Tech Firms Tweak Work Tools to Grapple with ‘Digital Exhaustion’

From The Wall Street Journal:

Big tech companies— Microsoft Corp. , Adobe Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google among them—are adding new twists to their work tools to fight Zoom fatigue and general burnout as working from home stretches into a second year for millions of people.

Microsoft, for example, has introduced a setting in its Outlook email and calendar to prevent back-to-back video meetings by automatically carving out breaks in between. The downtime can be programmed for 5, 10 or 15 minutes, for example, and can be set by an individual or organization.

A prototype tool in the Adobe Workfront platform uses artificial intelligence to help reorganize users’ days based on priorities they have set and any last-minute changes to their personal and business schedules.

. . . .

And in March, Google announced updates to its Workspace tools to demarcate working hours and create recurring “away” notifications to lessen digital interruptions.

Tweaks like these aim to address concerns on work-life balance from both employees and employers as remote work continues. With employees never leaving the “office,” work has seeped into all hours of the day, plus weekends; the lack of in-person time with colleagues has resulted in a glut of video meetings.

Employers have taken some steps on their own. Citigroup Inc., for instance, is experimenting with new policies like banning video meetings on Fridays. And software firm BetterCloud Inc. is using a bot on Slack to ask attendees of some virtual meetings whether the gatherings were worthwhile.

. . . .

“The acceleration that happened during Covid, where suddenly the only way to connect with others was through technology, it was clear that we needed to be better at using it and defining our own boundaries,” said Nellie Hayat, head of workplace transformation at VergeSense Inc., a workplace analytics platform. As well, that effort would have to be “synchronized with others,” she added.

Outlook’s new break setting dovetails with the virtual commute feature Microsoft added to its Teams tools to delineate the start and finish of employees’ workdays.

“This joins that set of things that’s meant to help them kind of develop the practices that we need to have to manage this digital exhaustion that they feel,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president of Microsoft 365, which houses Outlook and Teams.

. . . .

In its March announcement, Google included a new calendar entry called Focus Time, which decreases the notifications it shows users during stretches designated for uninterrupted work and changes their status in chat to “Do not disturb.” The feature will be out this year.

Some of the new features seem more geared to what an organization wants for its employees than what employees might choose for themselves, user experience designers said.

Stopping all notifications from every workplace tool during a break, for example, would be more beneficial than creating rest moments between meetings, said Emma Greenwood, strategy director at I&CO Group LLC, a strategy and invention firm.

. . . .

Fewer video meetings and more breaks can help, but they don’t address the burnout and isolation of at-home workers in the pandemic.

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

PG suspects the consequences of extended periods of social isolation in its various garbs under a variety of shut-down, shelter-in-place, social-distancing, etc., etc., etc., have resulted in lower energy levels and decreased concentration, lower productivity, etc., to a greater extent than the increased pressure of remote work (which is a subset of the social isolation problem) has by itself.

See Languishing for more information.

Full-time authors may have suffered less disruption of their work routines than office workers, but the languishing effect of social isolation is, PG suspects, impacting the work of authors as well.

Spatial Abolition and Disability Justice

From Public Books:

In her new book, What Can a Body Do? How We Meet the Built World, the artist and design researcher Sara Hendren describes an assignment her engineering students undertook to redesign a lectern. Hendren introduces us to Amanda Cachia, a curator with a form of dwarfism, who challenges the students to think beyond the simple engineering specifications of an imaginary ideal form and to design specifically for her needs. One can imagine the range of solutions that eager engineering students might have offered up: a robotic lectern, or one outfitted with a lift. Usually, Hendren writes, Cachia has to undergo the ritual of “bringing her body to the dimensions of a room at odds with her physicality,” typically involving a pedestal that she stands on to reach the height of an existing lectern.

Instead, Cachia wanted a lectern scaled to her dimensions, one that she could easily transport to her speaking engagements. Hendren’s students responded to this call; now, each time Cachia speaks at this new lectern, the audience must adapt to her. Changing that relationship—between speaker, stage, and audience—changes the possibilities of the room itself. The lectern no longer sits above the heads of those seated in a room. As a result of this spatial shift, an audience member would likely become very aware of all the other sensory details: how the seating is arranged, the height of doorknobs and tables, the various ambient sounds. This newly oriented space highlights how disability is not a lack, but a space of possibility for other ways of being and noticing. “Ability and disability may be in part about the physical state of the body,” Hendren writes, “but they are also produced by the relative flexibility or rigidity of the built world.”

The most famous political achievement of the disability justice movement in the United States has been the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a landmark civil rights law that prohibited discrimination based on disability. It is, arguably, one of the most influential policy forces on the shape and form of the urban built environment, mandating things we now take for granted, such as curb cuts and pedestrian signals. According to the ADA framework, an adequate solution to Cachia’s predicament might have been to require the lecture hall to have a platform ready at all times, one that could be adjusted to enable speakers, regardless of their physical dimensions, to reach the microphone.

Yet, as scholars such as Aimi Hamraie and Jos Boys have shown, stories of curb cuts, ramps, and other design innovations are incomplete, and have spun into a popular narrative of universal or inclusive design. This narrative risks turning the politics of disability into simple matters of logistics and compliance. It erases real class, gendered, and racial differences in terms of access to space, and it ignores the different types of “physical, sensory, and mental access needs of different disabled users.” There are deep flaws in an accessibility framework; as the disability and transformative-justice scholar Mia Mingus says, “We don’t want to simply join the ranks of the privileged; we want to dismantle those ranks and the systems that maintain them.”

These are key themes that underpin Sara Hendren’s What Can a Body Do?, which explores and expands on the relationships between the built world, design, and disabilities. If Hendren is reframing design and how we approach the designed and built environment through the lens of disability justice, Liat Ben-Moshe extends that lens to our geographies—focusing more fully on spatial relationships—in her new book, Decarcerating Disability: Deinstitutionalization and Prison Abolition. A critical geographer and prison abolitionist, Ben-Moshe provides a groundbreaking connection between disability justice and prison abolition.

Disabled people—nuanced and complex individuals who are forced to both adapt to the world and make the world adapt to them—have a rich history of influencing the designed and built world. Yet there is a lack of nuance and complexity to how disability is understood and conceptualized in both academic and popular portrayals. Revealing the multiple histories of disability justice—as Hendren and Ben-Moshe do—can expand how we think of and design the places we build beyond the simple concepts of access and inclusion, to encompass questions of care, vulnerability, agency, maintenance, and difference.

The Social Model of Disability

As the noted disability studies theorist Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, author of Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature (1997), has said, “I want to move disability from the realm of medicine into that of political minorities, to recast it from a form of pathology to a form of ethnicity.” Disability, as a human condition, is salient almost everywhere once you learn how to notice it.

. . . .

By analyzing case studies such as that of Amanda Cachia’s new lectern, Hendren illustrates a powerful idea that holds potential for the fields of urbanism, architecture, and design: the social model of disability, which holds that being disabled is not simply a medical diagnosis, but a social phenomenon. For some, this can be a radical perspective, one that has many implications—notably, that disability is a “misfitting” of bodies and minds to the world one encounters and confronts. When that world is inflexible to people’s diverse needs, Hendren says, this misfitting limits certain individuals’ abilities to do things. In order to ground us in the concept of misfitting and the social model of disability, Hendren must first explain the history of “normalcy,” as it relates to the body.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Let’s see, if disabled individuals are to be though of as a different ethnic group than those who are not disabled, how does that make things better?

For one thing, we know that different ethnic groups always respect the values and rights of each other. We know that places where those of different ethnicity live in close proximity with one another have always been models of comity and good will.

Serbs and Croatians? Best buddies whenever they encounter each other.

Turks and Armenians? – One big happy family.

Hutu and Tutsi? – Always behaving in accordance with the inherent sisterhood and brotherhood that exists among all Africans

The Austro-Hungarian Empire – 15 major languages plus an unknown number of minor languages and dialects – would still be the world’s leading multi-ethnic power if it hadn’t collapsed into chaos in 1918.

World War I – no ethnic groups fighting there

World War II – ditto

Suffice to say, PG is not impressed with the benefits of defining disability as an ethnicity or any remotely similar solution to the problems of the disabled or the problems the larger society imposes on the disabled.

An old saying from Abraham Maslow, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” applies to some (not all) people with a facility for language. Basically, such folk love to solve problems linguistically by doing things like creating ethnic groups and constructing solutions from concepts that work perfectly in word and logic form, but not necessarily in real life. More than a few academics fall into such groups.

PG readily confesses that, as an attorney, he is a member of a group known for its facility with language. Laws are created by legislatures as written documents. Attorneys argue on behalf of their clients using spoken and written words. When a judge makes an order, she/he often says what the order is and then reduces the order to a written document.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this sort of structure of information and mandates so long as one realizes that it may not always work as anticipated in real life.

Those who commit crimes are punished in large part to deter them and others who may be similarly inclined from violating the law in the future. A felon may be incarcerated until, presumably she/he understands the wrongness of the crime committed and the fact that such actions will be punished severely. Once they’ve finished their punishment as specified by the law and court order(s), they’re ready to return into society as a free person.

If the words of the law and the courts worked as intended, no criminal would commit another crime. The punishment would fit the crime and the punishment would effectively prevent such a crime from occurring again because one and all would understand that the nature of the punishment far outweighed any sort of benefit a wrong-doer might gain from violating the law.

This all works great on paper. The words are carefully crafted by legislators elected to do what the public wants them to do – prevent crimes from happening.

However, in a phrase used by semanticists, “The word is not the thing.”

What’s the solution to Ms. Cachia’s problem with standard podiums if she’s not to be classified as a member of a new ethnic group or protected by a better version or stricter enforcement of The Americans with Disabilities Act?

A bit of research by PG disclosed an actual solution to Ms. Cachia’s issues. He doesn’t think any of the word-spinners in the OP were involved in creating the solution.

The solution was not words, but rather a thing – a portable lectern made from apparently inexpensive materials that Ms. Cachia could bring with her to her speaking opportunities. The lecturn provides a platform of an appropriate height so she could speak and present comfortably while referring to notes or other materials she might wish to consult during her presentations.

From an appearance standpoint, the lectern would complement Ms. Cachia’s physical appearance in the same manner as a conventional lectern would complement an individual of more commonly-found dimensions.

To the best of PG’s knowledge, no new ethnic groups, laws or regulations were created during the design and construction of Ms. Cachia’s new lectern.

Here are a couple of images of her lectern and Ms. Cachia using it:

How to Make Aliens and Robots Fight Better

From SWFA:

Human martial arts styles are biased: they’re specifically designed to fight other humans. Of course, watching Neo trade Kung Fu blows with Agent Smith is awesome, but perhaps our focus on human fighting systems in sci-fi affects our imagining of alien/robot bodies. Put simply, it makes composing fight scenes easier. By designing human-shaped Chitauri, we can then storyboard the stupendous Battle of New York with relative ease: a human Avenger like Black Widow can use the same techniques against a Chitauri that she’d use against the average street thug.

The prevalence of human-to-humanlike alien combat in sci-fi has even been lampooned in Star Trek: Lower Decks, where First Officer Jack Ransom needs only his barrel roll and double-handed swinging-fist to throw down–good-natured pokes at the limited repertoire Captain Kirk demonstrates when fighting an anthropomorphic Gorn (TOS, “Arena”) Yet people in the speculative fiction galaxy aren’t cookie-cutter humanoid, and their fighting styles shouldn’t be either.

Enter: Spec-Fic-Fu—the art of using martial philosophy to create enhanced sci-fi battles.

Primary Targets

First, consider an attacker’s primary targets. What must be protected? What should be attacked? Do your alien characters have the equivalent of Kung Fu paralysis points? Is your robot’s CPU located in its abdomen, making that a primary area to attack?

Breaking a human’s nose makes the eyes water, compromising vision and fighting effectiveness. Breaking a person’s xiphoid process could cause internal bleeding—death. 

Imagine a Klingon dueling a Starship Troopers arachnid. The bug bashes the Klingon’s nose! But the Klingon doesn’t cry—they don’t have tear ducts. The Klingon severs an insectoid leg with his bat’leth! Yet as stated in the film’s “Know Your Foe” PSA, a bug’s still “86% combat effective” with a missing leg. Instead, we should “aim for the nerve stem” to “put it down for good.”

Video game boss fights are actually master classes in attacking primary targets. Consider Samus Aran vs. Ridley. The player-as-Samus utilizes a fight sequence to expose Ridley’s critical areas. This sequence of movements is a technique—like those human martial artists drill in ordered rows. Techniques are algorithms for exposing an opponent’s primary targets. A jab-cross might dislodge the opponent’s guards, so a swinging roundhouse can strike the cartilaginous temple. 

What techniques do your alien or robot protagonists use to exploit an enemy’s vulnerabilities–especially enemies of differing physical morphologies?

Physicality:

Differing bodies mean differing fighting behaviors. In The Mandalorian, IG-11 rotates torso and arms to shoot in all directions. He doesn’t block or dodge gunfire. General Grievous uses four arms to wield gyrating lightsabers until Obi Wan severs two hands, forcing Grievous to adapt. 

Consider bodily modalities. The Decepticon Starscream charges the enemy in jet-form, then transforms into a robot, letting forward momentum add to his attack. Conversely, he leaps away in jet-mode, blasting opponents with his backdraft.

Also consider what’s expendable. An alien with one heart and three lungs might, on being forced onto a spike, try to fall so a lung is punctured yet the heart is spared. An octopus-alien with regenerating limbs might charge a lightsaber with abandon, regrowing whatever’s lopped off. If your robot warrior is T-1000-like—i.e., modular—it might form separate fighting components. 

Even animalistic beings like Godzilla or Mothra fight according to physicality. Earth bulls lock horns; pythons entwine and squeeze. 

Link to the rest at SWFA

The Candidate from Yale

“O your college paper, I suppose?”

“No, I never wrote even a letter to the editor.”

“Took prizes for essays?”

“No, I never wrote if I could help it.”

“But you like to write?”

“I’d like to learn to write.”

“You say you are two months out of college–what college?”

“Yale.”

“Hum–I thought Yale men went into something commercial; law or banking or
railroads. ‘Leave hope of fortune behind, ye who enter here’ is over the
door of this profession.”

“I haven’t the money-making instinct.”

“We pay fifteen dollars a week at the start.”

“Couldn’t you make it twenty?”

The Managing Editor of the News-Record turned slowly in his chair
until his broad chest was full-front toward the young candidate for the
staff. He lowered his florid face slowly until his double chin swelled out
over his low “stick-up” collar. Then he gradually raised his eyelids until
his amused blue eyes were looking over the tops of his glasses, straight
into Howard’s eyes.

“Why?” he asked. “Why should we?”

Howard’s grey eyes showed embarrassment and he flushed to the line of his
black hair which was so smoothly parted in the middle. “Well–you see–the
fact is–I need twenty a week. My expenses are arranged on that scale. I’m
not clever at money matters. I’m afraid I’d get in a mess with only
fifteen.”

“My dear young man,” said Mr. King, “I started here at fifteen dollars a
week. And I had a wife; and the first baby was coming.”

“Yes, but your wife was an energetic woman. She stood right beside you and
worked too. Now I have only myself.”

Mr. King raised his eyebrows and became a rosier red. He was evidently
preparing to rebuke this audacious intrusion into his private affairs by a
stranger whose card had been handed to him not ten minutes before. But
Howard’s tone and manner were simple and sincere. And they happened to
bring into Mr. King’s mind a rush of memories of his youth and his wife.
She had married him on faith. They had come to New York fifteen years
before, he to get a place as reporter on the News-Record, she to
start a boarding-house; he doubting and trembling, she with courage and
confidence for two. He leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes and opened
the book of memory at the place where the leaves most easily fell apart:

He is coming home at one in the morning, worn out, sick at heart from the
day’s buffetings. As he puts his key into the latch, the door opens. There
stands a handsome girl; her face is flushed; her eyes are bright; her lips
are held up for him to kiss; she shows no trace of a day that began hours
before his and has been a succession of exasperations and humiliations
against which her sensitive nature, trained in the home of her father, a
distinguished up-the-state Judge, gives her no protection, “Victory,” she
whispers, her arms about his neck and her head upon his coat collar.
“Victory! We are seventy-two cents ahead on the week, and everything paid
up!”

Mr. King opened his eyes–they had been closed less than five seconds.
“Well, let it be twenty–though just why I’m sure I don’t know. And we’ll
give you a four weeks’ trial. When will you begin?”

“Now,” answered the young man, glancing about the room. “And I shall try to
show that I appreciate your consideration, whether I deserve it or not.”

It was a large bare room, low of ceiling. Across one end were five windows
overlooking from a great height the tempest that rages about the City Hall
day and night with few lulls and no pauses. Mr. King’s roll-top desk was at
the first window. Under each of the other windows was a broad flat table
desk–for copy-readers. At the farthest of these sat the City Editor–thin,
precise-looking, with yellow skin, hollow cheeks, ragged grey-brown
moustache, ragged scant grey-brown hair and dark brown eyes. He looked
nervously tired and, because brown was his prevailing shade, dusty. He rose
as Mr. King came with young Howard.

“Here, Mr. Bowring, is a young man from Yale. He wishes you to teach him
how to write. Mr. Howard, Mr. Bowring. I hope you gentlemen will get on
comfortably together.”

Mr. King went back to his desk. Mr. Bowring and Howard looked each at the
other. Mr. Bowring smiled, with good-humour, without cordiality. “Let me
see, where shall we put you?” And his glance wandered along the rows of
sloping table-desks–those nearer the windows lighted by daylight; those
farther away, by electric lamps. Even on that cool, breezy August afternoon
the sunlight and fresh air did not penetrate far into the room.

“Do you see the young man with the beautiful fair moustache,” said Mr.
Bowring, “toiling away in his shirt-sleeves–there?”

“Near the railing at the entrance?”

“Precisely. I think I will put you next him.” Mr. Bowring touched a button
on his desk and presently an office boy–a mop of auburn curls, a pert face
and gangling legs in knickerbockers–hurried up with a “Yes, Sir?”

“Please tell Mr. Kittredge that I would like to speak to him and–please
scrape your feet along the floor as little as possible.”

The boy smiled, walking away less as if he were trying to terrorize park
pedestrians by a rush on roller skates. Kittredge and Howard were made
acquainted and went toward their desks together. “A few moments–if you
will excuse me–and I’m done,” said Kittredge motioning Howard into the
adjoining chair as he sat and at once bent over his work.

