About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Energizer Guild

The Author's Guild just doesn't know when to stop, pursuing its quixotic quest against Google for scanning books.

I blogged about this over four years ago, here...

And per the letter I just sent to Paul Aiken today, which I paste below, I wish the Guild would finally get over it, and realize they're wrong.  The Author's Guild could have helped JABberwocky clients, saved them thousands of dollars and had many of them selling e-books years and years ago if they had listened to my advice.

December 30, 2013

Mr. Paul Aiken
The Author’s Guild
31 E. 32nd St. 7th fl.
New York, NY  10016

Dear Mr. Aiken:

You are colossally wrong on Google, and should stop wasting your organization’s money.

You can read my full blog post from 2009 on this subject here
http://brilligblogger.blogspot.com/2009/04/google-settlement.html

But in essence, I advocated at that time that we force Google to give us a copy of our scanned books so that we could do with them as we please.  This was and is the best settlement and resolution to this, and it is in fact what the publishers ended up accepting.

If the Author’s Guild had obtained for authors what the publishers ended up obtaining for themselves, my author clients could have saved cumulatively tens of thousands of dollars that we have ended up spending to scan their works in order to publish them as e-books, and we might have been able to sell those e-book several years sooner than was otherwise the case.

You’ve ended up costing my authors far more than your “advocacy” will ever be able to gain for them in exchange, should some court end up agreeing with you on this new appeal when everyone else so far hasn’t.

Sincerely,



JOSHUA BILMES
President
joshua@awfulagent.com

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Richard T. Gallen

So I popped over to the Baen twitter feed today, and was saddened to see a little tiny tweet:

In memoriam: Richard T. Gallen, one of the original founders of Baen Books.

Which says something, but maybe not enough.

He wasn't just a founder of Baen.

He was some of the money behind Tor Books.  As mentioned in this article in the NY Times from 30+ years ago.

He was some of the money behind Carroll & Graf, which published actively in sf/fantasy/horror/mystery, including things like the Mammoth Book series, or David Pringle's 100 Best SF Novels, which C&G and other publishers used as a road map for bringing a lot of deserving books and authors back into print and to a new generation of readers.

We'd have science fiction and fantasy today without Richard T. Gallen, but it's safe to say it would be different somehow.  His being around or not being around, it's one of those things like "Hitler Wins World War II" or "Lincoln Survives" that alternate history novels are written about.

My first job was in a little aerie on W. 36th St. in Manhattan in a small crowded space where Tor and Baen and Bluejay and perhaps other companies as well were all clustered being fed start-up money by the Richard T. Gallen mother bird.  I believe it might even have been Richard T. Gallen's signature that was on my first paychecks from Baen.  A little later Baen and Richard T. Gallen decamped a few blocks down 5th Avenue to nicer bigger space.

I can't really say I knew the man.  Tom Doherty at Tor would probably be the person from sf/f that could give a good speech at a memorial service.

But essentially, any of who work in sf/fantasy or who read in sf/fantasy -- we know Richard T. Gallen. He's the guy who made the guys who made the books happen.  If we don't do what we do because of him, we do it how we do it because he was willing to make publishing fantasies become real, for people who knew how to take advantage of the opportunities he provided.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Racing Downhill

More bad news for most of us this week, with a federal judge ruling that Detroit can go into bankruptcy and cut pensions, Illinois legislators voting on a bill to cut pensions there, another judge ruling that employers can force employees to arbitrate and not have an option of class action suits.

I have a deeply ambivalent relationship to public employee unions.  While I believe very strongly in the right to form a union and collectively bargain, public employee unions have much better luck gaming the system by making contributions to the politicians who then determine how much money to give the union workers.  In the private sector, an independent labor union can't game the system, at least not this way.  In the private sector too often the interests of my representative are more aligned with the unions than the public purse.

But that said, the attack on benefits that were won in negotiations reflects a distressing tendency in public life these days, which is to solve your problems by making everyone else as miserable as you are.  Your employer's dumped your pension in favor of some 401-K?  Well, you can't get your 401-K back but you can cheer on as someone else's pension gets dumped too!  Yay!  Win!

