Friday, August 04, 2006

Friday again

James Ellroy recovers

What have I always said? Hmm? What did I say back in 2003, and what have I said repeatedly, here on this blog, ever since? 'Writing is an activity which can seriously damage your health,' I said. It was the first sentence of my book The Truth about Writing. And I was not kidding.

James Ellroy is a case in point. Galleycat reports that, in the LA Times Sunday magazine, Ellroy provides some of the details of his 'three-year crack-up', which was brought on by 'long transits of overwork and emotional seepage held in check by near-insane ambition.'

Actually, having read some of the guy's books, and having learnt some of his history (his mother was murdered in a famous case), I'm not surprised he came off the rails. I just hope he can get back on and stay there.

Romantic prizewinners

The Romance Writers of America association held their annual conference in Atlanta last weekend, and handed out their annual Ritas (Oscars for books). Kate Brumback of AP was there and met some of the key players. She also reveals (although it's scarcely news) that some romance novels are read by men: to be precise, the readership divides 78% female to 22% male. (Links from Galleycat.)

Wayne Rooney's ghost

The Literary Saloon led me to the Observer, wherein it is revealed that Wayne Rooney (British football player, contract for 5 books at £1 million each) is going to have his books written for him by Hunter Davies. Not a bad choice actually. Old Hunter is a wily old pro, and he has some interesting comments to make about the current publishing scene.

The economics of prize-giving

An announcement from the UK Crime Writers Association sheds an interesting light on the costs of running a prize-giving operation. The CWA Committee has decided that they cannot afford to run their various Dagger awards without some input from publishers. So in future they will charge for books that are shortlisted. Just submitting a book for consideration is free.

The charges are £500 per title for a book shortlisted for the Duncan Lawrie Dagger, £200 for the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger and Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, and £100 for the New Blood and Non-Fiction Daggers.

There is an interesting addendum from apparently the Booker and Orange prizes charge as much as £2000 per shortlisted title. I don't think I knew that. but then it's money that's makes the world go round, isn't it?

Later note: Clive Keeble points out to me a post on the blog of Richard Charkin, the boss man of Macmillan (which, in case you don't know, is a huge and powerful company, issuing some 6,000 books a year). It seems that Mr Charkin didn't know that the Booker and the Orange prizes charge for shortlisting books either! So I wasn't the only one. And Charkin isn't too thrilled by it. Wants to know what happens if you refuse to pay. Which is a good question. Clive Keeble and Susan Hill are among those commenting on the Charkin bit.

You know what? Everyday I feel happier and happier that I never bother much about the Orange and Booker prizes. And I feel so much better for it.

Self-publishing services

Nikki Bradford has an article in the latest Big Issue (not available online, so far as I can see), which describes publishing her own book, Bastards, through the services of Pen Press. And I see that her pen-name is Nikki VanBergen.

Pen Press turns out to be located in Brighton (UK). You will have to make up your own mind about them, because I have no personal experience, but Nikki says that the deal is likely to cost you between £2000 and £6000, depending on length and editing needs.

You can find out more about her book Bastards on its own little web site.

Another UK firm which came to my notice from somewhere (can't remember where) is Bookforce. This company offers services to publishers, booksellers, and wholesalers, in addition to authors, and has international connections.

One for Beatles fans

Are you into the Beatles? If so, you can thank Martin Rundkvist for finding this free ebook on the making of the 1966 LP Revolver.

Interview with Matthew Pearl

Octavia Randolph has had an interview with Matthew Pearl, author of two books which have done well internationally: The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow. You can find the interview on Octavia's own web site, where, you will remember, there is much else of interest, including an account of Wyrd, or the role of fate.

Political biographies

On Abebooks, Paul Routledge, political correspondent of the UK Daily Mirror, recommends his top ten political biographies. Paul is the author of several such biographies himself, and has made some very unusual but interesting choices. The context is UK politics. If only one had time to read them all.

Another yawn

Yesterday's Times ran another of those boring features about the 100 best books of all time. This time the list was confined to books published by Penguin in their Classics series.

The list of 'best lovers' includes Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. But Since when has this been a 'book'? OK, so you can buy the play script in book form, but isn't that rather different? You also get Baby Doll featuring among the best minxes.

Well, sorry, but this seems even sillier than usual. But many congratulations to Penguin, who have contrived to get themselves a vast quantity of column inches of free publicity. Or at least I assume it's free. If it's not, then newspapers are even sneakier, and in even worse shape financially, than I take them to be.

