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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.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Manilla Extract (My Life in Technology, Pt. 3)

So as I've mentioned in my posts this week, I've been taking on new clients very selectively.  And things have been going well enough for most of my long-time clients that I've usually been doing new contracts with current publishers.  I think it's possible that my last major multiple submission was over three years ago when I sent out Adam-Troy Castro's Emissaries from the Dead.

My, but the world has changed a lot since then.

Most major publishers have now given staff Sony Readers or other such things to do their reading on.  Pretty much everyone takes submissions electronically.  An entire big multiple submission was done without a single piece of paper.   And I read multiple drafts of the manuscript on my Kindle and the final little tweaks just looking for the track changes on my computer. 

Once upon a time, everything was on paper.  In the early years of JABberwocky, I would even do my own deliveries.  It saved an awful lot on postage.  It saved even more because a manuscript going through the mail needed a padded envelope while a manuscript which I delivered could get put into a cheaper manilla/brown kraft clasp envelope.  It got me out of the house for a few hours.  I was a young and energetic thirty-something and the bag would keep getting lighter as the manuscripts were dropped off.  It was a triple win scenario.

Now, I find myself thinking I should get faster broadband so the 1.6MB file can go out to an editor a few seconds more quickly.

But the problem is that I have these boxes of 11.5x14.5 manilla envelopes that I purchased pretty much for the soul purpose of having around to put in manuscripts to hand-deliver to publishers.  And now they're all going as electrons instead of as dead trees, so what am I going to do with 200 11.5x14.5 manilla envelopes?

On the other hand, because we don't have authors mailing us manuscripts very often, we find that we don't have enough small boxes.  We get big boxes of books from publishers, but if we want to mail a small box of books to an author...

Another part of this is the way that labor is transferred to different places.  I used to get royalty statements and contracts for foreign rights deals in the mail, ready to go into the file or off to the author.  Now a lot of these come in to me electronically, and I have to do the downloading and printing.  A few US publishers are starting to send me PDF files for contracts so they no longer print out as many and I print out more.  Some of these, I may e-mail in turn to the author, who now has to print out contracts that the agent used to print out.  But on the other hand often no longer has to print out a manuscript for agent to read.  And I now get to send manuscripts to the publishers electronically, so some publishers may trade printing out 4 copies of a 14 page contract for printing out chunks of a 497 page manuscript.

There's probably a doctoral dissertation in all of this, trying to identify the ultimate winners and losers from this giant shuffle in the publishing paperwork dance.

But there's no denying that I have hundreds of 11.5x14.5 manilla envelopes that I currently see no possible use for.

The times they are a changing!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Son of Dead KIndle

So now I have 2 broken Kindles.  Notice that nice horizontal line across the top of my Kindle when turned off.

Everything else works fine.  I can watch the pointer line on the side go up and down when I restart or turn my Kindle on or off.  I can use the USB connection.  But the Kindle is dead.

So what does one do?

They want $180 to send me a refurbished Kindle, plus shipping.

I don't want to send them $180.  I've gone through two of them now in 15 months.

I don't want a Sony Reader. I don't like the screen and the glare and the note-taking isn't good and intuitive as I need it to be.  I like the wireless subscriptions on my Kindle.  And the other thing is that all of my problems have been with the screen, and all the screens on all the e-readers use the same basic E Ink technology so I'm not sure I trust any of them right now.

I don't want to go back to reading manuscripts on paper.

I didn't do anything to the Kindle yesterday.  It was fine in the morning when I turned it on to get my newspapers.  I just walked around with it some in my backpack.  And then this morning the screen is Dead Again.

I was planning to go away for the weekend but hoped to get some reading done while I was away.  I just don't want to  have 3 manuscripts to print out and cart around, not that I'd get to reading 3 but just in case I bail out of #1 there's got to be some backup.

I'm feeling terribly addicted right now, when I know I shouldn't spend money on something because it's going to be bad for me, and yet I'm not sure I can stop myself from it.

What I really want to do is find a class action attorney, I think, maybe talk to the one who's suing over the case cracking on the Kindle 2.

Update #1:  The $180 refurbished Kindle comes with but a 90-day warranty.  A used Kindle is available currently on Craig's List for $140-$150, in the low $200s for a Kindle 2.

Update #2:  I have downloaded the Stanza app for my iPhone, and I am busily transferring content to my iPod Touch.  This isn't as good as the Kindle, but maybe my iPod touch won't break every few months... 

Update #3:  A Washington Post subscription via Newspaper Direct if purchased in advance costs less than a Kindle subscription.  A Wall St. Journal subscription for a first-time subscriber can be nicely discounted for a whole year over the Kindle price.  I don't like being chained to my computer to look at them, but none of them require me to buy a $180 or $300 device that keeps breaking down, and which doesn't work so well in cold weather in NYC for six months of the year, and etc.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Son of New Kid

I posted yesterday about some of the new things going out to market this week, and I thought I'd give a post geared to people who might have similar hopes for manuscripts on my reading pile, where the eldest manuscripts have been almost six months in repose. Which nags at me no end.  Especially since some of these people are friends, or people we at JABberwocky have been grooming.  Or are ignoring me when I remind them that I don't demand exclusives and are kind of patiently waiting for Joshua Bilmes to read and respond.

I'd like it if my life were full of perfect first drafts, but it's not.

