This is Bound to Send Idiots Flocking to iUniverse

The Boston Globe reports that Brunonia Barry has sold her self-published novel THE LACE READER , and another to-be-written book, to Morrow for $2 million. This news will become the rallying cry for vanity presses everywhere…and the example gullible aspiring authors will use to justify throwing away their money.

What the hordes of desperate aspiring authors will ignore, and what the vanity presses certainly won’t tell them, is that Barry and her husband are experienced, successful businesspeople and former professional screenwriters who didn’t go to a POD vanity press…they spent more than $50,000 to self-publish their book entirely on their own. The Globe writes:

Most writers resort to self-publishing because they can’t find a
publisher. They often turn to print-on-demand presses such as iUniverse
or Xlibris. The author puts up the money – usually less than $1,000 –
and the publisher edits the text, designs jacket art, and makes the
book available through online outlets. But there’s no inventory – books
are printed when ordered – and the books rarely are reviewed. Few
bookstores place orders.
"We occasionally hear from self-published authors who say, ‘How can
I get my book into bookstores?’ " said Steve Fischer, executive
director of the New England Independent Booksellers Association, "but
the system is so difficult to plug into. You’re responsible for
everything – you have to be author, agent, accountant, postal clerk,
sales rep, publicity agent, go around to your local bookstore and find
out if there is any interest."

Barry and [her husband] were willing to do all that, and spend freely in the
process – more than $50,000 before they were finished

[…]With years of experience in screenwriting, Barry thought the story
might interest Hollywood. So she and [her husband] sent a book to agent Brian
Lipson, a book-to-movie specialist at Endeavor Talent Agency in Los
Angeles. Lipson liked it but doubted it would sell to the movies
without a commercial publisher. So he sent it to Rebecca Oliver in
Endeavor’s New York literary branch.
"I read it overnight and loved it," Oliver said. "I called Sandy and
said, ‘I have to work with you. This book is amazing.’ It has strong
characters and an amazing twist at the end. I sent it to a few
publishers. The phone started ringing."
Laurie Chittenden, executive editor of publisher William Morrow, was
one of those who called. "It reminded me of why I love books – a good
story, wonderful atmosphere, good characters, a real sophistication,"
she said.

Barry is among the very, very tiny number of self-published authors who get picked up by a major publishing house for big money….but it took major-league, movie industry connections that they already had and an investment of tens of thousands of dollars from their own pockets to score that jackpot.

It’s not going to happen for the vast majority of people…most of whom don’t have Hollywood connections or $50,000 to spend. Even Barry realizes it. She told the Boston Globe that had they known at outset how much time and money was involved in true self-publishing, they might not have tried it.

Deluding Yourself

I just got an unsolicited email from John Hanzl urging me to read his book OUT OF HELL’S KITCHEN because it has received "both the Editor’s Choice award and
    the Publisher’s Choice award from his publisher.
Pick up your own copy to
    see why…
" His publisher is iUniverse. In other words, the people he paid to publish his book gave him awards for excellence. Gee, that’s quite an honor. 

I cringed for the poor guy. I’m not sure which is more embarrassing…an author who touts an award from his vanity press or an author who brags about the rave review he paid for from Kirkus Discoveries.

Scrapbooking Scandal

I got a kick out of this front page, LA Times article  about a "scandal" in the scrapbooking world. Scrapbooker Kristina Contes was inducted into Creating Keepsake magazine’s Scrapbooking Hall of Fame based on an entry she did that included photographs of herself. Contes asked Creating Keepsakes to be sure to credit the photographer who took the pictures, which they did. When Contes’ winning entry was published, with Contes and the photographer credited, scrapbookers went into a tizzy because the contest rules stated that entrants had to produce everything they used themselves — and by using an outside photographer, Contes broke the rules. Apparently, neither Creating Keepsakes nor Contes realized the mistake until it was too late. But in the aftermath, Contes has been  ostracized by Talafan scrapbookers, accused of being immoral and the scrapbooking equivalent of Marion Jones.

I know nothing about this scandal except what I read in the article. But it strikes me as utterly ridiculous. Contes didn’t try to hide anything. The "scandal" erupted because she honorably sought credit for the photographer, not because she was trying to pass off someone else’s work as her own. Not only that, but Creative Keepsakes was aware of it and also didn’t see a problem. So, basically, Contes made an innocent mistake and is being crucified by insane scrapbookers  for being honorable and doing the right thing.

What is really astonishing is that this non-scandalous scandal makes the front page of the LA Times while the Cassie Edwards situation, a real case of blatant plagiarism and dishonesty, is buried in a tiny bit in the Calender section.

UPDATE 1-13-2008: My sisters Linda Woods and Karen Dinino, authors of JOURNAL REVOLUTION and VISUAL CHRONICLES, blogged about this idiotic scandal. I laughed out loud at this comment from Jane Devin, one of their readers:

If all materials in the scrapbook had to be
produced by the artist, as the article and apparently the rules state,
where does this leave collages, magazine clippings and pics, special
paper. . .or any paper for that matter? If rubber stamps were used, did
they have to make their own? Did they have to use beet juice for paint,
and if so who grew the beet?

