No More Book Advances?

My fellow writers will be interested in a report in today’s Huffington Post that a new imprint at Harper-Collins plans to try an experiment in which authors would receive lower advances (or no advances at all) in exchange for a higher back-end share of book sales. Given the way Hollywood’s creative accounting usually reduces the back-end share to nil, I’d be afraid of the publisher adopting similar techniques. Also given the fact that most authors — and especially new authors — don’t get big advances in the first place, and the further fact that many authors rely on what advances they get to pay for niceties such as food while they write the books in the first place, this doesn’t sound like a winning situation for authors.

The article is “New HarperCollins Unit To Try To Cut Author Advances.” In this experiment,

At least two planned features break from traditional practices that have been aggravated by the increasing reliance on blockbuster hits for profits: The imprint will pay lower advances, or none at all, but divide profits equally (instead of 15 percent of the retail price or lower for the author); releases will be sent to stores on a nonreturnable basis.

At the moment it’s one imprint of one publishing house; it’ll be interesting to see whether this idea works — especially in terms of the rule that “money flows toward the author” — and if it spreads.

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Sputnik Documentary

This TED segment was posted in the last few days (it was originally presented last year), in which documentarian David Hoffman presents clips from his movie Sputnik Mania. His hindsight isn’t quite 20/20, I don’t think — he seems to ascribe nefarious motives only to the U.S. — but some of the historical footage is quite good.

Note the comment on the page, pointing out a technical error in the animation. Mr. Cordes, the commenter, is quite right: the animation shows the satellite traversing from northeast to southwest, but in a prograde orbit its ground trace would traverse either southwest to northeast (ascending) or northwest to southeast (descending).

I wish I could say I’d caught that, but I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Which is why I wouldn’t make a good movie critic.

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I Saw My House on Google Today

Not on the overhead satellite view in Google Maps, which is pretty neat, but on the “street view.” It puts you right out in front of the house: look, there’s the car in the driveway.

The picture looks to be 6-9 months old (the plants around the mailbox are different now and the neighbor’s house is no longer for sale), and apparently has been on the Net for about 6 weeks. Why our little suburb was important enough for them to photograph and upload, I don’t know; but if it’s any indication, I expect your house will be up there soon.

What a world we live in.

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Why I Write Stories

On my shelves are books by people at least tangentially related to me, but which I have never read. I’ve picked them up, thumbed through them, and put them back again more times than I can count.

The history of the Page family is interesting mostly for the plate in the front with the same coat of arms that’s engraved on my onyx tie tack (which may have been part of an official seal); the printed version is much more detailed than the signet, with the motto Spe Labor Levis (“With Hope, Labor Becomes Light”) proudly emblazoned on the scroll. I haven’t cared to read it because marriage and adoption make that family name about thrice-removed from me (that, and the fact that it’s 115 years old and not in great shape). In a similar way, the slender chemistry book is interesting primarily in establishing for me a link between nitric acid and the manufacture of explosives, but it’s not something I care to pore over. I feel certain my descendents and others further removed will feel the same way about my nonfiction, which I’ve tried to make timely but will never be timeless.

If I can write some decent stories, however — with lively, realistic characters facing difficult challenges — stories that speak clearly and perhaps powerfully, stories refined in the crucible of professional editing and publication — maybe they will be more than bookshelf curiosities. At this point in time that’s still an “if,” but I keep plugging along. And maybe as my body returns to the elements of the universe, someone can read my words and find some value in them.

That’s why I write stories.

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Fixing Broken Links

This weekend I worked on my monthly website update, between sessions of reading a high-priority manuscript for Baen and, for the university, editing a bunch of page-long program descriptions into single paragraphs each. Not only did I not get as far on the update as I would’ve liked, I got bogged down trying to fix a bunch of broken links.

I’m pretty certain I missed a few, and the question is whether I’ll be able to find and fix them before I go final with the April installment. I think I already know the answer to that one.

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Play Ball!

Opening night of the new baseball season, with a stirring rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and a decent first pitch by President Bush — not a strike, but better too high than to throw it in the dirt.

Now, if only I didn’t have two simultaneous projects to work on so I could actually enjoy the game….

