New York State of Mind

Tuesday, October 30, 2007, 9:37 PM

For the last week or so I've planned to write a great big post about my imminent trip to New York and what it means to me. Time has got the better of me, however, so it will be little tiny one instead.

In short, my inner child is as excited as a twelve-year-old girl who just found out she's getting a pony. It feels like Christmas Eve, and it's many years since Christmas Eve felt like anything more than an excuse to crack open a beer. This might be harder to understand for those that live in the USA, and even stranger to those who have lived in New York, but this is like going to Oz or Narnia, a visit to a mythical place I've seen on the screen and the page my whole life. Every now and again I'll be doing something entirely mundane, and I'll all of a sudden think "Holy crap! I'm going to New York!"

I'm going to be such a tourist. Don't be surprised if I end up with a baseball cap saying "I Heart NY". On Thursday I'll be on top of the Empire State Building, on Friday I'll walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, on Saturday I'll see Van Halen, and Sunday I'll indulge the seven-year-old me and visit the Bronx Zoo so I can laugh at the monkeys.

There'll be a big post when I get back (most likely with lots of boring photos).


A most interesting post...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007, 10:51 PM

...from someone who actually knows what they're talking about can be found on Moonrat's blog.

I'm not sure if it was prompted by the first in the fabulous Conduit Lectures posts (in which I demonstrate that I don't know what I'm talking about), but it goes a long way to shedding light on why the publishing industry seems to move so slowly. An interesting read, and amongst all the blogs about the publishing industry out there at the minute, it's one of the most informative I've read in quite some time.

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The Conduit Lectures: How to Fix the Publishing Industry, Part 2

Sunday, October 21, 2007, 9:37 PM

Welcome to the second instalment of The Conduit Lectures, a series of blogs where I embarrass myself by blathering about things I have no business blathering about (whilst at the same time watching the Brazilian Formula 1 Grand Prix, which just got off to a dramatic start).

By popular demand, this rant will feature another sequence of dinosaur dialogue – or Dinologue, as it shall henceforth be known – but I will not bow to pressure to rename the series The Conduit Chronicles. So there. I will reiterate, these pieces are purely opinion and speculation on my part, and I’d welcome the comments of those more knowledgeable than myself.

Are we sitting comfortably? Then, let’s begin…

Books, books everywhere and not a word to read

There have been various posts on various blogs in recent days discussing the pros and cons of chain stores versus independents and large versus small publishers. In my part of the world, the independent book store is extinct. My local supermarket has a small book section that sells current bestsellers, but other than that I have to travel to an out-of-town shopping centre to be able browse books on a shelf. And this is where I start to get annoyed…

Girls and Boys

It’s clear that gender plays a significant role in our tastes in all forms of entertainment, from movies to music to books. I conform to many of the conventions; I have all the Star Wars DVDs, I have a penchant for questionable classic rock, and I’d rather eat my own hair than watch Dirty Dancing. But I also have The Devil Wears Prada alongside my Die Hard box set, and Joni Mitchell and Suzanne Vega CDs sit next to my AC/DC and Van Halen collections. While my tastes are influenced by my having dangly parts, they are neither defined nor limited by them.

Why, then, do I feel so disadvantaged when I go to my nearest book chain? In my local branch of Eason’s I see yard after yard of pastel shades, funky typefaces, and cute girly caricatures (often involving handbags or stilettos). There are occasional patches of books with moody covers with abstract photography of barren cityscapes which usually denote the sixth in a series of murder mysteries starring some hard-bitten cop or another. Such novels are no more to my taste than the pastel shades are.

The question I find myself asking is: where are the books for me? I am an adult male with (I’d like to think) a reasonable level of intelligence and life experience. Why does somebody, somewhere, think that means I only want to read techno-thrillers or worthy literary fiction? I want books that entertain me while making me think. I want challenging characters in challenging situations. I want my imagination to be fired by being plunged into places I’ve never been, by experiences I’ve never had, by people I’ve never met.

What don’t I want to read about?

Here’s a list:

1. Doomsday weapons falling into the hands of terrorists/despots/mad industrialists.
2. Rugged mercenaries called Blaze McTesticle pursuing said Doomsday weapon.
3. Former-cops-turned-private-eyes with tragic pasts who…
4. Get called back into service by the organisation that fired them, or…
5. Get a message from an ex-wife/girlfriend/partner/boss/mentor they haven’t heard from in years who subsequently dies in suspicious circumstances leading to…
6. An investigation that leads the protagonist into dangerous territory, or…
7. A race against time to save some loved-one or other.
8. Middle-class, soul-searching, chin-stroking, navel-gazing explorations of the human condition with a male character aged between thirty-five and fifty who is…
9. A doctor…
10. A professor…
11. A teacher…
12. A novelist…
13. A journalist…
14. Especially not a journalist, who…
15. Has a mid-life crisis…
16. An affair…
17. A divorce…
18. A reconciliation with his estranged father, or…
19. Attends a funeral which forces him to examine the futility of his own existence.
20. Or even worse, a young academic who does any of the above while embarking on a torrid relationship with a kooky girl with unusually coloured hair.

