About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Goon

I just had to do a quick write-up on the movie Goon.

It's based on the biographical Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey,” by Doug Smith and Adam Frattasio. It opened on a couple screens in NYC this weekend. I took note of it after it got a kind review in this week's Village Voice, followed by another in Friday's New York Times.

It's better and worse than Slap Shot, which is pretty good praise. Slap Shot had a star turn from Paul Newman but otherwise not much else going on in the cast. Goon has Liev Schreiber in a supporting role, stars Seann William Scott from the American Pie movies and others, it just has a little more going on when you take your eye off the brightest light. It's more violent than Slap Shot but not as profane.

Considering that I don't think fighting is integral to the game of hockey, I should look down on the film, but it does just enough to show that the violence is in fact violence and fills its moments with just enough charm and offbeat wit that it's hard to resist.

Example: the big turning point in the relationship between the enforcer and the player who's still trying to recover from a big hit comes when the enforcer starts referencing ET, "the light in my chest needs the light in your chest." If you can't appreciate the wit of that line in the context of a movie about a hockey enforcer, don't look for this on video. If you can, please, yes, do.

And the movie's low budget, they could probably have spent a little more time and money in the ADR/dubbing booth. But I'd swear that there's a place when a character who's crying is asked "did you just see Rudy," which again is just the strangest and most delightfully off little piece of dialogue to hide away in a film.

I have a feeling this won't be playing at a theatre near you, you'll need to keep an eye out for a video release of some sort, and can self-identify if you should.

I saw this on the biggest screen at the City Cinemas Village East, which is in an old live stage theatre known primarily as a one time Yiddush stage house. A lot of the detailing is still intact, I smile just being in the auditorium, which doesn't happen very often. Paid full price to see it on this screen instead of using a Gold Experience ticket at the AMC Empire.

Finally, I feel like I'm living a movie. Both Friday and Saturday walking around Manhattan I heard ladies having a serious shouting match with a boyfriend (I think) on their cell phones, and then on the subway ride home from this movie there was somebody on the train with a sign board with a grudge against hindus that he had to share. In a movie, these things would be a quick montage warning us of some apocalyptic kind of something. Don't say you weren't warned.

Insurance Mandates

"Paul D. Clement, representing Florida and 25 other states objecting to the health care law, responded that 'it's a very funny conception of liberty that forces somebody to purchase an insurance policy whether they want it or not.'"
Quoted in a Washington Post article on Thursday on the final day of Supreme Court arguments about Obamacare.

“I’m in good shape, I don’t eat meat, I don’t drink excessively, I’ve never smoked,” said Mr. Lodor, 53, who estimates he would have to spend at least $1,200 a month to cover himself and his college-age daughter. “The last thing I’m going to do is not pay my rent because I have to pay for some state-mandated health coverage that I don’t think I need.”
Wayne Lodor, one of the (now only) 2% of Massachusets residents who do not have insurance under Romneycare, quoted in Wednesday's NY Times.

I need to hire Paul D. Clement.

New York State forces JABberwocky to buy Workmen's Compensation insurance for its employees.

New York State forces JABberwocky to buy Disability Insurance for its employees.

If I owned a car, New York State would force me to have insurance for my car.

My LIC apartment building forces me to have insurance with a specified liability coverage (if my washing machine floods the downstairs neighbor, the building wants to be sure I get to fix up my downstairs neighbor's apartment). My apartment building also required that my contractors and my movers had insurance.

State Form forced me to buy a business policy to wrap around my homeowner policy for my older apartment because they decreed the business was too big to be covered by a home office rider on the homeowner policy.

A prospective landlord for the JABberwocky office insists I show certificates for my workmen's comp policy and my business liability policy, which I will have to upgrade to have a higher liability limit in order to suit the landlord, costing me money.

I am annoyed that Paul D. Clement can make the most outrageous statement about liberty and insurance, and that there are justices on the Supreme Court who think he's living anywhere close to the real world, where I am made constantly to have insurance policies whether I want them or not -- and in some instances made to do so by state actors as opposed to private companies or citizens that have more freedom to require things of one another as part of their dealings.