I'd like it my days were full of time to sit down and read manuscripts.  But they're not.  The work day can push well past 6:00 some nights, and then by the time I have gym time and eat dinner or finish the newspaper it can be 10PM and I'm just not up to tackling reading, and if I was, I wouldn't be receptive to what I was reading anyway.  Even though I've cut way back in recent years on some of my movie-going and other extracurriculars, it's still harder and harder most weeks to get to reading manuscripts.  And I do need some non-work time in order to continue as a functioning sane member of human society. Maybe I could cut back on blog posts (and in really busy months I don't do many posts), but these days having a blog or a Facebook page or what-not is kind of part of what people do.  Maybe I could give up reading newspapers except I am an addict.  Or give up my New Yorker or Rolling Stone, but it's kind of a good idea to have some idea of what's going on in different parts of the world.  So reading time ends up being scarcer than I would like.

Hence, there's this kind of air traffic control or triage with the reading pile.  So first priority... A client turns in a manuscript that's already been sold to a publisher and that needs to land first because it's already sold, there's a delivery check waiting when the manuscript gets turned in, and often the project is already scheduled so editorial work needs to be done in a specific time-frame in order to meet the publisher's production schedule.  And sometimes I'll read that manuscript a second time or sometimes not, depending on the extent of the revisions and whether or not the production schedule has any give in it for more agent revisions.  Then I'll come across something like Stung that's not under contract but which is from an actual current selling agency client, so that will get slotted behind a contracted-for manuscript but ahead of most anything from a non-client.  And then I'll finally have a moment to read something from a non-client like Latent.  And then there will be the next drafts of a Latent or Stung.  In the case of Latent and Stung, I knew both manuscripts were very very close to going to market, so those had priority over first drafts on the slush pile or some second drafts for things that I know have potential but which aren't quite as close to going to market. 

With Latent and Stung off to market, I have one more third draft of something which I think is very very close which I've decided to put ahead of everything else.  And then after that, for the first time in several months, it looks like I can start to tackle the February manuscripts.  And because those have been here so long, I feel a need to get to some of them over manuscripts that came in May which are theoretically more important but which if I read now could turn somebody else's six-month wait into an eight-month.

And even then there are decisions to make.  Since I'm going to LA this month perhaps I should read the manuscript from an author in LA before I head out, in case we'll have something to discuss.  But if I can't get everything read before the trip, what does that mean for an author who may have turned in a manuscript two weeks sooner but may now wait four weeks longer for a response?

In  part I'm able to get caught up because summer is often slightly slower at JABberwocky.  June and July can be very slow months for publisher payments which means less time spent on processing those.  Many editors in the US will go to ComicCon or on vacation, so I have fewer people to talk to.  Europeans can take long summer vacations so the foreign rights business will slow up.  How much reading time will I have before things get busy again?

If I really like one of these February manuscripts but need to do that revision thing, then it could be that I'll have only four or six weeks while an author revises and then have a second draft for a February manuscript that will get slotted ahead of some April manuscript.

I don't like this, but I'm trying as best as I can to do things as quickly as I can.

And FYI, as bad as things are here...  Some editors have always been very slow, and I sympathize more and more.  In 2009, many publishing houses have had layoffs or hiring freezes as a result of the economic situation, and so they are trying to do more with less.  Which is not always possible, which is making an editor's life a little bit harder.  

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The New Kid in Town

So on Saturday I took on a new client for the first time this year, an author named Myke Cole, here depicted doing the official photo op exchange of signed representation agreements for LATENT.

When I started my own literary agency in 1994, I could afford to take on things that were OK that I might be able to sell because I had a lot of time on my hands and had to do something with it.  As the years progressed, the bad news was that I got choosier and choosier about what I might agree to represent, the good news that my track record for actually selling the things I took on increased quite a bit.  So needless to say, I am taking on Myke's Latent because I like it quite, quite a bit.  It's a mix of military sf and fantasy that's different from pretty much anything else but very accessible to just about any sf/fantasy fan.  Joshua proposes and editor disposes, and time will tell how many publishers will come to share my enthusiasm.

A few things worth mentioning about the process...

It's not what you know, it's who you know.  Myke swears to introducing himself to me at a SFWA NYC Editor/Publisher reception many years back, and I'm sure he did, but I first remember meeting Myke at Philcon in 2003.  But this is definitely an example of putting a convention to good use, doing some networking, making contacts, etc.  

It isn't always quick.  December 2003 to July 2009 means it took something like 67 months from first meet to having an agent.

The people who get an agent and sell their actual first novel are probably the lucky ones.  In some ways Latent can be seen as Myke's first novel because the first thing I read of Myke's was a very early very different novel with the same title, the same concept in very general terms, the same name for the lead character.  But really, this novel is nothing like that.  And there are two other partials that I read which I flat-out rejected in the meantime.

Revision is part of the process.  When I finally read this version of for the first time, I liked it quite a bit.  But there were two substantial revisions that followed, and then a few rounds of little smaller tweaks.  The book was shortened considerably.  The final major changes included a completely new beginning and some major scene changes in the middle.  Excess POVs were removed.  The final small changes included some things that were informed by the thought process on the second book in the series, where it seemed to make sense as that outline came together to add a thing or two to better set up the next book.  All of the things I did with Myke are in broad strokes things are common parts of a good revision. Myke didn't do every single thing I asked of him, but where he was really set on doing something one way we had a really good hash out on it.  I tried to be respectful of what he wanted to accomplish in the book, but he was professional enough to recognize when I had the better argument on something.

