The State of Diversity in the Publishing Industry

From Book Riot:

“I often look up lists made by users on Goodreads, [and] has a resource page with links to various sites or LGBTQ Reads by Dahlia Adler. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s hard to naturally find such books, as they are often published by smaller publishers with not enough advertising resources. That’s why it’s important to take some time each year to look for books by authors you wouldn’t normally see on a shelf in your favorite bookstore,” says Denis Ristić, a reader and a business owner.

The book publishing industry has been historically white, and it continues to be so.

In a 2019 blog post, Lee and Low Books published their Diversity Baseline Survey in which it was revealed that 76% of publishing is still white. This includes publishing staff, review journal staff, and literary agents. The blog initially conducted this survey in 2015, and in the 2019 edition, it concluded that “the field is just as white today as it was four years ago.”

The survey also showed that 74% of people in publishing are cis woman but that about 38% of executives and board members are cis men, which indicates that men continue to rise to positions of power more quickly than women. Further findings showed 81% are straight and 89% are non-disabled. One of the most concerning results of the 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey is the conclusion that “editorial is even more white than before” despite the efforts of publishers to provoke change.

In that same year, Publishers Weekly released its Publishing Industry Salary Survey, which only corroborated this statement. According to the survey, 84% of the workforce is white and publishing is still primarily a “white business.” This didn’t change much in the most recent edition of said survey, wherein the results show only a 1% difference.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG remembered a visit of long ago to the headquarters of the publisher of Ebony and a number of other publications focused on those of African-American heritage. At the time, PG worked at the world’s largest advertising agency.

The president’s office was the largest PG had ever seen and very strikingly furnished and decorated.

This gentleman was not asking for any charity or donations and was not seeking special treatment for himself or his publications. He just presented the the spending power of his African-American readers in a very persuasive manner and pointed out that if the clients of the ad agency weren’t including those consumers in their advertising plans, they were missing out on a large number of additional sales.

Thereafter, the ad agency pitched its clients on including African-American publications in their media plans and the clients PG was working with all signed up.

The Sensitive Question of Sensitivity Readers

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Under book publishing’s trending best practices, historical authenticity can be secondary to appeasing people’s sensitivities. I’m qualified to say this based on my recent experience as a literary agent on behalf of a client.

The events in question began happily: my client received a Big Five contract for a book about his time as a Marine sniper during the Vietnam War, when he was 17. The original manuscript (written with the assistance of a coauthor) told his story in the context of its time and place, including florid verbatim language and descriptions that wouldn’t be appropriate in other settings, then or now. Historical authenticity and truthfulness were the author’s priorities.

The manuscript passed the publisher’s editorial and legal protocols with relatively few revisions, and no additional hurdles were expected. In fairness, the editor’s good news email included a brief statement that the manuscript still needed to pass a so-called sensitivity read, but we weren’t told what that was or given any reason for concern. I had never heard of it and didn’t give it a second thought. Instead, I asked the editor to request the second advance payment due upon acceptance for publication. But my assumptions were wrong.

I’ve since learned that sensitivity reads are a recent and potentially powerful layer of scrutiny some books are subjected to. Evidently, they have been in use by some children’s publishers for several years. I don’t know which adult publishers may have adapted them, if they are uniformly structured and empowered, or if any written mission statements or guidelines exist. I can only write about my experience.

If properly conceived and used, sensitivity reads can be beneficial for all stakeholders, especially authors. Any manuscript can be potentially infected with inadvertently offensive content that serves no meaningful purpose. For instance, I represent many older backlist titles that possess unacceptable language by current standards but that, when written, seemed innocent. We make an effort to discover and rewrite those segments without distorting the (often deceased) author’s meaning. The key is trying to remain as true as possible to the author’s original intent.

Under the threat of having his book deal terminated, my client was forced to meaningfully modify his manuscript to accommodate a five-page document full of subjective complaints about how the Vietnam War was fought by the author and his co-combatants, the unfiltered descriptions of his horrific experiences, and the unsavory language used by the mostly very young men who were there on behalf of their country. The sensitivity review was written by one person. This person was hired by the publisher, and no information about their qualifications, or who might have reviewed their review, was provided. No appeals or rebuttals were allowed. My author reluctantly complied in full.

I actually agree with many of the sensitivity reader’s sentiments. Everything about that war was appalling. But why sanitize it? It should be depicted exactly as it happened. Following the publisher’s logic would be equal to transforming the M˜y Lai Massacre into a misunderstanding with unpleasant consequences that shouldn’t be discussed because it’s too upsetting for some people.

I felt the publisher endowed the sensitivity reader’s report with the unilateral power to censor my client’s book, which raises serious questions. How are sensitivity readers recruited and what qualifies them? Are their personal views and experiences taken into account? More problematically, how can a person’s feelings qualify as objective or open-minded? How is it possible to oppose a person’s feelings without at least partially invalidating them? Should the need for accuracy be enmeshed with feelings? What outcomes are publishers looking for?

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Reason # 7,523,091 to self-publish.

If any of the regular visitors to TPV need a Sensitivity Reader or a Counter-Sensitivity-Reader, PG is available. Traditional publishers are not welcome.

More seriously, if any of those visiting TPV have a report from an actual sensitivity reader, PG would love to see such a document.

Can Literary Scholars Transcend Their Training?

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Every semester, thousands of American literary scholars concoct new interpretations of works of literature and new arguments about literary studies itself. They assume, pretend, hope, or dream that their words carry the revolutionary force of radical policy reform. They believe that literary studies done right — like defunding the police or dismantling systemic racism — shall topple what needs toppling. Their criticism will help overthrow the ideological status quo of proto-fascist neoliberal states like the United States. It’s a curious overestimation of muscle for a discipline whose landmarks include Don Quixote and Madame Bovary — novels about people who confuse books with life.

This argument (minus the Cervantes and Flaubert) is the damning linchpin of John Guillory’s new state-of-the-field collection of essays, Professing Criticism. Over the last few decades, Guillory, an English professor at New York University, observes, “the discipline and its institutional structures, especially the curriculum,” have been reimagined as something they’re not — “as surrogates for the social totality.” Battle a book, the thinking goes, and you battle the truth the book reflects; “the curriculum becomes the site of a proxy war.” Since literature professors constitute their own best audience, the echo chambers roar with system-dismantling interventions that dismantle nothing so definitely as the discipline itself. We “must settle for the declaration rather than the realization” of our “critical motives,” Guillory observes. These motives are “a kind of imaginary fiat, imputing to even the most recondite scholarship the capacity to function as a criticism of society, an Archimedean lever.” Archimedes without a place to stand is a freak with a monstrous prop wobbling high above his head. That, in fact, is what we look like on campus.

To those in the field — and to those who read The Chronicle — this argument will be familiar. The novelty is that Guillory is a senior scholar and major figure in the field with impeccable left-wing bona fides — and that he offers a historically profound account of the straits. Guillory surveys trends going back to the Greeks and does so with a particular focus on the last four centuries. Reading Professing Criticism is like taking a familiar hike with an 18-foot-tall friend who sees not only the hills but also the hills beyond them, and the ones beyond those.

Guillory describes our delusions in language borrowed not from literature but from social theory. (This accords with his established practice of handling the profession sociologically; his Cultural Capital, from 1993, helped direct a generation of graduate students to the work of Pierre Bourdieu.) To master something, Nietzsche argued, is to deform yourself in its direction. In modern academe, groups of people tighten the rules by which they deform themselves, which makes it even worse. Thorstein Veblen called the phenomenon “trained incapacity,” and John Dewey, “occupational psychosis.” “Professional deformation,” Guillory writes, “is an unavoidable byproduct of the assertion of that autonomy enabling the cultivation of professional expertise to begin with and that insulates such expertise to some extent from the tyranny of the market and from the draconian intervention of the political system.” Professors achieve power internal to the university by cutting themselves off from the external world.

The problem for literary studies is that throughout its institutionalization it has never ceded its dreams of external sway. Before there was a discipline, there was a reading public, and that public remains the ghost clientele of today’s professors. The 17th century gave birth to the influential man (and occasional woman) who made a living by commenting in fine prose on everything under the sun. The 18th century refined the type, and the 19th century vaunted it. What began in the courts of Louis the XIV as highbrow gossip got written down by John Dryden as serious literary criticism, broadened into taste-cultivating generalizing by Addison and Steele, heaved to the summits of philosophy by Coleridge and Carlyle, and resolved into politics by Matthew Arnold. It still dazzles the ambition of lots of graduate students and professors. We cherish the notion that our literary opinions could carry the force of fact.

Unfortunately, literary opinions carry such force only for people who believe in literature. The old lineage, of course, did believe, and so did its original audience. Twentieth-century scions like T.S. Eliot and the New Critics were believers too, and they helped conceive modern English departments. But these forebears of the discipline were largely conservative. And the graduate students and professors dazzled by them today are not conservative. They are reading Pierre Bourdieu.

Guillory shares the politics of the scholars he chastises. But Professing Criticism is full of arguments that would sound conservative coming from anybody else. Translate them into firmer, simpler language, and you would sound like the enemy — like William Bennett or Allan Bloom. Guillory sees that literary scholars today can’t make a convincing external case for what they do. Rather, they are justified by a faith that only their own ranks share. The future of the discipline cannot possibly lie in its longstanding consensus that “taste” and “judgment” and “standards” are simply the heartless weapons of a mystified right or the silly pretensions of snobs out of step with history. It might even lie in taste and judgment and standards.

The past, for Guillory, is not simply a maelstrom of benighted terror (though it is that, too) but the place where the best practices of people who love language thrived. Since the rise of industrialism, language use has narrowed cripplingly, and scholars can’t regain literary power without regaining intellectual breadth.

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

PG is reminded of a 1765 quote from Samuel Johnson:

It is not easy to discover from what cause the acrimony of a scholiast can naturally proceed. The subjects to be discussed by him are of very small importance; they involve neither property nor liberty; nor favour the interest of sect or party. The various readings of copies, and different interpretations of a passage, seem to be questions that might exercise the wit, without engaging the passions.

But whether it be, that small things make mean men proud, and vanity catches small occasions; or that all contrariety of opinion, even in those that can defend it no longer, makes proud men angry; there is often found in commentaries a spontaneous strain of invective and contempt, more eager and venomous than is vented by the most furious controvertist in politicks against those whom he is hired to defame.

PG Note: A “Scholiast” is a commentator on ancient or classical literature. In other words, a scholar.

Major leak reveals revolutionary new version of Microsoft Bing powered by ChatGPT-4 AI

From Windows Central:

It looks like Microsoft is gearing up to launch a major new version of Bing that integrates OpenAI’s ChatGPT-4 technology in a way that will revolutionize searching the web. Multiple users have reported seemingly stumbling across a preview version of the new Bing earlier today before Microsoft quickly shut it down.

Luckily, a user by the name of Owen Yin was able to grab a few screenshots and try out a handful of features before his access was revoked, giving us a good look at how the future of Bing and searching the web will function with AI woven throughout. To begin, the new Bing advertises itself as more than just a search box. It describes itself as a “research assistant, personal planner, and creative partner at your side.”

The first big change between a normal web search engine and the new AI-powered Bing is that the search bar is now a chat box. It’s much larger in size, and encourages natural language rather than keyword-driven search terms. You’ll be able to ask Bing to look up specific topics or ideas, and even ask for its opinion, with its responses returned to you in a chat bubble.

. . . .

The new Bing is also able to adjust its search queries with you in mind. You can tell it, with natural language, your plans or requirements, such as dietary needs or schedule conflicts, and it’ll do its best to bring you relevant information for your search request that factors in those requirements. It’s mind blowing.

Yin does note that the new Bing does allow you to search the web in the traditional way if you prefer using keywords in a classic search box, along with a page of search results.

. . . .

It’s fair to say that this stuff is wild, and is going to change how we search the web in major ways. Given that this was made available briefly earlier before being pulled, we’d wager that Microsoft is almost ready to announce this new version of Bing. While no event has been announced yet, Microsoft has already confirmed that it plans to weave AI throughout all its products, and it looks like Bing is first in line.

Link to the rest at Windows Central and thanks to F. for the tip.

PG says this feature might move him from Google if he can teach his fingers to not go on automatic pilot when he has a question.

The State of Social Media (As It Pertains To Writers In Particular)

From Chuck Wendig: Terribleminds:

This is a post about social media, which is the most boring kind of post. But for writers in particular, it’s an essential one. And here is why: we are at a time when traditional media is a *******************. In general, sure, but also, specifically as it relates to book stuff. You’ll find far less book coverage than you used to in years past, in part because — at least, as I understand it — a lot of outlets have reduced the staff dedicated to book-related and publishing-related topics, sometimes cutting down to the bone. Unless you’re in the one percent of authors who sell a WHOLE LOTTA BOOKS or have a book that meets a particular threshold of that hard-to-define “buzz,” (or you’re “someone who knows someone”), you’re not really going to get out there with book announcements or cover reveals or excerpts. You might hit a few end-of-the-year or beginning-of-the-year lists but… most authors don’t, won’t, can’t.

As such, publishers are leaning harder into social media as an avenue to champion books. Thing is, they’ve already leaned pretty pretty hard into social media over the years, and it makes sense: for a long time, social media has seemed like this fertile ground of virality, right? Authors get on, authors make some noise, they get followers, the followers are readers, the readers buy the books, and holy ****, it’s free? Manna from Heaven, and it doesn’t cost the publisher a dime?

One problem: it doesn’t really work like that.

As I’ve noted in the past, social media doesn’t sell books. Okay, fine, it does, but not at the level we all want it to. It moves a copy here, a copy there, ten copies, hopefully more. And that’s good. Because in a sense, every book is a pebble thrown into the pond, and it makes ripples. Ripples (readers new and familiar) reach farther shores, meaning, those readers tell other readers, and that’s a good thing. It’s not some kind of HOLY **** YOUR BOOK HAS GONE VIRAL kinda thing, but it’s a slow and steady and reliable way to earn readership.

But… publishing doesn’t really crave the slow and steady. Some publishers are good with it! Some have a wiser eye and recognize the value of a long tail. But a lot of publishers are just stuffing a catapult full of spaghetti and hoping some of it sticks to some wall, somewhere, anywhere.

I’ve long noted that part of the real value of social media for writers is the community that comes from it — a community not just of readers, but a professional one, too. We’re lonely little weirdos, and it’s nice to have a virtual watercooler-slash-campfire around which to gather. We can hang with other writers, agents, editors, and from there, artists and film people and TV people and comics folk and — well, so on and so forth. A creative community forms from this, not one that’s ever a monoculture, but that’s a good thing. It’s good that it’s this unruly, shapeless thing, because that’s what leads to more interesting friendships. (And community is, ultimately, about these friendships. Fuck anyone who talks about this as if it’s about the “connections.” Said it before, we’ll say it again, but people are not just rungs in a ladder.)

So, does it work this way still?

Link to the rest at Chuck Wendig: Terribleminds

Sentenced to Law School

PG acknowledges that this this is not the usual discussion fodder he posts about.

For those unfamiliar, The ABA Journal is the monthly magazine published by The American Bar Association. The ABA is the largest voluntary bar association in the United States.

In order to practice law in the United States, a person must be a member of a state bar association. That’s a mandatory bar association that typically requires a graduate from an accredited law school to pass a bar exam. The difficulty of the exam varies from state to state. California has typically had the most difficult bar exam with a typical pass rate of around 50%.

So, the ABA doesn’t include a lot of blue collar lawyers. Back when he was a blue collar lawyer, PG was a member of the ABA because they usually paid his way to attend the Annual Meeting. The reason the ABA paid was because PG would present a continuing legal education program which a lot of lawyers liked in the legal world of long ago. PG also wrote a monthly column for The ABA Journal about computers and lawyers.

Why was PG in demand to be a presenter? He understood how to use computers in a law office at a time when a very small percentage of lawyers knew how to operate a computer, let alone had one in their office. They paid secretaries or paralegals to do that sort of thing for them. Needless to say, that generation of lawyers are long gone to that big bar meeting in the sky.

From the ABA Journal:

Based on federal sentencing guidelines, people found guilty of trafficking large amounts of cocaine usually face lengthy sentences. However, a Texas defendant received what many say is an unusual punishment: five days in prison with credit for time served and direction from the judge to complete her JD.

Chelsea Nichole Madill was accused of trafficking 28.5 kilos of cocaine in a 2018 criminal complaint. She was charged in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, and in 2019, Madill pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute a Schedule II drug.

Federal sentencing experts say the average penalty for that crime is around five years. In addition to the law school piece and no prison time, Madill was sentenced to three years of supervised release. The 2023 sentencing judgment was written by Southern District of Texas Chief Judge Randy Crane.

Much of the record is sealed, and whether Madill attended or completed law school is not disclosed. There is someone with that name listed as a 2L Florida A&M University College of Law student bar association board member. A 2019 order authorized travel expenses for Madill, directing the U.S. marshal to obtain the cheapest means of noncustodial transportation possible between her Florida residence and the McAllen, Texas, courthouse.

“The court would suggest that the least expensive means would be via bus and not by airplane,” the judge wrote.

Madill did not respond to an ABA Journal interview request sent through LinkedIn, and her phone number listed in court records was disconnected. FAMU Law also did not respond to ABA Journal interview requests.