And I'm sure Mr. Lodor takes the most wonderfully good care of himself, but is he willing to sign some kind of binding statement that if he falls off a ladder or has a bagel cutting accident in the coming days or weeks that he will 100% totally agree to pay for his emergency room care, at whatever inflated rates the hospital will give him vs. what they've negotiated with an insurance company, and that if for some reason he can't pay he won't max out and then bankrupt out of his credit card bills or do anything else at all that will force the rest of us to pay to heal his broken ankle or severed thumb? And that the same will apply if his daughter is standing on a baseball field, gets plunked by an errant throw that was supposed to go to the manager on the pitching mound, and gets a concussion (this just recently happened to one of my nephews, just as an aside I was quite impressed with the seriousness with which everyone was concerned about this, which is sea change for good from five or ten years ago). Mr. Lodor, as one of the 2% in Massachusets without insurance, should be every bit as ostracized by the Occupiers and by all the rest of us as the 1%.

Mind you, I agree that Mr. Lodor shouldn't have to pay so much money for his insurance, but Obamacare is the best chance we've got at getting those costs down, at least so long as we're going to remain tethered to our current health care system. I am happy to debate with anyone all of the so-called market-based solutions to health care, which are generally as untethered from reality as Paul D. Clement's statement that forced insurance is tyranny.

And if the Court accepts Paul Clement's argument, how do they chop down the mandate in Obamacare in a way that still guarantees Workmen's Compensation insurance for my employees, or mandatory auto insurance for car-owners, or a gazillion other things that we are required to do in the public sphere to protect one another? Under classic libertarianism, we wouldn't have a lot of these things, and I can respect the consistently principled classic libertarian even if I don't always agree, but the consistently principled classic libertarian is a rare bird.

Many of you reading my blog are fans of sf/fantasy. Every so often we in the sf/fantasy community are called upon to make donations to the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund or privately to help some writer who's met up with illness. I want to live in a place where we don't keep having to do that, because it's understood by everyone that the health and well-being of our citizenry is a shared obligation we all have to one another.

If that would happen, we wouldn't need a law that requires people to buy broccoli.

Public mores can change over time. The reaction to my nephew's concussion is an example of that.

Another example, in my time on Earth attitudes have changed a lot toward drunk driving. In the 1960s, who would have envisioned that the movie "Say Anything" would have a keymaster to model proper hosting of a teen alcohol bash. The term designated driver came to the US only in the late 1980s.

I could see a lot of good coming to the US not through forced legislation but through an understanding of the shared common good if we understood that health care was a shared common obligation of the citizenry. This in turn can lead to a long discussion of externalities and market costs, but we can have that discussion another day.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Book of Mormon

Typically, when there's some hot new Broadway show where you need to buy tickets way far in advance and there are no discounts and etc., I wait. And wait, and wait, and wait. I live in New York City. Eventually in five years of fifteen years demand will drop. Tickets will be on TKTS. If I die before that happens -- well, if I'm dead, the fact that I missed a Broadway show will be the least of my worries. And it's New York, it's Broadway, you see the 12th replacement cast in the 9th year of the run, and odds are you're still going to see some pretty good stuff, The Phantom of the Opera is still chugging along well after Michael Crawford, you know.

Charlaine Harris was in town this week to do a special pre-signing of books for select bookstore accounts. She wanted to see Jersey Boys and The Book of Mormon. A good agent would happily choose to take the client to Jersey Boys, cheaper tickets, and let the publisher take to The Book of Mormon, expensive tickets. I guess I'm not a good agent. I'd already seen Jersey Boys, which is fantastic and I'd recommend it to anyone, but I'd seen it. I've been dying to see The Book of Mormon. And the availability update on the website suggested there might still be premium seats for the week in question. So I was forced -- forced, I say, forced !! -- to go get very nice seats to see this show I'd been dying to see. Sometimes, it's a hard life being a literary agent.

It was worth every penny.

The Book of Mormon is one of the best musicals I've ever seen, likely one of the best I will ever see.

Even with Elder Price being played by the understudy.

