Monthly Archives: November 2011

SFWA Lifts Probation on Night Shade

In July of 2010 Science Fiction Writers of America, responding to member complaints against Night Shade Books, put the publisher on probation. At that time John Scalzi, the organization’s president, wrote the following:

This week, we became aware of three recent instances of Night Shade Books acting against the contractual and legal interest of authors, specifically by not reporting royalties when contractually specified or reporting them inaccurately and/or distributing books in a medium for which it had not legally secured rights. (Details here)

Since that time Night Shade has made an earnest effort to get back into the graces of SFWA and its members and today was rewarded with full restoration of its former good standing.  The text of SFWA’s announcement follows:


Dear SFWA members:

As many of you are aware, on July 8, 2010 the SFWA board of directors voted unanimously to place Night Shade Books on probation for a period of one year, following concerns about contractual issues with their authors.

SFWA asked Night Shade to meet a series of benchmarks as a measure of a good faith effort to return to a solid standing. After a review of Night Shade Books and after requesting information from our members about the publisher’s activities during the period of probation, based upon the information currently available, the board believes that Night Shade has met the following conditions for it to remain on the qualifying list after its probation period:

* a. That it examined its catalogue to ensure it is no longer offering fiction in formats for which it has no rights, and makes whole those authors whose rights it has violated;
* b. That it instituted procedures and hired sufficient staff to ensure accurate record keeping for contracts and payments, both for previously published and future authors;
* c. That there are no instances of contractual violations on the part of Night Shade Books against authors signed to publishing deals after the start of the probationary period.
* d. Night Shade Books fulfills its contractual and financial obligations to the authors it has already published, including full and accurate accounting of royalties per contract, with payment of any royalties outstanding.

Therefore, the term of probation for Night Shade is lifted. Fiction contracted during that term is acceptable for qualification for SFWA membership. It may remain on the list so long as it continues to fulfill its contractual obligations to its authors and meets SFWA’s qualifying market standards. SFWA remains interested in the health of Night Shade books and will act at any time to deal with a member complaint against Night Shade.

We look forward to working with them and are glad that SFWA is able to retain Night Shade Books as a SFWA qualifying market.


Why You Need to Care About Semicolons

When you start dating someone you will naturally want to know if he or she uses drugs.  It’s less likely you’ll want to know if he or she uses semicolons – unless you believe that the answer will lead to marriage. We can’t recall if it started that way for Virginia and Leonard Woolf or Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but we know from a recent wedding announcement in New York Times that that’s how it started for Jennifer Miller and Jason Feifer.

“Both were blasting through the often less-than-literate listings of online dating sites,” writes Andrew L. Yarrow, “when Mr. Feifer’s e-mail message on caught Ms. Miller’s eye for reasons less romantic than grammatical. ‘He used a semicolon correctly; that was reason enough to get a drink with him,’ the 31-year-old author of Inheriting the Holy Land recalled.”

The rest is history, as you will see if you care to read details of their wedding announcement.

So, if you’re entering into a relationship and suspect your love object is scrutinizing your emails for solecisms, you might want to refresh your understanding of this subtle point of grammar.

Melissa Donovan in has this to say about it:

#The semicolon establishes a close connection between two sentences or independent clauses.
#A semicolon can replace conjunctions and or but.
Semicolons indicate a stronger separation than a comma but weaker than a period.
#A semicolon is often used in lists to separate items when some of the items in listed subsets require commas.
#The semicolon is always followed by a lower case letter with proper nouns being the only exception (proper nouns are always capitalized).
#Semicolon use can be applied to separate two clauses or sentences that are saying the same thing in different ways.
#As with other punctuation marks that denote the end of a clause or sentence, there is no space between the semicolon and the word preceding it; there should be a single space after the semicolon.

#I love music; however, I haven’t played my own guitar in several years.
#I’m fascinated by names and their meanings; Melissa means honey bee.
#There’s nothing like the gentle drum of water hitting against the window pane; I love the rain.

So, lovers, remember this: when you email your beloved, pay heed to those semicolons; they could save your relationship.

Richard Curtis



Another Reason to Dissolve the European Union

Eric Pfanner of the New York Times writes that “The highest court in the European Union said on Thursday that Internet service providers could not be required to monitor their customers’ online activity to filter out the illegal sharing of music and other copyrighted material.”