Howard watched him with interest, admiration and envy. The reporter was
perhaps twenty-five years old–fair of hair, fair of skin, goodlooking in a
pretty way. His expression was keen and experienced yet too self-complacent
to be highly intelligent. He was rapidly covering sheet after sheet of soft
white paper with bold, loose hand-writing. Howard noticed that at the end
of each sentence he made a little cross with a circle about it, and that he
began each paragraph with a paragraph sign. Presently he scrawled a big
double cross in the centre of the sheet under the last line of writing and
gathered up his sheets in the numbered order. “Done, thank God,” he said.
“And I hope they won’t butcher it.”

“Do you send it to be put in type?” asked Howard.

“No,” Kittredge answered with a faint smile. “I hand it in to Mr.
Bowring–the City Editor, you know. And when the copyreaders come at six,
it will be turned over to one of them. He reads it, cuts it down if
necessary, and writes headlines for it. Then it goes upstairs to the
composing room–see the box, the little dumb-waiter, over there in the
wall?–well, it goes up by that to the floor above where they set the type
and make up the forms.”

“I’m a complete ignoramus,” said Howard, “I hope you’ll not mind my trying
to find out things. I hope I shall not bore you.”

“Glad to help you, I’m sure. I had to go through this two years ago when I
came here from Princeton.”

Kittredge “turned in” his copy and returned to his seat beside Howard.

“What were you writing about, if I may ask?” inquired Howard.

“About some snakes that came this morning in a ‘tramp’ from South America.
One of them, a boa constrictor, got loose and coiled around a windlass. The
cook was passing and it caught him. He fainted with fright and the beast
squeezed him to death. It’s a fine story–lots of amusing and dramatic
details. I wrote it for a column and I think they won’t cut it. I hope not,
anyhow. I need the money.”

“You are paid by the column?”

“Yes. I’m on space–what they call a space writer. If a man is of any
account here they gradually raise him to twenty-five dollars a week and
then put him on space. That means that he will make anywhere from forty to
a hundred a week, or perhaps more at times. The average for the best is
about eighty.”

“Eighty dollars a week,” thought Howard. “Fifty-two times eighty is
forty-one hundred and sixty. Four thousand a year, counting out two weeks
for vacation.” To Howard it seemed wealth at the limit of imagination. If
he could make so much as that!–he who had grave doubts whether, no matter
how hard he worked, he would ever wrench a living from the world.

Just then a seedy young man with red hair and a red beard came through the
gate in the railing, nodded to Kittredge and went to a desk well up toward
the daylight end of the room.

“That’s the best of ’em all,” said Kittredge in a low tone. “His name is
Sewell. He’s a Harvard man–Harvard and Heidelberg. But drink! Ye gods, how
he does drink! His wife died last Christmas–practically starvation. Sewell
disappeared–frightful bust. A month afterward they found him under an
assumed name over on Blackwell’s Island, doing three months for disorderly
conduct. He wrote a Christmas carol while his wife was dying. It began
“Merrily over the Snow” and went on about light hearts and youth and joy
and all that–you know, the usual thing. When he got the money, she didn’t
need it or anything else in her nice quiet grave over in Long Island City.
So he ‘blew in’ the money on a wake.”

Sewell was coming toward them. Kittredge called out: “Was it a good story,
Sam?”

“Simply great! You ought to have seen the room. Only the bed and the
cook-stove and a few dishes on a shelf–everything else gone to the
pawnshop. The man must have killed the children first. They lay side by
side on the bed, each with its hands folded on its chest–suppose the
mother did that; and each little throat was cut from ear to ear–suppose
the father did that. Then he dipped his paint brush in the blood and daubed
on the wall in big scrawling letters: ‘There is no God!’ Then he took his
wife in his arms, stabbed her to the heart and cut his own throat. And
there they lay, his arms about her, his cheek against hers, dead. It was
murder as a fine art. Gad, I wish I could write.”

Kittredge introduced Howard–“a Yale man–just came on the paper.”

“Entering the profession? Well, they say of the other professions that
there is always room at the top. Journalism is just the reverse. The room
is all at the bottom–easy to enter, hard to achieve, impossible to leave.
It is all bottom, no top.” Sewell nodded, smiled attractively in spite of
his swollen face and his unsightly teeth, and went back to his work.

“He’s sober,” said Kittredge when he was out of hearing, “so his story is
pretty sure to be the talk of Park Row tomorrow.”

Howard was astonished at the cheerful, businesslike point of view of these
two educated and apparently civilised young men as to the tragedies of
life. He had shuddered at Kittredge’s story of the man squeezed to death by
the snake. Sewell’s story, so graphically outlined, filled him with horror,
made it a struggle for him to conceal his feelings.

“I suppose you must see a lot of frightful things,” he suggested.

“That’s our business. You soon get used to it, just as a doctor does. You
learn to look at life from the purely professional standpoint. Of course
you must feel in order to write. But you must not feel so keenly that you
can’t write. You have to remember always that you’re not there to cheer or
sympathise or have emotions, but only to report, to record. You tell what
your eyes see. You’ll soon get so that you can and will make good stories
out of your own calamaties.”

“Is that a portrait of the editor?” asked Howard, pointing to a grimed
oil-painting, the only relief to the stretch of cracked and streaked white
wall except a few ragged maps.

“That–oh, that is old man Stone–the ‘great condenser.’ He’s there for a
double purpose, as an example of what a journalist should be and as a
warning of what a journalist comes to. After twenty years of fine work at
crowding more news in good English into one column than any other editor
could get in bad English into four columns, he was discharged for
drunkenness. Soon afterwards he walked off the end of a dock one night in a
fog. At least it was said that there was a fog and that he was drunk. I
have my doubts.”

“Cheerful! I have not been in the profession an hour but I have already
learned something very valuable.”

“What’s that?” asked Kittredge, “that it’s a good profession to get out
of?”

“No. But that bad habits will not help a man to a career in journalism any
more than in any other profession.”

Link to the rest at The Great God Success (1901) by John Graham (David Graham Phillips)

In part, the author of The Great God Success, intended his book to be a critical treatment of the crass and shallow world of newspaper publishing in New York City (and elsewhere) and its two great competing publishers, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.

Phillips spent his career in this business. There was no pretense of objectivity or printing anything like both sides of political disagreements in that era’s newspapers. Papers owned by Pulitzer and Hearst (and papers owned by many others) were blatantly biased in their coverage of political issues and personalities.

From Wikipedia:

[David Graham] Phillips worked as a newspaper reporter in Cincinnati, Ohio, before moving on to New York City where he was employed as a reporter for The Sun from 1890 to 1893, then columnist and editor with the New York World until 1902. In his spare time, he wrote a novel, The Great God Success, that was published in 1901. The royalty income enabled him to work as a freelance journalist while continuing to write fiction. Writing articles for various prominent magazines, he began to develop a reputation as a competent investigative journalist. Phillips’ novels often commented on social issues of the day and frequently chronicled events based on his real-life journalistic experiences. He was considered a Progressive and for exposing corruption in the Senate he was labelled a muckraker.

Phillips wrote an article in Cosmopolitan in March 1906, called “The Treason of the Senate,” exposing campaign contributors being rewarded by certain members of the U. S. Senate. The story launched a scathing attack on Rhode Island senator Nelson W. Aldrich, and brought Phillips a great deal of national exposure. This and other similar articles helped lead to the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, initiating popular instead of state-legislature election of U. S. senators.

David Graham Phillips is known for producing one of the most important investigations exposing details of the corruption by big businesses of the Senate, in particular, by the Standard Oil Company. He was among a few other writers during that time that helped prompt President Theodore Roosevelt to use the term “Muckrakers”.

The article inspired journalist Charles Edward Russell to insist to his boss William Randolph Hearst, who had just recently purchased the Cosmopolitan magazine, that he push his journalists to explore the Senate corruption as well. Philips was offered the position to explore more information about the corruption and bring it into the public’s eye. Philips’ brother Harrison and Gustavus Myers were hired as research assistants for Philips. Hearst commented to his readers about Philips starting a series that would reveal the Senate corruption so much, that most Senators would resign. This held true for some of the Senators, such as New York Senators Chauncey M. Depew and Thomas Collier Platt. Philips exposed Depew as receiving more than $50,000 from several companies. He also helped educate the public on how the senators were selected and that it was held in the hands of a few bosses in a tight circle, helping increase the corruption level. As a result of these articles, only four of the twenty-one senators that Philips wrote about were still in office. Philips also had some of the greatest success as a muckraker, because he helped change the U.S. Constitution, with the passage of the 17th Amendment, creating popular election for senators.

His talent for writing was not the only thing that helped him stand out in the newsroom. Philips was known to dress in a white suit with a large chrysanthemum in his lapel.

Phillips’ reputation cost him his life in January 1911, when he was shot outside the Princeton Club at Gramercy Park in New York City. The killer was a Harvard-educated musician named Fitzhugh Coyle Goldsborough, a violinist in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra who came from a prominent Maryland family. Goldsborough believed that Phillips’s novel The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig had cast literary aspersions on his family. To be more precise, Phillips was shot and killed by a paranoid who levied the false accusation that Phillips had used the paranoid’s sister “as a model for the complaisant heroine” of the novel. When confronting Phillips, Goldsborough yelled, “Here you go!” After Phillips collapsed, he yelled something akin to “And here I go!”, shooting himself in the head. He died as a result of his injuries. Admitted to Bellevue Hospital, Phillips died a day later. A 1992 novel by Daniel D. Victor, The Seventh Bullet, imagines a Sherlock Holmes investigation into Phillips’s murder.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

The difference between children’s and adult books

From Nathan Bransford:

Authors often get into trouble when they’re writing books for children or adults and end up blending the two in an awkward way. I’m here to clear up confusion around the differences between children’s books and adult books.

Particularly when authors write “coming of age” novels or fictionalized versions of their childhood, they sometimes end up writing novels that feel like they’re not quite for adults and not quite for children. Others set out to write crossover novels that appeal to both adults and children that wind up feeling like strange mishmashes.

While some children’s novels do indeed become popular with adults and become crossover successes like The Hunger Games and The Hate U Give, novels need to have a base readership. There aren’t really crossover publishers, just adult publishers and children’s publishers, with some “new adult” sprinkled in. And even if you’re self- or hybrid publishing, it’s very helpful to know your genre.

If you twist yourself into knots trying to make your novel appeal to everyone it might end up appealing to no one. If you’re writing for adults, write for adults. If you’re writing for children, write for children. If it crosses over, that’s great.

So what’s the difference between a children’s novel and an adult novel, and how do you avoid writing a novel that’s not quite for adults and not quite for children? How do you figure out what kind of a novel you’re really writing if you’re currently straddling these lines? What do you do if parts of your novel are from a child’s POV but it’s adult on the whole?

I’m here to help.

It’s not about the protagonist’s age

A common misconception about what makes a novel an adult or children’s book is that it’s ultimately about the age of the protagonist. Not the case!

There are plenty of novels featuring young protagonists that really feel more like adult novels, whether that’s Catcher in the Rye, Carrie, or the opening of Where the Crawdads Sing. Just because you have a child at the center of the events doesn’t necessarily mean you have written a children’s novel.

This can also happen in reverse, particularly in novels that start adult but then flash back to a character’s childhood. A novel that started off feeling like an adult novel can quickly start feeling like it veers into being a children’s book and might confuse a reader about what exactly they’re reading.

So set aside the age of the protagonist. Here’s what matters.

What’s the lens?

The first element to consider is the “lens.” Is the overall voice of the novel a child’s voice experiencing childhood in the moment or is it an adult looking back on childhood from a more mature distance?

Even authors who are explicitly setting out to write a children’s novel sometimes get tripped up on this. They end up inserting accidental adult viewpoints along the lines of “I would learn much later just how important this was.” Think of this as the “Wonder Years” effect, where it’s an adult narrating a child’s experiences.

Other authors might write their child characters the way they see children from their now-adult vantage point rather than writing for the way children see themselves.

So again, set aside the protagonist’s age and think about the lens. If it feels like an adult’s viewpoint it will feel like an adult novel, even/especially if it’s an adult looking back on childhood, and if it feels like a child’s vantage point it will feel more like a children’s novel.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Why IQ Determines Everything in Your Life (the Sad Truth)

From Medium:

“People who boast about their IQ are losers.” — Stephen Hawking

Hawking has a point — nobody likes a sore winner. That being said, the intelligent quotient (IQ) test is one of the most valid and reliable psychometrics ever created.

According to the mental health website verywell Mind, “An IQ test is an assessment that measures a range of cognitive abilities and provides a score that is intended to serve as a measure of an individual’s intellectual abilities and potential.”

. . . .

High IQ = Better Life

Research has shown that high IQ leads to more money, increased success, and longer, healthier life in general. One historic study detailed the benefits of high IQ:

  • The average income of Terman’s subjects in 1955 was an impressive $33,000 compared to a national average of $5,000.
  • Two-thirds had earned college degrees, while a large number had gone on to attain post-graduate and professional degrees. Many of these had become doctors, lawyers, business executives, and scientists.

In case you were wondering, the average IQ score is 100. And anything above 140 is considered a high or genius-level IQ. Einstein’s IQ was 160. Jacob Barnett’s IQ is 170. Barnett was a child prodigy who graduated college at age 10.

He’s now an astrophysicist at age 22.

. . . .

The Truth About IQ

Studies show that most of our intelligence is genetic. However, IQ can be increased and there seems to be one surefire way to do it —

“Just do it.” — Nike

Yes, no jokes, nothing up my sleeves, this is the foolproof method to hacking your IQ — “just doing it.” Ok, more specifically, doing activities such as playing music, exercising, reading, learning, adventuring, exploring — all of it, JUST DO IT!

Exercise, for instance, boosts neuroplasticity, which is the process of your brain making connections and creating new neurons.

Want to learn a new language? Why not exercise. A 2017 study conducted by the University of Zurich in Switzerland revealed the process of learning a new language is expedited by physical exercise.

The study looked at college-aged Chinese men and women who were trying to learn English. Those who rode exercise bikes at a gentle pace outperformed those in vocabulary tests who did no exercise at all.

Musicians Also Have Higher IQs.

Vanderbilt University psychologists Crystal Gibson, Bradley Folley, and Sohee Park found that professionally trained musicians use both the left and the right sides of their frontal cortex more heavily than the average person.

“We studied musicians because creative thinking is part of their daily experience, said Folley in regards to the study. We found that there were qualitative differences in the types of answers they gave to problems and in their associated brain activity.”

Even your taste in music affects IQ.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG notes that the OP appears to suffer from more than a few correlation = causation issues.

If IQ is a characteristic that you are born with, how can what you do affect your IQ?

If a high IQ is, in fact, a reflection of your ability to score well on IQ and other standardized tests rather than something you were born with, is it an acquired ability.

Assume, as a thought experiment than someone born with an extremely high intelligence never received any sort of education and was not exposed to anyone who came from a background different than his/her own, would that person perform well on an IQ test? Would listening to classical music without doing anything else result in that person performing better on an IQ test?

PG has also known more than a few very bright idiots. One of the most intelligent people he ever worked with, a person who had developed patented technology that was regarded as a brilliant breakthrough in his well-compensated field of expertise, suffered from terrible business judgement and, despite his diligent efforts towards increasing his wealth, his financial circumstances reflected his stupid business decisions.

Related to his prior comment, PG also suggests that there is a difference between intelligence and aptitude for a wide variety of pursuits.

Plus, everybody knows an idiot who graduated with honors from a highly-prestigious university.

Lest anyone mistake PG’s attitude for envy or something similar, PG will reveal that he possesses a high IQ.

He was intrigued by the subject when he was in elementary and high school, but the standard belief of people who may have known his IQ at the time was that it was a bad idea for someone, at least someone of PG’s age and (lack of) maturity to know what their IQ was.

After he graduated from college and was working in Chicago, PG learned that he could pay a nominal sum, take an IQ test and learn what his IQ was. He did that very thing, then accepted the offer of the person who administered the test to join a group of people whose sole common trait was a high IQ.

PG never attended any meetings because he heard they were full of weird and boring people from others who had attended such meetings.

PG has known several people who he and others regarded as geniuses in particular fields – painting, musical performance, acting, film-making, public speaking, litigation and electronics – are examples.

There is no doubt that each of these people were/are intelligent in a conventional sense, but they also have a talent they have worked to develop and which allows them to surpass equally intelligent or more intelligent individuals who either lack that talent or have not put in the work necessary to magnify that talent to a high level.

For PG, the individuals he regards as geniuses in particular fields deserve the title far more than those he has known who simply possess a high IQ score.

The Synergy Between Bookselling and Writing

From Publishers Weekly:

There was a time when I viewed working in a bookstore as just a good side job. I started working in a bookstore at the now-defunct BookCourt in Brooklyn. It had its perks: it was within walking distance from my apartment, there was a Starbucks next door, and it was the sort of work that made me feel smart. I was in my mid-20s, often drifting around to different jobs. Bookseller was a job right out of a 1990s rom-com: smart, hip, discerning.

But it wasn’t long before I realized that there is a lot more soul to bookselling than there is to your standard retail gig. People approached me with deep longings, casual impulses, a need for a particular distraction, and then they would seek counsel: “I’m going to the beach with a bunch of lit snobs, can you find me something that’s fun but also well written?”; “I’m travelling to Turkey, do you have any novels set in Istanbul?”; “I just broke up with my partner, and I need a good cry.”

And so on. I felt less like a retail worker and more like a bartender, or perhaps a fortune-teller. The store regularly held reading events that included free wine handed out in little plastic cocktail cups, so sometimes I even played actual bartender.

Maybe it was the wood shelves, or the old, lumpy couches inviting people to sit and sample the wares. Maybe it was all that paper absorbing the noise, maximizing coziness. Maybe it was the free wine. But as time wore on, those four walls felt less like a store and more like a warm communal hall. As an employee, I gave customers my time, attention, and advice—but astoundingly, I found they also gave the same back to me.

Julia, an author who ran the local Sackett Street Writers Workshop and hosted readings at our store, gave me discounts on classes and later blurbed my novel. Emma, once a coworker and now a bestselling author with her own wonderful store, Books Are Magic, gave me writing tips and recommendation letters. Tim, a local environmental lawyer and fixture at all the store’s reading events, personally helped my husband and I move into our first apartment together in Queens.

Now we live in Long Island, and I work at Sag Harbor Books. Covid is in full swing; we’re not allowed to gather for readings like we used to, but the feeling of community is still strong. People still approach, now in masks, and ask for counsel, their questions similar to, and different from, what they were before: “I haven’t been able to read much since the pandemic started, do you have something that will soothe me?”; “I know it makes no sense, but I can’t get enough of apocalypse stories. What can you recommend?”; “My kids are bouncing off the walls from being stuck inside, do you have anything that will hold their attention?”

