Monday, August 29, 2005

Email has taken over my day and...I want my day back.

As an agent, I frequently get told, “It must be great to have a job where you read all day,” to which I invariably respond about three different ways:

  1. Well, most of what I read I reject.

  2. Well, it’s not like I get to read that much during the day. Most of my reading is done at night or on the weekends.

  3. Well, yes, but it turns reading into work and it’s no longer a pleasure, it’s part of my job.
But, that said, don’t we almost all have jobs where we read all day? Whether it’s email, memos, reports, etc., we’re all reading. And writing. But in the same way that “business casual” has taken over dress in many workplaces, so has it taken over email. I get emails for the strangest reasons. I halfway expect to receive one soon with a picture of some friend’s kid successfully using the potty for the first time. And while I appreciate the importance of this event to his parents, I’m sure I don’t need to know about it.

You see, email has taken over my day and...I want my day back.

I don’t miss phone tag. Really, I don’t. And I don’t miss having twenty copies of proposals photocopied and then having to get those out to editors. Email is great in that it does save time and expense, not to mention paper, in making submissions.

What I do miss, though, is the lag time. The time between writing a letter and mailing it and being able to get to the next thing on my list while I wait for a response. And I miss the patience that people had to have when they sent a letter and needed a response. Or even made a phone call. Now I get an email and if I don’t respond inside of a day, I get a follow-up email. I actually have had to tell folks that, while the delivery of email may be nearly instantaneous, my response may not be. And you’d be surprised how many folks find that surprising.

With that in mind, I’m considering becoming a bit more Catholic when it comes to email. Remember meatless Fridays? I’m thinking of taking up emailless Mondays. Or Fridays. Or Wednesdays. I’m not sure what day. But I know that I have 301 emails in my in-box and they wouldn’t be there if I didn’t need to do something with them. Either print them and file them, or respond, or follow-up or something. Email has turned us all into Sisyphus; no sooner do we get the rock up the hill—or our email in-box emptied—than it rolls down on us again in the form of ten more emails.

Thus, I would like to introduce the following New Rules (sorry, Bill Maher) for email:

  1. No more emails that are just “Thanks.” I assume you are grateful and relieve you of the responsibility to express it.

  2. No more emails to see if I got your email. Yes, if you haven’t heard from me in three days, a follow-up is fair. But call me if it’s that important.

  3. No more chain emails to save the starving orphan tsunami children who lost their parents on 9/11 only to experience true love for the first time after they sent this email to fifteen people.

  4. No more emails about sales, trips, or special deals that you found online. I appreciate the thought, but I’m a guy. I shop like a guy. If I need shoes, I go buy shoes. If I need shorts, I go buy shorts. I am not looking for leads to sample sales.

  5. No more emails first thing on Monday morning. This is in your own best interest. We are all tired and cranky and that putz in HR probably spent the weekend sending out emails about updating your 401K or not sexually harassing the FedEx delivery driver anymore (ladies, you know who you are). I do not have the time or patience on Monday morning to read email. Try me on Tuesday, except during football season, in which case wait for Wednesday, until the hangover passes.

  6. I’m very glad that you are going to Australia, England, France, or Luxembourg, but I probably don’t need to know. Put an autoresponder on your email and update your voicemail message. If I need to find you, I’ll know you went away. No need to let me know in advance...unless you owe me money, of course. In which case, please pay me before you go.

  7. Enough with the signatures quoting some random philosopher. If I want that stuff, I’ll order in some Chinese and eat the cookie first.

  8. If you are an author and your email address is “,” I am somewhat confident your book is not original enough for me.

  9. If you are an author and sending me an email even though I say everywhere that I don’t accept email queries, please save you and me the trouble and just delete it from your outbox.

  10. Before you hit send, ask yourself, Would you say this in person to me? Would you call me on the phone and say it? Would you put it in a letter and say it? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” please hit cancel.
Thank you for contributing to my efforts to reduce the number of emails in my in-box!


Sunday, August 28, 2005

I was gonna nap, but instead I'm posting...

So, I’m testing out some new software now. I type this up in Microsoft Word and this little add-in is supposed to publish it directly from Word to the blog. This, I admit, may be dangerous. I need all of the opportunities I can get to filter, edit, revise. As most of my friends know, there’s very little left on the brake pads between the brain and the mouth. Things can fly out at far too quick a velocity. Especially after too many margaritas.

So the world is very small. Last week I was reading Esquire and saw a piece by
Jim Riswold, a somewhat well known advertising guru who is famous for Nike campaigns. The piece was called “How Hitler Saved My Life” and talks about his art show featuring photos of toy dictators that he put together. It also talks about his leukemia and the fact that he’s on a drug called Gleevec. Well, I think you all know (if you’ve been reading this blog), that I am raising funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and mentoring for Team in Training. And the night I read the article, I went to a dinner and saw a video on the guy who created Gleevec. That doctor turns out to be Jim Riswold’s doctor. And Gleevec was developed using funds from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society! And where do a lot of those funds come from? Team in Training, of course. See, small world.

