Sunday, July 25, 2010

One for the Greed … err … Money

Cha-ching, babies. Cha-ching!

Victorian-Age authors had nothing to gain, it seemed, from getting their masterpieces published – save for recognition, perhaps. Classics that would endure for ages usually came without hefty advances or staggering royalties, at least for the author if not for the estate he left behind.

That was the age of the classics, though; when words on the page meant more than the pocketbook. We understand that literary greats such as Herman Melville, Henry James, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Jules Verne, and even James Joyce had their bouts with poverty even after their works were sold. Later, after these immortals shuffled off this mortal coil, some savvy financial investor bought up the rights from authors’ heirs and made a killing (right, Saul Zaentz, formerly snapping up Tolkien Enterprises?), sniffing out a money-maker in the new Age of Green. And when I say “Green,” folks, I don’t mean our pipedream of an eco-friendly society.

The first actual blockbuster, in my most humble opinion, was Peter Benchley’s Jaws. During the late 60’s through the 70s, there were other great bestsellers raking in the dough, heralding the new voice of literary reason: CASH FOR THE WRITTEN WORD. Heck, just look at Arthur Hailey, Jacqueline Suzanne (whose pseudonym is actually a conglomeration of industry professionals), Sydney Sheldon, and James A. Michener (well, at least Michener won the Pulitzer). These were not authors; they were institutions. Corporations. Somewhere between the first sentences of their novels and where some publishing house accounting department cut a whopping advance check, the novel ceased to be anything truly literary. At least, not in the intention of just being literary; the novel had somehow become a gadget – a product of industry – made to be sold en masse and distributed for the whim of the self-absorbed, buying public.

Nowadays, there is an esoteric roulette wheel that doles out hefty advances to novels. There doesn’t seem to be any sanity to the method. In my previous post, I described how one librarian gained a HUGE advance for the story about a homeless cat. The roulette wheel is obviously in Las Vegas, spun by Sinatra’s Lady Luck. It appears that, through some whim of the Gods, a small white ball plinks and plunks to fall on any author's number, garnering her a high six-figures. One such lucky first-time author was Steve Alten, author of the shark novel, MEG. At one time facing unemployment and a family to feed, he was granted seven-figures in a bidding war supported by his then agent, Ken Atchity of AEI.

Now, don’t get me wrong, children. I mean, if I had that lucky number, I’d forget too why I began writing at the tender age of seven, and shout out “BITCH, the bacon’s done come home!” Yet, even now, though I work for a meager salary, and still search for my first book deal for ANY amount of advance, I chafe when I realize that authors such as Janet Evanovich, author of the Stephanie Plum novels, and the immortal Stephen King throw their respective publishers against the wall and demand millions and zillions of dollars to continue producing their literary works for their imprints. This has nothing to do with an advance one gains for presenting a new work – no! This is the age of the corporation and, therefore, when these authors demand money, it’s to keep them tethered to a contract for POSSIBLE future bestsellers and works that may or may not arrive. We’re all mortal, are we not?

But are these contemporary authors worth it? Are they worth the hype and the cash? They do have one helluva fanbase, certainly. Yet, while Ms. Evanovich demands a staggering $50m from St. Martin’s Press to stay put, Mr. King only tried to extort $18m from Viking. They turned him down; you’d think that Ms. Evanovich would see what was headed her way when she held a gun on her own publisher.

So, have we become more cash than substance these days? In the world of literary lawyers and contracts and channels of misdirected cash, I wonder …

… I wonder what Herman Melville would’ve done with $50 million.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Harrowing Pitfalls, Batscribbler!

In the July/August 2010 issue of Poets & Writers, editor Jofie Ferrari-Adler wrote a well-received article depicting the perilous duties of literary agents in "Necessary Agent." The article illuminated the "man behind the curtain" aspects of what literary agents face even after selling their authors to a publishing house.

