27 February 2006

We've Got Both Kinds Here:

Publish and perish! In no particular order (n.b. I have personal interests/involvement in not less than one but less than all of them):

  • The "one magic ingredient" theory of publishing success has raised its ugly little head again, this time in The Independent. This time, the so-called "X Factor" is being a gracious and polite personality as an author. And that explains James Patterson (who is merely the figurehead of a stable) exactly how? (Note: I'm not saying that Mr Patterson is ungracious or rude—just that he's not the "author" as most people understand the term.) Or J.D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon, who are notoriously reclusive?

    My point is only that there is no one factor that universally results in success. Not even the single factor over which the author has true control: the quality of the work in question. Compare Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow (1996) with Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code (Nov. 8, 1620) (bonus point to anyone who understands that reference without looking it up, and can infer why I made it).

  • Speaking of Dan Brown—something I try to avoid—his trial on "plagiarism of history in a work of fiction" began this morning in London. The plaintiffs' position is so ridiculously wrong that I must wonder why the judge didn't throw it out. Of course, I feel more than a bit like I'm the public defender who has drawn the duty of defending the local exotic dancing boutique against a charge of corrupting public morals…
  • On a sad note, MacArthur Fellow Octavia Butler died after a fall at her home in Seattle. She was 58. She, and her work, will be missed.

    Oh. By the way, she was one of those wacky science fiction writers. (Although "wacky" and "Octavia Butler" hardly belong in the same paragraph, let alone sentence.) Although whether someone whose works always confronted racism without either preaching or engaging in it themselves was "merely" a science fiction writer is another question entirely.

  • Jamie King muses on the future of copyright in publishing in yesterday's Times (London).

    It is important to emphasise that rethinking copyright does not commit one to a "pro-piracy/anti-artist" position. On the contrary, the question of remuneration is foremost in the minds of many of those working creatively around copyright. Where many in "industry" regard the challenge to copyright as essentially hostile, others see it as positive, with potential for social transformation. If it could be shown that we could do things differently — sustain cultural production while allowing freer access to works — what would be the argument not to do so?

    Far be it from me to defend the descendents of the Company of Stationers (which was established simultaneously to act as a censor and as protection for monopoly rents… right, Mr Patten?). The real problem here, though, is the usual one with CopyLeft positions: I make no pretense that copyright as we know it is perfect. Show me an actual, workable, better alternative as a foundation for throwing it out, along with a defensible transition plan. Until you can do so, please restrict yourselves to proposing improvements. And consider, too, the problems with defining art from a purely Western, purely electronic perspective.

  • Returning to the "perish" end of things, iBooks and Byron Preiss Visual Productions declared bankruptcy last week. I've taken a look at the filing papers, and I'm far less than satisfied with their completeness. This one is already ugly, and it's only going to get worse. Hopefully, I can keep this from splashing too much on my clients and their interests; in my judgment (and I'm relying on a lot of knowledge and documents that are not—at least, not yet—in the public record), Certain Other Parties are going to regret this one, along with my clients. Many people will blame this on Byron Preiss's own untimely demise last summer; it is even less simple than they know.

    As an aside for all authors, the iBooks/BPVP filings epitomize a continuing problem with publishing contracts. Many, and perhaps most, of the companies' contracts included reversion-upon-bankruptcy clauses. These have no effect. See 11 U.S.C. § 362 (staying all transfers and claims as of the instant of bankruptcy filing). Instead, the better approach—as Doubleday demonstrated in the Pinnacle Books fiasco a few years ago—is to insert a transfer-only-upon-consent clause in the contract. More on this will appear elsewhere shortly.