So now Jim and I are best buds. Really. We’ve exchanged at least two emails. I couldn’t resist stalk—tracking him down after I read the article. Plus it was a funny article and well written. He might have a book in him. He might want to donate some money to my fundraising effort. Who knows? I wrote him, he wrote back. We’re kibitzing (that, by the way, is the official Microsoft Word correct spelling, so don’t complain to me if you think it’s “kibbutzing”) via the internet.

The internet is a great thing. Really, it is. I don’t know how I would find out the movie times, the weather report, my stocks’ value, or women to date without it (yes, I met my gf online). It is also the world’s biggest time suck! Just think, I am writing this piece so I could post it on the internet. I could be riding. Well, actually, just did that. And to the runner who would not get out of the bike lane when I politely called out “on your right” five times, please turn down your music and, oh, @!%** you, too!

Other than that runner, though, it’s been a pretty relaxed weekend. Saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (I think I prefer the first version of the movie) and helped one of my TNT teammates figure out the gears on her new bike. Also talked Adam, a publishing buddy of mine from my days at Donald I. Fine, into signing up and went with him to buy a new bike. Whoo hoo! Go Adam!

From a publishing perspective, I did finally get that pile of mail opened and have a fresh stack of queries to read. That should make for an exciting Sunday night!

Additionally, new client
Ian Racey just delivered his revised manuscript, so I’m looking forward to that, as well, as Ken Pakman’s revised ms. All totaled up, the reading pile is getting to be a bit big. Fortunately, I have another trip to San Diego planned in a month and those flights are always good for thirty partials or so.

Some advice to those who are getting ready to send something to me: Just query me. Don’t send me sample chapters I didn’t request. And please don’t send me anything that reeks of cigarette smoke! Geez! I may have to air out the place after the package I just opened. I’m afraid this guy might die of lung cancer before I can get back to him. Oh, wait, I can’t get back to him, since he didn’t bother to enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope. You see, this is why I went to all that trouble to create
submission guidelines! Now, admittedly, the bit about not sending in anything that smells smoky (well, lox would be okay, but please send bagels and cream cheese, too) isn’t on there, but isn’t that obvious? Okay, maybe I should give the guy a break. Maybe he was out camping when he sent me his stuff.

In other news, signed contracts for the Italian edition of
Ed Greenwood’s first two novels in the Band of Four series—The Kingless Land and The Vacant Thronejust arrived. If you are a fan of Ed’s Forgotten Realms novels, or Tolkien’s fantasies, this is a great series for you to check out.

Finally, the updating of the website continues. I’m giving it a new look, but you might find that not all of the links are working just right just yet. So, please be patient. I’m working as fast as I can!


Friday, August 26, 2005

Am I taking breathing for granted?

I don’t know about you, but heat is not my thing. Thankfully the weather in NYC has finally started to cool down a bit, though it still has a long way to go to be as nice as the weather in, say, San Diego (I am required by my gf to say nice things about either, {1} her or {2} San Diego, on a regular basis lest, apparently, I risk forgetting that I’m supposed to be visiting there often).

Heat is a bitch. There’s no doubt about it. When I’m on my
bike and the weather is hot and humid, I find myself struggling and tired. Heck, when I’m sitting here in front of my computer and the weather is hot and humid, I find myself struggling and tired! But I should stop complaining, as I was on a ride the other night, a night when it was not even so hot and humid, and one of my teammates, a very nice woman who is a survivor of Hodgkin’s, was struggling very hard with her breathing while riding. And it made me think how much I take breathing for granted.

Yes, that’s a bit weird, isn’t it? Saying that you take breathing for granted? Well, a lot of us probably do, but some of us don’t. I know someone whose dad, for example, spent decades welding and was obviously exposed to something nasty over the years, has had some infections since, and now can’t breathe very well at all. And I’ve been on more rides than I can count where someone had not just a spare tube, but also a spare inhaler to help him or her through their rides. Yes, there are people who cannot take breathing for granted.

Asthma is on the rise in this country to the point where it’s something of an epidemic. Of course, the US continues to ignore the Kyoto agreement or anything else international that would require us to reduce greenhouse gasses or improve the air quality, so maybe it’s not a bad thing that gas is over $3.00 a gallon in many places. After all, I was at a car dealership recently where I was told I could get a great deal on a used Yukon or other giant SUV, since people are trading them in like they cause plague. If gas prices force people into smaller, less-polluting cars, that’s good, I think.