And then there are the people who walk into the store with no questions, just hushed awe. They look around with tears brimming in their eyes and say, “It’s been so long since I’ve been in a bookstore.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Light in the Palazzo

From The New York Review of Books:

In 1968 the Roman aristocrat Alessandro Torlonia, Prince of Fucino, applied for a permit to repair the roof of his family’s private museum, a nineteenth-century industrial building just outside the ancient Porta Settimiana in Trastevere that had been transformed by his great-grandfather, another Alessandro, into a sprawling seventy-seven-room venue for the family’s vast collection of ancient sculpture. Decked out in neoclassical splendor, the Torlonia Museum opened in 1876, but only to visitors inscribed in the Golden Book of Italian Nobility, a manuscript in the Central State Archive in Rome that provided the definitive list of Italian peerage. In 1947 Rome’s superintendent of antiquities, Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli, made his way into the sanctum by dressing as a janitor. The disguise played a superbly Tuscan practical joke on his unwitting hosts. Bianchi Bandinelli was a Sienese count who could trace his lineage back to a twelfth-century pope. He could have entered the Torlonia Museum as a nobleman, but the Italian Constitution of 1948 had stripped aristocratic titles of any legal significance and rendered the Golden Book of Italian Nobility a relic of the past.

As superintendent, moreover, Bianchi Bandinelli, a fervent Communist, represented this new, egalitarian Republic of Italy. And the republic, in turn, had its eye on the Torlonia collection: 620 statues, 619 of marble and one of bronze, an assemblage second only to the Vatican Museums in size and quality, and jealously hidden from public view. The humble disguise, by making the superintendent invisible to class-conscious eyes, allowed him to take inventory as he never could have done in his official capacity.

Twenty-one years later, armed with his permit to repair the roof, Prince Alessandro threw an opaque construction fence around the Torlonia Museum and turned its galleries into ninety-three mini-apartments (some of them adapted in recent years to provide classrooms for John Cabot University). He crammed the displaced antiquities into three storerooms; in an anguished open letter to UNESCO in 1979, the journalist Antonio Cederna described them as “stacked on top of each other like junk.” By February 1977, with the backing of a new young superintendent of antiquities, Adriano La Regina, the Roman magistrate Alberto Albamonte had charged Prince Alessandro with illegal construction and damaging cultural heritage (the transport from galleries to storage had been anything but careful), charges that gave the Italian state leverage to sequester first the building and then the collection.

In timeless Roman fashion, the statute of limitations for the charge of illegal construction expired, and an amnesty restored the palazzo and collection to its princely owner, but the charge of damage to Italy’s cultural heritage went all the way to the country’s Supreme Court, which ruled in 1979 that “the transfer [to storage] inflicted material and immaterial damage to the collection,” and that the statues were kept “in cramped, inadequate, dangerous quarters…unbelievably crowded together side by side without any historical relationship or principle of consistency,” “condemned from a cultural standpoint to certain death.” Prince Alessandro responded by letting the Torlonia Marbles continue to languish under a growing layer of filthy Roman dust, shrouded in plastic and malign neglect.

In 2015 the decades-long standoff finally began to show signs of shifting, accelerating after Prince Alessandro’s death in 2017 at the age of ninety-two. In October 2020, after years of negotiation, ninety-one Torlonia Marbles (and the bronze), newly restored and carefully analyzed, emerged from their decades of captivity to inaugurate a newly refurbished wing of Rome’s Capitoline Museums, the Palazzo Caffarelli, built over the site of the colossal ancient temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. “The Torlonia Marbles: Collecting Masterpieces,” an exhibition curated by two eminent classicists, Salvatore Settis and Carlo Gasparri, and designed by the English architect David Chipperfield, opened several months late because of the coronavirus pandemic. Before it closed because of Covid-19 restrictions, a limited number of visitors were admitted into the galleries, but once admitted, they could linger as long as they liked. Wandering among the intimately scaled displays, in that storied setting, with a comfortable number of people rather than a horde, provided as close to a perfect experience as anyone could want. The catalog, in keeping with the momentous occasion, is stylish, dense, and complete in every respect but one: Prince Alessandro has been given the benefit of the ancient Roman rule de mortuis nihil nisi bonum. But at least two of the contributors to the catalog have provided a fuller account of his treatment of the collection to the press.

Link to the rest at The New York Review of Books

The following are from the collection:

Artgate Fondazione Cariplo, CC BY-SA 3.0
Steven Zucker CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Sailko, CC BY 3.0

Relationship Thesaurus Entry: In-laws

From Writers Helping Writers:

Description: an in-law relationship occurs when a marriage or like-union occurs, bringing two families together. The partners in the relationship join the family of their other half and a bond of respect, tolerance, and (hopefully) love comes about. But while the partners choose one another, their family members “come with the package” so to speak, meaning personality or ideological clashes can often cause friction.

Relationship Dynamics:
Below are a wide range of dynamics that may accompany this relationship. Use the ideas that suit your story and work best for your characters to bring about and/or resolve the necessary conflict.

Showing genuine interest in the other’s passions, likes, beliefs, etc.

Engaging in polite conversation

Complimenting the other (on house improvements, a garden, a choice of car, etc.)

Asking about the other’s family members, job, vacations, activities

Pitching in to help when asked (childcare, helping with a move or repair)

Avoiding contentious topics to keep the peace

Offering advice, encouragement, and praise

Asking the other for their opinion or to weigh in with experience

Offering help without expectation or strings

Sharing stories about the loved one in common

Gentle information-gathering about possible changes, or areas of concern

Telling jokes or sharing funny stories

Discussing current events, politics, popular movies, books, or pop culture

Celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and other family events together

Sharing meals or enjoying an outing together

Talking about kids (if there are any)

Prying into the other’s business

Offering unsolicited or unwelcome advice

Being judged by the in laws and feeling that one doesn’t measure up

Suspecting the other is holding back information (or lying) due to a grudge

Believing the other is trying to drive a wedge between the character and the loved one in common (a husband and wife, a mother and daughter, etc.)

Guilt trips: You never come to visit, Sarah’s other grandparents always get her for Christmas and we never do; Why do you always stay at Bill’s house and never ours when you come to town; If you loved me, you’d invite me along on the trip, etc.

Reminding the other of their mistakes or bringing up a past embarrassment

Snide remarks, haughtiness, talking down to the other, arguments

Pushing or shaming the other to adopt beliefs about religion, politics, or ideology

Forcing other relatives to take sides

Asking for something that’s inappropriate (money, to lie for them, etc.)

Going behind the other’s back and then lying about it

Interfering with how the character raises their kids

Thinking the other’s rules are stupid and so refusing to respect them

Making the other feel small (only begrudgingly offering aid or financial support, etc.)

Making demands and ultimatums: If you want to see your grandchildren ever again…

Ignoring the other’s boundaries

Voicing disappointments to make the other feel bad

Sharing gossip about the other to purposely lower their esteem and cause rifts

Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship

A parent who doesn’t like their child’s spouse seeding discord in hopes they break up
Believing the other is a threat, which leads to constant friction

Control issues (over how children are raised, how the other lives, choices that affect family members in common)

The in laws wanting to have a say in everything and the character wishing for autonomy

Disagreements over where to settle down (in laws wanting the couple close when the couple doesn’t share this desire)

Clashing Personality Trait Combinations: Controlling and Independent, judgmental and oversensitive, stingy and generous, proper and rebellious, inflexible and spontaneous, nosy and private, gullible and intelligent

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

The Seven Habits of Successful Writers

From Writer Unboxed:

  1. Write every day. The more you write, the better you’ll get.
  2. Go to a prestigious creative writing program. These programs are competitive and costly, but you’ll get to hone your craft and make connections that will benefit you your life long.
  3. Get rich and famous before you start writing. Having the finances and social capital to quit your job will free up so much of your mental energy. Having the financial freedom to take exotic vacations and party like it’s 1999 will give you so many stories to tell.
  4. Cultivate a love of reading when you’re still a child. This one will be more difficult for those of us who are already adults, but some of the best writing advice I’ve ever gotten was that if something is important to you, you’ll figure out a way to make it happen. If you first fell in love with the written word when you were ten, see if you can make it happen by age nine.
  5. Have at least one parent who is a successful author. Our parents are our first mentors, teaching us life lessons and passing on the benefits of their wisdom without the pain of their mistakes. If your parents are famous authors themselves, that will give you a huge advantage in your own career. Talk to your folks about their literary aspirations and see if they’d consider changing careers from motel manager or retiree to having been a literary darling since age twenty-six.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

The OP is a little snotty, but it’s definitely not conventional advice.

The Long Road to Publication

From The Literary Hub:

Author Anjali Enjeti: When I’m doing the first draft of a book-length work, I try to write two pages a day, every single day until that first draft is done, no matter how terrible those pages are. I rarely use any of those pages later, but it feels good to fill up a blank page. And it gets me into the habit of thinking about the story every day, and figuring out who my characters are, and what they’re meant to do.

. . . .

Interviewer Devi S. Laskar: The road to publication is long and twisted—tell me about some of your hairpin turns and about your waiting game. Clearly something converged since you have two books coming out at once!

AE: I submitted multiple books for eleven years, and during that time I had two different agents, neither of whom sold my books. (One tried very hard and we parted on good terms. Another ghosted me a few months after I signed with him.) I have submitted to quite a few small presses over the years, too. I just couldn’t get anything to work out, and about ten years in, I decided to quit spending so much time submitting. So I cut down substantially. Then the following year, the book proposal I submitted earlier to UGA Press yielded a contract for Southbound. Once I had that in hand, I decided to enter the open submission period for Hub City Press with The Parted Earth. The fact that they’re coming out at the same time is merely coincidental. I sold Southbound on proposal so it took me some time to write the book. And it ended up coinciding with the release of The Parted Earth.

DSL: As an older debut author you must have developed communities who have supported you and lifted you up until this moment ? Or have you been a loner, trying to break into the literary scene? What has been the reaction in the Indian community (i.e. are the aunties aware and proud?) I read that your books have already received several mentions in “must read lists”—what does that feel like?

AE: I am very lucky in this regard. When I began taking writing seriously, especially after I moved to the Atlanta area, I was welcomed into a large, warm community of writers. (Shout out to the Atlanta Writers Club!) I could not have survived as a loner in the literary world. Pre-COVID, I was always attending readings or craft talks or book launches or just meeting other writers for meals. Writing communities have fueled me. I would have never lasted this long in the business without them. A subset of this writing community has been the South Asian writing community, and while there are fewer of us here in Atlanta, the greater South Asian writing community, whether in California or New York or Texas or India, has been crucial to my health and development as a writer.

. . . .

DSL: What does literary success look like to you?

AE: What constitutes literary success has evolved for me significantly over the years. For most of my life, it meant publishing a book. But when I couldn’t get a book deal, I knew I needed to reassess what success in this business looked like. And it became writing essays or articles that demand a more humane world. I’ve covered politics, voting, and elections for the past few years, and aside from enjoying this kind of writing, it holds value. I also teach in an MFA program. It’s some of the most rewarding work I do. My students inspire me to push my boundaries as a writer and I’m blown away by their talent.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG will let visitors to TPV discuss whether writing two pages per day is a good method for writing and finishing a book.

PG will comment that the OP certainly makes the lives of the author and interviewer seem hard from an emotional and guilt perspective.

The State of the Crime Novel in 2021: Writing During the Pandemic

From CrimeReads, the Mystery Writers of America nominees for the 75th annual Edgar Awards discuss the state of crime fiction in 2021:

Elsa Hart (nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award – The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne): Fundamentally. Do you know how fantasy novels usually start with a map of the world? If I could represent my writing self as one of these, it would show me wandering around in a completely different zone than I was a year ago. It’s all still me. I’m just exploring different corners of my imagination.

Nev March (nominated for Best First Novel – Murder in Old Bombay): It was so difficult to concentrate! Living in the midst of a real crisis makes any fictional world recede. It felt like living through a war, changed how we shopped, went out, and interacted with people. For two months I stopped writing to sew 460 cloth face masks for home healthcare workers, friends and neighbors. My first bit of writing after that was a comedic article about making masks on an unwilling sewing machine! It normalized the new, bizarre reality and re-energized my writing.

June Hur (nominated for Best Young Adult – The Silence of Bones): As a mom of a toddler, my writing schedule hasn’t changed too much. I write when my daughter naps and when she’s asleep. I suppose, the only difference is, I’m a bit more exhausted at the end of the day since I’m stuck at home with my daughter all day, trying to figure out how to keep her entertained (rather than going out on playdates, etc). So it takes me a bit longer to get into the writing zone.

. . . .

Ivy Pochoda (nominated for Best Novel – These Women): Well it’s certainly made me more efficient and less of a baby about the whole thing. I used to have a large chunk of the day to myself. But now I’m pretty immersed in brushing up on my kindergarten skills—phonics, addition, social and emotional learning. Which leaves me roughly two and a half hours to write in the late afternoon and that has never been a great time for me to get “creative.” But you know what—I’m doing it. I’m writing in those hours—if I can—and I’m being super easy on myself. A great day is 500 words. (Don’t laugh, you book a year people!) And 500 words is enough for now. I’m not putting too much pressure on myself to be super prolific. Just a few words feels major.

Heather Young (nominated for Best Novel – The Distant Dead): Having my husband and son working and studying from home did disrupt my writing process, but the pandemic hasn’t changed my writing. My work in progress is set in 1943, so I don’t have to worry about COViD-19 in my narrative. In fact, it’s been oddly comforting to spend my writing time in an era when the world confronted threats far more existential than the coronavirus.

Mariah Fredericks (nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award – Death of an American Beauty): I don’t know if it’s changed my writing. It has made me very grateful that I have a job that allows me to escape into other people’s heads and a different time altogether. And that I have my own workspace, where I can physically escape. Much as I love my family.

Taryn Souders (nominated for Best Juvenile – Coop Knows The Scoop): In the past, I found myself being very distracted at home with laundry, or kids, or pets, or anything really. I would often go to a coffee shop to write. With the pandemic though, those options were no longer available. It forced me to write at home. My preference is definitely the coffee shops! I haven’t been nearly as productive as I would like but I’m getting there!

Christina Lane (nominated for Best Critical/Biographical – Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock): Well, I don’t write in the public library anymore, which has slowed my roll. The pandemic has opened up more free time and provided time to explore. I began experimenting at turning my latest book into a mystery-based video game, teaching myself the basics of game-writing. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, if only to experiment with directions of storytelling.

. . . .

David Heska Wanbli Weiden (nominated for Best First Novel – Winter Counts): I write in bursts now. I’ve got my five-a.m. shift, before everyone wakes up, then my mid-morning time, and then an evening stint, if I’m not too exhausted. I really, really miss coffee shops, where I used to do most of my writing. Not only the massive infusion of caffeine, but the buzz and hum of customers and the chance to eavesdrop on random conversations. Having said that, I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of writing short stories again, after grappling with a novel for several years. Not sure if the enforced isolation of the pandemic had anything to do with this, but it’s been an interesting change.

Link to the rest at CrimeReads

Writers on Textbroker, Upwork Earning Signficantly Less Than Those Working Outside Content Mills

From Making a Living Writing:

Let’s face it — 2020 was a disaster for most people.

In addition to the tremendous health impact the pandemic had on our country, there was also a significant economic toll. Tens of millions of Americans lost their jobs due to the pandemic, leaving so many people struggling to find work and make ends meet.

But there’s one industry where, at least on the surface, things weren’t disrupted quite so much — freelance writing.

As freelancers, we already work from home. We set our own hours and make our own rates (unless you’re stuck working in a content mill).

Of course, freelancers still require clients who will actually hire them and pay them, and with so many businesses struggling in 2020, it got us wondering:

What was the impact of COVID-19 on freelance writers? Did their income take a hit? Did they have to lower their rates to accommodate clients who may have been struggling to keep their own businesses afloat?

With that in mind, we surveyed over 700 current US freelance writers to get a better understanding of how they fared in 2020. We asked a number of questions about their overall income, their project rates, how they found clients, and more, and the results were pretty interesting.

. . . .

Of those surveyed, about 26% have been freelancing for 3-5 years, 17% for 10+ years, 25% for 1-2 years, 12% for 6-9 years, and 20% for less than a year.

. . . .

Overall, most writers saw their income either increase or at least stay the same in 2020 compared to 2019.

Let’s start with the good news. Only 28% of freelancers said their income decreased in 2020 compared to the prior year. 55% of writers said their income either stayed about the same or increased in 2020. That’s great news! About 16.5% of writers still haven’t run the numbers on their 2020 income totals just yet.

Content mill & gig site writers are about half as likely to earn a six-figure income as those who work with clients outside of those sites

Now let’s get to some of the sadder news, at least for those who are getting their clients from content mills (e.g. Textbroker, Writer Access, etc.) or gig sites (e.g. Upwork, Fiverr, etc.).

2 out of 3 full-time freelancers who get their clients from content mills and/or gig sites make $25,000 a year or less. On the other hand, just 1 out of 3 freelancers who get clients outside of those avenues earn that little.

Furthermore, freelancers who get their own clients or work with marketing/ad agencies are roughly twice as likely (about a 17% chance) to make $100,000 or more than those who write for mills or gig sites (about a 9% chance).

Content mill & gig site writers earn far lower rates for projects on average

We asked writers how much they charge for various projects (blog posts of various lengths, feature articles, sales copywriting, etc.), and there’s one very clear trend — writers on content mills and gig sites get significantly lower rates than other freelancers.

Here are some examples:

  • 23% of freelancers working on content mills or gig sites earn $20 or less on average for a 500-750 word blog post. On the other hand, only about 13% of freelancers who work directly with their own clients or get outsourced work from marketing agencies report making that little. Furthermore, freelancers who work outside of the mills and gig sites are twice as likely to earn over $150 for this kind of work.
  • About 27% of freelancers on mills and gig sites say they earn less than $100 per article for print or high-end digital publications (non blog) on average, while only 8% of freelancers who work directly with their own clients say the may that little.
  • Just 2.5% of freelancers in the mills or gig sites say they earn $75 an hour or more on sales copywriting projects, while over 12% of freelancers working outside of those spots report earning these great rates.

Link to the rest at Making a Living Writing

Taskforce set up to tackle Disney’s attempts to weasel out of paying its genre authors

From SF Crowsnest:

A task force has now been set up to tackle Disney’s attempts to weasel out of paying its genre authors of their promised/contracted royalties.

The organisations behind the #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force include the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the Author’s Guild, the Horror Writers Association, the National Writers Union, Novelists, Inc., the Romance Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime.

