Holt Uncensored

Holt Uncensored


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by Pat Holt

Thursday, May 27, 2004


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"Rogue booksellers" may once again descend on BookExpoAmerica when it opens in Chicago next week, so stick those elbows out in case you get blindsided.

Thanks to a heads-up in OP magazine after BEA last year, we have advance warning that these "rogues" are not booksellers at all but "charlatans," as one publisher told OP contributor Amy Stewart, who are "out to grab a galley and flip it on eBay."

Galley pilferage is nothing new at BEA. But hauling 'em out by the score and selling them on eBay may soon become standard practice for bad guys wanting to cash in on publishers' freebies.

"Before the event had even ended," Stewart wrote about BEA 2003, "one eBayer had posted more than two dozen auctions of advance copies picked up at BookExpo. His total take for free ARCs: $361.23."

Well, that's not a lot, and yes, it adds up, but I hope this isn't the reason that BEA has drastically cut back on complimentary passes for authors. As you'll see by the top entry in LETTERS below, BookExpo is no longer giving out more than one free author badge per publisher. At first I thought, boy! BEA is sure getting greedy, and it is (see more evidence re the Borders fiasco in #384).

But then the thought occurred that maybe there's a different reason - maybe BEA, a convention for the BOOK trade, and remember, books are written by, you know, AUTHORS, hello?, has joined the rest of the industry in holding a deep and abiding suspicion toward the very people who pay all our salaries.

True, your average mid-list author is nothing but a thieving cheat who's been stealing from publishers for years. No wonder delayed royalty statements and inflated reserve rates have become standard retaliatory practice in the book trade.

But what if it's not authors who are disguising themselves as booksellers so they can "flip" ARCs on eBay and make a bundle that's equal to their last advance?

What if, to take a current and very visible example, the clenched fists, bulky jackets and demonstrably pregnant women we traditionally see at BEA are "rogue booksellers" who are stuffing the latest David Sedaris or Amy Tan galley into hidden pockets and fake wombs?

Thanks to the Bush administration, we know how to spy on our neighbors, so all I'm saying is, beware: These rogues could be snarfing cookies, drinking free beverages, jumping ahead in autograph lines and all the things I feel it's my right to do as a member of the press.

How big is the "rogue bookseller" problem? The fact is, if you search for "ARCs" on eBay, you get a thousand entries. The Strand in New York would fold without 'em (of course that's just alleged). So I don't mean stolen galleys are not a mess to contend with, especially at BEA.

But I do think if BEA's policy for complimentary badges is being rethought, for Pete's sake, don't make authors of BOOKS suffer. "Rogue booksellers" and however they get their badges should be the subject of suspicion and ejection, not authors.



When the great Columbia University scholar, author and mystery writer, Carolyn Heilbrun, died some months ago (see #377), the shock of her suicide was compounded by the fact that her son Robert, a veteran New York public defender, had just published a mystery of his own called "Offer of Proof" (William Morrow; 297 pages; $24.95).

Only a few days before her death, Carolyn had attended Robert's publication party in New York, appearing for all the world like the proud parent and mystery-writing mentor she had always been to him. That was the last time Robert saw her. He was "as shocked" when her body was discovered by her best friend, "as the rest of the world," he said later.

Although Carolyn had predicted in her books that she would take her own life, she had missed her "deadline" (age 70) for suicide by many years. Robert had hoped (as did his sisters and Carolyn's many fans and colleagues, me too) that she had changed her mind for good. Not so. "She wasn't ill or depressed," Robert told the New York Times. The irony persisted that in taking her own life, "she wanted to control her destiny."

As much as I raged about "Losing Carolyn Heilbrun" in #377, I remember feeling concerned myself about Robert, having worked briefly as a consultant on the manuscript of "Offer of Proof." I hadn't met or talked with him (I don't like to meet clients, too emotional), but the writing was so good even then that I wondered if a hot flash was starting at the roots of my hair. Of course, the tingling I felt was the proverbial Maxwell Perkins moment when the hair on the back of your neck stands up, wetly in my case, and you know you're in the hands of a born writer, even (and especially) in the genre of detective fiction.

