Monthly Archives: December 2008

Do You Try Your Agent’s Patience?

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 publisher’s office and trash it.

Read how agents’ patience is tried. And ask yourself whether you have a high PITA Factor.

Richard Curtis


Everything You Need to Know About the Net Generation is in Your Kid’s Bedroom with the Door Closed

They came out of the womb with keypads grafted to their hands, monitor cables trailing from their optical nerves, thumbs hyperdeveloped for texting, and umbilical cords terminating in USB’s ready to interface immediately after weaning. They passed up electric trains for video war games, dolls for Facebook accounts, and Little League participation for YouTube and Craigslist.

They are the Net Generation, also known as Millennials. And if you don’t understand them, or aren’t sure you like them even if they belong to you, thank your stars that Don Tapscott does. And if you’re a businessperson hoping to make a market on them, you’d be smart to listen very, very carefully to him. For proof of this assertion, ask the President of the United States. Barack Obama’s juggernaut political campaign drew its power from the social networking values of Net Gen youth the way a hurricane sucks up energy and momentum from warm open ocean water. Here’s a blurb on the book:

Poised to transform every social institution, the Net Generation is reshaping the form and functions of school, work, and even democracy. Simply put, the wave of youth, aged 12-30, the first truly global generation, is impacting all institutions. Particularly, employers, instructors, parents, marketers and political leaders are finding it necessary to adapt to the changing social fabric due to this generation’s unique characteristics. Within its comprehensive examination of the Net Generation, and based on a 4.5 million dollar study, Don Tapscott’s Grown Up Digital offers valuable insight and concrete takeaways for leaders across all social institutions.

Harry Hurt, who has written many an entertaining New York Times feature, is grateful to Tapscott for decoding his 11-year-old son. “How can an otherwise healthy boy like mine spend a sunny day playing World of Warcraft for five consecutive hours instead of playing soccer or baseball outdoors?” Hurt asks. His answer? Tapscott’s book, Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation Is Changing Your World, “gives parents from the baby boom generation — like me — reason for optimism.”

Tapscott, an adjunct professor of management at the University of Toronto, writes a really interesting blog about the Net Gen, drawn in some measure from his observations of youngsters like his own children. His book cogently summarizes those observations, and for anyone hoping to bottle and monetize the Millennial zeitgeist, Tapscott’s points are worth committing to memory. As Hurt summarizes them:

* They prize freedom
* They want to customize things
* They enjoy collaboration
* They scrutinize everything
* They insist on integrity in institutions and corporations
* They want to have fun even at school or work
* They believe that speed in technology and all else is normal
* They regard constant innovation as a fact of life

Paul Lynde’s “Bye Bye Birdie” lyric asks, “What’s the matter with kids today?” Actually, it sounds like the Millennials have their heads screwed on pretty tightly.



Obama Health Plan Prescribes Tablets at $50 Billion a Pop

I’ve been carrying the torch for Tablet PCs from my very first glimpse a decade or so ago, but like the object of a crush who’s just not that into you, my passion has been unrequited. Despite a huge array of potential applications – education alone is as rich in possibilities as Alaska’s fabulous El Dorado Gold Mine – developers and manufacturers have stubbornly resisted commitment to tablets. It’s a big relief to find out I’m not alone, to learn in fact that I’m in such august company as Bill Gates. I urge you to read Conrad Blickstorfer’s expert analysis of just why, for all its superb qualities, the “slate” (another term for tablets) has not yielded to our protestations of abiding love.

One sector of the computer-using community that has kept the embers burning, however, is the medical profession. As soon as Microsoft released the first version of Tablet PC, doctors seized on it as the answer to their prayers. At last they were liberated from the bondage of paperwork that cost them one hour of clerical duties for every hour spent attending to patients. With its portability, handwriting recognition and easy interfaceability with centralized databases, doctors could make their rounds with Tablet in hand and enter information in real time. Tablets even recognized the traditionally execrable handwriting of doctors, but e-ink and virtual keyboards have replaced the pen and all but eliminated the possibility that the computer could read “atropine” for “aspirin.”

And now, with President Elect determined to create a $50 billion national computerized medical archive at the heart of his health care initiative, the tablet will at last find its place in the sun.

A microcosm of this world to come can be seen in Steve Lohr’s New York Times examination of a small Wisconsin clinic that in 2003 introduced wireless tablet computers to its medical staff and required it use them. Lohr describes the many virtues of the program:

A paper record is a passive, historical document. An electronic health record can be a vibrant tool that reminds and advises doctors. It can hold information on a patient’s visits, treatments and conditions, going back years, even decades. It can be summoned with a mouse click, not hidden in a file drawer in a remote location and thus useless in medical emergencies.

Modern computerized systems have links to online information on best practices, treatment recommendations and harmful drug interactions. The potential benefits include fewer unnecessary tests, reduced medical errors and better care so patients are less likely to require costly treatment in hospitals.

The widespread adoption of electronic health records might also greatly increase evidence-based medicine. Each patient’s records add to a real-time, ever-growing database of evidence showing what works and what does not. The goal is to harness health information from individuals and populations, share it across networks, sift it and analyze it to make the practice of medicine more of a science and less an art.

