Loose Lips

It was revealed this week that a mystery novel titled The Cuckoo’s Calling and written by Robert Galbraith was in fact authored by someone named J.K. Rowling, whose name in the author’s slot on a book has been enough to cause children and their parents to line up in front of bookstores at midnight. The news leaked as the result of a Twitter tweet and spread very quickly. After the dust settled and the smoke cleared a book which had sold a few hundred copies since its publication in late April 2013 suddenly became very much in demand. Rowling, her publicist, and any number of people were accused of having leaked the true identity of the author to the world in an effort to boost sales of the book. It was revealed yesterday, however, that the cause of the leak was an attorney in the employ of the law firm which handles Rowling’s literary business. As an attorney myself, I’m embarrassed.

One of the things that is drummed into young skulls full of mush in law school, and thereafter in countless continuing legal education courses, is something called “client confidentiality.” Most people are familiar with the concept, at least in passing. It’s simple enough: if you tell your attorney something they take it to their grave. Believe me, attorneys hear some very interesting things. Not all of us represent someone on the order of J.K. Rowling, but there are any number of times that someone has told me something within ten minutes after sitting down in front of me that they’ve never told anyone else. What I’m told often comes under the heading of “too much information,” and occasionally I pray for selective amnesia, but that’s the way it goes.  Whatever I’m told,  however, stops with me, even in general terms. For but one example: if one practices family law and the next door neighbor comes to the office to discuss a possible divorce action, one does not go home and tell their spouse, “Guess who came in and talked to me today!” and give the spouse five guesses where the first six don’t count, all the while gesturing toward the house next door. The confidentiality, by the way, belongs to the client; to continue with the example, if the next door neighbor wants to tell the world who they consulted about a divorce, and what was discussed, that is their privilege. It doesn’t release the attorney, however, from the obligation of client confidentiality. Only the client can do that at their discretion and pleasure. Client confidentiality obtains in the state where I practice whether the prospective client ultimately retains the attorney or not. The “give me a dollar and I can’t discuss this with anyone else” is a great device to build suspense in a book, but it doesn’t apply in the real world. This makes sense. A prospective client has to be able to speak freely — spill their guts, as it were — so that the attorney can properly evaluate the case, make recommendations, and decide whether to represent the individual or recommend that they go elsewhere.

In Rowling’s case, the firm handling her legal matters with respect to her publishing — Russells — issued a terse though ultimately self-serving statement to the effect that Chris Gossage, a firm partner, had disclosed the information about Galbraith’s true identity to his “wife’s best friend” who ultimately tweeted her newly found knowledge to the world. Russells additionally stated that Gossage had made the disclosure “in confidence to someone he trusted implicitly.” This is a round-about way of assuming responsibility but not taking blame. It’s nonsense. An attorney receiving knowledge in confidence cannot subsequently disclose that knowledge to a third party in confidence. The information stops within the confines of the four walls of the office.

Rowling I am sure had her reasons for  wishing to preserve her anonymity with respect to her authorship of The Cuckoo’s Calling. I don’t know what they might have been, and though I’m curious, it ultimately makes no difference. She doesn’t even need a reason. If you make a disclosure to your attorney the walls go up. That increase in sales of The Cuckoo’s Calling which occurred after Rowling’s confidentiality was breached is irrelevant. My gut instinct is that Rowling would have been much happier if the sales of the book had remained where they were and the secret of her identity had been preserved.

I’m unhappy about this, for so many reasons. So please. Make me laugh. Tell me the best lawyer joke you know.

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10 Ways to Sabotage Your Writing

This writing life has enough gremlins—rejection, bad reviews, economic uncertainty, short actors playing your 6’5” hero in a movie version—that a writer shouldn’t be adding his own. Here are the top ten to watch out for. Maybe you have some to add to the list: 