"We read Mom's mysteries when we were growing up," Heilbrun said when in a recent interview, "but for years my sisters and I didn't know she was the author of the Amanda Cross novels. Not until my mother got tenure when I was in the fifth grade did we hear that she had written mysteries set at Columbia, which she made fun of. She was always feeding me books by Agatha Christie, and I amused the hell out of my parents by writing a mystery of my own that year called 'The Perfect Murder.'

"Mom made me a character in a lot of early Amanda Cross mysteries," he added. " 'The Question of Max' was based on a scandal in my high school where kids were hiring other kids to take their SAT exams. I didn't appreciate that. A lot of what she wrote was based on things that were happening to her, and this could get close to bone. Sometimes she used her mysteries for revenge - a lot of her attitudes are there about being Jewish, for example. Amanda Cross's protagonist is an unmarried wasp with no children. This was Mom's fantasy."

"You mean your own mother would have been happier without kids?" I asked.

"She certainly said this once in a while. I think she got a lot of pleasure out of us but didn't really want to be or act like a mom a lot of the time. In the 1950s, if you were a woman, it was automatic that you got married and had kids. Mom married young, and for 10 years there were no kids. So we didn't come along until she was in her 30s. I felt a lot of love from her, and we developed a strong mother-son relationship, so while she didn't do the things most moms did. I got a heck of a lot from her that other kids didn't. For example, she was a great guide to what to read and how to think about literature. And she was a patient teacher. She would explain anything, which is a great attribute in a parent. Our family didn't go out a lot. We all sat around dinner table talking about everything, while other kids we knew were essentially being raised by a nanny."

"Were you aware of her growing reputation as a scholar, a leader in academia?"

"Yes, when I was in college, Mom was president of MLA [Modern Language Association], and you couldn't be a bigger deal than that in the academic world. I remember staying in the Presidential Suite of Mom's hotel in Washington D.C. and watching her address a thousand people. But then time passed and I lost sight of all this in the latter years, so when she died it came back in a big way. I was completely blown away by the publicity surrounding her death."

I didn't need to remind Heilbrun that the shock of Carolyn's death made international headlines. But I was curious if he had any thoughts about the timing of her death, "since it was so close to the release of your book."

"Oh yeah, I think my mother was very aware of that. In retrospect I realize that coming to my book party and leaving without saying goodbye was intentional. A couple of days before, when I gave her a signed book, she said, 'Robert, I want to have dinner with you.' That surprised me - she very rarely just ordered me to have dinner. I think she decided not to mess up Robert's book party by planning her death for afterward. There are a lot of hints that indicate this. It was so very planned out."

I remembered that Heilbrun had told reporters that his mother hadn't appeared to be depressed or morose. "It's almost impossible for her readers to see Carolyn, intelligent and clear-minded as always, striding into death with her usual sense of purpose."

"Exactly, and of course, that's what is hard to take as her son. I have a child, and I would never do something like that to my children, even if I were terminally ill, which she wasn't. The fact that it's difficult to picture her taking this step speaks volumes on some levels to the way she viewed herself as a mother. Her connection to her kids and husband was not enough to keep her in the game, as I think it is for most people."

"Did you feel, growing up, a kind of melancholy about Carolyn?" I asked. "This was something else she seemed to radiate, although I confused it with the fact that she had to fight for everything - tenure, curriculum, sexual discrimination, feminist principles, academic standards - over the long haul. She had become an indomitable (we all thought) force."

"There was always a loneliness, a sense of isolation," Heilbrun said. "No matter how many friends or people who wanted to talk to her, she was alone. She didn't get great pleasure out of the kind of socializing that is the stuff of existence for most of us."

