Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Wardrobe Malfunctions Plague BEA

You know the cliché that goes “If they can put men on the moon they should be able to (fill in the blank)? Well, I have one for you. If they can put men on the moon they should be able to make a conference name tag that works. But if wardrobe malfunctions at recent Book Expo America events are any indication, we are as far from producing a sensible name tag as we are from establishing a colony on Neptune.

The book conference’s name tags, suspended around the neck by a lanyard, were certainly large enough – about 4 inches square – and the typeface a highly legible 18-point sans serif bold. The problem was that the tags tended to twist on their lanyards, displaying their blank reverse sides and forcing the viewer to resort to a variety of unsatisfying strategies to identify the wearer. Such as…

  • hoping an errant breeze will spin the tag back to obverse
  • hoping a third party will address the person by name
  • presenting your card and praying the presentation will be reciprocated
  • asking the person’s name and learning that he or she is the CEO of a major publisher
  • asking the person’s name and learning he or she is someone you recently dined with…or slept with

The solution is obvious: print names on both sides of the tag. But it’s clearly more obvious to me than to the Expo’s planners and it’s not a laughing matter. In this age of social networking, the failure to know whom you’re talking to is not just embarrassing, it could mean lost business.

But I’m not through.

Lanyards are poor devices for displaying identification. Name tags depending from them hang down to the nether regions, requiring one to gaze awkwardly at the bearer’s belly. Short of pretending to tie one’s shoelaces to effect a surreptitious glance at the name tag, it means another business opportunity missed.

It does not require an advanced engineering degree to perceive that the best location for name tags is the chest, but even that solution is fraught with issues. Many people like to show off their attire and resent having their fashion statements compromised by a name tag. Some of us worry that the tags’ pins will leave unsightly and irreparable holes in dresses, blouses or jackets.

That problem led to the creation of paper “Hello My Name Is” tags with peel-off backings, which are great unless the adhesive is so strong that it leaves a rectangular patch on one’s clothing, or so weak as to cause the tag to curl up or simply fall to the floor. It can be jolly fun to attend a conference and count the number of paper name tags adhering to attendees’ shoes. I once observed a significant publishing executive walking about with someone else’s name tag stuck to his behind like a Kick Me sign.

But I’m still not through.

If you attend a party or conference that uses paper name tags you owe it to fellow attendees to print largely and neatly. All too many people write their names in tiny script or illegible scribbles, forcing one to gape boorishly at a woman’s embonpoint when he’s simply trying to get a good gander at her name. Honestly, lady, I’m not staring at your bosom. I’m just trying to read your damn name tag.

And talking of boors, are there any more pretentious than those who feel they’re so notable they do not need to wear a name tag at all?

So yes, if they can send men to the moon, can they not produce a sensible name tag? I hope so, and maybe they could have it ready for next year’s BEA?

(Hello. My Name Is) Richard Curtis

This blog post was published by Digital Book World as Excuse Me, Madame, I’m Not Gazing at Your Bosom, I’m Just Trying to Read Your Damn Name Tag

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Christmas Gift for Him? Solved!

Though we’re not prophets we can safely predict that you’re intensely involved in filling out your holiday gift list.  We can also predict that for your your favorite males, many of whom seem to have everything, you will be thrilled to find the ideal gift in your local bookstore or online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. It’s The Oxford Companion to Beer by Garrett Oliver, arguably the world’s authority on the beverage.

Here is Oxford University Press’s product description for the book:

For millennia, beer has been a favorite beverage in cultures across the globe. After water and tea, it is the most popular drink in the world, and it is at the center of a $450 billion industry.

The first major reference work to investigate the history and vast scope of beer, The Oxford Companion to Beer features more than 1,100 A-Z entries written by 166 of the world’s most prominent beer experts. Attractively illustrated with over 140 images, the book covers everything from the agricultural makeup of various beers to the technical elements of the brewing process, local effects of brewing on regions around the world, and the social and political implications of sharing a beer. Entries not only define terms such as “dry hopping” and “cask conditioning” but give fascinating details about how these and other techniques affect a beer’s taste, texture, and popularity. Cultural entries shed light on such topics as pub games, food pairings and the development of beer styles. Readers will enjoy vivid accounts of how our drinking traditions have changed throughout history, and how these traditions vary in different parts of the world, from Japan to Mexico, New Zealand, and Brazil, among many other countries. The pioneers of beer-making are the subjects of biographical entries, and the legacies these pioneers have left behind, in the form of the world’s most popular beers and breweries, are recurrent themes throughout the book.