And when it comes to revision...  We recently sold a book called THE STAR SHARD by Fred Durbin.  I had the author do a major rewrite when it first came in.  Afterwards, because I had decided my assistant would take command of the YA/middle-grade business at JABberwocky, my then-assistant Steve Mancino read the book and had some further good revision suggestions so Fred went back a 2nd time.  Steve left and Eddie Schneider came on board.  He got a nibble from an editor at Little Brown who wanted a revision, so Eddie took a more detailed look at the manuscript and Fred went back yet again for the two of them.  Littlke Brown ended up passsing, but an editor at Houghton Mifflin said she would buy it if the author would do some revisions (a firm "if, then," as opposed to the more speculative revise for Little Brown.)  And Eddie and I looked at her list of revisions, and I was like "jeez, why on Earth didn't we have Fred do this stuff four years ago," because it seemed so obvious.  So as much revision as you might do just to get an agent, don't think that there might not be more in your future.

That being said, let's hope Latent will have a smoother road to ultimate publication.  

I'll also be going out to market with another book this week, a new mystery by Pari Noskin Taichert called STUNG.  Pari is a very good and already-established author with two Agatha Award nominations to her credit, but our goal with Stung is to move her up a notch in the mystery market, and she and I both put in the effort to get this where we wanted it to be.

Message of all of this:  If you want to get a good agent, if you want to be a published writer, you need to be willing to work for it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Cable Guy

So I get mail today from Time Warner Cable telling me about the wonderful new Navigator program they will be rolling out for my set-top box.

Of course this means basic things I used to do easily are no longer doable.

Previously, I could have the clock on the box turn off when the box was offer, and have the channel # show on the box when I am tuning.  Now, I can either have the display off all the time whether the box is on or off, or I can have the clock on or off but now show the channel when I tune, or have the channel show when I tune but only if I want to have the clock on all the time.

And then there's the VCR timer.  It used to be I could go to one place, tell the box to turn on to channel 28 at a particular time and record a program once, daily, weekly, etc., and then turn off.  Now, I have to set a Power On timer to start programming, but then have to go to a separate place if I want to set a Power Off timer.  So it will take me twice as long to set up my recordings.  Of course it will be much simpler if I'm renting their own DVR...

When I decide I want to complain, I notice that the nice brochure they sent out doesn't include any contact info for Time Warner cable other than their website.  Some companies might at least set us a e-mail address or something, which maybe they'd never check but at least would give you the impression they care, but Time Warner's Navigator is now so perfect that it couldn't possibly be that anyone might want to communicate with them about it in a good or bad way.

And of course when I dig out the phone # to complain to someone who confirms that I can't do the same simple things I could do a week ago with my cable box, he has no name and address to give me of somebody I can complain to.  Now, this irritates me no end, when customer service people in publicly traded companies that all have web sites where you can find out the name of the head honcho and find out the corporate HQ address decide you really should have to go treasure hunting on the internet for this information.

Monday, July 20, 2009

(3) Movies of Summer

(500) Days of Summer.  Seen Sunday morning/afternoon at the AMC Empire 25, Auditorium #6.  3 slithy toads.

Public Enemies.  Seen Sunday afternoon at the AMC Loews 34th St. 14, Auditorium #14.  2 slithy toads.

Humpday.  Seen Sunday afternoon/evening at the City Cinemas Angelika Film Center, Auditorium #2.  2 slithy toads.

(500) Days of Summer is a wonderful romantic comedy.  It made it to #13 at the box office while playing on only 27 screens, and if there's any justice it will prove one of the sleeper hits of the summer.

It's good on so many levels, smartly scripted, well-acted, well-directed, referential and reverential, fun both to look at and listen to.

Smart.  At the most basic level, there's credit to be given because (as with the Ryan Reynolds vehicle Definitely, Maybe) it's a romantic comedy without all of the cliches of same, but still entirely satisfying.  Rather than having some last minute race to the airport, the movie takes time out to reference Bergman's The Seventh Seal with some Truffaut on the side, but in a way that's funny and clever and accessible instead of show-off-y.  I knew at the scene in question what the film was trying to do, and even though I didn't get all of the specifics on which foreign films it was referencing, I could appreciate it for the freshness, for the audacity.  But don't get the idea that the film is some film lover snob fest.  The references to Dirty Dancing are just as pleasurable.  Is it a coincidence that the office boss seems to be channeling a years-older version of the hotel owner's son?  And if that is a coincidence, the twice-heard strains of the Patrick Swayze song "She's Like the Wind" are definitely no accident.  This is a movie that turns the aisles of Ikea into the kind of halcyon romantic destination that Woody Allen gives "Manhattan."  And maybe I'm biased because of the pleasure I got from walking around the real downtown LA last summer, but I loved as well the way that this film finds romance in a park overlooking downtown LA, in looking up from the tawdy present-day street level of LA streets to the architecture rising above, how its final scene is set in the gorgeous Bradbury Building looking way different here than in Blade Runner.   There's a wonderful dance number that treats LA the way Enchanted treated Central Park.

We're supposed to know Joseph Gordon-Levitt from Third Rock from the Sun, which I never watched.  I know him more from movies like The Lookout and Stop Loss.  He's very tweedy in this movie, a greeting card writer who wears tweedy ties and jackets that suggest he's a little too professorial for his job or for passion.  In some movies, this tweediness would be a quick easy gesture to make a quick easy point.  Here, it's one part of a fully realized character.

This is very very good.  It should be opening in more cities in the weeks to come, and go by yourself, with a date, with a spouse, but go!

I'd been kind of ambivalent about Public Enemies from the coming attraction, which made it look like an unnecessary remake of Brian DePalma's masterful Untouchables.  And the reviews I read were respectful but not necessarily very good.  But it is Michael Mann, who is a director worth watching.  And Johnny Depp, who is an actor worth watching.  With Christian Bale, also worth watching.  And all around enough different points for different things that I had to see it.  But I kind of wish I hadn't.

