Monthly Archives: January 2013

Lawyers (Groan)

Whenever an author asks me if he should show a publishing contract to his attorney, I emit a noise not unlike that of a rutting moose whose girlfriend has just trotted into the woods with his rival. “Please,” I beg, “anything but that. Take my firstborn. Take my condo, even. But don’t show your contract to a lawyer. He won’t understand.”

My attitude is by no means unique. Many publishing people consider lawyers to be humorless spoilsports placed on our planet to raise hypothetical questions about events that have only the remotest possibility of coming to pass. In response to our reassurances that “it will never happen” or “it doesn’t work that way,” they smugly cite Gumbo v. Dittersdorf et al. and send groaning agents back to the negotiating table to haggle over the nuances of such words as “book,” “pay,” and “publish.” And whenever a breach of contract is imagined, these learned jurists are right there with their lawyer-letters, writs, petitions, and injunctions to hold the offending party to the explicit meaning of the contractual provision.

Most of the lawyers I know don’t fit this caricature. They make serious efforts to understand the unique nature of publishing law; they are reasonable, thoughtful, realistic, and no more venal than anyone else; and they regard litigation as an extremely distasteful last resort. Nevertheless, by the very nature of their profession, lawyers tend to be extremely literal-minded about the language of contracts. And, sad to say, the literal language of publishing contracts is enough to induce cardiac infarction in even the most liberal of attorneys.

Lawyers ofttimes use legal precedents and forensic experiences that may be germane to coal mining, automobile manufacture, and real estate transactions, but are hardly applicable to publishing situations. Once attorneys are engaged, however, they an obligation to produce results for their fees. It is hard for me to believe that an attorney being paid $300 or $400 an hour or more will read a contract and hand it back to his client saying, “Looks okay to me,” or, “I’d say your agent did everything that I would have done.” It is far more likely that he will raise those hypothetical questions and will not be satisfied with an agent’s breezy assurances that if This or That happens, it’ll be taken care of. After all, most agents don’t have law degrees, and while their experience must be respected, how can they predict with any certainty that This or That, or, even worse, The Other Thing, will not happen? Thus do agents frequently find themselves pushed by lawyers into composing contractual language applicable only to the red end of the probability spectrum.

The involvement of lawyers in publishing contract negotiations often polarizes situations that might otherwise be settled through negotiation. Publishers hate lawsuits and with a few exceptions (described below) will do almost anything to avoid them. While litigation is certainly the ultimate weapon in a dispute, agents are adept at working out compromises that are scarcely different from settlements forged by lawyers after protracted litigation. The difference is that the agent performs gratis the same function for which a lawyer might charge thousands of dollars.

Most authors hold the legal profession in the same awe in which they hold the medical one. I would recommend a healthy dose of skepticism and common sense when it comes to dealing with the former, however. Practitioners of the law are of women born like the rest of us. Their actions are often dictated by their emotions, their convictions guided by who pays them and how much, and they make as many mistakes and misjudgments as surgeons, engineers, or stockbrokers (or literary agents for that matter).

You should regard contracts the same way. Contracts are solemn undertakings, yes, but they are not sacred covenants written in heavenly fire. Too many authors regard contracts as rigid structures of legal language constructed to thwart and constrain them. Actually they are flexible tools when used skillfully, and can liberate as well as restrict.

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Good News: Children’s E-Book Reading Up. And Now for the Bad News…

Good news: kids are reading more digital books.

Bad news: they may not be benefiting from what they read.

A report released by Scholastic early in 2013 carries an ostensibly encouraging report that children between 6 and 17 are turning in greater numbers to e-books. Forty-six percent of the children polled said they had read at least one e-book, twice the number of those surveyed in 2010.  In particular, boys, who “traditionally lag behind girls in reading” in the words of Leslie Kaufman of the New York Times,  were showing greater attachment to the medium.

But there are two other questions that may put these promising numbers into perspective.  One is, do kids like a steady diet of e-books? At least one group surveyed says they don’t. “The number of girls who reported being frequent readers declined to 36 percent from 42 percent,” Kaufman informs us. The reason for this significant decline may have to do with the fact that more children are reading on iPads and other tablets, rather than on Kindles, Nooks and other dedicated e-readers.  The temptation to peek at text messages or play a quick video game is far stronger when books are read on tablets. “‘Managing screen time is the challenge of parenting today,”‘ Francine Alexander,  Scholastic’s chief  academic officer was quoted in Kaufman’s article Digital Reading on the Rise for Children (With a Qualifier).

Which leads to the second and perhaps most significant question of all: how much are children getting out of digital reading? There is compelling evidence that information retention is down for kids who read on screen, as opposed to those who immerse themselves in printed books or books on dedicated e-readers. See for instance Will Our Children Read E-Books?