Well, thank heaven for books, then. One of the best things about reading "Offer of Proof" is witnessing this son pull away from his mom as a writer in his own right, one who brings authority and humor to his alter ego, New York public defender Arch Gold.

But it's Arch's cynical idealism - hardly anything new among mystery protagonists but fresh and original here - that seems to reach right up from the page and grab us by the lapels. Reading "Offer of Proof" is like being given an insider's tour of the flawed, overburdened and sometimes stumbling American legal system that comes so close to - and remains sometimes so far from - its great ideals.

Perhaps the strongest theme that unites Heilbrun and his mother is the protagonist as independent thinker, on the fringes of institutionalism yet in key ways part of its backbone. Public defenders, after all, are usually nobody's hero. They're the guys who "plead out" guilty clients behind the scenes and rarely defend the innocent at trial.

"Say your life breaks down, or your luck goes bad, and you get arrested, busted, taken into custody for some damn thing here in Manhattan," Arch Gold tells us at the beginning of "Offer of Proof." "You'll drop out of sight, just disappear ... Waiting around in filthy grimy cells with tiled walls like old bathrooms, sharing a few square feet with a lot of other desperate-looking people, you might be pleased to find that your court-appointed attorney is me, Arch Gold, working the night shift.

"You won't ask yourself why a young man who could have worked at a big corporate firm, making in a month what he makes in a year as a public defender, does this dirty work. You won't ask yourself, doesn't he have anything better to do on a Saturday night? You'll just be very happy to see me, because my friendly face, and my apparent desire to help you, whatever your alleged sins, will make you feel better, will give you hope."

So naturally, out of the wire basket bolted to the Legal Aid desk, among the many quickly processed pleas of the night, Arch pulls the murder case of a lifetime. A young black man has been accused of killing a woman whose money was found in his pockets and who, in her last breath when he is brought before her, appears to identify him as her killer. From such "open-and-shut cases" are great mysteries made.

"Offer of Proof" was nominated for an Edgar Award, but long before the nomination was made, I have to say I felt proud of Robert, a man I had never met, for knocking one out of the park on his first try. This gave me license, I felt, to So ask this veteran public defender all the questions his clients never can.

For example, why *does* a person who started out in corporate law, where Heilbrun was making at least 10 times his present salary, decide to walk away from the good life for one of the toughest, rawest, least appreciated jobs in law?

"Well, law itself, on a lot of levels is boring," says Heilbrun. "A lot of it involves arcane dancing on the head of a pin. I worked my way down the legal food chain from big corporate law firms to to smaller and smaller companies thinking I would get used to private practice. But I never did like fighting over other people's money, or having some partner tell me to crank out a memo on something that was not really interesting, whereas I find that I love Legal Aid work."

"But as a public defender," I asked, "don't you just negotiate plea bargains all day? Aren't the accused you represent usually guilty?"

"Oh, most clients are guilty, but not of what they're accused of. A lot of them are kids around 17 or 18 who, say, order Chinese food and rob the guy when he arrives - you know, 'smart' crimes like that. There's a great deal you can do rather than just pack them off to state prison."

For example?

"A large percentage of our cases involve drugs, what I call cop-created crime, where undercover police teams buy something from an addict on the corner. Well, you can get addicts into drug programs if you kick and scream enough. It doesn't always work, but it's something."

Q: So you're there to keep the system honest?

A: I have no illusions. Generally the police lie, even when they don't have to. It's why public defenders win cases when we have guilty clients. We can kick up so much dust in a trial because the police have filled out the paperwork wrong or no two cops will tell the same story, and yet the guy did it."

Q: You mean every case is a test of due process? If the D.A. can't build a clean prosecution, it's better that the guilty get off?

A: Sometimes, yes. If we can create this cloud of incompetence around police testimony, and turn it into bad faith in the jurors' eyes, we should win, and we do. I've certainly won a few trials with guilty clients because the police perform in this way. I know it sounds like I'm tarring them all with a broad brush, and that's unfair, but that is the mentality to some extent.

