Friday, May 26, 2006

End of the week

Here are a few stories and links which didn't fit in anywhere else this week.


Scoopt is a web site for photographers, especially those who carry a camera everywhere with the intention of taking a picture if anything happens that ought to be in the newspapers. Judging by some of the featured images, more or less anyone can take a newsworthy picture if they happen to have a camera in the right place at the right time. So Scoopt is an excellent idea, and although the 50/50 split of the income may look steep, I don't think that's out of line compared with other picture agencies. And in any case, if they have the contacts, they can sell where you couldn't even get in the door, so 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing.

Scoopt may, I understand, be going to launch an initiative connected with text. So keep looking. You might get rich and famous.

Thinking of running a bookshop?

Once upon a time, it was not completely ridiculous to imagine that, after retiring from a job in industry or the civil service, you might buy a small bookshop somewhere, and run that until you got really decrepit.

Well, you could still do that. But you're going to need a lot more courage, capital, and know-how than you once did.

For a good indication of the difficulties, read the Guardian's special two-part report on independent bookshops. (Link from


I read a blog a few days ago which said -- perhaps ironically -- that the announcement that Oprah Winfrey is to write a book about weight control was the story of the week. I beg to differ. It isn't a story at all. It's a complete non-event.

What this news does do, of course, is encapsulate the modern book trade in a couple of paragraphs. And, if you must read how Oprah has come to add (allegedly) a further $12 million plus to her vast fortune, the Guardian has some details. Of a sort. Pretty sloppy and superficial if you ask me.

Screenwriters' Festival

If you live in the UK, and you're interested in writing for TV or the screen (a more than usually foolish set of writing ambitions) then you probably should take a look at the programme for the International Screenwriters' Festival. One day of the programme is specifically devoted to new writers.

Sorry, but it makes me tired and depressed just to think about it. All that eager, optimistic youth assembled in one place. And 99.9% of it due to be bitterly frustrated and disappointed. At least if you write fiction you can publish your own.

Vin Doctor's Auntie lists

Vin Doctor is a writer who specialises in lists. Lists which he refers to as Auntie lists. Apparently it's a long story. Anyway, he's in search of an agent or publisher, so if you are one of those you might, just conceivably, wish to go take a look and see if there's a book there, because Vin thinks there is.

I have to say that this stuff is definitely not for me, but then I'm English and old. If I was 17 and American I would doubtless feel quite different. The Auntie lists reportedly appear on the Points in Case web site, which is clearly aimed at that audience. And it is, when all is said and done, a big audience.


Joel Biroco kindly wrote to tell me that he has read On the Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile and thought it was excellent, and he didn't even mention his own web site; he just added a link at the bottom of his email. Such modesty, I thought, deserves a reward, so I clicked on it.

Well, I have more than once mentioned here that the problem for writers is that, compared with musicians, it's very hard to make people go Wow! So, for what it's worth, I take my hat of to Joel's for making me go Wow!

The Wow! results mainly, I have to say, from the visual impact of the site rather than the content. And Wow! won't necessarily be everyone's reaction, because we all have our own taste in these things. But the Biroco web site strikes me as being one of the most beautifully designed that I have ever come across. It is just so elegant, and admirably suited to its content.

Once you get into this web site you discover that it deals with matters philosophical, occult, and perhaps religious, depending on your definition. The occult is a highly complex field, with a huge literature of its own, into which I have never dipped more than a toe. But there is enough on this site to give you a taste of what it involves. For a sample, download issue 14 of Kaos.

If you do get hooked on this stuff, it will take you for ever to read about it; you will come across, just by way of example, Dr Dee, Aleister Crowley, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and a thousand other extraordinary offshoots. The Wikipedia entry on Occultism is a good place to start.

In addition to's basic content, it also features what is becoming a regular problem in life nowadays, i.e. an attempt to close down a web site which contains material that some people object to. In this case, which involved issue 14 of Kaos, the pathetically feeble ISP concerned was the British firm BT. Well, if you know BT you could hardly expect anything else really. Needless to say, Joel Biroco and his associates were able to work around BT.

There's a whole lot more, including an essay on web design featuring our old friend the Golden Section. All in all, this is, in every way, one of the most impressive web sites that I've ever seen. Though I have serious reservations about the bits in white text on a black background.

Robert Littell interview

Ali Karim pointed me to his lengthy interview with the espionage novelist Robert Littell. When I reviewed Littell's Legends, in July last year, I not only made the point that the book was about as good as you could ever reasonably expect a novel to be, but also that the author was a bit niggardly with the personal details. Well, thanks to Ali Karim we now know a great deal more about him.

The interview is a bit long to read onscreen, but you can print it out without difficulty: 25 pages. I'm glad that I did, because I found it a rewarding read, not merely in what it says about books and publishing, but in what this very well informed and much travelled man has to say about the history of the last 50 years. If you click on no other link from the GOB this week, I suggest that your time will be well spent in clicking on this one.

You looking at me?

Should you ever have cause to visit this fair isle of England, from somewhere overseas, you may, perchance, happen upon one of our beautifully mannered and incomparably educated young people -- a tattooed, acne-ridden, and denim-clad youth who scowls at you and mutters in barely comprehensible tones: You looking at me or chewing a brick?

If greeted in this time-honoured manner, you may, just conceivably, wonder what the fuck he is on about. In which case, dear Readers, hasten ye to the Urban dictionary, where all these quaint English expressions are translated for you.

In this case, what he means is: pretty soon you're getting a broken jaw, either because you're looking at me in a manner which I do not appreciate, or because you're chewing a brick.