There is one flaw, if you will. The songs are excellent, lively, melodic, tuneful, all of that, but not anything like Tomorrow from Annie or Sunrise Sunset from Fiddler that will linger in the mind for 62.92 years after you've seen the show. You can bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow I will be able to hum "I Believe" to myself, to the extent of humming those two words, I will not be able to go deep into the verses through to the cobwebs and the sorrow.

No, two flaws. One number takes place in the departure lounge of the airport with the Elders on their way to their mission in Uganda, the set has the departure board at the gate listing the flight as bound for Uganda. I kept looking at that and thinking in any real airport I've ever been to the plane would be going to a particular city in Uganda, not to the country. It is hard for me to believe that the creators of the show are worried that nobody from Gulu or Jinja will want to come see the show if that sign had properly read "Kampala, Uganda" instead of just saying Uganda. I think we should start a petition to get that distraction changed.

I can't address the show from a Mormon perspective. If you want to read up on that, you can find a thorough and interesting annotation on "I Believe" from our client Bryce Moore by clicking here.

I can say that the interesting thing about this irreverent if not downright blasphemous or sacrilegious show is that it is ultimately reaffirming of the idea of faith. The co-leads are two Elders off on their Mormon mission in Uganda, one trim and good-looking and fervent and personable and all those things you want your Elder to be, the other rather less in regard to everything except his weight. The good Elder loses his faith, and this is a bad thing. The bad Elder gets the locals to enter the church by teaching them an "interpretive" version of the Book of Mormon, which version the locals proceed to act out before the mission's supervisors to their great dismay. But in our happy ending, we are told that even this version has offered something, a ray of hope or a path to a different life. And to me, the corollary to this is that if there is good to be found even in the bastardized teaching then surely there is more than that to be found in the real teaching. Furthermore, while the musical is clearly skeptical about Joseph Smith's discovery of the Book of Mormon, the musical as a whole and the "I Believe" song in particular must present some of the basics of Mormon teaching in order to have some fun with said teachings. It is well within the realm of possibility that there are people who will find it intriguing, their curiosity heightened, and then decide to explore further. There are worse things. The church is wise to have taken a measured response to the show.

The musical is sometimes considered to be one of the great distinct American contributions to world culture. I am struck in watching The Book of Mormon to see how closely it follows in that great American tradition, only so much better in so many ways than so many of its antecedents. The Book of Mormon has a great love song. It happens to be a long double entendre set against a baptism, it's absolutely hilarious and a thoroughgoing delight to watch. But in its essence, in its form and place and function within the show, it is every bit as much the classic American musical love song as Maria in West Side Story. Similarly, the lengthy musical number in which the Ugandans present their version of Mormon history and belief is a clear and direct descendant of the "Uncle Tom's Cabin" presentation in The King and I. With significant differences. That number in The King and I has limited relevance to the basic plot, it's long and dull and boring, we should all go and see it to appreciate the place of the musical in the history of the musical and blah blah blah. But honestly, I have no particular interest in spending my life going to see a lot of these classic shows with long dance sequences stuck in just because you need to have a long dance sequence, and since I will never be able to get that Whistle a Happy Tune thing out of my head I don't need to keep going to see The King and I for a refresher course in whistling happy tunes whenever I feel afraid. But I would happily go see The Book of Mormon again.

The Book of Mormon marches along from high point to high point. It doesn't have much of a plot, but it has imagination and wit and humor and good cheer. All of which are present in virtually every musical number. So the show just flies by. You can tell that the creators have seen every great Broadway musical at least 9 times, which is easy. What's way less easy but which these people have done, is to identify what makes the shows work instead of borrowing the bad elements. Hairspray it's not, Hairspray has a much stronger plot line but is ultimately kind of dull because it takes too much to heart the idea that every character should have a big number and not enough to heart that all those big numbers should really do something to move the story along instead of just being there and being big to attract ovations from tourists.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lex Luthor's Lair

I don't have the tech savvy of E C Myers, who did this nifty little Acknowledgment Video for his debut novel Fair Coin, recently out from Pyr SF as part of their new YA line and well worth reading -- you can meet Mr. Myers at various events in the coming days as well.

But after a busy and wonderful day of actually finally housewarming my apartment, I thought I should put a few thank you things out into the world...