The task force includes members such as Neil Gaiman, Tess Gerritsen, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Chuck Wendig.

“Writers must be paid or given missing royalty statements; these contracts must be honoured,” said Mary Robinette Kowal, President, SFWA. “We urge all authors to review their statements to make certain they are in order.”

SFWA has told us that Alan Dean Foster’s novelisation payments have now been resolved. But about a dozen additional authors contacted SFWA with a request for help, including the authors of Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Indiana Jones, and multiple other properties. SFWA has provided Disney with the names of authors who are similarly missing royalty statements and payments going back years.

Fox had licensed the comics rights to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Dark Horse. After Disney purchased Fox, they withdrew those rights from Dark Horse and granted them to Boom! Comics. When one Buffy author contacted Boom! about missing royalties, they were told that “royalties don’t transfer.” Disney is the owner of Boom! Comics.

So, basically, if this is allowed to legally stand, any publisher can just sell their books’ rights internally in a shell game, voiding any further author royalty payments at all.

Disney is now being reactive rather than proactively working with the SFWA to address the significant issue they have brought to their attention. While in talks for Alan Dean Foster’s Alien novels, Disney was told that Alan was also missing statements and royalties for his Star Wars novelisations. They would not begin the process or resume royalty statements until Alan contacted them with a formal claim.

“SFWA wishes to create a cooperative relationship with Disney, but the corporation flatly refuses to work with us,” added Kowal. “They say they are committed to paying the authors, but their actions make it clear that Disney is placing the onus to be paid on the authors, while at the same time attempting to isolate the authors from receiving counsel from their professional author organisation.”

. . . .

There are now many verified reports of missing statements and royalties from LucasFilm (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc.); Boom! Comics, and Dark Horse Comics (Licensed comics including Buffy the Vampire Slayer); 20th Century Fox (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alien, etc.); MGM (Stargate); Marvel WorldWide (SpiderMan, Predator); Disney Worldwide Publishing (Buffy, Angel).

Link to the rest at SF Crowsnest and thanks to Stephen for the tip.

Five Writing Tips We Love to Hate

From Writers in the Storm:

While perusing the Twitterverse recently, I happened upon a question that caught my interest. Author Jeff Richards asked, “What is your LEAST favorite common writing tip?”

We all have that one piece of advice that makes us roll our eyes when someone feels the need to impart that particular kernel of wisdom. Below, I’ve collected some of the most popular responses from Mr. Richards’ query. Everyone has their own interpretation as to the meaning of these gems. Let’s take a deeper look and I’ll give you my opinion (I’m full of them).

Write Every Day

“Write every day” is the one I hear most often and was also high on the Twitter list. The most common complaints about this piece of advice involve finding the time and/or the inspiration. Both can be quite difficult at times. You need to write consistently, but that may not mean every day in your particular life situation. I like to approach this tip more as, “Make time in your schedule for writing and stick to it.”

The truth is life doesn’t always give us a choice, so do your best and don’t kick yourself to hard when you stumble and miss a day or two (or in my case sometimes weeks). There are times you need to give yourself permission to say, “It ain’t happening today…”

. . . .

Don’t Use Prologues

I have to admit “Don’t use prologues” used to be one of my favorite pieces of advice. I always felt the need for a prologue meant you were starting your story in the wrong place. I also found a good number of the prologues I encountered were simply data dumps of back story that could have easily been woven into the fabric of the narrative or eliminated completely.

I’ve flipped my opinion on this one a little. Sometimes a prologue can set the proper mood for a piece or help the reader get anchored in an unfamiliar setting, especially when it comes to fantasy and science fiction. I think the key is to keep it short and don’t overload the reader with details you can work into the story when they are necessary. A lot of back story can be implied by context and world-building done by your character’s interactions with their surroundings.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Antiquities

From The Wall Street Journal:

The narrator of Cynthia Ozick’s seventh novel is neither Jewish nor intellectual—a significant departure from her usual characters. Nor is he worldly, witty, well-read or astute. But Ms. Ozick is of course all of the above, and this slim but by no means slight narrative is as cunning and rich as anything she’s written.

Antiquities” is about an excavation into the past by a man not insightful enough to fully understand what he has unearthed and revealed. Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie is a cultural relic, a stodgy retired lawyer who in 1949 resides, with the six other elderly surviving trustees of the Temple Academy for Boys, in converted apartments in their former Westchester County boarding school, which closed 34 years earlier.

“Antiquities” consists of Petrie’s attempt to write about a salient experience from his school days: his idolatrous relationship with a mysterious classmate, a boy whose foreign name, Ben-Zion Elefantin, strange accent, and skeletal appearance subjected him to ridicule from the other students. Petrie’s association with Elefantin, initially over chess, rendered him an outcast, too.

Petrie’s recollections of his schoolboy infatuation are deeply entangled with memories of his father, who died when he was 10—the same year Elefantin came to the Academy, though he doesn’t mention this confluence explicitly. Petrie discovers that his upstanding father, too, had suffered an infatuation—with “ancient times”—which caused him to briefly abandon his new wife and position at the family law firm for a fling with a different life: work on the excavation of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, run by renowned archaeologist (and historical figure) Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, whom he believed to be a cousin.

Sorting through the rubble of both infatuations is heavy labor for Petrie, even many decades later. He notes in a moment of rare self-awareness that “it is as if I must excavate, as in a desert, what lies far below and has no wish to emerge—to wit, my boyhood emotions.”

Ms. Ozick has created a character who, unlike herself, is unconscious of the reverberations of the words he chooses. The lonely, friendless widower writes of his “racking affections” for Elefantin and what, in a lonely childhood in which physical contact must have been a rarity, he considers their “intimacy.” He repeatedly mentions their bare knees touching on the climactic day when Elefantin mesmerized him with a tale of his family’s ancient origins, part of an outcast Jewish sect whose history on the Nile, he claims, was omitted from the Torah by “falsifying scholars.”

Even as an old man, Petrie doesn’t know what to make of these “frenzied murmurings of two agitated boys prone and under a spell.” Is it, he wonders, “a liar’s screed, an invention? An apparition’s fevered pedantry? And who knows such things, this garble of history and foreign babble? Not I. Nor am I a man of imagination,” he writes.

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

The Secret To This Romance Author’s Success? Breaking All The Rules.

From Amazon Author Insights:

I can safely say that every time I’ve been asked to speak to aspiring writers, afterward, I’ve had not one, but several come up to me and say, “I can’t believe you did what you said you did. I was told never to do that. I was told never to break that rule.” This does not surprise me, but it saddens me. When I started writing, I too had a set of rules for writing romance (my genre) that I was under the impression were unbreakable. And I wrote within the confines of those rules.

It was only when publishing house after publishing house, agent after agent had rejected my submissions, and I’d decided that no one was ever going to read my books, that I threw the rules out the window. I then simply wrote what I wanted to write, wrote how the stories came to me, was true to them and my characters.

Then I published myself … And I’ve sold more than two and a half million books.

What are the rules I broke? First, I didn’t write what I thought people wanted to read. I didn’t research what might be popular — what might sell — and write that. I wrote stories that felt personal to me, that I enjoyed completely from writing to reading. The first book that I did this with was Rock Chick, and with it and the Rock Chick series, I broke all the rules:

I wrote in first person, and at that time, romance novels in first person were available, but not customary.

I wrote my heroine’s thoughts in a stream of consciousness. I had paragraphs — many of them — that were just one word. I put myself, and what would eventually be my readers, in the mind of my heroine, Indy. Not describing what she was thinking, but thinking what she was thinking as she was thinking it. It’s important to note that not everyone could get into that, and that’s understandable, even expected. It’s also important to note that the ones who did, really did.

. . . .

I didn’t censor my characters or their behavior. I didn’t think, “Oh, that might make her unlikeable, I need to switch that up, make her perfect.” I didn’t water down my aggressive, but loving heroes. I let them be them — real, imperfect, sometimes annoying, more times endearing (I hoped). They were great friends and good people, but they could (and often did) do stupid things (like we all do).

And my Rock Chicks were — and still are — hugely successful.

Once I let myself be free, my writing took off — not only in that people were reading it, but that I felt at liberty to create how I needed to create. To be true to what I was doing. It wasn’t about stepping out of bounds for the sake of it. It was about opening a cage and giving myself the freedom to fly.

In other words, I broke the rules for the sake of the stories. And I didn’t play it safe after my books started selling; I had to stay true to that process. I needed to keep spreading my wings, doing this for me, but also to give my readers something new and fresh, a story I was passionate about so they could enjoy it right along with me. 

Link to the rest at Amazon Author Insights

Using TikTok to Sell Books

From Writers Helping Writers:

Almost every teenager in the United States knows about TikTok—the video-sharing social media platform with hundreds of millions of active users. And with the increasing popularity of the #BookTok hashtag, which readers use to talk about their favorite books, many YA authors are turning to TikTok to promote their work.

I began posting on the platform in August of 2020 and have since amassed nearly 225,000 followers (a number that is still growing by hundreds each day). TikTok makes it incredibly easy to go viral with minimal effort. Just one fifteen-second video can get you tens of thousands of followers; all you need is a decent strategy. Here are some tips that earned my videos millions of views:

1. Use Hashtags to Your Advantage

Many users believe that using popular hashtags (such as #fyp) will be enough for them to go viral. That isn’t entirely true. While there is a slight chance those hashtags will give you thousands of views, it is highly unlikely they will help you reach your target audience. Using hashtags such as #author, #writingabook, or anything relating to your genre will be much more effective. The first video I posted with those hashtags garnered nearly half a million views.

2. Post Consistently

If one of your videos does go viral and you disappear off the platform for the next few weeks, you’ll probably end up losing hundreds of followers. Your goal should be creating bonds with your fans so they’ll feel more inclined to buy your books, and one way to do that is posting at least once a day.

3. Don’t Just Promote

Believe me when I say this—nobody wants to hear you blatantly promote your book 24/7. A promotional post once in a while is fine, but your followers will get bored if everything on your page is just you talking about your book. Keep your content related to writing, but switch it up. One way to do that is by posting writing tips. Those are amazing choices for videos because they give you credibility. Not to mention, if you help someone with their writing, they’ll want to repay you in any way they can—like buying your book. Half of my followers wouldn’t be following me if it wasn’t for my writing tips.

4. Use Trending Sounds

This is probably the #1 factor that will help boost your videos. If you see that a sound has over ten thousand videos under it (most of which are recent), use it. You can even put it over a video of you talking (just lower the sound to zero if you don’t want it to be heard) and it will still boost your views.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

3 Key Tactics for Crafting Powerful Scenes

From Jane Friedman:

It’s one of the things we love most about fiction, the illusion that we’re not just reading a story about this character, we actually are this character.

Brain science tells us that when we read about a character doing or experiencing something, our brains light up in much the same way as if we were doing or experiencing that thing for ourselves—and nowhere is this illusion more complete than in scene.

Scene is where the pace of the story slows to “real time,” and we’re privy to every word, gesture, and sensory detail. Not only does this allow us to inhabit the story in a visceral way, it sends a clear message that what’s happening here is important—important enough that it cannot simply be narrated. Listen, the author is saying. You really just have to experience this for yourself.

Scene is also where the emotions of the story are at their most intense—the place where, to paraphrase Ursula K. Le Guin, the reader leans forward and bites her lip. Scene is the place in the story where we find tears welling up in our eyes, or find ourselves scowling at the antagonist’s unconscionable cruelty.

That’s because, no matter how much the author tells us about the characters, scene is where characters show us who they really are. And in doing so, they’re often unpredictable—which of course only adds to the appeal. When we read scenes where the characters surprise us, we want to keep reading, to see what wild thing they’re going to do next.

Powerful scenes make for powerful stories, and as both a writer and book coach, I’ve found that these are three key tactics for achieving them.

1. Dramatize turning points

To articulate means to give shape or expression to something, such as a theme or concept—it also means to unite by means of a joint. Maybe that’s why dramatizing the turning points of a story, its joints, is one of the strongest ways to give shape and expression to the story as a whole.

Situating scenes at the turning points of your story also ensures that something will actually occur in these scenes, beyond sharing the basic exposition, characterization, and conflicts. Which is to say, situating your scenes this way helps to ensure that there will be a major development within that scene that moves the story forward.

Often, writers have no real intentionality about where they place their scenes, or what work they’ll actually perform for the story. They write scenes to explore a situation or setting, to get a sense for the dynamics between the characters, to explore the conflicts between them—and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially in an early draft.

But powerhouse scenes are made of stronger stuff: they do all of this while also dramatizing the story’s major developments, and articulating its contours as a whole.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Time for a woman’s view with Miss Ann Powell

From The Niagara Gazette:

Moving along to 1789 and a trip involving a Miss Ann Powell. Her journal is a graphic description of the difficulties and inconvenience of travel in her day. I found it interesting enough to select some her writings, as they were found to be of great value historically, not only for the light which it throws upon the general state of the country, about Niagara and for the description of the Falls, but for the information which it contains relative to the Indians whom Miss Powell was so fortunate as to see in council assembled on the present site of Buffalo and for evidence as to conditions on the Niagara frontier just after the Revolution.

She states: “The Fort Niagara is by no means pleasantly situated. It is built close upon the Lake, which gains upon its foundations so fast, that in a few years they may be overflowed … Several gentlemen offered to escort us to the landing, which is eight miles from Fort Erie. There the Niagara River becomes impassable, and all the luggage was drawn up a steep hill in a cradle, a machine I never saw before. We walked up the hill, and were conducted to a good garden with an arbor in it, where we found a cloth laid for dinner, which was provided for us by the officers of the post. “

“After dinner we went on for seven miles to Fort Schlosher. (Her spelling) .The road was good, the weather charming, and this was the only opportunity we should have of seeing the fall. All of our party collected half a mile above the Falls and walked down to them. I was in raptures all the way. The Falls I had heard of forever, but no one had mentioned the Rapids! For half a mile the river comes foaming down immense rocks, some of them forming cascades 30 or 40 feet high! The banks are covered with woods, as are a number of islands, some of them very high out of the water. One in the centre of the river, runs into a point and seems to divide the Falls, which would otherwise be quite across the river , into the form of a crescent.

“I believe no mind can form an idea of the immensity of the body of water, or the rapidity with which it hurries down. The height is 180 feet, and long before it reaches the bottom, it loses all appearance of a liquid. The spray rises like light summer clouds, and when the rays of the sun are reflected through it , they form innumerable rainbows, but the sun was not in a situation to show this effect when we were there.

“One thing I could find nobody to explain to me, which is, the stillness of the water at the bottom of the Falls; it is as smooth as a lake, for half a mile, deep and narrow, the banks very high and steep, with trees hanging over them. I was never before sensible of the power of scenery, nor did I suppose the eye could carry to the mind such strange emotions of pleasure, wonder and solemnity.” For a time every other impression was erased from my memory! Had I been left to myself, I am convinced I should not have thought of moving whilst there was light to distinguish objects.”

Link to the rest at The Niagara Gazette

PG doesn’t believe he has ever posted anything from The Niagara Gazette before and definitely not something written by its columnist, Norma Higgs.

Along with many others (he presumes), PG and Mrs. PG have been discussing the short and long-term impacts of the extraordinary Covid shutdown and some of the weirdness which has accompanied it.

PG has found distraction and some perspective in reading historical fiction and non-fiction.

He is not quite certain how he stumbled across Ms. Higgs’ article transcribing what appears to be a 1789 journal entry by an unmarried woman, Ann Powell, recording her firsts impressions of Niagara Falls during her travels through the area.

For historical context, Ann was traveling six years after the end of the Revolutionary War and two years after the Constitutional Convention.

Fort Niagara, which Ann mentions in her account, was originally built under the direction of the Governor of New France in 1687 on Lake Ontario beside the source of the Niagara River. The fort underwent a series of reconstructions and expansions over the years thereafter.

The Fort fell into British hands during the French and Indian War in 1759. At the time Ann visited the fort, in 1789, although the area where the fort was constructed was ceded to the United States under the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War, the fort was still under British control.

During and after the Revolutionary War, this part of upstate New York was a stronghold and sanctuary for those who had been Loyalists, supporting the British during the Revolutionary War and a great many Loyalists fled the effective boundaries of the United States to settle in this area. Fort Niagara did not come under the control of the United States until after the signing of the Jay Treaty in 1796.

Following are a couple of illustrations of the fort.

Fort Niagara, 1728, via Wikimedia Commons
“The French Castle” a fortification at Fort Niagara State Park, photo via Wikimedia Commons, Attribution: Ad Meskens, use for any purpose permitted, provided that the copyright holder is properly attributed. Redistribution, derivative work, commercial use, and all other use is permitted.

For the real threshold for traditional publication, look at debuts

From Nathan Bransford:

It’s not a secret that the quality of books published by traditional publishers varies greatly. Some are breathtakingly magical, some read like lukewarm porridge.

I personally have long felt that authors cast too many aspersions against traditionally published books and underrate how good they really are, particularly if you’ve never read slush to get a sense of the “competition.” If you’re not finding more wonderful books than you could possibly have time to read, you’re really not looking very hard.

But it’s undoubtedly true that there are some traditionally published books that feel a bit, well, mailed in. And whenever an author brings one of these to my attention and uses it to interrogate the standards at traditional publishers, I often ask this question: was it a debut?

There are many reasons an established author might get a so-so book over the line to publication: they might have a faithful readership who will buy any book that hits the right notes, or it may be as simple as the author delivering a second or third book in a contract that has already been signed. These books may not need to reach the same level of excitement that’s required for an editor to go through the hurdles of acquiring a new book on behalf of the publisher.

If you want to know how good you have to be to get a traditionally published book across the finish line: look to the debuts. Those are the ones that had to get an editor excited enough to make an offer and take a chance on an unknown author.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

PG suggests that authors may be best-served by letting readers decide. At a minimum, an indie author with little talent will have more readers and make more money than a would-be traditionally-published author who never gets a book contract.

Jack and the Bean Counters: A Woke Children’s Story

From The Wall Street Journal:

One of my favorite childhood novels recounted the story of a boy separated from his family and caught behind Japanese lines in war-torn midcentury China. I felt I was with the boy, Tien Pao, when he woke terrified in a sampan sweeping downriver toward the smoldering ruins of his village. Alongside Tien Pao, I watched a doomed train back into a burning station and heard the screams of its passengers. Together we crouched in the broiling sun, scanning throngs of refugees for a familiar face. Later, we flew in a plane over an aerodrome and I felt his jolt of joy as if it were my own when, far below, he saw his mother.