And, as Maria pointed out, what about using childhood pics? Or some
other tangible thing — say a bead, or a matchbook? Would the rules
exclude those because they were created by someone else?


Why Should Authors Care About the WGA Strike?

Michael Connelly, Elizabeth Cosin, and Terrill Lee Lankford were among the MWA many members who have showed up to walk alongside the striking screenwriters on picket line recently. Obviously, there are many authors who are also WGA members (like Paul Levine, Robert Crais, Andrew Klavan, Steve Cannell, Lawrence Block, Eric Garcia, Mark Haskell Smith, Seth Greenland, Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake, Robert B. Parker, Larry McMurtry, George Pelecanos, and myself, to name just a few). But why should a non-screenwriting author give a damn about how the strike turns out?

The answer is simple. Because we are a community of writers…not just book writers or screen writers. We should be concerned about any efforts to limit the royalties that writers receive from the commercial exploitation of our creative work.

Many of the corporations that own the studios and networks also own many major publishing companies…if they succeed in limiting what screenwriters get from new media, they will only be encourage to seek similar "rollbacks" from authors and other artists who, incidentally, don’t have the benefit of being represented by a powerful union. The final deal struck between the corporations and the WGA in those emerging markets could create a template  or how writers of books, computer games, and other media are treated.

SAG President Alan Rosenberg put it best: "This fight is for the rights of all creative artists and our collective future is at stake."

Good News for Mankell Fans

Variety reports that Kenneth Branagh has signed to star as Inspector Wallander in the BBC’s series of TV movie adaptations of Henning Mankell’s novels
"Firewall," "Sidetracked," and "One Step Behind." Lassgardwallander

It won’t be the first time Wallander has hit the screen…there have already been 13 Wallander films made for the Scandinavian market, three for theatrical release and 10 for TV.  Wallander has been played by Krister Henriksson (left) and Rolf Lassgard (right).

How they think

My friend Jack Bernstein directed me to an excellent article by a former corporate attorney-turned-writer that’s full of insights into the AMPTP’s negotiating strategy.

Regardless of what camp you fall in, everyone is grasping for an
explanation of why the studios are acting the way they are. That’s
because with the exception of a few carefully prepared press releases,
a trade ad or two, and some supposed “leaked” stories, we haven’t heard
directly from any of the CEOs about the strike. We’ve only heard from
Nick Counter – their point man. Their lawyer.

I’m here to tell
you, as a former litigator who spent several years at one of the
biggest corporate law firms in the world, that we’re all in engaged in
a huge lawyering game, and things are proceeding accordingly.

Random Thoughts

My wife likes that show on HGTV where people look for a house to buy. But the show has gone dramatically downscale. The buyers on the show these days have no money to spend, no taste, and are wowed by any house that can’t be hitched to the back of a pick-up. I saw an episode where a couple went ga-ga over a house that was surrounded by a chain-link fence, was next door to a vacant lot full of garbage, and had ceilings so low, they had to walk through the whole place like Quasimodo. The host of the show called the house "lovely" and a "dream home."

I really liked NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. The small parts were as brilliantly cast as the leads.  Now I want to read the book…and then watch the movie again to study how the adaptation was done.

After watching a bunch of episodes of KITCHEN NIGHTMARES  on BBC America, I won’t eat at a restaurant anymore unless they will let me go into the kitchen, check it for cleanliness, and scream obscenities at the chef. It seems like the only way to guarantee a safe and tasty meal.

I watched the original 3:10 TO YUMA, which was a great movie, took a break for a couple of hours, and then watched the remake. Everything about the remake was bigger, though not necessarily better. In the original, the stagecoach driver has a rifle…in the remake, it’s a Gatling gun. In the original, the hero goes up against six or seven guys in the finale…in the remake, it’s more like 50. I’m surprised they didn’t re-title the movie 6:20 TO YUMA.

I haven’t watched ER in three or four years. I tuned in this week for the much-hyped return of Gloria Reuben and because a friend of mine was guest-starring, too. My friend was great…but when did ER become TRAPPER JOHN MD?

The WGA is on strike. Jay Leno is a WGA member. He wrote for his show.  It’s open-and-shut. I don’t understand the controversy or see any gray area here. Yes, he’s a nice guy and paid the salaries of his staff while the show was off-the-air…but now he is scabbing and the Guild is right to go after him for it. He broke the rules. He should be treated like any other writer who writes for a struck company during the walk-out.

I finally got around to watching BORAT. It was the funniest movie I have seen in years. I think my favorite bit was the dinner party. The deleted scenes were hilarious, too, especially the one at the dog pound.

I got an unsolicited email from a complete stranger who has written a novel and wanted me to ghostwrite a re-write because, and I quote, "I am not a writer." I wrote back and said I wasn’t a ghostwriter and that I wasn’t interested in rewriting his book. He wrote back and asked how someone who isn’t a writer can write a book if writers won’t help him? I suggested that he take a writing class and become a writer himself. He wrote back that he doesn’t have the time because he has a real job.