Monday, March 02, 2015

What Is The Convenience Worth To You

You could create your own spreadsheet to track your queries. That's how it was done ten years ago, before tech-savvy types created websites designed to track queries. Back then, the sites were free and all you had to do was tolerate the pop-up ads.

So you signed up and took advantage of the convenience. You did not have to set up the columns and insert the different boxes to have all the functions you wanted in your spreadsheet. It was there for you. Click on a link to the agent's name and there was everything you needed, from e-mail address to genre preference.

In time, the tech-savvy thought aspiring authors would want statistics to tell them that they were not alone in their quest, that others were doing the same thing, and here are their results. How long to wait for a response? Which agents respond and which go the "no response means no" route?

Hooked you, didn't they?

Now that you cannot live without instant access to your query list and the data you so love, Querytracker has invested in their agent-centric website and you will have to pay for things that were once free.

Only $25 for a full year of statistics, genres, and the ability to organize your queries in just about any way you like.

Is the convenience worth it to you?

You could find agents and their genres on AgentQuery and it won't cost you anything more than the time it takes to cut and paste the info into your personal spreadsheet. 

What you'll miss is the statistical data that doesn't really serve a critical function. You know you're not alone. All you have to do is follow any writer's forum and see that you're in plenty of frustrated company.

You could come up with a couple of dollars each month. It's pennies a day, and you could easily meet the expense by dialing back your thermostat a degree or two, or opening the windows instead of opting for air conditioning. You could eat less and forage more. Dumpster diving is always an option if you want to lower your food bills and have money left over to buy the comradeship you get from a website dedicated to would-be authors in search of representation.

How much is the convenience worth to you?

I haven't decided yet, myself. Maybe it's a bargain. Maybe it's a waste of money that will make the website developer rich on the backs of those who want to break into the publishing world. Like most other things, I could live without it. But will I happy without my regular dose of statistical analysis and comments from fellow seekers of literary representation?

What do others in this same situation think about paying someone else to do the grunt work? Will we end up with more time to write if we pay for a small convenience? And will that up our odds of getting a foot in the door?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Value Of Experience Depends On The Experience

You long to enter the publishing world but you can't get far if you don't know how the industry works. Without experience, you can't get a job to learn how the industry works because who is going to pay you for training? Your lack of skills just aren't worth anything.

Which means you would be expected to work for nothing, with the experience you gain having more value than some paltry salary.

All well and good, but what if your work experience consists of mundane office chores that don't teach you a thing about publishing?

Diana Bruk landed a non-paying job at Scribner during her days at university. She thought she was going to earn an education in the publishing industry by paying with her time, just like she was earning an education at school by paying with cash. Her employer would gain from the free labor, and she would show potential bosses what she was made of. In the long run, if all went as planned, she would shine and when she graduated Scribner would give her a real job and realize the expense of her training from the profits her dedication and hard work would yield.

To Ms. Bruk's dismay, she was given a stapler and told to connect the pages, when she was not shuffling those papers. There was nothing of the publishing industry inside knowledge to be gained from her chores. Indeed, she saw herself as a menial laborer who was being used. Instead of an industry intern, she was given the dullest tasks that had no relation to what she wanted to learn, and she didn't earn a penny from her time.

Not quite the return on investment that she sought when she landed the internship at Scribner.

Ms. Bruk is suing Scribner's parent Simon and Schuster, seeking back pay and whatever damages might apply to a victim of publishing slavery.

She is not the first intern to sue. Other publishing entities have been taken to court and later reached settlements with their former interns, while some cases are under appeal or have been thrown out. At the same time, publishers fearing future troubles have done away with internships completely, removing a very valuable source of education that is not to be had in a classroom.

The solution is simple, of course. Interns could be paid some sort of stipend so they are not taken advantage of. By offering a salary, the publishing company might feel more compelled to get something of value from the intern. Expectations would rise, and the intern would have the opportunity to rise to a challenge instead of dealing with the boredom of photocopying.

In the end, the loss of internships and the mentoring that is expected will not help the publishing industry develop new ideas with infusions of fresh and eager talent. The same holds true for the entertainment industry, where it's very much about who you know. If you can't get in to make some acquaintances, what hope do you have after you've completed your degree?

About the only industry that profits is the legal profession, in particular the law firm that is representing Ms. Bruk and several other former interns.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Boy Who Believed

Female sexuality is such a complicated thing. Men are forever asking what women want so that they can provide what is needed and therefore have sex with the lady desired.

