Saturday, November 29, 2008

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is not accepting submissions at this time

Poets and Writers reports that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), one of the major players in the book publishing industry, has placed a "temporary" halt on all acquisitions of manuscripts, telling its editors NOT to accept any more book projects.

from the article: It’s been clear for months that it will be a not-so-merry holiday season for publishers, but at least one house has gone so far as to halt acquisitions. PW has learned that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has asked its editors to stop buying books.

Josef Blumenfeld, v-p of communications for HMH, confirmed that the publisher has “temporarily stopped acquiring manuscripts” across its trade and reference divisions. The directive was given verbally to a handful of executives and, according to Blumenfeld, is “not a permanent change.” Blumenfeld, who hedged on when the ban might be lifted, said that the right project could still go to the editorial review board. He also maintained that the the decision is less about taking drastic measures than conducting good business

This action has created a great deal of fear in the publishing industry. For a prominant publishing company to stop accepting submissions "at this time" is unprecedented. Plenty of smaller presses will decline submissions for a time (Medusa's Muse had to stop accepting unsolicited submissions and now has a reading period), but that usually has to do with staffing. HMH publishes an average of fifteen books a month, so to keep up that kind of volume they need a lot of submissions.

What does it mean? There are speculations that HMH is simply trying to streamline the number of books they publish each year, which in our current economy makes sense. But even when a press rethinks its strategy, never has a large house stopped accepting submissions altogether. Could HMH be in more financial trouble than anyone realizes? Is the book industry overall so close to collapse the big houses are starting to crumble?

Beyond the apprehension this move has created in the industry, imagine what it means for all those writers trying to get published. Even HMH's signed mid-list authors, those writers who have published books with the company but have had moderate sales, may have trouble getting their next book published by the press.

For the time being, there is one less major publisher accepting new projects. At fifteen new books a month, that's a lot of books not being published. Writers hungry for publication might find it that much harder to achieve.

In an article posted on Galley Cat, Janet Reid of FinePrint Literary Management has this to say.

from the article: "I think it's smoke and mirrors," she said of the announcement. "If they want something, they're going to get it."

She comments on the fact the acquisition department of HMH is extremely judicious about what types of book projects they accept and she sees the company's decision as nothing more than strategic (click above link to read full article).

Also, according to the Associated Press, the "freeze" at HMH has been greatly overrated.

from the article: "I don't work at the Harcourt offices so I called to find out if the story was true," Otto Penzler, whose Otto Penzler Books specializes in mystery books and releases 6-8 titles per year, said Wednesday.

Penzler was referring to media stories alleging that Harcourt Houghton Mifflin (HMH) had temporarily stopped acquiring new books.

"I was told that it had been blown out of proportion and that there was simply some belt-tightening going on. I asked, `Does this mean I can keep buying books?' `Absolutely,' I was told.

Should we in the book industry start panicking? Probably not.

Time will tell what exactly the acquisition freeze at HMH implies about the financial health of the company. What it tells me about the book industry is that we all need to take a look at our strategies and business plans and make certain we are adapting to the changes in the industry. No one can afford to do business as usual, or stick our heads in our piles of books and think it can't happen to us.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Escape from Editing Hell!

(image from

At last, I managed to finish a massive revision of the business book I'm writing. It took two weeks of intensive work, grabbing every moment I could one hour at a time, day and night, ignoring the phone, emails and blogs, and letting the housework pile up. I sent the file to Jane yesterday morning and then celebrated with a double Peppermint Mocha from Starbucks.

I love editing, but I hate revisions; a revision is when you actually have to DO the work the editor noted. You have to sit your butt in the chair and figure out exactly how to fix all the red marked problems the editor found; all those run-on sentences, awkward phrases and grammatical errors. It is tedious, arduous and demoralizing. But it is extremely necessary.

Occasionally while working I wanted to skip a note. I mean, who cares if I wrote "that" instead of "which?" Only my editor cares. I doubt the average reader will notice. But I forced myself to take my own advice which I had written so clearly on page 48. Do not skimp on the editing process. Every mistake you make will reflect poorly on the overall quality of the book. Yeah, yeah, yeah, like anyone really cares. Geesh, talk about obsessive!

But I did it and I felt like I'd reached the top of Kilimanjaro after being forced to wait an extra few weeks due to altitude sickness. The view was breathtaking. "I'm the Queen of the world," I shouted to the forest far below.

Um... excuse me. I hate to interrupt your musings, Terena, but this isn't the top.

It's not?

