Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- Fourth Fiction: (Yet) Another Literary Reality Show

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a small obsession with so-called literary reality shows. (Amazed that such things could even exist? See this recent post for a recap.) To date, seven of these suckers have surfaced. Five never got past the planning and announcement stages. The jury's still out on the sixth (I'm not holding my breath), and the seventh is still embryonic (not holding my breath there either).

Now, however, there's a literary reality show that might actually go all the way.

Fourth Night, a blog maintained by writer Constantine Markides, will launch FourthFiction, "the first blog-based literary reality show," on July 4. Twelve writers will write original novels, which they'll post in tri-monthly installments, according to literary guidelines provided by Mr. Markides. Readers will vote to eliminate one contestant per round. On December 4, the single survivor of all twelve rounds will be announced. What does he or she win? Well, maybe nothing, apart from the sense of achievement in having completed a novel in five months. But maybe a small-press publishing contract. Mr. Markides says that he approached several small presses at BEA to discuss the possibility of funding limited publication of the winner's novel. (Writer Beware-ly caveat: some small publishers are no prize, and a number of really bad ones were at BEA. I hope Mr. Markides has thoroughly checked them out.)

The writers are anonymous--and some, apparently, have never written fiction before. They'll be Twittering at will during the month of July, as a way of warming up and letting readers get to know their styles. The contest proper will begin on August 4.

In my opinion, this is really the only way a literary reality show is possible. The writing process simply is not interesting to observe (nor are writers--or if they are, it's generally not because of their writing), nor is it easy to come up with telegenic challenges involving authoring ("Writers, give us 5,000 words on love and death while sitting at a sticky table in a noisy Starbucks with a latte that isn't hot enough, using only one hand! You've got two hours--now go!"). Attempting a televised literary reality show is a recipe for failure (as Tony Cowell, Simon Cowell's brother seems to have discovered) or ridiculousness (as demonstrated by announced plans for The Ultimate Author, in which contestants were to vie hotly for supremacy in such vital authorial areas as spelling and arranging a room attractively for a book club gathering). By putting all the emphasis on the writing, and cutting image and identity out of the picture entirely, Fourth Night has come up with a literary reality show concept that actually seems workable.

You can participate, or just observe, by subscribing to free email updates or Fourth Fiction's RSS feed.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- Hassett vs. Hasselbeck: What A Plagiarism Lawsuit Reveals About Writers' Fear of Theft

Writer Beware often gets correspondence that goes something like this:

Dear Writer Beware,

I [wrote/self-published] a book about [topic/plot synopsis]. I sent [the manuscript/the book] to [name of agent/publisher]. Next thing I know, there's a book on the market just like mine! I'm sure that someone plagiarized it. What can I do?


My answer (couched, of course, in much more tactful terms): Get over yourself.

Theft is an incredibly common writerly fear, but for book writers, it's almost completely unjustified, especially where unpublished work is concerned. A good agent or publisher won't risk his or her reputation by stealing; a bad agent or publisher isn't interested in your manuscript at all, only in your money, or else is too unskilled to do anything with your manuscript even if they were stupid enough to try and steal it. Also, if your writing is marketable (the biggest "if" in the quest for publication), it's a lot less trouble just to sign you for representation or publication than to expend the effort of filching your work and pretending it was created by someone else. In the long catalog of things that book writers need to worry about, theft truly is at the bottom of the list.

I was reminded of this by a recent news story about a self-published author who has filed suit against TV personality Elisabeth Hasselbeck, her publisher, and "John Doe" (I'm guessing this is Hasselbeck's ghostwriter). The author, Susan Hassett, alleges that Hasselbeck plagiarized Hassett's book, Living With Celiac Disease, in writing her own book, The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide.

These claims are detailed in a letter to Hasselbeck from Hassett's lawyer (the letter was obtained by gossip website TMZ.com). The letter alleges that Hassett sent a copy of her book to Hasselbeck, care of ABC Studios, in April 2008. (Hasselbeck's book came out in May 2009--which all on its own could refute Hassett's allegations, since, given the timeframes in publishing, Hasselbeck's book may well have been complete or mostly complete by the time Hassett's book arrived at ABC.) "Subsequently," the letter indignantly, and somewhat ungrammatically, notes, "Ms. Hassett never received a response or than [sic] even an acknowledgement [sic] of any kind." (No surprise. I'm quite sure the book went into the bin along with the other unsolicited items that Hasselbeck and her co-hosts on The View probably receive every day; it doesn't seem likely that Hasselbeck ever saw it.)

