Monthly Archives: March 2012

How Fast Can You Read? How Much Can You Retain?

Publishing professionals are proud of their ability to read fast. Many of us can read three or four manuscripts in a night in our relentless search for literary gems.  But – how much do we retain?

Staples® offers this fun test of reading speed and retention. Click on the red hot-button below and follow the instructions. It’s only a page. You’ll not only be tested on speed but recollection.

I read 38% faster than rest of population. I was informed by Staples that if I maintained that speed I could read War and Peace in 28 hours and 17 minutes. The thing is, I don’t want to read War and Peace in 28 hours and 17 minutes.

You’ll also discover how many books could you read on each eReader before recharging.

Though it’s a harmless little test, there’s a serious aspect to it, as educators debate how much our children retain after reading e-books. (See The Seductions of Tablets)
Richard Curtis

ereader test
Source: Staples eReader Department

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A good book is hard to put down. But if you’re enjoying it on an eReader you eventually have to break and recharge. How many pages can you get through before your battery runs out? How fast can you read classics like The Lord of the Rings or War and Peace? Check your reading speed on this fun interactive infographic and compare it to the national average.

Created by the eReader experts at Staples®.



War on Women Extends to Their Fiction

The war on women seems to be invading their fiction. For the second time in a few weeks chick lit has come under attack.

A few weeks ago we picked up on a piece in The Awl  suggesting that romance is the lowest form of literature. Now, in Salon, we’re told that chick lit may be dead altogether. Coincidentally or otherwise, both charges were leveled by women.

“Less than a decade after commentators clucked at bookstore shelves lined with cartoon high-heels and pink cocktail glasses,” writes Laura Miller in this latest sally, “the only debate that the once-flourishing genre inspires now is over when to run its obituary.”

To Miller’s credit, she realizes it might be a good idea to define her terms. She seems to be referring to the spate of shopping-and-screwing novels published at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st. This variant reflected an overheated economy whose excesses were exemplified by glam fashionistas and their Masters of the Universe lovers. “As the first species of popular fiction to treat its heroines’ professional aspirations as seriously as their romantic prospects, chick lit flourished at a time when ambitious young women poured into a robust job market, seeking both love and success, often with a heaping serving of pricey commodities on the side.”

This trend, says Miller, “smells decidedly off in the face of 8.3 percent unemployment.” That may be true to a degree, but the mutual attractions and sexual tensions between gorgeous, ambitious women and alpha males are not ever going to give way to commonplace characters, shabby settings and humdrum sex.

No matter how you define them, the themes and formulas that have sustained popular women’s fiction for centuries have varied only slightly and will not vary in the foreseeable future. Romance continues to thrive as a genre and sustains the trade book publishing industry to the tune of 25% of its sales.  Survey the lists of such romance powerhouses as Harlequin or Kensington and you’ll see that chick lit is alive and well, thank you very much.

Perhaps Laura Miller is looking for love stories in all the wrong places?

Richard Curtis
Note to readers: Digital Book World has invited me to post my blogs initially on its website before releasing them on E-Reads, and this content is re-published with DBW’s permission. Click here to view the original posting.


Well Met in Lankhmar – Fafhrd & Gray Mouser Return in Shadowland

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, two of the greatest and most beloved characters in fantasy literature, return in Swords Against The Shadowland, a novel-length adventure by Nebula Award nominated author Robin Wayne Bailey and authorized by series creator Fritz Leiber. Shadowland is a direct sequel to Leiber’s famous story, Ill-Met in Lankhmar

Lankhmar, an ancient and decadent city of magic, where witches and sorcerers scheme, where gods and ghosts walk the streets and shadow-haunted alleys, where violence and death dance together like lovers in the darkness. Lankhmar–a city of plague!

Years ago, two rogues bound together by friendship and a shared destiny neither understood met in Lankhmar. Living by their swords, their wits and their daring, they sought adventure and love. Adventure they found, but love – they lost. In despair, they left the city, vowing never to return.