So it would follow that a boy in search of a clue to the female libido would look at what women seem to want, and then assume it's the key to unlock that mysterious portal.
I'll be Christian Grey and you'll be Anastasia Steele

Except reality is not the same as fiction, which is made up of fantasy that exists in the imagination. As Mohammad Hossain learned, the whole Fifty Shades phenomenon isn't really what women want. They might want to pretend they want bondage or submission in their secret yearnings, but when it comes down to real bondage, well, it's rape and the lady is going to go to the police to have you arrested.

The University of Illiniois at Chicago (Circle Campus for the historians) student was entertaining a guest in his dorm room. The story is murky, in that the couple had "been intimate" but were not dating. So they hooked up once, or something like that.

He decided that they would re-enact scenes from the Fifty Shades movie, just for fun. Once you're done studying, what else is there to do on a Saturday night when you're too young to hit the bars? Watch television?

The not-dating but once intimate co-ed stripped down to her underwear, which leads anyone to think that she might have been willing to play along. After all, the book was a huge seller so maybe women really do like the kinky stuff and you want to be like everyone else when you're 19 and inexperienced.

Once she was partially disrobed, Mr. Hossain bound her wrists to the bed with a belt and then tied up her feet. There was a necktie gag involved and a sort-of blindfold put to use. Those who are familiar with either the book or the film would be more familiar with the scene.

All good fun until Mr. Hossain replicated the punishment aspect by wacking his non-dating partner with another belt. She discovered that what looks like dirty fun on screen is, in real life, painful. She told Mr. Hossain he was hurting her and that he was to stop, but the scene didn't play out that way in the movie. No, the imaginary submissive only said stop when she meant keep going, and if you're going to play Fifty Shades, you stick to the script.

The co-ed, now wiser in the ways of fiction, managed to escape and file a rape charge against Mr. Hossain, who was then arrested. His bond has been set at $500,000 and he cannot return to campus if he manages to post the required ten percent.

What is that women want sexually? The boy who believed in fiction and the power of the best-seller blockbuster has discovered that just because a lot of women read something or go in droves to a movie doesn't mean anything.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Partner Who Came In From The Cold

Before E.L. James was a shocking success, she was a self-published author of mommy porn. She turned to The Writer's Coffee Shop to get her bondage fantasy series in front of the reading public. Not much of a story there. Writers use several means to achieve their publishing ends, but it is not often that a book takes off like the Fifty Shades trilogy.

So The Writer's Coffee Shop sold the rights to what was clearly becoming a phenomenon to Random House. It was as much a boon for the indie publisher as it was for the author, one of those unexpected wins in a very difficult game.

Again, not much of a story in the transaction. Rights are sold on a regular basis. The publisher gets a cut, the author gets their royalty, and the new publisher does the promotions to boost sales to get a return on the investment. Random House picked a winner and expects to see continued income now that the first book has been made into a movie which expanded the market of interested women over 25 who did not buy the book the first time around.


The Writer's Coffee Shop was a partnership formed by four people. Being a partnership, all four partners get equal parts. When the publisher sold the Fifty Shades rights to Random House, all four partners were supposed to get one quarter of the money pie.

Partner Jennifer Pedroza did not get her check as expected. Her cohorts, apparently, got a little greedy when the cash cow started giving money by the bucket full.

She took her colleagues to court, to force them to pay up what she was owed. As the case played out, the book sold like fur-lined handcuffs and then the film was released to big box office numbers. Her legal team continued to argue that she was entitled to a portion of all of it, a pot of gold that kept growing.

The court has decided that Ms. Pedroza was played for a fool by her fellow partners. They tricked her into signing an agreement that prevented her from an equal share, giving themselves more. Failure to provide her with all the particulars, and misleading her into signing away her rights, constituted fraud.

Ms. Pedroza won her case and will eventually be given what is owed to her, as soon as a forensic accountant can figure out how much she should have made.

The partnership is clearly over, and it is unlikely that she will ever again speak to anyone connected with The Writer's Coffee Shop again.

Do you think she might invest her windfall in a start up? Having gotten a taste of publishing success, who knows if she doesn't go and start up another independent publisher in the hopes of catching lightning in a bottle yet again.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Time And Time

The question is not one of time, but of the kind of time.

I have the time in the course of a full day. What I do not have is the time alone, without distractions or the press of others' needs.

While I write this, I could be working on a new idea for a novel. There is too strict a limit on the kind of time I need to let the ideas rumble around in the brain. I have time, but not much of that time.