The letter goes on to quote both books, in order to identify what it calls "glaring similarities" between the two. The examples chosen are neither glaring nor, really, very similar. (Most are also, as pointed out in this post from Gluten-Free NYC, a celiac-focused blog, restatements of common advice that was widely available long before either book was published). But they do suggest, no doubt unintentionally, that Hassett's book may be somewhat lacking in the style and grammar department (example: "A person with celiac disease should only shop in the outer isles [sic] of the supermarket. The reason being is the only thing down the other isles [sic] is things you can't have"). Which makes it still less plausible that Hasselbeck or her ghostwriter plagiarized Hassett.

For me, Hassett's lawsuit demonstrates both of the basic misapprehensions at work in writers' fear of theft: first, that theft is common (i.e., it's a more likely explanation than simple chance for why someone else's book is similar to yours); and second, that the book is worth stealing (the hard truth is that, most likely, it isn't--which doesn't necessarily have anything to do with quality). These unrealistic assumptions are often coupled with a lack of understanding of commercial publishing (the timeline confusion noted above) and, as in this case, with the misguided belief that celebrities actually look at the stuff that regular people send them.

Most theft-obsessed writers never get beyond stewing in their own paranoia, but Hassett has taken it a step farther, into court. For her sake, I hope her lawyer is working on contingency.

Courtesy of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog, you can see Hassett's complaint here. Not surprisingly, Hasselbeck and her publishers have denied Hassett's allegations.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- IndieReader

There's been some recent buzz about IndieReader, a new service for self-published books launched by commercially-published author Amy Holman Edelman.

"The fact is," the IndieReader website says, "self-published authors know it's a rough world out there. They get no respect from publishers and little attention from consumers." But "more and more Indie books [are] finding mainstream success (Still Alice, The Shack) and more mainstream authors [are] writing Indie books (Dave Eggers, Noam Chomsky)." IndieReader is poised to become part of this "vast sea change in publishing:"

People are naturally drawn to what’s unique and genuine, be it Indie movies, Indie music...or Indie books. They are tired of hearing about the next John Grisham, of taking their cues from traditional publishers who are afraid of what's new, niche and different. They are hungry for something like IR—and with a team that has a combined 40 + years of public relations and marketing experience—we plan to give it to them. In short, what Sundance has done for Indie films—making what's outside the mainstream "cool"—IR will do for Indie books and authors.

(You all probably know my opinion of this kind of sloppy use of the term “indie,” but that’s not the point of this post, so I won’t make a fuss about it here.)

As "the premiere community of self-published and print-on-demand authors," IR will promote, market, and sell self-published books on its website. For an annual fee of $149 ($25 of which is a submission/reviewing fee), plus an extra $25 per book if they want to publicize more than one, authors get their own Web page and URL (here’s a preview), and keep 75% of the proceeds from any sales (IndieReader gets a 25% commission).

So far, so good--and not so very different from other self-pub-focused book listing/selling websites, such as Jexbo or Publitariat Vault. But there's a twist: IndieReader will be selective. "[G]ood books must be in good company, and so we reserve the right to exclude books that don’t meet certain standards of quality, both in terms of basic spelling and grammatical errors and content." According to IR’s FAQ, this vetting will be done by "editors, literary agents, publicists and just plain book lovers." Who they are or might be isn't revealed, though Ms. Edelman provides some clues in a recent interview. There’s also this job listing, which suggests that at least some IR vetters will be college students.

What if your book doesn't pass muster? Well, you can choose to participate in ReadRoxie, IRs non-vetted book listing site (which doesn’t yet appear to be online), or you can get a refund of your annual fee, less the $25 reviewing fee. You have to delve into IndieReader's Terms and Conditions to discover these last two facts. Some other significant provisions of the Terms and Conditions:

- Authors must fill orders within two weeks (if they don't, IR can cancel the order "and count these orders against your fulfillment rating").
- They must make sure the info on their Web pages is "accurate and current."
- They must maintain a "reasonable return policy," (the cost of that, along with shipping and handling, appears to be passed on to the buyer).
- They must agree "not to take any action to discourage customers from making purchases on the website" (a rather broad stricture that could cover a lot of things, including, conceivably, successfully promoting book sales on your own website).
- They may terminate their relationship with IR at any time with 10 days' notice--but IR reserves the right to terminate also, for any reason, including authors' failure to timely fulfill orders.