Q: Is this how you developed Arch Gold's cynical sense of humor?

A: Yeah, what Arch does is like working in an M.A.S.H. unit. There's a lot of black humor because everybody has seen it all, and it's easy to get a little cynical. On the other hand, the work still moves me. Many of the clients could get lost in the system and spend half their life in jail, but instead there's a way out for them.

Q: I just have to ask this: How much of your job is like "Law and Order," where every move the prosecutor makes is parried by the defense?

A: That's true of a tiny percent. The number of people who get off on a "technicality" - like a Constitutional amendment - is very low. The same goes for the number of people who get off because a statement or contraband is suppressed - I've probably won two or three hearings like that in 10 years. The threat of losing a hearing changes the equation, so prosecutors don't want to proceed.

Q: How often do you try a case in front of a jury?

A: In a year maybe I'll do two trials. You get geared up for trial a whole lot - about every two weeks - but they just don't happen. The system is designed to attrit them away. If a felony case is strong for the defense, the prosecutor may not indict, or may offer a misdemeanor.

Q: [Wow, "attrit" as a verb! Thank you, legal system.] Do public defenders develop reputations? Do you have a track record?

A: I've probably tried 25-30 cases, and have won most of them. But I put a lot of effort into building a relationship with clients so they *won't* go to trial when they shouldn't. You know, Lenny Bruce once said that "in the halls of justice, justice occurs in the halls." That's how it works. Much of it is chance.

"Offer of Proof" did not win the Edgar Award for best first novel last month, but in a way that's just as good. It means Heilbrun can take the time to develop Arch Gold as one of the great series protagonists he's destined to be. That will be quite an achievement for the author because crusading district attorneys are usually considered the white hats, public defenders the pussyfooting bureaucrats, which is why, Heilbrun says, Hollywood will never do a courtroom thriller with a public defender as the star. His mother would probably be pleased.

In the end I came to believe that watching Robert Heilbrun develop the voice of his protagonist - tough and pragmatic, witty and humane - was a way, finally, to let Carolyn Heilbrun go. While I'll never understand why someone in good health would choose to end her life, one of the things I admired most about Carolyn was that she didn't care what people thought. She was too independent-minded, for better and for worse.

The fact is, I thought, as Robert Heilbrun stood up from our interview and smiled, with his big heart showing and his hands on his hips and his whole life and career as a writer ahead of him: It's not that I'll miss Carolyn Heilbrun as a presence in this world. It's what Carolyn left behind that counts.



Every month I have the most delightful experience talking about books and the book industry on KALW, an NPR affiliate in the Bay Area, on a show that's now called "Your Call."

It's broadcast on the web, and if you ever listen in, here's the phenomenon to watch for: People call in with suggestions for books to read, and to ask questions. I'm not up-to-date on children's books, so when the caller says, "My 12-year-old was a voracious reader but seems to have lost interest in books," or something like that, it's the listeners, not this here "expert," who get on the phone with a range and diversity of ideas "for the caller with the reluctant 12-year-old" that are so stunning I start scribbling notes as furiously as the host, Farai Chideya, because suddenly we're all getting an education about children's books that comes along very rarely.

Or should say: We're getting the kind of education you only get from a chldren's librarian or children's bookseller.

And who should be on the phone last time but none other than Amanda Cotten, the owner of Valencia Books in San Francisco and a veteran children's bookseller. Amada's extensive and invaluable "Top 12 list for 12-year-olds," complete with crossover books for younger readers to age 9, will also be of interest to readers in the last two columns who have complained that they kids are bored with children's classics that have been cut to shreds by publishers on the take, so to speak.