Me man. Me no read.

As I understand it, the majority of fiction bought today is by and for women. Men buy comparatively few books. And why is this? Is it because men spend their leisure time on other things? Playing computer games? Watching sports? Watching television? Drinking beer and scratching their arses?

Actually, I spend a fair amount of time doing that last bit, but that’s not the point…

Is it simply that men generally don’t like to read? Or is there another possibility? Is it feasible that maybe, just maybe, men buy fewer books because the publishing industry isn’t producing enough of the kind of books they want to read?

So, where are the dinosaurs?

It’s Jurassic Analogy time. In this episode, we discover how T.Rex and Raptor view the male of the species…


RAPTOR: What the hell is that thing?
T.REX: That? Oh, that's a caveman.
RAPTOR: Caveman? But we're separated by millions of years of evol--
T.REX: Shut up.
RAPTOR: But we couldn't possibly be in the same--
T.REX: Look, shut up! You're ruining the analogy.
RAPTOR: Jeez, sorry! So it's a caveman.
T.REX: Yeah, a caveman.
RAPTOR: So, what are they like?
T.REX: Well, you've basically got two types.
RAPTOR: And what are they?
T.REX: First, you've got the manly caveman. He likes hitting stuff with his club, running around a lot, scratching his ass. That kind of thing.
RAPTOR: He doesn't like anything too smart, then.
T.REX: Yep, that about sums him up.
RAPTOR: And what's the other type?
T.REX: The artsy-fartsy caveman. He's your intellectual type. Gazes at the moon and does cave-drawings. Y'know, artsy-fartsy stuff.
RAPTOR: What does he draw?
T.REX: Pictures about the futility of existence.
RAPTOR: Huh. Sounds boring. So, there's nothing in between? There are no other types? Just those two?
T.REX: Yep, just those two. They taste good, though.
RAPTOR: I don't know. I'm still not convinced by this analogy thing. I can't get past the millions of years of separation. I can't suspend my disbelief.
T.REX: Can't suspend your disbelief? Dude, dinosaurs can't talk.

Join me next time when I explore the topic of genre, and how while pigeonholing books may be a necessary evil, it's just that: evil.

DISCLAIMER: The above text is the rambling nonsense of someone with no connection to the publishing industry other than being at its two extremes. All opinions expressed are more than likely the reflection of a bitter and cantankerous mind and no warranty as to their validity is given or implied. All comments are welcome, particularly from those who actually know what they're talking about. Just remember I don't.

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The Conduit Lectures: How to Fix the Publishing Industry, Part 1

Wednesday, October 17, 2007, 11:10 PM

To celebrate the occasion of my 100th blog entry, I hereby introduce the inaugural edition of a new series I shall call The Conduit Lectures. In this series I will write at length, quite probably in rambling and nonsensical circles, on topics I know absolutely nothing about. At this stage I can't be sure how many of these diatribes there'll be, or how often they'll appear, but I can promise they will have no basis in reality, have few researched and verifiable facts, and be entirely subjective.

So, here we go…

How to Fix the Publishing Industry

That's a tough topic, and one I am in no way qualified to pontificate on. But I'm going to do it anyway. Of course, before we can fix anything, we need to establish:

What's wrong with the publishing industry?

In a nutshell, the publishing industry in Europe and the USA is failing to serve the two elements at the opposite ends of its spectrum, the two elements without which it could not exist. Those two elements are authors and readers.

Authors are struggling to get their work published, and even when they do, they seldom profit from it in any significant way.

Readers are struggling to find good books by new authors with fresh voices, and are instead falling back on established names and reliable genres.

The existing structures and business practices of the industry are failing to bridge the gap between those two elements.

At least the dinosaurs had an excuse...

A big hunk of rock from space did them in. If their woes were more like those of the publishing industry, the movie script of their decline might have been something like this:


T.REX: So, where's all the food?
RAPTOR: Dunno. There was plenty here yesterday.
T.REX: But I'm hungry.
RAPTOR: Me too.
T.REX: So, what are we going to do?
RAPTOR: There's a herd of herbivores way over yonder.
T.REX: What? I'm not going over there.
RAPTOR: Why not? We might be able to catch one and, y'know, eat it.
T.REX: But that isn't how it works. They're supposed to wander too close to us and we grab 'em.
RAPTOR: So, why don't we change the way it works?
T.REX: 'Cause we always do it this way.
RAPTOR: Oh. Well if you're not changing it, neither am I.
T.REX: Fine.
T.REX: I'm hungry.
RAPTOR: Me too.