Why can’t we just ride more bikes? Go to Europe (Holland and Germany, especially) and you will find that people ride their bikes everywhere. Granted, flatter terrain probably encourages that, but so does having bike racks everywhere, and starting kids out young riding their bikes. Oh, and they don’t hand out drivers’ licenses until the kids are eighteen. Maybe that’s a workable grand plan for the US. Stop giving kids drivers’ licenses at sixteen; let them ride their bikes. That will take how many cars off the road? Plus, it will help kids keep in shape if they have to ride a bike to school instead of drive a car. This could be a plan! Except for the kids who can’t breathe, of course.

And here’s where I get to pitch a book at you again. (I’m getting good at coming around to the books in all these things, aren’t I?)
Control Your Child's Asthma: A Breakthrough Program for the Treatment and Management of Childhood Asthma, by Harold Farber, MD, and Michael Boyette, is one of those books that can change a parent’s life. In fact, read this review that was posted on Amazon:

I have never reviewed a book before despite always reading the reviews before buying a book. No book has ever changed my life the way that this one has!! My son was diagnosed in March 2003 and his doctor thought his asthma would just be something that was tacked onto the end of a cold and nothing more. Unfortunately he seemed to always have a new cough (classic asthma symptom). I bought this book because I was interested in learning more about the disease and becoming a patient advocate for my son. Having this book is a gift! It has changed our lives. We were scared and now we're prepared! My son has not had the cough since we started the program in June. We've been using the recommended daily monitoring and preventive meds and life is grand. If you're dealing with asthma, BUY THIS BOOK!

I couldn't have said it better myself!

Now, I am fortunate that I don’t seem to have any real asthma (perhaps a bit of “exercise-induced”), but I confess that I live in fear that I will someday have a child with asthma. It’s a terrifying thing for both parents and children. And the plus of this book is that it helps to get both parents and children get beyond the fear and deal with the problem.

Now, if the rest of us could just deal with the problem of air quality in this country, maybe a few less parents would need this book!

Now go ride your
bike to work!


Monday, August 22, 2005

Babies, babies, everywhere!

Everywhere I look, I see babies. I’m starting to feel a bit like Ally McBeal, but at least none of the babies I see are dancing. I’m guessing there was a lot of luvin’ going on around Thanksgiving and that’s why I’m seeing all of these freshly popped kiddies everywhere. And they are very cute, I have to admit. Not as cute as puppies, but pretty darn cute. Now, I don’t have any kids, which some folks might consider a blessing upon kid-dom, so the truth is I can’t quite relate. In fact, it’s very rare that anyone ever even hands me a kid to hold. Perhaps I look a bit butter-fingered? Really, though, that’s just chain lube; I was working on my bike. In fact, I rode almost twenty miles at lunch today, because yesterday I got my butt kicked on our first Team in Training ride. Who are these people and how did they get so fast before the first training ride? Now I feel like I have to train twice as hard to stay ahead of them.

But, let’s get back to babies. I have a client and friend named Lynne Tapper who had a new baby not that long ago. Now Lynne is pretty competitive and I suspect she actually paused in the middle of a marathon or triathlon or something in order to give birth, handed the brand-spanking-new kid to her husband, Leland, and finished whatever she was running. Now, if I know these two, the kid is already potty trained and has learned how to put hospital corners on his crib. You see, these two are the world’s most organized couple. Don’t believe me? Well, then just check out their book: BABY DAZE.

When their first child, Sofie, arrived, Lynne and Leland were overwhelmed by all of the information they needed to keep track of while getting little or no sleep. They decided to keep a log of Sofie’s new life by jotting things down on forms so they could easily recall when they’d last changed her, fed her, or even when they experienced her first cooing sound or gassy smile. Charting this information brought them tremendous peace of mind, so they compiled the forms into a book and distributed it to their friends who were also experiencing the “new parent daze.” The responses were so positive they decided to publish BABY DAZE and launch a website to promote and sell it,

BABY DAZE is broken out into eight worksheet sections that tackle common, daily, baby-related issues confronting parents. This new parent logbook has easy-to-use forms to track:

  • Feeding and Diapering
  • Sleeping
  • Pumping
  • Milestones
  • Gifts
  • Food Diary
  • Medical
  • Contact Information
  • Sitter Slips™
The sheets are simple to use and have sample sections to get started. The book is designed for daily use and can be easily plopped into a diaper bag, purse or stroller bag for easy transport.

Believe me now?

You can order this helpful tool—which makes a great gift, obviously—on their site, or by clicking

Oh, and if you see a crying baby, just go up and tell him he or she sounds like a fire engine and make a siren sound. Stops the crying every time!


Saturday, August 20, 2005

And they give you cookies!

Wow. I just woke up from the mother of all naps. Now, I suppose this had something to do with me having to wake up bright and early and go to the kick-off meeting of the winter (wait, it’s 84 degrees out, can it be winter?) season of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. I’m mentoring for El Tour de Tucson (but you already knew that, from reading my other blog entry about it, didn’t you?). I have to tell you, it was inspiring to see all those people sitting in the audience, eager to hear about the event and the training plans and eager to make a difference!