She could have had what is known as “the girlfriend problem,” says Douglas A. Berman, an Ohio State University Moritz College of Law professor. The term refers to long sentences for women who may not be actively involved in “serious drug dealing” but participate in trafficking to preserve a relationship with a boyfriend or husband, Berman says.

“Maybe the judge thought requiring pursuit of a law degree would reduce the likelihood she’d get involved with the wrong folks,” says Berman, who writes the Sentencing Law and Policy blog.

He adds that rehabilitation should be a goal in sentencing.

“The threat of serious confinement often gets people behaving well. She may have been extra motivated to be the best version of herself while this was pending,” Berman says.

Or it could have been the judge ensuring Madill would keep her word.

“Given the sparseness of the record, my first instinct was, the judge doesn’t want to be snookered by the argument of ‘I’m going to go to law school, so give me a break’ if she’s not going to see it through,” Berman says.

Jesse Salazar, the assistant U.S. attorney assigned to the case, referred an ABA Journal interview request to a public affairs officer. The PAO said the office did not object to the sentence.

Rachel Toalson–Tackling the Hard Stuff, and Highlighting the Good Stuff

From Writer Unboxed:

Rachel Toalson is an especially prolific poet, essayist, and award-winning author of picture books and of middle grade and young adult fiction. Lest you think writing books for young humans means toning down reality, Rachel has mastered the art of hard topics — how to convey them, how to guide a young mind through them — in a way that helps to instill hope and to set young people on a path of functional thinking.

“Toalson handles difficult, complex subjects with nuance and care, never losing sight of who her readers are, and striking the delicate balance between honesty and hope.”

—Jordan Leigh Zwick, The Book Seller (Grass Valley, CA)

Her next work of middle grade fiction, The First Magnificent Summer, is the story of an awakening–of sexism, as a twelve-year-old girl realizes her own estranged father may be treating her as Other because of her gender. It releases on May 30th.

If you need some inspiration, please settle in; you won’t be disappointed. Many thanks to Rachel for sharing her journey and her many profound insights about the writing life.

GW: Thanks for agreeing to share your writing and publishing experiences with the Writer Unboxed community. I like to start by asking writers about their author origin story; it’s kind of like a superhero origin story but with a pen. What’s yours?

RT: The sole purpose of my first dabbles in story was getting me out of trouble. I was an imaginative, precocious middle child with an older brother and a younger sister. We lived out in the middle of nowhere, which meant trouble was right at our fingertips. After a Pecan Battle (we were supposed to be gathering pecans so my grandmother could make her delicious pecan pie), my sister ran into the house wailing. I’d launched the fated pecan that hit her brow, but I made up an elaborate story that blamed my grandmother’s boyfriend for the wound that required ice and a Band-Aid. There was a giant hole in my story: My grandmother’s boyfriend hadn’t been outside all morning.

But I was good at telling stories. I told them for entertainment. To everyone—my siblings, my mother, the kids at school. I documented things that happened on the playground. I retold important events with a little flair and exaggeration. And in the margins, I worked on my Great American Novel at the age of seven. It sounded a lot like Little House on the Prairie, which my mother was reading to us at the time.

My mother saw a spark (and probably a way to get me to stop talking so much). She made sure I always had sharpened pencils and a stack of stapled computer paper. I told everyone I knew I’d be a writer someday.

In high school some amazing English teachers affirmed my writing gift. In college my love for it exploded under the direction of some magnificent professors. And I found my people, which is important in any origin story. Who are we without our people?

I’ve been through some trauma in my life. Writing helps me process the narrative and reframe it. That’s probably the simplest answer to why I keep picking up a pen.

GW: I don’t think it would be an understatement to say you’re a prolific author. Tell us a bit about your journey to publication; how did you land your agent? Your first book deal? And, how have you managed to be as prolific as you are with six children at home?!

RT: I spent the first decade of my career as a journalist and an editor for some Texas newspapers. But after the birth of my sixth child, I faced a job lay-off. After catastrophizing, as I’m wont to do, my husband said, “Why don’t you go for your dream?” And I thought, Yeah. Why not?

All those years I’d been writing books, of course. I’d written two adult novels that went nowhere—no agent even asked for a full manuscript (Today Me recognizes they weren’t any good). But I had another novel—one written for kids—that I thought might be something special.

It was. I queried twelve agents I found through Twitter’s #MSWL and Writer’s Digest listings. Ten requested the full manuscript. I got two offers and signed with my agent in 2016. We went out on sub with my first book, a novel in verse called The Colors of the Rain, in early 2017 and had an offer by May. It published in September 2018.

However. Traditional publishing is a slow process. I’m a very productive writer. So I also self-publish fiction under a pen name and write poetry and essay collections under my full name.

As to how I stay productive with so many kids, I send them to public school so I can write. Half-joking aside, I protect my writing time. Writing centers me and helps me process emotions and heals old wounds. My family gets a better version of me, and I get to live my passion and dream. Everybody wins when I get to write.

One more note: Early in our marriage, my husband and I decided that his career was not more important than my career, just because he’s a man. We do what we can to support each other and raise our kids jointly.

GW: How has publishing been different than you’d anticipated? Is there something you didn’t know back then you wish someone in the business had told you?

RT: I was only marginally aware of how much patience traditional publishing would require. In theory, I knew it could take a year or more to sell a book, then a year or more to see it published. But in practice, I found myself unpleasantly surprised—maybe because I’m a very productive, task-oriented person, and I write quickly.

Waiting is hard for me. And I’ve actually been pretty fortunate in how long I’ve had to wait for books to sell and to see them publish.

Because I’m such a productive writer, I have a huge bottleneck; I have nine middle grade, five young adult, two chapter book, and three poetry manuscripts ready to go to my agent. But it’s not the right time yet. So I have to wait. It’s torturous.

To help manage the bottleneck, I also self-publish books, under a pen name. It helps me maintain a modicum of control and care for myself mentally and emotionally. Writing is therapeutic for me. So is publishing.

Also: We, the writers, are in charge. I know it doesn’t feel that way when we’re in the querying trenches or out on submission; those are vulnerable places to be. But the truth is, we don’t have to take the first offer that comes our way. If an agent or an editor is asking for an edit to your book that doesn’t feel “right,” you don’t have to take the deal. It’s your book. Agents don’t have a job without writers. Editors don’t have books without writers. It’s not about finding an agent or editor; it’s about finding the right one. I know I’m in a privileged place to say that, being an agented writer with multiple books published. But it’s something I wish someone had told me in the beginning.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

5 Tips for How to Return to Writing After a Long Break

From Helping Writers Become Authors:

Making a return to writing after a long time away can feel overwhelming or even bewildering. Depending on the reasons for your break, you may be confronting a wide array of emotions—everything from anticipation and excitement to trepidation and confusion. If you find yourself worried or uncertain about how to proceed, the first step is simply to acknowledge those feelings.

As you may know, I recently returned to fiction writing after a lengthy break. My break was precipitated by the stress of difficult life circumstances, combined with writer’s block from a complicated story. The first few years of my break were filled with lots of fighting with myself about the fact that I should be writing; the last few years were spent in what I called a “conscious sabbatical.” Needless to say, rediscovering the desire to write was a long and arduous journey, full of unforgettable vistas and plenty of plot twists.

By the time I knew I wanted to write again and knew I what I wanted to write, I had lived through four years and two moves. I wasn’t the same person as when I last set down the pen. So much difficulty and pain had surrounded my writing during those years that even though I now wanted to write and was ready to write, I knew I would have to carefully reintroduce myself to the process. I would have to be willing to not just remember how I used to do things, but also to discover and invent brand-new approaches.

I share this post today not just because it is pertinent to where I am in my own writing journey, but because I received a request from Annette Taylor on the same subject:

My question is, how to start writing again after time away? I took care of my mom and was too exhausted to write. Now I work and still have no time but an hour or two on Saturday. Where do I start? I forgot half the knowledge I learned when I first started. I am writing but something is missing. Should I give up?

For starters, I will say that only an individual can determine what is right for his or her circumstances. But if you decide the time isn’t right (or may never be right) to return to your writing, this isn’t giving up. Rather, I would say you are choosing to embrace change. You are choosing to be present with who you are now and to nurture that person—until it is time for the next change.

However, the resistance and confusion you feel could also just be the result of returning to a place you have not visited in a very long time. Couple that with the weight of all the reasons you needed to take a break, as well as the pressure of regathering all your ideas, skills, knowledge, and discipline—and… it’s a lot. When you’re first dipping your toe back in the water, it’s important to take it easy and to make sure you’re avoiding any piranhas.

1. Start Slow and Easy

As I geared up to return to a regular writing practice, I knew I needed to be both gentle and strategic with myself. I needed to make plans and create systems that would set me up for success. When we think about “writing,” most of our focus often goes to the finer points of theory and technique—to getting the story “right.” But the process of writing deserves just as much of our attention. If we haven’t set up a process that encourages our own individual creative flow, we can sabotage ourselves before we even get to technique. For me, I knew I needed to at least temporarily dial back my own natural intensity by starting slow and easy.

Partly, this meant choosing a story that felt “easy” to write—one I was excited about but also one that was not too complex or outside my comfort zone. One of the final turning points out of my writer’s block was my decision to write an idea I had for a fantasy story that was more in the style of a “fairy tale.” Really, this was just personal semantics, but it helped me zero in on a less complex version of the story’s plot, geography, and magic system. This was particularly important for me, since I’d burned myself out on all of these things in the story I’d been working on previously.

More than that, I didn’t want to throw myself into a difficult writing schedule right off the bat. An anecdote: years ago, I used to skip rope for ten minutes every morning. When I first started, I felt like there was no way I could keep going for that long. So I didn’t even try. Instead, I started the first day by skipping for just one minute, which was totally within my power. Every day, I added just one minute. By Day 10, I was skipping for ten minutes with little to no mental resistance. Ever since then whenever I’m feeling resistance to the time or effort involved in a new undertaking, I always try to apply some variation of this approach.

In the old days, I disciplined myself to write two hours a day, five days a week. When I was first getting back into my writing, that just felt like too much. I decided I would write for an hour, since I knew from experience I generally need at least that long to really get into my writing and feel I’ve made progress. But an hour isn’t so long that I feel resistance or the urge to procrastinate whenever I sit down. From there, I knew I could build up to lengthier spans of time with much less resistance.

Your Takeaway: Each person’s “easy” amount of time to start off with will vary. For some, an hour may seem way too challenging or even unavailable. If so, start with half an hour or ten minutes. Start with one minute! If you add a minute every day, as I did with my rope skipping, you can up your time relatively quickly with little resistance.

Link to the rest at Helping Writers to Become Authors

PG speculates that many people who are their own bosses, as all writers who don’t receive a paycheck every couple of weeks are, may be of particular risk for burning themselves out.

Lawyers are certainly at risk of burnout if their earnings are based upon how much work they do and how good that work is. Ditto for many physicians.

PG doesn’t know if dentists are a burnout-endangered group or not. All of PG’s dentists have seemed pretty mellow, which may be a side-benefit of talking to patients who can’t disagree when their mouths are populated by various dental tools.

From PG’s vantage point extending over thousands of years, some people can work all the time, at least for awhile, but eventually, they either become impossible to be around because they have spent their lives focused on a single thing or they have some sort of collapse.

The Miraculous Salman Rushdie

From The Atlantic:

Salman rushdie’s new novel, Victory City, purports to be the summary of a long-lost, 24,000-verse epic poem from 14th-century India. The hero and author of the poem is Pampa Kampana, who as a girl becomes the conduit for a goddess, channeling her oracular pronouncements and wielding her magical powers. She later causes a city to rise overnight from enchanted seeds, presides as its queen, and lives to the age of 247. The city she founds becomes a utopia—a feminist one, I’m tempted to say, because in its heyday women are equal to men. But really, when women flourish, everyone flourishes: male and female, native and foreigner, Muslim and Buddhist and Jain, gay and straight and bisexual. This liberal Xanadu goes on to become a great kingdom and turns distinctly illiberal. Pampa is forced to flee and hide.

The novel is titled Victory City not so much because that’s the city’s name—though briefly called that (Vijayanagar), it was soon rechristened Bisnaga—or because Pampa emerges victorious. She does not. The title comes from the last passage of her poem, written at the end of her centuries-long life. Casting her mind back over the rise and fall of her empire, she asks how its kings and queens will be remembered. Only through words, she answers—her words:

While they lived, they were victors, or vanquished, or both.
Now they are neither.
Words are the only victors.

Just by dint of ending up in our hands, Victory City vindicates Pampa’s bittersweet faith in literature. In a sense, that’s true of everything Rushdie has published since 1989, when he went into hiding after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of Iran, issued a fatwa, a religious ruling, in this case condemning Rushdie to death. His books could so easily not have been written. But Victory City is especially precious. For one thing, it comes out a mere six months after a self-avowed admirer of Khomeini finally got to Rushdie, assaulting him on a stage and stabbing him repeatedly in the neck and torso. Rushdie lost the use of an eye and a hand. He may have still been working on this novel; he may have finished it already. Readers will easily spot general parallels between our hero and her creator—both are prolific world-builders; both must elude political assassination—but a few of them seem to reproduce with eerie specificity the events of the summer. We don’t know whether he added those afterward or life imitated fiction, as it sometimes does. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that Victory City is a triumph—not because it exists, but because it is utterly enchanting. Words are the only victors.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Mr. Rushdie’s latest book is published by Random House and the release date is five days after the date PG posted this item, so, of course, Random House has disabled the Look Inside feature for Amazon ebooks because, as everyone at Random House knows, no prospective purchaser of a book ever opens it up to check out the first few pages.

Randy Penguin will allow you to preorder the ebook on Zon, but doesn’t give you the ability to get an idea of whether you would like it or not.

The Patent Law Origins of Science Fiction

PG notes that the OP is an academic paper, but found it quite engaging. Following is the authors’ abstract of the longer paper.

This article uncovers the role of patents and patent law in shaping the literary genre of science fiction. Using unpublished primary sources, the article examines the views of Hugo Gernsback, the so-called “father” of science fiction. Gernsback, who was himself an inventor and frequent patentee, is known for his firm conviction that works of science fiction can give rise to the technologies of the future. This article reveals that, in espousing this thesis, Gernsback drew an explicit analogy between the inventions described in science fiction and the inventions described in patents. The culmination of Gernsback’s theory was his proposal, in 1952, that “Provisional Patents” should be available for “feasible and technically sound” inventions depicted in works of science fiction—even if they were not yet possible to implement in practice. The history of patent law’s role in shaping science fiction has been largely ignored, or derided, by the science fiction community. It is wholly unknown to the patent law community. Many will find Gernsback’s proposal deeply problematic from the perspective of patent policy. But investigating Gernsback’s views, and understanding his justifications for them, generates many surprising insights about patent law and policy, and about the genre of science fiction itself.

Science fiction’s patent law origin provides a new and different justification for science fiction’s role in society. According to Gernsback, and other adherents of his philosophy like Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction is not just a form of entertainment. It is a legitimate component of innovation policy. Without science fiction, society would not have many of the innovations that surround us today—or at least would not have obtained them so quickly. This is extremely similar to the role that many commentators ascribe to patents. Gernsback’s philosophy of science fiction may seem naïve. But these beliefs, and their underlying reliance on patent theory, were nonetheless highly influential. They shaped the genre of science fiction as we know it.

The patent law community, and not just those of us who are science fiction fans, also has a lot to learn from Gernsback’s views. The historical connection between science fiction and patent law forces us to take a hard look at one of patent law’s most deeply-held principles—that patents are only available for inventions that are currently possible. On the one hand, Gernsback’s extreme position reaffirms why this principle is important. It should not be easy to control the future. The law wisely incorporates doctrines that make it hard to patent inventions that are still so many years away that we call them mere science fiction. At the same time, however, Gernsback’s insistence that science fiction is important for innovation sheds light on the countless “non-enabled,” totally “incredible” visions of the future that patent law leaves out. Science fictional inventions, precisely because they are not yet possible, can impart useful information, and inspire future inventors, in ways that patents cannot. One of the most important differences between science fiction and patents, in fact, is that people actually read science fiction, and are deeply moved by it. Gernsback, as usual, put it best. Science fiction imparts “knowledge, and even inspiration, without once making us aware that we are being taught.” It “fires the reader’s imagination more perhaps than anything else of which we know.” Very few people can say that about reading patents.

This matters. If Gernsback was right—and as we show, in some cases he certainly was—then science fiction has inspired some of the inventions we have today. And it did so precisely because it failed patent law requirements like enablement and operable utility, describing inventions which the author could imagine but had no idea how to put into practice. We cannot perform a meaningful empirical assessment of science fiction’s impact on innovation. But we do have evidence that some inventions, and many patents, were influenced to some degree by science fiction.

Hrdy, Camilla Alexandra and Brean, Daniel Harris, The Patent Law Origins of Science Fiction (December 1, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Maybe the Book Doesn’t Need to Be “Disrupted” in the First Place?

From Counter Craft:

A dozen years ago, I was out of grad school and desperate for a job. (Ideally one I could slack off in while I wrote my novel.) I ended up in the offices of a tech startup that had big plans to use the emerging tech of ebooks to innovate, amplify, revolutionize, and fundamentally disrupt the entire concept of books! The exact name of the company doesn’t matter. There were plenty of them. “Enhanced ebooks” were buzzed about in every newspaper and VCs were tossing millions at anyone who could put “gamify” and “publish” in the same sentence. The future was here, and these radical techno-books would make Gutenberg look like a troglodyte.