Left Behind and the LaHaye empire

If you haven't heard of the Left Behind series of novels, then you really haven't been paying attention. Although that said, the series hasn't made much impact in the UK -- or so I believe, but perhaps I haven't been paying enough attention either.

Anyway, Left Behind is a series of novels (15 so far, with more promised), which are written from a highly specific Christian point of view. I've only read one -- just to get a flavour -- and damn if I can remember anything about it. But basically the idea is that God has taken all the good people off to heaven -- overnight, if I am remembering correctly -- and everybody that's left is in really deep shit. But, since they're stuck here on earth for the rest of their lives, until they go off to hell, they have to make the best of it.

Or something like that. Anyway, you can read all about it in Wikipedia and all over the place, if you have the patience.

Not every observer, however, is entirely happy about this phenomenon. And now word has reached me of a book which expresses more than a little concern about the general trend of thinking in the Left Behind series. Its title is Skipping Towards Armageddon: the Politics and Propaganda of the Left Behind Novels and the LaHaye Empire. (Tim LaHaye being one of the joint authors, with Jerry B. Jenkins as the other.) The author is Michael Standaert.

'Below the surface [of these novels],' says Standaert, 'there is a more dangerous, ominous and cynically manipulated message bent on enforcing a political ideology in the United States and around the world. In reality, this political-Evangelicalism could be compared to what some call the takeover of the Islamic faith with a form of virulent political-Islam. The core objectives of each are to control minds, markets and resources. Where one uses barbarous terrorist tactics, spiteful propaganda, and violence to achieve its goals, the other uses flashy and pervasive television, radio, savvy publishing and technological propaganda as means to deliver its message.' And more of the same.

Personally I am not one to lie awake at night worrying about the state of the world. But if I was, the Left Behind books would be another item to add to the list.

Lightning strikes twice

Following Wednesday's post, in which I described how I ended up buying the same magazines twice, John Ayer tells how he had a similar experience. Only in his case he had to buy his own car back -- which was doubtless more expensive.

Book publicity goes hitec

Just so's you self-publishers know what the professional competition is up to...

AEI is a fancypants media company. Or, in its own words, 'a one-stop full-service literary management and motion picture production company, delivering a full array of development, sales, marketing and promotion, producing, licensing, and merchandising services for writers and storytellers who are ready for multimedia global representation within the Book, Film, TV, Music and Product Arenas.'

Just by way of an example, here's a 'book trailer' which they made to plug Dark Gold by David Angsten (you need broadband and Flash).

And, gee whizz - just as I finish writing this, I get an email from Roger Morris (a Macmillan New Writing man), telling me that he has done his own book trailer. I don't want to sound condescending, but for a diy effort I think it's bloody good.

For even more on book trailers, see the New York Times (link from

Another service offered by AEI is The Writer's Lifeline. 'Writer’s Lifeline editors and development execs base their mentoring and literary productivity not only on artistic integrity but also on commercial marketability—with an aim toward securing representation for the client at the end of the process. As a “bridge to the professional world,” The Writer’s Lifeline, Inc. occupies a unique niche in the world of literary entertainment—a company devoted to taking storytellers from amateur to professional status, with a track record proving its effectiveness!'

And all like that.

You must make up your own mind about all this; I have no knowledge of the company.

John the Eunuch

Eric Mayer had a piece on his blog the other day about one of my posts (about a certain Mr Pelecanos). More to the point, Eric is the co-author, with Mary Reed, of a series of of books about John the Eunuch. What a fabulous series character! How come I never heard of him before? I know, I know, sheer ignorance compounded by stupidity. It always was a formidable combination.

Deconstructing glorious Gloria

In a blurb on the back of This Is Not Chick Lit, an anthology by 'America's Best Women Writers', Gloria Steinem writes: 'This Is Not Chick Lit is important not only for its content, but for its title. I’ll know we’re getting somewhere when equally talented male writers feel they have to separate themselves from the endless stream of fiction glorifying war, hunting and sports by naming an anthology This Is Not a Guy Thing.'

If you're puzzled by what this actually means, Scott Stein has a go at deconstructing it.

Libel lunacy

The highly dangerous (for writers and publishers) nature of the UK libel laws has been mentioned here many a time. And in today's Times Mick Hume gives yet more information on why something needs to be done. But don't hold your breath.