IndieReader is an interesting concept. Considering the many opportunities the Internet offers for self-published authors to throw money away on worthless marketing and promotion schemes, the $149 membership fee doesn't seem outrageous (and before anyone decides to pillory me for not getting angry at Ms. Edelman for requiring a $25 submission fee, I see this as analogous to a contest entry fee, rather than to an agent's or publisher's reading fee). Still, there's plenty of reason to be cautious, in my opinion, mainly because IR is new and unproven. Can IR really market its way to the kind of visibility that will justify its fees? Will the screening process be rigorous enough to fulfill its promise of quality (hmmm...college students)? Important questions, since these are the things that principally distinguish IndieReader from other book listing/selling websites--and presumably will be major publicity hooks for it.

If you don't know a great deal about the self-publishing community, you might suppose that self-pubbed authors would be open to the idea of a new and relatively low-cost service designed to help them achieve greater visibility. You would be wrong. IndieReader has been greeted with a good deal of skeptical and even angry discussion--much of which centers on the vetting process. An apparently harshly critical post at the Publishing Renaissance blog has been removed, but the paragraph quoted at Self-Publishing Review gives a sense of what must have been the tone:

Once again, we see Old Publishing trying to shoehorn it’s methods into the new Internet environment. It’s the same 20th-century, top-down, corporate approach to deciding the value of media — an approach which runs antithetical to the realities of the business of media on the Internet. Just take a look at how online booksellers such as Amazon, or book recommendation websites like Goodreads help individual readers decide what to read next. They don’t make recommendations according to what a small number of tastemakers have chosen; instead, the recommendations are based upon community input and involvement.

Though the post is gone, the comments remain (including several responses from Ms. Edelman), and they make for interesting reading. Valid points are raised about shipping procedures, the listing fee, what makes IndieReader different or better (or not) from similar services, whether IndieReader will be capable of providing enough of a sales boost to make it worth authors' financial while--but much of the discussion revolves around the screening process, which many of the commenters seem to feel is elitist ("Why form a special club that will shut some out based on the taste of you and those you’ve employed? How is this better than the system we already have in publishing?") or unnecessary ("It is readers now who judge and recommend, and social network, and etc. This is the internet, welcome to it.").

Given the extreme sensitivity of so many self-published authors to the issue of gatekeeping, I don't find this reaction surprising. Just as much as IndieReader’s promise of quality screening, however, it’s a tacit acknowledgment of the problem of perception that afflicts self-published books. Whether you admit the need for quality control, or decry it as a poisonous relic of "Old Publishing," it’s still the elephant in the self-publishing room.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- The Most Published Author in the History of the Planet

You may never have heard of him, but with more than 200,000 nonfiction titles in his name (more than 100,000 of which are listed at Amazon), Philip M. Parker may be, in his own words, the most published author in the history of the planet.

How does he do it? According to a 2008 article in the New York Times, Parker, a professor of marketing at INSEAD business school in France and founder of ICON Group International, "has developed computer algorithms that collect publicly available information on a subject—broad or obscure—and, aided by his 60 to 70 computers and six or seven programmers, he turns the results into books in a range of genres, many of them in the range of 150 pages and printed only when a customer buys one." (This patented process is explained step-by-step in a YouTube video.)

Parker's books sell anywhere from a few hundred to a few dozen copies each. In addition to compiling books himself, he offers compilation applications to other businesses via EdgeMaven Media (whose website includes a fascinating FAQ), and has branched out into animation and video games. It all sounds quite lucrative--though in the Times article as well as an interesting Q&A at O'Reilly TOC, Parker dodges the question of income, claiming that his company makes no profit because it plows all revenue back into R&D.

Is Parker a Long Tail visionary or a one-man author mill? Are his thousands of computer-generated books an amusing and possibly useful curiosity, or the first, distant echo of the death knell for live individual authors? These are fascinating questions. Parker himself would seem to view his system as author replacement, at least in some areas of publishing. Per his patent application (quoted in The Guardian):

Parker quotes a 1999 complaint by the Economist that publishing "has continued essentially unchanged since Gutenberg. Letters are still written, books bound, newspapers printed and distributed much as they ever were."