The meeting itself was held at the
New York Blood Center. Now, don’t ask me why I didn’t think about this, but it turns out that you can actually give blood at the New York Blood Center, and my fellow mentor, Dana, wouldn’t let me leave without doing so. And, well, I hate to admit this, but I never had before, so I was a little nervous. Turns out I have excellent iron levels (they test you before you can donate, to make sure you aren’t anemic) and I got a late breakfast out of it, since they wanted me to eat something before donating. Yummm. The donating part wasn’t that bad, though the technician laughed at none of my jokes and thought nothing of my very serious idea that having a puppy to pet while you are donating would make it a lot less stressful!

Filling out that form, I noticed a lot of questions about active-duty military personnel and that, of course, made me think of our troops overseas, in Iraq and elsewhere. And thinking of them made me think about my client, Patrick O’Donnell, who went to Iraq twice and who was featured in the History Channel show “Shootouts,” which apparently aired again today, though I was napping. I’ve recently done a deal with
Da Capo Press for Pat’s book on his experiences in Iraq. I’d describe it as BAND OF BROTHERS meets BLACKHAWK DOWN and I have high expectations for it when it comes out down the road.

In the meantime, Pat has three other books that I’d highly recommend: BEYOND VALOR, INTO THE RISING SUN, and OPERATIVES, SPIES & SABOTEURS.
BEYOND VALOR is an amazing oral history of the Rangers and other Airborne troops in WWII. If your dad, grandfather, or brother was in the war in Europe, this is a book you really should read. It could change your entire understanding of what made him the man he is today (or was).

If someone in your family served in the US Marines, or you just really liked that new movie, THE GREAT RAID, you should absolutely go read
INTO THE RISING SUN. This oral history of marines and other special ops forces in the Pacific includes entries by some of the men featured in THE GREAT RAID, so you can read it about it in their own words. Further, it’s a bit of an “unknown” part of the war, I think. I mean, we know the marines stormed a lot of beaches, but how many really big movies have they made recently about that war that give you the “realistic” perspective, versus the flag-waving Hollywood glamour movies of the sixties? Seems to me that other than the show BLACK SHEEP SQUADRON (I so wish I’d flown Corsairs; those planes are hot!), John Wayne movies are all I’ve seen. Well, that and WINDTALKERS, but that movie was just soooooo slow! Read INTO THE RISING SUN. Much more interesting.

Last, but certainly not least, there’s
OPERATIVES, SPIES & SABOTEURS, a book I’m proud of working on because, well, um, it was my idea. I suggested it to Pat when he was trying to figure out his next book and it turns out there was tons of great material out there that had never before been published. The OSS (Office of Strategic Services) did not start out as the home for Steve Austin (a/k/a THE SIX-MILLION-DOLLAR MAN). It started out before the CIA and it recruited folks from all sorts of life: from professors of foreign languages to safecrackers and Mafia hitmen, the OSS used them all on a variety of real-life spy missions that make James Bond look like a wuss. Let’s face it, Bond is a pretty-boy who’d have died a long time ago without all the toys and gadgets. It takes a big set of brass ones to be a German Jew who parachutes back into Nazi-occupied territory to help fight the war and this book tells the story of one guy (if not more) who did just that.

So, while Pat is working on his Iraq book, take the time to get caught up on his prior books. You won’t be disappointed. And if you’d like to do something really good today, visit and support my efforts with Team in Training and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Remember, cancer is a “six degree” disease—if you don’t have it, you are connected through family or friends to someone who does—and only through continuing research can a cure be found. And people have been cured, so help me help LLS keep fighting the fight, please. And/or visit and figure out where you can go to give blood today. Somewhere someone needs it. And they give you cookies!



Thursday, August 18, 2005

Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a computer tech support person

Is it just me or has being your own tech support person become something of a full-time job? You know, they say that browsing the Internet has been bad for television and bad for publishing, because it takes up time from those other leisure activities. Well, I want to say, it's time we take back our tv time! And our reading time, of course. You can hurt yourself carrying that television into the bathroom.

I was just reading some articles about a "bot war" between virus writers. These guys are now writing viruses that will infect your computer and remove the other guys' viruses! Our computers are becoming a virtual war zone (literally) for virus writers. Folks! Please, get a life! Or, better yet, settle down on the couch and watch some Star Trek reruns. I think the one with the sexy, green Orion slave girl is on tonight. C'mon, you know you like her. That's right. Step away from the computer and pick up the remote. Have a Twinkie, while you're at it. Fill up those arteries with some fat and goo. Maybe we can induce a heart attack in you the way you induce one in ours whenever we get a virus warning.

