What Code Is Revealing About Readers

3 August 2015

From Digital Book World:

There’s a brave new world in book publishing, and it’s being shaped by and around audience insights. Not only are publishers becoming more adept at using data to work smarter, but code and algorithms are also getting better at gathering information and executing tasks without the help of humans.

At Jellybooks, we recently developed a piece of code called candy.js, which is embedded inside an ebook to track how users actually read. Penguin Random House UK was among our earliest partners in a pilot program of the technology, and the insights we gathered were fascinating. The question now becomes what story this data tells us and what impact it might have.

. . . .

It’s not simply about verifying or disproving notions about how people read, but rather understanding the diversity of readers and audiences out there, and how we in the publishing industry can best cater to their interests and needs.

Not surprisingly, there is a lot of fear that the influx of data will lead publishers to only publish more celebrity biographies and vampire novels. But I think that fear is unfounded and obscures the potential of a technology that first and foremost allows us to judge what kind of audience a book appeals to.

Technology does not tell us if a book is good or bad; it merely identifies the types of readers who are engaging with particular types of books. Every book has its audience—some are bigger and some smaller—but reading analytics is above all else about understanding what that audience for a specific book looks like.

. . . .

I will attempt to dissect the algorithms and code behind what Apple, Amazon, Google and others are doing. Recommendation engines are not some kind of mystical black box; they follow rules and work with a particular type of data. Some are considerably less sophisticated than people might imagine, but they are getting smarter and smarter all the time.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

True adulthood

3 August 2015

True adulthood… is a difficult beauty, an intensely hard won glory, which commercial forces and cultural vapidity should not be permitted to deprive you of.

Toni Morrison

The Myth of The Lazy Writer

3 August 2015

From Hugh Howey via Publishers Weekly:

The hardest part of getting a book published is the actual writing. All it takes to see this is the number of people who dream of publishing a book but never manage to hammer out a rough draft. I spent 20 years trying to write my first novel before I finally pulled it off. It’s not unusual for an aspiring writer to struggle for years and never produce a finished product to submit to agents or editors.

Once the hard part is done and a draft is written, there are two basic routes a writer can take. Much ink has been spilled over the past few years about the rise of self-publishing—even though the route predates Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin. To self-publish requires hiring cover artists, editors, and typesetters or learning to do these things on one’s own. The difficult task of emailing a cover artist to hire her services is often used to frighten authors away from self-publishing. That’s because there’s a myth that authors are lazy, and a myth that some authors merely write for a living. No such creature has ever existed.

The alternative to self-publishing is to sign over your work to a traditional press. It sources the cover artist, editor, and typesetter for you. In exchange, it takes most of the income. This is sold as a fair deal, especially since it is said that publishers support authors while they write their novels by providing a livable advance. This is yet another myth: authors produce their first works while working another job; they are not given a year’s salary because they have an idea.

What is being sold with these myths is the notion that the self-published author works extra hard beyond the writing, while all other writers simply craft their drafts and FedEx the results to agents in New York. Having published along both routes, I can attest that the amount of work either way is roughly equal. Learning to query agents took me longer than learning how to self-publish.

Successful authors work their butts off either way. There is no such thing as a lazy successful author.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Stephen for the tip.

Here’s a link to Hugh Howey’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

An Introverted Writer’s Lament

3 August 2015

From The Atlantic:

Whether we’re behind the podium or awaiting our turn, numbing our bottoms on the chill of metal foldout chairs or trying to work some life into our terror-stricken tongues, we introverts feel the pain of the public performance. This is because there are requirements to being a writer. Other than being a writer, I mean. Firstly, there’s the need to become part of the writing “community”, which compels every writer who craves self respect and success to attend community events, help to organize them, buzz over them, and—despite blitzed nerves and staggering bowels—present and perform at them. We get through it. We bully ourselves into it. We dose ourselves with beta blockers. We drink. We become our own worst enemies for a night of validation and participation.