Packed with information, this comprehensive resource also includes thorough appendices (covering beer festivals, beer magazines, and more), conversion tables, and an index. Featuring a foreword by Tom Colicchio, this book is the perfect shelf-mate to Oxford’s renowned Companion to Wine and an absolutely indispensable volume for everyone who loves beer as well as all beverage professionals, including home brewers, restaurateurs, journalists, cooking school instructors, beer importers, distributors, and retailers, and a host of others.

Garrett Oliver is the Brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery and author of The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food. He has won many awards for his beers, is a frequent judge for international beer competitions, and has made numerous radio and television appearances as a spokesperson for craft brewing.

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Take This Job and Shove It. But When?

This article was originally published in 2010.
RC

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Most writers dream of leaving their day jobs (some have night jobs as well) and launching careers as full-time freelancers. In their eagerness to realize that goal, many of them quit as soon as they’ve made a few sales. This decision invariably turns out to be ill-advised if not catastrophic after the author discovers that he did not properly reckon the cost of independence, project the size and flow of earnings, or prepare himself psychologically. Even an author lucky enough to strike it rich on his first book should use the utmost restraint before quitting his job to become a writer. By the time he realizes he doesn’t know what to write for an encore, he may have raised his lifestyle to an unsupportably high plateau.

The questions of whether and when writers should go full-time are among the most common and vexing that agents have to deal with, and if an agent ever had a notion to play God, here is his opportunity. The responsibility for this decision is awesome and demands ten times the prudence required to advise authors about such matters as selecting the right publisher for their books. The number of factors is large and their complexity intimidating. It’s the kind of decision that should be reviewed with a great many people to collect as much input as possible.

An excellent idea is to make a list of pluses and minuses, what you stand to gain and what to lose. Often the right choice will jump out at you when you review this list. The secret is to make sure you have enumerated all the factors. Then you must be brutally honest with yourself. You do not want to subject yourself and your family to needless suffering because you erred on the side of wishful thinking when you drew up your scenario.

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Authorial Misdemeanors

From time to time an author will do something that causes me to scratch my head. I’ve compiled a list of these foibles and offer it here with a light heart. If you have perpetrated any of these transgressions I’ll let you off this time without a fine, but don’t let me see you in this courtroom again.

I must say right off the bat that among the things authors do that irk me, delivering manuscripts late is not one of them. Lateness is the medium in which agents live. We breathe late manuscripts and eat late checks and drink late contracts. And lateness in a creative person is certainly more understandable and forgivable than it is in a business organization. I have never known an author to be deliberately late with a book, but I have known many a publisher to be deliberately late with a check.

What kills me, however, is authors who don’t tell me they’re going to be late. Publishers schedule books many months in advance, and in most cases are able to pull one out of the schedule if given sufficient notice. In most cases, too, a publisher will grant the author a reasonable extension of delivery date. If, however, out of embarrassment or some other reason (such as a moonlighting gig the agent doesn’t know about), an author doesn’t level with his agent, he will not only get himself into trouble, but his agent as well. An agent who knows the truth can go to bat for his client, make excuses, concoct a fib. But if an agent sincerely assures an editor that a book will be turned in in June because that’s what his client told him, when the client knew all the time that there wasn’t a chance in hell that he could make the deadline, the agent’s credibility will be damaged.

I make very few inflexible rules for my clients, but this is one of them: no matter how embarrassing your reasons may be (one author’s dog actually did eat his manuscript), I insist that you tell me the truth so that I can make proper excuses for you. (I, of course, have never lied on behalf of a client. What kind of agent would I be if I lied on behalf of a client?)

Lying to your agent is a mortal sin, but authors commit many venial ones as well, and oddly enough, it is the latter variety that drives me absolutely up the wall.

Take authors who misspell “Foreword,” for instance. I strongly feel that anybody who turns in a manuscript containing a “Forward” deserves automatic shredding of his manuscript plus the first three fingers of his right hand. You would think I would not have to explain to professionals who make their livings with words that a foreword is a fore-word, a word that comes before the main text. But as the Forward-to-Foreword ratio on manuscripts submitted to my agency is about one out of three, I can see that the correct spelling cannot be stressed enough. It should be enough to remind you that “Foreword” is usually the very first word one’s eyes fall upon when opening a manuscript. (I hesitate, however, to criticize writers for not knowing the difference between a foreword, a preface, and an introduction, since I don’t understand it either.)

The Forward-Foreword offense is part of a larger conspiracy to send agents to early graves. I am referring to authors who don’t review their manuscripts before submitting them. An occasional, random typo is one thing, but when I realize that the author never bothered to reread his manuscript, have it vetted by a good speller, or run it through the spell-checker on his computer, a murderous rage comes over me and I am compelled to steal into the night to overturn garbage cans and scratch automobile fenders with my ring. Don’t authors understand (I growl at alley cats as I kick them) that today’s literary marketplace is so intensely competitive that a poorly spelled manuscript can lose somebody a sale?