Hey, maybe I'm onto something here. Isn't it possible that in the midst of getting a virus on his computer, some poor slob farc'd out (that's medical lingo for you)? So, technically, that virus writer is now guilty of murder. I figure we put one virus writer to death for murder and we might see fewer viruses. What do you think?

But until they follow my advice on that one, folks, turn off the computer and turn off the tv (can the first cable virus be far away, a virus that fills your TiVo or DVR with hours of the Home Shopping Channel instead of the aforementioned Star Trek reruns?) and pick up a book. After all, no one ever had a heart attack induced by a book, plus you can easily read it in the bathtub without fear of electrocution.

Since I've mentioned Star Trek about five times here, maybe now would be a good time to recommend a book: FROM SAWDUST TO STARDUST, by Terry Lee Rioux. This is the biography of DeForest Kelley, who played Dr.McCoy on "The Original Series." You know, the guy who said, "Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a steam-cleaning vacuum," or something like that a dozen or so times. But this is actually a pretty serious book and one that any film fan should read. In fact, I'm almost sorry they put Kelley on the cover in his Star Trek uniform, because the man was so much more than just "the guy who played the doctor." For me, his life was a slice of America. He was a poor preacher's son who fell in love with a dream and moved west to pursue a life in theater and the movies and actually succeeded in having that life. He found a wife, Carolyn—who approved of the author writing this book and helped her with details and papers—and lived a life that in many ways was about his love for her more than anything else. The line between character and actor was thin indeed when it came to his personality and charm.

I think the most interesting thing about the book, for me, was how often Kelley was approached by fans who told him that they had become doctors because of his character. The man literally inspired thousands to pursue a career in the medical field! That, frankly, may be the bigger legacy than an old tv show!

You can order FROM SAWDUST TO STARDUST, by clicking
here. Then feel free to come back and post your thoughts on this great actor and character.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A glutton for punishment...

You know, an editor once told me that everyone who took a job in publishing was a patron of books, because we all make less in this business than we would anywhere else. I'm not sure this is 100% true, but I'm fairly certainly it's true for many. But, then again, we do get a lot of free books!

So, since I work in publishing, maybe I'm predisposed to being a glutton for punishment. Surely as an agent I experience more than my fair of rejection, though it's on behalf of my clients. Mostly, I think that's been invaluable in my dating life. After all, if publishing hadn't taught me about rejection so well, I might have given up on dating a long time ago!

Fortunately, though, my dating life is going well and I've just returned from San Diego where I was visiting my new girlfriend (having, apparently, exhausted all of the single Jewish women in New York City). For those authors who have patiently been awaiting word regarding their sample chapters and proposals, I'm sorry to report that I read and rejected about 33 over the weekend, but did find one project I'd like to pursue. I've spoken with the author and we'll see how that turns out once he speaks to his writing partner.

While in San Diego (where I think it was twenty degrees cooler), my gf and I took a little ride with the local Team in Training chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Those who read my website and entries on Absolute Write know that I'm very involved with this organization. Now my gf is also, and we are training on opposite coasts for El Tour de Tucson in November (111 miles!). I'm a mentor this time around, having ridden two centuries already with TNT this year. As a mentor, I'll be trying to help folks get comfortable on the bike, learn the basics, and, last but not least, fundraise. Yes, I'm about to ask you for money.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is the world's largest voluntary health organization dedicated to finding a way to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease, and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. Since its founding in 1949, the Society has invested more than $360 million for research specifically targeting blood cancers. But beyond the dollars, I've met people who literally have had their lives changed by both the Society and TNT. And you can help change more lives too by supporting my efforts on this ride. So, whether it's $50, $100, $250 or $500, I hope you can chip in and help make a difference. Remember all donations are 100% tax deductible.

If you'd like to donate, please make your check out to the "Leukemia and Lymphoma Society" and send it to The Zack Company, Inc., 243 West 70th St., Ste 8D, New York, NY 10023-4366 and I'll forward it to the Society (they want us to organize them and then send them all in). Or you can go online and donate right now with your credit card at

Thanks so much for your time and consideration, and thanks in advance for your support.


P.S. For reasons I don't quite get, this is a short season in terms of fundraising and training (other chapters started a month ago), so please be sure to get your donations in earlier rather than later. Thanks!

P.P.S. If you are feeling inspired and would rather join TNT, visit for details.

P.P.P.S. DISCLAIMER: Donating to my efforts with TNT will in no way increase the chances that your work will receive representation through my firm. It will, however, be a really good thing you've done that day, so if you haven't already helped a little old lady across the street today, get out your checkbook or credit card....

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Dangers of Deep Discounts

Greetings from the Left Coast! I’m in San Diego (notice, I did not say “sunny” San Diego) for a few days and noticed something on the way here that seems pretty interesting from a publishing perspective: The “read and return” program at airport bookstores that’s being pretty heavily promoted.