Lately, though, I’ve been asking why.

This question comes after several years of feeling ill at ease about my increasing lack of participation in the writing world. There’s my avoidance of readings, my fake enthusiasm as I swindle my own students out of their Friday nights to go to a lecture I won’t attend, my gag-triggering physical loathing of bookstores, my requirement that reading materials appear on my nightstand by benevolent conjury, without any consumer effort from me. There’s my acute failure as an educator to fill any tiny part of the role of writing-community steward that is assumed of me. There’s my own titanic hypocrisy most recently as I think about promoting a new book in the very community I can’t show love for. So here I am. In all my humility. Hello friends. Hello community. If you could pretend along with me that I’ve been here this whole time, that would be super.

. . . .

Since when did the community become our moral compass—our viability and ethics as writers determined so much by our team spirit? What if the community and the kind of participation it involves are actually bad for my writing, diluting my writerly identity, my ego and my id, and my subservience and surrender to the craft? What if I just want to make something? What if all this communing actually hurts the primary means by which I set out to participate and communicate—my writing itself? What do I do then? I mean, why can’t I make art in my clerestory abyss and snub the community without feeling like a snotty little brat? Why can’t I?

Despite the fact that the introvert is a romanticized figure, in practice the introvert is reviled and pitied.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Fans Try Bringing Diversity Of Thought To Sci-Fi Literature… And That Scares Liberal Elitist Gatekeepers To Death

3 August 2015

From Chicks on the Right:

I’ve talked about the Hugo Awards and the Sad Puppies campaign to get sci-fi/fantasy works nominated that people actually want to read/spend money on.

. . . .

The original point of Sad Puppies was to highlight the liberal/progressive social justice bias that had overtaken the Hugos (and sci-fi fandom at large). Rather than award works on the merits of the works themselves, the Hugos tended to award authors and messages who had the “correct” political bent, even if the works themselves were total financial failures, not to mention brain-meltingly BORING. They even managed to find a way to make an A.I. character utterly boring – all the dumb thing can do is refer to all humans as “she” and it got an award for smashing down binary gender barriers. Because when I pick up a sci-fi novel to read for fun, the first thing I look for is a preachy social justice message about how terrible I am for my heteronormative cisgender privilege. Screw that – I want things that blow up!

Sad Puppies is currently in its third year and has already pretty much OBLITERATED the myth that the Hugos aren’t politically driven – mostly by making the liberal gatekeepers accountable to their insistence that no political agenda exists. Which they failed at- and failed MISERABLY. Because since the nominations were announced, the elitist gatekeepers have tried over and over to paint the Puppies supporters as racist, sexist, homophobic, angry white men who are scared of diversity (one editor from a major sci-fi publishing house – completely on her own and without any outside influence – made anti-Sad Puppies statements on a completely unrelated post to her Facebook page (actually calling Sad Puppies supporters “neo-Nazis” at one point) That caused ALL KINDS of strife and drama and her boss actually had to make a public statement about it.

. . . .

Just in the past four weeks, there’s been at least one article demonizing the Puppies in the UK’s Guardian and in the New Yorker. Puppies supporters by and large have come to ignore the demonization, since it’s more of the same politically-driven BS.

. . . .

If nothing else, the Sad Puppies has exposed the fear literary elites have of losing their power over the pop culture.

Link to the rest at Chicks on the Right and thanks to Richard for the tip.

Why Brilliant Books is offering refunds to customers who purchased Go Set A Watchman

3 August 2015

From Melville House:

The publication of Harper Lee‘s Go Set A Watchman has been controversial. But while many have raised questions about Harper Lee’s involvement in the book’s publication, the role of her lawyer Tonja Carter, and the merit of the book itself,few have made explicit arguments about the novel itself—that may be because there are still so many unanswered questions, or it may be because the book is an enormous hit (it has sold well over a million copies since it was published just over two weeks ago).