1. Thinking about your career more than about your writing
Guess what? No matter where you are in your writing career you can always find a reason to be unhappy about it. You’re unagented and you want to get an agent. You’re unpublished and you want to be published. You’re published and you want to be read. You’re read but not read in the numbers you hoped. You’ve gone indie and your books aren’t selling enough to buy you a monthly mocha.
You can always find something to be unhappy about. What you ought to do is write more. When you’re into your story and you’re pounding the keys and you’re imagining the scene and you’re feeling the characters, you’re not camping out in the untamed country of unfulfilled expectations.
It’s fine to plan. In fact, I’ve written a paper to help you do that. But once the planning is done, get to work.
2. The comparison trap
I’ve written a whole post on this one. What good is it going to do you to look at somebody else’s success and hit the table and cry out for justice? Writing is not just. It just is. You do your work the best you can and you let the results happen, because you can’t manipulate them. You can’t touch them, you can’t change them, you can’t fix them. You can only give it your best shot each time out.
“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.” – Epictetus
3. Ranking Obsession
Another thing you can’t control is your ranking on Amazon or the various and sundry bestseller lists. Or sure, there are things writers do to try and “game the system.” The paid reviews scandal was one of the more egregious examples of this.  But in the end, the game playing is not worth the knot in the stomach.
Don’t worry about rankings and lists. Worry about your word count, plot and characters. If you do the latter well, the former will take care of itself.
4. Envy
Another useless emotion. But it seems to be a part of most writers’ lives. Ann Lamott and Elizabeth Berg both lost friendships over it. Envy has even driven authors to set up sock puppet identities not merely to hand themselves good reviews, but to leave negative reviews for their rivals’ books.
“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30). Try to have a heart at peace by getting back to your story while, at the same time, developing the next one. 
5. Trying to be the next James Patterson. . .
. . . or J. K. Rowling, or Michael Connelly. Wait a second. We already have those. And they are the best at being who they are.
Become the leading brand of you, not the generic brand of someone else sitting on the shelf at the 99¢ store.
This is not to say don’t write in the same genre or try to do some of the good things other writers do. We can certainly learn from those we admire.
But when we write, we have a picture in our heads, a sort of writer self-image. And if we imagine our books being treated like Connelly’s books, or we see ourselves in LA Magazine interviewed like Connelly, we’ll just end up writing like a second-rate Connelly.
Do that and you stifle the thing that has the chance to set you apart—your own voice. 
6. “I’m not good enough to make it.”
That’s not the issue. The issue is: do you want to write? Do you really?  Do you want it so much that if you don’t write you’re going to feel diminished in some way, and for the rest of your life?
You should feel like you don’t really have a choice in the matter. Writing is what you must do, even if you hold a full time job. Even if you chase a passel of kids around the house. You find your time and you keep writing. Keep looking to improve. You can improve. I’ve got hundreds of letters from people who have validated this point.
7. Fear
Fear of failing. Fear of looking foolish. Fear of what your writing might say about you. We are actually wired for fear. It’s a survival mechanism.
So it has a good side so long as it is not allowed to go on. In fact, when you fear something in your writing it may be a sign that this is the place you need to go. This is where the fresh material may be. You need to go there, and assess it later.
8. Hanging on to discouragement
When my son was first pitching Little League baseball, he’d get upset when someone got a key hit or homer off him. This would affect the rest of his performance. So I gave him a rule. I told him he could say “Dang it!” once, and hit his glove with his fist. This became the “one Dang It rule.” It helped settle him down and he went to a great season and a victory in the championship game.
When discouragement comes to you, writer friend (and it will), go ahead and feel it. Say “Dang it!” (or, if you’re alone, exercise your freedom of speech as you see fit). But time yourself. Give yourself permission to feel bad for thirty minutes. After that, go to the keyboard and start writing again.
9. Loving the feeling of being a writer more than writing
The most important thing a writers does, said the late Robert B. Parker, is produce. Don’t fall into the trap of writing a few words in a journal, lingering over the wonderful vibrations of being alive with the tulips of creativity budding within your brain, and leaving it at that.
You’ve got to get some sweat equity going in this game. I don’t mean you have to crank it out like some pulp writer behind in his rent (though I like this model myself). But you do have to have some sort of quota, even if it is a small one. Writing only when you feel like it is not the mark of a professional.
10. Letting negative people get to you
Illegitimi non carborundum.
Next time that know-it-all says you haven’t got the stuff to be a writer, smile and repeat this Latin phrase. And as he looks at you puzzled, turn your back, get to your computer, and proceed to prove him wrong.
And plan to make 2013 the most productive year of your writing life. 

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The Digital Revolution is Already Here

by Michelle GagnonKindle DX

During a press conference last Wednesday to celebrate the release of their latest Kindle reader (more on that in a bit), Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos made a startling announcement: for books available in Kindle format, more than 35% of their total sales were for the Kindle editions. Considering the fact that the Kindle is still in its nascency, introduced a little over a year ago, that’s an astonishing statistic (especially since it was basically mentioned as an aside during the introduction of a new product).

Granted, there are still only around 275,000 books available in Kindle format (in addition to numerous newspapers and magazines, which the new “DX” model is supposed to ease the reading of). Major writers like J.K. Rowling have yet to jump on board the Kindle bandwagon, so you can’t read their books on the device (not a legal version, at least). But it certainly shows the tide is turning.