The biggest thanks in many ways have to go to my clients. Charlaine Harris, Sookie Stackhouse, and the True Blood folk kind of paid for the place, but I think it's a mistake to be too narrow in viewing the JABberwocky family. Because Charlaine wouldn't be a client today if it weren't for the general belief amongst authors in general that we do a good job for all of our clients, or maybe not a client today if back fifteen years ago when Charlaine Harris wasn't Charlaine Harris yet, but Arkham House and Elizabeth Moon and Simon Green were some of the key players making it possible for me to have the money to go to Malice Domestic every year in large part because I wanted to be there for Charlaine (well, and to visit all the wonderful bookstores in the DC area that are now two thirds of them closed). And I'm kind of cautious, so even today the fact that the agency is not just Charlaine Harris but is Brandon Sanderson and Peter Brett, and Elizabeth Moon and Simon Green, and John Hemry/Jack Campbell, and many other people. The agency is a stool with many legs, not just one that would always threaten to wobble me into ruin. I can't name every single client here, but the thanks are to all of them.

And it isn't possible to do what we need to do without having people to help me do it all. Steve Mancino did that for four years. Eddie Schneider will soon surpass Steve as the longest tenured employee at JABberwocky. Jessie Cammack came looking for us, and once Eddie and I found her we weren't going to let her go. Lots of other people who've helped over the years, Joseph and Ronald and Armand and Kat and Brenna and Ethan and Mark and David, among others.

There's Adrian, the broker at Nestseekers who told me the apartment I really really wanted might actually become affordable, because for once in my life the real estate market was dipping as my income was increasing to where I could just find an intersection between the two. But then nobody wants to actually give a mortgage, but Yitz found the guy who would.

When I looked at the raw space, I had a vision of what I might do with the space, and one of the things I'm happiest about today is that the apartment, finally and arduously two and a half years after I purchased it, pretty fully realizes my vision of what it should be and would be and could be and what I wanted it to be. It really is my place, more than anyone else's.

But it doesn't happen that way without some help along the way, some little voices chirping in the ear with advice and suggestions and guidance and how-tos and where-tos. Ronald and Jennifer helped with the painting and recommended the contractor. Elizabeth Moon helped to fill in the idea for the display shelf at the end of the gallery. The guy from Horizon helped find the right shade of window treatment for the bedroom.

When my younger brother got married close to twenty years ago, I was the best man, and one of the groomsman was this tall lanky guy named Mason Rapaport. Mason, it turns out, does woodwork. Really gorgeous woodwork, which now that he's finally actually done something with his website, you can learn about here.

The killer app for this apartment was this very long, very wide, very tall entrance gallery that was going to allow me to bring a little bit of Lex Luthor into my life. The Lex Luthor of Superman: The Movie. So do I thank the director, Richard Donner? Or the production designer Jonn Barry? Or the set director Peter Howitt? Or the art direction crew? Whomever it was in whatever combination who had that gorgeous bookcase in Lex Luthor's lair, where Otis could wheel around Lex, or more pleasantly wheel around the ladder and leave Lex hanging? This entry gallery was going to enable me to have at least a little version of this bookcase complete with ladder that I could call my very own, plenty deep enough to hold three layers of mass markets, two layers of hardcovers, and still leave enough width in the entry gallery to leave room for a wheelchair with lots of space to spare. Look ma, it's my bookcase! It looks even nicer filled with books and with the lights on than it does empty posing for the photo.

Besides being a great thing for a literary agent, it stores so many books, it makes the whole business function better because we don't need to clutter the office with books, we don't need to ship extra books to a client in March because there's no room and then realize in May that we need to order more.

In any event, I knew that Mason needed to do this bookcase, and I didn't think to talk to anyone else.

If you are hanging about the northeast and want any kind of beautiful woodworking or other sorts of cabinetry (the "kitchen" section of Mason's website has a couple other pieces for my apartment) this is the guy to call.

Myke Cole refers to Peter V. Brett as his Professor X.

