PRH Opens ‘The Conversation’ To ‘Sustain Antiracist Engagement’

From Publishing Perspectives:

Described as a site “to support families, educators, communities, organizations, and readers who are working to combat racism and end racial inequities in our daily lives,” Penguin Random House in New York today (September 22) has announced an online hub of resources.

The Conversation is an extensive curated aggregation of “programming for readers, including discussion guides, title lists, and special content” with “a strong focus on family reading and community engagement,” the publishing house says in its media messaging.

Its core resource, of course, is the many relevant lists of titles that a publisher the size and international reach of PRH can bring to bear on a topic. But the site also features “resources to facilitate dialogue about books by Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and other iconic writers,” the company says.

“It will also provide toolkits, inspired by the works of Ibram X. Kendi and Jennifer L. Eberhardt, for creating antiracist workplaces. The site will feature books and content from all of Penguin Random House’s publishing divisions, and the company is creating book bundles and materials for independent bookstores to help these businesses with their outreach to local schools and libraries.”

As might be expected, children’s interests are “a primary focus,” featuring information for parents “for raising antiracist children” with titles from Jacqueline Woodson and Nic Stone and others. Coming later in the autumn, a family-reading initiative is to be added, with reading guides “for the adult and young-reader editions of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, along with video content and other resources to facilitate meaningful family conversations.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

‘Not Made by Slaves’ Review: Marketing to Abolitionists

From The Wall Street Journal:

As Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is nothing new under the sun. Demands for institutional divestiture of morally suspect assets, boycotts of goods from Goya beans to “blood diamonds,” and movements to promote ethically sourced consumer products from dolphin-safe tuna to fair-trade coffee, all have a long pedigree. Among the earliest expressions of American national identity was the 1765 nonimportation agreement among Boston merchants in response to British revenue acts, supported by boycotts of British goods by local households. And, starting in the late 18th century, antislavery activists in the Atlantic world urged consumers to refuse to buy products made with slave labor—primarily cotton cloth and sugar—to hasten the end of the international slave trade and ultimately slavery itself. Conscientious consumers flocked to free-labor goods and to such virtue-signaling items as emblazoned sugar bowls assuring guests that the content was “East India Sugar not made by Slaves.”

In “Not Made by Slaves,” Bronwen Everill, a lecturer in history at the University of Cambridge, terms this movement “ethical capitalism” and places it in the context of the 18th-century global consumer revolution that put luxury goods in the hands of the many. The book offers an important contribution by emphasizing West Africa’s role in the trade network that linked producers, merchants and consumers around the world. Just as Western economies traded for tropical luxuries such as tea, coffee and sugar, sophisticated African markets exchanged a highly valued commodity—unfree labor—for French wines, East Indian cottons and British firearms. It was this complex global trading community that the abolitionists sought to reform and that they disrupted in ways both foreseen and unforeseen.

Ms. Everill’s account rests on a chain of related events. In the late 1700s, opposition to the slave trade grew as the world came to appreciate the horrors of the Middle Passage between Africa and America. In their efforts to suppress the trade, antislavery activists asked Atlantic consumers to boycott goods associated with slave labor. But for the boycott to be effective, consumers needed to be certain the goods they bought were ethically produced. Antislavery traders thus began to source free-labor goods and, in early branding efforts, to identify them with labels such as “made by escaped slaves,” spawning an ethical-goods economy. In a parallel development, West African Islamic jihadists attacked local consumption of luxury goods and the international slave trade that supported those tastes, eventually banning the sale of slaves to non-Islamic traders and organizing boycotts of European goods such as tobacco and alcohol.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Everyone Wants Barnes & Noble to Survive. Can It?

From Jane Friedman:

It hasn’t been the best decade for Barnes & Noble, the biggest bookselling chain in the United States. As sales slowly eroded—and Amazon gained dominance—the position of CEO became one of the fastest revolving doors in the publishing industry. Each new leader trotted out a revised “concept store” to revive the fortunes of the bookseller, none succeeding.

. . . .

The Nook debuted in October 2009, two years after Amazon Kindle. At its peak, Nook enjoyed sales of nearly $1 billion a year. By summer 2019, in the last public earnings report from Barnes & Noble, Nook delivered less than $100 million in revenue per year, with negative profits.

In acknowledgment of Nook’s failure to compete against Amazon’s Kindle or even Apple’s iBooks, Barnes & Noble’s chairman at the time, Len Riggio, told investors in 2017, “There is no business model in technology” for the chain. 

. . . .

In a 2018 podcast from Knowledge@Wharton, a few marketing professors discussed what the future might hold for the beleaguered retailer. Wharton’s Peter Fader said, “They’ve tried lots of different things from devices to experiences to broadening the merchandise. Nothing’s working. At this point, they haven’t found that hook to save the business; nor have they found the vision or leadership to give people any confidence in it.” Wharton’s Barbara Kahn said that while the retailer probably does a good job overall, “The problem is they’re not the best at anything.”

. . . .

James Daunt is perhaps best known for spending the last eight years getting the venerable but once shaky Waterstones (with 283 stores) on its feet. 

. . . .

Early on, when Daunt was asked what he thought of Barnes & Noble on his last store visit, he said, “There were too many books,” by which he meant that featuring the right inventory is more important that stocking a big blur of titles. Back in 2015, he commented to Slate, “My faculties just shut down when I go in there.”

On Sept. 11 of this year, the Book Industry Study Group hosted a conversation and Q&A with Daunt, in which he stressed a local-first selling strategy. Daunt says that if you give booksellers the autonomy to choose and display and curate their stores (rather than making decisions on a corporate level), those booksellers will make sure the books that customers want to buy are in front of them. “Ultimately we will sell more, customers will come into the store more, and publishers will sell more. That is the happy outcome that should reconcile publishers to this [new model].”

However, because of the focus on local booksellers making their own stock decisions, there won’t be any co-op going forward. Co-op is the practice of publishers paying for title placement throughout the chain. It’s a reliable way for publishers to guarantee sales, but it’s also associated with high returns. Daunt said, “Co-op and promo and all of that doesn’t actually work with my way of running things, when one talks about giving stores the autonomy to do what they want. That’s not a form of words. That’s actually meant. Therefore you can’t take co-op.” Daunt said that no store would be required to stock even blockbuster titles like Rage by Bob Woodward (although it would be expected every bookseller would logically want some number of copies).

Furthermore, because of this local-first strategy, a number of longtime buyers for the chain (headquartered in New York City) have been let go. Some of these buyers, such as fiction buyer Sessalee Hensley—once profiled in The Wall Street Journal under the headline “So Many Books, So Much Power”—had been with the company for decades.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG says there are a million questions about the future of Barnes & Noble after the pandemic.

In retrospect, Len Riggio picked a pretty good time to sell his controlling interest in Barnes & Noble. The bookstore chain is now owned by Elliot Management. Elliot says the following about itself:

There are a number of elements of the firm’s investment and risk-management activities that Elliott believes are essential to its goal of generating a consistent return to its investors. These elements include an opportunistic trading approach, the creation – not just the identification – of value, effective liquidity management, and managing operational and counterparty risk. The firm employs a value-added global investment approach.

More perceptive readers than PG may be able to discern what Elliot is thinking about its investment in Barnes & Noble based upon that statement. PG cannot.

Some possibilities occur to PG:

  • Elliot’s other investments and businesses may have been so badly-damaged by the economic effects of widespread pandemic shutdowns that it has much more urgent issues to deal with than paying attention to or spending any money on Barnes & Noble. One possibility that comes to mind is that Elliot may have to sell itself to another company. Or divest itself of some of its major assets. (Note that this is pure speculation on PG’s part. He hasn’t done any research on Elliot and hasn’t any inside knowledge about what Elliot’s current financial circumstances are.)
  • Elliot may apply the greater fool theory and search for someone who will buy Barnes & Noble.
  • Elliot may give James Daunt some time to see if Daunt has any book magic left that might work to bring Barnes & Noble back from the dead.
  • Elliot may require a huge cutback in the number of stores Barnes & Noble operates, keeping only stores in the most wealthy and book-loving locations and dumping the rest. Choosing this alternative might involve taking Barnes & Noble through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding.

On what may be an even more important question – What’s happened to the Barnes & Noble employees that were staffing the stores prior to the shutdown?

  • How many experienced bookstore managers have retooled themselves or otherwise obtained other jobs? Other than an unknown number of managers who have been sitting around waiting for Barnes & Noble to reopen, how many managers will decide they like their new jobs more or feel more secure in their new jobs than their old jobs managing a Barnes & Noble store? Will those managers willing and able to return to Barnes & Noble be the best of Barnes & Noble’s managers, the worst or something in-between?
  • PG suspects that most of the peons working at Barnes & Noble stores prior to shutdown have found something else to do, maybe something that pays more than they earned at Barnes & Noble. At a minimum, the managers of reopened Barnes & Noble stores will have a big job hiring and training a bunch of newbie employees to avoid driving away early customers who venture into the reopened stores.

The next questions relate to Barnes & Noble customers:

Presumably, many regular purchasers of books who used to patronize Barnes & Noble and other physical book stores and who have not been subject to personal financial stress have continued to buy books.

Where have they purchased those books? Quite likely from Amazon.

PG suspects some percentage of those book buyers have become familiar with how to find books on Amazon, have enjoyed being able to order any book they like and having it delivered to them in one or two days. There may even be a small bit of satisfaction that arises from not having to pay the full retail price as they would if they had gone to a bookstore.

In its typical Amazonian fashion, the Big A has closely watched which books these new customers have purchased and started suggesting other books they might like. Perhaps the new Amazon customers have found some enjoyable new authors and their books via Amazon’s suggestions, including talented indie authors. Maybe Amazon’s suggestions have proven to be better than those they received when they asked a question of a clerk at Barnes & Noble.

One of Amazon’s largest competitive advantages over its online competitors is the extraordinary variety of ways that it helps its customers discover products they might like. There are lots of tools like Also Boughts and sub-sub-categories of books that let fans of Cowboy Science Fiction Romances find more of their favorite reads. Some book purchasers who have taken a deeper than normal dive into Amazon’s book section will become hooked. Amazon’s magic works for fishing lures, cooking utensils and leaf blowers. It also works for books.

Other questions that have occurred to PG include whether any of the Barnes & Noble landlords have gone broke and closed the malls or strip malls where Barnes & Noble stores formerly operated. And, for those landlords who have stayed open, has Barnes & Noble been able to keep up with lease obligations during this period of time or will the landlords be in a position to terminate Barnes & Noble leases and find other tenants?

When the Revolution Left Kate Millett Behind

From Public Books:

In March 1979, the white American feminist Kate Millett landed in Tehran, in the wake of one of the most significant revolutions of the 20th century. Just weeks earlier, the Shah—the monarch of Iran—had been overthrown. Millett arrived with a suitcase of recording equipment and her partner, filmmaker Sophie Kier. While there, Millett methodically recorded her whispered reflections on everything around her: the cups of tea with her hosts, the hours stuck in traffic, and the International Women’s Day celebration, which exploded into major protests against Ayatollah Khomeini’s new mandatory veiling laws.

Millett’s whispers were the raw material for her own Going to Iran (1982), but they have been newly transcribed and examined by Negar Mottahedeh in her new book, Whisper Tapes: Kate Millett in Iran. With the same recordings, Mottahedeh does something in Whisper Tapes that Millett never could. She listens closely to the women speaking, yelling, and demonstrating in Farsi around Millett, centering their voices in a radically new and vital account of the revolution.

By exploring the complexities of what Millett couldn’t hear, Whisper Tapes also reveals the narrowness of her white feminism and her lack of reciprocity. Yet, there is no need to “cancel” Kate Millett (who profoundly contributed to both feminist and literary theory, not least in her pathbreaking 1970 work, Sexual Politics). Instead, it is necessary to explore her particular brand of white, Western feminism critically, asking what Millett’s brief time in Iran might offer contemporary understandings of feminist solidarity.

. . . .

This paradox—between the book’s centering and decentering of its subject—mirrors a wider paradox: the tension between the alleged universalism of Millett’s feminism and the increasingly particular way in which she pronounces it. We might read Millett’s paradox against and alongside a revolutionary slogan pulsing throughout Mottahedeh’s book—one that Millett only “provisionally understood”: “Azadi, na sharghist, na gharbist, jahanist,” or “Freedom is neither eastern nor western, it is planetary.”

. . . .

Mottahedeh identifies the conceptual problem of misunderstanding—of a white ally who just doesn’t get it—largely as a problem of mistranslation. In an elegant anecdote, Millett is given some chaghaleh badoom, which she says on the tape are “beans,” while the women around her suggest—in English—that they are “walnuts.” In fact, neither translation is adequate, Mottahedeh tells us; the best approximation is “green, unripe almonds.”

A thirsty Millett struggles to comprehend going “through a whole revolution and not being able to have a glass of wine after it’s all over?” She declares Iran “joyless,” not understanding that there are so many versions of the good life, so many ways to be joyful. Millett can’t quite grasp why the revolution happened alongside, and so also included, men. “It’s important to ignore men,” she advises a demonstrator. “He is never gonna listen. Why waste your time?”

Millett’s unfamiliarity with Iran allows us, with the benefit of hindsight, to laugh at her presence as an awkward white woman. But this is not really the problem with Millett’s white feminism. What white feminism means, at least in the context of Whisper Tapes, is that Millett considers patriarchy to be the primary organizing structure in women’s lives, globally. This is despite the interactions she has with women who explain otherwise.

Millett reads Iranian women’s heterogeneous experiences of religion, demonstration, and revolution through this lens, and only this lens. It is this focus on patriarchy that allows her to quickly diagnose the women of Iran as being behind white American women on the path of liberation; the path that she herself, through Sexual Politics and her work in the women’s liberation movement, helped to pave. Millett’s white feminism means that she applies the logic and schedule of US women’s liberation to the Iranian revolutionary moment.

Mottahedeh’s careful treatment of Millett reveals that “white feminism” is not just a scolding charge. Instead, Millett’s white feminism is a generative and persistent world view that creates particular behaviors, blinkers, and blinds, while simultaneously proclaiming to be a universalist politics that speaks for all women. It means that Millett’s “ambitions and preoccupations are elsewhere.” She is always waiting for the moment of a radical global women’s uprising. She is “out of sync with what is right in front of her,” be it green-shelled, unripe almonds in their crinkled paper bag, or men’s crucial place alongside women in the ongoing Iranian revolution.

Kate Millett certainly does not understand that she is imposing a presumed universality steeped in the specificity of the American context. Indeed, this is just one of the things that she does not get.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Is Employing Men Over Women a Nefarious Plot?