Neither the script nor Depp's performance made me love John Dillinger.  There's the occasional feeble attempt, as when in a robbery there's a customer making a deposit with his money on the counter, and Dillinger doesn't take.  He's not here for his money, he's here for the bank's!  But is there a difference?  If I put money into a bank, I still think of it as mine.  There's another scene when Dillinger reminds people he has to take good care of people if he's to hide among them.  But I just didn't care.

The movie is too long.  The last fifteen minutes include a scene where Dillinger goes to a police station, walks into the Dillinger Detective Squad room, and looks around. I'm sure this didn't happen in real life, and it adds nothing to the movie other than to be cute for the sake of being cute.  Next scene is outside the Biograph getting ready to get Dillinger, and showing Depp enjoying the movie inside.  We get more of the movie he's watching than we need, more of the cops setting up than we need, just more.  An epilogue with his girlfriend, the last shot should be of the girlfriend, but instead we get a cut to the FBI agent leaving the room.  That's just a few extra seconds, but you keep doing that and you end up with a movie that's a half hour longer than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for no reason at all.

The best thing in the movie is Billy Crudup's performance as J. Edgar Hoover.  Crudup's kind of pretty boy, and I was astonished to read reviews talking about this performance because I just couldn't see him in the role.  But where most of the actors get so straitjacketed by the period costumes that they disappear inside of them, Crudup makes his own starch and makes the suit his.  

Humpday is an amerindie version of a Judd Apatow movie.  Public Enemies was long and boring enough that it was a struggle to stay awake.  Humpday, I stayed awake but spent too much of the movie thinking about other things.

Married guy.  Wild-eyed college friend stops in unexpectedly.  Married guy is so eager to spend time with this weirdo friend that he blows off wife, lies to wife, is just totally awful.  Two guys end up deciding to make a gay porno movie which ends up becoming some kind of great middle-aged guy version of The Breakfast Club.  

The best parts of the movie are the scenes where married guy is talking to wife and puts his foot in his mouth repeatedly and realistically with spot-on dialogue, rationalizations, justifications for why he's being a shit.  But the problem is that he's being a shit.  I didn't buy it.  Didn't care for it or for him.  

And this is the polar opposite of (500) Days of Summer in pretty much every way.  The actors in this are not in any way, shape or form destined to rise above amerindie movies.  There's not much of a budget, and because there's nothing about the movie to keep you from noticing, you kind of notice in every single shot how little there is to notice.  The movie's set in Seattle, which is a wonderful city filled with wonderful places, but it does nothing at all to take advantage of this.

I needed to go to the movies badly this weekend.  Hadn't been in three weeks.  But I ended the day wishing I'd stopped at (500) Days of Summer.  Which is just so very good.  Very very good.  See this one, folks.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Banner Day

The New York Times around a week ago put up this wonderful 31-year-old image from Chester Higgins, Jr. as part of a post on their baseball blog (which also ran in the printed paper) setting up a contest for entries in the Banner Day that is no more, winners of which can be found here.

It's a real trip down memory lane for me which I had to comment on.

Banner Day was a uniquely Mets promotion.  Between days of a doubleheader, fans could parade their banner on the field to be judged by a distinguished jury which might include some obscure person with a Mets connection, a radio host for a show I never listened to, and maybe an actual celebrity or half celebrity.

It was a wonderful day which exists no longer.

For one, it was a doubleheader.  The Mets continued to schedule a Banner Day doubleheader well into the 1980s at a time when doubleheaders were no longer scheduled.  While it was once quite common for teams to play two, it fell out of favor for many reasons.  Attendance grew and baseball became a bigger business, so giving up a gate was unpopular with management.  Games got longer, which meant a doubleheader could become a very long day at the office.  It just wasn't done.  And oftentimes, as businesses get bigger their skins get thinner, so letting the fans have their say becomes less and less appealing.

For a year or two the Mets had a non-doubleheader Banner Day, and then it went away.

It was a fun day.  Two baseball games, the old-fashioned charm of the banner parade.  I miss it.

I love looking at the original Shea Stadium scoreboard, which was very state of the art when the stadium opened in 1964 but which came to be very old, fickle, crotchety, etc. with ancient relays that sometimes did not want to go to the right letter or number.  I'm almost surprised looking at it in 1978 that everything appears in its proper place because my memories of it from not too many years later are of watching it struggle valiantly to display each "r."

You'll note the line score for that game and for the AL out of town games had a "1G" column for the first game scores.  Because certainly when the scoreboard was installed in 1964 and for many years thereafter, you would often have a doubleheader and need a place for the first game score when the second game had started.  You don't see that any more.

The out of town, line score, and lineup areas were all dedicated, even space for the umpires, and a little space for official scoring so you could tell if something was a wild pitch or a passed ball, an E2 error on the throw or an E4 on the catch at second base.  Before the game, during the game, between innings, no matter when you could see who was playing where for which team and what was happening out of town.  Now, even some stadiums that have a good out-of-town scoreboard, like in Seattle, it will often disappear for advertising or some other message at various points in the game.  Even the new Yankee Stadium doesn't post both lineups at the same time.  I loved the out-of-town board at Shea.  Many of the newer stadiums have these fancier set-ups where you can see the pitch count, how many runners are on base, all kinds of stuff, but it's so busy that it's hard to just focus on keeping track of the scores.  Shea, you could see at a glance who was up, who was pitching, what the score was, without it taking major mental effort.  This photo doesn't capture the little red dots in the line-up and out-of-town scores that told you who was up.  And goodness, the idea of keeping score is kind of old-fashioned now, even I've stopped though I inspired my friend Mark who still keeps a good scorecard, so the idea that a stadium will make it easy for somebody attending the game to know what to mark in the scorecard is totally Not Done any more.