A subspecies of the above-mentioned type misspells critical words and names, and misspells them consistently, focusing a glaring light on his or her own carelessness. I remember a Biblical novel in which the word “Pharaoh” was misspelled “Pharoah” throughout, and in a book that long, that’s a lot of Pharoahs. I have often wondered why, if the word is pronounced fayro, lexicographers have chosen to place the a before the o. In fact, what is an a doing in the second syllable at all? Such speculations do not mitigate one’s intense annoyance at having to correct such errors over and over again in saga-length manuscripts.

Speaking of repetitious errors, I’m reminded of those authors who print the title of their book as a header on every page of manuscript. I don’t know where this quaint custom arose. I suppose it has its origins in the paranoiac fantasy that part of a manuscript will inadvertently be separated from the rest in a publisher’s office.

Against this remote possibility must be weighed the not-so-remote one that the title you print on every page of your manuscript will be a lousy one. Like many publishing people I am a fanatical believer in the importance of titles: a good or bad one can significantly affect the fate of a book. All too often I’ll get a good book with a bad title, and after kicking alternate titles around the author and I will agree on a new one. I’ll then prepare a new title page only to discover that the discarded title appears on every page of the manuscript. Now what? I must now either go out with a badly titled book or have the entire manuscript reprinted just to knock the offending title off every page. Luckily, the advent of word processing makes it easier to run off modified manuscripts. Still, do us both a favor and leave the title off the header of every page.

Nowadays manuscripts are submitted as email attachments. But many agents still prefer to read submissions in printed form. The peeve potential here is very high. On occasion an author will send me a manuscript ring-bound like a scientist’s notebook. I ask myself what terrible thing I did to this person that he should avenge himself on me so cruelly. Am I supposed to read his manuscript standing up at a lectern, or remove the pages from the binding rings knowing that I will have to reassemble it when I am finished?

I think it’s time that writers understood something about literary agents: their standard reading posture is supine, head elevated sufficiently to glance at a baseball game or sitcom on television. Now that I’ve revealed this tightly guarded secret, perhaps you’ll be more considerate and submit your manuscript unbound. And is it too much to ask while I’m at it that it be double spaced in 12-point font and printed on one side of the page only?

And when you do post it, may I ask you not to have it bound or specially boxed or wrapped? Just a loose manuscript in a typing paper box wrapped and taped securely enough to get safely through the postal system. There seems to be a law of nature that the quality of a manuscript declines in inverse proportion to the elaborateness of its package. When I receive a manuscript bound by brass screws with a plastic embossed cover, lovingly wrapped in chamois cloth, set in a velvet-lined cedar box, shrink-wrapped, packed in turn in a fireproof strongbox secured with iron bands, I am prepared to stake my career on the likelihood that this book is one colossal dud. And in all likelihood it will be sent via Fedex or courier with the expectation of an overnight response.

There is a particularly lukewarm place in my heart for foreign authors who are obliged to use typing paper of different dimensions – approximately ½ inch too long and ¼ inch too narrow – from the standard American 8½ by 11 inches. I realize how chauvinistic it must sound to deplore the paper that was probably good enough for Thomas Mann, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Graham Greene, but because agents usually place manuscripts in submission boxes to protect them and present them attractively, it drives us crazy to get a misshapen manuscript from the Continent requiring Procrustean measures to package the submission.

Authors who submit their only copy of a manuscript are, to say the least, an intense source of curiosity to me. They brazenly challenge the immutable law guaranteeing that that manuscript will get lost in the mails. The advent of computer document management and cheap photocopy services has stimulated a rise in lost manuscripts, for authors who used to type an original and carbon now type an original only and bring it to a photocopy shop, where another immutable law causes it to get mixed up with somebody’s master’s thesis. Again, the development of computers will eventually make the question of lost manuscripts academic, but computers can crash. So keeping a hard copy is definitely a good idea.

Then there are the authors who administer tests to their agents. Some try a cute trick of turning one page in their manuscript upside down. If the agent returns the manuscript with that one page still upside down, it proves he didn’t read the manuscript page for page. There are authors who quiz their agents about specific scenes and characters. A typical dialogue might sound like this:
AUTHOR: Did you like my book?
AGENT: Oh, yes, loved it, loved it.
AUTHOR: Great. What did you think of my character Pflonk?
AGENT: Pflonk? Terrific character. Nicely developed.
AUTHOR: Hah! Gotcha! There was no such character in my book!