Richard Curtis
This blog post was originally published in Digital Book World under the title More Kids Read E-Books But What Do They Retain?

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Of Taxes and the Writer

Early in April a few years ago I got a call from a client who was preparing his income tax. This author wrote erotic fiction and wanted to know whether he could legitimately claim as a deduction his pharmacological treatment for a little affliction he had contracted in the course of “researching” one of his novels.

I told him I imagined the treatment would probably fall under medical deductions rather than research expenses, but the story does illustrate that even the most untrammeled literary spirits have to pay their obeisance to Uncle Sam sooner or later. With more and more authors incorporating, purchasing expensive computer equipment, seeking shelters for their taxable income, and in general being more businesslike in their approaches to the art and craft of literature, the accountant is becoming as important as the literary agent in guiding the destinies of writers.

The chances of a writer being audited by the Internal Revenue Service are a little better than those of the average working stiff because most writers are freelancers, and taxes on their income are not usually withheld as they are from persons on company payrolls. Thus, even though the odds that anybody will be audited are going down because of staff cutbacks at the IRS, a free-lancer’s tax return may be more provocative than that of someone who works for Boeing or IBM. Your best defense, should the fickle finger of the IRS single you out, is a well-kept set of records, primarily your canceled checks, your receipts, and a journal or ledger recording details of every transaction for which you are claiming a deduction, particularly those for which receipts are not ordinarily given, such as public transportation, certain tips, and the like.

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Here Come E-Kiosks!

For years we’ve been forecasting e-book kiosks, brick and mortar showrooms for e-books.  You walk into a store, browse descriptions and sample texts from some two or three million books, point your smart phone at the ones you want, buy and download them. The great thing is that these shops don’t have to be bookstores.  Someone could set one up in a drug store, supermarket, or even a deli (See I’ll have Four Sesames, Four Poppy Seeds, and a Copy of War and Peace).

Virtual kiosks are no longer theoretical.  According to a report in L’Atelier, EBay recently created a couple over the recent holidays dedicated to a variety of products and services.  “The online auction and sales platform provider recently opened pop-up stores in London and Berlin, where customers were able to make purchases using smartphones and also obtain advice and training on how to sell on eBay.” Though the stock in trade was hard goods, there’s no reason why the concept cannot be applied to e-books. Bookstores are (unfortunately) already being used as showrooms for book browsers, so this just legitimizes the process.

E-kiosks were envisioned some years ago by Joe Esposito, a management consultant in the digital media and publishing field. He coined the term “Medadatarium”, a concept that falls somewhere between a mega-bookstore and an e-book kiosk. “We need a utopian solution” to the crisis of our disappearing bookstores,” Esposito says. “We need our bookstores,” he wrote, “but we also need Amazon’s inventory. We need libraries–and we need a way to pay for them. We need analog tools for discovery and digital modes of delivery. We need a Third Place for community and a Cloud-based infrastructure to deliver all information to anyone anywhere anytime. And I need a place to kill some time on Saturday afternoons.”  Esposito crackles with good (and entertaining) ideas and you can read up on his Metadatarium here.

See you at the kiosk!

Richard Curtis

This blog post was originally published by Digital Book World under the title Virtual E-Book Kiosks One Giant Step Closer.

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Pub Date

No no no you oaf, not THAT kind of pub date!

FEW EVENTS IN the life of a book are as thoroughly invested with magic and mystery as its publication date. Although the season, month, and day of publication are, as often as not, selected merely to satisfy the expediencies of a publisher’s schedule, many authors and even some publishers assign cabalistic value to pub dates, and a great deal of myth and nonsense has come to surround the process. One hears such platitudes as, “January is a lousy month to bring out a book,” or, “Nobody buys books in August,” or “Can you believe they released my book on Friday the thirteenth?”

As tens of thousands of books are published annually by trade and professional publishers, you may safely assume that a day does not go by without a book being officially launched somewhere. I know of no records correlating the success or failure of books with their pub dates, but I daresay that if someone were crazy enough to trace the fates of best-sellers back to the dates on which they were published, it would be demonstrated that successful books debut on just about every date on the calendar—including Friday the thirteenth. It would also be discovered, I’m sure, that just as many books flop as triumph whose pub dates are agonized over and deliberately selected for maximum impact.

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Going Backwards from Digital to Tangible

We’d suspected it all along, but the New York Times confirmed it: retail stores are not just fighting back, they’re coming back.

“A Manhattan retail real estate broker reports an increase in inquiries from online-only retailers about opening shops, particularly in smaller spaces.” The piece went on to say that “Customers want to feel the merchandise.” “They see shopping as a social event,” said a retailer. “Think of the store as a showroom,” said another. Yet another said “They’ll show them a few products, lure them in and hopefully have them hooked. They feel that, yes, people are online, people have apps, but there’s nothing like the spontaneous face-to-face.”