That Tien Pao was a boy and I a girl, that his parents were married and mine divorced, that his skin was one hue and mine another—none of this impinged on the thrilling immediacy of Meindert DeJong’s “The House of Sixty Fathers,” illustrated by the young Maurice Sendak.

The teacher who gave me that book widened my horizons and enriched my life. Would she still do so today? I fear not. Schools and the world of children’s literature have been seized by the notion that the most important thing about a book is whether children can “see themselves” in it. This is understood in a narrow and reductive way: The race, ethnicity and sexual orientation of the young reader must be matched by those of the characters they meet in books.

What began as a laudable idea—that children’s literature should embrace a variety of stories and all manner of characters—has morphed into monomania. Identity is all. Professional journals that catalog and review new children’s titles now make a fetish of highlighting the pallor or pigmentation of fictional characters.

Publisher’s Weekly, for instance, in its review of “Faraway Things,” a forthcoming picture book by Dave Eggers and illustrated by Kelly Murphy, finds it necessary to report a young character is “pale-skinned” and an older one is “brown-skinned.” A reviewer for Kirkus notes: “The captain has dark skin; Lucian and the others have light skin.”

Researchers from Columbia and the University of Chicago have brought race-labeling to a new level by enlisting machines to sort literary characters by color. Led by Anjali Adukia, an assistant professor at Chicago University’s Harris School of Public Policy, the team used artificial intelligence to sift through the past century of prize-winning children’s books to identify characters by sex, age and color. Released April 12, their study, “What We Teach About Race and Gender: Representation in Images and Text of Children’s Books,” brings an antebellum ethic of race consciousness to American children’s literature.

The research team examined two sets of novels and picture books: “mainstream” ones, which won the American Library Association’s Newbery and Caldecott medals, and “diversity” ones, which have won ALA distinction because they satisfy criteria related to race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or physical ability.

The researchers taught the computer to detect faces in illustrations, classify skin colors and predict characters’ race, sex and age. The machine also combed through 1,133 prize-winning texts for gendered language, mentions of color and references to age. Books in the “diversity” group were found, over time, to depict more characters with darker skin, while “mainstream” books showed characters with either lighter or “chromatically ambiguous” features. There is, the study reports, “a persistent disproportionate representation of males, particularly White males, and lighter-skinned people relative to darker-skinned people.” The study includes charts and graphs depicting gradations of human skin color that would make John C. Calhoun proud.

The AI findings are both dispassionate and shockingly retrograde.

. . . .

And what of characters that can’t be classified as either light or dark? They are a product of a practice the study authors disdainfully call “butterscotching,” which “some may argue sends an assimilationist message regarding the representation of race.” Others may argue it’s an invitation to universality. A good book doesn’t cut readers off. It invites them in, and it doesn’t care what they look like.

“The House of Sixty Fathers” won a Newbery honor in 1957, which means my old friend Tien Pao is somewhere in the team’s “mainstream” color charts. To me he was a living boy, but in the study he’s been flattened and denatured and reduced to a few demographic data points. It’s ghastly.

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

From The Apartheid Museum:

From 1950 South Africans were classified on the basis of their ‘race’.

People were classified into one of four groups: ‘native’, ‘coloured’, ‘Asian’ or ‘white’.

By 1966, 11 million people had been classified under the Population Registration Act of 1950.

. . . .

Race Classification

Racial classification was the foundation of all apartheid laws. It placed individuals in one of four groups: ‘native’, ‘coloured’, ‘Asian’ or ‘white’.

In order to illustrate everyday reality under apartheid, visitors to the museum are arbitrarily classified as either white or non-white. Once classified, visitors are permitted entry to the museum only through the gate allocated to their race group. Identity documents were the main tool used to implement this racial divide, and many of these documents are on display in this exhibit.

Link to the rest at The Apartheid Museum

From Segregation in Action:

. . . .

. . . .

. . . .

. . . .

Link to the rest at Resources, The Apartheid Museum

PG is aware of the dangers of a slippery-slope argument.

However, slippery-slopes arguments gain their credibility because slippery slopes have existed on many more than one occasion in the past. They are not imaginary creations, but rather descriptions of what is possible, some would say probable, given human nature operating in a wide variety of different circumstances in many parts of the world.

PG suggests that no culture or nation is immune to the potential dangers of slippery slopes.

Outcry over book ‘censorship’ reveals how online retailers choose books — or don’t

From The Washington Post:

Crying “Censorship!” has become the right’s favorite book marketing technique.

Roger Kimball, president of Encounter Books, is the latest publisher to hawk his wares this way in the Wall Street Journal. Last week, on the op-ed page, Kimball complained that Amazon had stopped selling “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment,” by social conservative Ryan T. Anderson. Kimball called the move “a deliberate act of censorship” — presumably to placate critics who call the book transphobic. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Kimball went on to note that “When Harry Became Sally” has also been dropped by Bookshop.org, the indie alternative to Amazon. Far from providing an alternative, “Bookshop,” he claimed, “turns out to be little more than another minion for the Emperor of Wokeness.”

That’s silly, but one point Kimball made draws blood: How can Bookshop defend removing this 2018 book that offends liberal sensibilities while continuing to offer about 20 different editions of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”?

Bookshop did not respond to a request for comment. But the reason you can buy the Führer’s memoir from a woke online bookseller says a lot about how Web-based merchants function and how they’re changing our relationship to retailers.

Consider that your local indie bookstore contains titles that have been carefully curated according to how much physical space is available, which books the managers consider worthy and what they anticipate customers will want to buy.

The World Wide Web is a different world. Large online book retailers are essentially search engines. They populate their sites by automatically sucking up inventory data from vast wholesalers, such as Ingram, so that they can, in effect, offer every book that exists. In the 1990s, that was part of Amazon’s great innovation, which allowed it to be the World’s Largest Bookstore, despite the fact that it began in Bezos’s garage.

But the convenience of having more than 10 million titles at our fingertips fundamentally changes retailers’ function in ways people don’t often acknowledge or readily understand. There is, it turns out, a price for that infinite inventory. Unlike the cozy bookstore in your town, online booksellers don’t choose each book they’re offering. The role of curator — if it exists at all — has effectively been passed from seller to customer.

Under this system, if a title attracts sufficiently convincing and public objections, that title is taken down from the website. I saw this process firsthand in 2019 when I asked Barnes & Noble why it was selling David Icke’s antisemitic book “The Trigger.” B&N blamed “an independent publishing distributor,” and the book vanished. Earlier this year, I asked Walmart why it was offering the racist “Turner Diaries” on its website; I never got an answer, but the title stopped showing up.

It’s highly unlikely that anyone at Barnes & Noble or Walmart ever looked at these bizarre and hateful books and decided, “Yes, I think our white supremacist customers will love this!” Instead, these books were simply swept up in the retailing equivalent of bottom trawling that drags a net across the ocean floor, catching cod and shrimp along with old barrels of toxic waste.

This feels like a problematic way to curate literature. I don’t want to read antisemitic, racist or transphobic books, but I also don’t want the marketplace of available titles to be shaped by my own or other customers’ objections. If these massive book retailers aren’t really choosing which books to sell except in rare occasions when a few titles are excluded — then perhaps they’ve relinquished their editorial control and become merely administrators of public space, in which case the public may have the right to make certain demands on them.

. . . .

[Justice Clarence Thomas] went on to suggest that Amazon (along with Twitter, Google and Facebook) may be what’s called a “common carrier,” like a railroad or a telephone network. These older entities don’t choose whose freight or data they carry; if you can pay and you have a legal product, they must take it without discrimination.

He went on to suggest that Amazon (along with Twitter, Google and Facebook) may be what’s called a “common carrier,” like a railroad or a telephone network. These older entities don’t choose whose freight or data they carry; if you can pay and you have a legal product, they must take it without discrimination.

Thomas wrote, “There is a fair argument that some digital platforms are sufficiently akin to common carriers or places of accommodation to be regulated in this manner.”

If that’s true — or if the court later decides it’s true — large online booksellers could find themselves in a very different universe. At the moment, Amazon, Bookshop and others are playing two different characters simultaneously: They essentially function as common carriers, offering everything their wholesale databases and distributors can supply. But when a particular book attracts negative attention and offends public sensitivities, these same booksellers act as private businesses and remove that title. The time may be approaching when that clever maneuver is no longer tenable.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG wonders who exactly decided that book curators were necessary or desirable.

He suggests that “book curation” was and is, more or less, a marketing slogan designed to attract potential purchasers who want to elevate themselves above the hoi polloi who don’t see any particular virtue in a self-appointed tastemaker deciding what they will or won’t be permitted to ready.

For those outside the US, the reference to a “common carrier” is a US legal term that describes is a person or company that transports goods or people for any person or company.

Per Wikipedia:

A common carrier (also called a public carrier in British English) is distinguished from a contract carrier, which is a carrier that transports goods for only a certain number of clients and that can refuse to transport goods for anyone else, and from a private carrier. A common carrier holds itself out to provide service to the general public without discrimination (to meet the needs of the regulator’s quasi judicial role of impartiality toward the public’s interest) for the “public convenience and necessity.” A common carrier must further demonstrate to the regulator that it is “fit, willing, and able” to provide those services for which it is granted authority. Common carriers typically transport persons or goods according to defined and published routes, time schedules, and rate tables upon the approval of regulators. Public airlines, railroads, bus lines, taxicab companies, phone companies, internet service providers,[4] cruise ships, motor carriers (i.e., canal operating companies, trucking companies), and other freight companies generally operate as common carriers.

An important legal requirement for common carrier as public provider is that it cannot discriminate, that is refuse the service unless there is some compelling reason. 

(per Wikipedia)

Generally common carriers have a competitive advantage over private carriers because they are cost-effective and convenient. Common carriers typically offer standard or quite similar terms and conditions and often compete on pricing.

In many cases, common carriers are regulated by law in various ways to provide a more predictable and reliable service to shippers as opposed to a private carrier which may not be operate according to industry standard terms and expectations.

Back to bookstores, PG tends to prefer a store that is likely to have a book that he desires, regardless of whether the book PG desires is part of the book mainstream or not. For that reason, if Amazon starts to delist a wider range of books because one or more pressure groups find objectionable, PG will begin to look elsewhere on a regular basis rather than wasting his time on a site that is not a reliable purveyor of books he likes.

Additionally, rallying groups of people to demand book banning can definitely go more than one way. People with a wide variety of beliefs and opinions are fully capable to organizing themselves online to bring pressure on Amazon or any other vendor that has shown it will respond to pressure to delist this or that book.

Novels and Novellas and Tomes

From Counter Craft:

We like to pretend that art is art. That an author writes what they are inspired to write, with no concern but the voice of the muse. This is a useful fiction. It is good for writers to focus on the art when writing and worry about the business side later. But it is a fiction. Writers are aware of market demands, what kinds of novels get buzz, and what subjects award judges gravitate towards. Even writers with high artistic aspirations are—consciously or unconsciously—warped by these pressures. Especially those of us hoping to make a living on our writing.

In my recent post on the literary fiction and SFF short story markets, I mentioned how the short story was the economically dominant length of fiction in the first half of the 20th century. Writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald bemoaned the fact they had to write short stories to subsidize their novel writing. In 2021—and really the last 50 years or more—the dynamic has been the opposite. Today, short story writers frequently (if mostly privately) grumble about how they have to write novels if they want any chance at earning money or even just getting an agent.

. . . .

This got me thinking about one of those rarely-spoken-about-but-interesting-to-me topics: what determines the lengths of novels?

The novel is an extremely flexible form. It can come out in countless shapes, include infinite content, and end up almost any length. Let’s call the lower limit of a novel 40,000 words. Long novels like Infinite Jest and The Stand are more than 10 times that length, and that’s not even getting into series or In Search of Lost Times type works that are published in dozens or more volumes. So why are most novels published in a relatively narrow range of 60k to 120k words?

Or to put it another way: why doesn’t anyone publish novellas in America? Novellas as a form thrive in many parts of the world. They’re very popular in Latin America and Korea, and hardly uncommon in Europe. Yet it’s almost impossible to find a book labeled “a novella” in America outside of small press translations or classics imprints.

. . . .

The length of books is one of those things that varies from genre to genre as well as era to era. Take high fantasy, a genre famous for its massive tomes ever since Tolkien. Even those tomes have grown longer as the decades have passed. The last individual volume of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has close to the same wordcount (422k) as all three volumes of Lord of the Rings combined (480k)! There’s been similar bloat in children’s fantasy. The Narnia books were all 39k to 64k in length, novellas to short novel range. Compare that to the volumes of His Dark Materials (109-168k per volume) and Harry Potter (74k-257k).

In general, popular genre fiction—thrillers, mysteries, etc.—and commercial fiction tends to be longer than so-called literary fiction these days, although all genres of novels became more bloated in the second half of the 20th century. Then again, pre-20th century novels were often quite long. Charles Dickens novels like Great Expectations (183k) and Bleak House (360k) or Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (126k) or Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (183k) and other novels of that era were frequently tomes by even today’s standards.

So what explains these novel fluctuations? One obvious factor for the length of 19th century English novels is that they were typically serialized either in magazines or else as a series of pamphlets. The more you wrote, the more you were paid. Pretty simple. The economic pressure was to write long works. Serialization of course also changes the content of the novel, not just the length, as you need to have cliffhangers and hooks at the end of each installment that will keep the reader coming back. Art is never free of economics in capitalism.

. . . .

Americans expect bang for their buck. Yet the price of novels is unrelated to length. Trade paperbacks are around 16 bucks a piece whether they are a 100-page novella or a 400-page tome. Even among highbrow literary readers, I’ve heard people say they rather get a long book than a short one for the same money. Why pay the same for 2 hours of entertainment when you can get 10 hours of entertainment for the same price?

Link to the rest at Counter Craft

Malcolm Gladwell’s New Word Order: Audiobook First

From The Wall Street Journal:

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book opens with ominous sirens, planes droning overhead and a powerful explosion.

Unlike most audiobooks, which are offshoots of a traditional text manuscript, “The Bomber Mafia” was conceived first as an audio project. Only later, after there was a completed script, was it offered to a major publisher. The print and ebook versions, as well as the audiobook, go on sale April 27.

“The Bomber Mafia” is part of an effort by Pushkin Industries Inc., an audio company that Mr. Gladwell co-founded, to become a major provider of highly produced “original” audiobooks. Such projects sound more like podcasts than traditional audiobooks, since they often feature original scores, as well as archival and interview tape.

Industry giants including Bertelsmann SE’s Penguin Random House and Amazon.com Inc.’s Audible also produce high-production original audiobooks with sound effects and a cast of multiple actors, representing significant competition for Pushkin.

As a writer, Mr. Gladwell has been a star on the pop-culture circuit for more than two decades, thanks to such bestsellers as “The Tipping Point,” “Blink” and “Outliers.” His ability to look at popular subjects in fresh and unexpected ways has made him an arbiter of human behavior and social phenomena.

Mr. Gladwell later applied that approach to podcasting with “Revisionist History,” a show launched in 2016 that looks to shed new light on past events. When the company that produced the podcast exited the medium, he launched Pushkin with former Slate Group Chairman and Editor in Chief Jacob Weisberg to keep “Revisionist History” going.

Today, the company has 12 podcasts, including Dr. Laurie Santos’s “The Happiness Lab,” which focuses on the science of well-being, and Dana Goodyear’s “Lost Hills,” a tale of true crime, which recently hit No. 1 on the Apple Podcast charts. Ms. Goodyear, like Mr. Gladwell, is a staff writer at the New Yorker magazine.

In a move likely to raise Pushkin’s profile, the company this week agreed to create an audio content subscription program called “PushNik” for a new podcast subscription service Apple Inc. is expected to launch next month. The offering will include ad-free versions of Pushkin’s various podcasts as well as a weekly news roundup and other exclusive audio content.

. . . .

Mr. Gladwell conceived the idea for “The Bomber Mafia” while recording the fifth season of “Revisionist History,” several episodes of which are about the life of Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay and the World War II bombing campaign against Japan.

“We were looking for some audiotape of Curtis LeMay, and realized that there were archives at the Air Force with audiotape of literally every major military leader involved in the air wars over Europe and Japan,” said Mr. Gladwell. “It was then I realized—I could do a whole book on this story.”

“The Bomber Mafia” will be Pushkin’s fifth audiobook. The first title it published, “Fauci,” came out about six months ago, and quickly rose to No. 1 on Audible’s nonfiction bestseller list. The title includes exclusive conversations with infectious-diseases specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci and his wife, Christine Grady, as well as key colleagues and peers, archival recordings and an original score.

The budget for some Pushkin audiobooks can top six figures, significantly higher than the estimated industry average of $10,000 to make a typical title.

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

.

The Free World

From The Wall Street Journal:

There was once a time—Louis Menand recalls at the beginning of “The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War”—when “people cared. Ideas mattered. Painting mattered. Movies mattered. Poetry mattered.” Even criticism mattered. It was a time when “people believed in liberty, and thought it really meant something.” The United States was “actively engaged with the rest of the world.” To be sure, the 20 years that followed World War II didn’t frame a utopia: a fifth of the nation lived in poverty, “white men” dominated “virtually every sphere of life,” the U.S. “intervened in the internal political affairs of other states, rigging elections, endorsing coups, enabling assassinations,” and “invested in a massive and expensive military buildup that was out of all proportion to any threat.” Nevertheless, Mr. Menand suggests, something extraordinary took place. American and European cultures were transformed by what transpired, and somehow the concept of “freedom” was bound up in it all as “the slogan of the times.” This epic book—at once brilliant and exasperating, illuminating and confounding, absorbing and off-putting—is his attempt to examine what happened and to explain why, by the end of the Vietnam War, America was a very different country from the one that led the “free world” just after 1945.

This would be a daunting project even if Mr. Menand had established some disciplinary boundaries, but as readers of his criticism in the New Yorker know, his interests and insights range widely. Though he teaches English literature at Harvard, he writes as an intellectual and cultural historian. He takes on eclectic subjects with dedication and imagination, whether teasing out the aesthetic behind Pauline Kael’s film criticism, tracing the complicated tensions between the ideas and personalities of Richard Wright and James Baldwin, two of the most imposing black literary figures of the Cold War period, or arguing, as he did in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 2001 book “The Metaphysical Club,” that late 19th-century pragmatism helped shape the character of modern American democracy.