"Therefore," says Parker, "there is a need for a method and apparatus for authoring, marketing, and/or distributing title materials automatically by a computer." He explains that "further, there is a need for an automated system that eliminates or substantially reduces the costs associated with human labour, such as authors, editors, graphic artists, data analysts, translators, distributors, and marketing personnel."


Parker hasn't eliminated the human element entirely. In his O'Reilly interview, he says that while 90% of his content is computer generated, writers, editors, and designers are are all "relied on heavily at many stages." And there would still appear to be some room in Parker's world for individual creative effort. From the EdgeMaven Media FAQ:

“Human creativity” in this sense is the absence of formulaic authorship techniques that can be reverse engineered. Some Ph.D. theses, and forms of poetry for that matter, are not that “creative”. Creative authors, therefore, need not fear being replaced by this process. The same is true for creative doctoral students, moviemakers, television producers or PC game makers.

Ah, but what's creative? Not romance novels, apparently. Per the New York Times article linked in above, Parker "is laying the groundwork for romance novels generated by new algorithms. 'I’ve already set it up,' he said. 'There are only so many body parts.'" (A reductive statement that, no doubt, will infuriate romance writers everywhere.) What's next? Computer-generated SF novels with stock aliens? Algorithm-created crime dramas with hard-boiled dialog swiped from the movies? Robo-poetry to populate a hundred Poetry.coms?

Apart from imponderable questions of creativity, Parker's system of content aggregation poses another dilemma: copyright. In his O'Reilly interview, Parker says he uses "the sources that are used by regular authors," i.e., information that is publicly available. However, "publicly available" does not necessarily mean "public domain." How does Parker ensure that the materials his algorithms stitch together are copyright-free? If they aren't, how does he ensure that his sources are properly cited?

Good question. As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, several linguists recently challenged a number of Aboriginal-language thesauruses, dictionaries, and crossword puzzle books created by Parker's computers, alleging that the books violated copyright. The dispute is discussed at Language Log, a linguistics-focused blog (among other things, it's pointed out that the domain Parker uses for his dictionaries, websters-online-dictionary.org, is not connected with the Merriam-Webster dictionaries), and in a long post by one of the challengers, Peter Austin, who presents an argument for why, although "[i]t is not possible to copyright common knowledge such as words and meanings," Parker's use of material from Austin's 1993 dictionary of the Gamilaraay language constitutes copyright violation.

Parker has since removed the offending books from sale, saying "There was no malice and certainly no financial motive. That was the furthest thing from my mind."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- Fruitloops Galore

The book world is sometimes a very weird place. In keeping with that, two news items caught my eye today...

Another Harry Potter Infringement Claim

According to this press release, the estate of children's author Adrian Jacobs is suing Bloomsbury Publishing, alleging that J. K. Rowling stole the plot of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire from Jacobs' 1987 book The Adventures of Willy the Wizard--No 1--Livid Land, and that Bloomsbury is in copyright violation for printing and selling Goblet. According to the press release,

Both books describe the adventures of a main character, "Willy" in Jacobs' book and "Harry Potter" in Rowling's, who are wizards, who compete in a wizard contest which they ultimately win. Both Willy and Harry are required to work out the exact nature of the main task of the contest which they both achieve in a bathroom assisted by clues from helpers, in order to discover how to rescue human hostages imprisoned by a community of half-human, half-animal fantasy creatures, "the merpeople" in Harry Potter. Many other similarities are described in the Claim filed by the Estate, which include the idea of wizards travelling on trains.

Shades of Nancy Stouffer, who in 2000 alleged that Rowling lifted ideas from Stouffer's 1984 children's fantasy The Legend of Rah and the Muggles! According to Australia's The Daily Telegraph, the suit is being "promoted" by "Sydney celebrity publicist Max Markson," who says that Jacobs' estate is seeking an injunction to prevent continued sale of Goblet of Fire, and is also seeking a court order against Rowling to determine whether to add her as a defendant in the action. (Which seems odd. If you're arguing plagiarism, wouldn't the author be your primary target--especially when the author is as wealthy as Rowling?)