Yet vows are made to be broken. Once again, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are drawn back to Lankhmar and quickly ensnared in its wizard-games as one jealous mage turns on his rivals and unleashes a black force not even he can control, a power that threatens the city itself.

Swords Against the Shadowland was named one of the six best fantasy novels of 1998 by Science Fiction Chronicle.


Successful Antipiracy Service Now Goes After Torrent Sites

Last summer we engaged Muso, a British-based antipiracy service, to help Curtis Agency and E-Reads authors take down files of their books that were being carried on illegal filesharing websites. A number of agents and authors followed suit and have taken advantage of Muso’s aggressive search-and-remove program.

Muso has announced that it is adding takedowns directed at torrent distribution sites, flagrant but elusive copyright violators that have up to now frustrated efforts to combat them.

This antipiracy service is offered free of charge to clients of Curtis Agency and authors published by E-Reads. We also serve as liaison with Muso for other agents, authors and publishers. Click HERE for more information and price quotations.

Below is Muso’s announcement.

Richard Curtis


We’re pleased to announce that Muso now supports takedowns for torrent sites. Over the last two weeks we’ve been scanning for torrent files for your campaigns and you may have already noticed torrent results appearing in your campaigns.

We’ve integrated these results into our existing system so taking down a torrent file is just as easy taking down a cyberlocker file – simply hit the ‘Send Takedown’ option once you’ve verified that the file is yours. This means all our existing features, such as filtering, grouping and auto takedowns, all continue to work with torrents.

No extra charge
Torrent takedowns are included in all pricing plans, with no extra charge for searching for torrent results! A torrent takedown is charged in exactly the same way as any other takedown you send, and of course, reminder messages are free.

Sites supported
As with cyberlockers, we aim to support every site. We’ve already added all the major torrent sites such as,,, and And we’ll keep adding more sites over the coming weeks.

One notable omission is The Pirate Bay, which we haven’t added because they don’t support DMCA takedowns. Although there have been attempts to shutdown this site for many years, it does appear that sites that do not conform to DMCA are now receiving even more attention from the authorities and many are being successfully shutdown.

Coming Soon
As we announced a few weeks ago, we are planning to add support for Google takedowns soon. This will allow you to remove google results for any site which refuses to react to DMCA (e.g. The Pirate Bay), or to remove any sites that link to illegal copies of your content that are being listed above legal download sites.

DMCA Misuse
We’ve noticed a recent increase in articles on the web discussing inappropriate use of DMCA notices. Although none of these are directly related to our user’s takedowns, we would like to remind all our users to use Muso responsibly. We strongly believe that DMCAs are currently the best tool to tackle online piracy, as they allow rights holders to have content removed quickly and easily. But it’s important that they aren’t misused, and that you only issue DMCA notices to files that you own the rights to.

Please ensure that you properly review all files before sending takedowns – here are some tips on the review process.

Always check the file name – if it doesn’t uniquely identify your product, then select the S icon to the right of the file name to view the web page where this link was found, which will help you to identify the file.

If you have a large number of files to review switch to the Groups tab to view the files grouped by name, so you can takedown or ignore groups of files at once.
If you only want to takedown files for specific releases, or if your campaign’s title is a generic word, then use the SEARCH/FILTER options to filter out unwanted results.
Only use the ‘Send Takedown For All Files’ button once you have reviewed all available files and ignored any that you do not own the rights for.


The Muso Team


Little Free Libraries

To commemorate his late mother, a teacher and bibliophile, Todd Bol built a box resembling a miniature one-room schoolhouse, placed it outside his home, filled it with books, and invited passersby to take a book or place one of their own in it.

This simple idea caught fire and three years later these “Little Free Libraries” have spread to 28 states and at least six countries. The organizers offer a template that you can build and decorate yourself, but some people prefer to fashion their own book boxesHere’s a slide show, and below, a video of the story on NBC Nightly News.

The wisdom of giving e-books away on the Internet may be hotly disputed these days, but can there be any debate about giving away – and receiving – printed books?