The decision, handed down by the European Court of Justice, rebuffed a group of composers and musicians suing an Internet Service Provider facilitating file sharing. A lower court had compelled the file sharing outfit to filter out copyrighted songs. The higher court thought the lower court’s decision would violate  “the freedom to conduct business, the right to protection of personal data and the freedom to receive or impart information.” Or, to put it less elegantly, the license to steal.

European Court Overturns Rule on Illegal File Sharing

Richard Curtis


Publishers Must Update Health Books Before Going E

Many publishers of medical, health and fitness books are reissuing them as e-books without requiring them to be updated.  This is a potentially dangerous practice that may sooner or later get a publisher or author in trouble.

Book contract boilerplate commonly has language warranting that the book does not contain any harmful formulas, recipes or instructions. At the time of the book’s original publication all medical claims should have been completely valid.  Yet there are innumerable examples of foods and medicines considered safe and efficacious ten or twenty years ago that turned out to be the very opposite after research upended assumptions or discredited earlier findings. Margarine once recommended as a substitute for butter was discovered to contain harmful trans-fats. Some artificial sweeteners that seemed like a perfectly safe alternative to sugar have come to be suspected of being potentially carcinogenic. A diet heavy in certain kinds of fish may now also be heavy in mercury, and even the popular food pyramid that dominated dietary thinking for decades was heavy in carbohydrates and a serious contributor to today’s obesity crisis and has been reformulated.

Assuming that the publishers of those older titles have the right to put them into e-book format, the easy option is to reprint the content in its original form.  I’m not a lawyer and can’t say whether or not a publisher incurs liability for reissuing a book that contains debunked information.  But that would not prevent an aggrieved plaintiff from making a claim that the publisher should have known better than to promote a food or drug demonstrated to have adverse health effects.

I can personally testify to several instances where a publisher, contemplating an e-book edition of an old health book, asked the author to revise it but offered no compensation. When the author said he or she would not or could not update the book without being paid, the publisher asserted its right to release the original  edition, putting itself and the author in legal jeopardy. This is a disservice to author and reader alike.

If medical information is stale or has been disproved it is the publisher’s obligation to pay for an update. If it can’t afford to do so, it should let the book go out of print and give the rights back to the author.

Richard Curtis


Dave Duncan Quarrels with His Character – and Loses!

We asked Dave Duncan to write something for us about Lord of the Fire Lands, the middle novel in his King’s Blades trilogy. When he did he revealed a secret that many readers may find incomprehensible but every professional writer will recognize.


When asked how I write, I always stress the importance of knowing the ending of a book before writing the beginning. There are exceptions, though, and Lord of the Fire Lands was certainly one of them.

In its first version, it ended with the treaty negotiations, a scene that is still there. I was working well ahead of my submission deadline back then, so I put the MS aside to marinate while I worked on something else. When I came back to it to apply a final polish, I decided that the ending was too abrupt. So I wrote some more. That didn’t work. I tried again, with the same result. And again.

At that point Radgar, who is probably the most complex character ever to emerge from my word processor, completely took over. I have had characters awaken to a life of their own and try to upstage everyone else—Katanji in “The Seventh Sword” series, for example—but none quite as vividly as Radgar did then. He dictated the ending you will now find.

“You can’t do that!” I protested. “It’s barbaric. Moreover, you are completely ruining the final book.”

“The third book is your problem,” he replied, “and I certainly am a barbarian. This is my story, and this is how it must end.”

I argued as much as I dared, but Radgar was both armed and exceedingly dangerous, as you will see. Eventually he convinced me that this was indeed how he would act. The proof was that I did not need to change anything that had happened earlier, so “his” ending was correct for his story. I didn’t approve, but I had to let it stand. I took the dog for a long walk and worked out how I could salvage the rest of the trilogy. When the hardcover came out, I received so many protests from readers that we added a warning in the mass market edition, to the effect that you could read any book in the series, but not two, or you would have to read all three.
+ + +

E-Reads’ release of Firelands plugs a hole in the first series, “Tales of the King’s Blades”. The first book, The Gilded Chain, and the third, Sky of Swords, have never been out of print.*

The second series, “Chronicles of the King’s Blades” is also available in its entirety; these three books follow the Blades’ adventures after the reign of King Ambrose: Paragon Lost, Impossible Odds, and The Jaguar Knights.**

I also wrote a trilogy of YA novellas, “The King’s Daggers”, which E-Reads has re-issued as a single novel, The Monster War. That fills a story gap in the first series. So now you have all seven to look forward to.