Myke first introduced me to the idea of getting nicer furniture when we upgraded my old apartment with some nicer stuff several years ago, we trekked out to Long Island and went furniture shopping, and my sofa and dining room set and recliner were all selected that day. And because I'm that kind of a guy, I treated Myke to a delightful picnic lunch of MREs to thank him for his time and support.

I enjoy MREs a lot more than Myke, kind of like I love to visit and mow somebody's lawn, because I do that once every two years and it's a delightful special treat.

Myke gave lots of good suggestions on the right color scheme.

He accompanied me on shopping trips to buy furniture and ceiling fans and other things to fill out the apartment.

He rented the van that moved the boxes of books from the office and then helped along with Eddie and Jessie to move and shelve those dozens of boxes of books.

If there is something hanging on a nail in the apartment, Myke banged in the nail and hung it, and he didn't almost die hanging the movie posters above the TV but it wasn't because I didn't try really really hard to get that to happen.

For the party Myke was my scullery maid and galley slave for the day, and if regulations allowed him to wear a cover indoors I'm sure he would have worn at least six different hats over the course of the day.

Even though Myke resisted my specific instructions to use the Swiffer duster instead of the Swiffer sweeper to dust the moldings, I must give him an extra special and very heartfelt thank you for all of these efforts. Which go above and beyond any rational definition of "what friends are for" or "sucking up to your agent" or any other reason or excuse or justification or whatever else you call it that one might give for somebody to do all of these things.

The brownies for the party came from the Sage General Store. Which is around the corner, and which makes some of the best brownies you can find in New York City. You can find them on the Food Network, not that everyone isn't these days. I ordered way too many brownies. However, they don't make their wonderful german chocolate brownies any more because not too many people wanted to buy those as badly as I. But since I was ordering a full tray, I was able to get some of them, and maybe the leftovers will last for a bit.

The cookies came from Nita's European Bakery in Sunnyside a few blocks from the office, which totally deserves its largely favorable notices on Yelp. I've been in Sunnyside for many years, it's only recently that I've started to habituate Nita's, as I have come to appreciate how their Italian cookies are just head and shoulders almost every other little bakery cookie that I have ever come across.

The prospect of getting yummy things from Sage or Nita's should encourage you to venture across the East River into Queens.

One of my guests said especially how much he liked the scroll that John Moore was kind enough to give, and which sat in its tube for too long before finding the right proper place to hang.

The party was nice because so many people came, childhood friend, college roomie, people from the synagogue, neighbors, clients, editors, publishers, family, from the Scrabble club. Not an abundance of people from any one place, but a wonderful mix of people from all the different parts of me all in one room for the afternoon. Thank you for stopping by!

If I ever get more tech savvy, maybe I can come up with a video that can attempt to list everyone.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Candidates on TV

With both 24 and Friday Night Lights going off the air the past couple of years, two shows that were appointment viewing for me, I've been willing to cautiously explore finding replacements.

Glee never quite cut it, too inconsistent.

I've been trying Smash. The first three episodes were enh. The 4th episode the show seemed to have found its footing. The next two were OK, the 7th episode that aired this past Sunday was the best so far. I'm willing to keep going with it a bit, I'm a NYer and a theatregoer.

But the show I've taken to wholeheartedly after watching a few episodes tonight is The Good Wife.

I've heard a lot over the years about how good this is, and they are frequently filming at the courthouse across the street from my apartment (yes, New York City doubles for Chicago in The Good Wife).

And a few minutes in to an episode I still had on the DVR from the end of January, I was totally hooked.

What's not to like?

The writing is excellent. Sharp characters, sharp conflicts, ongoing character arcs but each episode also provides some resolution to a case. In essence, it's all the things that TV people like to say they're doing but which they rarely execute on or often say they want but don't actually do.

The cast is excellent. Smash might be about the New York theatre, but The Good Wife brings the best of NY theatre into your living room every week. One episode, there's David Pittu who was just playing in CQ/CX, the next week there's Josh Hamilton whom you've seen multiple times in the judge's robes, and then another week it's Bebe Neuwirth. If it's a delight, at least for someone like me who goes to the theatre and can appreciate the guest stars, the rest of the world gets to enjoy the regulars. They all seem just right. Christina Baranski and Josh Charles and Juliette Margulies and everyone else, and they all just work.