The article can be accessed online at

The first literary agent Mr. Ferrari-Adler highlights is the well-renowned Molly Friedrich of Aaron Priest (whom has now started her own agency) who is able to drop some bombs about the lengths she will go to in selling an author, even if her client's writing career is doomed due to the nature of shady editors who will use the sale for their own selfish gains. Pretty disheartening, really, if the one person the author trusts - the agent - has "no choice" but to accept the offer even if it means literary deadsville.

Harrowing enough, but Mr. Ferrari-Adler even illuminates another example of the nasty business of publishing. This is the turbulent detail that even if an editor expresses interest in a novel, he often has very little power other than present it to the other members of the publishing house and wait - golly golly golly - for someone else (marketing, for example) to take up the reins and champion the work too.

This is precisely what happened to my first Artemus Dark novel, Dark Running, during the Fall/Winter of 2008. My then literary agent, Monique Raphel High, had landed the interest of an influential editor at Simon & Schuster. From what Monique told me in the days ahead, was that the editor was really pushing for the novel. Of course, we - author, agent, and editor - had a few obstacles to surmount before we could lay ink to a contract.


Needless to say, the deal fell through because "marketing decided it didn't want to go in that direction." I'd heard that this same department didn't feel that urban fantasies (of which Dark Running is categorized) were something the house wished to deal with to any great depth.

Yet, whether that is true or not, the publishing industry still pushes mega-zillions into speculative works and mediocre literary fare that present low returns. This, of course, has always been a challenge for publishing houses; whether to spend a high six-figured advance on a book about a homeless kitty-cat adopted by a nameless librarian (, while JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone garners an initial whopping $3000 advance (

Do I feel that somehow my own novels could garner a high six figures, or should? No author can say that. We may all attempt to write blockbusters like Michael Crichton, Dan Brown, or Stephanie Meyer, but winning any publishing contract in a over-saturated market of wannabes certainly is hard enough. However, with such perilous, blindfolded, dart-throwing by house acceptance parties, any author who is a diamond in the rough is indeed, lost in the rough.

I have discovered after having several agents champion me and my works, that even capable literary agents face insurmountable odds trying to push yet another manuscript on an insurmountable pile of others on a fledgling editor's desk - let alone have it rise to slap the sh** out of marketing and not only garner a lucrative book deal, but actually - if the publishing house has been strategic financially - have the published work bring itself into the black.

"Necessary Agent" is indeed an interesting article, and possesses enough stinging reality to keep the best of we writers humble.

"Adagio in the Dark" now in hard copy!

I wanted to kick off this new blog with an announcement: Lady Jane's Miscellany (a literary magazine published by San Francisco Press) has now published my literary short story, "Adagio in the Dark" !

Accepted for publication in April 2010, ADAGIO is a story about two violinists finding elusive love in rainy-day Chicago. The piece itself was submitted in October 2009.

"Adagio in the Dark" was inspired by listening to KD Lang/Tony Bennett duets, of all things. Yet, the story was a hard sale and had to undergo several major revisions since its first conception in Fall 2000 (as you can see, some period of time has passed since the first draft being penned and its first publication).

Even though set in Chicago, I had written it while living in a small studio apartment in Reno, Nevada. The first draft had a liberal twist to it, meaning that the object of the main character's (Julian) love, Amber Lewinski, was gay. This was the great barrier that kept the straight male from realizing romance with Amber, an insurmountable obstruction to his personal life coupled with his struggle to make it as a professional violinist. The homosexual twist to the story was an interesting topic, introducing how two very different individuals could still find a romantic love that was not physical, bound together by their mutual devotion to music. However, I changed the later draft to reflect that Amber had given her love already to a man and was now married - yet, as one can read, there seems to be a melancholic, lonely view of this marriage. Both violinists are lost, lonely, despite their finding each other in the gray wet of the Windy City.

A reader who enjoys moody, artistic stories should enjoy ADAGIO very much.

Lady Jane's Miscellany is a new literary magazine, with Jeff Hewitt as the Editor-in-Chief and Mac McKinney as the managing editor. Issue #2 is on sale now for $14.99 and is well-worth the cover price for quality literary fiction and other features.