PS: The Blades have been translated into at least seven other languages. Take a look at the cover of the French edition of The Gilded Chain and you will see how they struck a chord in the land of d’Artagnan.

Dave Duncan

November 23, 2011

* The Gilded Chain and Sky of Swords are available as HarperCollins e-books.

** Also available as HarperCollins e-books


Thanksgiving Day 2011


Charles Dickens Dumps on Writer of New Ending for Great Expectations

Writer David Nicholls has revealed that he has written a new ending to Great Expectations for his movie “thriller” version of the Dickens classic.

“The author revealed – to a few gasps in the room – that he had given Great Expectations a new ending,” reports BBC News. “‘Dickens came up with two endings – one which is incredibly bleak and one which is unrealistically romantic and sentimental,'” Nicholls said. “‘Neither are quite satisfactory and we’ve come up with an ending that isn’t in the book – and is somewhere in between’ .”

In response to which Charles Dickens writes as follows:


It was upon the whole a very distinguished party, for independently of the lesser theatrical lights who clustered on this occasion round Mr Snittle Timberry, there was a literary gentleman present who had dramatised in his time two hundred and forty-seven novels as fast as they had come out–some of them faster than they had come out–and who was a literary gentleman in consequence.

This gentleman sat on the left hand of Nicholas, to whom he was introduced by his friend the African Swallower, from the bottom of the table, with a high eulogium upon his fame and reputation.

‘I am happy to know a gentleman of such great distinction,’ said Nicholas, politely.

‘Sir,’ replied the wit, ‘you’re very welcome, I’m sure. The honour is reciprocal, sir, as I usually say when I dramatise a book. Did you ever hear a definition of fame, sir?’

‘I have heard several,’ replied Nicholas, with a smile. ‘What is yours?’

‘When I dramatise a book, sir,’ said the literary gentleman, ‘that’s fame. For its author.’

‘Oh, indeed!’ rejoined Nicholas.

‘That’s fame, sir,’ said the literary gentleman.

‘So Richard Turpin, Tom King, and Jerry Abershaw have handed down to fame the names of those on whom they committed their most impudent robberies?’ said Nicholas.

‘I don’t know anything about that, sir,’ answered the literary gentleman.

‘Shakespeare dramatised stories which had previously appeared in print, it is true,’ observed Nicholas.

‘Meaning Bill, sir?’ said the literary gentleman. ‘So he did. Bill was an adapter, certainly, so he was–and very well he adapted too– considering.’

‘I was about to say,’ rejoined Nicholas, ‘that Shakespeare derived some of his plots from old tales and legends in general circulation; but it seems to me, that some of the gentlemen of your craft, at the present day, have shot very far beyond him–‘

‘You’re quite right, sir,’ interrupted the literary gentleman, leaning back in his chair and exercising his toothpick. ‘Human intellect, sir, has progressed since his time, is progressing, will progress.’

‘Shot beyond him, I mean,’ resumed Nicholas, ‘in quite another respect, for, whereas he brought within the magic circle of his genius, traditions peculiarly adapted for his purpose, and turned familiar things into constellations which should enlighten the world for ages, you drag within the magic circle of your dulness, subjects not at all adapted to the purposes of the stage, and debase as he exalted. For instance, you take the uncompleted books of living authors, fresh from their hands, wet from the press, cut, hack, and carve them to the powers and capacities of your actors, and the capability of your theatres, finish unfinished works, hastily and crudely vamp up ideas not yet worked out by their original projector, but which have doubtless cost him many thoughtful days and sleepless nights; by a comparison of incidents and dialogue, down to the very last word he may have written a fortnight before, do your utmost to anticipate his plot–all this without his permission, and against his will; and then, to crown the whole proceeding, publish in some mean pamphlet, an unmeaning farrago of garbled extracts from his work, to which your name as author, with the honourable distinction annexed, of having perpetrated a hundred other outrages of the same description. Now, show me the distinction between such pilfering as this, and picking a man’s pocket in the street: unless, indeed, it be, that the legislature has a regard for pocket-handkerchiefs, and leaves men’s brains, except when they are knocked out by violence, to take care of themselves.’

‘Men must live, sir,’ said the literary gentleman, shrugging his shoulders.