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As if I don’t read enough already — slush for Baen, science and current affairs articles for my university job, and a little (precious little!) pleasure reading — on the advice of a good friend I started reading Senator Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. (I love libraries.) It’ll be slow going, I think, since I’m using it as my “put me to sleep at night” reading.

I was interested in his characterization of his run for the Senate as “one last race.” Famous last words, as my mom used to say.

And I wasn’t sure how to take his detailed descriptions of the Senate chambers — the doors and damask and all that. On one hand, I was surprised that anyone other than an interior decorator or architecture buff would be so observant, and so was skeptical that he actually wrote that part himself. On the other hand, I was a little jealous that I’m not that observant … and I think my writing probably suffers as a result.

More on this subject at another time. Break’s over; back to the slush.

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Rev. Wright and the Imams

Beneath the kerfuffle over the incendiary statements Rev. Jeremiah Wright made during sermons at Trinity United Church of Christ, the episode illustrates our very human tendency not to confront those in whom we have vested authority. It’s true in most places, of most people, that we rarely confront those whom we have accepted as leaders and especially those who represent to us some legitimate authority.

Where, for instance, are the moderate Muslims who disagree with and disapprove of the fatwas issued by radical clerics? They exist, and remain silent.

Where are the moderate members of Rev. Wright’s parish who disagree with and disapprove of his comments? They exist, and remain silent.

We are far more apt to challenge those whose authority and legitimacy we don’t recognize or to whom we have few ties; thus, in politics in our free country, we have no shortage of critics no matter who is in power. It’s very difficult, however, to stand up against a legitimate authority figure — one whom we have ample reason to respect and follow under normal circumstances — and say, “No, that’s wrong.” It takes courage; and when we are faced with difficult pronouncements from religious leaders that kind of courage is particularly hard to come by.

It would have been nice to hear the story of a courageous Senator Obama calling his spiritual advisor on the carpet for denigrating the United States of America (especially after his swearing-in as a Senator). In the same way, it would be wonderful to hear about courageous Muslims calling their imams and mullahs and clerics on the carpet for the heinous pronouncements they make. The latter requires more courage, however, since the potential penalty could be much more severe than the former; that in itself tells us something about the Islamofascists in authority in radical Islam, and why the civilized world should extirpate them.

I remember hearing Larry Crabb quote Pascal to the effect that when the whole world is moving in the same direction (e.g., toward depravity), it only takes one person who decides to stand still to show the wrong movement for what it is.* But that one person has to “be strong and courageous,” as the Scripture says. Which is why it doesn’t happen quite as often as it should.

*He used the illustration in his address to the 1994 National Youthworker’s Convention in San Diego.

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Suburban Decline

I sent this article — “On Borrowed Time,” by Michael Gecan (from Boston Review) — to the rest of the folks on the Public Arts Advisory Board, but other civic-minded folks would probably be interested in it as well.

It discusses urban decline, suburban growth, urban renewal, and suburban decline in the Chicago area; specifically, DuPage County. Given the growth issue here in Cary, NC, this passage caught my attention:

By the date of the meeting, however, the developers who had helped double DuPage’s population in just 30 years had run out of land. The income generated by their construction efforts had dwindled to a trickle. Education and public safety costs continued to climb.

His run-down of ways municipalities avoid reality — denial, gimmicks, blaming “others,” and withdrawal — was especially interesting. Good food for thought for anyone involved in city or county government … even those of us on advisory boards.

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This Is Why We Started the Anti-Campaign

Commenting on New Hampshire State Representative Michael DesRoches’s failure to show up and vote in the recent legislative session, and his announcement Monday that he would resign, James Taranto wrote in Best of the Web Today,

Resigning? He should be running for Congress! If there were more guys like Michael DesRoches on Capitol Hill, imagine how little harm they’d do.

Exactly our point when we started the Anti-Campaign. Remember, the Anti-Candidate is not on the ballot for any office, anywhere, but would be happy to collect your vote for the same: any office, anywhere. We promise nothing — not even to show up — because we agree with Thomas Jefferson: “That government governs best which governs least.”

Governing least — we’d be happy to.

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