From Digital Pubbing:

Publishing is often considered to be a female job. It revolves around emotional intelligence and creativity. There are a lot of soft skills necessary to work with authors and their pieces of writing. Unfortunately, when the statistics get broken down, the numbers paint a different picture. While there’s a majority of women in the editorial department, the executive positions see fewer women involved.

In 2017, there were only two female CEOs among the top 30 publishers. The pay gap also exists, and it’s a reflection of men taking on higher-level roles. That only proves that even though women are pillars of the publishing industry, men will find their way to the top.

Gender Inequality Among Authors

It’s not the gender inequality burden per se that’s been placed on the authors—it’s a fear of recognition. Many female authors decide to use the male pseudonym to explore what it’s like to publish as a man. That way, they could experience anonymity, reach a male audience, and publish without prejudice.

It seems that nothing has changed since the 19th century when the Bronte sisters published their works under male names. Today, J.K. Rowling is just one example. She used the pen name Robert Galbraith to publish Cormoran Strike novels. However, there seems to be a difference. While female authors of the past feared public judgment and used the new identity as an escape, female authors of today use male pen names to distance themselves from their previous work. Today’s reason seems a tad bit better.

Unconscious Bias and Books

Many female authors felt the pressure of unconscious bias on their skin. Some have sent their manuscript to publishers and received a meager number of responses, but the numbers increased when they used male pen names. Books written by women are also priced 45% less than those written by men.

Fewer women are featured in publications than men, which can be considered strange since women generally buy and read more books. When it comes to purchasing, people are usually inclined to buy books written by their gender. This only means that the readership also expresses unconscious bias.

Link to the rest at Digital Pubbing

PG notes the bio of the author:

As the SEO manager of TeamStage, Tina also relies on her degree in Modern English & Literature to write about the importance of project and team management in executing a successful strategy, top to bottom. Off work, she likes to look for the perfect green curry spots, explore temples in Southeast Asia, and treat herself to cheesecake and matcha latte, in that order.

PG also suggests that J.K. Rowling used the pen name Robert Galbraith for branding and marketing purposes.

J.K.’s name was and is gold in the childrens/YA market. PG suspects that she was likely concerned that, if parents and others automatically purchased the newest J.K. book because their kids loved the last one, book stores would have been inundated with returns as soon as Little Susi/Little Johnnie realized that Hermione and Harry were nowhere to be found. Plus, after listening to Susi and Johnnie’s heartbroken wails of disappointment, the adult book purchaser might have hesitated before picking up the next book with J.K.’s name on the cover.

What is described in the OP as J.K. “distancing” herself from her previous work, a plight that is “a tad bit better” from whatever hellhole to which she would have been condemned in some other, even less-enlightened age is simply additional evidence that J.K. is a very intelligent woman who is smart about managing her publishing career.

As far as the antediluvian nature of the power structure of Big Publishing, PG agrees in a broad sense but points out that female publishing CEOs show no sign of being any less blinkered than their male peers and no reasonably-intelligent 2020 female college graduate is likely to go to work in publishing and suffer through Twentieth-Century wages and working conditions. A degree in Modern English and Literature might possibly condemn one to such a fate, however.

Traditional Publishing Enjoys Its Best Sales in a Decade—Despite Supply Chain Problems

From Jane Friedman:

Recently you may have heard about book publishing’s printing problems from outlets such as the New York Times and Publishers Weekly. In the US and UK, spring and summer titles were delayed until fall, making for a crowded season. Not only is it challenging to get media attention for new releases right now, but it’s also leading to a “printer jam”—a tight printing market.

Meanwhile, a surge in print book sales during the pandemic, with a volume increase of about 12 percent over the summer, has made things worse. In fact, for the year print book sales are up by nearly 6 percent versus 2019; traditional publishing is expected to have its strongest performing year since 2010. But it has come at a cost: reprints that normally take two weeks now sometimes take more than a month. Some publishers have now pushed back release dates to 2021 as a result of low printing capacity.

So what’s caused this tight print market?

Printing delays are problematic—but the problem has little to do with the health of book publishing.

Book publishing is just a fraction of the overall printing and paper business in the US, and it will continue to be at the mercy of bigger marketplace changes. The printing market has been tight since at least 2018 for various reasons, all complicated by issues such as tariffs on paper. Even pre-pandemic, there wasn’t any slack in the system.

We talked to industry veteran Bo Sacks about the current environment and how we reached this point. Sacks has observed the evolution, growth, and decline of printers for the last 50 years. “They’re in serious debt, which is part of the problem,” he said. That’s because of the long, ongoing battle between the two largest printers in the United States—LSC Communications and Quad—to buy up market share. Sacks says sometimes the printers would buy a company just to get the clients, then shut down plants. Quad, in fact, only entered the book-printing business in 2010, and through just that type of scenario. But these decisions were made in another era, Sacks said: “2010 seems a lot longer than 10 years ago. The difference from that moment until now is unbelievable.”

Sacks said that Quad built the company on the expectation that long-run magazines would go on forever. (Long-run magazines are titles that get printed in extremely high quantities.) But that’s not a business model that works today. “The long-run [magazine] titles are diminishing and dying left and right,” Sacks said. “So what they’ve done in the last decade is buy plants that focus on short-run printing.” He says that getting quality workers—productivity—has also been part of the problem. And indeed, at the Book Industry Study Group annual meeting this year, an industry expert on book manufacturing said that a tight labor market is one of the industry’s biggest problems, and perhaps only automation can solve it.

. . . .

Ingram is helping publishers (of all sizes) meet increased demand for books as the supply chain gets tighter and uncertain.

Due to the pandemic and current events (see: political books related to the US election), some books are more in demand than ever, exacerbating the supply problem and creating order backups.

Industry vet Mike Shatzkin wrote about how publishers’ ability to keep fulfilling orders during the pandemic has relied heavily on Ingram’s Guaranteed Availability Program, which uses print-on-demand to ship books to accounts within 24 hours. This program makes it possible to deliver “just about any quantity of books to just about any account in the world. With just about any return address you want on the package,” Shatzkin writes.

Indeed, Ingram is critical in the US market as the biggest wholesaler and distributor of print books; its operations include Lightning Source, a print-on-demand printer used by small and Big Five publishers alike, as well as IngramSpark, its self-publishing arm. Turnaround times for print-on-demand through Ingram have become significant: 22 business days, not counting shipping. Before the pandemic, typical turnaround time was a few days.

As Shatzkin notes, five of the top 10 New York Times nonfiction bestsellers in June 2020—related to social justice and antiracism—were supplied by Ingram’s Lightning Source division and benefited from the GAP program. If publishers had waited even two or three weeks for supply, those sales would’ve been completely lost.

However, one group is not so happy with Ingram: authors using IngramSpark. Print turnaround times for self-publishing authors using the service have been 22 to 24 business days (plus shipping time) since May. Author Andrew Shaffer said, “I’ve been working on a new self-published book, and a five–six week turnaround to get a single proof copy is unworkable. Then when I make a change to the cover or whatever, I have to wait five–six more weeks to see how it prints.”

Ingram announced earlier this year they’re investing in their print-on-demand operations across the globe and will hire hundreds of new employees to run new equipment now being installed. In an August 12 presentation, Ingram representatives spoke directly to publishers’ concerns about managing inventory and making books available as buying patterns keep shifting. Matt Mullin, senior key accounts sales manager at Ingram Content Group, advocated that publishers move as many backlist titles as possible to print-on-demand and consider using Ingram programs like GAP, which keep titles available via print-on-demand if conventional supply runs out.

. . . .

Publishers haven’t been great at predicting which books or categories will spike in demand. In February and March, book publishers realized the scope of the pandemic and made the decision to stock up on pandemic and dystopian literature, Mullin said. But people don’t, in fact, want to read about the end of the world while stuck at home. In fact, one UK study found such literature rated at the bottom of what consumers’ stated preferences are. Of course, we now know what did sell and continues to sell: home-education materials. While some trends might be predictable, like gardening in summer, “What’s amazing is how widespread the [sales] uncertainty is. It really goes across every category,” Mullin said.

In a Publishing Trends article looking at the recent increase of digital and POD printing, Lorraine Shanley writes, “The old model of looking at the unit cost of a manufactured book has morphed into looking at the cost per unit sold. And, as printers close and consolidate, … flexibility becomes more important, forcing publishers to look at ‘total cost of ownership.’ How do the advantages of having inventory on hand in your own warehouse weigh against the carrying costs—or the possibility that the warehouse closes or the inventory can’t get to the end user?” That is the calculation that publishers must make during the pandemic, and it’s the kind of uncertainty that will carry through 2020, and into much of 2021.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Wait, Can They Still Study Shakespeare?

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

When news broke that the University of Chicago’s English department would only admit graduate students next year who are “interested in working in and with” Black studies, it was greeted with both applause and raised eyebrows. Leaders of English and African American-studies departments at other institutions called it “an impressive commitment” and a “bold, edge-cutting” position. But the move also attracted derision, including from some sources who don’t typically weigh in on graduate-school admissions policy decisions.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas tweeted that studying authors like Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Austen was “presumably not acceptable” under Chicago’s arrangement, and others criticized the move as “racist” and “anti-intellectual.” Thomas Chatterton Williams, a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine and a columnist at Harper’s Magazine, tweeted: “I am obviously interested in black literature. But being strong armed into studying it??” Faculty members at Chicago said on Twitter that the department had received hate mail.

The decision carries extra resonance coming from an English department that is among the most high-profile in the country and at a university that has traditionally declined to take institutional positions on questions of social justice or politics. That stance dates back to a 1967 report, commissioned by the university to stake out the university’s “role in political and social action” in the wake of protests against the Vietnam War, and critics say Chicago’s decision represents a deviation from that policy as well as an abandonment of academic principles.

The statement Chicago’s English faculty released in July begins with a statement that Black lives matter. “As literary scholars, we attend to the histories, atmospheres, and scenes of anti-Black racism and racial violence in the United States and across the world. We are committed to the struggle of Black and Indigenous people, and all racialized and dispossessed people, against inequality and brutality,” the statement posted on the English department home page reads.

The second paragraph on the home page read in part, “For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies. We understand Black Studies to be a capacious intellectual project that spans a variety of methodological approaches, fields, geographical areas, languages, and time periods.” That language has since been removed from the home page, but is still present on the department’s Black studies and admissions pages. Jeremy Manier, a university spokesman, confirmed to The Chronicle on Friday that the department would admit only those interested in Black studies for the 2020-21 admissions cycle.
The scholars also wrote that English “has a long history of providing aesthetic rationalizations for colonization, exploitation, extraction, and anti-Blackness. Our discipline is responsible for developing hierarchies of cultural production that have contributed directly to social and systemic determinations of whose lives matter and why.” Given that context, they continued, “we believe that undoing persistent, recalcitrant anti-Blackness in our discipline and in our institutions must be the collective responsibility of all faculty, here and elsewhere.”

. . . .

The number of students admitted to Chicago’s English department will be lower than usual for the 2020-21 admissions cycle because of the pandemic and a lackluster job market, the university said in a statement. (A number of other programs have chosen to suspend admissions for fall 2021 entirely in order to allocate more funding to already-enrolled students.) The department will admit only five students this year, though it expected to receive about 750 applications, Maud Ellmann, the interim department chair, said in a statement, noting that the department sees higher application rates in “times of crisis.” “The reduced number of spaces persuaded us to focus on specific areas so as to give careful consideration to all the applications we receive,” Ellmann said, noting that Black studies has become a significant part of the program thanks to the hiring of several new scholars focused on Black studies. The faculty, she said, “wanted graduate students interested in Black studies to know that they would receive the highest standard of mentorship in our program.”

. . . .

The five students who begin at Chicago in fall 2021 won’t be working exclusively in Black studies (the department currently has 77 students). Instead, a statement on the admissions page read, they “will be encouraged to take advantage of the wide variety of courses, not restricted to Black Studies, offered by the Department and the Division.” Manier, the university spokesman, said they’ll be able to select from “dozens of courses in English” and “across the humanities, in modern languages, for example, or philosophy, classics, divinity, etc.”

So it’s not true — as Cruz and others have suggested — that this class of graduate students will be unable to study Shakespeare. In fact, the doctoral curriculum includes a course called “Black Shakespeare,” taught by Noémie Ndiaye, which “explores the role played by the Shakespearean canon in the shaping of Western ideas about blackness, in processes of racial formation, and racial struggle from the early modern period to the present” and examines Black characters in plays such as Othello and The Tempest.

. . . .

Mark Bauerlein, a professor emeritus of English at Emory University, who criticized the decision on Twitter, said the department may have been better served by being less public about its plan. “I’ve been on admissions committees — you don’t have to say all this out loud. Just say, ‘Hey, look, let’s try to emphasize Black studies in this year’s entering class. We don’t have to make some big announcement out of it. We don’t need to talk the talk, we’ll just walk the walk,’” Bauerlein said. “I think that the intellectual reputation of the University of Chicago’s English department has suffered greatly because of this move.”

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

During the past several months, all but those living on isolated islands in the middle of large oceans with no ability to receive communications from the larger world have seen vivid video and read endless news stories about Black Lives Matter activists who have, in many American cities, been associated with or otherwise attracted a meaningful number of individuals of various races who appear to have been primarily focused on creating violent protests involving burning and looting. On more than one occasion, the structures burned and looted are retail stores that have been relied upon by the local African-American and other minority groups for basic needs such as food and medications. In some cases, these business establishments have also been owned by people who are African-American or other racial or ethnic minorities.

Apparently, some Black Lives Matter more than others do.

Prior to the latest round of destruction, business insurance for buildings and their contents in such areas was difficult to obtain and, if obtained, cost more than insurance in other parts of town. PG hasn’t seen any analyses of what percentage of buildings damaged have been insured and what percentage have not been insured. In the short run, it’s cheaper to run a business in a low-income area without fire insurance and you might even be able to lower your retail prices a bit which attracts a few more customers and leaves those customers with a bit more money to spend on something else or save for a rainy day.

Rules governing what risks must be covered by business insurance policies vary from state to state, but, the last time PG knew anything about the subject, damages from riots and civil unrest were not covered under a great many business insurance policies.

Commercial insurance companies can with reasonable accuracy predict the likelihood of various types of losses across a broad area based upon the age, types of commercial structures and the businesses operating within those structures. Given a group of 100 restaurants and 100 automatic car washes, the likelihood of fire loss claims from restaurants is significantly higher than the likelihood of a fire erupting in a car wash.