‘That would be an equally fair plea in both cases,’ replied Nicholas; ‘but if you put it upon that ground, I have nothing more to say, than, that if I were a writer of books, and you a thirsty dramatist, I would rather pay your tavern score for six months, large as it might be, than have a niche in the Temple of Fame with you for the humblest corner of my pedestal, through six hundred generations.’

From Nicholas Nickleby Chapter 48


Bad Sex Award is Coming, Oh God Oh God Yes Yes Yes It’s Coming!

With hot moist tongue moiling the inside of its cheek, The Literary Review will present it’s annual Bad Sex Award to the author of the worst sex scene published in 2011.   The winner, selected from such nominees as Stephen King and Jean Auel, will be named on December 6 at a ceremony at London’s Naval and Military Club, which The Guardian tells us is “appropriately known as the In and Out.”

“The first thing that arises out of the nominations for this year’s bad sex awards – the excruciating writing highlighted by the Literary Review each year – is just how fecund their writers’ imaginations are,” notes Stephen Bates. “If they have done half the things they have ascribed to their characters, their spectacles must have steamed up.

“There are agile tongues, rooms that begin to shake, warm wet caves, volcanic releases, moist meat, bottomless swamps of dead fish and yellow lilies in bloom and cellars filled with a heady store of wines and spirits emitting wafts of gaseous bouquets. And that is before you get to massaging, kneading, stretching, rubbing, pinching, flicking, feathering, licking, kissing and gently biting – which occurs in just one sentence thanks to David Guterson.”

Jonathan Franzen was a nominee in last year’s competition, but either his bad sex wasn’t good enough, or his good sex wasn’t bad enough, for he didn’t win. You can read about that here.

As for this year’s, we’ll be panting, writhing and churning with anticipation of the news coming from the In and Out early in December.

Bad sex awards: the contenders for a night at the In and Out

Richard Curtis


85,000 Titles Strong, Smashwords Pitches the Agents

Smashwords Introduces Ebook Publishing and Distribution Service for Literary Agents

Powerful, Proven Tools to Manage Ebook Publishing, Metadata, Distribution and Sales Reporting

LOS GATOS, Calif., November 17, 2011 — Smashwords, the leading distributor of indie ebooks, today introduced a new service for literary agents. The service provides literary agents simple but powerful tools to manage the publication and distribution of their clients’ indie ebooks. Service highlights include free ebook conversions, centralized metadata management, distribution to major worldwide ebook retailers, time-saving aggregated sales reporting across all retailers, and special merchandising at

“Literary agents will write the next chapter of the indie ebook revolution,” said Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords. “Agents represent the most commercially successful authors. These authors are now asking their agents to add e-publishing services to exploit the potential of their reverted-rights works and unpublished works. Although all authors have the freedom to self-publish, many would prefer to delegate the e-publishing and back office duties to their agent so the author can focus their energy on writing.”

Over 32,000 authors, small presses and literary agents have utilized Smashwords to release 85,000 ebooks in the last three years. 7,500 of these titles were released in the last 30 days.

Until recently, the Smashwords platform labeled literary agents as “Publishers,” even though most agents consider their authors the publishers of record. To address this subtle but important nuance of metadata labeling, Smashwords created this new service expressly for literary agents.

Agents have the ability to upload multiple books on behalf of multiple clients.Agented books appear as “Written by [Author Name], Agented by [Agency Name].”

When Smashwords distributes the book to retailers such as the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and Diesel, the author is recognized as the publisher, not the agent.

Smashwords has also introduced a new home page catalog to showcase agented works, making it easy for readers to browse ebooks represented and curated by literary agents.

To work with Smashwords, agents simply sign up for a free Smashwords account, upgrade the account to Agent status (also free), and then upload books and metadata on behalf of their clients. A co-branded bookstore within Smashwords showcases the agency’s clients and allows readers to view books by recent releases, best-sellers, and highest rated. When readers browse the book pages of agented books, they enjoy contextual discovery links such as “Other books by this author” and “Other books from this agent.”