How would books be revolutionized? That was less clear. Mostly the plan seemed to be adding pop-up videos and images to ebook files. You could be reading The Great Gatsby and click on the sentence “a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock” and see what a green light looks like I guess.

It seemed silly to me. Beyond a few specific types of books—a high school history textbook, say—few people are looking to have their reading experience constantly interrupted by pop-up videos. It’s distracting enough reading with cellphone text notifications going off. The last thing I want reading a novel is to pause mid-chapter and watch a video clip.

Perhaps my face showed my skepticism. I didn’t get the job. But 12 years later—a lifetime in tech—and the book is in more or less the shame shape it was 12 years ago or 120 years ago. “Enhanced ebooks” went nowhere. Ebooks themselves certainly exist, but despite all the hype about new fancy features most ebook readers—themselves a minority of book buyers—want their digital books to resemble printed books about as closely as possible.

In the intervening years, I’ve seen countless versions of enhanced books hyped. Last year, there were articles about how “web 3” and crypto would completely change publishing by [something something string of jargon] block chain! All the magazines publishing daily articles on Web 3 and NFTs have stopped talking about them, seemingly in embarrassment as the crypto space has been exposed as a series of Ponzi schemes.

. . . .

So naturally everyone who, last year, was declaring crypto would revolutionize every aspect of life have pivoted to saying “A.I.” will revolutionize every aspect of life. And, like the tweet above, that means lots of predictions about how the book will be disrupted. (Commenters to the above tweet also suggested putting books in the “metaverse” so you can “live” books instead of read them, whatever that means…)

Link to the rest at Counter Craft

PG has a long-neglected post category on TPV for Enhanced Ebooks.

He created the category several years ago when there was lots of buzz from a variety of locations predicting enhanced ebooks would sweep over both traditional publishing and self-publishing.

PG just checked in the TPV archives and found he hasn’t applied the Enhanced Ebook post category for since 2019 and that tag was for a post titled, Why Did Interactive Ebooks Never Catch On?

He used the Enhanced Ebook tage 3-4 times in 2018 and decided he wouldn’t dig into the super-deep archives to check on prior instances of Enhanced Ebook posts.

PG posits a few reasons for the Enhanced Ebook flame-out:

  1. It’s a lot of work to write a book that consists of words on a screen and spending a lot more time doing whatever meaningful enhancing that might strike an author’s fancy is likely to take a lot more time to avoid the lame/fail tag, thus preventing the author from working on the words for her/his next unenhanced ebook.
  2. Talent in using a word processing program to put words on a screen and hard drive is quite a bit different than creating illustrations, find the clue games, etc., so the large majority of successful/semi-successful indie authors would have to recruit someone else to do that sort of thing. PG expects that, just like the author of the words, the author of the enhancing would generally like to be paid for his/her/their work.
  3. For a traditional publisher, enhanced ebooks look like another cost item on the profit/loss spreadsheet which the big bosses in Europe would never approve. Plus, nobody ever got fired in publishing for doing the same thing over and over.
  4. There is no accepted standard for enhanced ebooks, so what sort of devices/apps will need to be developed for enhanced ebooks and do you grandfather in PG’s 2015 Paperwhite ereader or an iPad that’s five years old, or various versions of Android, etc., etc.?

PG posits that creating a sophisticated and usable enhanced ebook authoring program and testing that program with all the electronic devices in use and developed in the future that people would want to use to create Enhanced Ebooks and also engineering the apps, etc., necessary for readers to have a decent experience reading it are not going to happen unless a brilliant tech zillionaire is willing to spend the money to create a sizeable company to build the necessary tools, infrastructure, etc.

Would enhanced ebooks compete with video? If so, there’s a huge number of organizations that are already pouring bazillions of videos online.

PG has gone on for too long about this subject and will stop before Mrs. PG asks what he’s doing in the basement this time.

How Author Platform Connects to Author Brand

From Jane Friedman:

Certain words and phrases are bandied about all the time in publishing, but they don’t always make sense. One of the biggest is author platform. You may have attended enough writing seminars and conferences to recognize that even people in publishing aren’t consistently using the term.

How and where authors reach readers: that’s platform. It’s a combination of four factors, and let’s use the TV show Gilmore Girls to help visualize it.

  • Message: an announcement shouted to the citizens of Stars Hollow from the gazebo
  • Target Audience: the Stars Hollow citizens gathered to hear it
  • Platform Tools: the gazebo and the directional signs to it
  • Brand Elements: the gazebo they see and experience
  • If your message and tools are built effectively, those in your target audience will be so invested in your platform, they will personally deliver that message to anyone drinking coffee with Lorelai and Rory at Luke’s Diner.

If you need to run off and watch a few episodes to understand my analogy, I’ll wait here. For those who have already seen the show, let’s start with the author message…

Author message (the announcement from the gazebo)

I know you have something to say. You wrote a book! But your author message is not the subject of that book. Rather, your author message is tied to why you wrote that book.

For instance, my first novel, Carrying Independence, is about a guy hired to help gather the final signatures on the Declaration of Independence. But why I wrote this story has nothing to do with the document. I firmly believe we can learn about ourselves by traveling and engaging in history.

Sure, other authors are also motivated by one or both of those things, but when I couple my belief with my particular brand of humor and unbridled nerdy enthusiasm, my author message becomes intrinsically mine. It becomes my purpose, and one my readers can experience with me. They can #TravelWithAdventure while #ChasingHistories, too.

For some authors, the reason they write is to provide an escape. For others, it may be to debunk faulty thinking. Once you define your message, you must figure out how to share your message.

Target audience (the citizens gathering around the gazebo)

These are the loyal readers most likely to gather around your gazebo (real or virtual). If you are a young adult (YA) author, yet your Twitter feed and primary contacts are moms and librarians, you’re not speaking directly to your readers. Or, as I said to a YA author with this problem, your target audience of teenagers is talking about books in the cafeteria while you’re hanging out in the teachers’ lounge sounding like a boring grown-up. Yes, librarians recommend books, but authors should connect with the bullseye of their target—the people most likely to jam their noses into your book and who will then turn to their friend and say, “You also have to jam your nose into this book.”

Your readers hang out in certain places online and physically. They have other books, magazines, movies, vocabulary, and activities they love (or hate). For example, if you write Georgian romances, your readers are likely women ages 16 to 65 who read Jane Austen, follow Colin Firth, know the difference between corsets and stays, and might be members of Regency societies.

Platform tools (the gazebo and directional signs to it)

If all you have is a gazebo from which to sell your book, your readers will consist of only those citizens who happen to come to the town square. That means you need to think bigger, broader. A platform tool is anything a reader will engage with that comes from you. If they can see it, touch it, or hear it, it’s a platform tool. If you’re a cookbook author or your novel includes recipes in the back, your loyal readers may even taste it!

Tools, like directional signage pointing to the gazebo, are the means by which your target audience finds and engages with you. What are your primary tools? Your book(s), website, and newsletter. You also have social media, advertising, publicity, presentations, and even printed materials such as bookmarks and business cards.

However, not all platform tools are effective at capturing your particular target audience. YA readers are less likely to be on Facebook than on Instagram, for example. And AARP events and retirement communities won’t be ideal places for middle-grade authors to give presentations.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG never watched The Gilmore Girls, but the OP seemed more than a little saccharin and gimmicky for him. He’ll rely on others to comment on how effective the metaphors in the OP are.

CEO of Penguin Random House U.S., Country’s Largest Book Publisher, Steps Down

From The Wall Street Journal:

Madeline McIntosh said she is stepping down as chief executive of Penguin Random House U.S., the third senior executive to leave the country’s largest consumer book publisher in the past two months.

Ms. McIntosh will remain in place until Nihar Malaviya, interim CEO of Bertelsmann SE’s Penguin Random House, establishes a new corporate leadership structure, she said in an interview.

Ms. McIntosh, a popular figure in publishing circles who steered Penguin Random House U.S. through the recent Covid-19 pandemic and championed a more inclusive company, is leaving as the publisher has seen its U.S. market share decline.

Penguin Random House commanded 20.7% of the U.S. book market in 2022, far ahead of No. 2 HarperCollins Publishers, which had 10.8%, according to book tracker NPD BookScan. Five years ago, Penguin Random House’s market share was 22.2%. HarperCollins Publishers, like The Wall Street Journal, is owned by News Corp.

When asked about market share, Ms. McIntosh said barriers to entry have gone down as online bookselling has increased, leading to more competitors. “That’s healthy,” she said.

A veteran publishing figure, Ms. McIntosh joined the company that became Penguin Random House in 1994. She later left in 2008 to work for Inc. in Luxembourg, returning after 18 months as president of sales, operations and digital at what was then Random House Inc. She was named to her current post in April 2018.

“I’ve been in this job longer than any single job since college,” said Ms. McIntosh, 53 years old. “I’ve packed in a lot, and it’s the right time for me and for the company to have a change. I’m eager to learn new things and challenge myself in different ways.”

In a memo she plans to send to staffers on Tuesday morning, Ms. McIntosh said she had decided that the time was right for a break. “I don’t think CEOs should stay in their seats forever,” she wrote.

. . . .

Penguin Random House . . . lost a highly publicized trial last fall when a federal judge blocked it from acquiring rival Simon & Schuster on competitive grounds.

. . . .

Markus Dohle resigned as chief executive of Penguin Random House, stating in a memo to staffers that he had decided to step down following the antitrust decision after 15 years in the role.

“I’ve been frustrated with our market share development,” Mr. Dohle testified during the trial. “We lost market share almost of the size of Simon & Schuster since the merger,” referring to Random House’s merger with Penguin in 2013. Mr. Dohle couldn’t be reached for comment.

Mr. Dohle was succeeded by Mr. Malaviya, then president and chief operating officer of Penguin Random House U.S., as interim chief executive. Until his promotion, Mr. Malaviya had reported to Ms. McIntosh.

Following Mr. Dohle’s departure, Gina Centrello, president and publisher of the Random House Publishing Group, announced her retirement. The 63-year-old Ms. Centrello, whose group publishes such authors as Ta-Nehisi Coates, Glennon Doyle and Ina Garten, was named head of the group in 2003. Ms. Centrello will serve as strategic adviser to a board consisting of senior Penguin Random House U.S. executives, the company said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG notes the point that Ms. McIntosh is third top executive to leave company in past two months. He opines that this is not a sign of a healthy company of any size.

Surveillance and The Loneliness of the Long-distance Trucker

From The New Yorker:

In 2011, Karen Levy, a doctoral candidate in Princeton’s sociology department, spent the summer as a research intern at Intel’s offices near Portland, Oregon. Her official remit was fuzzy and open-ended, but the company had at one point emphasized its resolve to fnd use cases for its chips in vehicles. Levy hadn’t thought much about vehicles per se, but her mixed academic background—she was also trained as a lawyer—predisposed her to refect on situations that dramatized the peculiar relationship between formal codes (the realm of the law) and practical expediency (the realm of the ethnographer). The road, it occurred to her, was the site of our most common and thoroughgoing encounter with rules; it was also the scene of our most routine and matter-of-fact disregard for them. Take, as an example, jaywalking. It remains technically criminal in many places, but the enforcement of the prohibition is typically neither expected nor desired. Levy’s work is often about the wiggle room that makes social life possible. As she put it to me recently, “What do we really mean when we say a rule is a rule? When do we not mean it?”

While in Oregon, Levy happened to hear an NPR segment about new restrictions on the wiggle room afforded to long-haul truckers. Since the nineteen-thirties, truckers had been reasonably encumbered by restrictions on the number of hours they were allowed to work. These regulations relied upon self-reports manually inscribed in paper logbooks, which truckers were obligated to provide upon inspection. These logbooks, however, were easily falsifed; at the end of the day, or at the end of a trip, the trucker retroftted his journey to accommodate the law. This was an open secret: truckers called them coloring books, or even swindle sheets. Road safety, however, was a real issue. For decades, regulators had debated the introduction of electronic logs—tamperproof devices, hardwired to trucks’ engines, that could digitally track the time truckers spent behind the wheel. Truckers were, to put it gently, resistant to the idea. Long-haul trucking is not a good job (it’s poorly paid, lonely, bad for your health, and dangerous), but at the very least it was compensated by access to mythological status: truckers, as captains of their own ships, enjoyed the freedom and romance of the open road. Trucking was a vocation for the stubborn. By 2012, a federal mandate was a fait accompli, and, even if the trappings of autonomy had always been more symbolic than material, the deployment of digital trackers was received as a status insult.

Later that week, Levy took public transit to Jubitz, a “nice, big truck stop” near the Washington border, to see what it felt like to strike up unsolicited conversations with truckers and get a lay of the land. Levy, whose prose and conversation is starry with exclamatory asides, told me, “I went up to people at the bar, and it was really fun! Truckers turned out to be really forthcoming—they have lots of stories nobody asks them to tell. These days, we talk about ‘essential workers’ all the time, but nobody likes them or thinks positively of them—despite the fact that, as they like to say, ‘if you bought it, we brought it.’ ” When she returned to Princeton that fall, she told her adviser, Paul DiMaggio, that she’d become enmeshed in the tribulations of truckers. DiMaggio is extremely well regarded as a sociologist—his landmark 1983 article “The Iron Cage Revisited,” on the bureaucratization of the professions, is one of the feld’s all-time most cited papers—but, in a previous life, he had been an aspiring songwriter on the Nashville scene, and frequented honky-tonks in the nineteen-seventies. He not only supported the project but promptly set her up with a trucker playlist—including Dick Curless’s “A Tombstone Every Mile” and Dave Dudley’s “Six Days on the Road.” (Many classics of the genre have an air of dark prophecy; among Levy’s favorites is Ronnie Milsap’s “Prisoner of the Highway.”)

Levy went on to visit truckers in eleven states: “The nice thing about truckers is you can fnd them anywhere, and if one place isn’t great you can go down the road to the next truck stop and see who’s there.” Levy grew up not far from Indianapolis, and at frst she looked for men in Colts jerseys; as an invitation to expound on their expertise, she sometimes asked them how they’d get from, say, Portland to West Lafayette, Indiana, which they could invariably answer off the top of their heads. Her initial encounters did not go all that well. She told me, “I was an idiot. I literally didn’t understand what people were saying— what words were coming out of their mouths. There’s all of this lingo— ‘reefer,’ ‘chicken coop,’ ‘reset your seventy.’ I went home and bought a CB slang dictionary on eBay, and learned that a ‘reefer’ is a refrigerated truck, a ‘chicken coop’ is an inspection station, and ‘resetting your seventy’ means restarting your weekly time clock with a thirty-fourhour break.” She continued, “My conversations were not that useful at frst except that it was all interesting, and then, of course, you pick it up —subscribing to all these newsletters, reading the trade press, and now, more than eleven years later, I still read that stuff. I listen to ‘Road Dog Trucking,’ a satellite-radio channel that hosts call-in shows for trucking professionals.” In the past few months, those shows have invited her to appear as a guest.

Levy’s splendid new book, “Data Driven: Truckers, Technology, and the New Workplace Surveillance,” is a rigorous and surprisingly entertaining ethnographic portrait of a profession in transition. Although truckers have always been technologically savvy subjects— they were early adopters of such new technologies as CB radio—they now had to grow accustomed to life as its object. When she began her feld work, electronic logging devices—E.L.D.s—were a looming threat on the horizon. In 2017, they became a legal requirement, but their industrial applications have gone well beyond the basic federal mandate. Trucking companies realized that they could enhance these devices to do things such as track fuel efficiency in real time. In one sense, this was an old story: strict managerial oversight in the service of productive rationalization was a hallmark of the Industrial Revolution. In another, however, the extension of such scrutiny to the fundamentally antinomian culture of trucking was a relevant novelty. With the pandemic, remote workplace surveillance of the otherwise aloof has become an increasingly common intrusion. Truckers, as she said in an interview with the trucker show “Land Line Now,” were “the canaries in the coal mine.” he process of picking up o

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Barnes & Noble Makes a Comeback

From Kill Zone:

What goes around comes around. And around. And around.

So goes the tale of Barnes & Noble.

The bookseller was founded in New York in 1886 as Arthur Hinds & Company. A clerk named Gilbert Clifford Noble rose to partnership and soon changed the name to Hinds & Noble. In 1917, Noble partnered with William Barnes to become Barnes & Noble.

. . . .

Big fish eat little fish. To the dismay of readers, few indie minnows survived B&N’s dominance.

“Barnes & Noble was perceived as not just the enemy,” said a former chief executive of the American Booksellers Association, which represents indie shops, told the New York Times, “but as being everything about corporate book selling that was wrong.”

. . . .

Then…along came a whale named Amazon.

Online book sales thrived while physical bookstores dropped by the wayside. The juggernaut of Amazon led to mergers and bankruptcies of sizable chains like Waldenbooks, Crown, and B. Dalton. In 2011, Borders filed bankruptcy, leaving B&N the sole remaining national bookstore chain.

Amazon was fast gaining ground.

In 2010, B&N introduced the Nook e-reader to compete with Kindle but it never came close to Kindle’s success. Stores added coffee shops, free wi-fi, gifts, and non-book merchandise, hoping to survive. Nothing worked. Sales dropped, employees were fired, stores closed.