Sorry, it's not.

If you think it is, you might enjoy reading this Rolling Stone article about how we're "saving" pensions by giving money to Wall Street.

So in Detroit, a lot of not very rich people, many of whom are still living in Detroit, are going to see their retirement income cut, which will reduce what they can spend, which will reduce the economy in Detroit, which is going to save Detroit.  For the most part, these people aren't the people who made any of the decisions on what contract terms to agree to, on how to fund pensions, they're innocent bystanders who are going to be hurt.

While states and localities across the country are cutting back pensions left and right, they are engaged in madcap competitions to give Boeing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks and other incentives to encourage them to locate an assembly line for a new version of the 777 in their state.  Boeing makes billions of dollars, and it wasn't enough to have the State of Washington give billions of dollars in tax breaks if the unions for the skilled workers who build the planes didn't agree to share in the "sacrifice" of these billions of dollars in profits and tax breaks for the company by agreeing to givebacks.

Hunger Games: Catching Fire has taken in hundreds of millions of dollars in global box office and will make huge profits for Lionsgate.  It filmed in Georgia to take advantage of tax breaks, and again, states and localities across the country are engaged in this race to give huge film companies that are part of major media conglomerates tax breaks to entice productions from one state to another.

Can people see the problem here?  Even as we silently cheer or to too little to protest attacks on the working men and women of this country, we also cheer when our states take the money they're saving and give it to very rich companies in pursuit of a zero sum game of taking business from one state or locality to another.

I'm not even sure, at the end of the day, that these kinds of tax breaks do very much for the states and localities that give them.  Oh, they can find statistics that say that the film tax breaks are worth their weight in gold, but you know what they say about statistics.  Against that, there's this icky feeling that the only way you can get business is to bribe it to come your way.  There's this icky feeling, or at least there should be, in supporting companies that don't really support you, that feel they're entitled to take government money, screw workers as much as they can, in pursuit of the almighty buck.

And as with too many policies supported by corporations, it's kind of short-sighted.  Take Walmart.  Walmart is kind of getting creamed by a lot of government policies.  Food stamp cuts take money out of the hands of Walmart shoppers, and thus out of the hands of Walmart.  If Walmart paid its employees more, a lot of money would come right back into Walmart stores.  If this were to happen as a result of an increase in the minimum wage that would force Walmart competitors to pay more as well, it wouldn't disadvantage Walmart, because Target and even Amazon which still needs warehouse workers would face the same labor cost pressures as Walmart.  But Walmart does everything it can to keep downtrodden employees downtrodden.  It threatens to pick up its toys if cities talk about raising their minimum wage or passing living wage laws (some of those do target Walmart, but if Walmart would advocate for a global increase in the minimum wage it would face less targeted living wage legislation).  Even as it downgrades its earnings forecast because people don't have money to spend, it won't help give people more spending money.

For a competing perspective, enjoy this article somebody tweeted out to us several weeks ago from investors.com, which rails against how we are becoming dependent on government largesse.  108M+ people on means-tested government welfare programs, 101M+ people with full-time jobs.

It ignores a few basic facts.  Minimum wage is under $8.  8x35x52 -- that's under $15K for a full-time employee.  When I grew up and looked behind the counter at Burger King, I saw a lot of people my age.  That was over 30 years ago.  Now, the people at Burger King and Walmart aren't teenagers working for gas money.  They're people trying to support a family on $15K a year, unless they have two jobs or have two incomes or something like that.  How can you possibly do that?  How are you going to help these people by cutting food stamps?  And did you know that over half of personal bankruptcies are caused by medical expenses?  Most jobs that pay $8 an hour don't, pre Obama-care, come with good health insurance.  You can't buy your own when you're making $15K a year.   I'm lucky; I make enough money that I'm now seeing my take-home take a four-figure annual drop because of Affordable Care Act taxes.  Unlike most people, I don't think my income benefits by making life worse for other people.  My income benefits when people have money to buy books, when they have money to go to college and get educated because educated people buy more books, when they have time to spend with their kids talking to them and working with them on homework and reading too them rather than rushing from one bad job to another because a single minimum wage job isn't enough, not able to afford good child care and hoping the car doesn't break down and that everyone in the family stays super healthy.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Quick Cuts

I haven't done a lot of blogging recently.  To make up for it, I'm going to try and do quick capsule reviews of some movies that are in theatres now and/or not in so many theatres but in the buzz for awards season.