This was 1978.  In 1982 the Mets introduced Diamond Vision, a video board in left field, and then the central part of the old scoreboard was covered up with a Budweiser sign.  A little bit later the creaky ancient balky old scoreboard you see above was replaced with a modern video board.  The 24/7 out-of-town and line-up sections were retained but replaced with newer equipment that actually worked.  The line-score section was replaced with a slightly taller video board that alternated the line score with rah rah scoreboard stuff.  Neither had a "1G" space!  There was still a Budweiser sign.  The NY skyline that was taken across to the new stadium and overlooks the Shake Shack was installed.  

Can you still buy Schaefer?  Manny Hanny was merged into Chemical Bank and then Chemical merged into Chase.  Before computerized ticketing, there was a brief time when you could buy Mets tickets at a Manny Hanny branch.  Somebody would call the Mets ticket office, give information on available seats, and this would be written out for you at the bank branch.  Now we have uniquely barcoded print at home.  Pepsi is now served at CitiField.

Not every picture is worth a thousand words, but the moment I saw this one in the NY Times last week all these memories and more just started to flow in a big big rush.  

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Charles N. Brown

It was announced on Monday that Charles N. Brown, the founder and publisher of Locus, the newspaper of the science fiction field, passed away at the age of 72.

The sf fan geek side of me is in very deep mourning.

I first remember encountering Locus at a bookstore, maybe an sf specialty bookstore, in Ithaca.  This would have been at some point during my eldest brother's years at Cornell, and maybe with the magazine's first color cover?  Though that might have been some Voyager cover in the very late 1970s, which I think might be too late?  In any case, it was a kind of really special thing for a budding young science fiction fan to discover a magazine devoted entirely to talking about the business of science fiction publishing.  It was a thrilling experience to lay down money and become part of that community.  If Charles N. Brown didn't invent Locus, someone else would certainly have had to.

As is often the case, when you start to do something for a living, some of the joy goes out of it.  My experiences with Locus as a pro have been more conflicted than as a fan.  Once upon a time I was an eager fan who would devour every review in Locus as part of my search for the bestest and the newest.  As a pro, I would wonder why this book had two reviews in the August issue while this book by my client wasn't being reviewed at all, and that would be more important than the reviews themselves, all of books that I'd never actually have time to read.  But of course the reason why I would worry about whether this or that book was being reviewed, or this or that author was in the "Selected Books" part of the Forthcoming Books issue instead of the agate listings was because Locus was important.  Locus mattered.

As a pro, I think I enjoyed reading Andrew Porter's SF Chronicle more.  SF Chronicle hasn't been around for several years now, but Andrew Porter is still very much with us, and I think it's important that we not become so busy eulogizing Charles N. Brown that we forget to give some honor and appreciation to those who can still appreciate it.  But I would entertain a motion that I could like SFC more because I could afford to like it more.  It mattered a little less, so I could still bring the fannish side of me to reading it.  Locus mattered more,  so I had to be always and ever the pro.

Let us hope Locus will continue to matter for a long time to come.  It faces challenges, as every print magazine does, and recent issues have had editorial comments from Charles N. Brown commenting on the drop in advertising.  Which you see in Publishers Weekly, in Variety, in the local newspaper.  The field is a little smaller because Locus doesn't need to do battle with the loyal opposition at SFC, and the field would be a lot smaller without any Locus at all for us to kick around.  It's been a part of my life for 30 years, Charles N. Brown was an influence on me, on my profession, and on the genre I love, for longer than that.  May Liza Groen Trombi successfully carry the torch into the next decade, and the one beyond that.  

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Geometrical Shapes

So I was noticing today at the local Pathmark that all of the Entenmann's cakes are now in a square box instead of a rectangular one.  But I just can't for the life of me say for certain if this is because they've just decided to make the cakes square for some reason while providing the same amount of cake, or because it seemed like a nice way to hide one of those stealth price increases.  The current Marshmallow Iced Devils Food Cake has 510 grams of cake, 8 260 gram servings, 260 calories each, and that looked to be the same for the Black and White Cake, the Fudge Iced, etc.  So if anyone out there has a 2 or 3 month old Entenmann's cake in their freezer in the "classic" rectangular box, can we get to the bottom of this?

And then moving from the squares and rectangles to the circles, orbs, spheres, ellipses and similar such things, there is more news on the Tim Hortons front.

As described here and elsewhere, the Riese Organization, a longtime purveyor of indescribable fast food to the NYC masses, is spending the weekend turning its Dunkin Donuts outlets into Tim Hortons outlets, giving Tims an instant beachhead in Manhattan several weeks ahead of the previously announced co-branding with Cold Stone Creamery.

Is this an example of "watch what you wish for, you might get it?"  The Riese Organization, its official corporate history aside, is just not known for its fine food and fine restaurants.  As is mentioned in the NYT article linked above, there is an infamous incident in which the NY Post took pictures of beloved animals enjoying the cuisine at a Riese Dunkin Donuts outlet.  OK, in fairness, I should do my first-ever blog link to the NY Post and its coverage of the donut war news.  I'm sure that kind of thing doesn't happen often.  Still, as much as I like my timbits, I'm not eager to get them at the Riese food courts that I've managed to avoid for many decades, just as I've managed to avoid their Fridays franchises.  And their Houlihans outlets.  And everything else.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Moon Locker

Moon, Seen Sunday Afternoon June 21, 2009 at the AMC Loews Lincoln Sq., Aud. #6 (Capitol).  2.5 slithy toads.

