Monday 30 March 2009

Google Giveth and Google Taketh Away

Google is EvilI'm a Google enthusiast, I admit it. I've switched from Internet Explorer and Firefox to Google Chrome. I enjoy Google Earth. I use Google Docs. I use Google Maps. I run Google Adwords. I blog on Google's Blogger.
But for every wonderful thing Google giveth, Google taketh away. 
Today, literary agent Lynn Chu of Writers Representatives took a microscope to the labyrinthine terms of the recent Google settlement and spelled it out in language even an author can understand .
Chu warns authors to pay attention (all authors who've ever had anything published in the United States) -
(by 5 May 2009) ... every author and publisher in America is supposed to decide whether to "opt in," "opt out," or simply "ignore" a vast compulsory licensing scheme for the benefit of Google.
Given that authors are notorious at procrastination, I am helpfully bullet-pointing the highlights of the article below. But do read the complete article in the Wall Street Journal  titled 'Google's Book SettlementIs a Ripoff for Authors: Why allow a single publisher to throw out a functioning copyright system?'. 
  • who are the winners of the settlement? the lawyers get $30 million, the Book Rights Registry gets $ 35 million, and infringed authors? $ 60 a book.

  • "every rights-owner in America is supposed to hand over all their private contract data, on every edition of every work they ever wrote -- and every excerpt permission ever granted to others -- at the peril of losing the money Google will be making on their backs"

  • The Book Rights Registry - Says Chu:
    The Internet was supposed to eliminate middlemen, not pack multiple layers on. The BRR is in fact merely Google's contract negotiation and claims department
    • "Google's erstwhile adversaries are paid off with the aforementioned Book Rights Registry (BRR), which will compete with the U.S. Copyright Office and the federal courts"

    • "The BRR expects to read everyone's contracts to say who is owed what of Google's revenues -- net again of all its costs, which are sure to be huge"

  • "The U.S. Constitution grants authors small monopolies in their own copyrights. Author market power is talent-based and individual, not collective. This class action seeks to wipe all this out -- just for Google. But U.S. law does not grant any single publisher monopoly power to herd all of us into its list"
Meanwhile, several authors have suddenly woken up to the realisation that books are fair game to the piracy that has previously plagued other media.
Publishers and agents representing the authors J. K. Rowling and Ken Follett were battling last night to get free copies of their novels removed from a Californian website that claims to be the most popular literary site in the world. Read More has earned the dubious title of the "YouTube for books".
I kind of disagree with Liu's point that the current copyright system is good enough. 

I think it's under siege.

Friday 27 March 2009

Fighting the Sads

Siobhan Dowd has another book out, Solace of the Road

It's my constant companion at the moment, a great way to get the writing juices flowing. I read a little bit, then write a little bit. Then read a little bit. Then write a little bit more.

It's fantastic. How Siobhan Dowd could write.

And though I am so enjoying it, I can't help but feel sad.

Because Siobhan Dowd died in the summer of 2007 and this is it, the last one. Bog Child was the other Siobhan Dowd book published posthumously last year. And I am sad because when I come to the end of this book, there won't be another Siobhan Dowd to look forward to.

And tomorrow morning, the last ever issue of the DFC will plop through my letter box. Oh woe.

And I just got a sad email from Lookybook, the 'Try Before You Buy' picture book website, that it had decided to close. It had been named one of the 50 Best Websites of 2008 by Time.

Sad. That's me.

And then I meet up with friends Sue Eves, whose book The Quiet Woman and the Noisy Dog
is selling very well indeed, and Steve Hartley who you won't have heard of but soon will (Steve has signed a contract with Macmillan for not one, not two, not three but EIGHT books featuring his hero Danny Baker Record Breaker). Correction: it was FOUR books (two stories each)!
Steve Hartley (Danny Baker, Record Breaker) and Sue Eves (The Quiet Woman and the Noisy Dog)
Steve and Sue

... and I remember that there is reason to hope and that the point of the whole exercise of trying to get published is that we are in the business for the sheer love it.

And to cheer myself up I watch the trailer for Where the Wild Things are
which was released today.

Friday 20 March 2009

Google, Google Everywhere

screenshot of enormous caterpillar logo
I love that Google is today celebrating the 40th anniversary of Eric Carle's Very Hungry Caterpillar which apparently sells a copy somewhere in the world every 30 seconds.

Today is also the launch of Google's Street View, by which anyone can punch a city post code into Google Maps and see the location in 360 degree photographic views.

The launch of anything that smacks of new technology has of course prompted fear and trembling over issues of privacy, with Google acting quickly to remove objectionable photos. When the service was launched in the US, a new past-time of streetspotting was invented.

The literary possibilities of Google Street View are mind-boggling. Do have a listen to tonight's episode of Front Row (20 March, Friday), the radio arts programme, in which Ian Rankin and Graham Hurley discuss the cons (readers can visit fictional locations and the disconnect between story and reality might might get in the way of the story's believability) and the pros (oooh, the story ideas... Street View as murder alibi ... Street View revealing the future).

And then there's Google Earth. I had a Marketing Big Idea last week - if location is important to your story - like Sarwat Chadda's forthcoming Devil's Kiss which is set in dark and scary corners of London - why not use the new movie-making features of Google Earth and create a tour of your novel's locations
If you've written a book that has to do with archaeological digs and ancient civilizations like The Mummy Snatchers of Memphis by my friend Natasha Narayan - Google Earth claims to be able to give you access to the past, "With a simple click, take a look at suburban sprawl, melting icecaps, coastal erosion and more". As well as dive under oceans, etc etc.

