22 March 2006

Necessarily the News

The Dan Brown "plagiariasm" trial isn't the only goofy news in the publishing industry right now. A few other items (all sad commentaries on the industry's problems) are at least as goofy.

First, some good news. Stephen Colbert managed to pry a cool seven-figure advance out of Warner for a book apparently in the same general vein as Jon Stewart (et al.)'s America, the Book: Democracy Inaction. Although Colbert's book—anticipated for fall 2007—is as-yet untitled, one can safely assume that it will continue his efforts "to change the world one factual error at a time." Just like Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, but intentionally humorous.

Then, some strange news. In a shocking development—almost as shocking as finding gambling in Rick's casino—some publishers of "literary" novels are starting to discover that profitability, life in print, and the works themselves may be better served with paperback originals of non-blockbusterlike novels (that is, real fiction, not Dan Brown). Just like so-called "genre fiction" discovered forty years ago. One of the reasons for Philip K. Dick's posthumous success in Hollywood must surely be that his books were in print and visible for so long after their initial publication. This particular news item fits into the "well, duuuuuuh" category—and not incidentally exposes some of the silliness in pricing of new books (the "models" for which are based entirely upon wishful thinking, herd behavior, and unsupported conjecture).

On the other hand, maybe some of this silliness stems from perceptions of the so-called "second novel syndrome," which appears to be a problem due as much to time pressure put on that second novel as anything else. Exhibit A: Zadie Smith, who desperately needed to spend another 18 months on rethinking and reediting her second novel (which had the seeds for something comparable to her first), but that wasn't the way her contract was structured. Her publisher would have been less anxious had her first novel been in its original edition—perhaps a paperback original—three or four years later when the second novel came out. Some writers can work quickly and produce outstanding work on a strict timetable; most, and particularly those who are not writing in the James Patterson/Dan Brown/John Grisham "the parts that are good aren't original, and the parts that are original aren't good" tradition, do not.

Speaking of awards and stuff, the final ballot for this year's Hugo Awards—the People's Choice Awards of science fiction and fantasy (and occasionally horror)—has been announced. Congratulations to my clients who have been nominated. No, I'm not going to say who they are; I may do legal stuff related to Hollywood and New York, but I'm not a "Hollywood lawyer" (my ego isn't that enormous).

Last, but not least, Bridget Jones will be playing Beatrix Potter. Really. A Texan jumping from a retelling of Pride and Prejudice to the fluffy-bunny watercolorist.