The Hurt Locker, Seen Sunday Afternoon June 28, 2009 at the AMC Loews Lincoln Sq., Aud. #5 (Valencia), 3.5 slithy toads

Moon is a science fiction movie for people who've never seen a science fiction movie (if you are in that category, add half or whole toad) by somebody who's seen either too many or too few.  Its best feature is an excellent performance by Sam Rockwell, an actor with a very long and very varied filmography from Ninja Turtles to Galaxy Quest to Frost Nixon.  He plays a worker on a lunar industrial basis, where he's alone save for the companionship of a HAL-like robot named Gertie, voiced by Kevin Spacey.  His job is to keep an eye on things and occasionally go out, retrieve full containers of mined moon rock, and send them on their way to Earth.  His direct contact with Earth is limited to the occasional exchanged video message.

It's hard to discuss the movie without giving away its big secret, and that's kind of the problem.  The big secret is kind of obvious to anyone with extensive experience in the genre.

I found Gertie's actions hard to accept.  The robot has conflicting orders, and I'm not sure he'd take the side he does in interpreting them.

It is nice to see a real and serious science fiction movie getting some serious attention.  And in fairness, other people on the JABberwocky team liked it more than I.  I didn't regret seeing it, but as I said at the top, it just felt too much to me like good sf for people who don't know sf, haven't kept up on their Analog subscription.

I was back at at the Lincoln Square the next week for The Hurt Locker, which is getting some excellent reviews and deserves them.  It's very good, it's opening in more theatres on July 10, and I would recommend it highly.

It is an "Iraq" movie, but one of the reasons people say it's the best Iraq movie yet is because it's more a straight war movie that doesn't have much to say or much care in the world for the politics of the war in Iraq.  In fact, the essential concept of Hurt Locker is not much different from a series called Danger: UXB that ran on Masterpiece Theater some 30 years ago.  Filmed in the UK, this series was about a British bombs expert in WWII who, each week, defused a different unexploded bomb.  I gave the series a try and then gave up.  You can only watch so many times as somebody stares at a bomb trying to figure out how to turn off the trigger.

So put the clock forward 30 years one way, 60 years the other, and we have Hurt Locker.  Jeremy Renner plays a US Army bomb expert who comes in midway thru tour of duty for a unit to replace a casualty of war.  He's very good at what he does, and he's also very cocky.  This doesn't sit entirely well with the other people in the unit.

So if I couldn't take many episodes of Danger UXB, why would I recommend this?

For one, we need to watch for only 2 hours instead of coming back for an hour week after week after week.  This gives time for a handful of major set-pieces.

The direction by Kathryn Bigelow is excellent.  The major set pieces are taut, masterfully directed, well-composed, well-edited, just good filmmaking in every way.  A lot of praise has been given for the ability to follow the scenes, to know where the bomb is in relationship to the actors, and where the actors are in relationship to one another.  I won't argue.  It's very much the difference between a great storyteller in comic book art (Dan Spiegel, let's say) and the guy who knows how to do flashy superheros but has no idea of how to tell a story.

There isn't a lot of contemporary frisson to watching Danger UXB 35 years after WWII.  There's a lot more to watching a movie set in the Iraq war that is still going on.

The performances are all aces.  Who the heck is Jeremy Renner?  He supposedly got this role in large part on the basis of playing Jeffrey Dahmer several years ago.  He inhabits his character absolutely.  Everyone does.  There are some other known actors like Guy Pearce, David Morse and Ralph Fiennes in smaller roles.

So why don't I go all the way to 4 toads?

It's all about Stop Loss, which was a movie that was much more directly about the Iraq war, which I felt was greviously underrated by critics suffering from Iraq fatigue after earlier over-praising too many "if you want to send a message call Western Union" movies about the war.

In its closing moments, The Hurt Locker takes us to the exact same place with our lead character as Stop Loss did.  And I'll give the Locker the same # of Toads as I gave the Loss.

Both movies are worth seeing, Hurt Locker especially if you want some old war movie stuff dressed very nicely in modern Operation Iraqi Freedom garb, and Stop Loss if you want a movie that is solid contemporary instead of just an excellent contemporary veneer.

Is there any significance that two of the best modern war movies have women directors, Kathryn Bigelow here and Kimberly Peirce for Stop Loss.

Oh, and I've linked above to the search results for "want send message call western union" which are much much better than Google's.  Google seems completely unaware that this might have something to do with the famous Samuel Goldwyn saying instead of wiring money to the brillig blogger.  I'm not a big Microsoft fan, but in some brief experimental initial forays into the world of Bing, I'm kind of thinking Redmond might be giving Mountain View some good competition.


Another agent has a guest post from a major account sales assistant at a major publishing house that talks about how books are sold to the major accounts, and promotions allocated.  It's interesting.  You can check it out here.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tie a Scorecard Ribbon Round the IRT

So I spoke a week or so ago about Citi Field, now it's time to dish dirt on the new Yankee Stadium, which I attended for a Mariners/Yankees game on July 1.

As with the new Mets ballpark, it's very disappointing to see that the subway hasn't gotten much investment.  No handicapped access to the new park.  The main post-game entrance to the #4 train is still a block away by the old Yankee Stadium, though the front-of-train crowding is a little reduced because there are some mid-platform entrances that are along the way from some of the gates in the new stadium that take up some of the pressure.  And the entrances to the C/D trains are all still best accessed from across the street without much improvement.  However, there is a new Metro North stop a 5 or 15 minute walk depending from the new stadium that offers direct daily access to the Hudson Line and on weekends to the Harlem and New Haven line as well, and that makes getting to the park much much much more convenient for wide swaths of the suburbs North and East of NYC.