Do you know about this deal? You buy a book at an airport bookstore and then you bring it back after you’ve read it. They refund you 50% of your purchase price and then sell the book you just returned for half off. Now, you may say, this seems reasonable. They clearly don’t profit if they pay half the cover price and sell it for half the cover price. And that made me wonder, why do they do it? A clerk told me it really increases the traffic in the store. Okay. But now let’s ask the big question: Is this good for publishing? Is this good for readers? And I have to say I don’t think so.

The used book market is a complicated thing. Selling “stripped” books—where the cover was stripped off and sent back to the publisher for the purposes of being issued credit and the book reported as destroyed, but then often sold without the cover—was clearly illegal. But selling used books is not. But only one party makes money on a used book: the person selling it. The publisher makes no more money and the author certainly doesn’t make any more money if the publisher doesn’t.

I sometimes think that people believe there’s a system in place where authors earn money every time one of their books is sold, whether new or used. Someone once even told me she thought libraries paid authors each time one of their books was checked out.

Allow me to clarify for those who believe either of those things: In the bookselling system, the last person to get paid, and the person who gets paid the least is the author. Authors get paid royalties based on sales. Your standard hardcover pays 10% of the retail cover price on the first 5,000 copies sold; 12 1/2 % on copies 5,001–10,000; and 15% on copies sold thereafter. But this is only as long as the discount granted to the bookseller is within a certain range, generally less than 50%. Well, I’m fairly confident that if we could look at the sales to all of the big bookselling chains and websites; all of the major retailers; and all of the “wholesale” clubs, we’d find that very few are getting a discount less than 50%. That means that authors are very often receiving less than their full royalties on sales. In fact, I once received a statement where more than 80% of sales were at a “deep” discount and the author received 7% royalties instead of 10%. On a $25.00 book, that’s $1.75 instead of $2.50. Multiply by 1,000 copies sold and it’s a $750.00 loss to the author, by 10,000 copies…well, you can do the math.

Now, did the publisher lose money here? After all, they gave a bigger discount. No, the publisher did not, because it recovered the bigger discount from the author. In fact, in some formulas, the publisher will make more money selling books at a 51% discount than a 49% discount because it will recover more from the author than it lost in granting the higher discount to the retailer, e.g., two points granted, but three recovered!

So, what does this all mean to you, the reader, and what does it have to do with used books? Well, for starters, when an online retailer offers you new books and then, by the way, gives you the opportunity to buy that same book used and for less money, it is doing it because it makes more money selling you the used book. Moreover, that “used” book may be a brand new book that the retailer paid nothing for, since it might have been sent to a reviewer for free and that reviewer decided not to review it, but just to sell it online via a major online bookseller. Authors don’t get royalties on copies given away for review and publishers lose money because they paid to mail it to that reviewer who is now just profiting from it.

We have become obsessed with the discount in this country and it’s hurting you the reader because it’s raising prices. When big chain X demands a 60% discount, how do you think the publisher responds? By raising the retail price, of course. Only by raising the starting price on which the discount is based can the publisher protect its profit margin. So, yes, you get 30% off your best-seller, but is it really costing you any less?

When I worked in a bookstore in 1983, the standard discount was 42%. That means the bookseller would pay about $14.50 for a $25.00 book. Often they’d sell it at full price, or best-sellers might be discounted 10%. So, you’d pay $22.50 for that $25.00 book.

Today, that discount to the bookseller could be 55% or so. The bookseller pays $11.25 for that $25.00 book and discounts it 30%, costing you, the reader $17.50. But the publisher can’t give up that $3.25 between $14.50 and $11.25, so it raises the retail price to, say $28.50 and decreases the author’s royalties by 3% or so to ensure it makes the same money it made before (in fact, it makes $14.81 or more money in this scenario). So, now you are paying $19.95 for the $28.50 book. Wait! That’s cheaper than you were paying for the $25.00 book. Well, not really. You see, this math applies pretty much across the board to all books, not just best-sellers, so you are paying more for books overall and authors are earning less. Since the price of just about every book has gone up in response to the pressure for big discounts, but only best-sellers are vastly discounted for readers, the end result is that if you read anything but best-sellers, you are paying more for books.

Honestly, I sometimes think there’s a Ph.D. thesis in all this. “How discounts raise prices” seems like an easy topic for some economist, eh? Let’s simplify. If I own a store and sell widgets at .99, and I decide to hold a 10% off everything in the store sale, but first I raise all of the prices to $1.10, did you save money buying the widgets on sale? That, in a nutshell is what deep-discounting has done to the book business, in my humble opinion.