Stouffer's suit was tossed out of court in 2002. Although much of the press coverage seems to be taking this new lawsuit seriously, I suspect that the Jacobs estate is heading for the same outcome. On investigation, Willy the Wizard proves to be a 36-page illustrated children's book, somewhat vitiating comparison to Rowling's 640-page young adult tome. Also, while the press release prominently alleges that Jacobs "sought the services" of Rowling's literary agent, Christopher Little--an attempt, presumably, to establish a connection between Jacobs and Rowling--there's no evidence that Little was ever actually Jacobs's agent (the recently-created website for Willy the Wizard several times mentions a "literary agent," but never provides a name). Putting this together with the fact that nearly thirteen years divides the publication of Willy the Wizard from that of Goblet of Fire, I suspect it will be tough for the Jacobs estate to argue that Rowling ever had an opportunity to view Jacobs's book.

Oh, but she could have found it in a bookstore, you may be thinking? Maybe not. Although I can't find any specific info on Jacobs's publisher, Bachman & Turner, the Willy the Wizard website reveals that Jacobs commissioned his own illustrations and was "impatient to publish" and didn't want to re-write, as his unnamed literary agent apparently advised him to do. Along with the awful title and the rather-less-than-stellar writing, this suggests vanity publishing, to my suspicious mind at least. (Interesting possible parallel: Stouffer's books were vanity published.)

Writing samples and illustrations (hope Jacobs's estate got permission for those) can be seen at the Willy the Wizard website, which appears to have been designed with the lawsuit specifically in mind.

Would-Be Book Burners to Civil Authorities: Can We? Please?

What's the world coming to? Used to be, book burners just went out and burned books. They didn't bother with any silly stuff, like asking for permission. But in Wisconsin, four purported members of something called the Christian Civil Liberties Union have filed a complaint with the city of West Bend seeking the right to burn or otherwise destroy the West Bend Community Memorial Library's copy of Francesca Lia Block's YA novel, Baby Be-Bop.

According to this post from the American Library Association, the complaint describes the novel as “explicitly vulgar, racial, and anti-Christian.” Moreover,

“the plaintiffs, all of whom are elderly, claim their mental and emotional well-being was damaged by this book at the library,” specifically because Baby Be-Bop contains the “n” word and derogatory sexual and political epithets that can incite violence and “put one’s life in possible jeopardy, adults and children alike.”

As opposed to building a bonfire, which might ignite neighboring objects, such as children.

The CCLU's complaint follows on a challenge by local residents to a number of titles in the library's YA collection, and a decision by library trustees to leave the collection intact. There's more coverage in this article from The Guardian.

(A web search on "Christian Civil Liberties Union" turns up plenty of discussion of book burning, but no info on this group. Methinks it was invented for the occasion.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- Diggory Press: Stranger Than Fiction

We tell some strange tales here on the Writer Beware blog. There's scam agent/vanity publisher Martha Ivery, noted for harassing authors and for impersonating herself with her alter-ego, Kelly O'Donnell. There's scam agent/writers' conference promoter Elisabeth von Hullessem, who had a similar mania for aliases and, it turned out, was wanted by the police for a crime much worse than relieving writers of their cash. There's Christopher Hill, another scam agent who created elaborate forgeries to fool his clients and then used a fake name to out himself on a popular writers' message board. There's the guy who tried to get people to pay him $1 per word to add to his collaborative novel. There's the literary agency that wanted writers to bid for representation on eBay. There are the literary reality shows. The list goes on.

As strange as anything we've ever covered, however, is the tale of vanity publisher Diggory Press, which has been explored in a number of posts at Mick Rooney's excellent POD, Self-Publishing and Independent Publishing blog. From Mick's most recent post about Diggory, put up today:

It is a story of intrigue, deception, fraud, defamation, theft, forgery, religious persecution, death threats, hatred, subterfuge and much more, culminating in investigations by the British Police Force, Scotland Yard, An Gardai (Irish Police Force) and I have even encountered unsubstantiated claims of Interpol being involved; resulting in, at first, small claims court actions, and now, potentially, a civil court case early next year.

I couldn't say it any better than that. Check it out, especially the links. I've heard from most of the parties in the dispute, and I think Mick's analysis is spot on.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- Another Interesting Promotion From AuthorHouse

Author Solutions, Inc., parent company of POD self-publishing services AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris, and Trafford, is nothing if not an inventive marketer.