There is some muttering that Google's ubiquity, so dangerously Microsoft-like, has pushed the corporation over to the Dark Side ... that Google has betrayed its famous motto, Don't Be Evil.
Are we in danger of being exploited by the Google juggernaut marauding into every corner of our lives?
Meanwhile why not exploit everything that Google has to offer first?

Thursday 19 March 2009

Tips for Authors on the Brink of Fame (and even maybe Fortune)

Devil's Kiss by Sarwat ChaddaI've just finished building Sarwat Chadda's website in anticipation of the May launch of his "goth-lit" thriller, Devil's Kiss. Check it out on
I'd always wanted to do a website with a dark, dark theme and Sarwat has now fulfilled that wish, thanks for hiring me Sarwat!
I thought I'd blog about a few ideas that came to me while making the website. Here goes:
TIP FOR AUTHORS WAITING FOR FAME AND GLORY NUMBER ONE: Have your author portrait taken as soon as possible, preferably five or ten years ago, before the crow's feet, thinning hair, wattle chin,  and other signs of aging have totally set in.
The most dangerous part of this project (for Sarwat) was handing over a CD of studio portraits for me to pick and choose from. Woo hoo!  I tried hard not to rub my hands gleefully in front of him. Oh the magic one can do with Photoshop! But then Sarwat of course was wise to my game and threatened me with the kind of violence even his book would blush at if I dared upload anything silly to Facebook. 
Luckily we came to a compromise and I got to make these humorous mash-ups for his 'About Me' page.
Sarwat on holiday in the East.

Sarwat realising he was in competition with Buffy.

Sarwat being told he should write for Bette Midler (hey, I love Bette Midler!)

Sarwat winning a place in the Undiscovered Voices anthology. 

Oh I didn't go ahead with that last one. I couldn't get a satisfactory blend of Sarwat's neck with Miss America's.
When you have that pictorial with the professional photographer, make sure while they are shooting off the customary 101 frames, that as well as the formal I am a glamorous author pose, you pose with different expressions. Smiling, looking right, looking left, looking upwards, looking downwards, making silly faces ... this will be useful for future digital compositions by your friendly neighbourhood designer. I suggest this because Sarwat had exactly two expressions on his CD which made it hard to make him look truly ridiculous. Dang.
Part of the job was redecorating Sarwat's blog to match the livery of the website. Sarwat's early blogging has been targetted mainly at fellow writers. With his book out, he will have to change gears, target his readers - without alienating his currrent following. 
Spooky that Nathan Bransford picks this moment to blog about blogs - authors' blogs - citing a piece in the Globe and Mail about how the new intimacy between reader and author has resulted in some extraordinary public blow ups.  
Apparently some authors have had to endure severe lambasting by fans when they're late with the next book or not living up to their duties as Famous Author!
These days, writers invite personal involvement and intensity from their readers. In direct proportion to the way in which they share their personalities (or for-consumption personalities), their everyday lives, their football teams and word counts, their partners and children and cats, it encourages in readers a sense of personal connection and access, and thus an entitlement to comment, complain, recommend cat food, feel betrayed, shriek invective, issue demands: “George, lose weight, dammit!” More
attack dog
Fans can be deployed to attack critics
The flip-side of course is that authors like Stephenie Meyer (her fans threatened to bombard Stephen King with hate mail for saying he didn't like Twilight) and Patricia Cornwell ("slimed" by several Amazon reviews, she called on her fans to counteract the bad reviews).
...“Release the fans!” seems to be the phrase that applies ... Globe and Mail
Hmm. So what is my Tip Three?
Sure, go ahead and blog. Blog because your editor and your agent said you probably ought to. Blog because you've enjoyed keeping a diary since you were five. Blog because that's what they say authors have to do. But remember: it's a two-way relationship. The fans can dish as much as they take.

Saturday 7 March 2009

Happy Random Things

So today, I had the choice of blogging about something really serious, heavy and mind blowing about the publishing industry or just chilling and sharing two really random but nice things I read online. Guess which one I chose.

First really nice thing: Nathan Bransford, the uber-blogging agent in New York (I think. You think Nathan's in NY?) - one of the 1376 commenters on his blog the other day pointed out that the world of publishing is turning into mush was no reason to be negative. So he's been positive all week. Which made me feel really positive too. Let me share the last two very positive itemsfrom his positive blog post Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer:
9. Be thankful for what you have. If you have the time to write you're doing pretty well. There are millions of starving people around the world, and they're not writing because they're starving. If you're writing: you're doing just fine. Appreciate it.

10. Keep writing. Didn't find an agent? Keep writing. Book didn't sell? Keep writing. Book sold? Keep writing. OMG an asteroid is going to crash into Earth and enshroud the planet in ten feet of ash? Keep writing. People will need something to read in the resulting permanent winter
Second really nice thing: I was just browsing through the vlog (VIDEO blog - how many times do I have to explain this?)of the brothers Hank and John Green - John being the award winning YA author - when I came upon a 2007 item called "How Nerdfighters Drop Insults". What's so cool about John is in most of his posts he manages to (A) Tell kids it's okay to be nerdy (B)Make literary references that might get kids interested in reading. In this video, he quotes Shakespeare:

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