Richard Curtis

Note to readers: Digital Book World has invited me to post my blogs initially on its website before releasing them on E-Reads, and this content is re-published with DBW’s permission. Click here to view the original posting.

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Can Snail Save the USPS?

I don’t know why the presidential candidates haven’t thought of it, but if I were running their campaigns I have a sure-fire plank for their platform: keep local post offices open. Every one that closes is a dagger in the heart of a community. Who would not vote for the politician who rescued one from oblivion?

Last fall I offered a whole suite of reasons to for keeping the US Postal Service in business. Wedding invitations, holiday cards, letters of recommendation, love letters and condolence notes touch the heart in ways that emails cannot possibly achieve, I pointed out. Add junk mail and parcel post and you will realize how heavily you depend on the USPS. (See Have You Kissed a Snail Today?)

Now there is another reason: to facilitate correspondence between authors and their readers.It seems that a website called The Rumpus has started an epistolary initiative called Letters in the Mail. The founder, author Stephen Elliot, had been getting such positive responses to personalized email greetings he’d been sending out that he decided to try sending letters via snail mail. He was heartened to receive some 50 responses. A number of other high-profile authors followed suit, and the program has begun to thrive.

“When you write a letter,” reports Huffington Post’s Melissa Jeltsen, “it’s such an incredibly personal exchange between two people. It’s really intimate, even if you’re writing a letter to 2,000 people, which is what we are doing. The person gets your letter and opens it and reads it and takes time with it. You never do that with an email.”

“I did not, in a million years, imagine the kind of reception it’s gotten,” Elliot told the reporter. “Clearly, we hit some nerve. I had this idea on a Monday, I was still thinking about it on Tuesday morning and so I launched it. And it was immediate – we had 200 subscribers in the first couple of hours.”

Ready to try it? For an interview with Elliot, read Letters In The Mail: The Rumpus Starts New Print Subscription.

One of my most cherished possessions is an autograph by my literary idol Henry James. It is nothing more than the closing of a letter, the contents of which I have often speculated about. It says, simply, “Believe me truly yours, Henry James.” I cannot gaze at it without believing it was personally directed to me. And this is why I think Letters in the Mail is such a heartwarming idea, and why our government must find the funds to keep post offices in business.

Richard Curtis
Note to readers: Digital Book World has invited me to post my blogs initially on its website before releasing them on E-Reads, and this content is re-published with DBW’s permission. Click here to view the original posting.


Can Readers Resist the Seductions of Tablets? Short Answer is No

Can You Resist Temptation? Probably Not

We don’t need the New York Times to confirm something we’ve been saying for years but it’s always nice to be validated. Julie Bosman and Matt Richtel, writing in that august journal, describe growing concern that tablet computers have too many distractions to keep readers immersed in books they are reading on those devices.

We’ve been saying so for years, but now it’s official. “People who read e-books on tablets like the iPad,” the reporters write, “are realizing that while a book in print or on a black-and-white Kindle is straightforward and immersive, a tablet offers a menu of distractions that can fragment the reading experience, or stop it in its tracks.” “’The tablet is like a temptress,’” said a Forrester Research analyst, citing such seductions as YouTube videos and popup email alerts. In response to a Forrester survey, only 31 percent of publishers “believed iPads and similar tablets were the ideal e-reading platform.”

Three years ago we expressed concern about the allure of tablets. A former editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience, wrote that “people read more slowly on screen, by as much as 20-30 percent… Distractions abound online — costing time and interfering with the concentration needed to think about what you read.”

Her comments are particularly true for children. Maryanne Wolf, a professor of child development at Tufts and author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, points out that “No one really knows the ultimate effects of an immersion in a digital medium on the young developing brain.” But “my greatest concern is that the young brain will never have the time (in milliseconds or in hours or in years) to learn to go deeper into the text after the first decoding, but rather will be pulled by the medium to ever more distracting information, sidebars, and now, perhaps, videos (in the new vooks).” (See The Medium is the Screen. The Message is Distraction.

Professor Gloria Mark, deeply concerned about the distractions engendered by screen media, expressed her own preference: “I’d much rather curl up in an easy chair with a paper book. It’s not only an escape into a world of literature but it’s an escape from my digital devices.”