Per Ted Gioia, The Honest Broker:

“By 2018 the company was in total collapse. Barnes & Noble lost $18 million that year, and fired 1,800 full time employees—in essence shifting almost all store operations to part time staff. Around that same time, the company fired its CEO due to sexual harassment claims.”

The bookseller that had put so many other bookstores out of business appeared ready to join their fate.

Enter James Daunt. The 59-year-old former banker and business exec had founded Daunt Books and turned around Waterstone’s, a British bookseller that had once languished in similar straits to B&N. In 2019, he took the helm as B&N’s CEO and set out to rescue the floundering chain.

. . . .

Y’know, like mom-and-pop indie bookstores used to do.

Managers have free rein to stock books by local authors, including good-quality self-published ones, and those of regional interest. They no longer have to stock books chosen by a single head buyer from thousands of miles away.

A few months ago, I visited B&N in Missoula, Montana. The manager not only ordered some of my books, she is also happy to host an in-person event later this year.

B&N stores are now becoming more like the indie bookstores they used to put out of business.

Daunt’s strategies are succeeding. In 2023, B&N plans to open 30 new stores. Ironically, some will take over the same locations where Amazon’s experimental physical bookstores failed.

. . . .

What’s coming around now for B&N is good news for readers. It also gives a boost to local authors who want to see their books on real shelves.

Link to the rest at Kill Zone and thanks to H. for the tip.

As PG has noted before, Barnes & Noble is no longer a publicly-held company.

The federal securities laws require publicly held companies that file reports with the SEC to submit financial statements that are accurate, truthful, and complete and prepared according to a set of accounting standards called “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles” (or “GAAP”)

From the United States Securities and Exchange Commission

As PG has mentioned before, Barnes & Noble is currently owned by a hedge fund and is not and has not for quite a long time been publicly traded nor has it posted any audited financial information.

Barnes & Noble is free to spread happy talk about it’s health and future without violating any laws. Per the Barnes & Noble website,

The Company operates approximately 600 Barnes & Noble bookstores across the United States

PG doesn’t think Barnes & Noble has released any exact number for its store locations for a long time. One online source puts the number of stores at 588.

Per Statista, Barnes & Noble had 72I stores in 2008. The Statista data show that Barnes & Noble had about 100 more stores in 2008 than it’s claiming in 2023. Some of the 588 current Barnes & Noble stores are in airports, FWIW.

Some people believe labor-saving technological change is bad for the workers

Some people believe labor-saving technological change is bad for the workers because it throws them out of work. This is the Luddite fallacy, one of the silliest ideas to ever come along in the long tradition of silly ideas in economics. Seeing why it’s silly is a good way to illustrate further Solow’s logic.

The original Luddites were hosiery and lace workers in Nottingham, England, in 1811. They smashed knitting machines that embodied new labor-saving technology as a protest against unemployment (theirs), publicizing their actions in circulars mysteriously signed “King Ludd.” Smashing machines was understandable protection of self-interest for the hosiery workers. They had skills specific to the old technology and knew their skills would not be worth much with the new technology. English government officials, after careful study, addressed the Luddites’ concern by hanging fourteen of them in January 1813.

The intellectual silliness came later, when some thinkers generalized the Luddites’ plight into the Luddite fallacy: that an economy-wide technical breakthrough enabling production of the same amount of goods with fewer workers will result in an economy with – fewer workers. Somehow it never occurs to believers in Luddism that there’s another alternative: produce more goods with the same number of workers. Labor-saving technology is another term for output-per-worker-increasing technology. All of the incentives of a market economy point toward increasing investment and output rather than decreasing employment; otherwise some extremely dumb factory owners are foregoing profit opportunities. With more output for the same number of workers, there is more income for each worker.

Of course, there could very well be some unemployment of workers who know only the old technology – like the original Luddites – and this unemployment will be excruciating to its victims. But workers as a whole are better off with more powerful output-producing technology available to them. Luddites confuse the shift of employment from old to new technologies with an overall decline in employment. The former happens; the latter doesn’t. Economies experiencing technical progress, like Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States, do not show any long-run trend toward increasing unemployment; they do show a long-run trend toward increasing income per worker.

Solow’s logic had made clear that labor-saving technical advance was the only way that output per worker could keep increasing in the long run. The neo-Luddites, with unintentional irony, denigrate the only way that workers’ incomes can keep increasing in the long-run: labor-saving technological progress.

The Luddite fallacy is very much alive today. Just check out such a respectable document as the annual Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Program. The 1996 Human Development Report frets about “jobless growth” in many countries. The authors say “jobless growth” happens whenever the rate of employment growth is not as high as the rate of output growth, which leads to “very low incomes” for millions of workers. The 1993 Human Development Report expressed the same concern about this “problem” of jobless growth, which was especially severe in developing countries between 1960 and 1973: “GDP growth rates were fairly high, but employment growth rates were less than half this.” Similarly, a study of Vietnam in 2000 lamented the slow growth of manufacturing employment relative to manufacturing output. The authors of all these reports forget that having GDP rise faster than employment is called growth of income per worker, which happens to be the only way that workers “very low incomes” can increase.

William Easterly, The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics

The internet was supposed to liberate knowledge

The internet was supposed to liberate knowledge, but in fact it buried it, first under a vast sewer of ignorance, laziness, bigotry, superstition and filth and then beneath the cloak of political surveillance. Now…cyberspace exists exclusively to promote commerce, gossip and pornography. And of course to hunt down sedition. Only paper is safe. Books are the key. A book cannot be accessed from afar, you have to hold it, you have to read it.

Ben Elton

ChatGPT Is Making Universities Rethink Plagiarism

From Wired:

IN LATE DECEMBER of his sophomore year, Rutgers University student Kai Cobbs came to a conclusion he never thought possible: Artificial intelligence might just be dumber than humans.

After listening to his peers rave about the generative AI tool ChatGPT, Cobbs decided to toy around with the chatbot while writing an essay on the history of capitalism. Best known for its ability to generate long-form written content in response to user input prompts, Cobbs expected the tool to produce a nuanced and thoughtful response to his specific research directions. Instead, his screen produced a generic, poorly written paper he’d never dare to claim as his own.

“The quality of writing was appalling. The phrasing was awkward and it lacked complexity,” Cobbs says. “I just logically can’t imagine a student using writing that was generated through ChatGPT for a paper or anything when the content is just plain bad.”

Not everyone shares Cobbs’ disdain. Ever since OpenAI launched the chatbot in November, educators have been struggling with how to handle a new wave of student work produced with the help of artificial intelligence. While some public school systems, like New York City’s, have banned the use of ChatGPT on school devices and networks to curb cheating, universities have been reluctant to follow suit. In higher education, the introduction of generative AI has raised thorny questions about the definition of plagiarism and academic integrity on campuses where new digital research tools come into play all the time. 

Make no mistake, the birth of ChatGPT does not mark the emergence of concerns relating to the improper use of the internet in academia. When Wikipedia launched in 2001, universities nationwide were scrambling to decipher their own research philosophies and understandings of honest academic work, expanding policy boundaries to match pace with technological innovation. Now, the stakes are a little more complex, as schools figure out how to treat bot-produced work rather than weird attributional logistics. The world of higher education is playing a familiar game of catch-up, adjusting their rules, expectations, and perceptions as other professions adjust, too. The only difference now is that the internet can think for itself. 

ACCORDING TO CHATGPT, the definition of plagiarism is the act of using someone else’s work or ideas without giving proper credit to the original author. But when the work is generated by something rather than someone, this definition is tricky to apply. As Emily Hipchen, a board member of Brown University’s Academic Code Committee, puts it, the use of generative AI by students leads to a critical point of contention. “If [plagiarism] is stealing from a person,” she says, “then I don’t know that we have a person who is being stolen from.”

Hipchen is not alone in her speculation. Alison Daily, chair of the Academic Integrity Program at Villanova University, is also grappling with the idea of classifying an algorithm as a person, specifically if the algorithm involves text generation.

Daily believes that eventually professors and students are going to need to understand that digital tools that generate text, rather than just collect facts, are going to need to fall under the umbrella of things that can be plagiarized from. 

Although Daily acknowledges that this technological growth incites new concerns in the world of academia, she doesn’t find it to be a realm entirely unexplored. “I think we’ve been in a version of this territory for a while already,” Daily says. “Students who commit plagiarism often borrow material from a ‘somewhere’—a website, for example, that doesn’t have clear authorial attribution. I suspect the definition of plagiarism will expand to include things that produce.” 

Eventually, Daily believes, a student who uses text from ChatGPT will be seen as no different than one that copies and pastes chunks of text from Wikipedia without attribution. 

Link to the rest at Wired

PG never thought of college professors as Luddites, but those mentioned in the OP certainly fit the definition.

Neural Imaging Reveals Secret Conversational Cues

From Wired:

STUDYING HUMAN CONVERSATIONS isn’t a simple challenge. For instance, when humans start to talk to one another in a conversation, they coordinate their speech very tightly—people very rarely talk over one another, and they rarely leave long, unspoken, silent gaps. A conversation is like a dance with no choreography and no music—spontaneous but structured. To support this coordination, the people having the conversation begin to align their breath, their eye gaze, their speech melody and their gestures. 

To understand this complexity, studying research participants in a lab looking at computer screens—the traditional setup of psychology experiments—isn’t enough. We need to study how people behave naturally in the real world, using novel measurement techniques that allow us to capture their neural and physiological responses. For instance, Antonia Hamilton, a neuroscientist at University College Londond, has recently used motion capture to identify a pattern of very rapid nods that listeners make to show that they are paying attention when someone is speaking. Hamilton shows that the interaction is improved by these subtle signals, but what’s also fascinating is that although the speakers can actually perceive this information, these body signals are not discernible to the naked eye.

In 2023, we will also finally be able to start capturing neural data while people are moving and talking to each other. This isn’t easy: Brain imaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) involve inserting participants inside 12-ton brain scanners. A recent study, however, managed that with a cohort of autistic participants. This paper represents a terrific achievement, but, of course, until fMRI techniques become much smaller and more mobile, it is not going to be possible to see how the neural data relates to the pattern of movements and speech in conversations, ideally between both participants in a conversation. On the other hand, a different technique—called functional near infrared dpectroscopy (fNIRS)—can be used while people move around naturally. fNIRS measures the same index of neural activity as fMRI via optodes, which shine light through the scalp and analyze the reflected light. fNIRS has already been deployed while people performed tasks outdoors in central London, proving that this method can be used to gather neural data in parallel with movement and speech data, while people interact naturally.

. . . .

These breakthroughs will represent great strides in the scientific study of human conversation, one of the most fascinating areas of cognitive neuroscience and psychology. Of course, I’m slightly biased: I have studied human speech perception and production for decades, and I think conversations are where our linguistic, social, and emotional brain processes come together. Conversations are universal, and they are the main way that humans use to manage social interactions and connections. They matter hugely to our mental and our physical health. When we can fully crack the science of conversations, we’ll have come a long way to understanding ourselves.

Link to the rest at Wired

As PG commented about an earlier post on this topic, he wonders if ultimately, this sort of research will influence the writing of dialogue.

AI Generated Art for a Comic Book. Human Artists Are Having a Fit.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Kris Kashtanova says doing the art for the graphic novel “Zarya of the Dawn” was like conjuring it up with a spell.

“New York Skyline forest punk,” the author typed into an artificial intelligence program that turns written prompts into pictures. Then came the tinkering with the wording to get the right effect. “Crepuscular rays. Epic scene.”

The 18-page book follows the travels of a young character who awakes alone and confused in an abandoned, futuristic world, and who looks a lot like Zendaya, the actress from “Euphoria” and the recent “Spider-Man” movies. The images were composed on Midjourney, one of a batch of services that create new images based on artwork and photos already online. Last year, “Zarya of the Dawn,” which credited the software as a co-author on the title page, became the first work of its kind to get a copyright from the Library of Congress.

But now the copyright is under review, posing a big question: Who really owns these AI-generated, mashup images?

Text-based AI programs such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT are already causing a ruckus in the education world, with teachers worrying that students might pass off AI-generated essays as their own. Christian Terwiesch, a professor at the Wharton business school, recently published a paper concluding that the software would have received a B to B- on one of his M.B.A. courses—better than some of his real-life students.

Now creative types are on edge over how AI might upend their livelihoods. Several artists have begun legal action against Midjourney and other AI services, saying their images were included in reference databases without their permission. Some think it’s too easy a shortcut. Movie director Guillermo del Toro recently described AI-generated animation as “an insult to life.”

For “Zarya of the Dawn,” Mx. Kashtanova, who uses a gender-neutral honorific and pronoun, says they were upfront about using the technology. Mx. Kashtanova touched up the images generated by Midjourney and provided the comic’s text, and isn’t too concerned about what happens as the case at the Library of Congress’s Copyright Office continues.

“Like, no one is going to die,” they say, adding that they applied for the copyright with plans to donate money from licensing fees to a New York nonprofit, Backpacks for the Street, where they volunteer. Midjourney, which didn’t respond to a request for comment, is paying for the legal fees to help make the case to retain copyright. The Copyright Office says it doesn’t comment on pending cases.

The case is turning into a barometer for how AI art is treated in the eyes of the law.

“Think about photography,” says Van Lindberg, an intellectual property lawyer at Taylor English Duma LLP in San Antonio, who is representing Mx. Kashtanova, along with legal group Open Advisory Services. In the past, when photographers still used film, they spent much of their energy carefully composing the right shot. In the digital age, it’s more common to take lots of pictures and select the best—which is similar to what artists are doing with AI programs, he says.

“We’re starting to use our intelligence for curation as opposed to some other aspects of creative work,” he says. “Is that enough to sustain copyright? I believe it will ultimately be found that it is, but it’s an open question.”

The question is becoming more urgent as the technology improves.

Jason M. Allen stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy online last year when he beat a host of artists to win first prize for digital art at the Colorado State Fair. He experimented with hundreds of different prompts on Midjourney to come up with his work, “Théâtre D’Opéra Spatial.” The judges hadn’t realized what the software was.

Software engineer Stephen Thaler this month took the Copyright Office to court in Washington, D.C., after it rebuffed his application for “A Recent Entrance to Paradise,” which he generated with his own program to represent a near-death experience. He argues that as the program’s creator, the image rights belong to him. The Copyright Office ruled that it wouldn’t knowingly register a work solely created by AI.

“Whether it’s music or movies or art or text, you can now go to dozens of openly available AI systems online like DALL-E or ChatGPT and they will make art that passes all traditional tests for whether something’s protectable,” says Ryan Abbott, an attorney at Brown Neri Smith & Khan LLP, who is representing Dr. Thaler.

In the U.S., someone seeking copyright needs to show only that it contains “a modicum of creativity,” as the Supreme Court has said. Mx. Kashtanova thinks “Zarya of the Dawn” easily passes the threshold.

One of the opening scenes shows the lead character holding a mysterious postcard from someone called Rusty, a moody scene that helps set up the rest of the story as Zarya sets out to find a way home.

Mx. Kashtanova describes going through hundreds of prompts to capture the right atmosphere, trying phrases such as “cellular wisdom” and “alien forest” until Midjourney delivered the goods.

They repeated the process as the story progressed, often typing in “Zendaya” to keep Zarya’s appearance consistent.

AI developers often say the idea is to give human imagination a helping hand. 

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG will repeat that AI is simply a sophisticated tool that allows individuals to create images more easily and quickly than they would likely be able to do without AI.

Is there a serious professional artist that thinks using Photoshop and related tools like Procreate, Astropad Studio and any other software tools shouldn’t be permitted for creative artists to use because they’re not mixing their own paints and using a camelhair brush to create their work on a canvas?

PG remembers a pair of statements from a long time ago regarding paleontology and various early hominins.

Man, the tool-maker

Tools, the man-maker

PG notes that these statements predate any sort of political correct speech and he acknowledges that man and woman could be used interchangeably and the statements would still be true.

PG suggests that AI tools are yet another man-maker that will accelerate the imaginations and creatively artistic talents of humanity as a whole.


PG was just going through the latest comments, noting some very good ones, when he realized that Felix Torres needed to be recognized and thanked for the large number of excellent comments he has contributed to TPV over a long period of time.

Thank you, Felix, for your intelligent contributions that have enriched our understanding of an enormously wide range of topics for quite a long time.

PG does not believe there is a Commenter Hall of Fame, but when one is created, Felix will surely be among its first honorees.

By recognizing Felix, PG does not in any way mean to downplay the contributions of the many other regulars that make TPV such a rewarding place to visit, but he thinks those Commenter will agree about the breadth, depth and number of the comments Felix has contributed over an extended period of time.

AI Isn’t Really Artificial Intelligence

From Tech Register:

At its core, today’s AI is incapable of comprehension, knowledge, thought, or “intelligence.” This name is little more than a marketing gimmick.

Nothing’s easier to sell than a product with a good name. The technology that we call “artificial intelligence” is extremely complicated, but thanks to its name, you already have an idea of what it does! There’s just one problem; AI isn’t “intelligent” at any level, and corporations aren’t interested in correcting the public’s misconceptions.

There’s Nothing Intelligent About AI

Artificial intelligence is a longstanding staple of pop culture and real science. We’ve spent nearly a century pursuing this technology, and the idea of “living machines” goes back thousands of years. So, we have a pretty clear understanding of what someone means when they say “artificial intelligence.” It’s something comparable to human intelligence—the ability to comprehend, adapt, and have novel ideas.