No, this is a good scenic spot, so take a break. The top is two more revisions ahead.


Well, until I get the notes back from Jane in a couple of weeks I'll rest here and enjoy not staring at a computer screen every spare moment of my life while working on the book I used to love. Used to love. Right now I don't even want to launch the damn thing!

I will also remember this feeling when I'm the one sending notes to my authors, telling them an entire chapter doesn't make sense to the overall plot of their book and they need to cut back on the scenic descriptions throughout. It's a miracle my authors don't have voodoo dolls of me on their desks they can stick pins in while muttering curses. Or maybe they do?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Agreement reached in Google Copyright Infringement Lawsuit

(image from the Guardian.UK)

On October 28, 2008, Google reached an agreement with the authors and publishers who had sued Google in 2005 for copyright infringement.Google got in trouble when the company began scanning books without permission into Google's online library. Thousands of pages of books, some technically still under copyright, were scanned to create a gigantic cyber-library that would rival the Great Library of Alexandria. You can imagine how upset this made authors and publisher.

What is copyright infringement? The Merriam Webster dictionary states:

Main Entry: in·fringe·ment
Pronunciation: \in-ˈfrinj-mənt\
Function: noun
Date: 1628
1 : the act of infringing : violation
2 : an encroachment or trespass on a right or privilege

and copyright is defined as:

Main Entry: copy·right
Pronunciation: \-ˌrīt\
Function: noun
Date: 1735
: the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something (as a literary, musical, or artistic work)

Basically, Google was charged with violating the rights of artists who owned the copyright of the books they were scanning.

Here is an article from Bloomberg about the settlement between Google and the claimants in the case with a good explanation of what the two parties agreed on.
Oct. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Google Inc. will pay $125 million to settle two copyright lawsuits by publishers and authors over its book-scanning project, a ``historic'' deal that the company said will make millions of books searchable and printable online.

The owner of the most popular Internet search engine said the agreement will expand the Google Book program to let online readers search for and buy copyrighted and out-of-print books in whole or page-by-page, and provide U.S. libraries with free access to the database.

``The tremendous wealth of knowledge that lies within the books of the world will now be at their fingertips,'' Google co- founder Sergey Brin said today in a statement, calling the accord ``historic.''

Google was sued in 2005 by the Author's Guild, Pearson Plc's Penguin unit, McGraw-Hill Cos., John Wiley & Sons Inc. and CBS Corp.'s Simon & Schuster subsidiary. They claimed the digitizing process infringed their copyrights on a massive scale. The project, which started in 2004, includes Harvard University, the New York Public Library and about 10,000 publishers.

And here is what the Author's Guild has to say about the issue.
They also have a link to the actual legal documents used in the case:

A couple months after I became Authors Guild president in 2006, we met with Google to propose a settlement to our class-action lawsuit. The Guild had sued Google in September 2005, after Google struck deals with major university libraries to scan and copy millions of books in their collections. Many of these were older books in the public domain, but millions of others were still under copyright protection. Nick Taylor, then the president of the Guild, saw Google’s scanning as “a plain and brazen violation of copyright law.” Google countered that its digitizing of these books represented a “fair use” of the material. Our position was: The hell you say. Of such disagreements, lawsuits are made. MORE

One of the more interesting perspectives on the settlement is from Ivan Hoffman, a lawyer specializing in the arts and copyright law:

Assuming that the federal court approves the settlement:

1. It is a settlement between the author-publisher class and Google but the settlement itself leaves many issues potentially unresolved with other parties who may have royalty interests but who are not "authors" including but not limited to some illustrators. In this regard, the following elements are excluded from the settlement coverage:

Photographs, graphic designs, artworks, illustrations (other than illustrations in children’s Books) and other images and works of visual art that are included in Books are not considered Inserts and are not covered by the Settlement, UNLESS the U.S. copyright interest in those works is held by the Rightsholder of the Book. Therefore, to the extent that persons only own copyrights in such materials, they are not members of the Class. The Settlement neither authorizes nor prohibits Google from displaying those materials through the Settlement, and no claims are released concerning any use of those materials.

Personally, I think having books available on the web for anyone to read is a great idea. However, I applaud Google's willingness to work with authors and publishers to ensure the creators of those books retain control over their work and are compensated for its use. The Internet is changing the way books are used in our culture so it would be foolish for writers to try and shut down the public's access to books on line. Instead, we need to work together, artists, publishers and companies such as Google, to embrace this new Internet world and help each other use it for everyones benefit.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sometimes all you can do is LOOK like you know what you're doing.