The best film and TV manage to tow the line of the exaggeratedly real, a little over the top and a little Hollywood and a little manipulative and a little of everything but without ever going completely over the top. Shows like Glee today or Ally McBeal a decade ago can cast a brief bright flame by actually going over the top in some different or fresh way, but they flame out. The gimmick can't be fresh forever, or they fall in love with the gimmick and go over the top, and over time you lose the connection with the audience. It seems horribly unlikely in one episode that the prosecutor would start to ask our lead character in a grand jury investigation about whether she was sleeping with the guy they're trying to indict, but then you can think about how Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about sex. It seems even less likely that the person being questioned would then walk out of the courtroom in the middle of the questioning and dear the prosecutor to have her arrested, and even less likely that the grand jury would start asking questions and rebel against the prosecutor. But the characters are strong enough that you suspend disbelief, you enter the world of the exaggeratedly real where you can recognize the implausibility but believe. No dancing babies, no teaching the world to sing.

The show keeps things fresh with some tonal variety. One episode was pretty serious, the main case is about the father of a college student who committed suicide suing a filmmaker who documented it. This is serious stuff, and it's handled reasonably seriously within the realm of the exaggeratedly real. The next episode is a laugh riot. Dylan Baker is hilarious as a corporate executive specializing in peccadilloes, caught up in a paternity and harassment case in the middle of a proxy fight. It's laugh out loud stuff.

So this show is as good as everyone's been saying it is. I doubt I have the hours in the day to catch up on previous seasons, but it is so tempting to go and buy season passes on iTunes.

I don't want to rush to judgment on Smash when the show is giving signs of finding its footing as it goes along, but it's also the case that you don't get a second chance at a first impression and Smash's has been inconsistent.

Writing: If you are doing a show that's about a Broadway musical, is it a great idea to have a major subplot about the co-composer's attempts to adopt a Chinese baby? Not in my book, it's too off-center, it's a subplot that could be thrown into pretty much any hourlong drama if you wanted to, it's not why I'd decide to sample this particular show. And then there's the live-in boyfriend of the Marilyn who works in the Mayor's office as the Press Secretary, and that's another character that just seems like something you could have everyplace. The Good Wife is gloriously incestuous, within minutes I'm picking up on all of these connections between the district attorney's office and the law firm and the good wife and her husband, and they're not afraid to just make everything about the lawyers and the politicians. Smash is a TV show about a Broadway show that constantly seems to look over its shoulder, fearing that the outside world is gaining on it because who really wants to watch a show that's just about Broadway. It's commercially logical and entirely mistaken. The show is about what it's about, if you don't think people want to watch what your shows about, then make a different show, don't bring in lots of extraneous elements in order to appeal to people who don't care about what you care about.

Casting: It's not bad, but it's just the slightest bit off. If you've just come off seeing Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn, it's harder to buy into Megan Hilty's performance here. Katharine McPhee is good but generic, when she's put into the ensemble instead of being given the lead role, you don't automatically think it's a bad decision. There's nothing wrong with having personality, the faces of the people in The Good Wife radiate all kinds of personality, all of it the right kind for the role. Smash is just that little bit off, that fine line between that person in high school with some weird ambition that everyone respects because it's so true and real for that person, and the person with some weird ambition that everyone thinks is just weird.

As always, these things run into one another. The role of an assistant to the composers is underwritten. This character could be the audience's surrogate, by seeing what makes him tick we could find ourselves with an interest in the Broadway stage that we didn't know we had until this character started voicing it for us. The way Lloyd's desire to be Ari Gold on Entourage makes us envy Ari at the same time we despise him. In Smash, we get a lot about the adaptation, a little less about this potentially pivotal character, who ends up being defined by his weirdrobe.

I'm being a little too hard on Smash, there are a lot of smart people involved with it. There's this sense that they've slowly gotten more confident over seven episodes to be about the musical instead of the adoption. The original musical numbers are solid. But comparing and contrasting, it's hard to see this grow to be The Good Wife, to be better definitely, but not to be one of the best dramas on TV.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Portal Down

This week, Random House unveiled, and I've now started to play around with, an "Author Portal."