But the technology that we call “artificial intelligence” lacks these qualities. It cannot “know” or “think” anything. Existing AI is just a mess of code attached to a big pile of data, which it remixes and regurgitates. You can ask ChatGPT to write you a resume, and it’ll spit out something based on the resumes in its dataset (plus whatever info you share). This is useful, it automates labor, but it’s not a sign of intelligence.

Of course, ChatGPT is a chatbot, so it can feel very “human.” But most AI applications are non-conversational; they don’t talk or answer questions. And without the veneer of a conversation, the lack of “intelligence” in AI is very noticeable.

Take Tesla’s self-driving cars, for example. Elon Musk has spent nearly a decade pretending that Tesla Full Self-Driving is just a year away—it’s almost ready, and it will be 150% safer than a human driver! Yet this AI program continues to linger in beta, and every time we hear of it, Full Self-Driving is criticized as a safety hazard. The AI isn’t even smart enough to do its job.

For a more down-to-earth example, just look at robot vacuums. They collect a ridiculous amount of data on your home in the name obstacle avoidance and navigational AI. And while these AI-enabled robot vacuums are an improvement over what we had in the past, they still have a ridiculous amount of trouble with basic obstacles, like dog poop, kids’ toys, and small rugs.

Ordinary people, including a large number of people who work in technology, don’t know anything about AI or how it works. They just hear the phrase “artificial intelligence” and make an assumption. These assumptions may seem inconsequential, but in reality, they are a guiding force behind technological development, the economy, and public policy.

This Technology Is Useful, but The Marketing Is Nonsense

I don’t want to downplay the importance of AI or machine learning technology. You interact with this stuff every time you use your cellphone, search for something on Google, or scroll through social media. Machine learning drives innovation in physics, it contributes to “Warp Speed” vaccine development, and it’s currently making its debut on the battlefield.

But the term “artificial intelligence” is plastered on this technology for marketing purposes. It’s a flashy name that tells customers and investors, “our product is futuristic and has a purpose.” As explained by AI researcher Melanie Mitchell in a conversation with the Wall Street Journal, companies and engineers routinely slap the name “AI” on anything that involves machine learning, as the phrase is proven to illicit a response from investors (who may know very little about technology, let alone AI).

This is something that you can see in nearly every industry. Just do a Google search for a company name and add the term “AI.” You’ll be shocked by the number of businesses that brag about their AI pursuits in vague language, with zero proof that this technology has actually contributed to their profitability, productivity, or innovation.

And, as noted by Dr. Mitchell, this same marketing tactic was utilized in the 1970s and 80s—companies and engineers secured massive amounts of funding with the promise of “artificial intelligence.” Their research was not a waste of money, but it wasn’t profitable, so the funding dried up. (Of course, software is much more important today than it was in the 20th century. The term “artificial intelligence” is now attached to useful products and processes, so people are less likely to lose interest.)

In some ways, I think that the name “artificial intelligence” is a good idea. Companies spent a good decade calling everything an “algorithm,” which only led to confusion and frustration among the general public. The pivot to “AI” generates a lot of enthusiasm, which should lead to a more rapid development of automated software technologies.

But this enthusiasm hides the fact that “AI” is a complicated, confusing, and narrow technology. People readily assume that today’s “AI” is similar to what we’ve seen in pop culture, and very few corporations are willing to fight (or comment on) this misconception. (That said, social media weirdos are the biggest offenders. They make the most extreme and patently false claims about AI, which are amplified and consumed by people who don’t know any better.)

. . . .

One of the promises of AI is that it will replace workers, leading to a utopia where humans sit on their hands all day or simply die off. Chatbots will write the news, robot arms will perform heart surgery, and super-strong androids will commit all of your favorite OSHA violations while constructing suburban homes. But in reality, the technology that we call “AI” simply offsets labor.

In some ways, the offset of labor created by AI is very obvious. This technology doesn’t comprehend a single thing in existence, so in order to make it perform a task correctly, it requires constant training, testing, and troubleshooting. For every job that an AI replaces, it may create a new job.

Many of these new jobs require expertise in machine learning. But a large number of workers involved in AI development perform “menial” labor. OpenAI was caught paying Kenyan workers less than $2 an hour to help remove racism, sexism, and violent suggestions from its chatbot. And Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which performs tasks using “AI,” often pays a few pennies for a human to complete the work instead.

Link to the rest at Tech Register

PG isn’t convinced by the OP.

It’s not difficult to debunk a new technology. PG remembers experts who ridiculed the idea that every person would have a computer on her/his desk.

That was true. For awhile.

We have them on our wrists and in our pockets and backpacks now.

Per the OP, PG has never read or heard anyone involved with AI research claim:

One of the promises of AI is that it will replace workers, leading to a utopia where humans sit on their hands all day or simply die off.

Putting words in the mouths of those one is attempting to scorn is a centuries-old practice.

Ironically, considering the view of the OP, an Australian/Iberian team has been experimenting with the design and implementation of different AI models to identify repeated potential false claims made by politicians in Spain and Australia. The system is called ClaimCheck.

Abstracts written by ChatGPT fool scientists

From Nature:

An artificial-intelligence (AI) chatbot can write such convincing fake research-paper abstracts that scientists are often unable to spot them, according to a preprint posted on the bioRxiv server in late December1. Researchers are divided over the implications for science.

“I am very worried,” says Sandra Wachter, who studies technology and regulation at the University of Oxford, UK, and was not involved in the research. “If we’re now in a situation where the experts are not able to determine what’s true or not, we lose the middleman that we desperately need to guide us through complicated topics,” she adds.

The chatbot, ChatGPT, creates realistic and intelligent-sounding text in response to user prompts. It is a ‘large language model’, a system based on neural networks that learn to perform a task by digesting huge amounts of existing human-generated text. Software company OpenAI, based in San Francisco, California, released the tool on 30 November, and it is free to use.

Since its release, researchers have been grappling with the ethical issues surrounding its use, because much of its output can be difficult to distinguish from human-written text. Scientists have published a preprint2 and an editorial3 written by ChatGPT. Now, a group led by Catherine Gao at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, has used ChatGPT to generate artificial research-paper abstracts to test whether scientists can spot them.

The researchers asked the chatbot to write 50 medical-research abstracts based on a selection published in JAMA, The New England Journal of Medicine, The BMJ, The Lancet and Nature Medicine. They then compared these with the original abstracts by running them through a plagiarism detector and an AI-output detector, and they asked a group of medical researchers to spot the fabricated abstracts.

. . . .

The ChatGPT-generated abstracts sailed through the plagiarism checker: the median originality score was 100%, which indicates that no plagiarism was detected. The AI-output detector spotted 66% the generated abstracts. But the human reviewers didn’t do much better: they correctly identified only 68% of the generated abstracts and 86% of the genuine abstracts. They incorrectly identified 32% of the generated abstracts as being real and 14% of the genuine abstracts as being generated.

“ChatGPT writes believable scientific abstracts,” say Gao and colleagues in the preprint. “The boundaries of ethical and acceptable use of large language models to help scientific writing remain to be determined.”

Wachter says that, if scientists can’t determine whether research is true, there could be “dire consequences”. As well as being problematic for researchers, who could be pulled down flawed routes of investigation, because the research they are reading has been fabricated, there are “implications for society at large because scientific research plays such a huge role in our society”. For example, it could mean that research-informed policy decisions are incorrect, she adds.

But Arvind Narayanan, a computer scientist at Princeton University in New Jersey, says: “It is unlikely that any serious scientist will use ChatGPT to generate abstracts.” He adds that whether generated abstracts can be detected is “irrelevant”. “The question is whether the tool can generate an abstract that is accurate and compelling. It can’t, and so the upside of using ChatGPT is minuscule, and the downside is significant,” he says.

Irene Solaiman, who researches the social impact of AI at Hugging Face, an AI company with headquarters in New York and Paris, has fears about any reliance on large language models for scientific thinking. “These models are trained on past information and social and scientific progress can often come from thinking, or being open to thinking, differently from the past,” she adds.

Link to the rest at Nature

PG decided to ChatGPT’s capabilities for creating an abstract of a longer text. He did so by copying and pasting the test of the blog post above into ChatGPT and asking the AI to summarize it.

Here’s what the AI produced:

A preprint study found that AI chatbot, ChatGPT, can write convincing fake research-paper abstracts that are often difficult to spot. The researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago used ChatGPT to generate 50 medical research abstracts and compared them with the original abstracts using a plagiarism detector and AI-output detector. They also asked a group of medical researchers to spot the fabricated abstracts. The ChatGPT-generated abstracts sailed through the plagiarism checker and the AI-output detector spotted 66% of the generated abstracts. However, the human reviewers correctly identified only 68% of the generated abstracts and 86% of the genuine abstracts, raising concerns about the ethical implications of using AI in scientific research.

It’s Time to Teach AI How to Be Forgetful

From Wired:

OUR BRAIN HAS evolved to make predictions and explanations in unstable and ill-defined situations. For instance, to understand a novel situation, the brain generates a single explanation on the fly. If this explanation is upturned by additional information, a second explanation is generated. 

Machine learning, on the other hand, typically takes a different path: It sees reasoning as a categorization task with a fixed set of predetermined labels. It views the world as a fixed space of possibilities, enumerating and weighing them all. This approach, of course, has achieved notable successes when applied to stable and well-defined situations such as chess or computer games. When such conditions are absent, however, machines struggle.

One such example is virus epidemics. In 2008, Google launched Flu Trends, a web service that aimed to predict flu-related doctor visits using big data. The project, however, failed to predict the 2009 swine flu pandemic. After several unsuccessful tweaks to its algorithm, Google finally shuttered the project in 2015.

In such unstable situations, the human brain behaves differently. Sometimes, it simply forgets. Instead of getting bogged down by irrelevant data, it relies solely on the most recent information. This is a feature called intelligent forgetting. Adopting this approach, an algorithm that relied on a single data point—predicting that next week’s flu-related doctor visits are the same as in the most recent week, for instance—would have reduced Google Flu Trends’ prediction error by half. 

Intelligent forgetting is just one dimension of psychological AI, an approach to machine intelligence that also incorporates other features of human intelligence such as causal reasoning, intuitive psychology, and physics. In 2023, this approach to AI will finally be recognized as fundamental for solving ill-defined problems. Exploring these marvelous features of the evolved human brain will finally allow us to make machine learning smart. Indeed, researchers at the Max Planck Institute, Microsoft, Stanford University, and the University of Southampton are already integrating psychology into algorithms to achieve better predictions of human behavior, from recidivism to consumer purchases. 

One feature of psychological AI is that it is explainable. Until recently, researchers assumed that the more transparent an AI system was, the less accurate its predictions were. This mirrored the widespread but incorrect belief that complex problems always need complex solutions. In 2023, this idea will be laid to rest. As the case of flu predictions illustrates, robust and simple psychological algorithms can often give more accurate predictions than complex algorithms. Psychological AI opens up a new vision for explainable AI: Instead of trying to explain opaque complex systems, we can check first if psychological AI offers a transparent and equally accurate solution.

In 2023, deep learning in itself will come to be seen as a cul-de-sac. Without the help of human psychology, it will become clearer that the application of this type of machine learning to unstable situations eventually runs up against insurmountable limitations. We will finally recognize that more computing power makes machines faster, not smarter. One such high-profile example is self-driving cars. The vision of building the so-called level-5 cars—fully automated vehicles capable of driving safely under any conditions without human backup—has already hit such a limitation. Indeed, I predict that in 2023, Elon Musk will retract his assertion that this category of self-driving cars is just around the corner. Instead, he will refocus his business on creating the much more viable (and interesting) level-4 cars, which are able to drive fully autonomously, without human help, only in restricted areas such as motorways or cities specifically designed for self-driving vehicles. Widespread adoption of level-4 cars will instead spur us to redesign our cities, making them more stable and predictable, and barring potential distractions for human drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. If a problem is too difficult for a machine, it is we who will have to adapt to its limited abilities.

Link to the rest at Wired

Just the Facts? Not in Historical Fiction.

From Publisher’s Weekly:

When I pitched One Woman’s War: A Novel of the Real Miss Moneypenny in October 2020, I had no idea that Operation Mincemeat, a movie about the same subject matter, would be released in early 2022, just a few months before One Woman’s War was due out.

Both fictional works are based on a real British Naval Intelligence operation of World War II, where a corpse dressed as a royal marine was left in waters off the coast of Spain. The deceased marine carried papers suggesting that the European invasion would take place via Greece, rather than the true landing point of Sicily. Spoiler: German spies got hold of the documents and Hitler fell for the ruse, diverting troops from Sicily to Greece. Many thousands of Allied lives were saved as a result.

There have since been several retellings of this eccentric operation. The truth has all of the trappings of a good, old-fashioned spy story, perhaps because the mastermind behind it was destined to become one of the best-known thriller writers of all time: James Bond author Ian Fleming. When real events unfold like fiction, it becomes the task of the fiction writer to make those real events seem plausible. But do authors of historical fiction have a greater duty to readers not to stray too far from the truth than filmmakers have to their audiences?

Avid readers of historical fiction seem to demand historical accuracy in every particular—or at least in the particulars in which those readers, themselves, happen to be experts. Yet even the keenest historical pedant has low expectations of anything out of Hollywood. These movies exist to entertain not teach.

However, people do expect greater adherence to the facts in novels. They want to experience history. Readers of historical fiction want to see events unfold through the protagonist’s eyes and feel the characters’ emotions. Whether they are conscious of it or not, historical novel readers crave a narrative that has conflict, meaning, and some sort of dramatic arc, even though real life might have a lot of the first and none at all of the second and third.

. . . .

In the case of Operation Mincemeat, fortunately for screenwriters and authors alike, the bare facts of the strategic effort provide a strong plot. Still, a little creative intervention was needed at certain points to turn those facts into a novel.

A common problem I see in war novels occurs when a significant part of the action takes place in theaters in which none of the main characters are present. This is particularly difficult when writing from a first-person or close-third-person point of view.

There were two aspects to this problem for Operation Mincemeat. The first was a lack of direct, active conflict with the enemy when all of the planning for the operation took place in London. The second was that the events unfolding in Spain and Germany needed to be conveyed to the audience somehow, even though the main characters didn’t witness them.

Both the filmmakers and I chose to depart from the facts here and create a story thread that brings the enemy to London in some form—mine is in the guise of another point-of-view character, an Austrian double agent based in London, who is given the task of verifying the intelligence from the corpse and reporting back to German high command. In the movie, the enemy comes to London in the form of the bartender at the Gargoyle Club who claims to be working for a disaffected group from German military intelligence.

As for the action that takes place in Spain and Berlin, in the film, the story briefly shifts to Spain and is told from the point of view of a character we haven’t seen much of until that point—a technique a novelist would find far more difficult to get away with. I decided to convey the same information in an active—though not historically accurate—way, sending my Austrian double agent first to Portugal, then to Berlin, where she could be privy to Nazi intelligence gathering and analysis.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Finding Yourself in Prince Harry’s Memoir

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Though I’ve been called a Jewish princess by disgruntled ex-boyfriends, on the surface I have nothing in common with the British Christian prince now residing in California. Yet as a Manhattan memoirist who writes provocative books my parents detest, I’m completely overidentifying with Harry. Except for his $20 million advance; interviews with Oprah, Strahan, Colbert, and Cooper; the record-breaking millions of copies sold; and the frozen body part, the Duke of Sussex and I are kindred spirits and soulmates, uncannily connected. After all, feeling inferior to a close sibling, fleeing the family business, and selling a randy, revealing memoir to Random House that scandalizes relatives was my story first.

Twenty years ago, when my tell-all Five Men Who Broke My Heart debuted from our mutual publisher, I was the loudmouthed rebel who partied too much, moved to the big city for a creative career, married a sympathetic partner, and became a shrinkaholic who’d overanalyze everything publicly. Okay, my Bubbe Yetta’s Fort Lauderdale bungalow wasn’t as big as his Gan-Gan’s Balmoral Castle. But our unrest led us both to booze, pot, cocaine, and magic mushrooms. I lost my virginity outside, too, to an older paramour. And just like Harry, going into therapy to unravel it all put me on a different planet than my inner circle.

In my own childhood, my staid, stiff-upper-lip (similarly balding) brother pleased everyone by following in my father’s footsteps. He dutifully stayed in our hometown, kept family laundry private, and became a physician like Dad, as he was supposed to. As kids, my brother once let his pet white rat out in my bedroom at four in the morning, while my other sibling took pictures of my reaction. As they trashed my politics and Oprah-inspired psychobabble, I felt like I was the victim of extreme insensitivity.

. . . .

While they labeled my racy nonfiction “fiction,” my shrink had me tell them, “You can be proud of my success selling a book without liking the book.”

. . . .

My folks eventually forgave me and we convened for birthday and Bar Mitzvah celebrations. Yet after escaping, I had the same conundrum as Harry, in which critics claimed the clan I couldn’t wait to escape were my best characters.

Aside from being jealous that a rich ginger with other job prospects is muscling out full-time scribes who have no connections with his chronicle of the five royals who broke his heart, I’m just wild about Harry. He’s revitalizing my favorite industry and oft-maligned genre. Having also collaborated on other people’s stories, I’m even obsessively identified with his ghostwriter. Though I admit Tender Bar and Agassi’s autobiography sold a few more copies than my low four-figure sales.

