Archive for February, 2014

Train on Wiesener Viadukt, Switzerland. Photo by David Gubler (www.bahnbilder.ch) via Wikimedia Commons

Train on Wiesener Viadukt, Switzerland. Photo by David Gubler (www.bahnbilder.ch) via Wikimedia Commons

(Rather conveniently, as you’ll see below, this was the Photo of the Day on Wikimedia Commons today.)

I’ve been away (on the exquisite shores of Curaçao, in the Dutch Antilles), but in the few days since my return, a few good nuggets have caught my attention:

India and film/photography

First and foremost, this gorgeously shot and completely fascinating film on the Aghori sadhus (holy men) of Varanasi, India. Very timely, as yesterday was the Maha Shivaratri festival celebrating Lord Shiva. Three young men–photographers and filmmakers–spent weeks on the banks of the Ganges among these holy men whose closeness to death, skulls and human ashes makes them both controversial and revered. Put life on hold and do watch this, then also check out these accompanying photos. Thanks to Farhana Huq for calling my attention to these.

Books and photographs

On the subject of photographs, here is another set, with very different subjects. This is what a librarian looks like. Any surprises?

The business of books

I found these statistics, on newspaper book reviews, reviewers and gender, thought provoking. Are female book reviewers likely to skew their reviewing toward women authors? What do you expect?

And while we’re talking of book reviews:
Do we really need negative book reviews? What is the value of criticism that is “unable or unwilling to criticize?” Should one go by the old adage, if you have nothing nice to say…? (via Randy Susan Meyers)

Writing

The world of writers was abuzz last week with Amtrak’s announcement that it is putting together a program of free or low-cost rides for writers wanting to use them as a writing retreat. As both a writer and an infrastructure planner (in a previous life), I was immediately deluged by vivid memories of train rides throughout my life, slicing through European countryside nibbling on butter cookies (edges and corners first) with my parents and brother, stopping in the middle of the night for the passport control in the Alps between France and Switzerland, piling onto the French TGV with classmates and mounds of duffel bags for an eighth grade school trip to the Mediterranean coast, peeing into the hole in the bathroom of the first class car of a train cutting through the dusty middle of India and watching the clankety tracks whizz by underneath, spilling apple juice all over my copy of Watership Down at the age of 11 as a train leaned into a curve, climbing up into the hills north of Tokyo among the cherry blossoms and mineral-green waterfalls in the Shikansen with my three year old’s head, heavy with sleep, cutting off the circulation in my thigh.

Needless to say, trains conjure up memories, descriptions, feelings of excitement, new ideas. What better location to sit and write? I’ll be following Amtrak’s program with much interest.

India and infrastructure

Google Maps has announced the availability of Street View and See Inside in India. There’s a slight creepiness to the fact that one can clearly see the people who happened to be at those spots when the pictures were taken, but at least a reasonable effort has been made to blur their faces. From a research standpoint, this ability to view specific locations is very useful. One can get an accurate sense, for example, of how far one can see from the rooftop of the Jaisalmer fort (click on the little yellow figure on the bottom right for the dots to appear that represent areas you can explore). Or how the shadows lengthen across a certain courtyard at sunset.

And now I want to get on a train and leave frigid Massachusetts and its dirt-encrusted snow for Rajasthan.

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Signatures on tiles, nothing to do with contracts, but fun use of signatures. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Signatures on tiles, nothing to do with contracts, but fun use of signatures. Via Wikimedia Commons.

As I prepare for a book launch in October 2014, I find myself doing a significant amount of thinking, researching and planning for it. Even more than I’d anticipated. And as those in my family can tell you, I anticipate a lot. My oldest daughter says I’m a “just in case” person. As in, put a sweater in your bag just in case the movie theater is over air-conditioned. Which it will be.

For those who know they will have, or hope to have, a book published in the near future, I’ll be running a series of posts on the month-to-month lead up to publication. There’s no way yet to say whether my methods and actions will be successful, of course, but I try my best, and why not share the information? What to think about, what to research, what I hadn’t expected, what questions to ask oneself, that kind of thing.

To begin: Twelve months out from publication (which for me was this past October)

This is the month it all began. The main focus here was the contract. I’d been in discussion with the publisher already for several weeks. In October, they sent me their contract template, and we had some friendly back and forth during the course of the month to negotiate some changes and some additions.