You can see a typical computerized e-health patient record here.

Okay, that’s one industry about to be conquered by the tablet. But I won’t rest until I see one under the arm of every college student.



Gizmodo Picks Top Ten Android Apps

This is the week when everybody picks their ten best and worst things of the year gone by, and I hope we’ll be forgiven if we don’t play the game. But that doesn’t mean we won’t enjoy reading someone else’s Best Picks. I like John Mahoney’s The 10 Best Android Apps of 2008 posted on Gizmodo. It sounds like there are more Android developers than users right now, but the level of initiative in putting the technology to use is amazing.

You’ll remember that Android is an open platform, meaning anyone can play. Whether you’re a serious developer or a Sunday hacker, go to Android’s site and download the code. Our favorite is the barcode scanner application, which instantly compares the price of the product you’re interested in buying with all available prices offered elsewhere, and even directs you to the shop nearest you carrying the bargain. Using your Android in Saks Fifth Avenue calls for a bit of nerve, though, after you point your cell phone at the tag on the six hundred dollar suit you’ve just tried on, then walk out of the store and head for Men’s Wearhouse.



Nine Gazillion Pound Gorilla – 2008 Holiday Sales Best Ever

Amazon reports that the 2008 holiday season was the online retailer’s historic best. On its peak day (December 15th), the retailer shipped 5.6 million items.

Amazon did not break out book sales, so we don’t yet have a clear idea of how they compare to those of traditional bookstores and store chains like Barnes & Noble, Borders and Books-A-Million. Amazon retails a wide variety of nonbook products, and we know from other sources that among the items moving briskly out of their warehouses were Nintendo Wii, Samsung’s 52-inch LCD HDTV, the Apple iPod touch and the Blokus board game.

Amazon is a key bellweather for the emerging digital retail business model, and the weathervane this year has pointed to fair weather for etailers. Worries arising from the economic crisis have had traditional retailers on edge, and a great many brick and mortar stores slashed prices to the bone, causing a drop in overall holiday spending, according to a credit card transaction tracking outfit. If some of those stores were booksellers, it will tell us a lot about book-buying patterns.

In the absence of hard trends, I’m putting my money on the Nine Gazillion Pound Gorilla.



The E-Book Celebrates its Coming of Age, with the Times Reciting the Benedition

Hallelujah! The New York Times has blessed the e-book.

In Turning Page, E-Books Start To Take Hold, a full-dress, front page treatment by Brad Stone and Motoko Rich, the “Gray Lady” (as the flagship of the printed word is affectionately nicknamed) recognizes that downloadable books are here to stay.

The article summarizes technological and commercial advances made by the Kindle and Sony Reader and foretells new devices and programs on the way including Plastic Logic and Polymer Vision, Blackberry and iPhone. We’ve written up all of these items and more, but if I hotlinked every reference this blog would glow as orange as a tropical sunset.

Do we forgive the New York Times for taking ten years to get with the e-book program? Are we okay with them telling us stuff we’ve known and written about for months or even years? Do we care that the official information organ of the establishment has finally given our band of visionaries its imprimatur?

The answer to all of the above is an unequivocal YES. On behalf of all the futurists, technologists, programmers, geeks, freaks and early adopters who saw it coming ten, fifteen, twenty years ago, I can say that recognition is sweet and very welcome.

As the Times points out, we’re really just at the end of the beginning. As cool as the Kindle and Sony are, they are really the Gutenberg printing presses of the digital revolution, and there are many refinements on the way. In fact, if you do check out some of the reading devices we’ve heralded here, you’ll see that the game is far from over. A number of would-be Kindle- and Sony-killers have the the prize in their sights, and a year or two from now could see more miracles than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

But for now, we’ll take a day to rest on our laurels.

Richard Curtis


For Agents, Timing is Everything

Few authors realize it, but one of the most important reasons for hiring agents is that they have a superior sense of timing. “Timing is everything” might almost be called the agent’s motto (“Patience is everything else” might be considered the agent’s second motto). The most successful agents are those who understand that there is a season to push and a season to ease up, a season to fight and a season to turn the back, a season to watch and wait and a season to strike. Sometimes the moment presents itself on a platter; sometimes it has to be worked with brute force like steel on a smithy’s anvil. And there are times when, for all an agent’s scheming, for all his exertions, for all his manipulations, he simply cannot make the thing happen. (That’s usually a signal for me to go shopping.)

To understand timing – and test your instincts against your agent’s – click here.

Richard Curtis


Richard Curtis Verses the Publishing Industry

For seven or eight years in the mid 1980s and early ’90s Publisher’s Weekly ran literary agent Richard Curtis’s end-of-the-year summary, in tongue-in-cheek verse, of the highlights of the year in the publishing industry. The annual rhymes carried such titles as, “Merger, He Wrote,” (1986), “Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Industry of Mine” (1989) and “Stop the Millennium, I Want to Get Off” (1990).