So I asked Amanda if I could post her list, along with the fantastic "Hints for getting kids to actually read the books," which are appended at the end. Here are her picks, listed "in no particular order," she says:

"The Chronicles of Prydain" (series) by Lloyd Alexander:

"The Book of Three"

"The Black Cauldron"

"Taran Wanderer"

"The Castle of Llyr"

"The High King"

In this seres, Taran, a young boy and pig-keeper (it's a magic pig) grows to manhood with a series of fantasy adventures in a world that seems vaguely based on Wales. Has a strong female character who is still, unfortunately, secondary.

"The Dark Is Rising" (series) by Susan Cooper

"Over Sea, Under Stone"

"The Dark is Rising"


"The Grey King"

"Silver on the Tree"

Will is caught in an epic battle between the Light and the Dark during and after his 11th birthday. Appeals strongly to adolescents who feel "different."

"The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien

A self-contained story, and a prequel to "The Fellowship of the Ring," this Tolkien classic is easier to read than the long, very historical "Fellowship," and for most kids probably a better place to start.

"His Dark Materials" (series) by Phillip Pullman "The Golden Compass"

"The Subtle Knife"

"The Amber Spyglass"

Another life-and-death struggle against sinister forces, this time with a female protagonist. This series is pretty deep, and raises serious religious questions. Will make kids think about religion, so don't give it if you're not prepared for them to be questioning.

"Finn Family Moomintroll" by Tove Jansson

Populated with non-human characters, this book can be read as straight fantasy (if a little surreal), but older kids and adults will find much metaphorical commentary on the real world. Won't bore adults reading it to kids.

"The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norman Juster

Bright and fun, full of entertaining wordplay and adventures. Who wouldn't want to taste a letter C?

"The Pushcart War" by Jean Merrill

Huge trucks are taking over the city, and the pushcart vendors want to fight back. The method they find will teach about non-violence, cooperation, and compromise, but wrapped up in a story that's so good, kids won't notice.

"Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging" by Louise Rennison

A British author details the typical trials and tribulations of being a girl of 14. All girls will relate.

"The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle" by Hugh Lofting

Adventures, readable style, talking animals. Slightly colonialist, and you might want to raise this issue with your kids.

"The Sherlock Holmes Stories" by Arthur Conan Doyle

Always entertaining. I suppose it teaches logical thinking, or something, but who cares?

"A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeline L'Engle

Strong female protagonist, science fiction story that is both scientific and metaphysical, and a little bit of scary stuff. Read it first if you have a particularly sensitive child (read: disembodied brain).

"Meet the Austins" by Madeline L'Engle

Madeline L'Engle's non-science fiction series. Will appeal to those who aren't interested by "A Wrinkle in Time" (personally, I loved both).

Reading levels vary a lot. There could easily be crossover from the 12-year-old list to younger readers. Nine-year-olds are tough, but I especially like "The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle" and "The Phantom Tollbooth."

Top books for nine-year-olds

Anything by E. Nesbit

"Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" by Ian Fleming

The author of the James Bond novels wrote one kids' book. This is it. Intrigue, candy, a magical car, and a very humorous writing style.

"Stuart Little" by E.B. White

Though less well known than "Charlotte's Web," it seems to be more appealing to many kids.

"Ella Enchanted" by Gail Levine

Retelling of the Cinderella story - what happens when a fairy gives the child the "gift" that she will always be obedient.

"Half Magic" by Edward Eager

Four kids and a magic coin that grants wishes by halves. A little old fashioned, but fun.

"Max's Logbook" by Marissa Moss

Lots of cool drawings, experiments, and inventions by Max. He also talks about his parents' divorce, but the rest of the book is so neat that any lessons are painless.

"The Bad Beginning" by Lemony Snickett

Will entertain adults as much as children. The cleverly written and deeply unfortunate life of the orphaned Baudelaire children. A series, too.