However, given the historical fire loss experience the insurance company has experienced with insured restaurants combined with data about restaurant fire losses experienced by a wide range of other insurance companies, information which is likely compiled and shared by state insurance officials and/or one or more commercial data services that collect, organize and analyze the claims experiences of a variety of insurance companies) an insurance company is able to set premium prices at an appropriate level to allow it to cover and pay for the damage caused by nearly-inevitable occurrence of fire losses in some restaurants during any given year and still be able to afford to continue in business.

While the number of individual restaurant fires resulting from careless employees, failure to clean grease from kitchen exhaust fans, etc., etc., during a given period of time together with the amount of money required to repair the damage done by such fires can be projected with reasonable accuracy given adequate information on historic frequencies of restaurant fires, etc., the likelihood that a particular city or a particular neighborhood in the city will be attacked by rioters and the cost to repair the damage caused by those rioters is something that can’t be projected with the accuracy necessary to properly price insurance policies and operate an insurance company that won’t go broke, leaving all of its other policyholders without any coverage at all. It’s easier to predict damage caused by lightning strikes than damage caused by riots.

One consequence PG can forecast for the future is that business insurance costs for structures and the contents of those structures in areas likely to be touched by Black Lives Matter protests and violence that is not certain to occur, but certainly has occurred in accompaniment with more than one Black Lives Matter protest this year will be much, much higher in the future than it was in the past. Insurance companies may be required under anti-discrimination legislation not to discriminate on the basis of the racial or ethnic identity of business owners, but insurance businesses are not required to have agents or sales offices located in every geographical location in a city or state. It makes good business sense to focus sales efforts on potential customers that are likely to provide profitable business.

Combine poor neighborhoods that didn’t have an excess of businesses of any sort in the first place combined with significantly higher costs of doing business for small businesses operating in those areas and you end up with far fewer merchants, less competition to help keep prices reasonable and a population that has to spend a much larger portion of its meager income for basic living expenses, including travel costs to go to places where they can buy what they need, than before the city was taught that Black Lives Matter.

So, back to the OP. If a few years from now, a college or university has two applicants for a position in its English Department, one applicant schooled in the Black Lives Matter curriculum of the University of Chicago and another who has been schooled in a high quality English Department of another respectable university, which applicant will have an advantage when the head of the English Department, an individual who already has enough stress in her/his professional life, likely to choose?

If Northwestern University, the other nationally-ranked university in the Chicago area (no offense intended toward other Chicago-area academic institutions) has decided to accept graduate students in its English Department without an express or implied requirement that they focus on Black Studies, which group of future PhD’s will seem like the safer bet for the head of an English Department who would like a relatively quiet life focused on academic excellence for her/himself and the remainder of the faculty and staff?

Tips for Historical Writers

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Historical true crime requires the writer to don a detective’s hat to unearth real details about the case(s), and the research can seem daunting at times. Historical fiction also demands that the writer get his/her facts straight. Today, I offer tips to help you find reliable source material, from which to build a factual narrative.

To write a realistic narrative for historical true crime, research includes:

  • Facts of the Case
  • Life of Historical Figures (killer, victim(s), family life, etc.)
  • Forensics (Fun Fact: Some of the toxicology tests are still used today!)
  • Occupations
  • Food and Dress
  • Wealthy v. Poor (differences in daily life)
  • Modes of Transportation
  • Investigators (Think: How did the police catch criminals back then?)
  • Court System (jurors, sentencing, lawyers, judges, witness testimony, expert witnesses, prosecution’s theory, defense, etc.)
  • Prison Life and/or Mental Hospitals
  • Burials

Where to Start the Search?

If the crime occurred in the 17th or 18th century, the task becomes more difficult. Not impossible. We just need to think like an investigator.

Let’s say we only have a name, place, and approximate year for our victim or killer. The first logical step is to conduct a Google search to see what’s available online. Someone must have written about the case, right? Well, not necessarily. Sometimes we’ll get lucky and find an article or two, other times *crickets* Which I prefer. Fewer articles mean the industry isn’t saturated with books on the same topic. It’s also harder to find what we need.

Pro Tip: If we do find an online article about the crime, don’t solely rely on that information. Instead, within said article search for the author’s sources. Most true crime and historical writers link to outside sources or cite where they’d gathered facts, and those are the gold nuggets we want.

. . . .

Three-Source Rule

If we can’t verify a fact with two other sources, historical fiction writers could still use it in a story. Historical true crime writers should not. This is my personal rule, not an industry requirement. Some publishers ask the writer to verify each major fact with at least one other source. Even if they never request the citation, their legal department might. House lawyers rest easier knowing we verified with more than one source.

Pro Tip: Keep a log of where you find both primary and secondary source materials. It’ll save you from having to flip through mountains of research papers later.

Exception to Three-Source Rule

Suppose we find a newspaper article that we’re able to authenticate with a trial transcript, deposition, or other court document. Since we have the primary source (court document) which states the same fact, the newspaper gains credibility. Say, we can’t find primary sources to substantiate the reporter’s claim. If the primary source doesn’t contradict those facts, then verify with two secondary sources.

See what I’m sayin’?

True crime readers expect the truth, not our fictional interpretation. Part of our job is to question a reporter’s research. To sell newspapers “facts” are often embellished or sensationalized. By doing so they created eye-popping headlines.

Pro Tip: Embellishments can destroy a factual narrative. Dig deeper to find the truth.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

No Time But the Present

From Harper’s Magazine:

From Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind, which was published last month by Penguin Press.

Navigating life in the internet age is a lot like doing battlefield triage. There are days we can’t even put gas in our cars without being assaulted by advertisements blared at ear-rattling volume. And so we learn to be ruthless in deciding how to deploy our attention. We only have so much of it, and often the decision of whether or not to “pay” it must be made in an instant. To avoid madness we must learn to reject appeals for our time, and reject them without hesitation or pity.

Add to this problem of information overload what the sociologist Hartmut Rosa calls “social acceleration,” the widespread belief that “the ‘tempo of life’ has increased, and with it stress, hecticness, and lack of time.” Rosa points out that our everyday experience of this acceleration has a weirdly contradictory character. On the one hand, we feel that everything is moving so fast, but we simultaneously feel trapped in our social structures and patterns of life, imprisoned, deprived of meaningful choice. Think of the college student who takes classes to prepare for a job that might not exist in a decade. To her, there doesn’t seem any escaping the need for professional self-presentation; but there also doesn’t seem to be any reliable means of knowing what form that self-presentation should take. You can’t stop playing the game, but its rules keep changing. There’s no time to think about anything other than the Now, and the not-Now increasingly takes on the character of an unwelcome and, in its otherness, even befouling imposition.

William James famously commented that “the baby, assailed by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing confusion.” But this is the experience of everyone whose temporal bandwidth is narrowed to this instant.

What do I mean by “temporal bandwidth”? I take that phrase from one of the most infuriatingly complex and inaccessible twentieth-century novels, Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Fortunately, you don’t have to read the novel to grasp the essential point that one of its characters makes:

“Temporal bandwidth” is the width of your present, your now. . . . The more you dwell in the past and in the future, the thicker your bandwidth, the more solid your persona. But the narrower your sense of Now, the more tenuous you are. It may get to where you’re having trouble remembering what you were doing five minutes ago.

Increasing our temporal bandwidth helps us address the condition of frenetic standstill by slowing us down and at the same time giving us more freedom of movement. It is a balm for agitated souls.

Link to the rest at Harper’s Magazine

How to Fight E-book Piracy

From Publishers Weekly:

How often do you worry about your paycheck getting stolen? Probably not too often, because we have strong laws that deter and punish theft of money, banking systems in place to protect you and track down the thief, and law enforcement that will step in to help.

But authors don’t have this security when their royalties are siphoned off by e-book pirates. Day after day, authors find stolen copies of their books on multiple platforms and pirate websites, and there is nothing they can do about it. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the law that regulates copyright liability on the internet, allows authors, publishers, and copyright holders to send takedown notices in response to copyright infringement. Pirate sites, however, whose operations are usually based outside the U.S., ignore the takedown notices, and companies that provide online services in the U.S. (such as web hosting services, search engines, social media sites, and user-generated content sites like YouTube) take down only the e-books posted at the specific URLs listed in a given notice, leaving other pirated copies online and doing little to prevent new ones from being posted, even by the same users. As a result, piracy flourishes unabated, diverting income from authors’ pockets to those of pirates.

. . . .

In July, the Authors Guild organized a lawsuit against a notorious Ukraine-based network of piracy sites called Kiss Library. The named plaintiffs in the suit are 12 Authors Guild members, as well as Amazon Publishing and Penguin Random House, whose generous financial support made the lawsuit possible. Kiss Library, which operates Kissly.net, Libly.net, Cheap-Library.com, and other websites, illegally sells pirated e-books at very cheap prices. Its sites were designed to look like legitimate online bookstores, complete with elaborate descriptions of how they help authors, while they actually exploit authors by drawing unwary readers away from legitimate, royalty-earning copies. Going into the lawsuit, we were fully aware of the costs and challenges, including the improbability of getting restitution for authors, let alone delivering sturdy consequences for the sites’ operators. Our primary goals were simple: to shut down the criminal enterprise and to raise awareness about the challenges that authors and publishers face in combating rampant online piracy.

Our lawsuit against Kiss Library illustrates the importance of cooperation from third parties in fighting piracy, particularly that of internet service providers (ISPs), payment processing services, and other utilities that pirate sites rely on to operate. An earlier temporary restraining order directed domain registrars to disable Kiss Library’s domains, taking the sites offline, and ordered payment processors Kiss Library used to freeze their assets. Two weeks ago, the court converted the restraining order into a preliminary injunction, allowing our lawyers to obtain and investigate records relating to the individuals involved in operating the site from their ISPs. Additional sites that were distributing pirated comics and cartoons as part of the larger Kiss Library scheme have also been identified and disabled as a result of discovery and the injunction.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Don’t Do Business with Incompetents

Over many years of practicing law at a very retail level (unlike what he does today), PG developed a couple of aphorisms for his own law business and has since concluded they apply on a broader scale:

  1. Don’t do business with crazy people.
  2. Don’t do business with crooks (unless you practice criminal law and get paid in full up front).

In a small-town law practice, all sorts of people walk in through the door. PG always hired the smartest secretaries/paralegals he could find and paid the good ones more than they could earn anywhere else in the local economy so they would stick around. These wonderful women spared PG a great many encounters with crazy people. (PG wasn’t biased against men, but none ever applied.)

Once in awhile, a crazy person would slip by PG’s sharp watchdogs, however. (A lawyer friend once told him, “The problem with fools is that they can be so ingenious.” Ditto for crazy people.)

On a couple of occasions, a crazy person who slipped by the support staff also eluded PG’s crazy person screen. On a couple of other occasions, the Legal Aid office asked PG to help a poor unfortunate crazy person and PG agreed, sight unseen.

(Legal Aid is a generic name for a variety of organizations in the United States that help provide legal assistance for those who need it and can’t afford an attorney. In many cases, Legal Aid staff attorneys are able to provide the needed help. For other cases, staff attorneys don’t have the necessary expertise or aren’t able to solve the problem for other reasons and practicing attorneys are asked to help, either for no fee or for a fee that Legal Aid pays that is much lower than the attorney would ordinarily charge. Legal Aid organizations generally limit their services to civil matters while Public Defenders, paid by the local, state or federal government, represent criminal defendants who are indigent and unable to afford private counsel.)

While crazy clients make for some colorful war stories that lawyers swap at bar association dinners, they are apt to consume an enormous amount of time and effort on the part of counsel and staff and generally disrupt what is already a very busy business environment. (One crazy client of PG decided she would occupy PG’s waiting room until he agreed to speak with her at length for the thousandth time about what a terrible person her estranged husband was, a topic that wasn’t relevant to the division of marital property under state law. After efforts to persuade her to depart failed, the local police were called and the client screamed, “Rape!” over and over again as she was forcibly removed from PG’s office.)

This long, long prelude to PG’s equivalent advice to authors is over.

For authors:

  1. Don’t do business with a crooked publisher.
  2. Don’t sign long-term publishing agreements with a small-time publisher, regardless of how pleasant he or she is, that will tie up your books for a long, long time unless you don’t really care much about your book or receiving many royalties from its sales.
  3. Don’t do business with an incompetent publisher, regardless of how well-meaning the publisher may seem.

PG will speak briefly [correction – not very briefly at all] about incompetent publishers, based upon a recent encounter about which he cannot divulge details because of obligations of confidentiality to a client.

To the best of PG’s knowledge, there is no law or regulation in the United States that places any limitation on whoever can call themselves a publisher. An individual who has spent her entire adult life as a plumber can retire from plumbing one day and open Plumber’s Publishing the next morning.

There are a surprising number of people who do something like PG’s plumbing hypothetical in the United States. Sometimes a printer or someone who has been in the printing business will decide to become a publisher. Sometimes, the owner of a successful bookstore expands into publishing. Both these people know may be an expert on an aspect of the book business, but that doesn’t make them knowledgeable enough to become a reliable publisher.

While PG takes religion in general and his personal religious beliefs in particular seriously, he doesn’t hesitate to say that more than a few religious publishers fall into this don’t-know-much-about-publishing basket.

One of the common practices of incompetent publishers is to take a copy of a publishing agreement from another incompetent publisher, change the name of the publisher to Plumber’s Publishing, and call it their own.

Then, just like the incompetent publisher before them, Plumber’s Publishing starts rewriting this and adding that.

In the end, an unwitting author is presented with the 15th generation of a publishing agreement that may not have been particularly well-written by the original creator, lawyer or not, and certainly has not been improved by the tweaks and the tweaks-of-tweaks that it has undergone since then.

An unwitting author may believe that a legal document with Plumber’s Publishing Publishing Contract at the top is an official and reliable publishing agreement, especially when Jane Plumber says, “This is our standard publishing contract.”

What reasonable person would question a “Standard Contract” fresh off a cheap inkjet printer?

If an author is smart enough to organize and write a decent book, that author likely possesses a higher level of general intelligence than Jane Plumber does.

PG has seen enough publishing contracts to assure one and all that there is no “Standard Publishing Contract.”

A Random House imprint has a Standard Contract that is regularly modified by savvy lawyers or agents working with an author.

A Simon & Schuster imprint has a Standard Contract that is not the same as a Random House Standard Contract. Simon & Schuster’s Standard Contracts are regularly modified by savvy lawyers or agents working with an author.

As PG has said on more than one previous occasion, if you sign a bad rental contract for an apartment, it may cost you some money, but it won’t last forever. If you sign a bad purchase agreement to buy an automobile, it may cost you some money, but it won’t last forever.

Most unfortunately, a bad publishing contract and 99% of “Standard Publishing Contracts” will last forever, absent expensive legal interventions after the contract is signed.