It’s easy to see why Spare resonates. The world watched his pa cheat on his beautiful naive mum with his secret mistress and divorce Diana, leaving her unprotected. At 12, Harry was traumatized by her loss. Making matters worse, Pa married Harry’s dangerous stepmum, elevating her to queen consort. It’s dramatic enough for several more seasons of The Crown, which Haz charmingly admitted to watching.

I’m thrilled that Harry debunked the Anglo fairy tale, avenged his mum’s mistreatment, reminded everyone how illicit affairs can haunt children, and tattled that Willy was a bully. Bestselling memoirist Anne Lamott said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” Joan Didion added, “Writers are always selling someone out.”

Meanwhile, envious authors—from Piers Morgan (infamous for his sexism, xenophobia, running of fake war photos, and perpetuating of phone hacking scandals) to Patti Davis (who has made a cottage industry out of depicting her famous parents for five decades)—have questioned why the prince wrote such a candid, catty, confessional book.

To me it’s obvious. First, remember that the Obamas, Clintons, Bushes, Carters, and Trumps, as well as Fergie, made more money from book royalties than all their official work put together.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

England’s 17th century was a ferment of ideas and revolution

From The Economist:

Writing an accessible history of Britain in the turbulent 17th century, as Jonathan Healey sets out to do in “The Blazing World”, is a noble aim. Starting with the seeds of one revolution and ending with a second, the period teems with ideas about what it means to be a citizen as opposed to a subject, and about how God should be worshipped. By the end of it, a modern concept of the state was emerging. Yet even in Britain it is neglected.

At the turn of the century nine out of ten people lived in the countryside. A tiny minority were literate. Famine and plague were regular scourges; a rising population and stagnant economy spelt misery. Fear of witchcraft was common, as were executions for petty crimes. Fornication could land you in court. By 1700 trade had replaced farming as the mainstay of a burgeoning market economy. Relief from extreme poverty was mandated by Parliament. Towns were hubs of commerce and culture; religious dissent was accepted by a relatively tolerant Anglican elite. Rich Protestant England was a force in Europe.

A continuous thread runs from the accession of England’s first Stuart king, James I, in 1603, to the dynasty’s fall in the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688-89. Yet historians often balk at telling the tumultuous, ideologically charged story in one go. Often it is divided into three chunks. First come increasing resistance to absolutism and religious intolerance, civil war, the parliamentary army’s victory, the execution of Charles I, and the establishment of the Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell. Next, the monarchy’s restoration under Charles II; finally, the disastrous reign of James II and invitation to William of Orange to take his place and establish a proto-constitutional monarchy.

Mr Healey takes on the whole saga in under 500 pages. It begins when the first James acceded to the throne and was struck by England’s apparent wealth compared with his native Scotland. But the monarchy itself was chronically broke, a condition made worse by the excesses of his court. Tension ensued between his need for cash (he even sold peerages) and Parliament’s traditional control over the royal purse strings. In an era in which absolutism had become the norm across Europe—but was a relatively newfangled notion in England—such restraints were seen first by James, then by his son Charles, as a direct challenge to the “divine right of kings”. All the dynasty’s calamities sprang from this clash.

A far less canny operator than his father, the priggish Charles I was widely seen to be trampling over ancient English liberties. Initially, this was a bigger cause for rebellion than the novel idea of government by and for the people: that developed later, particularly in the ranks of the radicalised parliamentary army. When the civil war began in 1642, nobody thought it would lead to the decapitation of a king and advent of a republic (albeit a short-lived one).

Wily and pragmatic as well as louche, Charles II may have been the only Stuart to see that public opinion, fed by the proliferating news-sheets and pamphlets, could confer or deny legitimacy.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Knopf Press Report Card
Strategy by Random House
No Look Inside FeatureF
Posting the Book Almost Three Months Prior to ReleaseF
Pricing F
Likelihood of Significant Commercial SuccessF
Final GradeF


From The Wall Street Journal:

On Sept. 21, 1588, a savage storm lashed the western coast of Ireland. As the gale intensified, three bulky ships ran aground on the sands of Streedagh Strand, north of Sligo. Part of a formidable “Armada” sent by King Philip II of Spain to conquer the kingdom of his archenemy, Queen Elizabeth I of England, the armed merchantmen had already made a remarkable odyssey. The mission had taken them from Portugal, through the English Channel in a running fight with the nimble and well-armed warships of the “Virgin Queen,” and then around Scotland on a hazardous homeward passage. Now pulverized by the unrelenting Atlantic surf, the stricken vessels broke apart, with the loss of more than 1,000 lives.

In “Armada: The Spanish Enterprise and England’s Deliverance in 1588,” Colin Martin and Geoffrey Parker trace the genesis, fate and legacy of a venture that is remembered as a disaster but that, in their estimation, came close to achieving its objective. The authors first met in 1973, and in the half-century since have maintained a fruitful academic collaboration. In a revised and expanded version of a book first published in 1988, the two deliver what will surely become the definitive account of what the Spanish called “the Enterprise of England.”

Mr. Parker, a professor of history at Ohio State University, draws upon his unrivaled mastery of the extensive documentary sources. Mr. Martin, a retired reader in maritime archaeology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, deploys knowledge he has gained in directing the exploration of three Armada wrecks. Distinguished by incisive analysis, “Armada” fuses the complementary skills of the historian and the underwater archaeologist, exploiting the latest discoveries from the archives and seabed alike to help explain why the endeavor ultimately failed.

The original proposal for the “Enterprise of England,” drawn up in 1586 by its designated commander, the experienced marquis of Santa Cruz, envisaged a single amphibious task force. Philip, an inveterate “micromanager,” could not resist meddling with the plan, making it dependent upon close cooperation between the fleet and an entirely separate army. The authors show how this made the mission much more complicated.

Philip was adamant that the Armada should sail up the English Channel and rendezvous in the narrow Straits of Dover with the Spanish “Army of Flanders,” which would be stationed in the Netherlands. Whatever the provocation, the Armada was to save its strength until positioned to escort almost 30,000 veterans, packed aboard specially prepared barges, to a beachhead in Kent.

The invasion would be commanded by the king’s nephew, Alexander Farnese, duke of Parma. Supplied and reinforced by the Armada, Parma’s army was to push inland against London, its flank braced by ships probing the Thames estuary. The king’s strategic vision may have been compromised by his religious piety; the extremely devout Philip was confident that God’s favor would overcome all difficulties.

The Armada’s departure was delayed by the logistical challenge of assembling and supplying such a vast undertaking. In 1587, Francis Drake hampered Spanish preparations by torching stores stockpiled at Cadiz in a pre-emptive strike that he described as “singeing the King of Spain’s beard.” When the marquis of Santa Cruz succumbed to typhus, the role of organizer was assumed by the duke of Medina Sidonia, despite his reluctance to accept what he regarded as a poisoned chalice. The duke’s administrative ability put the Armada on an even keel: By the time it eventually left Iberia, the revitalized force mustered 130 ships carrying 27,000 men. Significantly, though, two-thirds of them were soldiers with scant experience of life afloat.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

UPDATE: The first comment on this post mentioned that this book may not be quite so new as the WSJ lead PG to believe.

PG searched Amazon with the following query: the armada garrett mattingly and found Mr. Mattingly’s name on several earlier Armada editions without a co-author dating back to 1959.

PG then clicked on the link from the co-author, Geoffrey Parker. Again, the link didn’t go to an author page, but rather a collection of books. The first was Operations Management for Dummies for which Mr. Parker was the third of three co-authors. The second listing was for The Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare (Cambridge Illustrated Histories) for which Mr. Parker was the editor. The Armada book in the OP was far down the list for Mr. Parker.

The author links seem a bit dodgy and PG found some other Geoffrey Parkers that may or may not have been the Geoffrey Parker in the OP.

PG hereby offers to show anyone from the Yale University Press how to set up a proper author page on Amazon. Even though he’s not a Yalie, he will not charge a fee to the university for what should be a telephone call lasting about ten minutes or a maximum of three emails.

Publisher: Yale University Press

Yale University Press Report Card
No Look Inside FeatureF
Hardcover OnlyF
Likelihood of Significant Commercial SuccessF
Final GradeF

Defamation of a Public Figure vs. Private Figure Explained

From Minc Law:

The difficulty of proving your defamation case, and if you even have a valid claim at all, may depend on if the court considers you a public figure or a private figure.

In the context of defamation, a public figure is generally defined as an individual who has assumed a role of prominence in society or voluntarily or involuntarily thrust themselves into the public spotlight, like a government official, a celebrity, or even a person at the heart of a controversy. Public figures have a higher burden of proof when bringing a defamation claim; they must show that the defendant acted with actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth when publishing a false statement.

A private figure, on the other hand, is generally defined as anyone who does not qualify as a public figure and is not in the public spotlight. Private figures must only prove that the defendant acted with ordinary negligence when publishing a false statement.

. . . .

Who Are Public Figures in the Defamation Arena?

The distinction between public figures and private individuals matters in defamation law because it changes the burden of proof in bringing a lawsuit.

To succeed in a defamation lawsuit, the plaintiff must show that the statement was untrue and harmful to their reputation. On top of these factors, a public figure must also demonstrate that the defamer made the statement with malice (or malicious intent to harm them).

Definition of Public Figures in Defamation Law

In legal terms, a public figure is an individual who is at the forefront of public issues or performs a prominent role in society. Those with a certain amount of fame or renown can also be considered public figures. For example, the following people would be considered public figures in a defamation law case:

  • Government officials and politicians,
  • Prominent business leaders,
  • Celebrities, and
  • Famous sports figures and athletes.

. . . .

Most U.S. states take the idea of public figures one step further by expanding the public figure classifications into three types: public officials, all-purpose public figures, and limited-purpose public figures.

Public Officials

Public officials are not just elected officials or politicians. They include any individual whose role has a major influence over government and societal events, as well as those who work for elected representatives. 

However, not every government official would be considered a public figure in a defamation case. The difference is generally in how prominent and influential the individual is in their role. For example, while an elected prosecutor may be considered a public official, an administrative assistant in the prosecutor’s office may not be.

What is the Difference Between All-Purpose Public Figures & Limited-Purpose Public Figures?

Aside from public officials, other public figures are split into two categories: all-purpose and limited-purpose. An all-purpose public figure has achieved “pervasive fame or notoriety,” like a traditional celebrity.

On the other hand, a limited-purpose public figure is injected into “a particular public controversy and thereby becomes a public figure for a limited range of issues.

A limited-purpose public figure can be voluntarily or involuntarily drawn into the public eye. Examples of voluntary limited-purpose public figures include minor athletes or actors, social activists, or those who enter into the public debate about a controversial topic. An involuntary limited-purpose public figure did not choose to become involved in a controversy or important event.

In the significant court case of Dameron vs. Washington Magazine, the plaintiff Merle Dameron was the sole air traffic controller on duty the day of a plane crash near Dulles airport in 1974. While he was never found at fault for the crash, local magazine The Washingtonian issued claims that he was partly to blame for the passengers’ deaths.

The court found that while Dameron did not “inject” himself into the public debate, he did become involved in this public affair without his consent. He was, therefore, considered a limited-purpose public figure. 

This case established a three-part framework for determining whether an individual is a limited-purpose public figure:

  • There is a public controversy,
  • The plaintiff played a central role in the controversy, and
  • The defamation was pertinent to the plaintiff’s involvement in the controversy.

What Are Some Examples of Public Figures?

The following list gives real-world examples of public officials, all-purpose public figures, and limited-purpose public figures:

  • President Joe Biden (public official);
  • First Lady Dr. Jill Biden (all-purpose public figure);
  • Chris Evans, a well-known actor (all-purpose public figure);
  • Jeff Bezos, billionaire and CEO of Amazon (all-purpose public figure);
  • LeBron James, NBA all-star (all-purpose public figure);
  • Minor-league baseball player with limited name recognition (limited-purpose public figure);
  • A previously unknown activist who generates news at a Black Lives Matter protest (limited-purpose public figure).

Why Are Public Figures Considered to Have Significant Ability to Counteract Defamation?

It is not necessarily true that public figures are considered to have a significant ability to counteract defamation—at least in the legal sense. The legal standard is tougher for public figures to counteract defamation because our society values free speech, uninhibited debate, and public information about those of pervasive influence.

For example, if John Smith publishes a blog post falsely claiming his neighbor was convicted of armed robbery 10 years ago, the neighbor will likely win a defamation case against him. But if John makes the same claims about his senator, it would be much more difficult for the senator to win a case. John simply needs to show that he had a “good faith belief” in the negative claim (meaning he acted with negligence, not actual malice).

Courts usually hold that public figures do not need as much reputational protection because they have placed themselves in the spotlight and must expect some level of negative attention. Public figures tend to have a greater ability to use the media or an online platform to counteract a narrative about them.

Because public figures usually have a larger social media following and better access to the media than private citizens, they have other means of making the truth known without involving the courts. For example, a celebrity who is the subject of false rumors can give an interview with a magazine, discuss the truth on a talk show or podcast, or post their side of the story on social media.

What Are the Requirements For Proving Defamation of a Public Figure?

In all defamation cases for both public and private persons, the plaintiff must prove that a statement was:

  • A false statement of fact (i.e., not an opinion) about the plaintiff,
  • Communicated to a third party,
  • Made with at least a negligent level of intent, and
  • Harmful to the plaintiff’s reputation.

For public figures, there is an additional requirement to bring a defamation claim. They must prove that the defamer acted with actual malice. In other words, the defamer knew that the statement was false—or they acted with reckless disregard for whether the statement was true or false. 

This requirement can be broken down even further for public officials, all-purpose public figures, and limited-purpose public figures.

Public Officials’ Burden of Proof

Public officials must demonstrate that the defamer acted with actual malice for both public and private matters. Regardless of if the defamatory statement referred to the official’s private life or public record, they must have acted with actual malice or reckless disregard.

All-Purpose Public Figures’ Burden of Proof

Similarly, the actual malice standard for all-purpose public figures applies to nearly all facets of their lives.

Limited-Purpose Public Figures’ Burden of Proof

For limited-purpose public figures, however, the standard of actual malice only applies to the area(s) that make the individual a public figure.

For example, a minor-league athlete falsely accused of doping would need to prove actual malice—but not if the defamatory statement pertains to his private life instead.

. . . .

What is a Private Figure in the Context of Defamation?

Public figures are those in the public spotlight, whether due to their occupation, celebrity, or participation in a controversy or public conversation. But the existence of public figures necessitates private figuresIn this section, we define a private figure and how they should prove their case in a defamation lawsuit.

Definition of a Private Figure in Terms of Defamation Law

A private figure is not in the public eye. Unlike public figures, they have not been drawn into a public controversy—whether voluntarily or involuntarily—and they are not a public official or a celebrity.

What Are Some Examples Of Private Figures?

Listed below are a few general examples of individuals that would be considered private figures in a defamation case:

  • A high school principal. 
  • A private guardian accused of sleeping with a client’s father. 
  • A local news reporter who left their job at a local television station. 
  • A company that does not advertise extensively. 

How Must Private Individuals Prove Defamation?

Since private figures have not entered the public spotlight through their career or role in a public controversy, the law aims to protect their privacy. Private individuals, therefore, have a less strict burden of proof in a defamation matter.

A private figure plaintiff must only prove that the defendant acted with ordinary negligence—not actual malice or reckless disregard. “Ordinary negligence” means the defendant did not act with the caution an ordinary person would take in a similar situation.

However, some states still require private figures to show actual malice if they expect to recover punitive damages in a defamation claim.

How Should a Claim Show Fault on the Part of the Defamer?

Though the specific standard can vary from state to state, the plaintiff must prove the core elements of defamation to succeed in a claim:

  • An unprivileged, false statement of fact was made about the plaintiff,
  • It was communicated to a third party,
  • It was made with at least a negligent level of intent, and
  • It damaged the plaintiff’s reputation.

What is Negligence in Terms of Defamation Law?

A defendant may be found negligent if a reasonable person would take the time to research the truth of the statement before publishing it. If they did not act with the reasonable prudence an ordinary person would take in a similar situation, they acted with at least a negligent level of intent.

Link to the rest at Minc Law

PG notes that there are lots of links to additional materials, definitions, cases, etc., in the OP that PG, as is his usual practice, omitted.

With respect to the adjacent post regarding former President Trump filing a defamation suit against Simon & Schuster and a former prosecutor who is the author of the book Trump claims is defamatory, PG notes that Mr. Trump is on the highest perch of public figurehood.

That said, PG has no knowledge of the suit other than the OP and is in no position to comment on the merits of the suit.

He does hope the author of the offending book was intelligent to change the standard New York publishing contract to provide that the publisher would pay all of the author’s legal fees and court costs if Trump sued the author (with or without suing the publisher).

In the standard New York publishing boilerplate, in the event of a defamation suit against the publisher (the author is almost always named as a defendant as well) the author will not only be responsible for her/his own legal fees, but is also obligated to pay the publisher’s legal fees and damages assessed against the publisher as well.

PG expects that in the Trump suit, Simon & Schuster will employ excellent and expensive litigation counsel. PG is not as familiar with New York City litigation costs as he used to be, but he would be very surprised if S&S’s legal fees for handling this matter would total less than seven figures. High seven figures is a possibility that crossed PG’s mind.