"Amelia's Notebook" by Marissa Moss

The "female" equivalent of "Max's Logbook." Hand-lettered by the nine-year-old Amelia, this diary-like book contains her thoughts about moving, school and dealing with her sister - very easy stuff to relate to. Both this and "Max's Logbook" might get kids inspired to start their own "journal" or "logbook." This is a great idea. Writing is as good as reading for development. Girls in particular like brightly colored pens.

"Lizard Music" by Daniel Pinkwater

Victor is home alone, which means he can watch TV as late as he wants. Which is how he discovers the lizards. Big ones. On TV. Playing music. Very fun book, with an easy acceptance of entities who are "different." Almost everything Daniel Pinkwater has written is good.

"D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths" by Ingrid and Edgar Parin D'Aulaires

Hands down, the best way of teaching kids about the Greek myths (which can be a bit gory, but aren't really scary). Amazing illustrations on every page and a very readable text. Actually, probably the best way of teaching adults about the Greek Myths, too.

Hints for getting kids to actually read the books:

  1. Try very hard not to force them. Make reading a chore, and they will remember it as one.
  2. Let them pick the books. They may have completely different tastes than you did. Try to take them to an independent bookstore or library, and either pull out some of the above or ask for advice from a worker or librarian. Give them time to look the books over, and let them have the one they want, not the one you may want them to have.
  3. If they have a lot of trouble reading, try getting two copies of the book and take turns reading out of them to each other. Make sure they follow along in the book when you're reading, and aren't just listening to you. This is also just a fun way to spend time with a child.
  4. Remember that reading anything is better than reading nothing. If they want to only read romance novels, or books about skateboarding, then let them. Try to nudge them into expanding their taste with a crossover book (that has a strong love story, or a skateboarder as a protagonist).

Give yourself time to read. Not only will this give a child the idea that reading is something you would want to do, it allows you to discover books that they might like as well, and you can talk about the books with them. Many people tell me that they don't have time to read. Just for a week, try taking half an hour of the time you usually watch TV and try reading something that really interests you. Forget about reading what you "should" be reading.

Bravo, Amanda! Thank you!



Dear Holt Uncensored,

Funny you should mention the BookExpo in #384, as the people who run it, that is the folks at Reed), were very much on my mind today, too. I began looking at the BEA exhibitor manual for furniture and badges, and discovered that Reed has discontinued its policy of offering authors complimentary badges. Now, each 10x10' booth gets a single author badge (in addition to its 5 personnel badges), and if they want more, it costs $50 for each one.

I saw this on the author badge order form, and also confirmed it with Reed over the telephone.

Having more authors would seem to be a good thing to encourage at BEA. And not just the name authors who do the autographing but ordinary trying-to-make-it authors who wander the aisles, learning about the industry and being available to meet booksellers and talk to them passionately about their books.

Isn't that why booksellers go to BEA in the first place, to find out first-hand about new titles? Or is BEA now just a big emporium where everything, in particular the reputation and credibility of Reed, is called into question?

(And don't get me started on Reed's preposterous "web marketing fee," a $250 per publisher profit center that is nonrefusable and nonnegotiable, and is tacked on on top of the already expensive booth charge.)

Peter Goodman

Dear Holt Uncensored,

Thanks for your coverage of the Ingram issues. I appreciate that you told Ingram's side of the story--there are a lot of new self publishers who need to deal with false expectations, learn how to pack books better, etc.

However, this isn't a question of Ingram ordering five copies that don't sell (and will be returned at the publisher's expense, with an inflated shipping charge, in any case). It's also not a question of POD titles, which Ingram still does cheerfully sell as special-orders, on a no-return basis, with each book printed individually after it is ordered. Of course, these are often printed by Lightning Source, which is owned by Ingram and which makes a good profit from supplying those titles.

The problem is what is happening to small, regular, royalty-paying publishers who come out with only a few new titles per year. These are, for the most part, books with some literary merit, books that expose new authors for the first time, and books by good mid-list authors who no longer get automatic acceptance from big presses.