Richard Curtis

Note to readers: Digital Book World has invited me to post my blogs initially on its website before releasing them on E-Reads, and this content is re-published with DBW’s permission. Click here to view the original posting.


From Mongolia to Venus – Pamela Sargent Spans the Fictional Universe

Great science fiction looks outward toward the intricacy of the universe in order to look inward at the complexity of the human condition. In Thumbprints, Nebula and Locus Award-winning author Pamela Sargent brings together short stories from across her career, each filled with rich characterization and eclectic, fascinating plots.

From Mongolia to Venus, from the distant past to the near future, these works of short fiction explore what it means to be human. Ranging from lyrically mystical to bitterly realistic to laughably satirical, Thumbprints is a shining catalogue of all that Sargent has contributed to the genre.

With an introduction by James Morrow and an afterword by Sargent, herself.

other E-Reads titles by Sargent on her E-Reads Author Page.


Greg Bear on “John Carter”

Greg Bear has kindly shared a blog he posted on his website about John Carter, the recently released film based on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs.




By Greg Bear

Some of my favorite movies–and likely some of yours, as well–were critical and box office failures. Too often, smelling blood, lesser critics joined in like a pack of howling dogs and crooned vicious melodies about, say, “Citizen Kane,” or “The Right Stuff,” or “Return to Oz,” or even the amazing, brilliant mess that is David Lynch’s “Dune.”

The same critics may have also gone after “Star Wars” or more recently, “Avatar,” but they simply didn’t matter. The deluge swept them away.

Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris famously panned “2001, A Space Odyssey,” and then reconsidered it in later reviews–but they were not alone in reassessing.

I’m not saying that all these movies are equal. I’m not even claiming that “John Carter” is a great film. As my friend Mark Bourne has said, great movies may or may not be of the same quality as personal favorites. But all of them are worth seeing, and many of them I’ve viewed dozens of times.

I’m now going to put “John Carter” in that category. A few wretched White Apes–pardon the allusion!–at the New York Times have gone after the movie with claws sharpened and dipped in poison, playing out another kind of culture war that goes back almost a century–that is, a deep aversion to pop culture in general, and anything set west of the Mississippi in particular. (Good grief, in politics, the same sort of thing is happening–what’s bringing out the hideous trolls of our past with so much misplaced conviction?)

Back in the day (remember, film fans?) the New York Times refused to review John Ford’s westerns. They’d grudgingly take on his other movies, but his westerns–like all westerns–were déclassé and not unworthy of their notice. Since then, the TIMES has regularly pilloried science fiction, fantasy, comics books, children’s literature, YA literature (which often tends to be fantasy or science fiction) and nearly every other branch of art or story-telling destined to appeal to the great unwashed, or unlettered. Or the young at heart.

And now they’re back at it again, assessing “John Carter” as a failure both as commerce and as art, because in large part it is based on a worn-out, clichéd pulp novel, filled with sword play and monsters, oh my. No matter that Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “A Princess of Mars” laid the groundwork for much of pulp fiction to come, influenced writers as diverse as Ray Bradbury, Leigh Brackett, Robert E. Howard, and Michael Chabon, (and me!) and has been read and thoroughly enjoyed by millions of people around the world to this very day.

Without “A Princess of Mars” there would be no “Star Wars” or “Avatar,” of course. There would be fewer names on the modern map of Mars–and likely far fewer engineers and scientists to build those space ships and shoot them into the outer void.

In 1911, Burroughs was happy to incorporate the latest speculations about Mars–derived from the work of the immensely popular astronomer Pervical Lowell, and not thoroughly discredited until the 1960s. To those speculations he added a bit of H. Rider Haggard, a bit of Kipling, and a bit of the then-popular Graustarkian romance, where a brave commoner is launched into royal complications in an exotic mythical land.

George Lucas, decades later, owed a tremendous debt to Burroughs. Tatooine is much like Mars, with wonderfully strange creatures, suspended racers, and huge flying barges with swiveling deck guns.

