighted information every five days or so, and if I posted every day maybe the Google bots would come around more often.

Now, Google is taking that conceit to the next level by asserting they can index information whether it’s online already or not — don’t forget that with Google Maps they’re also indexing the Earth.

I don’t blame publishers or authors for taking umbrage at Google Library. In fact, I’m sure that it’s almost essential to challenge Google’s stance to the point that the companies who aspire to index “the universe and everything” have some sort of rational limits placed upon how they might profit unfairly from, or decrease sales of, copyrighted works. As Rogers Cadenhead says, “Thank God we have wealthy corporations with high-powered intellectual property lawyers who can answer this question for us.”

But I think that in the longer run, we’re talking about a revolutionary idea that will benefit authors and publishers alike. It’s really an amazing idea, that we can create a repository for all books, isn’t it? No shades of Fahrenheit 451 here. Who knows what long out of print but still under copyright (post 1923) books might be brought to our attention?

Of course, Yahoo has taken advantage of the Google tumult to officially announce their own library index that will, pointedly, focus only on works in the public domain or those with express publisher consent (Tim O’Reilly is here too). The Yahoo effort is also ambitious but much more polite, and is getting much more positive spin from the publishing industry and APA President Patricia Schroeder.

  •  October 3, 2005
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Sep 302005

I’ve been on the fence on the Google Print and Google Library services, but I’m leaning toward Google’s side these days.

To summarize my understanding: Google Print is an electronic delivery system wherein Google is working hand in hand with publishers to secure rights for books that can generate advertising revenue for copyright holders, while Google Library is meant to be a searchable index of millions of books held in a few University libraries, with search “hits” limited to the book title and author and a few lines of text before and after the indexed passage. (Client and library science pro, Shirl Kennedy pointed me to this detailed legal overview written by Copyright lawyer Jonathan Band (it’s a pdf and it’s pro Google but worth reading).

And for more information, Tim O’Reilly wrote a compelling op-ed piece about the Author’s Guild suit for the NY Times this week, and he’s helpfully posted it to his site. Keep in mind that Tim’s position is in the minority among most publishers I’ve spoken to.

I don’t think that the dissenting publishers or authors are being knee jerk about this at all, and I totally understand their position about Google’s “opt-out” message (which displays a certain arrogance) but I think that in the long term the biggest challenge authors will face is being found and Google Library may be a boon for long OOP (out of print) books and information, becoming the sort of knowledge base the like of which we haven’t seen since the Alexandria Library.

The most salient concerns I’ve seen from the Guild and the APA are —

1) Google’s “opt out or else position” is the start of a slippery slope in copyright law. Once one company indexes all books what’s to stop others from doing the same, and the more of these we see the more likely it will be that someone will flout any pretense of fair use entirely, and

2) How safe is the data? How will Google protect these files from piracy? And what if a disaffected Google employee leaves the company with 200,000 book files (anonymous exec quoted in PW this week). How can Google protect publisher and author rights? I think this is a very relevant concern, and honestly, I don’t know if I would feel the same if Microsoft was indexing all of these books. I guess the question is how far can Google’s stated “Do No Evil” credo go?

There’s no doubt that the internet is changing everything, but frankly I am as concerned about how effectively Google and publishers track the advertising micropayments due their Google Print authors, as I am about whether indexing obscure or long OOP books at Google Library will negatively impact author’s rights and opportunities.

As an aside, a rep from Penn State University pubbed an opinion piece in Publishing Weekly this week that suggests that Google provide copies of their digital files of OOP books to publishers as one of the perks to the affected University publishers, without realizing perhaps that the vast majority of OOP books are owned by the authors, not the publishers. It seems that copyright arrogance cuts both ways.

I welcome any comments on this. I’m probably an oddball on this as an agent in taking a position different from the Author’s Guild, so please feel free to fire away.

  •  September 30, 2005
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Sep 082005

Congratulations to David Fugate, my longtime colleague at Waterside Productions, and one of my best friends.

David recently left Waterside to found LaunchBooks Literary Agency. David is a great agent and a wonderful person, and he’s sure to do well on his own.

For me, it will be nice to have company as an independent agent, and I look forward to working with him on select projects.

  •  September 8, 2005
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Aug 192005

Amazon is now offering Amazon Shorts, allowing customers to sample the works of new authors through “exclusive short form literature, for 49 cents each.” These mini books can be downloaded as pdfs or read on the site. Either way, they remain available online in the customer’s personal “digital locker.” They’re not currently copy protected.

The first question is what took them so long?

Although they’re pitching many well-known, mainstream authors in their first release — including folks like Danielle Steele, Robin Cook and Kim Stanley Robinson — the shorts program will allow even unknown authors to easily hawk their “short form” wares at the largest bookstore on earth, and I think the program is uniquely suited to reference and how-to.

They tout the benefits of buidling backlist most of all: from their site —

Benefits of participation in Amazon Shorts:

Access a powerful marketing tool to promote an author’s backlist in a new and meaningful way
Create an author profile page with biography, photo, and complete backlist
Maintain author’s visibility between published projects
Establish a more direct and frequent communication with readers
Introduce readers to unfamiliar writers
Provide a new outlet to sell short fiction and nonfiction

It will be interesting to see how this develops, and of course I’m trying to learn what the royalty pay-out will look like.

Jul 182005

Recently, Viacom mogul Summer Redstone declared that he was dividing Viacom, and that the “age of the (media) conglomerate” was over.

This is interesting news because Redstone was one of the foremost practitioners of “growth by acquisition.” The media kingdoms built alongside the dot com bubble, such as Viacom or The Company Formerly Known as AOL Time Warner, have had relatively poor results, and most have had a difficult time integrating all of their media properties or benefiting from the supposed synergies. Disney itself has struggled, even as it continues to roll out such successful films as Pirates of the Caribbean, or television hits like Desparate Housewives.

The biggest bonanzas often grow from the bottom up, and the best case in point today might be the absolutely huge sales of the latest Pottter book.

The first Potter title was pubbed by U.K. publisher Bloomsbury, and the U.S. rights were picked up by Scholastic. The movie rights were nabbed by Warner Bros. No one company controlled or directed the Potter phenomenon. Instead, the various entities work together as best they can, and are dependent upon the good graces of J.K. Rowling, who retains ultimate control over the Potter empire and, most importantly, a god-like grasp over the lives of her characters. Thankfully, the best and most enduring books aren’t written by committee.

  •  July 18, 2005
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