The Smashwords Agent service makes e-publishing fast, free and easy for literary agents. Service benefits include:

• Centralized metadata management – Agents control the book’s price (Smashwords retailers don’t discount), marketing description and other metadata at their Smashwords Dashboard. They make a single change once and Smashwords propagates
the update to all retailers.
• Aggregated sales reporting saves time – Each quarterly payment includes a downloadable report that makes it easy to map earnings to each of the agency’s authors. Agents can perform custom queries to provide authors granular sales reporting by title, date and retailer.
• Distribution to leading e-retailers – Smashwords distributes to the Apple iBookstore (32 countries), Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and the Diesel eBookstore. Amazon distribution is available through Smashwords on request. Books are also distributed to the native catalogs of leading mobile e-reading apps including Aldiko for Android devices and Stanza for the iPhone/iPod Touch. More distribution points in the works.
• Free – No fees for ebook conversion or setup. Smashwords earns a 10% of list price commission for books sold through major retailers (agent receives 60% list). The commission for sales through the retail store is 15% net after credit card fees, with 85% net going to the agent.

Multiple literary agencies – including Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, the Beverley Slopen Agency and Larsen Pomada Literary Agents – are utilizing Smashwords to publish and distribute ebooks on behalf of their clients. Diversion Books, a publisher founded by literary agent Scott Waxman, is also a Smashwords client.

What literary agents are saying about Smashwords: “Smashwords has offered what many other self-publishing platforms do not, a way for agents to be involved with digital publishing without having to take on the title of ‘Publisher,’” said Abby Reilly, E-Book Project Manager at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, based in New York. “Giving our clients a space in the new and exciting world of digital publishing, while continuing to shepherd all aspects of their literary careers, is a thrilling challenge for our agency. We are delighted to be working with Smashwords to make this happen.”

“Smashwords makes it easy to begin exploring the new digital terrain,” said Beverley Slopen, whose literary agency shares her name and is based in Toronto, Canada. “It is an exciting time in publishing, a time like no other, and our authors want to be there. They are pushing us to broaden our knowledge and our skill set. While ebook publishing is not a substitute for traditional publishing, it adds an amazing new dimension.”

“I have been an avid Smashwords supporter since its inception, and over the past three years have integrated digital publishing initiatives in the career plans of all my clients,” said Laurie McLean of Larsen Pomada Literary Agents in San Francisco. “Most of my clients have both traditionally published books and ebooks in their bag of tricks, and it is exciting to see how they complement each other. While many people have been bashing literary agents as gatekeepers of the old guard in publishing, I feel that digitally-engaged agents are the perfect mentors to guide authors through these turbulent waters of opportunity. The new Smashwords Agent service has made my job even easier.”

Literary Agents – How to Get Started with Smashwords

Visit to sign up for a free account in the name of your agency. The confirmation email you receive will walk you through next steps. The “How to Publish at Smashwords” link on the home page at provides helpful links to a vast array of Smashwords resources.

For an online presentation outlining the opportunity for agents to serve the indie e-publishing needs of their clients, see this post at the Smashwords Blog and its accompanying Slideshare presentation, the Literary Agent’s Indie Ebook Roadmap:
or visit

About Smashwords
Founded in 2008, Smashwords is the world’s leading distributor of indie ebooks. More than 32,000 authors, small presses and literary agents publish over 85,000 indie ebooks at Smashwords. Smashwords has released over 7,500 ebooks in the last 30 days.

Smashwords makes it fast, free and easy for the world’s authors, publishers and literary agents to publish and distribute multi-format ebooks. Smashwords distributes to major online retailers such as the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and the Diesel eBook Store, and also distributes to the leading mobile e-reading apps such as Aldiko, Stanza and FBReader. Smashwords is based in Los Gatos, California, and can be reached on the web at Visit the official Smashwords blog at


85,000 Titles Strong, Smashwords Pitches the Agents

The following is an excerpt from a press release issued by Smashwords.
Smashwords, the leading distributor of indie ebooks, today introduced a new service for literary agents.

The service provides literary agents simple but powerful tools to manage the publication and distribution of their clients’ indie ebooks. Service highlights include free ebook conversions, centralized metadata management, distribution to major worldwide ebook retailers, time-saving aggregated sales reporting across all retailers, and special merchandising at

“Literary agents will write the next chapter of the indie ebook revolution,” said Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords. “Agents represent the most commercially successful authors. These authors are now asking their agents to add e-publishing services to exploit the potential of their reverted-rights works and unpublished works. Although all authors have the freedom to self-publish, many would prefer to delegate the e-publishing and back office duties to their agent so the author can focus their energy on writing.”

For details, click on Smashwords’ release.