Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Sheila Deeth is a marvel: a creative and excellent writer, a wonderful critic and someone who posts more reviews on more sites than anyone else I know of. It’s all under Sheila’s Reviews ( 

Enough said, this is her blog.

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“On April second, Martin Shepard interviewed me for what was to become a weekly blog by people in the business of books. He introduced me to the world as a writer and book reviewer for which I am enormously grateful. A few weeks ago, he invited me to celebrate the six-month anniversary of that interview with a blogpost of my own. I agreed, of course, awed to be invited back to such celebrated company. And then... time ran away from me.

“There’s a formula for that somewhere, for relative space and time. Long ago, most likely in a galaxy far far away (otherwise known as Cambridge, England), I studied Einstein’s relativity, calculated structures and admired the evolution of stars, and dreamed black holes. I was a mathematician, in love with the order and sense of it all; the way patterns line up and answers rise from the mist of uncertainties; the unchanging nature of equations, measurable validity of approximations, and calculation that always simply has to be right or wrong.

“Today, as time slips swiftly away, I’m compiling, editing and formatting an anthology for our local writers’ group.  It might seem a far cry from studying math, but the connections continue to amaze me. Back in high school, the math teacher taught us first, not to calculate, not to measure, not to sum, but rather how to write our equals signs neatly one under another. “Why?” asked a daring young student, receiving a frown of mild amusement followed by, “So I can read your answers; so you can too.”

“Why does the punctuation go inside the quote? Why does it matter where we put our commas? Why shouldn’t sentences run on? But grammar rules, like one plus one makes two. And then there’s style—Why set a rule about the spacing of ellipses? Why insist on italics for internal dialog? Not everyone does.

“Plus there’s all the unseen stuff, like invisible approximations and those all-important epsilons tending to zero while time tends to infinity; widows and orphans who are (lonely) only words, white space that needs to filled with a picture or resized, and sections that start on the wrong side of a two-page spread....

“Why?” asks the daring old voice in my head, and the answer’s still the same, in math or in writing: “So people can read your answers; so you can too.”

“More time slips by. I think I’ve missed my deadline, but the Writers’ Mill Journal’s really nearly done. Perhaps I’ll get back to writing novels and reviewing new releases soon—hopefully ones where the grammar’s consistent, the white-space is clean, and the style doesn’t change from page to page. I have a growing pile from the Permanent Press calling out to me, and I know their equals signs will all line up!

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NEXT WEEK I’ll be posting another blog critiquing The American Academy of Arts and Letters , which will feature a personal letter from Kurt Vonnegut. It’s quintessential Vonnegut and not to be missed.
Be sure to leave comments below feel free to contact Sheila Deeth directly (


Thursday, October 22, 2015


On October 12, Publishers Weekly gave me the opportunity to respond to comments made by the Authors Guild recently. It appeared as a full page—the final page—a generous “Soapbox,’’ with a headline: Commenting on Mary Rasenberger’s Comments, and a subtitle “An independent publisher takes on the Authors Guild’s director.” 

Some of you may have read this article, but most will not have. Over and above challenging the Authors Guild claims, it also presents a point of view about the state of publishing today which I think you might find interesting. What follows is the text.

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After polling 1,674 Guild members, Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild, created a splash several weeks ago by claiming that most of their members’ earnings were less than $11,670 annually, which is the federal poverty level. She spread the blame around: bookstores shutting down, the rise of Amazon, publisher consolidations, and the low royalties authors receive from publishers. But do these alarm bells ring true?

It became clear that Rasenberger was talking about the five publishing conglomerates, while ignoring the more than 2,000 independent publishers listed in Literary Market Place. When she says that “authors need to be cut in more equitably on the profits their publishers see,” this is another assumption that all publishers are profitable—as opposed to the reality, in which some are going broke, others are losing money, and some are just breaking even.

Last year at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I was talking to Robert Rosenfeld of the Poisoned Pen Press, which has been publishing high-quality mysteries for the past 17 years. We at The Permanent Press started publishing in 1978. I put a question to Robert that I’d been thinking about: “Do you ever get the feeling that you’re standing in the ocean when the tide starts coming in, but you can’t move your feet? Soon the water level comes up to just below your nose, and you wonder whether you’ll survive or not. Then, at the last moment, the waters recede and the crisis is over.” Rosenfeld, with a devilish smile, said, “Yes. But publishing is the least expensive hobby a man can have.” I’ve cherished that sentence ever since.

Despite Rasenberger’s claim that Amazon has hurt author earnings, in our experience, Amazon has never been a detriment to either author earnings or publishers’ earnings. When Amazon orders printed books, they rarely return anything, while wholesalers and bookstores typically return a high percentage. As for electronic sales (such as with Kindle), we split them 50/50 with our authors, as we do with all subsidiary rights—another good deal for writers, despite the Authors Guild’s warnings. 

Rasenberger claimed that “unless writers share more equitably the profits their publishers see, we’ll stop seeing the quality of work the industry was built on.” What quality is she talking about?  My impression is that the quality of writing has gone down and down and down over the decades. 

