Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Group Biographies


Elon Musk, ceo of Tesla Motors, announced that he was reading a book called Twelve Against the Gods, which is a group biography of historical figures, such as Alexander the Great, Columbus, and Casanova. The book is out of print, but online price for it on Amazon.com jumped to $99. Previously, it was about $6. This is EXACTLY the kind of book our ex-agent told us never sells. (group biographies) We published a series of eight such bios, all linked to a certain country or geographical area. They too are out of print, but maybe we can interest some publisher in returning them to print. Look for French Portraits, Italian Portraits, South American Portraits, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, African, and Italian Portraits. Good reading!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Silence of the Publisher

Well, I found an agent to represent my book THE JAIL ROBBER. (Check previous posts for synopsis.) The last adult nonfiction book my wife and I wrote, THE CRIMES OF PARIS, had a clause in the contract (standard) requiring us to submit our next nonfiction book for adults to them. So the agent did that. It was hard finding someone to send it to, because our previous editor there was fired, and his assistant disappeared. So the agent finally did find someone with a pulse and submitted the proposal. Heard nothing for five weeks, so he called and emailed. No response. Aren't publishers wonderful?
This is the same publisher whose sub rights person tried to talk the editor at Vanity Fair out of buying the serial rights to our last book. We heard that first from the VF editor, and then the sub rights person at the publisher of THE CRIMES OF PARIS admitted it was true. Her excuse? "I thought it was a different book."
Lesson for ordinary writers: Unless you publish under the name James Patterson, don't bother publishing at Little, Brown.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Japanese Battle Helmet

We were in the Walters Museum in Baltimore, where our daughter is the curator of ancient American Art. They have many great things on exhibit. We saw this Japanese battle helmet, which was unlike any we've seen before. Never saw one with axes for decoration.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

When was the last time that an article on punctuation made the front page of the NY Times? Well, in this case, the lack of an "Oxford comma" cost a company in Maine millions of dollars. What's an Oxford comma? If you have a sequence of three or more things, then in a, b, and c the comma after b is the Oxford comma. Some people, you see, would punctuate it like this: a, b and c. Well, a contract dispute between a trucking company and its employees cost the company several million dollars because it had to pay some truckers extra retirement money because they were included in its retirement plan. They wouldn't have been included had the Oxford comma been used. So remember: always write a, b, and c.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Looking on my previous posts for something new to write about, I found an old post I put up here in November. As you may recall (or if you just read it), I got a rejection from a publisher on the grounds that the idea I sent him was not new enough. So I immediately sent him a proposal for a book on a topic that I positively know hasn't been written about for nearly a hundred years. In case you're interested, it concerns the man who was regarded as New York City's top lawyer in the 1920s. He was known as "the Jail Robber," for his ability to keep his clients out of jail. One of his clients was Nicky Arnstein, who was the husband of Fanny Brice, the person whose life story was the subject of the musical play and movie Funny Girl. In Funny Girl, Nicky goes to jail for getting caught up in some scheme that he shouldn't have. Of course, he's really a good guy.
The truth is completely different. Nicky was accused of being a "mastermind" of a complex scheme to steal more than $5 million worth of stocks and bonds, and implicated in murdering one of the messengers who carried the stocks. How the Jail Robber took his case to the Supreme Court, and established a new legal precedent, is only one of the cases in my proposed book.
Well, the long and short of it is that I never heard from the publisher. Nothing at all, which is par for the course in the publishing world today, even though it's easier than ever just to send somebody a quick email saying you're not interested. So be prepared to be ignored if you're trying to sell a book. That's my tip for today.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Zhou Youguang, the man who developed the pinyin system of writing for China, died yesterday. He was 111. His obituary mentions that he published 10 books after he turned 100. Encouragement!

Incidentally, in my last post I mentioned sending a proposal to a publisher. He never responded, despite the fact that email makes it easy to send a stock rejection to writers' proposals. Agents frequently do this too. Does that indicate anything about the contempt they have for writers? I think so.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

One of the many things that irritates me about the publishing world is that agents invariably tell you that when you prepare a proposal for a nonfiction book, you must include the titles of at least three recently published books that are similar to the one you're proposing. When I first saw this, some years ago now, I assumed it was to reassure publishers that your idea was original. But I soon learned that the opposite was the case: publishers are as insecure as a herd of sheep--or at least agents think they are. They want to be assured that other publishers have found your topic suitable enough to take the risk of publishing it.
So the other day I was pleased to get a rejection from a publisher to whom I'd sent a proposal. (As you probably know, it's extremely difficult to find a publisher who will even consider direct submissions from that lowest of creatures, the writer. Publishers want to be assured that some person calling himself or herself an agent has already approved of the work.)
Anyway this publisher replied quickly and praised the idea, but said he was turning it down because "there's not enough here that's new."
Wow. So I immediately sent him a proposal for a biography I've been working on for some time, but about which I knew that one of the my former agents would tell me, "Nobody has ever heard of this person." That's another rule: you can't write about anything that readers are likely to find unusual or different.
So we'll see what the publisher's reply is to this.