Brilliant Books is something of an exception. An independent bookstore located in Traverse City, Michigan, the bookstore released a statement shortly after Go Set A Watchman was released condemning its publication and offering refunds to customers who felt duped:

We at Brilliant Books want to be sure that our customers are aware that Go Set A Watchman is not a sequel or prequel to To Kill A Mockingbird. Neither is it a new book.  It is a first draft that was originally, and rightfully, rejected. The book, and some of the characters therein, are very much a product of this era in the South.

We suggest you view this work as an academic insight rather than as a nice summer novel. This situation is comparable to James Joyce’s stunning work A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and his original draft Stephen Hero. Hero was initially rejected, and Joyce reworked it into the classic Portrait. Herowas eventually released as an academic piece for scholars and fans—not as a new ‘Joyce novel’. We would have been delighted to see Go Set A Watchman receive a similar fate.

It is disappointing and frankly shameful to see our noble industry parade and celebrate this as “Harper Lee’s New Novel”.  This is pure exploitation of both literary fans and a beloved American classic (which we hope has not been irrevocably tainted.) We therefore encourage you to view Go Set A Watchman with intellectual curiosity and careful consideration; a rough beginning for a classic, but only that.

The statement quickly went viral, in part because it was arguably the harshest criticism of the book’s publication to date and in part because it came from a retailer.

. . . .

What led you to release the statement about Go Set A Watchman? Had you been following the story for a while, or did something happen in store that led you to release it?

We had been disappointed in the way the book was marketed from the beginning. We knew the history of Go Set A Watchman and it wasn’t congruent with the marketing: “Harper Lee’s New Novel” “with many of your favorite characters from To Kill A Mockingbird.”

The real eye-opener was from a loyal paying member, who had only become aware of the reality over the previous weekend. She was saddened. She explained that TKAMB was her favorite book of all time and she had been so looking forward to reading GSAW, but now she knew it wasn’t the book she had been led to believe it was.

I immediately apologized, and offered her a refund, which she accepted. I realized then that we needed to offer the same thing to all our customers, of which there were dozens across the country, and explain why. Hence the opinion piece.

What have your conversations about Go Set A Watchman been like over the past five months, both internally and with customers?

Internally, we were bemused by the urging of HarperCollins for booksellers to hold midnight readings, screenings of the movie, all manner of inducements, to get the book sold on day one. Add to that the strict embargo that excites the public, but gives booksellers a wry, knowing smile.

Maybe we’re cynical, but it all pointed to a desperate attempt to get folks to buy the book before they realized what it actually was.

Link to the rest at Melville House and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Albert Einstein’s Love Letters

3 August 2015

From Brain Pickings:

[F]ew public marriages have been subjected to a more unnuanced verdict than that of Albert Einstein and Mileva Marić. The twenty years between the time they met as first-year university students and the time of their final legal separation get compressed into one blunt word itself emptied of dimension: divorce. And yet those were the years in which Einstein did his most groundbreaking work, forever changing the course of modern science; years which produced the only progeny of the quintessential modern genius; years filled with enormous, all-consuming love, which comes to life in Albert Einstein / Mileva Marić: The Love Letters — a collection of fifty-four missives exchanged between the beginning of their romance in 1897 and their marriage in 1903.

Since the very beginning, Mileva was poised to be Albert’s equal — the only female student of physics in her university class and two years his senior, she was an intellectually and emotionally mature young woman. Einstein was immensely drawn to her. Like Vladimir Nabokov, who ended an earlier affair with an inferior partner when he fell in love with the brilliant Véra, young Albert grew disillusioned with his previous girlfriend, whom he quite bluntly described as a “foolish darling that can neither do, nor understand anything.” His feelings for Mileva were of a different order — they delighted in reading and discussing the scientific classics together, he frequently remarked on her intellect as superior to his own, and he considered her the grounding rational counterpart to the emotional roller coaster of his extreme moodiness.

. . . .