This is because, in dull legalese, most book publishing contracts give the publisher the exclusive right to publish the book “for the full term of the copyright” or something similar.

Under current US copyright law, “the full term of the copyright” is the rest of the author’s life plus 70 additional years. Copyrights last for similar periods of time in other major Western nations.

Everyone currently working for the publisher will almost certainly be dead long before the “Standard Publishing Contract” expires. The current owners of the publisher will almost certainly be dead before the contract expires.

Anyone working for the publisher can quit and go to work somewhere else, taking their accumulated talents and abilities with them.

But the author can’t “quit” the “Standard Publishing Contract”.

The best book the author has ever written or will ever write will always be published by Plumbers Publishing unless someone persuades whoever owns Plumbers Publishing to give up its rights to the author or the author’s heirs. This persuasion will almost certainly involve money paid to Plumbers Publishing or to expensive lawyers who sue Plumbers Publishing on behalf of the author or the author’s heirs.

What We Aren’t Seeing

THE UNICORN RESTS IN THE GARDEN, FROM THE HUNT FOR THE UNICORN TAPESTRIES, 1495–1505

From The Paris Review:

How appropriate that a museum show devoted to the unicorn—a mythical animal whose name has come to mean something so rare and elusive that it might or might not exist—should have failed to materialize. “A Blessing of Unicorns” was slated to bring the fifteenth-century unicorn tapestries from the Musée de Cluny in Paris together with their counterparts in the Cloisters at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, as part of a celebration honoring the Met’s one-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary. Scheduled for 2020, the show was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. An exhibit of medieval art fell victim to plague, that most medieval of dangers.

The Met’s beautifully illustrated Summer 2020 bulletin, A Blessing of Unicorns: The Paris and Cloisters Tapestries, not only shows us what we missed but may make us rethink our view of unicorns—a subject that, to be honest, hadn’t crossed my mind in years. I used to think about unicorns a lot. In fact I lived with one, you could say: a reproduction of The Unicorn Rests in a Garden hung in my childhood bedroom. I used to stare at the dark fields so thickly covered with impossibly perfect flowers, and at the unicorn in its small round enclosure, so sweet, so melancholy, so lonely—so like the spirit of a preteen girl infused into the body of a white horse with a single corkscrew horn.

It came as something of a shock to see it again, as I looked through the Met minicatalogue and read the lucid informative essay by Barbara Drake Boehm, the senior curator at the Cloisters. And as I read, I saw something in the image I had never seen before. How could I not have noticed that the unicorn’s hide is streaked with blood, that thin rivulets of crimson trickle down the smooth white flesh as it rests so patiently in its circular enclosure? Some scholars have argued that the red streaks are pomegranate juice, the symbol of fertility, but it looks like blood to me, and it seems unlikely that the dog nibbling the unicorn’s back in The Unicorn Surrenders to a Maiden is dribbling red fruit nectar.

What would I have thought, as a child, if I’d known that this delicate, graceful creature was an animal to be hunted, like one of the endangered-species safari trophies.

. . . .

And what would I have concluded if I’d been told that this slaughter could not be accomplished without the willing assistance of an agreeable virgin?

Apparently, the unicorn was not only swift but strong, capable of killing an elephant with its horn. The hunters could not get near it on their own. That was why you needed the virgin. The unicorn liked to lay its head in a virgin’s lap, and, while it was distracted, the hunters closed in. The virgin was bait. In case the implications escape us and we miss the ramifications—the preciousness of female purity and the relative contamination of female sexuality—here is Richard de Fournival, the thirteenth-century chancellor of the Cathedral of Amiens and author of The Bestiary of Love:

I was captured also by smell … like the Unicorn which falls asleep in the sweet smell of maidenhood … no one dares to attack or ambush it except a young virgin. For when the unicorn senses a virgin by her smell, it kneels in front of her and gently humbles itself to be of service. Consequently, the clever hunters who know its nature place a maiden in its path, and it falls asleep in her lap. And then, when it is asleep the hunters, who have not the courage to pursue it while awake, come out and kill it.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Not much to do with books and writing, but PG had not considered unicorns for some time and the parts of the OP that weren’t political were satisfying to him.

Liu Cixin Writes Science Fiction Epics That Transcend the Moment

From The Wall Street Journal:

Science fiction can be hard to disentangle from the real world. Futuristic tales about advanced technology and clashing alien civilizations often read like allegories of present-day problems. It is tempting, then, to find some kind of political message in the novels of Liu Cixin, 57, China’s most famous science fiction writer, whose speculative and often apocalyptic work has earned the praise of Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg. The historian Niall Ferguson recently said that reading Mr. Liu’s fiction is essential for understanding “how China views America and the world today.”

But Mr. Liu insists that this is “the biggest misinterpretation of my work.” Speaking through an interpreter over Skype from his home in Shanxi Province, he says that his books, which have been translated into more than 20 languages, shouldn’t be read as commentaries on China’s history or aspirations. In his books, he maintains, “aliens are aliens, space is space.” Although he has acknowledged, in an author’s note to one of his books, that “every era puts invisible shackles on those who have lived through it,” he says that he writes science fiction because he enjoys imagining a world beyond the “narrow” one we live in. “For me, the essence of science fiction is using my imagination to fill in the gaps of my dreams,” says Mr. Liu.

In China, science fiction has often been inseparable from ideology. A century ago, early efforts in the genre were conspicuously nationalistic: “Elites used it as a way of expressing their hopes for a stronger China,” says Mr. Liu. But the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution banned science fiction as subversive, and critics in the 1980s argued that it promoted capitalist ideas. “After that, science fiction was discouraged,” Mr. Liu remembers.

In recent years, however, the genre has been making a comeback. This is partly because China’s breakneck pace of modernization “makes people more future-oriented,” Mr. Liu says. But the country’s science fiction revival also has quite a lot to do with Mr. Liu himself.

In 2015, he became the first Asian writer to win the Hugo Award, the most prestigious international science fiction prize. A 2019 adaptation of his short story “The Wandering Earth” became China’s third-highest-grossing film of all time, and a movie version of his bestselling novel “The Three-Body Problem” is in the works. His new book, “To Hold Up the Sky,” a collection of stories, will be published in the U.S. in October. (His American books render his name as Cixin Liu, with the family name last, but Chinese convention is to put the family name first.)

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Macmillan: Don Weisberg To Succeed John Sargent as CEO

From Publishing Perspectives:

Many in world publishing are surprised this morning (September 17) as a series of top roles at Big Five publisher Macmillan undergo fast change.

Holtzbrinck in Stuttgart has announced “with great regret” that John Sargent will depart both Macmillan and the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group as of January 1.

The reason for Sargent’s departure is described by the German corporation’s statement as “disagreements regarding the direction of Macmillan.”

Don Weisberg, who currently is president of Macmillan US trade, has been named to succeed Sargent. And Susan Winslow, until now the company’s general manager, becomes president of Macmillan Learning, effective immediately.

In a prepared statement, Holtzbrinck Publishing Group CEO Stefan von Holtzbrinck says, “The family shareholders, the supervisory board, my colleagues and I thank John Sargent deeply for making Macmillan a strong and highly successful publishing house and for his most helpful advice.

“John’s principles and exemplary leadership have always been grounded in worthy, essential causes, be it freedom of  speech, the environment, or support for the most vulnerable. Since Holtzbrinck shares these ideals, they will live on.”

. . . .

To many following issues of diversity and equity in publishing, Susan Winslow’s promotion to president of Macmillan Learning is of special interest. The new role makes her one of only a small number of women who lead educational publishing and ed-tech companies.

She has been general manager of the division for three years and has more than three decades of experience in educational publishing across the business.

. . . .

It’s impossible to know from the Holtzbrinck announcement today what “disagreements regarding the direction of Macmillan” means. It’s not clear that that line or Sargent’s impending departure can be seen as related to that quite radical management-model adjustment of the summer.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG does not (of course) have any insights into the inner workings of Macmillan or any other large US traditional publisher. To be fair, PG has not attempted to penetrate the cone of silence that surrounds most of what happens in large publishers, but expects he would be firmly rebuffed should he ever attempt to do so.

However, it is not unusual for respected and competent leaders of organizations owned by large international media conglomerates like Holtzbrinck to be terminated for not making their numbers (that is, the revenue and profit numbers demanded by the real bosses). With these folks, it’s all about the Benjamins (einhundert Euro or eine Million Euro). Achieve your targets and, absent criminal charges, you’re gold. Miss and you’re geschichte.

Nur die Harten kommen in den Garten.

Samuel L. Jackson – celebrity voice for Alexa

Not really to do with books, but definitely related to Amazon.

From Amazon:

We heard you loud and clear! Samuel L. Jackson celebrity voice just got easier to use. Now you can simply say “Hey Samuel” to ask for jokes, weather, and more. To get started, just say, “Alexa, introduce me to Samuel L. Jackson” and choose the “Hey Samuel” wake word. You will still be able to use Alexa’s default voice just as you do now. Check below to see if your device works with “Hey Samuel”.

Already have Samuel L. Jackson celebrity voice? You can set up “Hey Samuel” by saying “Alexa, enable ‘Hey Samuel’”.

GET STARTED WITH SAMUEL – Samuel L. Jackson is here to add extra personality to your Alexa experience. Just ask and Samuel will set a timer, tell you a story, and more.

KEEP IT CLEAN, OR DON’T – Choose whether you’d like Samuel to use explicit language or not. If you change your mind later, simply go to the settings menu of the Alexa app to turn explicit content on or off.

ASK AWAY – After purchasing, try saying:

“Hey Samuel, what’s the weather?”
“Hey Samuel, tell me a joke.”
“Hey Samuel, set an alarm for 7am.”
“Hey Samuel, tell me a story.”
“Hey Samuel, what can you do?”
“Alexa, ask Samuel to give me advice.”
“Alexa, ask Samuel what he thinks of snakes.”

Link to the rest at Amazon

The Off-Kilter History of British Cuisine

Nothing to do with books, but PG had never heard of Fanny Cradock before.

From The Paris Review:

On the evening of November 11, 1976, the BBC broadcast the third episode of The Big Time, which followed members of the public as they tested themselves in high-pressure situations. It was what we’d term today a reality TV-style show, and that week was the turn of Mrs. Gwen Troake, a middle-aged woman from rural Devon in southwest England, who was being given the chance to design and cook a special banquet at the world-famous Dorchester Hotel in London. Troake, an amiable, soft-spoken lady any audience would root for, was assigned the most demanding mentor the production team could muster: Fanny Cradock, an extraordinary character who was the face and voice of cooking on British television  from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, and was once described by one national newspaper as “a preposterous character, the foodie you loved to loathe.”

Cradock built an entertainment brand on her putative brilliance in the kitchen, but also her superciliousness, hectoring her husband, mistreating her colleagues, and patronizing her audience, the great British public, whom she regarded to be gastronomic philistines. Evidently, this included Gwen Troake, the amateur cook on The Big Time. As Troake ran through what she was planning to serve at the banquet—a seafood cocktail, followed by duck, and rounded off with a rum and coffee cream pudding—Cradock rolled her eyes, gulped, and grimaced in a pantomime of disgust and disbelief at the overbearing richness of the menu, at one point blowing her cheeks out as though she were about to be physically sick. When Troake revealed that the duck would be served with a blackberry jam, Cradock could stomach no more and unleashed what she thought was the ultimate insult. “All these jams,” she said, “they are so English.”  Despite being stereotypically English in so many ways, in her mind the only really good English—or, indeed, British—food was really just French food by a different name. “The English have never had a cuisine. There’s nothing English. Yorkshire pudding came from Burgundy.”

She was probably wrong about Yorkshire pudding, but she definitely had a point, both about the heaviness of Troake’s menu, and the sorry state of her nation’s cuisine. In the postwar decades of Cradock’s great success, amidst heated debates about what it meant to be British in a post-imperial world, British food was an international laughingstockIt was fitting, then, that Cradock herself seemed to be in a perpetual identity crisis. Her personality was as peculiar as many of her famous recipes, and nobody was quite sure which of the stories she told about herself were true, and whether, despite her constant talk of refined French food, she was half as accomplished in the kitchen as she claimed to be. In the words of somebody who knew her well, “She wasn’t real … she didn’t know who she was. She made herself up as she went along.”

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Why Your Book Matters

From Writers in the Storm:

When we publish a book, we want it to be read. Obviously. But what else do we want?

At the most obvious level, we want our book to be bought, liked, shared, and reviewed. We want to see it on lists; we want lots of reviews (and stars) on Goodreads and Amazon. But we want something else, too—that connection with specific human beings who have been touched and changed by what we wrote.

When I published Queen of the Owls, I wanted all of those things—and I got a lot of them. The book earned awards, made it onto several “best of” lists. And yet, the most important results are things I never could have foreseen.

I’d like to share two of these “results” with you today. One has to do with a wonderful and unexpected connection with a photographer whose work took the experience of my fictitious protagonist to a whole new level. The other has to do with how Queen of the Owls saved someone’s life. Literally.

The first experience came from photographer Angelika Buettner, who saw my article in Ms. Magazine entitled Naked: Being Seen is Terrifying but Liberating .  In the article, I personalized a central theme of the novel, which is about the power of “choosing to be seen”— the deep longing to reveal and embrace one’s whole self. 

The article attracted Angelika’s attention because she had recently published a book called I Am: Celebrating the Perfect Imperfect

Through a gallery of 121 nude photos and testimonials that reveal the “inner and outer beauty” of women ages 40 to 99, Angelika’s goal is to empower women (and girls) by portraying the “aging and ageless” beauty of our perfectly-imperfect selves. As she told me in our first conversation: “I invited women to wear nothing but what they are feeling inside. Those women stepped out of their comfort zone and gave me the permission to portray their naked souls. I photographed a feeling they had lost—of loving oneself.”

When Angelika saw the article in Ms. Magazine, she immediately reached out to me, and from there to my novel. She read Queen of the Owls nonstop because, to her, it was exactly what she had been trying to convey in her portraits. “The protagonist is expressing the feeling my ladies have, and she finds why it so important to be seen, the real me, by myself. In the end those images are for ourselves.” We discovered that we were offering the same message—for me, through story; for her, through photographs.

From there, a collaboration began. We’ve been meeting on Zoom to talk about ways to work together, joined by a third woman, Lilianne Milgrom, a painter-turned-novelist whose work also addresses the theme of female embodiment. Our dream is a cross-disciplinary presentation about the female body in painting, photography, and story. A shared message, delivered more powerfully through complementary channels.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

A reminder that PG doesn’t necessarily agree with everything he posts on TPV.