A fellow publishing friend said she was feeling a little intimidated by my marketing savvy. I had to laugh. Whenever you think I'm intimidating, just remember one thing: I have a BA in Drama. I was trained to look the part by the finest professionals San Francisco State had to offer.

When you're feeling completely lost, overwhelmed, slightly crazed and ready to throw in the towel, take a deep breath and try to PRETEND you know what you're doing. It's amazing how pretending to know what you're doing can actually make you FEEL like you do. And if you feel confidant in your abilities, it's amazing how much you can achieve.

I'm not talking about delusions of grandeur (oh, I am so knowledgeable about publishing I will soon be showered with money!) or conning people into thinking you're more knowledgeable than you really are (of course I can manage Random House. Why do you ask?). I'm talking about keeping your inner voices of self doubt under control.

Right now, I'm juggling too much which makes me feel inadequate. If I was stronger, faster, smarter, bionic and had an invisible plane, I could do EVERYTHING. But since I don't have any superpowers I'm just me, therefore, I'm a failure.

What the ...? Who said that? Failure? You have got to be kidding. Instead of giving in to that little voice who insists on me being perfect at all times, I square my shoulders, look at everything I am accomplishing despite being impossibly busy, and say, "I am a publishing Queen." I keep moving forward, one word on the page at a time. I do not negate my accomplishments because I cannot accomplish everything.

And eventually, I'll get to the other stuff that needs doing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dzanc Books Write-A-Thon

A quick shout-out to the Emerging Writer's Network and Dzanc Books Write-A-Thon happening this Saturday, November 15th, 2008. The write-a-thon supports the Non-Profit Dzanc Books, which sponsors writer's workshops, retreats, and publications of emerging writers. Dzanc is an excellent press focused on new works and new writing voices as well as supporting struggling writers everywhere. Their Emerging Writers Network is an excellent resource. If you don't know about it, you should.

Unfortunately I can't participate this year (I'm so slammed with schoolwork I can barely support my own press). If you would like to either sign up and get some sponsors (sorry, I didn't get this info out earlier), or support one of the participating writers by sponsoring a few pages, follow the link to the Dzanc Website.

Good luck, Dzanc. And keep up the excellent work.

Seth Godin and Marketing Lessons from the US Election

One of my favorite business bloggers is Seth Godin. Recently he wrote about the 2008 Election and what business can learn from it. A presidential campaign is a marketing campaign after all; both sides are trying to get you to believe their candidate is the best. Here is an excerpt from his post:

Stories really matter. More than a billion dollars spent, two 'products' that have very different features, and yet, when people look back at the election they will remember mavericky winking. You can say that's trivial. I'll say that it's human nature. Your product doesn't have features that are more important than the 'features' being discussed in this election, yet, like most marketers, you're obsessed with them. Forget it. The story is what people respond to.

Mainstream media isn't powerful because we have no other choices (see below). It's powerful because they're still really good at writing and spreading stories, stories we listen to and stories we believe.

The basic idea is the power of the Tribe, a cornerstone of Seth Godin's philosophy of marketing. Both candidates created a tribe, a group of individuals committed to an idea and person. Those tribes grew in number and strength and began spreading the story of their chosen candidate. But Obama's tribe outnumbered McCain's tribe, so Obama won the presidency. Simple idea.

How did Obama's tribe grow so strong and how does this relate to your publishing company, or any business for that matter?

When you are writing a book, or even a blog post, you should keep in mind WHO you are telling the story to. What do they need? This is basic marketing: discover what the market needs and fill that need, or at least convince them they need it (which is harder to do than simply fulfilling a real need). Obama won because he tapped into the greatest need our country has right now: real CHANGE. The people who needed the change joined his tribe because his story resonated with their own stories. It was harder for McCain to be the force of change because he is a member of the current administration's tribe, namely the Republican Party. But he is also a war hero, and his story of survival resonated with many. However, Obama didn't just talk about change, he actually was different. McCain tried hard to convince us he was "Change," and many people joined his tribe, but he couldn't convince enough people that he was REAL CHANGE. See the difference?

So when you're writing your book think about what you're trying to achieve with that book and who will benefit from it. How does the story create change for the person who will read it? Why will they benefit? Does the book really fill the promise you made by writing it? Or are you trying to sell an old idea as something new? It's not impossible to do, but it is harder, as McCain discovered.

This is a very quick summary of what business can learn from the US Election. There is more specific information in the article about using the media to spread your story, so follow the above link to Seth Godin's blog. And sign up for his newsletter. Each email post I receive from his site is short and very helpful.