Here is the Ingram policy for those publishers: If *net* sales to Ingram in any one year fall below $20,000, the publisher is dead meat. The publisher's books are dropped, removed from the database, and store owners are given the impression that the books are out of print.

No matter that in a specific year, the handful of new titles just didn't happen to do well in bookstore sales (as opposed to, say, library sales) despite good reviews and the publisher's best efforts. No matter that the net sales to Ingram for that year fell below $20,000 because Ingram cheerfully accepted huge numbers of beat-up "returns" of an old out-of-date title from used book stores--stores that had not bought the books from Ingram in the first place. Ingram, again, happily accepts these fraudulent returns at the publisher's expense, and ships them to the publisher with an inflated shipping charge. When huge numbers of these turn up from somebody's moldy basement, the publisher's "net" sales figure is slashed beyond recognition.

Losing one wholesaler, out of many, may not seem devastating to a publisher of good books. But unfortunately, the vast majority of bookstores still refuse to carry a book unless they can buy it from Ingram. In many of the stores, when customers ask for a book, the clerk, on not finding it in the Ingram database, says it's "out of print." So any possibility of a sale is lost, because of false information.

I'm optimistic that this can change. We, as a small independent publisher, find that independent booksellers do become our natural allies when we approach them and find ways of working with them, one store at a time. Unfortunately, as we are a tiny company, there's a limit to how many individual personal contacts we can make. But if more small publishers understood what's happening, the alliances between small stores and small presses would become much more solid.

When store buyers finally figure out that they can offer their customers a better selection if they are willing to also buy through other wholesalers such as Baker & Taylor, then market forces may come into play. But in the meantime, Ingram's new policies are a blow to a free press, because of the company's near monopoly in supplying bookstores. Good books from small independent presses are, suddenly, no longer available in a great many bookstores that would otherwise be carrying them.

Steve Carlson
Upper Access, Inc., Book Publishers

Dear Holt Uncensored,

Certainly understand your feelings about ABA selling its Tarrytown property, many of which were echoed by booksellers. It is worth noting, however, that the property was always viewed in part as a long-term investment. The sale now will infuse ABA with new monies that will make it easier to maintain current programs -- Book Sense et al -- and consider future projects without quite the same budget constraints.

Hut Landon
Northern California Independent Booksellers Association

Dear Holt Uncensored,

I set foot in a Borders for the first time in many years (I haunt the local independently owned bookstore, Schwartz's, which used to be co-owned by Avin Domnitz of ABA Exec. Dir. fame), because I was invited to speak to a group of writers who meet there every week. I brought copies of my out-of-print book, "From Pen to Print: The Secrets of Getting Published Successfully," and a few copies of the new one, the third edition of "Every Writer's Guide to Copyright and Publishing Law" because it is hot off the press, and I thought Borders might not have them in yet, or might not have enough if the group turned out to be large.

Well, Borders didn't have ANY. And, although I am a local author, they declined to carry the books. They said they would order them if people wanted them. (Well, how are they supposed to know they exist if they aren't on the shelves?)


So their antics at the coming BEA as described in #384 do not surprise me. I mean, this is bookselling by the cover, not by the content.

Ellen Kozak

Dear Holt Uncensored,

About BookExpo acting as sales agent for Borders [and convincing publishers to buy meeting times and receptions with Borders store managers as "highly targeted options"], you wrote:

"Highly targeted options, my foot. It's extortion. It's take-space-in-our-Xmas-catalog or we'll cut our order; it's pay-through-the-nose-for-our-Celebrate-New-Authors-program or forget that first novel you love; it's buy-space-in-our-window/endcap/storefront/counter-display program or kiss your midlist goodbye."