As the co-publisher of a small press interested in publishing literary fiction, I applaud this development. Why? Because the only reason we’ve been able to find, introduce, and publish so many award-winning novelists is because the conglomerate publishers increasingly reject them. Dumbing down artistic merit in favor of wider sales works if the goal is making money. But if one’s passion is to find and introduce artful writers, this strategy doesn’t work. Amy Schumer is not Mark Twain, though both are humorists, and James Patterson is not Elmore Leonard. I fault neither Patterson nor Schumer for their financial success any more than I would fault the winner of a million-dollar lottery. Patterson’s name on a book guarantees high sales, even if his “coauthors” do all the work, and some people find Schumer irresistible.

Which brings up a bigger question: what compels someone to enter the arts and keep at it, despite the fact that most put hours into their work that puts them below the federal poverty level? Living and working here in the Hamptons for most of my life, I’ve known many artists, from writers to painters, sculptors, musicians, actors, playwrights, and poets. All of them work because that’s what dedicated creative people do. After decades, some have achieved worldwide renown, such as Hans Van de Bovenkamp, whose stainless steel sculptures are installed in parks, museums, and collections throughout the world. But he never went into it for the pursuit of money. Another friend, Ruby Jackson, known by many for her assemblages, ceramics, paintings, and gallery exhibits says, with a laugh, “I am the best collector of my own work.” Jackson’s income is poverty level, but she shares with Van de Bovenkamp that same enthusiasm to create art.

“Authors are not getting the financial rewards they are due,” Rasenberger concludes. This is an argument used by workers everywhere. But what is due to anyone?
And don’t authors have the right to sign or refuse any contract offered by a publisher, large or small?

I rest my case.

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I welcome your comments.
I can also be reached by email:

NEXT WEEK expect another blog posting.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015


John Valeri is a book reviewer who writes for the Hartford Books Examiner on Given the wider distribution it receives, his column consistently ranks in the top ten percent of Hartford Examiners, National Books Examiners, and National Arts & Entertainment Examiners. His reviews have been excerpted and printed on more than forty titles written by popular authors, ranging from Wally Lamb to James Patterson. John regularly moderates author discussions at bookstores and conferences throughout the state and is a proud member of the Em-Dashes writers group.

He’s been carrying on a lifelong love affair with books since discovering the many charms of Nancy Drew as a child. “In Middle School, I graduated to the more adult stylings of Mary Higgins Clark—and I continue to have an affinity for murder & mayhem of all sorts (fictitious, of course).” This ardent bibliophilia led him to apply to in 2009, and he’s been writing about books ever since. “What better way to indulge my habit? I dabble in composing fiction, as well, though I can’t seem to find the discipline to complete the great American novel. Or even a decent one. This is probably due to the fact that I spend most of my free time immersed in that which has been written by others.” Consequently, he can attest to what Gloria Estefan once sang: the words get in the way.

What follows is his story.

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"Five years ago, Patricia Cornwell embarked on her first book tour in a decade. While the limited itinerary found her visiting big box retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Costco, Sam’s Club and the now defunct Borders, there were also a precious few stops at independent bookstores—one of which, though out of state, was within driving distance of my Connecticut home. Given my longtime affinity for the (then) reclusive Cornwell and my ardent support of indies—even when it means expending more money and more gas—I decided to hit the road, fully expecting a memorable experience.

“And I got one.

“Upon arrival at the venue, I deposited a bag of newly purchased toiletries in the collection box—Cornwell was soliciting donations in support of the “America for Vets” campaign—and proceeded into the store. The owner, noting that I was carrying a bag of books under my arm, immediately accosted me. First, he insinuated that it was due to non-buying readers like myself that independently owned bookstores couldn’t compete with the Amazons of the world. Then, he chastised me for intending to cause an inconvenience to other attendees by having more than one book to be signed.

“Apparently he’d forgotten that old adage about what happens when you make assumptions.

“First, I had every intention of patronizing his business—and had driven two hours, and 120 miles, to do so. (Ironic, then, that he patronized me.)

“Second, it was he who was ignorant of the knowledge that Cornwell and her publisher had prominently stated that the she would be more than happy to accommodate those of us who wished to have older titles signed, provided they waited until the end of the event.

“Though my initial instinct was to walk out, I decided to stay—and spent more than $100 in his store, however begrudgingly. (Hey, where else was I going to get a signed copy of Food to Die For: Secrets from Kay Scarpetta’s Kitchen?) I will freely admit, then, that I felt the ultimate redemption when Ms. Cornwell and her impressive entourage recognized my name as I passed through the signing line, resulting in warm handshakes, a photo op, and even a rare personalized inscription—all while the store owner watched on in stunned silence.

“Had he taken a moment to engage me in conversation rather than making assumptions, he might have realized my noble intentions and saved us both the embarrassment of an unnecessary and unpleasant encounter. (He might also have discerned that I was the press.) I’ve not publicly divulged this story before, but I do believe that there’s a lesson to be learned here.

“Independent bookstores are an endangered species. And while we have the responsibility of helping to protect them by shopping for a cause rather than shopping out of convenience, they have the responsibility of earning that privilege. The great majority of establishments exceed this expectation time and again. Sadly, it’s the few that don’t that we often remember best.”

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I hope you will post your responses to John’s blog. If you want to reach him directly you can email him at NEXT WEEK I will be at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and will likely take a week's break before continuing our Wednesday postings on October 28.