This allows authors to check up on their print and e-book sales for their books with Random House, pretty much in real time. It allows them to check on the subsidiary rights sales that Random House has made. It allows them to review their royalty statements. It gives all kinds of information which heretofore hasn't easily been available from the publisher. Some of it has been available only on semi-annual royalty statements with a considerable time lag. Some of it has been available in different ways on Bookscan. Some of it, like timely real time access to e-book sales, hasn't been available at all. Agents can check on all of their contracts with Random House.

Sales information is broken down in different ways. You can check the total number of sales over the life of a title broken down by format (mass market, hardcover, electronic, etc.) or get a pretty good breakdown by sales channel, distributors and book chains and e-book and mass merchandisers and several other strata.

Why is Random House doing this? Why after so many years of trying to keep a lid on some of these pieces of information are they suddenly opening up a curtain to show all?

Part of it is that they can. Not too long ago, the IT involved in dong all of this would have been kind of daunting.

Part is because other people are already making chunks of this information available. As an example, authors can set up a portal on Amazon that allows access to Bookscan sales information.

Part of it is about being relevant. When there are so many ways to self-publish and to get data on your e-book sales with B&N and Amazon with very little lag, one way for Random House to keep authors is to give them more and better information than somebody else can.

There is some benefit to Random House in giving this information away. It will reduce the number of times an author or agent has to ask an editor for some piece of sales information. As an example, I was just querying Elizabeth Moon's editor to see how the e-book sales for Echoes of Betrayal compared to the sales of Kings of the North a year ago. If the portal had been available, I could have gone hunting for that information myself.

If knowledge is power, Random House is giving up some power by giving up knowledge. Certainly for my most successful authors having close to real-time access may give me a little more power at the bargaining table. However, it may also empower Random House as well. Let's say Random House wants to keep publishing an author but feels they overpaid a little on the last contract, now when they come to me and ask for a pay cut they can take the "you can see for yourself" approach because all the disappointing-against-the-advance sales information is there for me to look at and I can be most haughtily informed of that fact. Same thing for an author Random House wants to drop, it takes a little of the burden of dong it gently or nicely off of the publisher because the reason is there for an author to see, it's been there for the author to see, there's no reason for it not to have been seen.

This doesn't entirely disintermediate Amazon and Bookscan. An author can check only their Random House titles, I can only check my clients. Bookscan doesn't track every copy sold while Random House tracks every copy it ships, but a full access Bookscan subscription does allow me to check anything by anyone. However, it's safe to say that if three or four of the six major publishers had similar portals, it would become a lot harder to justify layering a Bookscan subscription on top of that.

It's pretty clear that Random House didn't do a lot of testing and checking of the portal on Safari. I ended up having to switch to Firefox to finish the enrollment process, going back in to actually use the site in Safari my cursor kept disappearing unless I moused outside of Safari and then back in.

The printed royalty statements sometimes contain "Print Summary" sheets that give copies printed and a monthly breakdown of copies shipped and sold and other bits and pieces of information we want to track. The online versions of the royalty statements are direct clones of the mailed ones, they don't incorporate print summaries that weren't incorporated in the mailed royalty statement. So I'll still have to manually request those sheets instead of doing self-service via the portal.

At least from what I'm seeing, the sub rights field is a straight list of the deals that have been made, but it doesn't add a lot of color on what advances might be expected or received from a licensor, it doesn't provide any access or summary of the royalty statements that might be coming in from the sub rights licensor, so I don't have a way to use the portal to figure out how many copies the SF Book Club has sold of Elizabeth Moon's Oath of Fealty, or how many audio copies Recorded Books has reported for Peter V. Brett's The Desert Spear.

It's a little bit clunky, hitting this error then checking that box then clicking on that link, and I feel as if there might be a slightly less cumbersome interface awaiting discovery.

But on balance, let's count this as a win for the home team. It's allowing my clients to find out more, to find out sooner, and to be more aware of what's happening.

So, Thank You, Random House.

Simon & Schuster has something similar going on, I don't have a lot of current business there. All we need is to start seeing Hachette and Harper and Macmillan and Penguin joining the jamboree.