In his first surviving letter to Marić, penned while she was away visiting her family in Serbia, Einstein sets the sweetly sarcastic tone that permeates much of their correspondence:

Dear Fräulein,

The desire to write you has finally conquered the guilty conscience I’ve had about not responding to your letter for such a long time, and which has allowed me to avoid your critical eye. But now, even though you are understandably angry with me, you must at least give me credit for not adding to my offense by hiding behind feeble excuses, and for asking you simply and directly for forgiveness and — for an answer as soon as possible.


If you don’t my giving you some advice (entirely unselfishly?), you should return as soon as possible, because everything you need to catch up on your studies can be found tightly packed in our notebooks… You will, of course, have to give up your old peasant room which a Zurich philistine now occupies … serves you right, you little runaway!

But now back to the books. Best wishes, your

Albert Einstein

In an 1899 letter to Mileva, penned while visiting his family over spring break, Einstein articulates his sense of having found his soulmate in her:

I’m having a wonderful time at home; I’ve spent much of it tending to the innermost joys, that is to say, i’ve been eating a lot, and well, something which has already caused me to suffer a bit from our favorite poetic ailment, like the time at the Sterns when for hours I sat next to you, my charming table partner. It was then revealed to me in harsh tints how closely knit our psychic and physiological lives are.

. . . .

In a letter from home penned during summer break a few months later, he affirms this in a particularly poignant passage, speaking to the mystery of how personal identity evolves as he considers how his chosen life-path has diverged from that of his family and writes:

Here is Paradise. I live a nice, quiet, philistine life with my mother hen and sister… You, poor girl, must now stuff your head with gray theory, but I know that with your divine composure, you’ll accomplish everything with a level head. Besides, you are at home being pampered, as a deserving daughter should be. But in Zurich you are the mistress of our house, which isn’t such a bad thing, especially since it’s such a nice household! When I read Helmholtz for the first time I could not — and still cannot — believe I was doing so without you sitting next to me. I enjoy working together very much, and find it soothing and less boring.


My mother and sister seem somewhat petty and philistine to me, despite the sympathy I feel for them. It is interesting how gradually our life changes us in the very subtleties of our soul, so that even the closest of family ties dwindle into habitual friendship. Deep inside we no longer understand one another, and are incapable of actively empathizing with the other, or knowing what emotions move the other.

. . . .

Over the following year, Einstein’s family grew increasingly disapproving of his relationship with Mileva, which his mother termed “the Dollie affair” — they had come to believe that settling down at such a young age would compromise 21-year-old Albert’s career prospects. In a letter from July of 1900, penned while vacationing with his family, he recounts a tragicomic exchange with his mother over the matter:

So we arrive home, and I go into Mama’s room (only the two of us). First I must tell her about the exam, and then she asks me quite innocently: “So, what will become of your Dollie now?” “My wife,” I said just as innocently, prepared for the proper “scene” that immediately followed. Mama threw herself onto the bed, buried her head in the pillow, and wept like a child. After regaining her composure she immediately shifted to a desperate attack: “You are ruining your future and destroying your opportunities.” “No decent family will have her.” “If she gets pregnant you’ll really be in a mess.” With this last outburst, which was preceded by many others, I finally lost my patience. I vehemently denied that we had been living in sin and scolded her roundly, and was about to leave the room when Mama’s friend Frau Bär came in. She is a small, vivacious lady: an old hen of the most pleasant variety. We immediately began talking about the weather, the new guests at the spa, the ill-mannered children, etc. Then we ate, and afterwards played some music. When everyone had left, and the time came for Mama and me to say good night, it started all over again, but “più piano.” The next day things were better, largely because, as she said herself, “If they have not yet been intimate (which she had greatly feared) and we are willing to wait longer, then ways and means can always be found.” The only thing that is embarrassing for her is that we want to remain together always. Her attempts at changing my mind came in expressions such as: “Like you, she is a book — but you ought to have a wife.” “By the time you’re 30 she’ll be an old witch,” etc.