You can kind of circumnavigate the outside.  Going down the right field line beneath the #4 tracks, the stadium abuts a subway electric sub-station beyond which is a narrow parking garage, so it's not too many steps to walk around the parking garage.  That faces a park and has nice plantings in front so it's very bucolic.  And if you walk down the right or left field line you can enter the Stadium thru gate 2 or gate 8 and avoid some of the lines at the other gates that are closer to the old stadium, to the subway, and to more of the best-known parking garages.  The facade facing the subway on River Road is really ugly.  The facade facing Jerome Ave. and 161st St. is stately but doesn't relate to the buildings across Jerome Ave. at all.  Architects can debat the importance of relating to your surroundings.

Security at Yankee Stadium is much more annoying than at Shea.  You have to turn your cell phone on to prove it's a real cell phone, much pickier about allowing in any bags, no empty plastic bottles to fill at water fountain.  Doesn't make me want to go there very often.

There are some ramps to get to the upper decks, nice and wide and not very steep and in that regard much nicer than the highly enclosed stairwells and the escalators at Citi Field.  There area also elevators, escalators, etc., but I do think ballparks and ramps go together.

The Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys formed a company called Legends Hospitality that runs the concessions and vending at Yankee Stadium. Citi has better food for sure.  Shake Shack beats Johnny Rockets any day.  

I wasn't able to walk around the inside perimeter at Citi Field on my first trip.  I was impressed with the openness of the upper and field deck concourses at Yankee Stadium.

My seats were way out in right field in the upper deck.  Very far from home plate.  A large chunk of right and right center field couldn't be seen from our seats.  That's not very nice.  And you couldn't see the whole field even from the front row of our section.  We were in the back row, with nice views of the anti-bird spikes in the roof of the upper deck.

The scoreboard situation at Yankee Stadium is awful.  Awful.  AWFUL.  They have a really nice big video board, a good chunk of which I couldn't see and which couldn't be seen at all without tilting head from game.  They have this mammothly long ribbon scoreboard around the whole ballpark, but the only game or other fan-friendly information is a little chunk with the score and another little chunk with the batter stats.  I had an awful seat at Citi Field but could follow the pitches and the out-of-town scores on a ribbon scoreboard, but here, nothing.  I couldn't see an out of town score at all the entire game.  Also, the only line-up that appears is for the team that's batting in a particular half-inning, while Citi Field gives both line-ups for both teams during the game.  This makes it easier to keep track of fielding changes, like if a pinch-hitter comes in and then goes to play right field while the right fielder moves to first base, or that kind of thing.  Essentially, all that money spent to build a new ballpark and they managed to make the scoreboard situation worse.

There's less obnoxious music at Yankee Stadium.  Big plus Yankees.

We had a nice view from our seats to the north, looking over a park, and in back of us a good view of the stately courthouse atop the adjacent hill.  That was nice.  All the views from the old Yankee Stadium sucked.

In the old days, I didn't like going to Yankee Stadium very much at all because it was cramped and claustrophobic.  Now, it doesn't seem quite as cramped or claustrophobic.  But tickets are still overpriced, the experience of passing thru security is still more unpleasant, and the food definitely not as good.  I believe there is now a narrower gap between the two ballparks.  But I'm not sure with either that I'm eager to pay a mint so I can buy a better infield seat at either to experience each when they're showing their best instead of comparing bad obstructed distant outfield seats.  It's a lot of money, an awful lot of money.  I spent $47 last year to sit on the field level behind home plate at Coors Field last summer, and now in NY you can pay twice that for garbage seats.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

BEA 2009, Pt. 3

There were two trends in evidence at Book Expo that I'm not fond of.

One is the switch to the electronic catalog, which was exemplified by HarperCollins, and which I started to see with some UK publishers at London Book Fair in April.

In some ways, the paper catalog is a relic of a past age, and I can admit that.  It's fixed.  The London catalog for JABberwocky will always be out of date by the time I actually get to London and start handing it out.  An electronic catalog can be updated regularly.  It's very expensive to mail.  Postage goes up every year, and my catalog gets bigger every year.  With the percent of sales coming from major accounts as big as it is, you spend that ever-increasing sum of money to attract orders from a smaller pool.

So yes, if I can cut back on the number I mail overseas after the Fair because more of my sub-agents are comfortable sending a PDF to more of the publishers they work with in a world of translation markets, that makes me happy.  Why, we even tried to enhance the PDF this year by turning the author names into links to the author's web site and by adding links from the contents page to the pages.  I'd even like to go further in coming years by maybe turning each book or series title into a link to the bibliography and/or review quotes on the JABberwocky web site.  Even if I might not want to pay to have the catalog updated along with the web site on a constant basis, it would make it very easy to get to the web site with the latest information, and most of those links would only need to be set up once and could then hold over as the catalog is updated in subsequent years.

But...  I cannot envision that I would ever go to London Book Fair without a printed catalog to talk over during my meetings, or that I would ever go to a major or minor convention without a few catalogs in my bag to give away.  If you worry about your catalog being on the bottom of some big pile, how much do you have to worry about the little postcard you give away with the URL to surf to later to get the catalog?  At London Book Fair,  Random House UK gave out postcards that often said "go to" to get our catalog, which is just a generic home page link that requires you to find the right places to click to actually and finally get the on-line catalog.  Didn't anyone think for two seconds that they should at least give a dedicated link on that postcard that would go right to the catalog?