And no wonder. Leigh Brackett, co-screen-writer on The Empire Strikes Back, often wrote pulp tales herself–some set on Mars–and did it quite well.

In turn, she inspired Ray Bradbury to revisit and revise Burroughs’s Mars in The Martian Chronicles, an enduring classic. Brackett went on to craft screenplays based on the pulp tradition that the Times still finds so discreditable: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. She co-wrote that screenplay with William Faulkner. Faulkner sold his first short story to a pulp magazine, Weird Tales. So did Tennessee Williams. And I strongly suspect they all read and enjoyed, in their younger years at least, A Princess of Mars.

We would all be the poorer for not allowing future generations of young readers a chance to fall into Burrough’s amazing pulp story of adventure and imagination, still powerful and fun after all these years.

Elegant? In spotty fashion, sure. It has both the merits and the debits of a first novel. Vigorous, energetic? Absolutely. And filled with an overarching philosophy–racial tolerance–that many people of that day, back in 1911, perhaps even the reporters of the New York Times, would have found extremely objectionable.

After all, John Carter, a southron gentleman from Virginia, romances a dusky, sexy, bare-bosomed, and strong-willed female of another race, another planet–and another reproductive persuasion. Dejah Thoris and her people, like most Martian species, are oviparous. They hatch from eggs. No belly buttons. Wow! The teenage mind boggles. (John Carter’s creators have restored the Princess’s navel. More’s the pity, I say.)

Marvelous, groundbreaking stuff.

But I’m not here just to defend Burroughs. He was not always so racially tolerant. His Tarzan novels present quite a few teachable moments for our professors–but no more so than, say, Thomas Wolfe.

Hell, in California, they named a town after one of Burroughs’ most enduring characters–Tarzana.

The New York Times can’t say or do much about his historical stature or his popularity. Nobody cares what they think on such matters. But they can whine about a somewhat troubled, big-budget movie, and do their best to damage its prospects, and they have–as have many other critics, inside and outside of the so-called fan community.

Criticizing a film is what critics do. We give them a pass, whatever their opinions about the film itself. But the Times critics–and others following in their wake, including here at the Seattle Times–have demonstrated a deplorable lack of knowledge about the original source material, the traditions from which it sprung, and the heirs who have borrowed from it ever since.

So–what’s wrong with “John Carter”? Quite a few small things, actually. Intro, timing, a bit of dash about the acting and perhaps not enough brio in the screenplay–though there’s a fair amount.

But none of this stood in the way of my thoroughly enjoying this sincere, remarkably faithful, and often clever adaptation of Burroughs’ classic. It’s beautifully rendered and designed, the acting is pretty much just fine, the princess is bright-eyed and pretty, John Carter is handsome and troubled and just vulnerable enough to fit the mold, the Tharks are marvelous in their strange, violent sympathies, and the special effects blend almost seamlessly into a rapidly-flowing story.

John Carter’s leaping prowess on Mars comes straight from Burroughs–up to a point. But the filmmakers seem well aware that Burroughs’s example likely suggested to two young science fiction fans named Siegel and Shuster the abilities of one more strange visitor from another planet: Superman. And so, they have ramped up Carter’s abilities just a tad, to reflect the early years of Action Comics.

It’s an allusion.

The New York Times didn’t get it.

Furthermore, they seem to lack an understanding of the cultural tides of that pre-war era. While astral projection was quite the thing in 1911, our modern filmmakers rightly decided it might be better to tech it up a bit. Now it’s no more unlikely or unbelievable than the mechanisms in Buck Rogers or The Fly or Star Trek.

In other words, still fantastic and wonderful and scary.

To sum up, “John Carter” is a beautiful, relaxing, and occasionally enchanting chunk of entertainment. It deals out, with real love, many of the most interesting bits of the novel, and handles the highly colored characters with respect. The ends on just the right note.

Frankly, I’m happy with that ending. If there are no sequels, we can make up our own stories for John Carter’s return to Barsoom and his beloved Dejah Thoris.