So instead of trying to craft a paragraph in a few minutes that will drive a narrative that I cannot quite follow because I need more than a few minutes to get my head back into the early Nineteenth Century, I will just note that Susan Golomb is packing up her literary agency and moving it to Writer's House.

Ms. Golomb has had her own agency since 1990. Twenty-five years of agenting. A long time. And we do not grow younger as the years slide by.

The cost of operating an office is a burden to anyone whose industry is declining. Fewer books are sold these days, as compared to twenty-five years ago, and the competition among literary agents to acquire those blockbusters so much in demand has only increased. It's a young person's game, perhaps, and Ms. Golomb has seen the wisdom in sharing some of those costs with a bigger agency. She may end up making more money in the long run, reducing her expenses by abandoning her own office, even if a portion of her commissions will go towards office maintenance. By sharing, it is likely to be less, and there is a benefit in reducing a financial burden as you get older and the energy starts to decline.

At some point that she can see more clearly because the horizon is not quite so distant anymore, her stable of clients will need a representative to tend their needs while she eases into retirement. Even literary agents don't live forever. What could be more considerate than to put them into a safe place, where they will be looked after when she can no longer look after them?

That's what happens with time. Eventually, it runs out and you have to move on to other things. You just hope that you don't leave anyone dangling, alone in the cold, cruel world of authors without agents.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

I Take What's Her Name To Be My Wife

If you're going to scam the immigration authorities with a faux marriage, the least you could do is ask the bride-to-be what her name is. You know, in case someone were to ask? Just to be sure it wasn't a wedding scam?

Zubair Khan of Pakistan did not want to be deported from England, so he thought he could just marry someone for convenience and then go on his merry way. They could divorce when the time was right, for example, after Mr. Khan had gotten the papers he needed to remain in the UK. Wasn't there a very romantic movie about such a thing in America? Gerard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell were the couple involved in some sort of harmless obfuscation of immigration status or getting a green card in a less than honest way.

Could Mr. Khan not have taken the time to rent GREEN CARD and do a little studying to see what he was going to be up against when he showed up at the registry office with his wife-of-convenience?

He arrived for his appointment prior to the wedding ceremony, and the registrar asked him to name his bride. A simple question, to be sure, but one that the groom could not answer. He rang up the man who had arranged the marriage to find out, and the registrar promptly called the Home Office. Mr. Khan and the marriage arranger were arrested, along with Beata Szilagyi of Hungary.

In a way, Mr. Khan got his wish. He will remain in England for the next twenty months as a guest of Her Majesty's prisons. After that, he will most certainly be deported back to Pakistan.

Due to security concerns, the British government is cracking down on the sham marriage industry, and registrars are now interrogating couples they suspect of fraud. And it is security concerns that would see a Pakistani male under a bit of scrutiny, in case he is a Taliban operative.

Apparently, Mr. Khan never thought about any such possibility or potential pitfall to his little scheme to avoid deportation.

All he had to do was conduct a little research and be prepared to answer the sort of questions that any couple would be able to answer if they have indeed been in any sort of relationship.

Like her name, for example. It's the first thing you learn about a lady you're smitten with, isn't it? 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Start At The Bottom, Give Your Friends A Leg Up

Ann Rittenberg is looking for a literary agency assistant. This could be the opportunity you've been waiting for.

First, you'd have to move to New York City, which isn't entirely a bad thing if you thirst for adventure. Because you wouldn't be making much money, you'd have to find a flat in a more downscale part of town. Plenty of adventure just walking around your new neighborhood!

Ms. Rittenberg would like to find someone who loves reading. Sure your first love is writing, but you know that every good author must also be a voracious reader. Part of your new job will be to read incoming submissions, so how easy would it be to insert your own brilliant prose into a pile? You couldn't submit under your real name, of course, but once a literary agent fell in love with the manuscript, you could come clean.

Or just learn to live with a pseudonym and tell your friends that the new blockbuster is actually your work, but don't tell your boss who is also your agent.

You can answer a phone and take a message. You can shuffle papers with the best of them.

If you aren't ready to publish yet, what about your friends? Why not get their words under an agent's nose? You would gain an ally who would owe their literary career to you, and when it's your turn, well, they'd have a relationship with an editor at a publishing house and they'd be owing you a favor.

Jump on the opportunity now, before someone else edges you out and gets a publishing contract that could have gone to you if you'd shifted a little faster.

Opportunity does not always come knocking. Sometimes you have to go out and find it and then wrestle it into submission.