While he is generally tolerant of a wide variety of human behaviors, PG can’t envision himself as a photographic subject unless he is fully-clothed, the more fully, the better.

His personal opinion is that, particularly at his current stage in life and having added a Covid bulge in the last several months, PG wouldn’t feel the least liberated by photos of his aging and ageless, perfect-imperfect self existing, much less circulating among the general population or any subset thereof.

But PG understands that others may disagree (not about PG’s body in particular – there can be no rational disagreement about that – but naked bodies in general).

Who let the dons out?

From The Critic:

Contrary to what you sometimes read in the newspapers, the media don has been going strong for upwards of 120 years. When English Literature started professionalising itself at the end of the nineteenth century and universities needed to fill their newly-created English departments, they tended to recruit from journalism.

That first wave of English professors consequently deposited such all-round pundits as John Churton Collins (Birmingham) and George Saintsbury (Edinburgh) on the lecture-room podium — all erstwhile hacks who, whatever the glamour of their academic gigs, could never quite abandon the trade that had brought them preferment.

Come the 1960s, as both universities and media doubled in volume, this wave turned into a torrent. Malcolm Bradbury (UEA), David Lodge (Birmingham again), the sociologist Laurie Taylor (often thought to be the original of Howard Kirk in Bradbury’s The History Man) each contrived to build a highly lucrative bridge between academe, the public prints, and the Today programme.

All of a sudden, the don could have it both ways — file that learned 5,000 words for Essays in Criticism and review for the Observer, publish a book with a title such as Foucault and the Structuralist Hegemony and judge the Booker Prize. Bliss it was to be alive in that cross-cultural dawn.

Half-a-century later, alas, the laudable aim of encouraging brainy specialists to share their knowledge with the world at large has turned into a complete disaster. Why is the presence of an academic on a book prize judging panel, fronting a BBC Four arts documentary or even reviewing for a national newspaper generally such an embarrassment? One reason, alas, is that fatal assumption of omnicompetence — the idea that talent translates from discipline to discipline which finds the titans of academe being employed to carry out tasks for which they may not actually be qualified. Mary Beard is a Classics professor. Why should she end up on poetry symposia or presenting arts docs about painting?

Another reason is the sheer inability of most academics to step down from the Parnassus of their specialist subject and engage with non-specialist hoi-polloi. This failing is particularly evident in the bread-and-butter world of book reviewing.

. . . .

As for mother Carey’s chickens, all avidly disporting themselves in the Times Literary Supplement, the Literary Review, the London Review of Books and countless other organs, their main limitation is that they possess all the book reviewer’s traditional faults, only more so. Item one on a pretty considerable list is score-settling (see Terry Eagleton’s decades-long spat with A.C. Grayling, or the multiple vendettas annually conducted by Craig Raine).

Item two, as immemorially practised in the LRB, is simply to use that new volume of essays about Harold Wilson as an excuse to drone on about your own opinion of the postwar Labour Party while barely mentioning the book that started you off.

Readers often complain about book-page glad-handing. No one, it might be said, glad-hands like an academic.

Link to the rest at The Critic and thanks to C. for the tip

Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins Announce Diversity Roles

From Publishing Perspectives:

Within an hour of each other today (September 15), two Big Five publishers in New York City have announced newly created diversity-focused directorial positions.

At Simon & Schuster, president and CEO Jonathan Karp has issued a memo to the workforce, introducing Amanda Armstrong-Frank in the role of director of workplace culture and diversity initiatives.

And at HarperCollins, senior vice-president in human resources Diane Bailey has named Gisselda Nuñez to the role of vice-president for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Both companies, of course, carry major influence on the international stage.

And both appointments are being made amid intensifying international focus on how publishing’s output–and its companies’ employees and leadership–can better reflect the complex and deeply multicultural nature of contemporary society and the consumer base.

. . . .

In her new role, Karp writes to Simon & Schuster’s staff, Armstrong-Frank is to report both to him and to Marva Smalls, the executive vice-president and global head of inclusion for S&S’ parent corporation ViacomCBS.

Armstrong-Frank, he writes, “will have the benefit of direct access to the many resources of the office of global inclusion under Marva, bringing to Simon & Schuster a wealth of perspective and expertise to combine with her own deep understanding of Simon & Schuster’s employees, our culture, and challenges particular to the publishing industry.

“Amanda will be an agent for change,” Karp writes, “who will advise, advocate, and act to improve workplace culture, including diverse representation at all levels. She will partner with me in helping to facilitate conversations and access to senior management, building targeted development programming and expanding management participation in our extensive recruitment outreach to pools of BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] talent.”

Armstrong-Frank’s brief includes developing with human resources “much-anticipated diversity and inclusion training” for “all Simon & Schuster employees annually,” Karp writes, “and as part of new-hire onboarding to support a culture of awareness, inclusion, and psychological safety from Day One.

“Of course,” he writes, Armstrong-Frank “will ensure that our very active diversity council continues to play an important role in the life of the company by encouraging the engagement of BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other employees from diverse backgrounds, and by drawing the attention of senior management to critical issues of concern.”

Armstrong-Frank’s background includes service on the publisher’s diversity council since 2005, management of the company’s “associates program,” which Karp calls “an important pipeline of diverse talent, and mentoring. She has been with the company since joining sales in 1994 and has worked in managerial roles in business operations, customer programs, and advertising.

“She has long been a reliable sounding board,” Karp writes, “and in recent months has generously shared her insights and wise counsel, helping us gain valuable perspective and envision a better way forward for Simon & Schuster, with a workplace culture befitting our place as an industry leader.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG wonders if S&S included an adequate number of buzzwords in its announcement or whether Ms. Armstrong-Frank should have been consulted to make certain there were enough.

Perhaps he missed it, but PG didn’t notice anything in the OP that suggested these changes were going to provide copious benefits to authors.

Can Tech Ever be Good?

From Public Books:

Having thrown privacy and consumer protection overboard long ago, Google, in 2018, officially removed its best-loved maxim, “Don’t be evil,” from its code of conduct. Arguably, the company could no longer ignore the contradiction between self-declared ethics and the relentless pursuit of profit. (In only the final quarter of 2019, Google booked $46 billion in advertising dollars and third-party sales of user data.) And Google is not alone.

Recently, Slate published a list of the 30 most “evil” tech companies. Noting that these companies produced “ills that outweigh conveniences,” Slate’s list flayed the tech giants. This article—alongside recent books like Rana Foroohar’s Don’t Be Evil and Lucie Greene’s Silicon States—illustrates that the very existence of companies like Uber, 23andMe, and Airbnb relies on the exploitation of users and workers. And then there’s the rampant sexism and racism across what Emily Chang calls tech’s “brotopia.” Goodbye, tech exceptionalism; hello, “techlash.”

Skewering Google with its own maxim, Foroohar points out in Don’t Be Evil that Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google (the FAANGs), as well as Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent (the BATs), don’t even innovate anymore, nor do they generate new jobs. Such justifications might have lent their profit seeking and mistreatment some social value. Instead, the BATs and FAANGs of Big Tech mostly focus on keeping people online as much as possible and monetizing their attention.

Perhaps more importantly, as Lucie Greene shows in Silicon States, the amount of money funneling between San Francisco and Washington has correspondingly increased. The top three Big Tech companies each spent around $15 million on lobbying in 2019 (to compare: Boeing spent only $13 million). No wonder a countermovement—the tech backlash—seems to grow bigger and bigger.

Tech—even though its pace of innovation and job creation has rapidly slowed down, even as it exploits people and grabs attention—is very much in power. So, clearly, tech cannot purely be seen as a force for good. At least, not anymore. But could tech still be bent toward better purposes? And if so, how?

Tech’s profits are not purely based on selling its often world-changing products and services; they are also a result of the industry’s lax morality and its political might. Like Google’s abandoned motto, this, too, is a contradiction: Big Tech leans on libertarianism, even as it built monopolies and spends immense sums on lobbying politicians and administrators. Since the Obama administrations, Silicon Valley and Capitol Hill have spun the revolving door at a furious clip.

Critics like Foroohar and Greene, along with labor and social activists and academics, have disrupted tech’s status quo—the “don’t be evil” persona, the exchange between tech companies and lawmakers—by forcing tech abuses into the national conversation. This criticism has focused on Big Tech and its involvement in politics; what hasn’t yet been discussed in depth is the role of venture-capital investors.

Link to the rest at Public Books

PG was about to go on a rant, but, uncharacteristically, he is going to restrain himself.

Three comments:

  • Anything that “labor and social activists and academics” don’t like can’t be all bad.
  • Amazon just announced it would be hiring 100,000 new workers.
  • Unlike labor unions, together with local, state and federal governments, anyone can choose not to be involved with Facebook, Google or Amazon.

Even Your Memoir Is Not All About You

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

Refrain from the use of “I.”

That writing advice may seem hypocritical coming from the author of two memoirs and a new book of personal essays, but even in the most intimate episodes of baring your soul in your writing, readers do not need the constant reminder that it is you writing about yourself.

They are actually trying to be sure it is about themselves.

Because you are writing about your life with your byline, readers assume that you are the narrator, conjuring up each scene, section of dialogue and description. So literally writing, “I saw,” “she said to me,” “I said,” or “I remembered,” becomes as tedious a reminder of your presence as the person who has cornered you with their opinions about what is wrong with the media.

Your presence is implied. Of course, you have to write “I” every now and then for clarity, but repeatedly starting sentences or paragraphs with your pronoun declaration is unnecessary.

. . . .

Writing first person commentary, memoirs and essays for love and money, my work pays the mortgage and the gas bill, occasional trips to Whole Foods for the blackened chicken salad that is about $30 for a container, and shoes on sale at DSW. In four decades of writing I have learned a few things about why my work matters not just to me, but to others.

You may think your writing personal stories it is all about you, but it is about the reader as well. That is why there is a tired cliché, “The personal is universal.”

Zora Neale Hurston said, “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.”

So many of us are living confined lives of working from home, sheltering in place, eliminating trips to museums, coffee shops, bars, favorite restaurants, beaches, even family parties and trips with friends. Our worlds have shrunk and save the mandatory zoom calls for work conferences and webinars, there may be a station wagon full of people you encounter in real life. But our words are larger than our lives.

. . . .

Make sure what you are writing is not simply a chronological regurgitation of events. Brushing your teeth is not so interesting a topic. Unless from that prompt, you begin writing about the woodsy smell of bourbon on your uncle’s breath, or the first grade teacher whose teeth were the color of sand. Begin with your memory and expand into a kaleidoscope of imagery and memories tied back to the simple task of brushing your teeth as a metaphor for much more.

A desire to profoundly articulate a meaningful experience, applying the techniques of literature to a life moment or phase, that is what readers connect to. Even when the specifics are not what they know firsthand, the feelings and emotions you conjure certainly are.  

Write in a tone, voice and style that allows your personality to venture onto the page. Write the way you speak. We all know when we receive a card or email that is insincere.. Try to avoid that kind of insincerity in your writing. 

Your genius is in the details but also in the connections you make. Highly creative people have the ability to take completely disparate ideas and events, find the commonality and connect them. 

Link to the rest at Woman Writers, Women’s Books

Users Being Locked Out

PG has received a couple of emails in the past few days from long-time visitors to The Passive Voice which say they haven’t been able to log in using their regular ID/PW.

If you are having a similar problem, get in touch with me via the Contact link on the top menu bar. PG’s temporary fix is signing you up for a new Subscriber account.

PG doesn’t think he’s made any recent changes to the blog that might have triggered this glitch, but, who knows what he’s done while in one of his too-much-Covid hazes.

If any WordPress experts know about what might be causing this problem, PG would appreciate a tip, explanation, fix, etc., via the Contact link.

FYI, he has over 70,000 people who have signed up as subscribers. An unknown portion of those are undoubtedly would-be comment spammers.

Amazon to Hire 100,000 in U.S. and Canada

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc. plans to hire 100,000 additional employees in the U.S. and Canada, continuing a rapid expansion that began as the coronavirus pandemic forced many people to stay home and shop online for work and other necessities.

Amazon’s seemingly relentless hiring this year has come even as the wider economic picture has darkened, with companies across a range of industries slashing workers and filing for bankruptcy. Robust online spending during the crisis has fueled Amazon’s growth and created a need for more workers.

Not including temporary employees the company describes as seasonal, its total world-wide workforce will be roughly one million after accounting for the 100,000 new warehouse positions and 33,000 positions Amazon is hiring for in its corporate divisions. Once those positions are filled, it will have more than 700,000 employees in the U.S.

. . . .

New jobs will be added at dozens of Amazon locations paying at least $15 an hour and including benefits and signing bonuses of as much as $1,000 in some cities. Hiring for the jobs has already begun. The positions are all nonseasonal, Amazon said.

The company also said it would open 100 operational buildings this month alone, including fulfillment centers, delivery stations, sorting centers and other sites. That will add to more than 75 others already opened this year in Canada and the U.S., it said. Amazon has more than 600 facilities in the U.S., according to logistics consultant MWPVL International.

. . . .

Amazon, which accounts for more than a third of online U.S. sales, has recorded record profits during the pandemic. The company posted a record $88.9 billion in sales during its second quarter, and profit doubled year-over-year to $5.2 billion.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Trainwreck Fall Edition

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

I adore a good gothic and a somewhat creepy novel (but not too creepy, mind you), so in June, when a reliable friend recommended Simone St. James’s The Sun Down Motel, I ordered a copy immediately, and read it the moment it arrived. Loved it. It’s in my recommended reading list for July.

As soon as I finished, I ordered a copy for my sister, who also likes this type of book. Immediately, a notice flashed on my screen: she wouldn’t get the book until September. I was stunned. I looked at the publisher, thinking I was dealing with a specialty press, but no. I wasn’t. How odd.

That was my entire reaction: How odd. The book had released in February, so I should have been able to get my hands on a copy quickly. But I couldn’t.

That same thing had happened with a couple of other books I had ordered for my sister back in May. They were backlist for an author I knew my sister hadn’t tried, but would love. It took six weeks for her to get the books, with the shipment getting delayed more than once.

Because so many other things were going on, I hadn’t put my experiences together with something I wrote about at the end of April. Traditional publishing was headed for a trainwreck, and I was worried about it.

Part of the trainwreck was—and is—the closed bookstores. Many are still closed. But a lot of that trainwreck had to do with publisher panic, old systems, supply chains, and more.

When the pandemic hit, everyone thought we would get through the damn thing in a few months. We’d club that virus into submission, and return to normal life—or close to normal—by summer.

. . . .

Some industries aren’t very nimble. They can’t just shuffle one thing to accommodate something else. Traditional publishing is like that.