While most industries, whether they be service or manufacturing based, have moved with the new dynamics of our world the publishing industry has for the most part remained mired in antiquated practices. Check just about any publishing professional's blog; when they're pressed about the industry's inefficiencies, they'll usually respond with something along the lines of, "Well, that's just how it works."

The Glacier

In most instances, a book will take from one to two years from the deal being struck to when it finally appears on shelves. Add to that the time it took to write it in the first place, plus if it's a first novel, the time it takes to find representation, and then the time it takes to polish and edit it before it goes out to editors. That might be three to four years between a writer first sitting down at a keyboard and the fruits of his or her labour appearing at a retailer near you.

They make movies in less time.

Of course, there are many things that need to occur in that chain of events, such as the actual writing, the drawing up of contracts, the copy editing, the marketing, all that stuff. But what I wonder is this: how much of that three to four year period is lost to simple inefficiency? I'm not offering an answer, or speculating. I simply don't know.

So, the author may knock out a polished draft in as little as six months to a year, and a reader will spend ten minutes browsing paperbacks on a stand before purchasing that author's creation. It's that enormous gap in between that concerns me, and quite frankly, I wonder why it doesn't seem to concern the industry.

How can any industry expect to thrive if it cannot react rapidly to changes in the market? Like a massive cruise liner sailing the literary oceans, the industry's turning circle is so large that changes in direction are achingly slow to the point of being imperceptible. Given this Ent-like pace, the industry naturally wants to avoid undue risks. It plays the long game, like a thrifty bank manager's retirement fund. Steady as you go.

It plays it safe.

In part 2 I shall explore one of the symptoms of this malaise, and how it results in my not being able to find a single book I want to buy when I visit my local store.

DISCLAIMER: The above text is the rambling nonsense of someone with no connection to the publishing industry other than being at its two extremes. All opinions expressed are more than likely the reflection of a bitter and cantankerous mind and no warranty as to their validity is given or implied. All comments are welcome, particularly from those who actually know what they're talking about. Just remember I don't.

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Where have all the good blogs gone?

Monday, October 15, 2007, 8:55 PM

As Ray Davies of The Kinks once asked, where have all the good blogs gone?

Well, actually, it was 'good times', not 'good blogs', but you get my meaning. As the first anniversary of my own blog approaches, I have just returned from a blogging break. As I work through my daily diet of writing-related blogs I find myself tiring of many old favourites. In particular I'm getting a little jaded with the agent blogs where I find I'm reading the same things again and again. What can often be worse are the comments, where various desperate writers (myself included) chip in with sycophancy that occasionally borders on the ridiculous.

In one example, an agent openly berated a client on their blog. While the agent didn't name the client, that client would surely have known they were being publicly ridiculed by someone they pay to act in their best interests. When one brave commenter dared to question the professionalism of this public airing of dirty laundry, a string of fellow aspiring authors pounced, defending the agent for the indefensible, presumably in the hopes of getting on the agent's good side.

I'll admit I've done it myself, hanging around agent blogs, chipping in with my comments, and sometimes erring on the side of ass-kissing. We all do it in the course of our professional lives from time-to-time, so I'm not knocking it. It's just sometimes the commenters go a tad overboard.

I believe Miss Snark was correct in taking her bows when she did, and few others are still holding my interest. One notable exceptions are the always informative and entertaining Nathan Bransford and the matter-of-fact and educational Kristen Nelson.

Over the last few weeks I've come across some other blogs, mostly by other writers, so I think a round-up of my new things-to-read-instead-of-working places is called for. In no particular order...

Josephine Damian

Forensics lady who was my most vocal advocate in the recent First Line Contest of which I was a finalist. Her blog contains book reviews, interviews and all sorts of good things.


Another supporter during the recent contest. Here you'll find general musings, and occasional thought-provocation, on writing in general.


And once again, a supporter during the contest. Okay, there may be a pattern developing here, but not ALL of them will be people who gave me their votes. Honest. Anyway, Ello is a lawyer and writer. Her posts are always thoughtful and entertaining. She also recently got into a bout of keyboard fisticuffs with some strangers over an author's petulant response to a negative review. Needless to say, she kicked her attackers' arses up between their shoulder blades. Don't pick a fight with this woman. You will lose.


Last but not least, I discovered this blog courtesy of Ello just a few days ago. Moonrat is a New York based editor at an undisclosed publisher. She posts frequently, sometimes about publishing, but more often about life in general. I have been digging back through the archives and laughing out loud at regular intervals. The most entertaining blog I've found in quite some time.

And that's it for now. I may have forgotten some, and if so, I'll add them as I remember. I'll also add all these to my links over on the left as and when I get time.