Some of the promotions mentioned in #384 are why AMS is facing so many difficulties with the government, and the fallout is the likely reason that Mike Nicida, the CEO, resigned three weeks ago. (AMS received monies from publishers for ads in the SAMS and COSTCO monthly magazines that was far greater then the actual costs, and these monies were recorded as Net income with the actual costs of producing the magazines being deducted as advertising expenses. In some years the only profit shown by AMS was due solely to the monies received as advertising commitments from Book Publishers. All this occurred prior to their acquisition of Publishers Group West.)

Borders, nor in fact the Book Trade, is not alone in using their retail muscle to their advantage. Look at the Drugstore chains, Pet Store chains, Home Depot, Supermarket chains. It is everywhere.

An Observer

Dear Holt Uncensored,

From Australia, I was interested to see the comments in the recent issue of your newsletter about Classic Titles.

Here in Australia we have a distributor who markets a splendid range of books including Nesbits, Coolidges, Jeromes, Alcotts, etc., and sells them at $4.95 (that's Australian money! - it's about $3 in US money at current rates). These books are well printed and illustrated in the main, fully unabridged, and attractively covered. I'd be glad to send a list to anybody interested, particularly to the school librarian who wrote to your newsletter (email address needed), or one could check out my web site for PERIBO (in the search engine on http://www.immortalbooks.com.au/).

Thank you for an engaging view of a shocking trading situation. We could get it here too: the US giant is interested only in itself, and when it invades a small country's markets, the "collateral damage" (isn't that what it's called in the USA?) doesn't bear looking at.

David Vickers-Shand
IB Publications Pty Ltd - Immortal Books
Murwillumbah NSW Australia

Dear Holt Uncensored,

Regarding Section #215 of the USA Patriot Act: As an audio producer, I do seminars on California family law, and there learned this Winter that lawyers are also subject to this section. It was suggested that at each and every bar meeting (or client meeting, or court session even), it be announced *only when true*, "We have not had a visit from the FBI since our last meeting." When not true, the announcement would not be made, thus announcing it by the omission.

A workaround, perhaps. But chilling.

I signed the petition. Thanks!

Lou Judson

Holt responds: Libraries have similar signs, and I think the lesson is out there for all of us. Perhaps upon greeting, one might say, "How have you been since the last time you told me the feds hadn't ransacked your apartment?"

Dear Holt Uncensored,

I fear not only that books are being dumbed down for children, but also that books for adults are being targeted. Although I don't think the text has been edited, the covers of some of Patrick O'Brian's books have been redone to show Russell Crowe's picture rather than the fine artwork of Geoff Hunt. As an avid reader of the series, I find this dilutes the impact. Russell Crowe is a very good actor, and the film was executed admirably. Yet to remove Mr. Hunt's artwork from the books does a disservice to new readers of the series. Call me a middle-age geezer in the making, but this smacks of cheap marketing.

Bill Glanting

Holt responds: I too hate the packaging of movie tie-ins - for one thing, I want my imagination to join with the author's in conjuring up the hero's image - and after days of averting my eyes I finally ripped the cover off the tie-in for "A Beautiful Mind" so I wouldn't have to see Russell Crowe's idea of inner torment writ large on a face again. It's true, he was a better actor in "Master and Commander," but I agree with you about the original cover art. One needn't be a geezer to feel transported to the seafaring era even before opening a Patrick O'Brian book, by the original Geoff Hunt cover illustrations. On the other hand, if the Crowe mug catches the attention of moviegoers who never read the books and take a chance on the tie-in, what a delicious adventure awaits them as they begin their first O'Brian story! I heard years ago that the movie tie-in for "The Color Purple" sold 2 million *more* copies of Alice Walker's novel after the book had run its course - i.e., after the Pulitzer Prize, after the National Book Award, after the hardcover, the trade paperback, the mass-market reprint. So who knows. If a movie gets people to read "the real thing," bring on the dang tie-ins.

Holt Uncensored provides this forum for the free and uncensored exchange of thoughts and ideas from writers of all callings. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Pat Holt or the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association.

"Holt Uncensored" is an online column by Pat Holt
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