Monday, November 10, 2008

How Publishers Can Help Refugees

After Hurricane Katrina, McSweeneys, an independent press created by author Dave Eggers, published "Voices from the Storm; The People of New Orleans on Hurricane Katrina and Its Aftermath." This book gave the people directly impacted by the floods from the levee breaks in New Orleans a chance to tell their stories, stories that were terrifying, hopeful, angry, and affirming. With so much death and damage caused from the storm, and the likelihood there will be more catastrophic storms in the future, why would anyone want to come back to New Orleans? The answer is simple: it's home.

Home really is where the heart is. Home is where we feel connected to our family and friends, to our history. It marks where we come from, even if that place is newly adopted. It is where we BELONG, regardless of whether or not we were born there. As a species, we humans need a tribe and a shelter where we can feel safe and supported.

Katrina gave Americans a glimpse into what being a refugee is like. In our sheltered country, free from internal warfare, the idea of being driven from our homes for more than a week or two is unimaginable.

What if those refugees were driven out of their homes by a war? What if they could NEVER go back? What if they were persecuted everywhere they went, starved out of camps, driven away by neighbors who are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the refugee's need? That is exactly what is happening in places like the Sudan.

Again, McSweeney's is helping refugees be heard. In the book "Out of Exile," edited by Craig Walzer, stories from Sudanese refugee and abductee survivors have been collected in the hope those stories will help raise awareness of the plight of these people. The stories are powerful and terrifying, yet also life affirming. The people survive despite starvation and warfare. They do the best they can for their children and family and hope for the future, that one day they may go home.

Simply by sharing the stories of people who are so powerless they are homeless, publishers can help change the world, one story at a time. We can offer our expertise to those who are not heard, but should be; to those who's voices have been gagged. We can spread awareness of the problems refugees face and work toward reuniting families so that one day they can return home. If not the home of their birthplace, then at least a new home for themselves, free from persecution and slavery, where they can rebuild their lives in safety and know their children will have enough to eat.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

You Know You're Not Paying Attention When You Fall Into A Big Hole In The Sidewalk

On Thursday I was hurrying to the BART station to catch a train in time to make Fremont for my 9:00 am class. The sun was very bright as I walked directly east and the sidewalk was shaded by parked cars. I was thinking about all the homework I still had to do and the O and M skills test coming on Monday and the fact I have yet to update the Medusa's Muse website and.... BAM! I was sprawled out on the sidewalk. I had fallen into one of those large, square holes where there used to be a tree. The tree was gone, leaving a gaping trap for anyone blinded by sunshine and not watching where they were going to fall into.

I got up slowly and realized my foot hurt, but didn't seem too bad. My left knee throbbed, the palms of my hands were scraped, but I hadn't hit my head and wasn't limping. However, by the time I got off the BART train over an hour later, I was limping horribly with stabbing pain in my right foot. I made it to class, found an icepack, and spent the rest of the day long workshop (we were learning how to do vision assessments) with my foot propped up. Luckily one of my fellow students gave me a ride back to San Francisco where my car was parked at a friend's house. But I still had to drive the 2 hours back home that night, my foot and knee throbbing like crazy. Thank goodness for cruise control.

The next day, I felt every area that had made contact with the cement, namely the entire front of my body. I was bruised and aching and no amount of Tylenol could fix it. I spent the day working on my assessment report while watching Barabara Stanwyck movies, trying not to move.

If I'd been paying attention to where I was walking, I doubt I would've fallen. The hole was enormous, so regardless of the sun shining directly into my eyes, I probably would've seen it in time and avoided it. Instead, I plowed right through and ended up front down on the sidewalk.

It took falling to make me realize I am too much in my head these days. Not surprising; there's just too much to do and I feel that I'm constantly playing catch up, scrambling up a rocky hill that is collapsing under my feet. The amount of work is impossible and all needs to be done now. I made my list, distinguishing "Important" from "Unimportant," but everything is so dang IMPORTANT right now, not the least being a mom to my daughter. Because it all needs to be done, I'm not doing any of it very well. For a type A perfectionist like me, half-assed work is unacceptable.

Oh well. Sometimes you have to let go of being perfect and allow yourself to be adequate. Decide what needs to be top-notch (like the books themselves that you publish) and what can be done quickly, but not so perfectly (updating the website, perhaps?). It's true that everything MUST be done, but cut yourself some slack. Running a small business is hard work. So your records aren't color coded and up to date every week. As long as you can find what you need before tax time, you don't have to have everything organized alphabetically.