As far as insurance to cover legal expenses of a publisher, PG is doubtful that any sane insurance company would agree to cover this sort of risk. But he could be wrong.

Trump Threatens to Sue Former Prosecutor, S&S over Forthcoming Tell-All

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Embattled former president Donald Trump is threatening to sue publisher Simon & Schuster and author and former New York criminal prosecutor Mark Pomerantz over the forthcoming publication of People vs. Donald Trump: An Inside Account.

According to S&S press materials, Pomerantz, who investigated Donald Trump and the Trump Organization, purports to explain in his book why Trump should be prosecuted for financial crimes—and why he believes that prosecution hasn’t yet happened. Pomerantz resigned last February, reportedly after Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg was said to have put the brakes on an imminent criminal prosecution of the former president.

But in a letter this week, shared with PW, Trump attorney Joe Tacopina warns Pomerantz and S&S officials against publishing a book that repeats allegedly “false” and “defamatory” statements.

“I strongly admonish you to take these next words seriously: If you publish such a book and continue making defamatory statements against my client, my office will aggressively pursue all legal remedies against you and your book publisher, Simon & Schuster,” Tacopina writes. “Trust me, I will zealously use every possible legal resource to punish you and your publisher for the incredible financial harm that you have caused my clients to suffer.”

In a statement issued late Monday evening, Pomerantz dismissed Trump’s threat to sue.

“If the former president should sue me, I will defend that litigation,” Pomerantz said, in a statement issued through S&S. “I stand by the statements I have made previously, and those contained in my forthcoming book.”

The threat marks the latest attempt by Trump to stop publication of a book that criticizes him—which so far have only served to sell books. In 2018, while president, Trump attorneys sent a cease-and-desist letter to publisher Henry Holt and author Michael Wolff over his book of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. The media attention propelled the book to the top of the bestseller list.

More recently, Trump unsuccessfully sued Simon & Schuster and his niece, author Mary Trump, in New York state court seeking to block publication of her memoir Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. The book would go on to sell more than a million copies.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

AAP’s November StatShot: US Revenues Down 6 Percent Year to Date

From Publishing Perspectives:

In its November 2022 StatShot report, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) cites total revenues across all categories down 14.4 percent over November 2021, at US$1.0 billion. As happened throughout 2022, of course, observers look at these comparisons carefully, mindful that 2021 was the second year of the still ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic‘s effects on the marketplace, both in the States and abroad.

Year-to-date revenues, the AAP reports, were down 6 percent at US$11.6 billion for the first 11 months of the year.

. . . .

Year-Over-Year Numbers

In print formats:

  • Hardback revenues were down 22.4 percent, coming in at $355.2 million
  • Paperbacks were down 5.4 percent, with $274.2 million in revenue
  • Mass market was 14.9 percent to $19.5 million
  • Special bindings were down 15.9 percent, with $20.0 million in revenue

In digital formats:

  • Ebook revenues were down 10.4 percent for the month as compared to November 2021 for a total of $83.1 million
  • The closely watched downloaded audio format was up 5.6 percent for November 2022, coming in at $73.9 million in revenue
  • Physical audio was down 33.7 percent, coming in at $1.7 million. . . .


  • Year-to-date, the industry’s trade revenues were down 6.1 percent, at $8.4 billion for the first 11 months of the year.

In print formats:

  • Hardback revenues were 14.1 percent, coming in at $3.0 billion
  • Paperbacks were up 1.3 percent, with $3.0 billion in revenue
  • Mass market was down 23.8 percent to $170.9 million
  • Special bindings were down 4.3 percent, with $185.7 million in revenue

In digital formats:

  • Ebook revenues were down 6.3 percent as compared to the first 11 months of 2022, for a total $928.0 million
  • The downloaded audio format was up 7.2 percent, at $767,0 million in revenue
  • Physical audio was down 30.5 percent, coming in at $14.5 million

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Taming the Haters: How to Handle Malicious Online Comments About Your Work

From Writer Unboxed:

The day I signed the publishing contract for my second novel, I wrote a post about it on LinkedIn. I tagged the book’s soon-to-be publisher in the text, and included an image of their logo. The small press publishes just ten books a year. The fact that my book would be one of them was tremendously validating. I was delighted to share my good news.

Within minutes of the post going live I received a comment from a writer I was connected with on the platform but didn’t know very well. “That’s a vanity press!” he wrote. “Don’t publish your book with them. You’ll ruin your credibility. Everything you’ve worked for will go down the drain!”

Thinking this person was simply misinformed, I replied. “You must be confusing them with another publisher,” I wrote. “These guys are the real deal.” As proof, I added the link to my new publisher’s website. Believing I had settled the matter, I logged off.

When I looked at the post again later, I was horrified to discover that the same person had gone on an all-out digital tirade, posting multiple comments about how the publisher I had signed with wasn’t legitimate, and that as an author, neither was I. I realized then that, for some reason I still don’t understand, this complete stranger was trying to publicly discredit me and my work. I reported his comments to the site’s admin, removed him from my connections, and deleted the post.

The feeling of accomplishment I’d had that morning evaporated. I was sad and confused. I’d worked on that book for years. Why would a person who knew nothing about me or my work put so much effort into casting doubt on my achievement? Why would anyone be so mean to someone they don’t even know?

Some people get their sustenance from tearing apart others’ creative work. Over time, I’ve learned not to let these jerks get to me. I ignore their comments, or delete them in cases where they may be spreading falsehoods. Like most bullies, they lose interest pretty quickly if I refuse to acknowledge their cause.

. . . .

Liz Michalski, whose second novel, Darling Girl, was published last May, has had multiple adverse, unhelpful comments posted about the book—a dark retelling of Peter Pan—on a variety of platforms.

“My book is out there in the world, and everybody gets to have an opinion on it,” Michalski says. “Their opinion is none of my business, so I never respond to negative comments or reviews. In fact, I’ve pretty much given up reading reviews unless a friend sends me a particularly good or funny one.

“I’m also more careful which social media pools I swim in. I’ve had some really lovely fans on TikTok, but that’s also where the really meanspirited comments have been, so I tend to just not hang out there.”

Author Tara Lynn Masih’s book, My Real Name is Hanna, is a young adult historical novel about a Jewish teenager in Lithuania set during the Holocaust. Although the book has enjoyed critical praise, or perhaps because of it, the novel was singled out by a group of Holocaust deniers online seeking to discredit it.

“My recent Holocaust novel became the target of an organized two-star [rating] campaign,” Masih says. “Very inappropriate reviews that excoriated me personally were left on one site, which refused to take them down, even though some other sites would have. I even got worried for my safety when some angry emails started coming in, and someone attempted to get my cell phone number. For a few months, it affected me mentally and physically, and I did consider giving up writing. Is it really worth it, you have to ask yourself, when you are the subject of this kind of hate campaign?”

But eventually, Masih says, the trolls moved on to some other writer.

“The dirty dust settles, and you have hopefully reinforced your passion for creating stories, understanding that your writing has power and no one should ever be allowed to silence your voice.”

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Decoding brain waves to identify the music we are hearing

From Medical Xpress:

A new technique for monitoring brain waves can identify the music someone is hearing.

Researchers at the University of Essex hope the project could lead to helping people with severe communication disabilities such as locked-in syndrome or stroke sufferers by decoding language signals within their brains through non-invasive techniques.

Dr. Ian Daly from Essex’s School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, who led the research, said, “This method has many potential applications. We have shown we can decode music, which suggests that we may one day be able to decode language from the brain.”

Essex scientists wanted to find a less invasive way of decoding acoustic information from signals in the brain to identify and reconstruct a piece of music someone was listening to.

While there have been successful previous studies monitoring and reconstructing acoustic information from brain waves, many have used more invasive methods such as electrocortiography (ECoG), which involves placing electrodes inside the skull to monitor the actual surface of the brain.

The research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, used a combination of two non-invasive methods—fMRI, which measures blood flow through the entire brain, and electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures what is happening in the brain in real time—to monitor a person’s brain activity while they are listening to a piece of music. Using a deep learning neural network model, the data was translated to reconstruct and identify the piece of music.

Music is a complex acoustic signal, sharing many similarities with natural language, so the model could potentially be adapted to translate speech. The eventual goal of this strand of research would be to translate thought, which could offer an important aid in the future for people who struggle to communicate, such as those with locked-in syndrome.

Dr. Daly added, “One application is brain-computer interfacing (BCI), which provides a communication channel directly between the brain and a computer. Obviously, this is a long way off but eventually we hope that if we can successfully decode language, we can use this to build communication aids, which is another important step towards the ultimate aim of BCI research and could one day provide a lifeline for people with severe communication disabilities.”

Link to the rest at Medical Xpress

PG says human brain/computer interfaces will continue to develop in many different ways, most good.

Disney’s troubles show how technology has changed the business of culture

From The Economist:

“Why do we have to grow up?” Walt Disney once wondered. As it launches its centenary celebrations on January 27th, the Walt Disney Company has sustained its appeal to the young and young-at-heart. This year Hollywood’s biggest studio will invest more in original content than any other firm. It dominates the global box office, with four of last year’s ten biggest hits, and has more streaming subscriptions than anyone else. Its intellectual property (ip) is turned into merchandise ranging from lunchboxes to lightsabers, and exploited in theme parks that are churning out healthy profits even as covid-19 lingers. More than just a business, Disney is perhaps the most successful culture factory the world has ever known.

So the upheaval rocking the company today has relevance far beyond its empire. Uncertainty about the future profitability of Disney’s enormous entertainment portfolio has caused a rollercoaster ride in its share price. It threw out its chief executive in November and will soon replace its chairman. It also faces a rebellion from an activist investment firm that wants a board seat in what could turn into the biggest face-off since Michael Eisner, a previous ceo, was forced out in 2005. Disney’s trials are not just a boardroom drama. Similar crises are unfolding at other leading culture factories, from Warner Bros to Netflix. The reason is a technological revolution that is turning Hollywood upside down.

The continuing pre-eminence of a centenarian like Disney has confounded many predictions. Since the days of “Steamboat Willie”, Mickey Mouse’s first outing in 1928, there has been an explosion in the supply of video entertainment. Television, cable, home video and then the internet have offered increasing amounts of choice. Anyone with a phone can record video and make it accessible to billions of people, free of charge. More content is uploaded to YouTube every hour than Disney+ holds in its entire streaming catalogue.

Many predicted that this surge of niche content would bring down mainstream hit-makers. They were mostly wrong. Infinite choice in entertainment has ruined the companies which produced middling content that people watched because there was nothing else on—witness the collapse in broadcast-television ratings. But those at the very top of the business have thrived. When anyone can watch anything, people flock to the best. Global streamers like Netflix and Amazon have more than 200m direct subscribers, once an unimaginable number.

Those who have fared best at a shrinking box office are the owners of ip that is already popular. As people visit cinemas less often and competition intensifies, studios have pumped money into films people will turn out to see even when they go only three or four times a year. America’s ten biggest films last year were all sequels or parts of a franchise; Disney’s upcoming slate includes an 80-year-old Harrison Ford returning for a fifth outing as Indiana Jones. It has not been a golden age for cinema, but for those at the top it has been a profitable one.

Now technology is shaking things up again. Online distribution has enticed tech firms that make the hardware and software used for streaming. Silicon Valley is of a different scale from Tinseltown (Amazon’s growing advertising business is already three times bigger than Disney’s) and its moguls have no need to make money from streaming, which they see as an add-on to their main business. Hollywood initially wrote off the nerds. But the nerds have enough money to take creative risks. Last year Apple won the best-picture Oscar with “coda”, a comedy-drama partly in sign language, less than three years after it entered the film business. The more fine content these new producers make and sell below cost, the greater the risk that older studios will fall from the top tier of media into the perilous middle.

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

PG says all the traditional media companies are having their worlds rocked. And the rocking is far from over.

A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head

A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs. In the shadow under the green visor of the cap Ignatius J. Reilly’s supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D.H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress. Several of the outfits, Ignatius noticed, were new enough and expensive enough to be properly considered offenes against taste and decency. Possession of anything new or expensive only reflected a person’s lack of theology and geometry; it could even cast doubts upon one’s soul.

First paragraph of A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

To Warn or not to Warn: The Controversy around Trigger Warnings in Literature

From Writer Unboxed:

My publisher engaged a sensitivity reader to evaluate the portrayal of a neurodiverse character in my summer 2023 release (The Beauty of Rain). I eagerly anticipated the reader’s feedback, whose notes on that aspect of the manuscript were ultimately helpful and unsurprising. Conversely, her recommendation that I add trigger warnings about suicidal ideation and prescription drug abuse did momentarily throw me.

Most everyone knows that a trigger warning is essentially a statement cautioning a consumer/reader that the content may be disturbing or induce a traumatic response. Although these labels are not as commonplace in publishing as they are in film, television, and music, in recent years they’ve begun to appear on a book’s digital detail page, its back jacket, or in an author’s note. The big argument in favor of such labels is that they give a reader the choice to avoid a book that contains material said reader might find harmful or that could unwittingly force them to revisit past trauma.

While I consider myself to be a compassionate person who would never purposely cause someone harm, my initial reaction was to reject the suggestion. Trust me, I know that sounds awful, but I worried that the warnings somewhat mischaracterized the tone and themes in my work. After all, if A Man Called Ove had included a suicidal ideation warning, many people might have missed out on an extremely life-affirming story. I discussed my concern with my agent and editor, both of whom also expressed doubts about the necessity of the warnings.

Coincidentally, around that same time I was doom-scrolling on Twitter and came across a New Yorker article from 2021 entitled “What if trigger warnings don’t work?” That piece discusses studies conducted with respect to the effectiveness of content warnings in academia (which are on the rise). The data suggests that such warnings not only don’t work, but they may inflict more harm by causing additional stress and reinforcing the idea that a trauma is central to a survivor’s identity (which is the opposite of PTSD therapy goals). On Twitter and in an Authors Guild discussion thread on this topic, more than one licensed therapist concurred with the article’s conclusions and believed trigger warnings had no meaningful effect.

You might think this data cemented my decision, but it merely piqued my interest in the topic. What better excuse to procrastinate writing my next book than to dive down the rabbit hole of articles and blog posts about the pros and cons of trigger warnings in literature?

It did not take long to identify some other commonly debated pitfalls, which include:

  • Spoilers: One simplistic and popular complaint is that a content warning may give away a plot twist and thus spoil the story for every reader, which is especially frustrating for those who didn’t want the warning. This camp argues that, prior to purchase, a sensitive reader can visit websites such as Book Trigger Warnings or Trigger Warning Database to verify whether a particular book contains personally troubling content without forcing the author to ruin the surprise or twist for every potential reader who picks up the book.
  • Trigger Identification: There are as many different triggers as there are readers, making it a practical impossibility to adequately warn every potential reader about every potential trigger. Similarly, readers with comparable experiences might have different reactions and preferences (for example, I was raised in a violent home but did not want or need a warning before reading The Great Alone). We can certainly group some content into broad common categories like domestic abuse, addiction, rape, etc., but what about a reader who might be traumatized by something more obscure (like a color or a setting)? It seems ambitious if not impossible to imagine one could create a list of all possible triggers. If we can’t screen every scenario, is it fair to screen any?
  • Genre expectations: In dark romance, for example, it is almost guaranteed that there will be some level of violence and crime (such as kidnapping the heroine or dubious consent). The same could be said of crime novels and thrillers (graphic violence, rape, murder, mental health matters). Should authors and publishers need to take additional steps to prepare a reader for something that is essentially foundational to that genre?
  • Censorship: Some teachers, librarians, and publishing professionals argue that content labels are a form of censorship, and that the line between labels and trigger warnings is thin. They worry an overreach or abuse of these labels could result in many books being segregated onto separate shelves. For example, YA books often tackle an array of topics from fatphobia to date rape. If the use of multiple warnings persists and leads to segregated shelving, those books might become less visible and accessible to the general public who might otherwise benefit from exploring those topics. This slippery slope could also ultimately affect what stories publishers choose to invest in and distribute, which would be bad for both authors and readers.

In my opinion, some of these arguments hold more weight than others. I haven’t had an epiphany when it comes to their efficacy, nor am I convinced that there is a clear right answer to this complicated question. That said, my research journey helped me focus on the decision I had to make and its effect on my writing goals. I write stories because I want to emotionally connect with others. Would I prefer to have as many readers as possible give my story a chance? Yes. But do I want to sell my books to everyone at any cost, including the potential emotional torment of another? No, of course not.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG wonders how humankind was able to evolve from pond scum into its present form without trigger warnings.

Somehow, the ancient Egyptians managed to build an amazing civilization without trigger warnings. (PG doesn’t read hieroglyphics, so he can’t be certain, but he doesn’t think he’s ever seen a hieroglyphic that looked like it might be a trigger warning.)

The Greeks and Romans built amazing civilizations without trigger warnings. He’s not aware of any Latin text that translates to: “This scroll contains references to alcohol consumption, violence using fantasy magic, and panic attacks.”

Nor did the great artists and writers of the Renaissance ever include trigger warnings.

Pieter Bruegel didn’t have trigger warnings for any of his paintings.

Nor did Leonardo da Vinci.