Thor: The Dark World
I didn't care for this at all.  The first movie with a very odd superhero movie choice in Kenneth Branagh directing was a little off the superhero movie tracks, as interested in showing Chris Hemsworth in a tight tee-shirt as in endless superhero battles.  Not this movie,  As is so often the case, I tuned out and went to sleep when we got to the last half hour, because I knew it was just going to be another long, dull, over-CGIs, boring, been-there done-that fight scene.  That said, I saw it with a client who enjoyed it quite a bit, as have most of the other people I know who saw it.  Really?

Last Vegas
If you think you might like this, you probably will like it.  It's not good by many objective critical standards, but it has amiability to excess and delivers perfectly on its promise and premise.  I rarely laughed out loud, but I certainly had a smile on my face.

Dallas Buyers Club
This movie, which is getting great reviews, was the second half of a self-made double-feature for me with Last Vegas.  I enjoyed the "worse" movie a lot more, and didn't care so much for this critical darling.  Yes, Matthew McConaughey gives an amazingly great performance in the movie, and in that sense and maybe in that sense alone, the movie is worth seeing.  He acts up a storm, captivates the screen.  But there's no dramatic structure to the movie.  If I can make a comparison that not too many people are making, this is kind of like Catch Me If You can.  It's a lovable bad guy being chased after by the feds.  But in Catch Me If You Can, the stakes heighten as the movie goes along.  Leonardo DiCaprio's character goes from doing small things to doing bigger and bigger and more outlandish things.  There's also all the studio veneer in the casting, with Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken providing star level support, and Hanks in particular investing us in the movie's Javert character.  But here, it's the same scene over and over again.  The movie doesn't heighten as it goes along.  In spite of the madcap energy of the lead performance, the movie itself sags.  So maybe I was dozing during the portion of the movie where Jared Leto is engaged in some amazing sure-to-be-an-Oscar-finalist supporting turn.  Honest!  This guy's in all the awards buzz, and I can't remember a thing about him in this movie.  The Javert character is incredibly dull and uninteresting, but Michael O'Neill made more of an impression on me for his "oh God, not this same FDA guy again" role than the guy who's going to get a Supporting Actor nomination.

Ender's Game
Saw this with two clients and two other people from the office.  Reactions were motley, from entirely satisfied (not more than that) to outright dislike.  I was entirely satisfied.  Nothing new.  It's a bootcamp/biopic movie and you get a lot of the same notes.  Training camp sequences and conflicts you can predict.  But it was well-acted, never sagged.  For some perspective, I read the original 1977 "Ender's Game" novella in 1981's Analog Anthology #2: Reader's Choice at the dawn of my sf-nal experience.  I'm not sure if I ever read the novel-length version of the story, and no I never read any of the sequels.  I don't know if my feelings about the movie would be different if I had more recent or adult memories of the underlying story.  Insofar as the novella goes, I do think the movie does, at the end, get across the knife-twisting truth of Ender's final test, as I remember if from 32 years ago.  And just to say -- I wasn't in favor of the boycott calls for the movie.  That's a double-edged sword, for how many gay advocacy organizations would be super-duper thrilled if we decided to boycott gays?  They could say correctly from our current perspective that the difference here is that Card was on the losing side of the historical trend, but nonetheless I think it's a very dangerous thing to start boycotting or ignoring artists -- and for the past 40 years Card has been an important and significant one -- on account of their political beliefs.