Because I am such a perfectionist, it takes an injury to get me to slow down. I wish I'd learn to stop and breath BEFORE I fall into a gigantic hole in the sidewalk that anyone who'd been watching where they were going would've noticed. Now I'm stuck on the couch with my foot propped up, forced to sit still and pay attention to right now.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Bloggers Unite

This morning I woke up thinking, "Obama is our president!" I still can't beleive it. I'm not one to follow leaders or believe anything politicians say, especially while campaigning, but last night while I watched Obama's acceptance speech surrounded by 300 cheering people packed into our local community center, I BELIEVED. He inspires people and now as the new leader of the United States he can lead the way for us citizens to create the change this country needs. I wept as I watched him promise us that change is possible, and I wanted to rush outside and get to work right that minute.

One way bloggers can help foster change in our own country and the world is through Bloggers Unite.

From their website: Bloggers Unite is an attempt to harness the power of the blogosphere to make the world a better place. By asking bloggers to write about a particular subject on 1 day of the month, a single voice can be joined with thousands to help make a difference; from raising awareness for cancer, to an effort to better education systems or supporting 3rd world countries.

Nov 10 is the next Bloggers Unite event, this time to raise awareness of the plight of refugees. If you have a blog and want to help spread awareness, sign up at the Bloggers Unite website and download a badge for your site.

It is important we don't put all our hopes on one man and not do the hard work ourselves. If we want to turn our country around, get out of this economic mess, provide education and health care, repair the image of the US in the eyes of the world which will help keep Americans safe here and abroad, and bring our troops home safe and sound, we have to be willing to get to work. You don't have to give money or a lot of time. Just take a tiny step and donate your blog to support refugee awareness so those people may come home again.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Studs Terkel, Writer and Activist, Has Died

One of my literary, and personal, heroes has died. Studs Terkel, author of Hard Time, a chronicle of the Great Depression as told to him by the people living through it, died in Chicago on Friday at the age of 96.

From Democracy Now, on which Mr. Terkel was a frequent guest:

Monday, November 3, 2008 :The legendary radio broadcaster, writer, oral historian, raconteur and chronicler of our times, Studs Terkel, died Friday at the age of ninety-six in his home town of Chicago. Over the years, Terkel has been a regular guest on Democracy Now! In 2005, he appeared on the show shortly after undergoing open heart surgery. “My curiosity is what saw me through," Terkel said. "What would the world be like, or will there be a world? And so, that’s my epitaph. I have it all set. Curiosity did not kill this cat. And it’s curiosity, I think, that has saved me thus far.”
The legendary radio broadcaster, writer, oral historian, raconteur, and chronicler of our times, Studs Terkel died Friday at the age of 96 in his home-town of Chicago.
Born in 1912 in New York City, Studs Terkel moved with his family to Chicago at the age of ten, where he spent most of his life. Over the years he has worked as an activist, a civil servant, a labor organizer, a radio DJ, an ad writer, and a television actor.

But since the 1960s, he was particularly well-known as a world-class interviewer, a writer and radio personality who drew celebrities and, far more often, average citizens into sharing their stories.

For forty-five years, from 1952 to 1997, Studs Terkel spent an hour each weekday on his nationally syndicated radio show on WFMT interviewing the famous and the not-so-famous. With his unique style of speaking about subjects such as race, war and employment, Terkel spent decades interviewing Americans across the country, creating intimate portraits of everyday life and chronicling changing times through this century.

He wrote over a dozen books, with his long awaited memoir “Touch and Go” coming out just last year. He won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the George Polk Career Award and the presidential National Humanities Medal.

Studs Terkel never stopped speaking out. Just a year ago, at the age of 95, he wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times criticizing the Bush administration’s warrantless spy program.

The book Hard Times affected me strongly when I read it in my twenties and helped shape the kind of person and publisher I am today. Everyone needs the ability to share their story, to speak out and express their own ideas and opinions. Mr. Terkel extended that right to those who are often ignored. After reading his book and learning more about him, I began to see the world as a network of millions of stories. Every individual living their lives, surviving, laughing, believing, sacrificing for their families and dreaming of a better future. Every story impacted another. Every choice changed the world in often minuscule ways. We all have the power to transform the world just by telling our stories.

Go to the Studs Terkel website to hear interviews with him, including interviews he conducted with some of the Great Depression survivors. Democracy Now also has many interviews with him, including "Curiosity Didn't Kill This Cat."