It took me back, frankly, to those halcyon days when I sat in theaters watching other Disney films, such as 20,000
Leagues Under the Sea or Treasure Island or Swiss Family Robinson. Bravo to Disney’s execs for recognizing their own history, and doing their level best to follow through.

I’m going to watch this film again. I might add it to my list of favorites. Burroughs fans have been waiting for it to happen for at least a century. Kirk Douglas, it is rumored, wanted to portray John Carter in the 1950s! Does it fulfill all those expectations? Actually, for me, it goes the distance quite well. I highly recommend you give it a shot.

It’s time–as with all those films mentioned above–to say to the carping critics…

Well, a gentleman does not resort to such language. But I finger the leather harness of my radium pistol and think dark thoughts.

When anyone tries to score points by pillorying a classic, there’s a real need to get the historical facts straight. Otherwise, at least one stern-faced and eternally young writer out here is going to give them all an F-.



Romances Written “Just for Kicks”? Ask the Authors

You can say God is dead. You can say books are over. You can say bomb Iran. But when you say romance is the lowest form of literature, watch out.

Perhaps Maria Bustillos, writing in The Awl, doesn’t share the “widely reckoned” opinion that romance writing is “just a notch above the writing on Splenda packets”, but she doesn’t seem to be straining to rebut it, either.

Her critique, posted (intentionally we suspect) on Valentine’s Day, trivializes romance writers – and readers – in the guise of a serious analysis of the popularity of the genre. Though she purports to seriously delve into the psychology, philosophy and sociology of the phenomenon, she reveals her true hand when she writes “Everybody knows that they are written and read just for kicks.” The writers of romances “are in no way trying to win a Booker Prize,” Bustillos says. As for the readers, “One is supposed to be embarrassed to have a taste for it.”

“I have often wondered whether romance novels mightn’t generally serve the same purpose for women that pornography does for so many men,” she reflects. Fighting words for writers and readers.

The canard that popular literature is written by hacks for low-minded readers goes back as far as Greek and Roman times, and wherever it turns up, including its latest propagation in the hands of Ms. Bustillos, writers and readers need to speak out.

Several years ago we did. “The belletristic establishment regards the world of popular literature as a subculture,” we wrote, “but one could seriously argue that it is really the other way around. Very few ‘serious’ writers make enough money from their writing to support themselves without having to moonlight. Their audiences are often modest in size and elitist in taste. Their work is frequently inaccessible, intellectual, experimental, and sometimes incomprehensible.

“The lives of professional genre writers differ in many significant ways from those of their more literary brothers and sisters,” we argued, citing that among many virtues they are businesslike, disciplined, and sensitively attuned to their readership.

“It is vital for the writing establishment,”to realize that literature is far more than a ladder with junk at the bottom and art at the top. Rather, it is an ecosystem in which the esoteric and the popular commingle, fertilize one another, and interdepend. Principally, if it were not for the immense revenues generated by science fiction, romance, male action-adventure, and other types of popular fiction at which so many literary authors and critics look down their noses, there would be no money for publishers to risk on first novels, experimental fiction, and other types of serious but commercially marginal literary enterprises. Furthermore, from the aspect of the writing craft itself, there are many extremely important lessons for literati to learn from their genre comrades in arms, if only the former would take the trouble to study them.” (See The Two World of Literature: What Serious Writers Can Learn from Genre Comrades in Arms.)

Huffington Post blogger Pauline Millard has another view of chick lit. It has evolved into a more thoughtful and better written form of mainstream women’s literature. “In the past year,” Millard writes, “a different breed of chick lit has appeared with smarter writing and characters. It’s notable not just for the content, but also for what it says about women, and what they are willing to read in their leisure time.” (See Chick Lit Grows Up)

Join the debate. Read Romance Novels, The Last Great Bastion Of Underground Writing by Maria Bustillos.

Richard Curtis
Note to readers: Digital Book World has invited me to post my blogs initially on its website before releasing them on E-Reads, and this content is re-published with DBW’s permission. Click here to view the original posting.