(This is where a handful of my indie-writer readers usually check out. I suggest you don’t, because I’ll be talking to you below. We’re part of an industry and a large part of the industry is mismanaging a crisis, which will have an impact on you. So, breathe, and dive back in.)

With the bookstores closed, some companies moved their biggest spring and summer releases to the fall, hoping that all would be better by then. There was some wiggle room, because traditional publishers had tried to avoid publishing anything important in November since it is a presidential election year. So there were some empty weeks.

But not enough of them. The schedule got shuffled, then reshuffled, then shuffled again. I know some books got canceled entirely, but many have just been moved to the next available slot on the schedule.

That is, they got moved to an available slot on the schedule, if the book is expected to do well. If it was a standard midlist book, it got shoved somewhere random, so that it can be printed, shipped, and sent to bookstores—who ordered their copies pre-pandemic.

Yeah, even if the book doesn’t come out now until fall of 2021, many of those orders remain exactly as they were. Even if the bookstore isn’t selling as many copies in its brick-and-mortar store. Or if the bookstore has shuttered its brick-and-mortar store—or closed entirely.

Here’s what a lot of readers don’t know—consciously anyway. Traditional publishing is built on velocity—that is, how many books sell in a short period of time.

The system that traditional publishing is using was designed post-World War II (or as I said to a friend yesterday, after the World War II generation survived its once-in-a-lifetime crisis). Back then, there were very few bookstores, and those that existed had limited space. Most books were sold in other retail venues—drug stores, department stores, magazine stands, and the like—which again, had limited space. In other words, there was only so much room for books in those places. Rather than keep old inventory on the shelf, retailers who sold books churned them—getting rid of those that were still on the racks after a month or two, and replacing them with new inventory.

This was easy to do, because in the Great Depression, the publishing companies subsidized anyone who sold a book by removing cost of excess inventory. Retailers could return books for full credit within a specific window. Which meant that retailers could make bad decision after bad decision, and not lose a heck of a lot of money.

They could also churn at no cost to them, replacing the old inventory with the new.

That practice created the idea that books were like bananas; they spoiled if they didn’t sell within a few weeks. And, indeed, there are horrid photos from the 1990s of Dumpsters filled with books behind shopping malls, because many publishers allowed retailers to strip the cover off books (and toss the rest of the book away) and still get full credit. Saves shipping costs, doncha know.

Even though it’s a stupid 75-year-old business model, traditional publishing still banks on velocity. And traditional publishing is fairly stupid about velocity. If an author’s sales numbers go down, no matter what the reason (y’know, like closed bookstores and a pandemic), that author will be offered a smaller advance next time—or will be cut loose. It’s brutal and unrealistic, and it’s on the horizon for so many writers.

. . . .

In addition to the messing up of the schedule, there were supply chain problems and the bankruptcy and auction of the two remaining major web press printers here in the States.

. . . .

The best way to sell books (as demonstrated by study after study) is word of mouth. My sister is at the end of a recommendation chain that went from my friend to me to my sister. My sister hasn’t even had a chance to read and recommend yet. By the time I wanted to give a copy to my sister, the book was out of print. The reason for the nearly three-month delay was because there were no copies of the hardcover in the warehouse—and no printing scheduled until September.

That September printing was probably ordered in May, which meant that the May numbers might not reflect the actual interest. The Times noted that one of the hot political books of August, which I had actually forgotten about (because so many hot political books have followed) had a similar problem:

The CNN anchor Brian Stelter’s new book “Hoax,” about the relationship between Donald Trump and Fox, was out of stock on Amazon this week shortly after its August 25 publication date, and showed a ship time of one to two months. Mr. Stelter’s publisher, One Signal, a Simon & Schuster imprint, which initially printed 50,000 copies, has ordered another 100,000 copies.

Two-month delay from August 25 on a political book places that 100,000 copy rerelease at the end of October, a week from the November election. 

. . . .

Ah, I hear you all now. What about the ebooks?

This is where traditional publishers have—pardon my crudity—fucked themselves blue. Stelter’s ebook costs $14.99. The ebook for the St. James that I mentioned above is $13.99.

Ridiculous, right? But it’s part of traditional publishing think. They want readers to buy the hardcovers, so they’ve priced ebooks unbelievably high, which is causing another problem. From that same New York Times article:

Some worry that the current crunch could reverse the yearlong trend of stable and sometimes rising print sales, sending readers back to digital books, which are less lucrative for publishers and authors, and especially brick and mortar retailers.Sa

Less lucrative for authors? On what planet? Oh, yeah, right. The traditional publishing planet. I’ve seen article after article that talks about how ebooks are a bust, that they don’t make money, and that sales of ebooks are “depressed.”

Yeah, if you overcharge for them.

. . . .

So, if the reader can’t get the novel that caught their attention this week by ordering it online, and if the reader won’t pay over $10 for an ebook, and if the reader can’t get the book from their library, what does the reader do?

The reader moves on to a different writer, another book, something new and different. Sales—and fans—aren’t allowed to build.

At all.

. . . .

As The Guardian noted, the blockbusters will make it into the retail stores. But those midlisters won’t. There just isn’t room. And with overpriced ebooks and no library access, there’s no way to discover these writers.

So many writers have gone to traditional publishing because those writers believe traditional is better at getting books into stores (really?) and is better at promotion. Let’s ignore the first part, shall we, and assume that some poor traditionally published writer was actually slated to get promotion on their book.

First, as The Guardian notes, there’s not enough room in the literary press to cover all 600 books that were released on September 3. There isn’t enough room to cover the books that will be released after September 3.

And if you were lucky enough to get a rave review from a reputable publication? Well, you better hope your publication date remained the same. Because review copies were mailed months in advance, and the review was written months in advance and published to time with your original release.

The Times quotes Sasha Issenberg whose book The Engagement: America’s Quarter-Century Struggle Over Same-Sex Marriage was slated to release in June for Pride Month. He got a stellar review in Publisher’s Weekly. Only his book got pushed to early September, then late September, and now won’t come out until June of 2021.

Will the bookstores that ordered the book even open the boxes when it arrives? Remember the order at all? Will the bookstore even be in existence when the book arrives? Will readers remember that they wanted the book in June of 2020? Will the publishing company redo their promotional efforts for the book?

Oh, wait. I can answer that last one. No, they won’t. They’ll expect Issenberg to do it, and maybe he might be able to finagle some interviews and additional reviews on his own, the way an indie writer would do things. But his book is going to tank, unless someone does an intervention. And believe me, there will be a lot of other things that will have grabbed our attention by Pride Month 2021, and none of them will be his book.

. . . .

[N]ewly published traditional writers? They’re screwed. They really are.

A handful of them will be resilient enough—and smart enough—to learn how to indie publish their next books. But most of these traditional writers won’t be that resilient. Their dreams are going to die a horrid, horrid death.

I empathize…up to a point. If they want to learn how to publish books, point them to our Publishing 101 class, and then stay out of their way. They’ve had years of warning to stay away from traditional publishing, and they didn’t listen. They’re probably not going to listen now. You know the rules about drowning victims, right? Send them a lifeline. Don’t get close enough to let them grab you and pull you down.

After I published the first Trainwreck piece, I heard from indie writers who panicked. They asked if they should stay away from the crowded fall schedule. I said no.

Because the real business model for publishing in the 21st century is this: readers will discover books over years, not weeks. Put your book out there. Yeah, maybe some reader won’t find it until 2022. That’s okay. Then they get to read your entire backlist.

Indie writers aren’t dependent on velocity. To have a successful career, we need widespread availability. We need to be in all the possible markets we can. We want our readers to find reasonably priced ebooks from all the major vendors

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

This is a first-class Kris Rusch analysis of traditional publishing and PG strongly suggests reading the entire OP (which is substantially longer than this excerpt).

PG will add only a bit of reinforcement for the main point Kris makes in the OP: Traditional publishing is a very poorly-run business. It might be compared to that great restaurant you used to enjoy, but don’t think about much any more because the prices are steep and the last time you went, the kitchen wasn’t doing the job it used to.

The other factor PG has mentioned before is that even if the New York top brass was inclined to really innovate and make aggressive changes, the companies that own the large New York publishers – large European media conglomerates plus CBS (Simon & Schuster) are not going to be receptive to innovative changes, particularly if such changes might possibly result in lower short-term profits.

The CEOs of the major New York trade publishers are really middle-management in their business organizations. From PG’s prior personal experience with large European media conglomerates, he is 99.99% confident that cutting ebook prices to potentially goose sales numbers is a non-starter. The people who own the NYC publishers are just as locked into traditional strategies and practices as the NYC underlings Kris describes.

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

If you want to make a contribution directly to Kris for her insights, here’s a link to her Patreon page.

Publishers Are Taking the Internet to Court

From The Nation:

hen Covid-19 struck, hundreds of millions of students were suddenly stranded at home without access to teachers or libraries. UNESCO reported that in April, 90 percent of the world’s enrolled students had been adversely affected by the pandemic. In response, the Internet Archive’s Open Library announced the National Emergency Library, a temporary program suspending limits on the number of patrons who could borrow its digital books simultaneously. The Open Library lends at no charge about 4 million digital books, 2.5 million of which are in the public domain, and 1.4 million of which may be under copyright and subject to lending restrictions. (This is roughly equivalent to a medium-sized city library; the New York Public Library, by comparison, holds 21.9 million books and printed materials and 1.78 million e-books, according to 2016 figures from the American Library Association.) But the National Emergency Library wound up creating an emergency of its own—for the future of libraries.

Brewster Kahle, the Internet Archive’s founder and digital librarian, wrote in March that the National Emergency Library would ensure “that students will have access to assigned readings and library materials…for the remainder of the US academic calendar.” He acknowledged that authors and publishers would also be harmed by the pandemic, urged those in a position to buy books to do so, and offered authors a form for removing their own books from the program, if they chose.

More than 100 libraries, archives, and other institutions signed on to a statement of support for the program, including MIT, Penn State, Emory University, the Boston Public Library, Middlebury College, Amherst College, George Washington University, the Claremont Colleges Library, and the Greater Western Library Alliance. Writing in The New Yorker, Harvard history professor and author Jill Lepore joined many media observers in praising the National Emergency Library as “a gift to readers everywhere.”

A number of other authors, however, took to Twitter to complain.

“Guys. Not helpful,” tweeted novelist Neil Gaiman.

“They scan books illegally and put them online. It’s not a library,” novelist Colson Whitehead tweeted in March. (I wrote last week to ask Whitehead what laws he thought were being broken, or whether he’d since altered his views on this matter, and he declined to comment.)

On June 1, Whitehead’s publisher, Penguin Random House, together with fellow megapublishers Hachette, HarperCollins, and Wiley, filed a lawsuit against the Internet Archive alleging “mass copyright infringement.” The Internet Archive closed the National Emergency Library on June 16, citing the lawsuit and calling for the publishers to stand down. But the plaintiffs are continuing to press their claims, and are now seeking to close the whole Open Library permanently.

The trial is set for next year in federal court, with initial disclosures for discovery scheduled to take place next week. The publishers’ “prayer for relief” seeks to destroy the Open Library’s existing books, and to soak the Internet Archive for a lot of money; in their response, the Archive is looking to have its opponents’ claims denied in full, its legal costs paid, and “such other and further relief as the Court deems just and equitable.” But what’s really at stake in this lawsuit is the idea of ownership itself—what it means not only for a library but for anyone to own a book.

The Internet Archive is far more than the Open Library; it’s a nonprofit institution that has become a cornerstone of archival activity throughout the world. Brewster Kahle is an Internet pioneer who was writing about the importance of preserving the digital commons in 1996. He built the Wayback Machine, without which an incalculable amount of the early Web would have been lost for good. The Internet Archive has performed pioneering work in developing public search tools for its own vast collections, such as the television news archive, which researchers and journalists like me use on an almost daily basis in order to contextualize and interpret political reporting. These resources are unique and irreplaceable.

The Internet Archive is a tech partner to hundreds of libraries, including the Library of Congress, for whom it develops techniques for the stewardship of digital content. It helps them build their own Web-based collections with tools such as Archive-It, which is currently used by more than 600 organizations including universities, museums, and government agencies, as well as libraries, to create their own searchable public archives. The Internet Archive repairs broken links on Wikipedia—by the million. It has collected thousands of early computer games, and developed online emulators so they can be played on modern computers. It hosts collections of live music performances, 78s and cylinder recordings, radio shows, films and video. I am leaving a lot out about its groundbreaking work in making scholarly materials more accessible, its projects to expand books to the print-disabled—too many undertakings and achievements to count.

For-profit publishers like HarperCollins or Hachette don’t perform the kind of work required to preserve a cultural posterity. Publishers are not archivists. They obey the dictates of the market. They keep books in print based on market considerations, not cultural ones. Archiving is not in the purview or even the interests of big publishers, who indeed have an incentive to encourage the continuing need to buy.

. . . .

But in a healthy society, the need for authors and artists to be compensated fairly is balanced against the need to preserve a rich and robust public commons for the benefit of the culture as a whole. Publishers are stewards of the right of authors to make a fair living; librarians are stewards of cultural posterity. Brewster Kahle, and the Internet Archive, are librarians, and the Internet Archive is a new kind of library.

. . . .

“I’m a librarian!” [Kahle] told me, back then. “Libraries have had a long history of dealing with authoritarian organizations demanding reader records—just, who’s read what—and this has led to people being rounded up and killed.”

Now Kahle finds himself on the other side of a lawsuit. The key issue in this one is the as-yet-untested legal theory of Controlled Digital Lending (CDL), which the Internet Archive and partner libraries have been working out over the last few years, in order to deal fairly with the new question of lending digitized books within the parameters of existing copyright law. CDL was designed to mirror the age-old library practice of (1) buying or otherwise acquiring a physical book, and (2) loaning it out to one patron at a time.

Like a traditional library, the Internet Archive buys or accepts donations of physical books. The archive scans its physical books, making one digital copy available for each physical book it owns. The digitized copies are then loaned out for a limited period, like a traditional library loan. The physical books from which the scans were made are stored and do not circulate, a practice known as “own-to-loan.”

Harvard copyright scholar and lawyer Kyle Courtney has explained this reasoning very clearly. “Libraries do not need permission or a license to loan those books that they have purchased or acquired,” he said at a recent conference. “Copyright law covers those exact issues.… Congress actually placed all of these specialized copyright exemptions for libraries in the Copyright Act itself.”

The for-profit publishers in the lawsuit, however, do not care for this idea. What they allege in the complaint is this: “Without any license or any payment to authors or publishers, IA [the Internet Archive] scans print books, uploads these illegally scanned books to its servers, and distributes verbatim digital copies of the books in whole via public-facing websites.”