Now, let’s see if I can bring this all back full circle to the “buy and return program.” If the bookstore buys the books at a 55% discount and sells them full price, but then repurchases it from you at 50%, it still makes money. If you buy another book full price with that 50% cash back, it still makes money on that new book. Granted it’s not a lot of money, but if enough people do it, the volume begins to expand. If the availability of books at half off brings you into the store, where you also buy overpriced candy, gum and t-shirts, then it’s not even a loss leader. It’s a profit generator. Only if you restrict yourself to applying that 50% cash back to a previously read book and buy nothing else does it become a wash. And I doubt many people at airport bookstores do that math on the transaction.

So, now that I’ve done my best Dennis Miller impression and ranted at length on this subject, I bet you’re wondering what I expect you to do. I have to say, I’m not sure. There’s no obvious answer. If I said go to independent bookstores only and pay full price, I’m sure most would think “%@#& that!” but in a way that’s part of what we need. Because, if we continue down the current path, authors will make less and less money, best-seller lists will dominate even more shelf space than they already do, and smaller, often important books, will not get published because the profit margin won’t be there. Granted, that’s the Darwinism of American economics at work, but is that really where we want to go?

How about, for starters, we just avoid the used books if the book is still in print? Don’t get suckered into buying a “used” book when the new one is available. That just makes that big online retailer more money, not the publisher and certainly not the author. That would be start.


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Perseverance can pay off

I'm pleased to report that Mark Patinkin's book, UP AND RUNNING: The Inspiring True Story of a Boy’s Struggle to Survive and Triumph is gearing up to be a genuine publishing phenomenon. It has been picked up by the following book clubs as a Featured Alternate: Literary Guild; Doubleday Book Club; American Compass; Crossings Book Club.

Additionally, it has been chosen by Reader's Digest to be a Condensed Book, which will follow publication of the hardcover by about six months.

I'm sure the average reader thinks that most books are available through book clubs, but the truth is they aren't. But the clubs are often the bellwether of public opinion. That Reader's Digest Condensed Books has also picked the book merely confirms the potential this work has for broad public appeal.

What makes this all the more interesting to me is the tale behind the publication of this book....

I'm not sure why he thought of me, but Mark Patinkin was originally referred to me by John Karp, the former Editor-in-Chief of Random House and the newest imprint publisher at Warner Books. I'm a New England boy originally, having grown up just thirty minutes from Providence, so I was intrigued to hear from Mark, a columnist at the Providence Journal. Mark originally sent me copies (the largest photocopies I've ever gotten) of a series of articles he wrote about a young boy named Andrew Bateson. Now, I have to confess that I'm not often called a softie, but I honestly could not get through this series of articles without choking up. Each one would leave me teary-eyed and wondering what would come next. In the accompanying materials, Mark forwarded copies of comments he'd gotten from readers. One, in particular, stood out. The reader said she had never before run down every morning to get her paper with such eagerness. She just had to know what happened to Andrew next.

Now, I'm sure you're asking, "What did happen to Andrew?" Well, while out with his family one night, six-year-old Andrew felt suddenly feverish. Although his parents did not yet know it, Andrew had bacterial meningitis, one of the fastest moving of all infections, at times comparable to Ebola in the speed of its impact on the body.

Over the next three weeks, Andrew laid in a coma as the doctors and nurses fought an often minute-by-minute battle to keep him alive. Overwhelmed, Andrew’s parents pulled away from each other, and their friends wondered if the marriage would survive. His father, Scott, fought anger and depression—at one point, retreating to the hospital's outdoor garden and looking skyward, he yelled, "I hate you! I hate you for this!"

UP AND RUNNING is a riveting medical story, an engrossing family drama, and a story of faith tested to its limits. But even though Andrew’s illness had a terrible price—both of his legs were amputated below the knee, and doctors feared he'd never use his hands again—UP AND RUNNING is ultimately an inspirational true story of triumph over impossible odds. Andrew's astonishing, heartbreaking comeback will make a believer out of you.

Now, to me, this was a slam-dunk. An "Oprah" episode for sure. So imagine my surprise as editor after editor at the major New York houses turned the book down. How could they not see how this would appeal to the hearts and spirits of readers? I couldn't explain it. But I persevered, perhaps inspired by Andrew's spirit of perseverance. I felt this was a story that deserved to be told.

I sat at lunch one day with several other agents, all good friends, enjoying a summer afternoon by the pool. We were telling "war stories," of course, about our experiences with publishers lately, and I told the story of how I had over one-hundred pitches or submissions into this book. They were stunned. Most agents give up after twenty or thirty. Why had I stuck with it? I told them Andrew's story and watched as each fought back tears. One, Denise Marcil, insisted that I take another shot at Rolf Zetterstein, publisher at Warner Faith. After all, this book has an inspirational angle.

I called Rolf and started my pitch. I was astounded to find out that Rolf's son had suffered from bacterial meningitis himself and fought a similar life-and-death battle as Andrew. I cautioned him that he might want to actually not read the proposal, since it was so emotionally powerful and he was so close to the subject matter. He assured me he would get other readers to look and I sent it off.