After a hiatus of some fifteen years, the verse-atile agent returned to PW in 2007 with “The Year of the Platform,” which boasted such lines as,

But are our values turning asswards
When opening books requires passwords?

PW’s 2008 year-end issue is out and carries Curtis’s latest poetic effusion, “The Coming of the POD People“. Here’s a taste:

Just when you feared you would be fired
Or simply forcibly retired,

Wait! Belay robe and pajamas —

Acquire books about Obamas!

First Puppy, Guppy, Daughter, Spouse,

A veritable Obama House.

Success? One thing alone is vital:

Just put the Big O in the title.

Curtis’s original verses as well as his prose spoofs are collected in The Client From Hell and Other Publishing Satires.

The only problem is that if you really enjoy his latest poem, you’ll have to wait a whole year before you get to read another new one.

John Douglas

Poem excerpts (c) Richard Curtis reprinted from Publishers Weekly, December 31 2007 and December 22 2008, Reed Elsevier Magazines.


Their Information Is Not Free. Could That Be Why They’re Making Money?

David Carr of the New York Times reports that, TriCityNews, a newspaper serving Monmouth County, New Jersey does not make its editions available on the Web, and has no intention of doing so. Except for a display of ad and product information, there’s no link to the news section of the paper. Okay, don’t believe it. Click here and see for yourself.

“Why would I put anything on the Web?” Carr quote the paper’s owner and publisher Dan Jacobson. “I don’t understand how putting content on the Web would do anything but help destroy our paper. Why should we give our readers any incentive whatsoever to not look at our content along with our advertisements, a large number of which are beautiful and cheap full-page ads?”

It’s tempting to call Jacobson’s attitude counter-intuitive, but it’s actually completely intuitive and logical. It’s also completely successful: according to Carr,

Into the teeth of a historic recession, the newspaper had just published the biggest issue in its history. The product is double-digit profitable, and it has been growing at a clip of about 10 percent a year since it was founded in 1999, right about the time the Web was beginning to put its hands around print’s neck.

Carr thinks it’s too early to call it a trend. TriCity is pretty much mom-and-pop in size and local in distribution. It may simply be that a lot of old-fashioned people like to read an old-fashioned newspaper the old-fashioned way, with newsprint on their fingers. At the same time, some major newspapers and magazine are rethinking this Information Wants To Be Free gimmick, which is truly counter-intuitive, especially when your bottom line is plummeting because nobody’s paying for clicks and Web ad revenue is not as lucrative as the paper version.

Look for a retrenchment of the “Free” business model to be a theme of the year to come. The Reformation started with an itemized list of complaints posted on a church door. Maybe the modern equivalent will be launched in Monmouth County, New Jersey.

Read the Times’s piece in detail. Go ahead. It’s free!



Twillers: the Literary Equivalent of Gamma Rays

Whole Foods uses it to update product information;
The L. A. Fire Department uses it to alert firefighters to blazes;
NASA uses it to break news of Mars Lander discoveries;
And a certain presidential candidate used it to update voters on his political activities.

Now Twitter is being used by would-be novelists to blast installments of their books in progress to friends. Twitter is the social networking service that enables users to blog in microbursts of no more than 140 characters. To give you some sense of what that means, the previous two sentences are 187 characters long, meaning that if they were a scene in my novel I would have to trim 47 characters to bring it down to the length of an acceptable “tweet,” as Twitter posts are called. If you tend to logorrhea, Twitter is an excellent antidote. I have revised the above two verbose sentences and pared them down to a 139-character miracle of concision:


Now Twitter is being used by would-be novelists to blast installments of their books in progress to friends. Twitter is the social networking service that enables users to blog in microbursts of no more than 140 characters.


Now Twitter, the social networking service, is being used by novelists to blast installments of books in progress to friends. Blogs must be less than 141 characters.

It’s possible that, at 140 characters per installment, a work of Jamesian length and quality is achievable, but don’t count on it. In fact, authors are loath to dignify their creations with the term “novel”. Even “novelette” may be far too grandiose. Teeny-Weeny Novelini? Actually, there is a word for the new genre, according to Matt Richtel, writing about the phenomenon in the New York Times. It’s called a Twiller – that is, Twitter-thriller. The author – or perhaps tweeter, to avoid confusion with such practitioners as Tolstoy and Balzac – delivers blasts to other users signed up to receive them, and voila! – in three or four centuries, you have a full-length book! Here’s the plot of Richtel’s story:

It’s about a man who wakes up in the mountains of Colorado, suffering from amnesia, with a haunting feeling he is a murderer. In possession of only a cellphone that lets him Twitter, he uses the phone to tell his story of self-discovery, 140 characters at a time. Think “Memento” on a mobile phone, with the occasional emoticon.

Where can I sign up? Here.

We’ve been updating you on the Japanese proclivity for cellphone fiction, but it would seem that our Asian counterparts are far too long-winded for American twiller tweeters impatient to claim their Nobel Prize for Literature.

So, tweeters, work on discarding those adjectives and adverbs. And while you’re at it, cut down on those character-bloating verbs and nouns. And I’ve always wondered just what the hell we need pronouns for, anyway.