I am fortunate to have a family member who is an attorney specializing in intellectual property, so I had some very experienced eyes look at the contract. I highly, highly recommend finding an attorney to look over your contract. There are literary attorneys who will do this for an hourly fee. If you have an agent, that’s a good place to start. But even an agent is not (usually) an attorney. I’m amazed at how often people sign things without fully understanding them. Of course we all click on “Agree” on those lengthy terms of use pop-up windows when we sign up for various services, but a book contract is of major importance and can come in the way of any future plans you might have for your book and its derivative products (translations, foreign editions, audio versions, etc.)

Some sites I found useful for learning about what to look for in a contract were the following:

This blog post by J.A. Konrath on “some of the more one-sided, onerous terms of a standard publishing contract.” (Note that he is very pro self-publishing, and very outspoken.)

These negotiation tips provided by the Author’s Guild.

This checklist of deal terms by intellectual property attorney Howard Zaharoff.

I’ve also heard great things about Mark Levine’s book, Negotiating a Book Contract: a Guide for Authors, Agents and Lawyers.

Some of the issues I was forced to think about were:

What rights I wanted to grant the publisher, and which ones I wanted to keep for myself. (Depending on the publisher, there will be more or less flexibility here.) Worldwide? North America? Print only? (Not often an option.) Translations? Film? Audio? Stage adaptations? Merchandising? Sales to book clubs? Abridgments in anthologies?

Publication date. Is there any time of year that makes the most sense for publication? Is my book a summer read? A more intellectual, fall-ish type of read? Could I tie its launch with a specific event? A holiday? Do I want people buying it as Christmas gifts?

Copyright. For example: Who owns the rights to the cover?

Liability and indemnification. In most contracts, it seems, this clause is highly skewed in favor of the publisher, and difficult to get changed. You as the author may need to accept that you will hold the publisher harmless blah blah blah, essentially shouldering the risk of having to pay for a lawsuit, legitimate or not, filed by some out in the great blue yonder who takes issue with something you wrote, claims your cover design was his or her idea, etc. There are a number of sites out there that summarize the concerns and things for which to be on the lookout. (For example here, here, and also here.) It was very useful to me to peruse them, and establish for myself what I was comfortable with, and what was a deal-breaker.

It took a certain amount of good natured back and forth to negotiate a contract that satisfied both sides, but we succeeded, and I’m glad for the process.

If you’ve been through this process yourself, do you have any thoughts to add?

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Geological notebook, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Geological notebook, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Literature

What makes a book a classic? Italo Calvino suggests “a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” Lovely. Perhaps he has a similarly compelling way of defining a book that is “literary?” I’d welcome that. This Salon article explores some angles of the debate. Should the author be dead? Should the work be widely studied? Should it change lives? And what does that mean, anyway?

And:

This woman read one book from every country of the world. This type of goal strikes me as gimmicky–I’ll do this thing for one year and blog about it and develop a following–but it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t interest me as well. My recent attempt to find well-reviewed translations of middle grade literature (for the fourth grade book club) set in different regions of the world and NOT written by a westerner has been frustrating. The lack of translated work in the US in general is disappointing. So it is with interest that I look at this article and this woman’s list.

So on a related note: Asia and Children’s Lit

I’ve known about author Mitali Perkins for a while, especially as she resides in the same state as I do, and I was delighted to discover, through her blog, the web site of the South Asia Book Award (for children’s literature). I used it to pick out some selections for next month’s reading options, including Padma Venkatraman’s Island’s End.

Education and learning

Do you take notes on paper or on screen? I grew up in France where classes were given lecture-style as early as middle school. French children learn to take notes efficiently, filling notebooks which they then use to study for the baccalauréat exams at the end of their senior year. (At least, this is how it was 2-3 decades ago. I guess I might be in for a surprise were I to venture into a French collège today.) From this experience I’ve retained a penchant for pen and paper note-taking, even when surrounded by people tapping away on laptops and other devices. This article, therefore, is satisfying to me. Learning, it would seem, is deeper and more lasting when transmitted to the brain via longhand note-taking.

Craft of writing

One writer’s fundamentals. Writer Laura Harrington reminds us with clarity and simplicity of what it is easy to lose sight of when one is in the depths of creative writing. Excellent tidbits to post here and there in your writing space.

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