The rest, as they say, is history. An offer was made and negotiated and suddenly the book that I had made 120 individual pitches and submissions for had found a home at a new imprint there, Center Street. More importantly, it truly seems to have found the right home, as these subsidiary rights sales demonstrate. Center Street focuses on books that appeal to a wide range of Americans, on stories that have meaning in the Heartland. But you don't have to live in the Heartland to appreciate Andrew's story. It's a story I promise will touch you and leave you grateful for all you have.

The book will be shipping early in September and will be in bookstores by the end of the month, but you can order today if you want by clicking


Double the Trouble!

Sheryl Anderson’s Second Book Released

It’s been a while since we’ve found the time to send out an update regarding what’s new here at TZC, but I couldn’t ignore the excitement of a new novel from Sheryl J. Anderson, who now has two hilarious, sexy, and loaded with suspense books out featuring Molly Forrester. These are GREAT beach reads, so grab both and stick them in your bag as you head to the shore!

You’d think that cracking one homicide case was enough for anyone in a lifetime and so does Molly Forrester. After doing her duty and solving one murder, Molly Forrester thinks she’s done with murder and mayhem and heads out to the Hamptons to celebrate her friend Tricia’s brother’s engagement—or so she thinks. Instead, the bride-to-be is found dead and Molly is back in the game with friends, Tricia and Cassidy, following a trail of sex, lies and streaming video, to find the killer that’s on the loose in the Big Apple. And of course, there’s a cute detective that is making Molly’s life all the messier.

Anderson’s first novel featuring Molly Forrester can now be found in paperback! Molly Forrester, the advice columnist from Zeitgeist, is obsessed with shoes, but when she literally stumbles onto a crime—tripping over a colleague’s body and ruining her new pair of Jimmy Choos—she sees the potential to sink her teeth—or heels—into some real news for a change. She teams up with her best friends, Tricia and Cassidy, to solve the mystery of her dead colleague. But in order to help she must work with an adorable detective—it’s too bad that all things can’t be this difficult—to figure out what’s going on. But as Molly gets closer and closer to discovering the truth, she realizes that there are dangerous secrets within Zeitgeist’s ranks. Continuing the investigation would her own risk.

“KILLER HEELS, Sheryl Anderson’s hip debut mystery, sparkles like fine champagne, an intoxicating mix of wit, perception and insouciance and a wickedly clever but genuine depiction of single life in the City. KILLER HEELS will tap right to the top of the Best First lists.”
—Carolyn Hart, award-winning author of the Death on Demand mystery series

“The first installment in what looks to be a winning series is up beat, funny, and totally, refreshingly original. The investigation is fascinating.... The heroine is an original and her deep solid friendships...ring true and feel real. Sheryl Anderson provides a fabulous opening act.”
Midwest Book Review

Rights Information
UK, translation, film, television, and audio rights to these works are controlled by
The Zack Company, Inc.

Monday, August 08, 2005



I'm pleased to welcome you to the new blog for The Zack Company, Inc. My goal is to post news here regarding clients and their projects and possibly to also answer questions that may be posted by readers (that said, please don't even think of send me queries using this forum). I may also share tidbits that will enlighten the reader as to how an agent spends his or her day.

For example, setting up this blog has been something of a pain in the rear! I had hoped to publish it to my site's server, but it wouldn't work and I didn't have the energy to get on hold with my host and figure out where the settings where wrong, so here we are, using the site. You can always go back to my site using your "back" button.

Word reached me today that St. Martin's Press is apparently out of stock on Sheryl Anderson's
KILLER COCKTAIL, so if you haven't got one, you might want to get to the local bookstore before they are sold out. Our expectation is that SMP will go back to press, of course, but you never know how long that will take.

Also, latest article is now out in the September 2005 issue of The Writer magazine, so rush to your local newsstand and grab a copy. It's all about planning your publicity push for your book. Another article, about contracts, will be coming soon.

My good friend, Lance Koonce, who attended the Radcliffe Publishing Course with me in the summer of 1988 is now an attorney specializing in publishing law. He's editing a blog himself at This blog specializes in privacy and security law and, among other things included an interesting link to a piece about a guy in Britain being fined for "hot-spotting" on someone else's unprotected wi-fi link. If you have a home network with a wireless LAN, be sure you are encrypting that link for your own security.

I am still hosting the Ask the Agent topic on
Absolute Writers and you may want to pop over there for some good info. My only caveat, though, is that I can only promise that my info is good. ;)

On a personal note, I'm continuing to train with the Leukemia and Lymphoma's
Team in Training program and there's still time to sign up if you are interested in doing a marathon, half-marathon, or century bike ride this winter (the century is in November; the half- and marathon are in December). It's a great way to keep that winter flab from piling on, so pop into an info meeting this week and sign up!