In this 857-page tome he pulls together a decade of writing and research, but it doesn’t take long for us to see that this project is both overtly unsystematic and highly selective. We begin with what appears to be a conventional examination of George Kennan’s diplomatic career, his secret 1946 telegram from Moscow outlining the expansive ambitions of the Soviet Union in the postwar period, and his recommendation of a policy of “containment”—a geopolitical foreign strategy that was almost immediately adopted to deal with postwar confrontations. But no sooner have we begun to get a feel for Kennan’s views than we are carried into an analysis of George Orwell’s dystopian visions and the philosophies of Sartre and Heidegger. And Hannah Arendt and totalitarianism. And the development of Abstract Expressionist painting. Eventually we accommodate ourselves to a nonstop, nearly phantasmagorical display of erudite inquiry. What was John Cage up to with Merce Cunningham? What was the nature of Lionel Trilling’s relationship with Allen Ginsberg? Why was the 1964 arrival of the Beatles in the U.S. a pop-cultural tsunami? What role did academic literary criticism play in the transformation of American high culture? What were the differences between Simone de Beauvoir’s and Betty Friedan’s visions of the status of women? How was the film “Bonnie and Clyde” a tribute to postwar French cinema? What went wrong in Vietnam?

Clearly, even with hundreds of pages at the author’s disposal, none of these chapter-length probes can do its theme full justice, particularly because Mr. Menand’s approach is not to make a systematic argument but to focus on particular individuals and advocates, noting their characters and interactions and ultimately implying that cultural and political change might be discernable in statistics but is largely accidental, full of misunderstandings and unintended consequences. Many things that happened, he implies, could not have been expected, or if they could have been, people might not have noticed. When these tracings of lives and encounters are combined with the explication of some difficult ideas, the result can be unusually illuminating. Some revelations may be trivial (Sartre did terrific Donald Duck imitations; John Cage won a quiz show on Italian television by naming all 24 species of white-spored mushrooms—in alphabetical order) and others suggestive (Orwell was influenced by James Burnham’s 1941 book “The Managerial Revolution,” which predicted that society’s new social elite would include managers, executives and government administrators), but under Mr. Menand’s guidance, something always can be learned.

But why then, should this book also exasperate? First, because much of the interpretation is left to the reader. There is no attempt to shape the narrative into anything cumulative or conclusive. If there are varieties or notions of “freedom” and “liberty” in play here, they are only vaguely defined and never put in careful order, nor are we directed to any larger understanding of their interaction. It is strange: Much of the book is very concrete but it all ends up feeling rather amorphous. We wind up knowing quite a bit about Andy Warhol or about Elvis Presley’s early career but are left unsure about the relevance of the Cold War to either.

The book comes closest to suggesting connections in its early chapters, which deal most directly with America’s tensions with the Soviet Union. But these chapters also tend to minimize the confrontation’s stakes, suggesting they were, in retrospect, exaggerated. “Each nation,” we read, “honestly believed that history was on its side.” Each also claimed to be a “grand civilizing” nation. (Mr. Menand points out that while Kennan may be thought of as the first analyst of the Cold War, he was warning the U.S. of the Soviet Union not because of the dangers of communism but because of the nature of Russian history; he was also, surprisingly, wary of thinking of the conflict as a “moral” one.) Mr. Menand doesn’t really accept Cold War symmetry, though sometimes he seems tempted to do so. He notes that the confrontation was about “ideas in the broadest sense,” such as “civic and personal values, modes of expression, philosophies of history, theories of human nature.” But this is still too bloodless a description of the East-West contest. We don’t really understand the Cold War or its effects, because we can’t really understand the other side.

Mr. Menand alludes to it in a theoretical way, in a discussion of totalitarianism, but it might have helped if, for example, he’d provided an account of the notorious Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace staged at the Waldorf-Astoria in March 1949. There the Soviet Union attempted to undermine Western suspicion of its aims by presenting itself in a supposedly enlightened embrace of peace and brotherhood, bringing over some of its own artists and intellectuals and luring the support of Western fellow travelers (including Lillian Hellman and Pablo Picasso and Leonard Bernstein). On one panel, the composer Dmitri Shostakovich famously sweated in terror as his watchers made sure he gave no hint of the recent killings and purges that led him to fear—yet again—for his own life.

. . . .

Mr. Menand’s tendency is also to moderate his interpretations of some figures so that they and their ideas seem less polemical. The literary movement known as “deconstruction,” for example, is treated almost as a variety of liberal skepticism, even though, over time, its members engaged in ever more radical attempts to dismantle the philosophical premises of Western culture and society. And many of Mr. Menand’s aesthetic explorers may well have been influenced by the Cold War to become overtly antagonistic to the American perspective—and to so-called bourgeois culture. That certainly was the case with Sartre and, in a subtler way, with some of the American artists that Mr. Menand discusses. Is it possible, for example, to look at Jasper Johns’s “Flag” (1955), which displays an American flag painted on top of a newspaper collage, without seeing it as having a countercultural comment on the news of the day? The symbolism of the flag, disarmingly straightforward, is, beneath the painting’s surface, subtly undercut.

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

Be the Change You Want to See In Kids’ Books

From Publishers Weekly:

Books have always played an important role in my life. Books about social issues and activism nudged me into my career path. It’s only now, though, that I see where the gaps in children’s literature are and am in a position to do something about it.

As a young child books about activists were a mixed experience for me: moving, but also scary and sad. It appeared that most people did not do anything to support the activists, powerful people were against them, their paths required suffering and single-mindedness, and many faced beatings, jail, and untimely deaths. Only bold, extraordinary people could have such conviction, make such sacrifices. I did not feel extraordinary. I did not even feel bold. Yes, I was taught to do the right thing and help others, but I was also expected to be polite, not yell, not demand, and definitely not challenge the adults enforcing the rules. Obviously, I did not have what it takes to be an activist—and even if I did, no path was offered to that destination.

As an elementary school teacher the books about activists I had were mostly historical. I would finish a read-aloud title about women’s suffrage, desegregation, or labor rights and tell students there is still much more to do, that it isn’t all solved yet! There’s still discrimination, limitations, power imbalances. We need you! I knew there were vibrant organizations out there doing crucial work on issues like labor rights and immigration reform, but I didn’t have a way to capture it and bring it into the reading circle, the curriculum. I remember one student, Joselyn, who acted out but thrived when given leadership positions. Where was the book that showed an undocumented young girl like her how to be an agent of change?

As an activist I enjoy the deep sense of meaning of being part of a movement. Most days, I marvel about how lucky I am to get paid to do something I care about. I get to learn about issues, develop skills to address them, work with people I admire and respect. Where are the children’s books that show how joyful and satisfying this career is—and also how normal it is?

. . . .

As a parent I sneak in as many social justice books as I can get away with, but my kids can smell “lessons” coming from a mile away. I wish I had more books about social change that don’t feel like history textbooks—that are funny or surprising, and that have three-dimensional characters whom my kids can relate to instead of flattened-out “heroes.” I could sneak in a lot more books that way. I look for books that make activism seem fun, cool, and right for them. It’s not easy, as, currently, their passions are mainly riding scooters and making fart jokes. I wish I had books that showed them that no matter what they are interested in—science, cooking, sports, coding, business, art—there are ways to put these in the service of something that will change the world.

As an author, in my new book, For All/Para Todos, about a young undocumented girl who becomes an activist, I want to lift up the stories of people who are making change but not making it into headlines or lesson plans. And I want to do something more subversive—I want the reader to address a range of questions: What do you think about this? What do you care about? What do you think is fair? I want to make sure kids fully own their power as agents of change. And I want to question all of us: What role do we have in this issue? How are we complicit?

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG wonders if the author of the OP realizes how many people find stereotypical activists to be annoying and how many parents sincerely hope none of their children grow up to be activists, in part, because Thanksgiving dinner would be unbearable.

Make whole that which is broken

Somewhere in the teachings of every wisdom tradition on earth is the admonition to “make whole that which is broken.” In Judaism, it is tikkun olam, “repair of the world.” It is said that in the eyes of God, an object that has been repaired is more holy than one that is new. There is an interpretation in Judaism of the world as we see it and of how it came to be; it is a retelling of the Genesis story by the sixteenth-century mystic Isaac Luria. In his vision, Luria saw that God filled the entire universe completely and perfectly and that the world could only be created by somehow making a space for life. Luria imagined that God contracted, like a series of containers within containers, and by becoming smaller and smaller, God allowed a new creation to emerge. When the enormous energy and potential of that creation finally exploded outward, sparks of the divine scattered throughout the universe: the universe we see. The teachings that follow from this, in the wisdom tradition of the Kabbalah, tell us that we are to gather the shards and the sparks and bring them back together. This is the meaning of tikkun olam. Olam, or “world,” comes from the same root as hidden, and so the repair we are asked to accomplish requires that we see the sacred hidden within the ordinary — the wholeness that exists in all things, everywhere.

John Wackman

Grammar-Nerd Heaven

From The New Yorker:

It’s hard not to mythologize Bryan A. Garner. He is the Herakles of English usage. As a boy growing up in Texas, he lugged Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (Unabridged) to school one day to settle an argument with a teacher. When he was sixteen, he discovered “Fowler’s Modern English Usage” and swallowed it whole. By the time he was an undergraduate, he knew that he wanted to write a usage dictionary. Instead of going into academia or publishing, the traditional career paths for English majors, he went into law, a field where his prodigious language skills could have broad applications. His first usage dictionary was “Modern Legal Usage,” published in 1987. “Garner’s Modern American Usage” came out in 1998 and is in its fourth edition; with a significant tweaking of the title, it’s now “Garner’s Modern English Usage.” Move over, Henry Fowler.

Garner’s success—he is a highly sought-after speaker among lawyers and lexicographers—has enabled him to indulge his passions as a bibliophile and an antiquarian. A selection of sixty-eight items from the Garner Collection is on view at the Grolier Club (47 East Sixtieth Street, through May 15th), with a sumptuous hardcover limited-edition catalogue that serves as a companion guide. To enter the exhibit, titled “Taming the Tongue: In the Heyday of English Grammar (1713-1851),” via a discreet door on the second-floor landing of a stairwell at the Grolier, is to climb aboard the Grammarama ride at Disneyland for Nerds.

Above the mantel hangs a portrait of Samuel Johnson, the father of the English dictionary. An uncut first edition of Johnson’s two-volume Dictionary of the English Language (1755) is open to the pages for words beginning with “con” (“confectionary” to “confine”). What makes the dictionary eligible for the sweet confines of a grammar exhibit is that it contains an essay Johnson wrote, expressly for the dictionary, called “A Grammar of the English Tongue.” Johnson was not that interested in writing about grammar, and his treatment is said to be half-hearted.

Johnson’s portrait is flanked on the left by one of Noah Webster, his American counterpart. Webster didn’t set out to be a grammarian, either—he had studied law, but did not have a very successful practice—yet, as the author of “A Plain and Comprehensive Grammar,” he had strong opinions on the subject. A first edition, which looks to have been well used, is in the exhibit, along with several of Webster’s letters, most of them cranky. To the right of Johnson is Lindley Murray, who, though the least known of these three presiding spirits, came to be called the father of English grammar. Murray was a Quaker, American born, who was living in York, England, when he published his “English Grammar,” in 1795. The full title—“English Grammar Adapted to the Different Classes of Learners”—makes it sound like an early version of “Grammar for Dummies.”

The selection on view at the Grolier is a mere sliver of Garner’s collection; at home in Dallas, he has two more first editions of Johnson’s dictionary, along with a lot of other stuff that will make a language enthusiast’s eyes bulge. The catalogue for the exhibit has two subthemes. One is a running count of how many parts of speech are defined in each grammar book: anywhere from two (nouns and verbs) to thirty-three (don’t ask). (The traditional number is eight.) The other thread is rivalry and backbiting among authors. In that era, a Grammar was second only to a Bible as a necessary object in a God-fearing household. While the Bible provided moral instruction, the Grammar, as a guide to correct linguistic behavior, might shore up confidence and help one get ahead in the world. A pageant of pedants, both male and female, squabbled for their share of the market. The major conflict on exhibit is between Webster and Murray—or perhaps simply within Webster. Garner suggests that it may have all begun with a handwritten document labelled “Articles of Agreement for the Sale of Land in Lower Manhattan by Lindley Murray to Noah Webster,” dated December 20, 1794.

. . . .

At the time, Webster, the author of the aforementioned grammar as well as of a spelling book and a reader for schoolchildren, was living in New York, where he was the editor of the Minerva, the city’s first daily newspaper, a pro-Federalist mouthpiece. Murray was in York, so the sale was handled by his brother John. Garner writes that it would have been natural for John Murray to pass along to Lindley any pertinent information about the prospective buyer, notably his authorship of a grammar book, and that this may have given Lindley the idea for a grammar book of his own. Webster certainly thought so. Or, at least, Murray’s interest in grammar seems to have arisen rather suddenly. To be fair, there was a recognized need for such a book in Quaker schools, but the timing of its appearance is suspicious: “English Grammar” was published in the spring following the real-estate deal. Webster accused Murray of stealing his material, although he had said himself, when accused of plagiarism, that “the materials of all English grammars are the same.” It would be difficult to get a patent on, say, the objective case.

Murray instructed his brother not to respond to any of Webster’s claims. (He, too, was a lawyer.) “Whoever writes a Grammar, must, in some degree, make use of his predecessors’ labours,” he contended. Webster subsequently pointed out perceived errors in Murray’s work (“The word that is never a conjunction. It is a pronoun or pronominal adjective in every sentence in which it is used”). For decades, he pressed his case for copyright reform, eventually becoming known as the father of American copyright law. Meanwhile, Murray’s Grammar was popular on both sides of the Atlantic; with its sequels, he ultimately sold more than fifteen million books. Webster fell back on lexicography.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Twelve Years

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

On April 2, 2009, I started a blog with this:

This post marks the beginning of an experiment. I will post sections of a work in progress—a book tentatively titled The Freelancer’s Survival Guide—here, on my website.

If you go back and read that original post, you can see how tentative I am about the whole concept of an online blog. Two friends, Michael J. Totten and Scott William Carter, had a meeting with me and Dean and talked to us about new ways of publishing.

In 2009, blogging—with a donate button—was new. This was before Patreon, before Kickstarter, before all kinds of innovations. And now, twelve years later, blogging the way that I do it has become…well, not passé, exactly, but not necessarily the preferred modern way to do things.

Old hat. Old fashioned.

Weird how time flies.

And it flies fast. I was going to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the blog, but Allyson Longueira, who runs our company WMG Publishing, got diagnosed with a brain tumor and was in surgery around that point. We weren’t sure if she was going to survive, and we had to keep the business alive at the same time.

Then, last year, on April 2—Well, you were all around in 2020. You know that’s when the entire world was shutting down. We were worried about survival once again, and certainly not in the way that we expected.

So here we are in 2021. Most of us are excited about getting a vaccine. We’re using words like “opening up” and “returning to some semblance of normal,” because the past year has been anything but.

Reflecting on that time and those changes is almost impossible. Trying to imagine this world from the perspective of 2009 is well, I’m either afraid I would have believed me and panicked or (more likely) I would have reacted like the character in Julie Nolke’s YouTube series “Explaining The Pandemic To My Past Self.”

Really, when you think about all that happened since January of 2020, well, yeah. Really hard to believe.

But the pandemic was easier to live through because of innovations we didn’t really have in 2009. The Kindle was just premiering then. We didn’t have Zoom. We didn’t have much social media (maybe that’s a good thing?) and we certainly weren’t as connected online as we are now.

. . . .

Just today (as I write this), I got an email from a friend who is very invested in traditional publishing. He’s worried about how something he published will play “in the field.”

I stared at the email. What field? I wanted to ask. Because you can play in the remaining sandboxes of traditional publishing, but that “field” has gotten narrower and narrower.

Since it’s no longer a monolith, and it’s possible—no, better—to publish without it, the very idea of worrying what the curators think startled me.

Yet, when I reread the original post that started this entire publishing blog, I see that attitude underlying every sentence.

I was writing a blog that would become a book, and doing so with the online support of the readers. I honestly didn’t think anyone would read the post, let alone send in a few dollars to back what I was doing.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

PG’s brain doesn’t do anniversaries very well. Ditto for birthdays. BC (before computers) whenever he got a new paper calendar/schedule book at the beginning of a new year, he copied all of his annual reminders from his prior calendar into the new one.

Now, of course, he has recurring annual reminders on his digital calendar (and still fumbles an annual event once in awhile).

The them of Kris’ post got PG looking back and he discovered that he started TPV over ten years ago.

His first post referenced a web post that is still up – here’s the link

His only observation is the more things change . . . .

No logo?

From The Bookseller:

There’s definitely a thing about birds and publishing houses. Not just in the UK, but all around the world. 

Off the top of my head, I could name dozens of publishers who have gone for birds for their logo. Perhaps for obvious reasons – wings can look like book pages, and the ability to fly evokes what we do when we read – many publishers have chosen a feathered creature. 

Forty years ago, when they founded Edizioni E/O (Europa UK’s Italian sister house), my parents picked the stork. There is no particular love for birds in my household as far as I can tell, but the stork is a migrating bird which, in the collective imagination, carries something in its beak (usually a newborn). The stork migrates from east to west, and that’s precisely what E/O stands for, est/ovest (east/west), because, at the time the name of company was chosen, it focused on bringing the very best of Eastern European literature westward, to Italy. 

This bird with its elegant long legs seemed made to grace a book spine. And that’s exactly where you find it on our Italian editions, while the front cover carries only the company’s full name.  

Our stork grew restless and ambitious, and eventually, following the dictates of its nature, migrated again, further west, from Italy to New York, where we established Europa US, and then flew back east to the UK, landing on the front cover of our English editions. As a matter of fact, our stork keeps migrating every which way: altogether we publish authors from around 70 countries, motivated by the deeply rooted belief that literature can and must travel far. 

The reason I’m telling the story of our stork is that there’s also a thing about publishers’ logos appearing – or not – on book covers. Apart from a few exceptions (notably Penguin and Faber), few UK publishers persist in this practice.  There are several sensible reasons for this – to leave enough space for quotes, to stress the author’s importance, to ensure a tidy look, and, ultimately, to convey that every book is unique and should be published to reflect this.

Also, most imprints have over time lost their original identity, adopting an approach which is both more general and more eclectic. So, books are often purposely aesthetically undistinguishable from one another, and branding is an insider game, something that happens within the trade, as a way to communicate publishing and acquisition strategies to fellow publishing professionals.

It would seem that a logo on the front cover is a privilege accorded only to prestigious publishers with a long history: because unless a publisher is renowned among readers, what is the point of having a logo that only a few would be able to recognize?

. . . .

Europa is a UK company founded by and staffed with cosmopolitan people. In continental Europe, where some of us are from, all publishers, from the biggest corporate conglomerates to the tiniest independent houses, from academic to trade to children’s publishers, put their logos on book jackets. It’s always been a straightforward way to communicate to readers that behind every single book there is a unifying editorial vision (in Italy we call it “il progetto”, the project). A way to tell readers that just as every author and every book is unique, every publisher is also unique and follow its own taste and ethos. All tools that can help readers make informed choices. 