Peter L. Winkler said...

Ellroy writes, "I always survive. God gave me that skill. I'm an L.A. opportunist. My alchemist's license was issued in L.A. I know how to turn dung into gold.”

In his monomaniacal repetitiousness, Ellroy’s become the noir Woody Allen. Ellroy was an alcoholic, druggy, and petty criminal long before he cleaned up his act and started writing. I suspect he’s prone to going to extremes, even without the stress of maintaining his writing career. I’ve heard or read him do his “my dark past fuels my dark present” shtick too many times. I’m also deeply suspicious of how much of his autobiographical revelations are the product of a skilled novelist’s ability to create a theatrical backstory and persona to sell his books.

dovegreyreader said...

So it must have been Hunter Davies I heard being interviewed on the radio then about ghost writing for Wayne. He was struggling with some of the material.Having asked Wayne how it felt to score his first premiership goal Wayne said "I was made up". Hunter assured us he would make it into a longer, much more interesting sentence.

ivan said...

Writing really is dangerous to your health.
I have written two novels about this, but I won't tub-thump too much.
Ah, a fine madness.

Iain said...


I'd be very wary of this outfit. It's always worth checking the Preditors and Editors website for anyone in business as an agent (or publisher) or anything like it. Scroll down to AEI and you'll find that they are "not recommended".

Reasons are not given, but P&E is generally to be trusted, and I'd say that AEI's habit of referring writers to The Writer's Lifeline would have something to do with it. The Writer's Lifeline is an editorial service which will er . . . service you editorially . . . for a flat rate of $2500 for 20 hours. Nice work if you can get it.

AEI's website is horrible almost beyond words. Some of it doesn't even work -- leastways not on my usually reliable computer -- and the print (unenlargeable) is absurdly small. It is, however, possible to work out that it is a glorified literary agency, and does seem to have some sort of track record.

This is not so unusual. There are outright scam agents -- some employing methods so cunning that it is extremely difficult to see the trap until you have fallen into it -- and there are those who are part legit, but who will take advantage of the unwary when they get the chance.

Some sharks are easy to spot, because their fins are always out of the water. These are the up-front fee-chargers, who are at all times to be avoided simply because, making easy money from writers, they have no incentive to make difficult money by trying to sell manuscripts to publishers.

Other sharks, however, come at you from the deep. The preferred tactic is to refer you to an editorial service for which you pay. Through the nose. What you don’t know is that agent and editor are either in cahoots, or are simply different departments of the same business. Again, the agent makes his money from you, and has no incentive to sell your manuscript to a publisher.

I don't know how the GOB came by the information on AEI, but my guess is that they approached him, directly or indirectly, in the hope of a bit of free publicity, which they have now got. Don’t blame the GOB, who makes it absolutely clear that he holds no brief for them. But be very wary of any agency which goes out of its way to advertise its services to writers. The best agents never go looking for clients unless they are headhunting.

I'm sorry to dishearten literary wannabes, but if you are an unconnected nobody, the chances are very high that any agent who offers to represent you is out to fleece you. Groucho Marx was nobody’s fool, and my guess is that, had he been a nobody with literary ambitions, he would have refused to be represented by any agent who would have him.

The fact is that your chances of finding a genuine agent are very slight, and your chances of finding a publisher without one are minuscule. A quarter of a century ago, one American commentator reckoned that the odds against getting an unsolicited novel published were nearly 30,000 to 1. More recently, another source (also US) calculated those odds at 15,000 to 1. My own estimate (UK) is only 4,000 to 1, but I was trying to take into account multiple submissions. It is, in truth, impossible to determine the odds with any accuracy, but safe to say that they are astronomical.

In conclusion, I would recommend any aspiring writer to consult, in addition to Preditors and Editors, Writer Beware and Absolute Write. If any agent offers to represent you, do your homework very carefully before you make any commitment.

Sign up with AEI if you like. But be ready with the $2500 when they ask for it.

Iain said...

I quote my own previous comment (above): "AEI's website is horrible almost beyond words. Some of it doesn't even work -- leastways not on my usually reliable computer -- and the print (unenlargeable) is absurdly small."

I don't know if anyone's bothering to follow this, but AEI have, only today, improved their website considerably. It now seems to work properly, and the text size has been increased.

I'd love to think this has something to do with me, and thus with the GOB, but if so, it would be the first time that anyone has ever listened to me (sniff).