Quite simple really. Of course, by the time you've logged on and worked it all out, the meaning of the young man's question may have become all too clear to you via a practical demonstration. But I can do nothing about that. Sorry.

Thanks to my daughter-in-law for this explication and link.

How the book business actually works, I

Book Expo America, as I believe I mentioned last week, is roughly the American equivalent of the Frankfurt and London book fairs. It is an occasion when anyone who's anyone in the book world gathers together in one place to do business and, er, other things.

Not everyone finds it a rewarding experience. In particular, authors can find it a bit daunting, as Booksquare explains (link from Galleycat). Independent publishers may also discover that they are up against some formidable, not to say incestuous, opposition. And this may lead to a distressing degree of cynicism. Witness this statement from Jennifer Nix (link from Maud Newton):

Book Expo, however, is primarily a ridiculous display of fawning and ass-kissing, a giant corporate junket courtesy of the massive marketing budgets at the Big Houses. It's the yearly gathering where corporate newspaper and magazine reporters wander through thousands of booths, like so many rock stars, saying and writing glowing items about their corporate-publisher-siblings' books. This process is facilitated by perky and usually blond publicists. Independent publishers are meant to pay the pricey admission just to watch, to stand on the sidelines and not get too familiar with the reporters and reviewers, because really, darling... if their books were any good at all, the Big Houses would have inked those deals.
How the book business actually works, II

Private Eye this week reports that there have been 12 positive reviews of Nicholas Coleridge's novel A Much-Married Man in the British press.

Of these, 4 appeared in magazines published by Nicholas Coleridge (he is managing director of Conde Nast); 3 were written for newspapers by former or current employees of Nicholas Coleridge; 2 were written by personal friends of Nicholas Coleridge; there were 0 negative reviews.

For an account of the Conde Nast connections, see the Observer's article of 19 December 2004.

Yet another attempt to silence criticism

On Monday we noted the attempt of lawyers Carter Ruck to silence criticism of their actions; and, in reference to Biroco, above, we noted an attempt to close down a site completely, when someone considered that it contained material contrary to their interests. Now there's a case involving AbsoluteWrite.

Well, I am a long way from believing that online writers should be allowed to say anything they wish -- whether true, reasonable, and sane or not -- but fortunately it is now the case that those who have truth and common sense as their allies are normally able to circumvent such attempts at censorship, albeit at the expense of time and money.

For a neat summary of what this new instance is all about, go to E.J. Knapp's blog, Only on Sunday. AbsoluteWrite, who have been the object of 'agent' Barbara Bauer's ire, are seeking a new home.

Miss Snark is hopping mad about this too, and you sure as hell wouldn't want to annoy her. In fact she's written about Barbara Bauer twice: the first time to say that she didn't like what the lady was up to, and the second time to give chapter and verse as to why she thinks the lady is a scam artist.

Words of wisdom

M J Rose is the writer who first recognised the power of the internet, and used it to make herself... well, not a household name, exactly, but certainly a published author with a decent track record. And on her blog Buzz, Balls & Hype (25 May), she has a short piece by her old high-school friend Elizabeth Benedict. Elizabeth writes about writers' ambitions, and refers to:
...that Big Fantasy that makes our pulses quicken: When I find myself slipping into the clutches of it, I remember the wise, cautionary words of Andrea Eagan, a dear friend -- to me and many writers -- who died at 51, in 1993. She was a wonderful journalist and a founder of the National Writers Union in the 1980s. I remember saying dreamily to her and her actor husband Richard, "When my ship comes in..." They interrupted me fast: "Forget about the ship. It will be a series of small dinghies that'll come your way."
Be nice

Fed up with everyone criticising publishers? Tired of gloom and doom? Want to hear someone stick up for the book business, which is, after all, populated by nice people? In that case nip over to Sara Gran's blog -- she has just the thing to perk you up. (Thanks to Maxine Clarke for the link.)


In addition to Buzz, Balls & Hype (mentioned above), M J Rose also runs Backstory, a site on which authors tell (usually) how they came to write their masterpiece and give it a gentle plug. M J recently handed over the day-to-day running of this blog to Jessica, who has more time available, and hence there is more new material on it, more often.

Sara Nelson on copyright

Sara Nelson, editor of US trade journal Publishers Weekly, offers a weekly editorial. This week's argues that copyright is a good thing and that it should last a hell of a long time.

Well, up to a point, Lady Copper. I have posted a partly dissenting comment, but most people seem to agree with her.


Kyle MacRae said...

Nice mention, thanks :-)

Snap... send... sell

Suzan Abrams, email: said...

Hello Mr. Allen,
I'll have to come back and read all of this post but I agree totally with your comments on the Oprah and Bookshop bits.
Here's wishing you a blissful summer.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark is a hoax ad campaign from a blog factory. Miss Snark is not a literary agent. It is a SCAM to take names from writers and send them to companies that will charge them tens of thousands of dollars to publish their books instead of getting paid royalties by a real literary agent like Bauer. Miss Snark's clients are big publishers and agents with vanity publishing businesses on the side, so they plug their own agencies and publishing houses on the blog. They found an easy way to advertise their vanity outfits while attacking real small businesses that fight for authors' rights and bring them an income in royalties. Anyone who believes Miss Snark is a real literary agent in New York hasn't got the brains to become a published author anyway. Bauer would never take the people who believe Snark is a real literary agent. Her clients are all top notch cream of the crop. You can take that SNARK FRAUD and SHOVE IT!