I also have it on good authority that a major online publishing site which already has more than 50 million users a month (that’s right: 50 million) is about to jump into the fiction game. They’re hoping to recast themselves as the YouTube of online publishing. Authors will be able to release their own books directly to the public, and the split will be 80/20…for a change, that 80% will be going to the author, not the publisher. Some publishers have already begun releasing new books-for free-on the site. This could potentially open the flood gates, hopefully having an impact on how major houses split royalties. In my first contract, e-book royalties (which were still a blip on the horizon) were split 50/50 between me and my publisher. The last contract, it was down to 15% of the digital list price. As a friend of mine said recently, it’s tough to fathom the reasoning behind that split when the bulk of the publishing costs will have been completely eliminated. And why would already established NY Times bestselling authors continue to hand over such a significant chunk of their profits when they could release a book online, for free, and take that 80%?

It was particularly interesting that Amazon announced this during the release of a pricier Kindle model, not the cheaper one I would have anticipated. It could be a brilliant move- college students are traditionally early adopters, and a e-reader that seems perfectly tailored to reading textbooks could be a huge seller, despite the price tag (you can buy a laptop for less than the $489 a new Amazon DX costs). But surely they have a more reasonably priced Kindle on the horizon.

kindle appRumor has it that Apple has an e-reader in the works that will likely be as elegant and user-friendly as their iPod line. I’m willing to bet that by the end of the year, we’ll see e-readers in the $100-200 range, just in time for the holidays.

Getting back to Apple…what Bezos neglected to mention (again, surprising- clearly he needs to hire me for his marketing team) was a free application released in March that enables iPhone users to order and read Kindle books. Last October, an independent firm estimated that Apple had sold more than 10 million iPhone 3Gs; and that was before the Christmas rush. They have yet to say precisely how many Kindle units have sold, but when you start adding up those numbers, it’s already a significant chunk of the market.

I have both a Kindle and an iPhone, and the really cool thing is that I can be reading a book on one device, switch to the other, and it updates to the page I was on. The backlit screen can be tough to read for long periods, but for the length of a subway or bus commute it works great. The font size is large enough to read comfortably, and the pages are even easier to turn than they are on the Kindle. (However, you can only download Kindle books to the iPhone, not manuscripts sent in pdf format. Or if you can, I haven’t figured it out yet).

I’m going to argue, once again, that all of this is a good thing. I find that I buy more books now that I own a Kindle, not fewer-the Kindle editions are cheaper, and so easy to download, I make impulse purchases that I would never make in a store. Especially now that my bookshelves are threatening to overtake the house, Kindle editions are a guilt-free option that go a long way toward maintaining domestic harmony. And that’s always a good thing.

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No Kids Allowed!

LBenedictAug08 We’ve been graced with some extremely talented guest bloggers these past few Sundays, and today is no exception. I’m thrilled to introduce author Laura Benedict, whose debut ISABELLA MOON kept me up all night when I read it (and certain passages induced further insomnia the nights that followed). Her latest is CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS, and based on the stellar reviews it’s also a must-read.

Without further ado…
I worry sometimes that I’m corrupting the nation’s youth. (Okay, maybe just a teeny-tiny portion of the nation’s youth. Perhaps nine or ten of the little darlings.) I worry that the line between adult and young adult fiction—particularly fiction with a supernatural bent—is so blurred that young readers are stumbling into material that they shouldn’t be exposed to. Back in the day (let’s not go too deeply into which day), the lines were pretty clear: Stephen King, Peter Straub, and Dean Koontz were all the rage with their edgy language and adult situations. Fourteen and fifteen year-olds could pick up the books without too much criticism, though they were hardly fodder for school libraries. Soon after, the brilliant R.L. Stine came along for the younger kiddies, and J.K. Rowling blew off the door to the (not too) dark side for eight and nine-year-olds. The kids who grew up reading Harry Potter, as well as their younger brothers and sisters, are now looking for more: more fantasy, more witchcraft, ghosts and vampires. They’re looking for escapist literature.bene_lonely heartscopy

Many have found Stephanie Meyer and her Twilight series. My own teenage daughter adores these books. I haven’t taken the plunge. At sixteen, Pomegranate’s a fairly mature reader. She’s got a strong background in Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman literature, so she’s no stranger to edgy sexual and social relationships in fiction. She loves Shakespeare. I don’t worry too much when she reads, say, The Godfather or Hannibal because she seems to keep the violence and language in perspective—plus, we talk about what she’s reading.

A few days ago, I was signing books at my local Barnes and Noble when an eleven or twelve year-old girl picked up one of the paperback copies of my novel, Isabella Moon. Isabella Moon is a ghost story. The girl started reading the copy on the back of it, and when her mother came up to the table, the girl told her she wanted to buy it. I tensed.
Don’t get me wrong. I want to sell books. I just don’t want to sell books to children. I don’t write books for children. I write books for adults.
Both Isabella Moon and Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts are full of what one might euphemistically be called “adult situations.” Meaning lots of sex, buckets of violence and language that might not make a sailor blush, but will instantly bring a scowl to my mother’s face. There are vast numbers of adults who don’t like their books spiced with such things, and sometimes it’s hard to tell from a book’s cover what it might contain inside. (Sometimes clichés are spot-on.)