Last year, ASI debuted "gift" publishing ("First-of-its-kind Service Allows Gift Buyers to Make Loved Ones' Dreams of Publishing a Book Reality"). Then, this past weekend, ASI hooked up with the AARP to offer publishing incentives to older people attending the AARP Life Festival in Chicago. Over-50 authors were eligible to "get their age in free books" just by agreeing to publish with AuthorHouse. The catch? Authors had to agree to buy one of AuthorHouse's more expensive Premium packages--and to talk to an ASI "publishing consultant." Based on the stories I've heard about ASI's hard-sell phone tactics, I wouldn't be surprised if many of the authors wound up buying more than just publishing.

What's next? Your weight in free books?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- BEA Report

I meant to post this yesterday, but after the frenzy of getting ready for BEA and then three high-adrenaline days of being there, I needed a day to recover. Plus, I sustained an injury in the cause of bringing scam awareness to North America's largest book show--but more about that later.

Writer Beware's presence at BEA this year--courtesy of our new co-sponsor Mystery Writers of America, which kindly gave us space in their booth and let us raid their fridge for water and soda (thanks, Margery!)--was something of an experiment. Some of us had attended the show before in other capacities, but this was the first time that Writer Beware attended as a group.

Overall, we feel it was very much worth it. We brought handouts (my article, Writer Beware, and Ann's anti-scam handout, Excuse Me, How Much Did It Cost You?), business cards, and a brand-new Writer Beware brochure, and gave out a lot of each to the librarians, booksellers, aspiring authors, journalists, and others who stopped by the MWA booth. Many people were familiar with Writer Beware and its work, but many weren't, and it was great to get the word out and to make new connections.

Friends and fans of Writer Beware also stopped by to visit, some of whom we'd only previously met online; it was fun to put faces with familiar names. We had visits from a few non-fans as well. I got into a bit of an argument with a representative of one of the POD self-publishing services, who wanted to tell me how wrong I was about the viability of "traditional" publishing; and we were surprised (to say the least) to come face to face with a Ghost of Scams Past. I'll leave that story to Ann.

The Ghosts of Scams Present were also in evidence. As I mentioned in an earlier post, several BEA attendees were familiar to us from our complaint files, and some of them appeared to be doing brisk business at the show. Just a reminder of how important it is to educate not just writers, but the publishing industry, about the prevalence of literary fraud.

I won't attempt to punditize on the show, since so many other people are already doing so (GalleyCat provides a roundup), other than to say that although there was much pre-show prognostication about shrinking attendance numbers, the crowds seemed respectable. The aisles were busy on Friday and Saturday, with signings and special events drawing what appeared to be decent-sized crowds (including the one that gathered for an appearance by Captain Chesley Sullenberger to promote his upcoming book; he seemed both deeply dignified and profoundly out-of-place up on the stage in his pilot's uniform). Sunday was quieter, with Javits Center workers starting to roll up the carpets even before the official closing time of 3:00.

Disappointingly, freebies were in short supply, though we did score some nifty pens and travel clocks from Google (yes, I know. Taking clocks from the enemy. Have we no self-respect?) at its well-attended Saturday presentation.

One of my goals for the show was to see the Espresso Book Machine, which was being demoed at the Ingram booth. It's surprisingly compact, consisting of a big copier attached to a somewhat larger rectangular box where the copied pages are stacked, bound, and trimmed. The finished book pops out a slot at the bottom (I was able to flip through one while it was still warm). The box has clear sides, so you can see the whole process. A very, very cool machine! According to the enthusiastic spokesperson, the Espresso is currently installed in 15 locations (mostly bookstores), a number that is expected to increase to more than 100 over the next couple of years.

So what about that injury I mentioned in the first paragraph? As I was walking to Penn Station on Sunday, juggling my suitcase, computer bag, and purse, feeling tired but pleased with myself, I failed to pay attention to my feet, and tripped over a curb and fell flat on my face. My stuff went flying; my sandal ripped right off my foot. Contrary to popular mythology, New Yorkers are extremely helpful; people came rushing over to help me up and ask if I was all right. Bruised but fortunately not bleeding, I gathered my shredded dignity and limped on, and managed to make my train. Unfortunately, though, it wasn't just my pride that suffered. Today I look as if someone did the bastinado on my knees, both of which are swollen and black-and-blue. And my sandal, I fear, is completely ruined.

The things I do for Writer Beware.