What this ominous description fails to acknowledge is that all libraries that lend e-books “distribute verbatim digital copies of the books in whole via public-facing websites.” Yet the publishers claim later in the same document that they have no beef with regular libraries. They love libraries, they say (“Publishers have long supported public libraries, recognizing the significant benefits to the public of ready access to books and other publications”), and are “in partnership” with them: “This partnership turns upon a well-developed and longstanding library market, through which public libraries buy print books and license ebooks (or agree to terms of sale for ebooks) from publishers.”

The real issue emerges here: The words “license ebooks” are the most important ones in the whole lawsuit.

Publishers approve of libraries paying for e-book licenses because they’re temporary, just like your right to watch a movie on Netflix is temporary and can evaporate at any moment. In the same way, publishers would like to see libraries obliged to license, not to own, books—that is, continue to pay for the same book again and again. That’s what this lawsuit is really about. It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that publishers took advantage of the pandemic to achieve what they had not been able to achieve previously: to turn the library system into a “reading as a service” operation from which they can squeeze profits forever.

Their argument also hinges on the notion that it’s illegal to scan a book that you own. Note that this is what’s being claimed in the complaint: that the books are “illegally scanned,” as Whitehead tweeted back in March. It’s not just the distribution of “pirated” copies they’re trying to prevent. It’s doing as you wish with your own property.

This runs deeper than the question of digital format. NYU law professor Jason Schultz, co-author of The End of Ownership, explained it in an e-mail: “The key here is that our law and cultures have always distinguished between owning something and temporarily purchasing access to something. Most people know the difference between owning a home and renting one, or owning a tuxedo or renting one. We also know this with most media, for example the difference between buying a copy of a film on DVD and going to see it in the theater.”

. . . .

As Schultz elaborated: “For each physical book that a library owns, it can lend it out to whomever it chooses for as long as it wants and the copyright owner has no say in how such lending happens. But here, because digital technology is involved, the publishers are asserting that they can control how/when/where/why libraries lend out digital copies.… In other words, they want to change the rules in their favor and take away one of the most cherished and valuable contributions that libraries make to society—allowing members of the public to read for free from the library’s collection.”

. . . .

“Libraries buy, preserve, and lend,” he said. “That’s been the model forever. [Libraries] actually supply about 20 percent of the revenue to the publishing industry. But if they cannot buy, preserve, and lend—if all they become is a redistributor, a Netflix for books—my God, we have a society that can get really out of control. Because if a publisher maintains control over every reading event, who’s allowed to read it, when are they allowed to read it, if they’re allowed to read it, and be able to prevent anybody, or particular regions, from being able to see something, we are in George Orwell world.

“What libraries do, is they buy, preserve, and lend. What this lawsuit is about—they’re saying the libraries cannot buy, they cannot preserve, and they cannot lend.”

Link to the rest at The Nation

Is artistic nepotism an evil – or a necessity?

From The Critic:

T he other day, I discovered that a talented young writer was publishing her first novel. She seemed to have a good, if not unusual back story; she had been working as a bookseller in the estimable Mr B’s Emporium in Bath and had published her debut collection of short stories earlier this year. And then I caught sight of her name, Naomi Ishiguro. My first reaction was to wonder whether it was merely a coincidence that she shared a surname with the Nobel Prize-winning Anglo-Japanese author Sir Kazuo Ishiguro, but it was not. She was interviewed in The Guardian earlier this year about her writing and was nonchalant about her famous father, saying of his Nobel Prize that “I could barely get to speak to him on the phone because there were all these journalists outside the house”. She also remarked that having a writer as a father made a writing career “feel possible; it doesn’t feel completely mystical” and that “You think: ‘I can make this happen if I want to, it’s just that I’ve got to work hard.’”

There are few issues that lead to such widespread feelings of anger and frustration as the idea of nepotism, especially in an artistic or literary context. For many would-be writers or actors, in particular, the suspicion remains that both industries operate as essentially a closed shop, and entry can only be obtained to the glamorous and well-remunerated professions through having a famous name or similarly high-profile connections.

I still remember the unfortunate saga of the young would-be journalist Max Gogarty, who was commissioned by the Guardian to write a series of blogs about his travels on his gap year. The then-19 year old Gogarty was initially torn to shreds because of the slightly guileless and parodically middle-class way that he presented himself – “working in a restaurant with a bunch of lovely, funny people; writing a play; writing bits for Skins; spending any sort of money I earn on food and skinny jeans, and drinking my way to a financially blighted two-month trip to India and Thailand”, but then it transpired that his father was a freelance travel journalist and occasional contributor to the paper, and all hell broke loose. Had Twitter existed back then, his name would have trended for days.

. . . .

Laurie Nunn is unapologetic about using her privileged status and well-known family name to further her career. As she said in the interview, “Having family in the arts made me feel, from a very young age, like that was an option for me. I’ve got friends who are in the arts whose family aren’t, and it feels like more of a scary prospect. They definitely encouraged me to follow my passions.” It undoubtedly helps to get noticed if your father is the former head of the National Theatre and the RSC, but it is equally true that her programme is a truly outstanding piece of work. The famous surname may have led to the doors being opened and meetings being obtained, but her own talent is what ensured the success of her career.

Questions of nepotism have been central to writing for generations. While most pre-twentieth century legendary English writers – Dickens, Shakespeare, Austen and the like – did not come from literary backgrounds, the profession was then far more reliant on talented individuals being given opportunities on their own merits, rather than attempting to follow in well-known parents’ footsteps. Perhaps the most notable example of this in twentieth century literature is Martin Amis, whose first novel The Rachel Papers was published in 1973, when Amis was 24.

He has made various comments about how his becoming a writer was nothing more than “entering the family business”, as if literature was a trade like being a butcher or a funeral director, and remarked that it was inevitable that any publisher would want to invest in the second generation of a writing dynasty. His father Kingsley was one of Britain’s best-known men of letters in the early Seventies and continued to be one of the country’s major writers until his death in 1995, so it was widely felt that his fame had smoothed his son’s path into creativity. Not for nothing was the winning entry in a 1980 New Statesman competition for the least likely title for a book “Martin Amis: My Struggle”.

Link to the rest at The Critic

A reminder that PG doesn’t agree with everything he posts about.

The author of the OP strikes PG as someone behaving as if he/she feels personally offended because the world is unfair or, at least, unfair in a way that upsets the author.

Is it strange, unexpected or disturbing when the daughter of an auto mechanic becomes an auto mechanic herself? Ditto for a plumber or teacher.

Lawyers and doctors are well-know for having children who go into the family business. A law firm called “Johnson and Johnson” is quite likely to involve a parent and child or, somewhat less frequently, a husband and wife (although PG notes in recent years, in his admittedly limited experience, it has become more common for a female professional to retain her maiden name).

Is “maiden name” sexist these days? Should PG have used the term, “former name” or “birth name” or “surname from the family of origin”?

What if a man takes his wife’s name because it’s fancier or better-known than his own surname? It doesn’t seem that his former name could be correctly termed a “maiden name.” Perhaps “bachelor name” or “unmarried name” or “known to his college drinking buddies as” might work.

Grammar and Our Changing Society

From The Book Designer:

Since 2010 I have written and published ten grammar books. Since 2014 I have written a grammar blog, posting every week. I have taught English, copyedited, and written technical manuals. Suffice it to say that grammar is near and dear to my heart.

. . . .

What exactly is grammar? Grammar consists of words (morphology) and how we put them into sentences (syntax). Most people also put punctuation into the grammar category.

There are two schools of grammar thought:

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

  • Prescriptivism – If you are a prescriptivist, you believe that the rules are the rules and that is pretty much it. Occasionally, with a good reason, you will break a rule. Note, however, that we have many different style guides that sometimes disagree. And, English is the only major language that does not have an association that presides over the language and makes the rules.
  • Descriptivism – If you are a descriptivist, you believe that language is alive and ever changing – and that the way people speak and write actually creates the rules.

. . . .

Think about how grammar has changed, let’s say, since the days of Shakespeare. Has it really? What changes most is actually vocabulary. Obviously, language has changed a great deal since Shakespeare wrote his plays. Technology and society change our vocabulary constantly. Thousands of new words are added to the dictionary every year. In fact, the dictionary is updated on a regular basis. Words are added, and some are taken out. Who heard of “mansplaining” a few years ago?

However, syntax has not really changed. Nor has punctuation. We still put our sentences together with same way as always. Verbs have subjects and objects, prepositional phrases perform the same functions they always have, tenses haven’t changed, and commas go in the same places they went a century ago. And the war over the Oxford comma still rages on.

It is societal change that prompts much of the evolution of our language, and copyeditors are now the guardians of making sure correct (and politically correct) language is used.

. . . .

In 2019 the Merriam Webster people said that the singular they is acceptable. The singular they is the “other” controversy (in addition to the Oxford comma, pro or con). What is the singular they?

They is obviously a plural pronoun. It refers to more than one person. It is the third-person plural personal pronoun. Its singular form is heshe, or itHe is male, she is female, and it is a thing (or animal, unless of course, it is your pet.)

So, what is the problem? The problem is that there is no gender-nonspecific pronoun in the English language. But there are people who don’t identify with either he or she.

Everyone needs to bring ______ passport to the airport.

Everyone (everybody, someone, somebody, etc.) might sound plural, but it is singular. But we might not know if the group is entirely male, entirely female, or mixed. Obviously, there are easy workarounds to avoid the issue:

Everyone needs to bring a passport to the airport.
Or
All travelers need to bring their passports to the airport.

But let’s say you were in a situation where you wanted to use the singular pronoun. The old ways were:

Everyone needs to bring his or her passport to the airport.
Or
Everyone needs to bring his/her passport to the airport.
Or
Everyone needs to bring his passport to the airport. (His covering also for her– no longer acceptable)
Or
The awful compromise of alternating between the two in a passage of writing.

Many people have always used the singular they because they didn’t know the difference:

Everyone needs to bring their passport to the airport.

Many prescriptivists still don’t like this. I don’t love it, but I will use it. Well, I will generally just rewrite to avoid it. And of course there have been many attempts at birthing a new word that covers all genders and is singular, but I have seen nothing final on that one yet.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

People think of the inventor

People think of the inventor as a screwball, but no one ever asks the inventor what he thinks of other people.

Charles Kettering

For those unfamiliar with Charles Kettering, he invented the electric cash register in 1906, two years after graduating from Ohio State University. In 1909, he was a founder of Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, or Delco. In 1911, he invented the electric starter and the first 12,000 appeared in the 1912 Cadillac.

In 1914, Kettering built a house in Kettering, a suburb of Dayton, Ohio. It was the first house in the United States with electric air conditioning using freon, another Kettering design.

In 1945, at the request of Alfred P. Sloan, then Chairman of General Motors, Kettering personally agreed to oversee the organization of a cancer research program in New York City which is today called The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

It’s Not All About Pub Date

From Publishers Weekly:

I have come to realize that some books arrive into the world like fireworks. They shout from the skies, “Here I am!” But some books take time. They land softly, gently singing, “Here I am.” These voices may be quiet, but they still are strong and steady. Books by disabled and chronically ill authors who may be struggling with serious medical issues at the time of their book releases may fall into this second category. In an industry eager to include more diverse writers, including disabled writers, it is important to give these books space to land and to grow. For this to happen, we must create a writing community in which disabled writers can safely voice their needs, struggles, and victories without fear of judgment or shame—a community in which their books have room to grow even if they have quieter releases.

Chronically ill writers face many challenges beyond physical pain. They struggle to be believed not only by strangers, but by their own doctors, family, and friends. They may face blame for their illnesses and may fear that publishing professionals will view them as too much trouble to work with. They often are forced to tackle their most difficult times alone, either shut out by their world or too fearful to open up about the reality of their situations. They may at times feel completely silenced.

. . . .

It wasn’t until three months after the release of my book that I would be diagnosed with a rare but serious adrenal disease and that life-saving treatment could be started. That day in August, though, I did not celebrate Serendipity. I sent out an obligatory tweet announcing the release, and then I went to sleep.

The people I thought loved me most were not supportive. I felt no love, no sense of pride. I believed I was a disappointment to my publisher, to my agent, to my readers, and that none of them could ever understand, because at the time I didn’t even understand what was happening to me. All I knew was that I was sick, but I worried that, if I opened up to anyone about what was happening, my sickness would be seen as too burdensome for the fast-paced publishing world. I felt like a failure as an author and as a person. Worst of all, I felt like my voice didn’t matter.

I know now that my voice does matter. For chronically ill writers, our voices are ones of steady strength, of vulnerability, perseverance, and agency. Our voices set us free, and, when we write, we strive to set our readers free, too, because we know what it is to be cornered into silence. We know what it is to fight for a voice. If we as an industry are to be champions of diverse books, we must give breathing room for books that land more quietly. We never know what a writer is going through at the time of a release. Stories are about what it means to be human. Let writers be human, too, and let the voices of chronically ill and disabled writers be heard—even if it takes a little longer for their books to take off.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Pen Pals – Five Ways Authors Can Show the Love

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

Publishing is a highly competitive industry, with more than 60,000 books expected to be published this fall season alone. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when your book is on the verge of a breakthrough but your efforts to promote it are threatening to break you as well.

Whether traditionally or self-published, we’ve all been there, with experts telling us what to do at every turn. Build your platform on social media, drive readers to your website (why can’t they take a cab?), become a subject matter expert in a world where SME’s are a dime a dozen. So what’s an author to do?

I’d say start with acknowledging that it’s more blessed to give than to receive. With so many authors in the same boat, why not synchronize our rowing? Here are five ways to put this concept to work:

  1. Rachet up the Reviews—If you’ve recently signed with a publisher, contact a few authors with whom you are going to share a catalogue and suggest you exchange reviews, either in advance or after publication. Above all, we are writers – so why not harness our skills in the service of each others’ work? If you are -self-published, you can reach out to authors in your genre on GoodReads and do the same.
  2. Power in Numbers—Form or join an author’s group that meets online bi-monthly. Not only is this a morale booster, it is also a great way to brainstorm ideas. Authors whose books are similar can join forces and offer a presentation to a book club. Someone who needs help with their book cover or wants to explore audio-book recording options can ask for advice.

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

Name Generator

From Name-Generator:

Are you about to create the best character ever? Have you already created one? Now, they need an epic name.

Our name generator allows you to create a name with up to five components, so a name can be short and sweet or double-barrelled and swanky.

With over 220,000 names in our database, you can also specify language, nationality and other factors to give your character the perfect name.