Yes, the unit cost for printing 500 catalogs or 5000 is more than for printing 15,000.  But it's penney wise and pound foolish not to print a single old-fashioned dead-tree version and rely entirely on electronic distribution.

I'm not a big fan of Harper's experiment in doing electronic galleys.  The good news is that they can give out a lot more postcards for the featured books with the link to the electronic galley than they can of an actual physical galley copy.  But I don't think any of the people in my family whom I traditionally scout galleys for at BEA will have an avid interest in being wed to their computer in order to read the books on offer from HarperColllins.  I meant to bring up some of the postcards last week when I was visiting family to see maybe if, but forgot.  This doesn't bother me quite as much as the catalogs because there is some clear possibility to end up distributing more free copies to the people who are willing, but I still think Harper would have been better off using these electronic galley cards to supplement some kind of old-fashioned print component instead of going entirely electronic.   I mean, one of the biggest flaws to me on the Kindle is that you can't tell what it is that somebody's reading.  I'd love to have,  maybe with user option, a little screen on the back side that can display the cover of whatever it is you're reading.  I hate that people don't know I'm enjoying The Washington Post on my Kindle, or that I had no way of knowing what the guy with a Kindle 2 was reading on the subway ten days ago. Harper may know how many people decide to download each electronic galley, but the rest of the world won't be seeing any visible sign of Harper's big new books.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

BEA 2009, Pt. 2

I did promise some more posts about Book Expo America...

One of the most important questions of all is whether BEA has a future.

BEA was once known as ABA, and was the official annual show for American Booksellers Association.  The Book Expo America thing was intended to broaden the event.  It still has ABA involvement but is run by the same Reed Exhibitions people that do London Book Fair and many other non-publishing shows.  It was intended as the big opportunity for booksellers and librarians to connect with publishers, find out about their fall lists specifically, meet authors and one another, place orders, etc.

I've never seen BEA as entire essential myself.  In large part because I can probably do 90% of what I'd like to do in a single day, so if it's in NYC and you can go for a day you can go for a day, but it's not something really worth traveling very far to attend.  DC, quick train ride, maybe.  Chicago enh.  LA not.  But the show would move around to these various places, theoretically so that booksellers from different parts of the country would have it near them every once in a while.  

But there are big problems with all of the long-time theoretical purposes for having BEA.  There are fewer independent booksellers in the world, and major publishers certainly don't need a BEA to sell their lists to B&N, Borders, Amazon, and other major national accounts.  BEA is expensive.  Especially if you're a big publisher used to having a big booth and dozens of staff members in attendance, and maybe flying in authors as Tor did this year with Brandon Sanderson.  Especially in the current economy, a lot of libraries and small booksellers and smaller publishers have a much harder time justifying their expenses.

So I am hugely worried that we're going to see a downward spiral start to take root that may end up killing off BEA.  And even though I don't think BEA is essential, I'm not sure the publishing industry would be better off without.  But there are signs.

Some big publishers decided not to take big booths.  Macmillan USA was entirely off the show floor, and doing meetings invitation only in a basement meeting room.  I got to go in because Brandon Sanderson and I were meeting with Macmillan audio people.  But it wasn't very welcoming.  No food or drink, really.  I asked at a Holt table if I could take a galley for a book I thought my sister might find interesting, and I wasn't made to feel very welcome.  Tom Doherty at the Tor imprint of Macmillan explained to me at length how a floor space cost $x to try and sell to the 10% of their sales that might be resulting from independent booksellers, and how that $x might be able to buy two more field reps to sell books.  Knowing how publishers work and how many of them under-invest in their sales efforts, I have my doubts that the money saved by having no floor presence for Tor, St. Martin's, Holt, Farrar Straus and other Macmillan imprints will be spent on two field reps.

Harcourt/Houghton Mifflin was somewhat better, with a two-sided meeting room with a private section and a public section.  You still had to traipse to the basement, but at least you could go in, look at tables with catalogs and some galley copies, and have some serendipitous exposure to their lists.

Random House cut their floor space back to a few tables for author autographings and some catalogs available for pick-up but did most of their business in a basement meeting room.

Other publishers like Wizards of the Coast and Kensington did not have their traditional presence on the floor, either skipping or going the meeting room only route.

The upshot of this was that there were distinctly fewer people on the exhibit floor giving away distinctly fewer quantities of things.  I still did OK getting galleys for my book-group sister and my Amazon Vine younger brother and my media specialist older brother, but it was definitely harder.  If it's harder to score swag, it makes BEA less appealing to booksellers and librarians, and even for that matter to me.   That might reduce attendance, which might make it less attractive for any of these publishers to return to the exhibit floor or for publishers like Harper and Hachette that still had major floor presences to continue to have in the future, etc. etc.

After a disappointing attendance in LA last year, the organizers decided to keep BEA in NYC only for the near future.  This reduces costs for the major NYC publishers and puts the show in the media capital of the world (well, LA kind of is, but in a different way) and is probably a good idea.

The internet is a wonderful thing, but it does lend itself to finding things you already know you want to find.  I think there's a benefit to showing the flag, to opening yourself to serendipity, to see and to being seen.  For all of these very fuzzy reasons that have a hard time competing with $x to have a big booth on the floor, I think the industry needs BEA. 

We'll see what happens.  There were still hundreds of publishers and thousands of attendees and I do not think a disappearing act like BEA Canada is in the future.  But I worry.

More to come...