I assure you that when it comes to an important book your agent reads your manuscript carefully. With so much riding on it, he has to. But most agents I know don’t have time to read their clients’ work page for page, nor do they need to in order to get a sense of its quality, organization, and pace. In fact, they don’t even need to in order to sell it. With certain kinds of material, such as books in a series, a light once-over is enough to satisfy your agent that all is in order and the work follows the original outline.

Plainly, the evil that authors do may be categorized as Class B Misdemeanors, punishable by groans, rolling eyes, sighs of frustration, and indulgent smiles. I would like to think that you are as tolerant of your agent’s foibles. Agents do have them. (I know this only from talking to authors). There is one extremely successful agent who likes to boast he’s never read anything he’s sold. And there’s another who, every time he makes a big deal for a client, gloats, “That will pay for a new set of radials for my sports car,” or, “Now I can put that new wing on my house.”
I consider myself truly fortunate in not being possessed of any personality traits that irritate others. Well, maybe one or two. All right, maybe a few more than that. Okay, okay, so I’m riddled with them. But at least I know how to spell “Foreword.”

This article was originally written for Locus, The Newspaper of the Science Fiction Field. It’s reprinted in Mastering the Business of Writing. Copyright © 1990 by Richard Curtis. All Rights Reserved.

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We Used to Dump E-Trash on the Asians. Now We Dump it on Americans.

Four years ago we issued this warning about the dumping of used e-books and other computer devices. At last the issue is receiving some front page attention (see the New York Times‘s story Unwanted Electronic Gear Rising in Toxic Piles).

The only difference between then and now is that the E-Trash isn’t just being dumped on Asia’s poor. It’s now being dumped on America’s.

Below is the original posting.

Richard Curtis

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When the next generation of laptops, tablets and e-readers arrives, what’s going to happen to the devices you replace?

If what’s happening in Europe is any guideline, it will end up in a toxic e-waste landfill in Asia and Africa where the destitute, many of them children, will scavenge it for scrap. These scavengers incur horrifying and often fatal skin, lung, intestinal and reproductive organ ailments from the plastics, metals and gases that go into discarded cell phones, televisions, computers, keyboards, monitors,cables and similar e-scrap. Elizabeth Rosenthal, covering the story for the New York Times, tells us that “Rotterdam, the busiest port in Europe, has unwittingly become Europe’s main external garbage chute, a gateway for trash bound for places like China, Indonesia, India and Africa.

“There, electronic waste and construction debris containing toxic chemicals are often dismantled by children at great cost to their health. Other garbage that is supposed to be recycled according to European law may be simply burned or left to rot, polluting air and water and releasing the heat-trapping gases linked to global warming.”

Jessika Toothman, blogging on HowStuffWorks, describes how “A whole bouquet of heavy metals, semimetals and other chemical compounds lurk inside your seemingly innocent laptop or TV. E-waste dangers stem from ingredients such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, copper, beryllium, barium, chromium, nickel, zinc, silver and gold.” In fact if you want to see what this “bouquet” of poisons is doing to your fellow man, woman and child, you can view this sickening video of a Chinese e-trash village.

One device not mentioned in Toothman’s list of e-waste is e-book readers. The obvious reason is that we are still in the first generation of e-book devices (or second if you count progenitors like the Rocket Book) and there haven’t been enough readers manufactured to make them a formidable source of trash like cell phones and TVs. But when the next generation of e-book readers floods us with Kindle and Sony rivals – better, cheaper, faster, more colorful, loaded with special features and options – will we simply add them to the tons of lethal junk earmarked for miserable dumps in China, Indonesia or Africa?

Because it is still young, the e-book industry has an unprecedented opportunity to exercise its social responsibility, as we recently pointed out.Here is a three-point program to make sure the e-books business remains green.

  • First, manufacturers must be compelled to disclose the chemical components of the e-book devices they produce so that we can evaluate environmental hazards.
  • Second, Amazon, Sony, Plastic logic, Philips and other developers must develop programs for either returning their devices for safe (and monitored) disassembly and recycling or for donation to students, armed services personnel and other charitable recipients.
  • And third, The cost of recycling and safely disassembling e-books must be built into the price structure of e-books.

Right now the hidden cost of computers and other electronic devices is human suffering. It is unacceptable for the e-book industry to boast about environmental advantages while secretly sticking the helpless poor with the bill or contributing to the poisoning of the world’s water and air. If safety measures and sensible recycling add $25 or $50 to the price of their devices, that is an acceptable tradeoff. Because it would be assessed equally on all manufacturers, none would have a competitive advantage over its rivals.