In Italy, one can often overhear readers saying things like “I can’t wait to head to the bookshop for the Adelphi promo”, or, “I just adore Sellerio”, and, “I think Feltrinelli have the best books”.  The same is true of readers in France, Germany, Spain and in other countries. When browsing in a bookshop, the publishing house becomes one of the basic criteria for their purchases. The fact that, in addition to having their logo on the cover, publishers almost invariably adopt a coherent overall design policy, makes this process even more radical. In Italian bookshops, books are frequently grouped by publisher, not just on display tables, but on the shelves too. Vertical displays of a publishers’ backlist often provide readers with an overview, a sense of how a list is curated, and ultimately why it exists. Seeing a whole wall covered with titles by a single publisher or imprint focuses attention on “the project”, helping readers discover new authors.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Although PG loves Italy and many of the Italians he has met, he thinks the OP is vastly over-emphasizing the weight most book purchasers place on the publisher of a book which they may find interesting. Or not.

PG admits he may be projecting since he virtually never pays attention to the identity of the publisher when making a book purchase and couldn’t tell you the name of the publisher of any book he has read either recently or in ancient times.

The OP also assumes, like many others before it, that most people are buying/will buy most of their books from physical bookstores.

Nuclear Folly

From The Wall Street Journal:

On Oct. 23, 1962, a delegation of prominent Romanians arrived at the Kremlin to meet Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Their host was foul of mood. Boorish and suspicious by nature, the strongman had spent a sleepless night deliberating with the Presidium over what to do in the escalating crisis for which Khrushchev himself was responsible: his secret installation, across that summer, of nuclear-weapons systems and some 40,000 Soviet troops in Cuba.

Aerial reconnaissance revealed the installations to the Americans on Oct. 14, and President Kennedy, in a televised address eight days later, announced a naval quarantine to block delivery of additional weapons to the island. All sides—with the exception, perhaps, of Fidel Castro, who relished Havana’s role at the center of world events—feared that any display of aggressiveness, or miscalculation, could trigger an apocalyptic nuclear exchange.

At the reception in their honor, the Romanians watched Soviet Defense Minister Marshal Malinovsky approach his boss with bad news: The U.S. Navy was on high alert, readying the blockade. “Khrushchev flew into a rage,” Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, a Romanian communist leader, reported later to Romanian intelligence. The premier was “yelling, cursing and issuing an avalanche of contradictory orders.” He “threatened to ‘nuke’ the White House, and cursed loudly every time anyone pronounced the words America or American.”

The vast literature on the Cuban Missile Crisis has made it a case study across scholarly disciplines: intelligence analysis, nuclear brinkmanship, game theory, organizational psychology. To this literature, the Oct. 23 Kremlin outburst—which appears midway through Serhii Plokhy’s superb “Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis”—would appear to mark a significant contribution: an eyewitness account of one of the saga’s two key decision makers exhibiting not only uncontrolled anger but delirium. Khrushchev’s threat to “nuke” the White House, his “avalanche of contradictory orders,” constitute the most troubling behavior we could imagine in a leader “managing” such a crisis.

. . . .

This time the bad news came from the KGB’s Vladimir Semichastny: a cable reporting that Kennedy had canceled a trip to Brazil to oversee the quarantine. Mr. Plokhy, a professor of history at Harvard, provides this account, drawing on Gheorghiu-Dej’s report: “Khrushchev’s face grew red as he read the cable. He started ‘cursing like a bargeman,’ threw the paper on the floor, and stamped on it with his heel. ‘That’s how I’m going to crush that viper,’ he shouted, also calling Kennedy a ‘millionaire’s whore.’ ”

Another arresting passage unmentioned in the earlier books relates the confession of Vasilii Kuznetsov, the Soviet deputy foreign minister: “From the very beginning of the crisis, fear of the possible course of further developments arose within the Soviet leadership and increased with every passing hour.”

Mr. Plokhy’s endnotes frequently cite Russian and Ukrainian sources: declassified KGB documents, memoirs of retired Soviet apparatchiks, studies by Russian scholars, much of it new to English readers. The range of such references conveys the scope of the author’s research and explains how he could add so much to the documentary record of a subject covered so voluminously. “Nuclear Folly” is an immense scholarly achievement, engrossing and terrifying, surely one of the most important books ever written about the Cuban Missile Crisis and 20th-century international relations.

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

Back up and running smoothly

Casa PG has returned to the 21st century with all systems up and running well.

PG will take a moment to celebrate the people who fix things when they go wrong.

As mentioned previously, internet service at Casa PG was down for a couple of days following a new, improved update from PG’s internet service provider.

This morning a guy showed up with a baseball cap he had been wearing for awhile and a small bag containing a laptop and likely a few tools, meters, etc.

It took him about five minutes to determine what the problem was. He said, “These new boxes do this all the time,” explained what the problem was and told PG he’d fix it so it didn’t happen again.

A few keystrokes on the laptop which was connected to Casa PG’s main network box, a long wait while genius central downloaded updates and fixes and the electrons were flowing smoothly once again.

PG doubts that the repair guy has a four-year degree in anything, but he has used his native talents to develop an intuitive understanding about how electronic things work. Fifty years ago, he would have been an auto mechanic who could fix any car you brought in to his garage regardless of age and tell you what to do to avoid the same problem in the future.

PG opines that our contemporary society doesn’t value such people highly enough. Kudos and recognition go to those who create the electronics and the digital information that resides thereon and who are able use those organized electrons skillfully when they’re available, but not the guys (they tend to be mostly guys) who fix the basic pieces when they stop working.

Honor and glory to the people with well-worn baseball caps who are essential to keep us from regressing to the dark ages.

Why Was My Protagonist So Prickly?

From Writer Unboxed:

You know how it is when someone points out a jarring aspect of your writing, and you to go great lengths to explain why it’s absolutely purposeful and necessary? And then someone else points out the same element in a completely different manuscript … and then someone else in a third one …

When that happened to me, I thought it was just a tic in my writing. Then I began to wonder if maybe it wasn’t about my writing, but about me—because we put features and feelings into our characters that reflect who we are and how we see the world. In my case, it was a tendency to make my protagonist brittle and defensive. Someone with a chip on her shoulder, a snarky edge.

I told myself that I needed her to be that way so I could show an arc of transformation into someone kinder and more generous. You have to have a before in order to show a contrasting after, right? That was the point—an emotional journey, through inner and outer challenges, to a better self.

Yet something began to nag at me, and I wondered why I always chose this particular kind of before, and whether it was helpful to my writing.

These are two separate but related questions. One was what this tendency implied about me, as a person. The other was whether it was the best choice for my stories. Since this isn’t a confessional website—and I’m a very nice person, really!—I decided to ponder the second question and see if it might shed light on the first.

I asked myself: Couldn’t there be a compelling story about the emotional journey of someone who starts out a little bit good, struggles, is tested, does something extraordinary, and ends up being “more good” than she was at the beginning? Why does the protagonist have to start out angry and selfish in order to have an epiphany, pivot, and moment of redemption? After all, why would readers want to spend the first fifty pages of a novel with someone they wouldn’t want to spend fifty minutes with in real life?

Insert head-smacking emoji—because that was exactly the problem with the early versions of my recent novel.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Simon & Schuster and Political Books

From Publishing Perspectives:

Less than 100 days into the United States’ Biden administration—and, for that matter, less than two weeks after Simon & Schuster announced its two-book deal with the former vice-president Mike Pence—S&S has experienced new encounters with the heat of political publishing.

Today (April 20), Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp has issued a memo to staff, announcing that “we will proceed in our publishing agreement with vice-president Mike Pence.” That memo–which we’ll return to later in this article–is “in response to a petition, circulated by some of our employees, that calls into question recent acquisition decisions and ongoing business relationships at Simon & Schuster.”

Noting that “we have experienced outrage from both sides of the political divide,” Karp is issuing his second such message to employees in five days.

The backstory here begins late last week, as S&S determined that it will not distribute a book by one of the police officers involved in the raid on the home of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

You may recall that on January 7, Simon & Schuster cancelled its contract with Sen. Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, after Hawley had helped lead objections on January 6 to certification of Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump. But when Hawley’s book was then picked up by Regnery Publishing, which is distributed by Simon & Schuster, things from S&S were quiet. Distribution contracts don’t normally allow a distributor leeway over what it will or won’t distribute for contracted publishers.

And yet the question of distributing the book on the Breonna Taylor incident has had a different outcome at this Big Five company, which Bertelsmann has agreed to acquire in a deal still pending approval from regulators. And an especially thoughtful letter from Karp to the company’s employees reflects the level of ethical and business dilemma that executives in publishing can encounter as political and social issues continue to upend national and international dialogue and policy.

The moment becomes one to consider as a potential evolutionary phase in publishing, the focus being on the book business’ responsibilities amid social and political upheaval, and the reach of those responsibilities in the supply chain—in this new case, distribution rather than publication.

On Friday (April 16), Karp wrote, “Yesterday was a difficult day for all of us at Simon & Schuster, our authors, and our colleagues and contacts in the publishing industry. As you know, we decided that we would not distribute a planned book from Post Hill Press by Louisville police officer Jonathan Mattingly, who was involved in the death of Breonna Taylor.”

Taylor, for international readers who may not be recalling the tragedy, was 26 when she was shot and killed as she slept in her home in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 13, 2020, during a bungled police raid as part of a drug investigation. Taylor, who was Black, was an emergency room technician with the University of Louisville Health program, and her boyfriend Kenneth Walker was at her apartment at the time of the raid.

Jonathan Mattingly was one of the white plainclothes police officers involved in the raid. Mattingly was shot in the leg during the raid and his attorney last October announced that he would sue the late Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend Walker. As Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter report at The New York Times, an FBI ballistics report found that police sergeant Mattingly fired at least one of the six bullets that struck Taylor, “though his was not the lethal bullet.”

. . . .

“As a publisher, we seek a broad range of views for our lists. As a distributor, we have a limited and more detached role. The distinction between publishing and distribution is frequently lost on people who do not follow the publishing business closely, but it is a reality of this important part of our overall business portfolio.”

Karp is talking case-by-case basis, and cautions that the distribution role cannot accommodate the decision made on the Mattingly book. The publisher-as-distributor, in other words, is in a bind that’s becoming increasingly visible and uncomfortable.

In what may be the best possible expression of that bind, Karp concludes, “I understand and am sorry that yesterday’s events have caused distress and disruption for you. It has been a tumultuous year, marked by tragedy and injustice. We are grateful that throughout this time you have so openly and courageously shared with us your views and opinions and experiences. We will continue to seek your help and understanding as we strive to move forward as company.”

. . . .

The open letter this spring from publishing industry professionals to the industry’s executives has called on companies to refuse to contract former members of Donald Trump’s administration. The Times article from Alter and Harris indicates that the letter has more than 630 signatures on it. That letter refers to service in the Trump White House as “a uniquely mitigating criterion for publishing houses when considering book deals” and it asserts that book publishing is sometimes given to “chasing the money and notoriety of some pretty sketchy people” with book contracts.

Karp’s answer to the petition today, in asserting that S&S will go ahead with its Pence contract, says, in part, “Our role is to find those authors and works that can shed light on our world–from first-time novelists to journalists, thought leaders, scientists, memoirists, personalities, and, yes, those who walk the halls of power.

“Regardless of where those authors sit on the ideological spectrum, or if they hold views that run counter to the belief systems held by some of us, we apply a rigorous standard to assure that in acquiring books, we will be bringing into the world works that provide new information or perspectives on events to which we otherwise might not have access.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

As PG read the OP, he wondered about the nature of the discussion the S&S CEO Jonathan Karp had with his boss at Bertelsmann.

As PG has mentioned before on TPV, Bertelsmann is a giant world-wide media company headquartered in Gütersloh, a city of about 100,000 located in North Rhine-Westphalia and effectively controlled by a group of billionaires, the Mohn family.

PG suspects the Mohn family is much more interested in short-term and long-term profits than in contemporary US cancel-culture.

PG further suspects that Mr. Karp was informed that a book by the former vice-president of the United States was likely to be a money-maker and that Bertelsmann was not interested in having one of the companies it owned involved in a political catfight in the United States over such a book. If Karp couldn’t handle his employees, Bertelsmann would replace him with someone who could.

But, as usual, PG could be completely wrong.

There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing

From The New York Times:

At first, I didn’t recognize the symptoms that we all had in common. Friends mentioned that they were having trouble concentrating. Colleagues reported that even with vaccines on the horizon, they weren’t excited about 2021. A family member was staying up late to watch “National Treasure” again even though she knows the movie by heart. And instead of bouncing out of bed at 6 a.m., I was lying there until 7, playing Words with Friends.

It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.

As scientists and physicians work to treat and cure the physical symptoms of long-haul Covid, many people are struggling with the emotional long-haul of the pandemic. It hit some of us unprepared as the intense fear and grief of last year faded.

In the early, uncertain days of the pandemic, it’s likely that your brain’s threat detection system — called the amygdala — was on high alert for fight-or-flight. As you learned that masks helped protect us — but package-scrubbing didn’t — you probably developed routines that eased your sense of dread. But the pandemic has dragged on, and the acute state of anguish has given way to a chronic condition of languish.

In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Flourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being: You feel despondent, drained and worthless.

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.

The term was coined by a sociologist named Corey Keyes, who was struck that many people who weren’t depressed also weren’t thriving. His research suggests that the people most likely to experience major depression and anxiety disorders in the next decade aren’t the ones with those symptoms today. They’re the people who are languishing right now. And new evidence from pandemic health care workers in Italy shows that those who were languishing in the spring of 2020 were three times more likely than their peers to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference. When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself.

. . . .

Psychologists find that one of the best strategies for managing emotions is to name them. Last spring, during the acute anguish of the pandemic, the most viral post in the history of Harvard Business Review was an article describing our collective discomfort as grief. Along with the loss of loved ones, we were mourning the loss of normalcy. “Grief.” It gave us a familiar vocabulary to understand what had felt like an unfamiliar experience. Although we hadn’t faced a pandemic before, most of us had faced loss. It helped us crystallize lessons from our own past resilience — and gain confidence in our ability to face present adversity.

We still have a lot to learn about what causes languishing and how to cure it, but naming it might be a first step. It could help to defog our vision, giving us a clearer window into what had been a blurry experience. It could remind us that we aren’t alone: languishing is common and shared.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Reports of My Death or Dismemberment . . .

PG apologizes for his lack of online activity yesterday.

Casa PG suffered from an internet outage connected with an “upgrade” in internet service.

Suffice to say, PG spent a lot of frustrated time attempting to fix the outage until finally succumbing to the need to call tech support, which was no help. Evidently, PG may not be the only customer with problems because a physical tech support person can’t arrive at Casa PG until tomorrow morning.

Cellular internet access via PG’s phone requires a great deal more patience than PG is able to muster under the circumstances.

So, PG is writing this post from a small café where he and Mrs. PG frequently lunch. The café is a lovely place with good food and friendly staff. It also offers free internet access.

Since Mrs. PG uses a notebook computer for her writing and PG spends his working days at a maxed-out desktop hardwired into his home network and only uses a notebook computer when the PG’s take a trip, PG uses hand-me-down portable computers from Mrs. PG.

One of the consequences of PG’s intermittent use of his laptop is that, when he starts it up, lots of software updates require attention before he can use it. Many, many updates plus an adequate restaurant wireless connection means PG spends a lot of time waiting for things to happen and restarting the computer before he can do anything useful with his laptop.

Being without fast home internet service has made PG realize that, for him, in 2021, a computer without internet access is pretty much useless.

A Tale of Two Platforms

From Marker:

Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest person, and Amazon, the company he founded, one of the world’s most admired and valuable. Two recent books, Invent and Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos, with an introduction by Walter Isaacson, and Working Backwards, by longtime Amazon executives Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, offer lessons from the company’s enormous success.

The Family Business, by Keel Hunt, due out April 20, tells the story of another company, Ingram Industries, which, not coincidentally, played an indispensable role in enabling Amazon’s initial success as the world’s largest online bookstore. Ingram is a family owned business, founded in 1857 as a sawmill in Wisconsin but reinvented multiple times, eventually becoming a transportation and distribution company based in Nashville. 50 years ago, it branched out into book wholesaling, later adding video (and in the heyday of that industry, packaged software.) When Amazon was founded In 1995, it was essentially a web front-end to Ingram’s warehouses and its database of virtually every book that was commercially available. Even today, the Ingram Content Group is a key part of the hidden infrastructure of publishing and bookselling in the US, including Amazon.

Reading these corporate biographies in parallel provides a lot of food for thought. I spend a lot of my time these days studying marketplaces and the technology platforms that enable them: Amazon, Google, Shopify, Alibaba, and of course, my own O’Reilly learning platform. I’m interested in what makes marketplaces succeed and what makes them fail. And in particular, I’m trying to understand how modern technology-based platforms decide the central question of economics: who gets what and why?

. . . .

The core narrative of Silicon Valley is of the invention of a new, magical user experience so transformative that it draws hundreds of millions of users: a storefront from which you can order any product with one click, a search engine that gives access to all the world’s information, a phone that is “insanely great,” an app that summons a car and driver to pick you up within minutes wherever you are and take you wherever you want to go. Exponential user growth is seen as the ultimate measure of success. Today, Silicon Valley companies look to be valued at billions of dollars on that metric alone, when some of them can hardly be called businesses, since they have no profits and may even lack a plan for earning any.

Jeff Bezos founded one of the first of the internet’s hyper growth companies, but he understood that the reality is far more complex than simply growth in users. In 2001, he supposedly drew Amazon’s strategy on a napkin. The picture looked something like this:

Jeff pictured a flywheel in which sellers provide a big selection of products, and the unique Amazon customer experience of unparalleled access to those products drives more traffic, drawing even more sellers. Growth of a super-scale business allows a lower cost structure, allowing Amazon to lower prices for customers, which drives an even better customer experience, which drives more traffic, draws more sellers and more products, around and around, faster and faster.

Companies like Amazon, Uber and Lyft, and even Google and Netflix, are marketplaces, connecting and enabling both buyers and sellers. Amazon connects buyers to hundreds of millions of products; Uber and Lyft connect riders with drivers, and Google and Netflix connect readers and viewers with content providers.

One of the big problems in these hyper-scaled marketplaces is building up both sides of the market at the same time. 

. . . .