Link to the rest at Name-Generator

PG asked the Name Generator to provide names for females | born in 1812 | evil | Cornish / English / Irish / Scottish / Welsh

Here are some of the results:

Lady Rhodes Yates

WHY?
Rhodes: tagged as English, begins with R, ends in S
Yates: tagged as serial killer, tagged as English, in use in United Kingdom, in use in United Kingdom

Lady Regan Dennis

WHY?
Regan: tagged as serial killer, tagged as English, begins with R
Dennis: tagged as serial killer, tagged as English, in use in United Kingdom, in use in United Kingdom

Character Names Create Great Stories

From Nameberry:

I may be the world’s only novelist who’s also a name expert, which makes it doubly ironic that I was compelled to change my own character names.

But when Darren Star, creator of Sex & the City, made a television show based on my novel Younger, he changed the name of my heroine Alice to Liza and that of her young colleague Lindsay to Kelsey. Alice’s daughter’s name Diana was given to Alice’s boss, whereupon the daughter became the generationally-appropriate Caitlin.

My new novel Older, the sequel to Younger published today, uses the character names from the TV show rather than from my original book. At this point, it would be confusing any other way.

. . . .

I originally named the heroine of Younger Alice because of her Alice in Wonderland experience of living in the upside-down world of the younger generation. But Alice is an overused name both in literature and on the screen. There were notable characters with the name both in the movie Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and its TV adaptation Alice, and Alice Kramden was Ralph’s wisecracking wife in the classic Jackie Gleason Show.

The name Liza, on the other hand, is free of other strong character associations. It’s generationally ambiguous, reaching its apex in the mid-1970s, around the time my heroine would have been born. All in all, I have to confess, Liza is a more original and better character name than Alice.

Kelsey and Lindsay, meanwhile, are basically the same name. As a name for Hilary Duff’s character, Kelsey has the advantage, though, in peaking a bit later than Lindsay, in the early 1990s, perfect for someone who’s supposed to be in her late 20s. And Lindsay is perhaps too reminiscent of the actress Lindsay Lohan.

The best character names in realistic, contemporary works of fiction support the character’s background and personality rather than dominate it. If you’re writing a broader work – a fantasy book or period piece or graphic novel – you can have a lot more fun with character names. Albus Dumbledore and Daenerys Targaryen, Ebenezer Scrooge and Lyra Silvertongue are amazing character names created by J.K. Rowling and George R. R. Martin, Charles Dickens and Philip Pullman. Those names raise the bar even higher for authors looking to compete with Harry Potter or Game of Thrones.

. . . .

When you begin a novel, it’s a good idea to create a timeline that shows when your characters were born, graduated, hit certain milestone ages compared with notable world and cultural events over the same time period. What names were most popular the year your character was born, what names were used more quietly, which might have been associated with major figures of the day, and which weren’t used at all?

. . . .

Names like Jennifer, Michael, John, and Sarah convey an Everyman or Girl Next Door feeling. If that’s what you’re going for, fine, but that puts more pressure on the characters to prove themselves individuals deserving of our attention.

Link to the rest at Nameberry

PC Font

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Polite Type has been developed in close collaboration with a diverse team with wide-ranging backgrounds in anti-racism work, gender research and D&I consulting. Additionally, the initial vocabulary for the font have been co-created with high-school-aged teenagers and youth from diverse backgrounds in Finland, together with The Children and Youth Foundation. . . . The font is an OpenType font file (OTF) that recognises a number of either discriminative and/or offensive English-language words. After typing the word, the font substitutes it with a more neutral, inoffensive word. . . .

The blur is an integrated part of the design for the words that have no literal translation, or their meaning is too broad to replace with just one word or their purpose is only that of hurting someone. Blurring is commonly used as a way to censor or to hide something offensive, but it has never before been used as a symbol in a font. . . .

The library of words deemed hurtful has been put together in collaboration with people from different origins, religions, world views and sexual orientations. Naturally, the library is always changing with the language itself.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

George R.R. Martin Can’t Build Castle Library In New Mexico

From Huff Post:

“Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin won’t be able to build a seven-sided, castle-style library at his compound in Santa Fe that drew objections from neighbors.

The city’s Historic Districts Review Board on Tuesday denied a request to allow Martin to exceed the building height limit in the historic district where he lives, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. The project included a roof deck and an elevator tower.

“It is a medieval castle, and I don’t understand how we could possibly approve it in this style,” board member Frank Katz said.

Mark Graham lives south of the property and said residents couldn’t “support having a castle in the neighborhood.”

“With the notoriety of Mr. Martin and ‘Game of Thrones,’ we absolutely fear that our neighborhood will become the next treasure hunt, that his fans will be looking to find the castle that’s in the middle of Santa Fe,” Graham said.

. . . .

Alexander Dzurec with the architecture firm Autotroph Inc. filed the application for the height exemption and said Tuesday that the library was intended to house “a very sizable collection” of literature and “other collectibles.”

Link to the rest at Huff Post

Relying strictly on a brief online search, PG came up a couple of images for George R.R. Martin’s house in Santa Fe. It looks pretty much like a lot of other buildings in Santa Fe – reminiscent of Santa Fe’s early history. Here are a couple of links – House 1 and House 2 – PG doesn’t know if either depicts a residence which Mr. Martin owns or not.

Anyone who has spent more than 30 minutes in downtown Santa Fe should reasonably understand that the city is both very proud and very protective of its quite ancient (particularly by US standards) architectural history.

Here are a handful of Stanta Fe photos.

San Miguel Chapel, built about 1610
By Shiny Things – originally posted to Flickr as San Miguel Chapel, CC BY 2.0,  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Palace of the Governors – Built about 1610-1618
Asaavedra32 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Shopping area just off the Plaza, Santa Fe
Asaavedra32 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi of Santa Fe, New Mexico, built in 1869 –
MichaelEBM – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Fiction Favorites of the Espionage Pros

From Writers in the Storm:

Writing espionage is a balancing act between being authentic and being so accurate that we embarrass political leaders, get people killed, and/or end up with some angry FBI Special Agents on our doorstep. As a general rule, while the non-violent embarrassment of political leaders who are asking for it can be rewarding, writers, like all smart and decent people, want to avoid harming any of our own people or having uncomfortable conversations with the FBI. My writing partner, “Jay Holmes,” is a 45-year veteran of intelligence field operations, and we are committed to helping writers walk that line of authenticity.

. . . .

Which movies most accurately represent the CIA? Which are less accurate?

Since Holmes and I are not familiar with all of the shows and movies out there, I threw this to the Intelligence Community (“IC”) on Twitter for a broader response. Many of the shows recommended are not specifically American, but so many things cut across the entire profession, such as bureaucratic interactions, tradecraft, and the challenges personnel face, that Holmes and I did not limit ourselves to American shows in our answers.

As for accurate representation of the CIA, the CIA has an extensive and diligent review board that is very careful to make sure that no movies made by employees or former employees accurately represent it, so with the help of the IC on Twitter, I pulled in movies from other services, as well.

It was a joy to see the response from the Intelligence Community on Twitter. It stirred a rousing conversation that lasted two days, producing answers we never would have thought of on our own.

TV SHOWS

THE AMERICANS is accurate in much of its tradecraft and the realities of the Cold War. Three things are distinctly fiction about it, though. First, no country would use deep cover agents for such mundane things as thefts, honeypots, or assassinations. Second, there is no fast, fake facial hair that is good enough to stand up to a marriage. Disguises that detailed take more time and effort. Third, not even the Soviets would have recruited Paige like that. The children of real Soviet sleeper agents most likely do not know to this day that their parents were not born Americans.

LIBERTY CROSSING, one of my personal favorites, is a comedy about the National Counterterrorism Center (“NCTC”). It is pure genius for showing the personalities and inter-agency dynamics. Pay particular attention to the gap between the reality of what is actually happening, what is reported by the media, and the impact of the media on politics and, therefore, the NCTC assignments. Spot. On.

. . . .

Holmes and I are fans of the Israeli show FAUDA, which was developed by two former members of the Israeli Defense Forces and based on their personal experiences. Heavy on smart field action, it is also rich in social and cultural depth. Fast-paced and violent. Find it on Netflix, where it is available in Arabic and Hebrew with subtitles.

. . . .

MOVIES

John le Carré was a former member of the British intelligence services, and it’s generally agreed that his works are among the most accurate, with A MAN MOST WANTED, THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL (the movie), and THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD topping the list.

. . . .

CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR is a favorite of Holmes’s and an excellent movie about Texas congressman Charlie Wilson’s involvement in obtaining US support for Afghanistan against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. However, it is not an accurate portrayal of Milt Bearden, the man who ran the Afghan efforts. Milt Bearden is not a hard-drinking individual or in any way slobbish. He is a calm, level-headed, high-respected intelligence professional.

THE LIVES OF OTHERS is a German film about Stasi surveillance of citizens of East Berlin during the Cold War.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

It’s Not Easy Being a BookTuber

From Wired:

Daniel Greene makes a full-time living off his YouTube channel, discussing fantasy authors such as Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, and Jim Butcher. Talking about your favorite books all day might sound like a dream come true, but Greene says that building a successful channel is harder than people think.

“For a few years I was doing a video every day of the week, seven days a week, which was insane, while also being a software engineer,” Greene says in Episode 431 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I’m a workaholic.”

In addition to dealing with sponsors and reading hundreds of pages a day, Greene also spends hours editing his videos to look as polished as possible. He notes that when late night talk show hosts were forced to broadcast from home due to Covid-19, their initial efforts were lackluster. “Those are professionals, those are people who have been doing this for so long, and they couldn’t figure it out really quick,” he says. “It just shows that YouTubers do put time and effort in to make their content quality.”

The biggest challenge with YouTube is adapting to the site’s mysterious and ever-shifting algorithm. Greene is careful to balance less popular content with familiar standbys that he knows will bring in traffic.

“I get 20-30 self-published authors reaching out to me a week, trying to get me to read their books,” he says. “I would love to read their books, I would love to promote them to my audience, but if I did even a fraction of those, it would take up a huge percentage of my videos, and YouTube would see ‘OK, he had five videos this week, three of them were about these self-published books that barely got 10K views, we’re going to demote him.’ And eventually I wouldn’t be able to do this job anymore.”

Link to the rest at Wired

You Probably Still Need the Soothing Embrace of Cottagecore

From Electric Lit:

Cottagecore—the escapist aesthetic that romanticizes a simple, pastoral lifestyle—has been the internet trend of 2020. As Rebecca Jennings notes in Vox, cottagecore has become a way to make this national quarantine romantic by aestheticizing the joys of crafts and rural life. It’s also deeply rooted in previous pastoral movements, inspired by Romanticism (think: nature poems by Coledridge and Wordsworth) and pre-Raphaelite painters (like John William Waterhouse and William Morris). But as set in stone as the aesthetic seems to be, cottagecore is also a fluid movement filled with contradictions. On the one hand, it embraces returning to nature; on the other, it is an entirely virtual (and thus technology-dependent) phenomenon. Similarly, while cottagecore is coated with nostalgia for a simpler past—it’s been criticized for valorizing colonialism—it is also associated with progressive politics and LGBTQ+ subcultures. Accordingly, the books below showcase the long tradition of pastoral novels, as well as contemporary meditations on nature and cottage life. They offer a variety of takes on what could be called “cottagecore literature,” extending beyond Beatrix Potter and L. M. Montgomery—while still relating to the cottagecore aesthetic in some way.

. . . .

The Way Through the Woods: On Mushrooms and Mourning

A memoir about mycology and mourning, The Way Through the Woods explores the author’s foray into mushroom foraging after her husband’s sudden death. Woon acutely describes the feelings of bleak grief after losing her partner of 32 years, and how mushrooming offered a way to connect with nature, re-vitalizing her life. Woon also offers educational insight into the fascinating forms of fungi all around us, from Norwegian forests to Central Park. After reading her vivid descriptions, you may find yourself taking a second look at the fungal growth on your week-old leftovers—or embarking on a mushroom forest adventure of your own.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG didn’t see anything particularly cottagey in the book covers in the OP, so, he located a couple of genuine cottage photos of an English and a French cottage.

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
Cottage in Kerascoët

Virus-Responsive Design

From American Libraries:

Libraries have always been spaces for discovery. But in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been tasked with transforming themselves into places that allow users to physically distance while being more digitally connected than ever. As some institutions emerge from months of shutdowns, design and architecture experts seek to meet current health and safety challenges as well as safeguard these community spaces against an uncertain future.

Traci Engel Lesneski, CEO and principal at Minneapolis-based national architecture firm MSR Design, which has worked with hundreds of libraries across the country, says libraries are ideal spaces for innovative design solutions. “It’s not a stretch to think about the ways that libraries have modeled what’s next in the world,” she says. “Libraries can talk to the public about how important these things are and advocate [for them]. They can provide hands-on learning and access to certain technologies that people don’t have access to in their everyday lives.”

Yet libraries have had to find new ways to provide that access. “[COVID-19] is aggravating the digital divide,” says Susan Nemitz, director of Santa Cruz (Calif.) Public Libraries (SCPL). “There are a number of people who don’t have access to the internet and computers, because we haven’t opened up yet.” She says that effective design solutions will have to bridge not just physical and digital distance, but socioeconomic distance as well.

“We find that, more and more, our community is isolated,” she says. “And we’ve been moving away from being a warehouse of books to being a social connector.” Nemitz, whose library system passed a $67 million bond issue to replace and remodel all 10 of its buildings before the pandemic hit, says she’s had to reimagine her library’s mission. “The COVID crisis has thrown a wrench into who we are and what we believe,” she says. “Do we build our buildings for the situation we’re in now, or the situation in the long run?”

. . . .

Libraries that were in the process of renovating before COVID- 19 almost immediately pivoted, repurposing certain design features to address the new normal. “There have been some fortunate coincidences that were not intended to be in reaction to a pandemic but that we can use,” says Markovic. “For instance, at Baldwin Borough Public Library [in Pittsburgh], we put casters on the stacks to make them easy to move around. We can now use them to create little pods. And at Carnegie Library [of Pittsburgh], we’re implementing cleanable surfaces and discussing an HVAC system that allows for increased ventilation.”

. . . .

Libraries that have been unable to provide public access during the pandemic may have an unusual opportunity to upgrade. “One of our libraries that was renovated had its entire collection digitized when it was removed for the renovation,” says Thomas M. Hotaling, architect and principal at Ann Beha Architects, a Boston-based design firm that works with education and cultural clients. “I’m wondering if this might be a good time for [other] libraries to digitize their collections. If the funding is available, this is an ideal time to think about that.”

Link to the rest at American Libraries