Link to the rest at Brain Pickings

Here’s a link to Albert Einstein/Mileva Maric: The Love Letters

Protecting Harper Lee

2 August 2015

From author Christamar Varicella:

Recently I wrote about my decision to write a true crime novel (later turned into a potboiler) based on murderous 1970s-era preacher from my hometown of Alexander City, Alabama.  I’ve also written about how my efforts were hampered by the fact that Harper Lee once attempted to write about the same subject.

Back in 2007, my initial foray into research consisted of Googling the name of the preacher, Willie Maxwell, coupled with various search terms that I hoped would return pertinent information.  This little bit of investigative magic yielded an excerpt from a book called Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles Shields.

According to the book, Harper Lee visited Alex City (as it is known to locals) in the 1980s, hoping to write a book about the man accused of killing as many as five of his relatives for insurance money.  The chapter also provided a summary of events surrounding each of the mysterious deaths attributed to Reverend Maxwell.

Lee remained in Alex City gathering information for close to a year, but no book has yet been published.

I contacted Mr. Shields by email, and he was kind enough to respond to my inquiry.  We discussed the possibility of an interview, but he eventually sent me a copy of his notes instead.  Most of the info Shields shared was that which he included in the book—mainly quotes and background material, most of which appeared to have come from Reverend Maxwell’s lawyer, a man named Tom Radney.  Mr. Shields provided me with the website of Radney’s law practice and suggested I talk to him.

“The attorney quoted in my book is still alive and quite a story teller.  He’d be worth a visit in person,” he said.

This proved to be an understatement. Tom Radney was arguably the most compelling character in a story filled with intriguing characters.  I’ve written about him before, and he will almost certainly be featured in future posts.  During my interview in the summer of 2008, Radney encouraged me to pick up a copy of Shields’s Mockingbird. 

By then, I’d already read the book.  I held up my copy.  “This one?” I asked.

“That’s the one.  Well, I’m quoted in there.  It got me in trouble.  (Shields) asked me why the book wasn’t coming out and… I said (Lee) had a battle with a bottle of scotch and the scotch won.  Harper has not spoken to me since… That stopped all communication.”  He suggested that other people close to Lee had also stopped speaking to him because of the quote.

This seemed a little harsh to me at the time.  Radney had made an insulting statement, sure, but not an unforgivable one in my opinion. I would soon learn that Harper Lee made a point of cutting people out of her life when they spoke about her in public.  One friend of Lee’s told me, “One of the reasons we’ve been friends this long is because I don’t discuss her with people. It’s kind of a condition of friendship.”

Link to the rest at Christamar Varicella and thanks to David for the tip.

Here’s a link to Christamar Varicella’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

10 terms coined by Ernest Hemingway

2 August 2015

From The Week:


“I sorted out the carbons, stamped on a by-line.”

The Sun Also Rises, 1926

While Hemingway’s use is the earliest recorded in English, it’s unclear if he actually coined byline. In his early career as a journalist, he probably heard the term often, and merely popularized it through his first novel.


“‘Ciaou!’ he said. ‘What kind of time did you have?'”

A Farewell to Arms, 1929

Have a pretentious friend who says ciao instead of goodbye and hello? You can thank Papa for that.

The word ciao in Italian comes from the dialectal ciau, an alteration of(sono vostro) schiavo, “(I am your) servant.”

. . . .

moment of truth

“The whole end of the bullfight was the final sword thrust, the actual encounter between the man and the animal, what the Spanish call themoment of truth.”

Death in the Afternoon, 1932

Moment of truth, or a crucial point in time, comes from the Spanish bullfighting term, el momento de la verdad, which refers to the final thrust of the sword that kills the bull.

Link to the rest at The Week and thanks to Matthew, for the tip.

A leaf fluttered in through the window

2 August 2015

A leaf fluttered in through the window this morning, as if supported by the rays of the sun, a bird settled on the fire escape, joy in the task of coffee, joy accompanied me as I walked.

Anais Nin

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