It’s a lot easier if you only have to build one side of the market. When Amazon launched in 1995 as “the world’s biggest bookstore,” it didn’t have to spend money assembling a critical mass of books, publishers, and authors. Ingram had already done that. Starting in 1970, Ingram had been connecting publishers and bookstores, such that any bookstore — not just Amazon — had access to every book in print. Jeff’s revolutionary insight, the one that launched Amazon, was that the web made it possible to create a friendly online interface to Ingram’s enormous catalog and that technology could be used to radically simplify the process of ordering and delivering. And the flywheel began to spin.

By 2001, when Jeff drew his flywheel diagram, Amazon was already selling electronics and music CDs as well as books, and before long, it was the interface to virtually anything its customers might want to buy. Amazon also created its own, much faster, real-time distribution layer, while continuing to rely on Ingram (and other wholesalers of different kinds of products) for those products that have less demand. As its flywheel spun faster and faster, Amazon took in more and more products and vendors, built more and more infrastructure for warehousing and delivery, and became the master of logistics that we see today. With the success of its third-party marketplace, millions of sellers now compete to offer hundreds of millions of products.

. . . .

In his 1998 Letter to Shareholders, Bezos wrote, “Our customers have made our business what it is, they are the ones with whom we have a relationship, and they are the ones to whom we owe a great obligation.”

And there’s the rub. Because Amazon understands so well that delighting the customer with lower prices, faster delivery, and a better customer experience drives its growth, it can sometimes forget that it operates a two-sided marketplace in which its merchants also matter. Rather than considering its merchants as among those “with whom we have a relationship, and … the ones to whom we owe a great obligation,” Amazon seems to view them as a resource to be exploited, an inexhaustible fount of redundant supply to whom no obligation is owed.

This is the Achilles heel of Silicon Valley. Focus on the user, taken as the only gospel, becomes a liability. Amazon faces antitrust investigations in both Europe and the US based not just on strongarm tactics against competitors but against its merchants. Google is likewise being investigated for competing against the web sites whose content it was originally created to help consumers search. Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick’s palpable disdain for one of his drivers led to a massive PR backlash and his ouster from the company.

Amazon’s treatment of its merchants seems like a curious blind spot in a company that has been so prescient, so innovative, and so capable of creating value for those in its ecosystem. Looking at Bezos’s flywheel, it should be clear to the company that merchants are as important to the flywheel as customers.

Why does this happen? Unlike many critics of Silicon Valley, I don’t think it’s because the leaders of these companies are making decisions solely motivated by profit as is so often claimed by their critics. In fact, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Mark Zuckerberg are profoundly thoughtful individuals working to do the right thing. The problem is that they are working within an economic system that values growth above all else, disdains small businesses as inefficient, and tilts the playing field against them.

. . . .

Jeff Bezos has told his team that “[other companies’] margin is our opportunity,” and accordingly, Amazon works to eliminate anyone it considers a middleman between the consumer and the ultimate source of supply. As Business Insider pointed out, though, this didn’t eliminate costs so much as it “shifted them to different, often hard to police and control places instead.”

“Before online retail, supply chains relied on friction to achieve quality. Becoming a vendor to Walmart required years of work and experience. Those vendor relationships were precious and would last for decades. Because of how hard it was to build one, Walmart could trust on the network of vendors to keep up the quality. In turn, they were invested in vetting their suppliers. Friction in the system meant the supply chain could be trusted. And if anything went wrong, there was a clear path to follow to find the responsible party.”

For Amazon, competition with its merchants also means that those merchants have an incentive to look elsewhere for a better deal. Over the years, Amazon has rebuffed competitors from Ebay to Walmart. Shopify, a platform company that provides infrastructure for companies to operate their own ecommerce sites, is the first rival that has begun to catch up to Amazon, with Gross Merchandise Volume now about $120 billion to Amazon’s $490 billion (versus $38 billion for Ebay, and Walmart in the “single digit billions.”) One executive at Shopify said to me, “Amazon went down the wrong path enough for us to exist.”

What does all this have to do with Ingram?

Ingram is a private company. That means it doesn’t have a public stock price that allows it to receive decades of future earnings today. In this sense, it’s an old-fashioned company, which provides a service and makes its money in the form of each year’s profit. A dollar of earnings is worth a dollar to the company, not $1100 (Tesla), not $77 (Amazon), not $34 (Apple) or $37 (Google or Microsoft.)

Unexpectedly, this allows a company to take a longer-term, more balanced view. If you can achieve an astronomic valuation on user growth alone, it is easy to convince yourself that any improvement that delights users and speeds user acquisition is worthwhile, whether it be lower prices, faster delivery, or more corporate efficiency to enable those things, even if it is at the expense of other elements of the flywheel, such as the merchants who sell on your platform or the drivers who deliver the packages or the passengers to their destination.

Ingram doesn’t have “users.” It is a B2B platform. Both sides of its marketplace are businesses: that is, publishers and bookstores (in the segment of its business that we have always dealt with.) And it has to thoughtfully balance the needs of both of them. It can’t sacrifice one to please the other. And it doesn’t have to do so to please Wall Street. Ingram’s management understands that the businesses on both sides of its marketplace are its customers, and obsesses about both of them.

Ingram’s innovation began with support for booksellers. In 1973, the company provided a weekly microfiche feed of new titles, radically improving the ability of small bookstores to keep up with the output of the fast-growing publishing industry. However, much of what has driven Ingram over the years is innovation designed to support its suppliers (authors and publishers). 

. . . .

There’s no question that Amazon has also introduced many services that benefit the supplier side of its marketplace. But Amazon’s innovations on behalf of the supplier side often come with costs designed to soak up their margin. Merchants on the platform are expected to compete fiercely with each other for attention. Amazon’s huge and fast growing advertising business, for example, can be seen as a tax on merchants. Before the addition of this lucrative business, merchants mostly had to compete on product quality and price. Now, they must also pay to play.

Link to the rest at Marker

As PG read the OP, he was reminded of an old quote which is attributed to many different people:

What you see depends on where you stand.

The author of the OP, Tim O’Reilly, is the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, a company that may be most known by those who formerly spent time in college bookstores or the technology section of traditional bookstores for the distinctive covers of its technical publications.

PG can’t say for certain, but he expects O’Reilly’s book business was pretty well decimated by the Web which was, from the very beginning, jammed with free information on the topics covered by pretty much any book O’Reilly sold.

As far as the OP’s assessment of who Amazon’s “customers” are, the question for any business is, “What’s the best price (from my standpoint) I can find that will maximize my profits from everybody necessary for my business to survive and succeed?”

Paying close attention to both outgo and income is essential for survival and success.

  • If Amazon is not willing to pay enough to its suppliers to ensure it has products its customers want to purchase, Amazon has a problem.
  • If Amazon is not willing to price its products/services at a level that customers are willing to pay, Amazon has a problem.

These calculations are not subject to a one-and-done approach for Amazon. It has to constantly consider what prices will result in its having products to sell and what prices its customers will pay.

If O’Reilly is willing to sell Amazon a box of tech manuals today for $1.00 less than yesterday’s price, is Amazon treating O’Reilly badly or unfairly if it says it wants today’s price not yesterday’s price?

Nearly everything Amazon sells is available from a variety of other retailers. Hardcopy books, ebooks, toothpaste, diapers, are all available from a zillion other vendors.

PG just checked and Amazon’s top five bestselling products included four different brands of disposable diapers and one brand of baby wipes for cleaning up while changing a diaper. PG is not an expert on diapers and baby wipes, but he expects that a great many other vendors, both online and IRL (in real life) are offering to sell disposable diapers and baby wipes.

Amazon is never free from price competition, service competition and every other sort of competition known to humankind for 99.9% of the products it sells.

PG just checked and Amazon’s percentage net profit margin over the last ten years is in the low to mid single-digits, typical of a great many other retailers, small and large.

The GOP’s big bulk book-buying machine is boosting Republicans on the bestseller lists

From The Washington Post:

As it happens, Crenshaw and his publisher, Hachette Book Group, got a little help from the Texas Republican’s friends.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which works to elect GOP candidates to Congress, spent nearly $400,000 on bulk purchases of the book. The organization acquired 25,500 copies through two online booksellers, enough to fuel “Fortitude’s” ascent up the bestseller lists. The NRCC said it gave away copies as incentives to donors, raising $1.5 million in the process.

The NRCC wasn’t the only outfit providing a big-bucks boost to conservative authors. Four party-affiliated organizations, including the Republican National Committee, collectively spent more than $1 million during the past election cycle mass-purchasing books written by GOP candidates, elected officials and personalities, according to Federal Election Commission expenditure reports. The purchases helped turn several volumes into bestsellers.

. . . .

A big buy can launch a book to prominence, unleashing a stream of royalties for its author and potentially driving up cash advances for their next book.

And that can be a significant source of income for lawmakers. Brett Kappel, an attorney who specializes in federal election regulations, said members of Congress are forbidden from earning more than $29,595 in income beyond their federal salaries in 2021. But book advances and royalties are specifically exempted from these limits.

“You can see why writing books is one of the favorite ways for members to earn outside income,” Kappel said.

. . . .

In February, [another Republican organization] paid nearly $65,000 to Regnery Publishing, Cruz’s publisher, for advance copies of Hawley’s forthcoming book. Hawley’s book was supposed to have been published by Simon & Schuster, but the contract was canceled in January after Hawley came in for widespread criticism for challenging Joe Biden’s electoral victory, leading up to the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.

. . . .

In a series of rulings since 2014, the FEC has advised campaigns to make bulk book buys only through the author’s publisher. This is designed to enable publishers to withhold royalty payments from the author for those purchases, as required by law. Cruz’s campaign followed the FEC guidance in 2015, when it spent nearly $300,000 in campaign funds to buy copies of his previous book directly from the publisher, HarperCollins.

But when it came time to buy thousands of copies of “One Vote Away” last year, the campaign bypassed Cruz’s publisher and went through online retailers Books-a-Million and Barnes & Noble.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Mindy for the tip.

PG notes that, in addition to politicians of all stripes, lots of other people goose initial sales of a book by purchasing a lot of copies during the first couple of days following a book’s release.

Ingram: the global infrastructure for the book industry

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

The global infrastructure for the book business that is not Amazon is owned and operated by the Ingram Content Group. In fact, a lot of the global infrastructure of the book business that is identified as Amazon is actually Ingram. And on top of that, there would probably have been no Amazon, certainly not the one we have, if Ingram hadn’t been innovating for more than two decades before Jeff Bezos left Wall Street to became an entrepreneur.

Ingram has been rewiring and repaving the book business since it was expanded beyond its roots in the 1960s as the Tennessee School Book Depository by its new owner, Bronson Ingram, who made his fortune in the oil business in the decades after World War II. His investment in the book business, which would reconfigure and redefine the industry in many different ways, began as a pure act of kindness. As it turns out, that was a very suitable and appropriate genesis.

As a leading businessman in Nashville, Ingram was involved with Vanderbilt University’s business school. So when Jack Stambaugh retired from a career at Vanderbilt, he accepted Bronson’s offer of an office at Ingram to be a base for his post-University endeavors. A few months later, Ingram observed that Stambaugh did little except read the Wall Street Journal each day and offered to put up the money to buy a business for Stambaugh to run.

And that’s how Ingram bought the Tennessee Book Company. The School Book Depository it operated was a low-risk, stable but no- or low-growth business that enabled local school districts in Tennessee to get textbooks in quantities smaller than publishers wanted to deal with. So the sales were pretty assured — new textbooks in some subjects were acquired every year by some school districts — and the customer base of schools were reliable payers.

Thus begins the story told in “The Family Business”, a history of Ingram by Nashville journalist Keel Hunt, a great storyteller who has known the Ingram family for almost all of its just over five decades of operation. “The Family Business” is being published tomorrow, April 20, by West Margin Press in Berkeley, CA.

Having a part in creating this project has been among the most enjoyable experiences of my career. Working with Hunt, publishing veteran Bruce Harris, and editor Karl Weber has been a voyage of rediscovery of my own time in the business. 

. . . .

The Ingram of today reaches every corner of the global book business. It is more accuracy than hyperbole to say that every publisher, every bookseller, and every library in the world does business with Ingram. As a wholesaler, they carry the books of all publishers and are the primary distributor (the originating source) for those published by hundreds of them. Their CoreSource digital asset repository, which dispatches the digital files for books to deliver ebooks or print books all over the globe, is the single biggest. Their “third party distribution” capability delivers books to more American homes than anybody else, in boxes identifying the customer of Ingram’s — which could be any bookstore including Amazon — that transacted the sale as the source for the book’s purchaser.

. . . .

I have met dozens of people from Ingram. I have consulted with them for years as well and introduced them to projects they have taken on board. I have never met a single person from Ingram who wasn’t smart. I have never met one who was in any way difficult to work with. And what was always most impressive throughout all these decades, they conducted their business without a hint of the bullying (even gentle, polite, subtle bullying) that is endemic in all businesses when large accounts deal with small suppliers.

They are relentlessly efficient and they value operational excellence. They are also very civil and they also value just being nice.

Ingram’s growth was accelerating when I met them. The company did about $1 million in business in 1970 and over $100 million in 1979. (Hitting $100 million is another great story well told in the book.) This growth was fueled by the expansion of retailers enabled by the vastly streamlined supply chain that for the first time allowed booksellers to know, through the microfiche, that they were ordering books they’d reliably have in a few days. That level of certainty in the supply chain had never existed before and it suddenly made bookselling a much better business to be in than it ever was previously.

. . . .

At almost the precise moment that Ingram’s operational efficiency was enabling the invention of the phenomenon of Amazon (clearly detailed in “The Family Business”), the torch was being passed to the next generation of the Ingram family. Bronson’s premature death led to his son, John Ingram, coming back from building Ingram Micro in Europe to take over the family enterprise in 1995.

The late 90s were a prelude to the new digital realities that mark the book business today, and Ingram’s hallmarks — operational excellence, focus on delivering value for their trading partners, and the patient money that only a very private business can invest — both shaped the change and assured the central place Ingram has in the global world of books today.

It was in that period, while Amazon was building their own behemoth, brilliantly leveraging the capabilities that Ingram gave them, that John Ingram launched two initiatives that are still central to the company’s success.

One was Lightning Print, the capability to print a single copy of a book at a commercially acceptable price on short notice. The other was the previously-mentioned “third party distribution”: the capability to ship to the end consumer with the book appearing to come from the Ingram customer using the service. The latter capability enabled any bookstore or web site to sell any book Ingram had as though they were sending it themselves. The former extended that capability beyond the hundreds of thousands of titles Ingram actually stocked to the many millions (now approaching 20 million) in the Lightning database.

In 2021, all you need to be a bookseller is customers and a relationship with Ingram. And all you need to be a publisher is a manuscript, a checkbook to hire some freelancers, and a relationship with Ingram.

Link to the rest at Mike Shatzkin

A Complete Expert Guide to the Amazon Self-Publishing Costs for New Publishers

From The Urban Writers:

Finishing your first book leaves you feeling like you’ve finally arrived at the center stage. The excitement alone can make your world spin around as you read it once more. It’s understandable when the authors want to rush into the next step.

However, they don’t realize there’s a bunch of sharks waiting out there, waiting to snatch them. New writers must take a step back and consider Amazon’s self-publishing cost and pricing before they allow these predators to grab hold of them.

I was in your position a few years back and I was impatient to get my book out there. I needed people to read my story and listen to my advice. I emailed publishers all over the world with a manuscript, hoping to get a response. 

It was only two weeks before the first shark came at me head-first. This publisher was prepared to take my book, but they wanted me to pay for publishing costs upfront. The quotes started pouring in and I was shocked with the requests!

Suddenly, I felt like I had to sell my soul and those of my kids, spouse, and even my dog just to cover the costs. Figures ranged madly but the average was well over $2,000 from publishers that didn’t even leave a stain on the map. 

This might not seem like Mount Kilimanjaro, but I assure you that this was only the cost to get started. I still had to pay ridiculous commissions on top of this. The sacrifice of my soul wasn’t enough and they only promised me 25% of future sales. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t use the easily accessible internet to find other options like a normal person would. I ended up giving my book to a company that would give me 15% royalties and owns the first 5,000 copies in lieu of printing costs. 

I sold my book to the devil, never mind a shark. They haven’t bothered to promote the book and it became lost in the vast world of available reads. The worst of all is that my book is sitting on Amazon at a price that even I wouldn’t pay. 

My heart breaks every time I see my book without reviews, simply wallowing in the black hole of nothingness. I signed my rights away and have no power to take it back or change the price. I don’t want you to experience the same thing I did. 

Link to the rest at The Urban Writers

PG isn’t familiar with The Urban Writers, which apparently sells various editing, formatting, cover design, etc., services to indie authors. They may provide good services at a fair price.

However, PG is inclined to be a bit suspicious of services that bundle various services that may benefit self-published authors. Invariably, not all the money an author pays is going to the people who are editing, formatting, designing covers, performing social media marketing (which can mean almost anything), writing reviews for hire, etc.

Some organizations farm out the actual work to inexpensive offshore labor, which may or may not provide very good quality.

PG suggests that indie authors keep their hands on the wheel of their career and spend some time understanding what’s involved in formatting an ebook or POD books (hint: not very much, although some people do a better job than others).

KDP provides a free tool called Kindle Create which will do a credible job of formatting a clean manuscript into an ebook. Draft2Digital offers more ebooks formatting options than Kindle Create (and, to PG’s eye, better-looking options). It very generously will allow you to use the formatted ebook file to
publish through D2D or anywhere else.

You’ll want to go through the resulting ebook file to check for any errors. Still, they’re not difficult to fix, either in the ebook file or by going back to your original MS and tweaking the format in your original word processing file, then running it back through the ebook formatting tool.

As far as cover design is concerned, an excellent cover will require someone with a good eye and some design talent, but you can find those sorts of people online or, depending upon where you live, among your circle of friends and acquaintances. You’re looking for someone who knows how to use digital design
tools like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop or an equivalent program and creates the sort of thing you think looks polished.

If a local community college offers classes or a major in design, they’ll almost certainly require students to use current digital design tools. Talented students are usually happy to take on projects for a bit of money to help build their design portfolios.

Cruise through Amazon’s book listings, particularly in your genre, and note covers that you think look good and are examples of the type of cover you’re looking for and share this information with your cover artist.

There’s nothing wrong with working with remote professionals to access the talent you need to provide the parts of a finished book you’re not able to create yourself. Still, PG thinks you’re more likely to get better quality at a better price than you will by sending your money to a website black box and hoping you’ll receive something you’ll like in return.

But, as with all other opinions he expresses, PG could be wrong and is happy to be educated concerning his lack of knowledge about a wide range of subjects in the comments.