I’m certainly not casting any blame on J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer. I celebrate them because their books have brought kids to the bookstores in droves. It’s their subject matter that muddles the situation. J.K. Rowling’s books—for the most part—have a Halloween kind of darkness to them. Like every good Disney protagonist, her hero is an orphan. He lives in a boarding school. He’s goofy, but kind of cool. My understanding of Stephanie Meyer’s vampires is that they’re edgy in a West Side Story kind of way. Strictly PG or, maybe, PG-13.
But true evil isn’t PG-13. I look at evil as something that can insinuate itself into a person and wreak emotional and spiritual havoc. I look at it as something that can overflow into life-shattering chaos. Its habits and proclivities can be seductive, but they can also be brutal, sexually-charged and terrifying. Evil is chaos. Evil is unpredictable. It’s never pretty—at least not for long. I explore evil through my own work, but, in the end, I know that my work—just like Rowling’s and Meyer’s—can only approximate true evil. Even so, I have to ask, "How much is too much?"

My daughter has read my books in manuscript form, though I must confess that they were lightly redacted versions. Several pages had large Post-Its placed over the titillating parts like pasties on an exotic dancer. (Yes, the last time I saw an exotic dancer was in an Ann Margaret movie!) I don’t know if she peeked. Perhaps she did. And that would be a shame-on-mommy kind of thing. But I know her. I know that if she has questions, or something freaks her out, I’m there to answer her honestly.

Unfortunately, I can’t be there for every thirteen or fourteen year-old who picks up my books. I can only hope their parents are around, paying attention.

I told the mother of the girl at Barnes & Noble that she might want to look at Isabella Moon before her daughter read it, that it contained some adult material, and was quite frightening. The mother appeared unconcerned, and even bought Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts for herself, bless her. Perhaps the daughter was a mature reader, just like my daughter. I’m skeptical, though. I gave them my card with my email address and asked them to email me with their thoughts about it.  Maybe it’s just the mother in me, worrying.

So, speaking as a mother, if you’re under seventeen, don’t buy my books!

www.laurabenedict.com
Notes From the Handbasket
CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS, Now available from Ballantine Books!
ISABELLA MOON, Available in trade paperback

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Missed Opportunities

Not too long ago I was watching a primetime television show, as I am wont to do. And lo and behold, there was a commercial for the next Stephen King novel. It contained all of the bells and whistles of a movie trailer, and made those book trailers put together by authors on their own dime (mine, for instance) look woefully inadequate in comparison.

Which got me thinking: what an enormous wasted opportunity. Now I’m far from a publishing expert. Despite years working as a freelance writer, book publishing is still relatively new and shiny to me. And perhaps because of that I can see when they’re dropping the ball.

After all, not to begrudge Stephen King these promotional efforts, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say his sales are probably consistently healthy. When Stephen King has a new book coming out, his die-hard fans will know about it months in advance. And it’s not like that’s a small following. In addition to the commercials, there were probably full page ads in major book review sections and magazines, special mailings to bookstores, co-op placement…which is all well and good. But since a major complaint in the industry is that there are fewer and fewer of these blockbuster authors to rely on these days, why not seize the opportunity to create more?

For example, what if part of the commercial was devoted to a relatively unknown author whose work is similar to King’s? Showcase both titles, so that once the fans have torn through King’s latest offering, when they’re still hungry for more, another book leaps into their mind. Perhaps even set up some sort of promotional marketing, a reduced price for the purchase of both titles. You let King’s fans know about his latest release, and hopefully you introduce them to someone new. Why not take advantage of a built-in readership and expand on it?

Sounds pretty basic, right? Especially since when a J.K. Rowling decides to hang up her hat, or Dan Brown takes years to produce his next runaway bestseller, publishers start reeling as their sales plummet. Compare it to a sports team: put all the money in your stars and lose depth. If Peyton Manning gets knocked out of the lineup, you’re in deep trouble. But build a solid stable of players behind those stars, you’ve still got a chance of making the playoffs, or generating solid sales.
(On a side note, I actually have a tremendous amount of sympathy for Dan Brown. Go ahead and laugh, but can you imagine the pressure that poor man is under, having to write a follow-up to Da Vinci Code, knowing that the critics are waiting with knives that grow sharper by the year? I
picture him locked away in a room somewhere a la Howard Hughes, naked and filthy and pacing. But maybe that’s just me).

Anyway, that’s my two cents. Build a team for the future, with a wide, solid base, not one that perches precariously on a few backs. But I’d love to hear what you think…

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