One online retailer, inspired by his customers’ desire to feel the merchandise, opened a physical store and was thrilled to report that “‘the average in-store transaction was $360, double what it is online, and first-time store visitors buy again in 58 days, versus waiting 85 days between Web site purchases. And, he said, he has cut Web marketing expenses in half as in-store purchases have increased.'”

The product these people were talking about was apparel. But it could just as well have been books. Not just print books but books in all formats and domains. For some time we have been predicting that after an intoxicating decade of growth, readers would revisit print books and the brick and mortar stores that sell them.

Bookstore sales over the recent holidays suggest the trend in hard copies may be paralleling the trend in other hard goods like clothing. And for the same reasons: people like to browse, feel the merchandize, sample the goods, discover surprises, speak to an informed and friendly human salesperson. “The owner of The Book Cellar in Chicago, which saw 2011 sales rise 38% in the wake of Borders’s closing, was pleased to have last year’s increase stick,” Publishers Weekly reports. “‘Holiday sales for 2012 were “terrific,”’ the owner said, “’up a whisker.’” And Michael Boggs, co-owner of Carmichael’s Bookstore, with two stores in Louisville, Ky., was satisfied with being down 6% at one store and 4% at the other. “Both were up 38% from the year before. The new level is 30% more than pre-Borders. It’s an enormously big figure for a store that’s 35 years old to have.’”

Buried in the Times‘s report was this even more intriguing item: “An eBay pop-up store in London that opened this holiday season has no actual merchandise, just scannable screens displaying gift suggestions.” The idea of a physical kiosk selling virtual books is an idea whose time may at last be realized in the year to come, and if there is any breakthrough event we can predict for 2013, it’s that one. We’ll have more to say about kiosks before long.

Details in Once Proudly Web Only, Shopping Sites Hang Out Real Shingles by Stephanie Clifford.

Richard Curtis

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Are Medications Behind School Shootings?

In a recent television interview Dr. Peter Breggin, author of Medication Madness: A Psychiatrist Exposes the Dangers of Mood-Altering Medications, told stories of people driven to violence because of medications, but also because their medications had been discontinued.

In debates over gun control the influence of powerful mood-altering drugs has not been adequately covered. Ray Garton, whose novel Meds was inspired by Breggin’s book, thinks it’s time for the role of pharmaceutical manufacturers to be examined as a principal cause of shooting sprees. In Meds, Garton goes even further than Breggin, ascribing lethal medication madness to a conspiracy perpetrated by the pharmaceutical industry.

Anyone interested in curbing shooter violence is obliged to read both books and urge extending the national debate to examination of the psychoses caused by pharmaceutical drugs.

For details read Huffington Post‘s coverage of Dr. Breggin and his book.
Richard Curtis

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Meds by Ray Garton:

One hot summer day, a man in a business suit running wildly down a busy street attacks a woman and her toddler, neither of whom have ever seen him before.

… As he waits in his pickup truck for his wife to finish shopping, a man decides to take the shotgun off its rack, go inside the mall and open fire on total strangers.

… While waiting to see her doctor, a woman takes a knife from her purse and begins stabbing others in the waiting room.

Something is making people become violent and murderous…something they all have in common. When Eli Dunbar discovers what it is, he becomes afraid, because it’s something he has in common with them–a drug prescribed to him by his psychiatrist. And now Eli is a ticking time bomb.

Do you know all of the risks your prescription drugs might pose? Does your doctor? Or has the manufacturer hidden them from the public in the interest of profits?

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Long Before E-Book Revolution, War for Control of E-Rights Was Lost

In 1989 Ben Bova published a science fiction novel entitled Cyberbooks describing an electronic reading device almost identical to the Kindle: “…A gray oblong box about five inches by nine and less than an inch thick. Its front was almost entirely a dark display screen. There was a row of fingertip-sized touchpads beneath the screen.”

Bova’s gadget was very much like the one that had flashed into my mind the moment I laid eyes on a CD-ROM disc in the late 1980s. “What if,” I speculated, “you could insert CD-ROMs containing book texts into a portable light-box and read them on it?”

My concept was laughably crude, for the means of delivering those texts, the Internet, had not yet swept into dominance over worldwide communications. So, I was in the right church but the wrong pew. Still, the vision gripped me and I began to think about the practical aspects of digital technology.

I wasn’t the only one. One day around that time I received a Putnam contract and came across language I had never seen: the publisher had reserved something called “display” rights. I called Phyllis Grann, the head of the company, and asked her what it meant. She said she’d gone to an electronics show and seen the Franklin Bookman, a portable device that contained an electronic edition of the Bible. “I want that,” she told me.