We expect the e-book industry to do the right thing.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.

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Curtis Agency, E-Reads Deploy Program to Neutralize Pirates

Photo: Wikipedia

Adopting advanced technology, Curtis Agency and E-Reads have teamed up to locate and take down pirated files of their authors’ books.

The system, developed by Muso TNT, protects against files uploaded by pirates to filesharing sites like rapidshare and megaupload. Files on these websites show up on Google search results and are therefore accessible to users who might otherwise purchase the files through legitimate channels.

The Size of the Problem

Though we have often contended that piracy is the number one threat to the e-book industry (see A Bootleg E-Book Bazaar Operates in Plain Sight), skeptics may not be aware of the extent of the problem. One company, torrentfreak, boasted that “The Internet is the largest copying machine ever invented,” and in 2011 ranked fiesharing sites according to traffic in the month of July 2011. The first figure represents unique monthly visitors, the second monthly page views:

1 4shared Cyberlocker 55,000,000/ 2,500,000,000
2 Megaupload Cyberlocker 37,000,000/ 400,000,000
3 Mediafire Cyberlocker 34,000,000 /330,000,000
4 Filestube Meta-search 34,000,000/ 280,000,000
5 Rapidshare Cyberlocker 23,000,000/ 280,000,000
6 The Pirate Bay Torrent index 23,000,000 /650,000,000
7 Fileserve Cyberlocker 19,000,000 /190,000,000
8 Hotfile Cyberlocker 16,000,000 /110,000,000
9 Torrentz.eu Meta-search 15,000,000/ 340,000,000
10 Depositfiles Cyberlocker 14,000,000/ 110,000,000

How Muso TNT Works.

Using the Muso technology, legitimate content providers authorize the antipiracy service to launch search engine “spiders” to crawl over the Internet and detect unauthorized files. A significant feature is that the search criterion is by author, not by title. As the spiders locate pirated files, they store the results on a password-protected login page for review.

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Thanksgiving Greetings from E-Reads

Though our mouths were full of song as the sea,
and our tongues of exultation as the multitude of its waves,
and our lips of praise as the wide-extended firmament;
though our eyes shone with light like the sun and the moon,
and our hands were spread forth like the eagles of heaven,
and our feet were swift as hinds,
we should still be unable to thank thee and bless thy name,
O Lord our God and God of our fathers,
for one thousandth or one ten thousandth part of the bounties which thou has bestowed upon our fathers and upon us.

– from the Hebrew Prayer Book

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AutoCorrect Gone Wild!

I can remember the exact moment I became aware that AutoCorrect was shoving my vintage automobile into a ditch.  I was reporting on the introduction of electronic “catalogues”.  With a nasty squiggly red underline, spellcheck rejected my spelling of the word and insisted I change it to “catalogs”. I could easily have asked Word to accept my version and that would have ended the autocorrection. Or I could have disabled the feature on Word  entirely. But I elected to duke it out, snorting triumphantly every time I overrode the red squiggle challenging me. Eventually I yielded to the streamlined contemporary version. My antique spelling had become an embarrassment, like wearing knickerbockers or a bonnet.

I was relieved to learn that I’m not the only person quarreling with AutoCorrect.”It is an impish god,” laments James Glieck in the New York Times. Glieck’s beef is a not just about minor differences of opinion about spelling, but rather Autocorrect’s aggressive insistence on substituting words in the belief that that is what you really meant.  Such as forcing “egocentric” on you when you absolutely meant “geocentric.”

“Who’s the boss of our fingers?” Glieck demands to know. “Cyberspace is awash with outrage. Even if hardly anyone knows exactly how it works or where it is, Autocorrect is felt to be haunting our cellphones or watching from the cloud.”

The issue may seem trivial but it’s not.  “The better Autocorrect gets,” maintains Glieck, “the more we will come to rely on it. It’s happening already. People who yesterday unlearned arithmetic will soon forget how to spell. One by one we are outsourcing our mental functions to the global prosthetic brain.”

One thing Glieck overlooks is the spelling of “Autocorrect”.  With an angry red squiggle, Spellcheck refuses to recognize its legitimacy.  (Microsoft Office’s web page spells it “AutoCorrect”, but as I type it I’m getting red-squiggled!) And while we’re at it, Spellcheck doesn’t recognize “Spellcheck” either!

Details in Auto Crrect Ths! by James Glieck. For a look at the light side of Autocorrect, click here

Richard Curtis

This blog post was originally published by Digital Book World as Autocorrect Shows Us Who’s Boss

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We Remember

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Labor Day 2012

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