Nor did Stephen Crane:

At times he regarded the wounded soldiers in an envious way. He conceived persons with torn bodies to be peculiarly happy. He wished that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage.

Nor did Siegfried Sassoon:

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench–
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads–those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

How to Pursue a Career in Editing: Advice for College Students

From Jane Friedman:


I’m a college student majoring in English. I have had internships but not in the world of editing, but my dream is to be an editor and writer. Do you have any advice or guidance to offer on how to make this dream a reality?

—Desperate Gen-Zer

Dear Desperate Gen-Zer:

I’m desperately glad you asked this question. You’ve hit on one of my main concerns in our industry: Anyone can hang out a shingle as an editor, which results in a very wide range of knowledge and experience levels. I love that you are interested in seeking out a path for developing your skills.

You say you want to be a writer too. That’s useful—the skills you learn in that pursuit are the core of becoming a good editor. In fact, although they are very different skill sets, much of what you can do to master one will serve you well in the other.

You’ve asked a pretty enormous question that I need to address in a manageable number of words, so I’m going to give the quick-and-dirty version of how to develop both careers through two essential approaches: Study and practice, with an emphasis on editing (not least because of the nature of this column).

Study the craft

Writing and editing both rest on the same foundation: an understanding of story craft and language. You learn how the sausage is made—and made well—and eventually internalize those skills so that they’re automatic; you don’t have to focus consciously on craft and mechanics because they become a part of you.

There are an overwhelming number of resources for expanding your skills. It’s a lifelong process; after 30 years in this business I’m still learning every day. I’m betting you’re already digging into some of them: craft books, classes, webinars, workshops, blogs and other outlets (like Jane’s!); conferences.

You’re already doing one great thing toward your career in majoring in English, which will give you a sound foundation for both writing and editing. (I can’t tell you how often I think back to my college papers in my own English major and think what wonderful training ground they were for learning to analyze and articulate a text’s effectiveness.)

Another thing you could do now is work with your university publications and gain skills in writing and hands-on editing.

For readers who are past their college days, there are reputable programs for learning editing skills, like those offered by the University of Chicago (the masterminds behind the industry-standard bible, The Chicago Manual of Style) and the Editorial Freelancers’ Association (EFA), taught by career editors.

Be discerning about where you learn—there are countless programs claiming to teach editing skills and offering self-declared certifications, but keep in mind there is no “official” set of standards, training programs, or governing body for offering editorial services. Caveat editor.

For insight into editing specifically, I can’t recommend highly enough master editor Sol Stein’s books Stein on Writing and How to Grow a Novel, and A. Scott Berg’s biography Max Perkins, Editor of Genius, which shows intimately how renowned editor Perkins worked with some of our most venerated authors. There’s even a new documentary, Turn Every Page, about the 50-year collaborative relationship between author Robert Caro and editor Robert Gottlieb.

Try not to get too overwhelmed by the amount of info that’s out there—or to subscribe to one school of thought or system too slavishly. The many approaches and techniques you can learn are all tools for your toolbox that you can draw on. The more you learn, the greater your skill set as both a writer and an editor—and the better you will become at both.


You mention internships, and I’m so glad you did—editing is definitely an apprenticeship craft, one that’s most thoroughly and deeply learned by seeing it done and by practicing doing it—over and over and over again. There’s a reason for the system at publishing houses where editors work up from assistant to lead editors—there is no more effective way to learn this skill and craft.

This is a crucial place where training programs often fall short. The misconception that you can learn to be an editor simply from a course or certificate on editing can lead to bad editing, a cardinal sin in my mind that can do great damage to an author’s writing and psyche (and charge them for the “privilege”). In my opinion editors shouldn’t hawk their services before they’ve logged solid, relevant experience in the particular field where they’re working (e.g., publishing or academia or journalism, fiction or nonfiction, and specific genres).

There are so many excellent ways to do that—a couple of which I already mentioned above. But also:

Work with a publishing house as an intern or assistant editor

They are legion now, not just the Big Five in New York—find a small press near you. Back in my day (oh, how I love hearing old-people phrases like this come out of my mouth), I started as a freelance proofreader and copyeditor for the Big Six (at the time), long before electronic editing, when all revisions were made on hard copy and I got to see the editors’ and authors’ work right there on the pages I was reading, comments and all, and I learned what got changed and why.

If you can’t find a publisher in your area, try apprenticing with a reputable working pro. (I’ve mentored a number of high school and college students, both through school programs but also one-on-one when a student or fledgling editor contacted me directly.) This is a great way to see what makes for an effective edit firsthand—and to learn directly from a professional editor how they work, what they look for, and how they offer useful feedback to authors.

Work with the people who work with manuscripts

Interning with a literary agency can be another way to hone your skills in action. Reading endless submissions off the slush pile (your likely entry point at an agency) and learning what agents do and don’t respond to as effective and marketable work is invaluable training ground.

Any practice at analyzing a story and articulating its strengths and weakness is wonderful training: I worked in my baby days reading book and screenplay submissions and writing reports on them for a Hollywood producer, an ad agency that specialized in book campaigns, and a fledgling movie-review database engine.

Learn from IRL manuscripts

One of the most useful things I ever did as a budding editor was join an especially large critique group (more than 25 members) that met weekly and focused on a single submission each meeting. Not only did I get hands-on regular practice in analyzing and conveying what made a manuscript (someone else’s, crucial for objectivity) effective or not, but even more valuable: I got to hear many other viewpoints as well. It taught me what was useful feedback and what was not, gave me perspective on how subjective a craft editing is, and—not unimportant!—the difference between a positive and constructive approach and a dictatorial or righteous one. The latter offered little value to an author.

Another good way to learn: Sit in on as many industry-pro “read and critiques” as you possibly can—at conferences, retreats, classes, workshops. The great value of these lies in seeing what jumps out at these professionals and hearing why—and, in the best-case scenario, how they offer suggestions for addressing areas of weakness.

There are more and more opportunities to do this: Bestselling author George Saunders offers a regular Story Club on Substack where he and attendees analyze short stories for what makes them work (or not). I do something similar, though less highbrow, with book chapters and other forms of storytelling in my Analyze Like an Editor Story Club. Agent Peter Cox of Litopia offers a weekly Pop-up Submissions program where authors submit a page or two of their WIPs and it’s analyzed by Peter, his industry guests, and a “genius room” of fellow authors. Look for similar opportunities to see pros in action.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Lots of links in the OP.

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

First paragraph of A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Copyright in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Following is a transcript of a meeting sponsored by the United States Copyright Office on February 5, 2020, that includes remarks from a variety of speakers regarding Artificial Intelligence and Copyright.

As PG is posting this, the meeting happened slightly less than three years ago and an explosion of artificial intelligence research, programs, apps, etc., has occurred since that time, so keepthe age of the transcript in mind as you review it.

The transcript is a 399 page PDF file. PG will attempt to embed the transcript next in this post. He has no idea what might happen, whether the TPV hosting service will be strained beyond the breaking point, etc., etc.

If the embed doesn’t work, you can find the original at

or by cutting and pasting the following link into your web browser:

That said, here goes with the embed:

UPDATE: PG received a stranger error message that mentioned the failure of a “fake worker” which may or may not refer to an employee of the U.S. Copyright Office when he tried to post the embed.

You’ll need to use the link above to view the original Copyright Office transcript.

Evidently the Copyright Office doesn’t have any fake workers who fail.

Me, Myself, and (A)I: Copyright Office to Focus on AI Authorship

From Lexology:

According to a recent interview in December 2022, the U.S. Copyright Office (the “Office”) signaled that it would focus in 2023 on “legal grey areas” surrounding copyrightability of works generated in conjunction with artificial intelligence (“AI”) tools. While the agency is standing by its conclusion that copyright cannot be registered for a work created exclusively by an AI, according to Shira Perlmutter, the Register of Copyrights and director of the Office, the Office is considering the issue of copyright registration for works co-created by humans and AI. The focus is timely given recent monumental leaps in natural language processing and image, text, and code generative AI.

The ‘Human Authorship Requirement’

In 2018, a computer scientist named Stephen Thaler submitted an application to the Office to register a copyright in artwork entitled A Recent Entrance to Paradise (the “Work”). The application identified the “Creativity Machine” as the sole author of the Work, with Thaler listed as a co-claimant. In the application, Thaler noted for the Office that: (1) the Work was automatically created by a computer algorithm running on a machine; and (2) he was seeking to register the computer-generated work as a work-for-hire to Thaler as the owner of the Creativity Machine.

The Work was generated in 2012 by “Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Science,” or DABUS, an AI system developed by Thaler. In an August 2019 letter, the Office refused to register the copyright, finding that DABUS lacked the “human authorship necessary to support a copyright claim.” Thaler submitted requests for reconsideration in September 2019, May 2020, and February 2022, suggesting that “the Office’s human authorship requirement is unconstitutional and unsupported by case law,” which the Office rejected for lack of “traditional human authorship.” In the 2020 determination, the Office again concluded that the Work “lacked the required human authorship necessary to sustain a claim in copyright” because Thaler had “provided no evidence on sufficient creative input or intervention by a human author in the Work.” The Office also noted that it would not “abandon its longstanding interpretation of the Copyright Act, Supreme Court, and lower court judicial precedent that a work meets the legal and formal requirements of copyright protection only if it is created by a human author.”

In stating its conclusion in its 2022 denial of reconsideration and affirming the initial refusal to register the copyright claim in the Work, the Office affirmed the prevailing legal rule for a century that copyright law protects “the fruits of intellectual labor” that “are founded in the creative powers of the [human] mind.” U.S. Copyright Office, Compendium (Third) of U.S. Copyright Office Practices § 306 (quoting Trade-Mark Cases (1879)). Additionally, the Office noted (as a corollary) that it does not register works produced by a machine or mere mechanical process that operates without any creative input or intervention from a human author. Accordingly, Thaler had to either: (1) provide evidence that the Work was a product of human authorship; or (2) provide an argument convincing the Office to depart from the prevailing legal rule, and the Office noted that Thaler accomplished neither. Given the concerns that IP policy is lagging behind technology, the Office “is exploring open questions on copyright registration for works created by humans in conjunction with AI.”

Beyond the Thaler Determination: The Next Frontier of Co-Creation

In 2022, OpenAI released the AI text generator ChatGPT and the AI image generator DALL-E 2. ChatGPT is a natural language processing tool that allows users to have human-like conversations, receive assistance with tasks such as composing code, essays, and emails, and automate otherwise mundane operations. DALL-E 2 is a language model that creates images from user-submitted text captions for a wide range of concepts expressible in natural language. These tools and other generative AI tools made available by OpenAI’s competitors have raised questions about the protectability of works created by humans in conjunction with AI.

In the December 2022 interview, Director Perlmutter, noting that the Office applied existing case law holding that human authorship is a prerequisite for copyright protection in the Thaler determinations, states that the more challenging issues will involve a component of human creativity. Once the human element is involved, the question becomes whether it rises to the level of authorship under existing case law. A complication is that the Office must rely solely on the facts presented in an application for copyright registration as it currently has no way to verify whether an AI system has been appropriately credited in a copyright application.

Recently, the Office began proceedings to cancel a copyright registration it initially issued to Kristina Kashtanova for her AI-assisted graphic novel “Zarya of the Dawn.” The novel includes AI-generated images which Kashtanova created using Midjourney, an AI software platform that generates image outputs based on text inputs. The Office commenced its move to cancel the registration after public disclosures that the novel was in part composed of AI-generated images that were not disclosed in the copyright application. The Office can move to cancel a registration if the authorship is insufficiently creative or the work does not contain authorship subject to copyright on the grounds that the registration is invalid under the applicable law and regulations, 37 C.F.R. § 201.7.

In addition to the question of copyrightability, other emerging AI-related questions that the Office and the Courts are likely to increasingly face include: (1) what level of creative input must exist for an AI-generated work to constitute human “authorship” to support a copyright claim; and (2) should AI-created works that are derived from analyzing existing works (such as those used for training data) or styles require a license from the original author to avoid a claim of copyright infringement, and to what extent do principles of fair use apply?

Link to the rest at Lexology

PG notes that the authors of the OP are associated with the Intellectual Property Group at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, a large law firm with offices in Seattle and a great many other locations.


From The Wall Street Journal:

On Feb. 17, 1952, two men set off from Maine’s Monhegan Island in a 30-foot vessel loaded down with 5,000 pounds of crated lobsters. The old salts on the island had tried to dissuade Harland Davis and James Haigh from making the trip; the weather was iffy and a storm seemed likely. But the two men were eager to get the live lobsters to market and get themselves back to their wives and daughters on the mainland, and anyway the Sea Breeze had made the 11-mile crossing many times before without incident. This time, however, not halfway to its destination of Port Clyde, the vessel was engulfed by blinding snow and heaving seas and bludgeoned to the bottom.

Davis and Haigh thus became the first victims in Maine of the two-day tempest that Cathie Pelletier anatomizes in “Northeaster,” a historical re-creation of personal experiences so dramatic that they have lingered for decades in local and family lore. The 1952 storm wreaked havoc in New England, destroying wharfs, smashing boats, trapping tens of thousands of travelers and producing seas off Cape Cod so massive that two gargantuan tankers split in half. The daring Coast Guard rescue of the survivors aboard those sundered vessels, and the famous heroism of coxswain Bernard Webber, are detailed in “The Finest Hours,” a 2009 bestseller that was made into a movie of the same name a few years later.

Ms. Pelletier doesn’t depict scenes of exceptional valor; nor does she write of people who became household names. Her characters are ordinary people. Explaining her narrative choices, she twice evokes Will Durant’s description of civilization as a stream with banks: “The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record,” while on the banks, unheralded, “people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry.” There’s no lovemaking in “Northeaster,” but there is a smattering of poetry, along with descriptions of homes and children and men and women whose lives were altered—and in some cases ended—when the storm picked up power off North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Ms. Pelletier, a novelist and nonfiction writer from northern Maine, has drawn on contemporaneous testimonies and the remembrances of adult children, friends and relatives to draw detailed portraits of 10 people who were caught in the storm. To add texture and drama to these stories, she puts what must surely be speculative words (and foods) into the mouths of her subjects—to which we might say, well, fair enough, since “Northeaster” is not a work of academic exactitude but a kind of oral history.

. . . .

We meet Hazel Tardiff, a heavily pregnant housewife in the coastal shipbuilding town of Bath, who, as the weather shifts, places a dish of homemade pickle relish on the table and tells her daughter to call her husband and son to supper. We’re introduced to Sonny Pomelow, a 15-year-old Boy Scout from a hardscrabble family in the inland town of Brownville, who catches a ride with an ill-fated vehicle. We follow Paul Delaney, a 19-year-old Navy radio operator who borrows a car to take a girl to the movies in Bar Harbor and winds up marooned for three days under almost 12 feet of snow. We also get to know the doomed men on the Sea Breeze and see the anguish of their families and friends after the Coast Guard hauls their corpses from the frigid waters of Muscongus Bay.

Ms. Pelletier interleaves short chapters about her principal characters with dashes of historical bricolage and running accounts of what was unfolding elsewhere in Maine during the storm. In towns “famous for grievances,” residents had complaints: “Why wasn’t the daily newspaper on the front steps? Why weren’t the streets cleared? One man, in the first evening of the storm, called his town office to complain that he was not just starving, he was also out of cigarettes.” Eventually the snowfall was so intense that plows broke down and the highways had to be closed, sealing the Pine Tree State off from the rest of the country and stranding thousands of people at the Howard Johnson’s in Kennebunk, the only eatery on the Maine Turnpike.

There’s a problem, though, with the Durantist “river bank” approach to a disaster story like the one that is presented in “Northeaster.” It produces a mismatch for the reader. In life, each of us has an interior life that’s informed by our tastes and experiences; each of us has peculiar attributes that make us dear to the people who love us. But if we perish in a calamity, what’s interesting to strangers is the manner of our deaths.

So while Ms. Pelletier has taken great trouble to bring vibrancy to her subjects, her efforts do not always pay off. For instance, she tells how Sonny Pomelow liked to hang out with his friends in the red Naugahyde booths at the local Rexall drugstore, poring over hot-rod magazines and fantasizing about driving to California. Unfortunately, this kind of granular information can feel extraneous to the callous, thrill-seeking reader, for whom the teenager matters primarily because in the maelstrom of snow a plow train hit the car he was riding in and killed him.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

FBI director warns about Beijing’s AI program

From AINews:

FBI Director Christopher Wray has warned about the national security threat posed by Beijing’s AI program.

During a panel at the World Economic Forum, Wray explained that Beijing’s AI program “is not constrained by the rule of law”.

Wray says Beijing has “a bigger hacking program than any other nation” and will use machine learning to further boost the capabilities of its state-sponsored hackers.

Much like nuclear expertise, AI can be used to benefit the world or harm it.

“I have the same reaction every time,” Wray explained. “I think, ‘Wow, we can do that.’ And then, ‘Oh god, they can do that.’”

Beijing is often accused of influencing other countries through its infrastructure investments. Washington largely views China’s expanding economic influence and military might as America’s main long-term security challenge.

Wray says that Beijing’s AI program “is built on top of the massive troves of intellectual property and sensitive data that they’ve stolen over the years.”

Furthermore, it will be used “to advance that same intellectual property theft, to advance the repression that occurs not just back home in mainland China but increasingly as a product they export around the world.”

Link to the rest at AINews