That was the first shot fired by publishers in the battle to seize the e-rights high ground, and it occasioned the article I posted in the Association of Authors’ Representatives Newsletter in spring of 1993. Rereading it, it’s clear that I had as good a handle on what was to come as it was possible given how little we knew at that time. When I served as president of AAR in the mid-‘90s I tried to alert agents to the coming revolution and implement a few safeguards such as a new definition of “out of print,” for the new technology offered an opportunity to draw a precise line below which a publisher’s rights were terminable.

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All About Media Tie-ins, Part 3

The first big breakout tie-in was Last Tango in Paris, according to novelist and publishing columnist Leonore Fleischer, who has been dubbed Queen of the Paperback Novelizers for the fifty-odd tie-ins she has written. Last Tango was followed by a number of other hits (tie-inwise as well as box officewise) like The Omen and Star Wars. The bidding began to spiral, and the studios started charging publishers for all the material they’d formerly give away as part of the tie-in package.

The climax came with the bidding for a tie-in of F.I.S.T., the Sylvester Stallone film following Stallone’s smash hit, Rocky. Dell paid a $400,000 advance for the novelization rights, and, needless to say, took what is known in Spanish as El Batho. Soon afterward the tie-in market collapsed – “F.I.S.T was your ultimate South Sea Bubble,” Fleischer told me – and it never quite recovered. It has revived somewhat, principally in the area of special effects-type films such as Alien, E.T., and Raiders of the Lost Ark, but publishers have become too cautious and sensible ever to get quite so hysterical again.

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More Horror Stories from the Digital Book Bazaar

Rowena Cherry, an indefatigable source of information about allegedly unauthorized publication of copyrighted works, reports this latest instance. If you are a bestselling author, or the agent or publisher of a bestselling author, you will find your book here. Scroll down for the entire list of New York Times bestsellers available for $2.00. Purchases are made via PayPal, a subsidiary of Ebay. As is my policy, I do not hotlink to such sites.

I have often written that piracy is the biggest threat to the e-book business. (visit Pirate Central). This is a good instance why.

Richard Curtis
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“From: freebieadmin
To: freebookclub
Sent: Tue, Dec 11, 2012 3:58 am
Subject: {FreeBookClub:488} New York Times Best Sellers List – 9th December!

Dear Members

I have managed to aquire the New York Times Best Sellers List for the 9th December!
(70 Books – Fiction and Non Fiction)

I will make this excellent package instantly available to those people that can afford a
one or two dollar contribution to our service

visit:************** and use the Paypal button near the top of the page!

Contributors will be provided with a choice of both Rapidshare and Sendspace
download links (both are free to use) and they will be sent the download info as soon
as they have made their contribution.

Once I have raised the cost of this purchase, I will also make the list available to the
Supporters Club members via newsletter and through our Gigatribe account.

Regards
*******
Club Admin

NY Times Best Seller Lists: Fiction and NonFiction – 09 December 2012

English | EPUB + MOBI | Ebooks Collection | All In One | 229 MB

Fiction

1 NOTORIOUS NINETEEN, by Janet Evanovich. (Random House Publishing.) The New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum joins with
Joe Morelli to track down a con man who disappeared from a hospital; meanwhile, she takes a second job guarding Ranger.

2 THE FORGOTTEN, by David Baldacci. (Grand Central Publishing.) The military investigator John Puller probes his aunt?s mysterious death in Florida.

3 THE LAST MAN, by Vince Flynn. (Simon & Schuster.) The counterterrorism operative Mitch Rapp searches for a missing C.I.A. asset amid treachery in Afghanistan.

4 THE RACKETEER, by John Grisham. (Knopf Doubleday Publishing.) An imprisoned ex-lawyer schemes to exchange this information about who murdered a judge for his freedom.

5 MERRY CHRISTMAS, ALEX CROSS, by James Patterson. (Little, Brown & Company.) Detective Alex Cross confronts both a hostage situation and a terrorist act at Christmas.

6 LIFE OF PI, by Yann Martel. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishers.) A teenage boy and a 450-pound tiger are thrown together in a lifeboat after a shipwreck; originally published in 2002 and now a movie.

7 AGENDA 21, by Glenn Beck with Harriet Parke. (Simon & Schuster.) A girl begins to question the authorities who run the Republic, the totalitarian successor to the United States created by the U.N.

8 GONE GIRL, by Gillian Flynn. (Crown Publishing.) A woman disappears on the day of her fifth anniversary; is her husband a killer?

9 FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, by E. L. James. (Knopf Doubleday Publishing.) A college student falls in love with a tortured man with particular sexual tastes; the first of a trilogy.

10 THE PERFECT HOPE, by Nora Roberts. (Penguin Group.) The final volume of the Inn BoonsBoro trilogy sees sparks fly between Ryder Montgomery and the innkeeper.

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