A green hunting cap squeezed

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

First paragraph of A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

The Silver Age of Essays

From The Paris Review:

The first quarter of the twenty-first century has been an uneasy time of rupture and anxiety, filled with historic challenges and opportunities. In that close to twenty-five-year span, the United States witnessed the ominous opening shot of September 11, followed by the seemingly unending Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the effort to control HIV/AIDS, the 2008 recession, the election of the first African American president, the legalization of same-sex marriage, the contentious reign of Donald Trump, the stepped-up restriction of immigrants, the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, and the coronavirus pandemic, just to name a few major events. Intriguingly, the essay has blossomed during this time, in what many would deem an exceptionally good period for literary nonfiction—if not a golden one, then at least a silver: I think we can agree that there has been a remarkable outpouring of new and older voices responding to this perplexing moment in a form uniquely amenable to the processing of uncertainty.

When the century began, essays were considered box office poison; editors would sometimes disguise collections of the stuff by packaging them as theme-driven memoirs. All that has changed: a generation of younger readers has embraced the essay form and made their favorite authors into best sellers. We could speculate on the reasons for this growing popularity—the hunger for humane, authentic voices trying to get at least a partial grip on the truth in the face of so much political mendacity and information overload; the convenient, bite-size nature of essays that require no excessive time commitment; the rise of identity politics and its promotion of eloquent spokespersons. Rather than trying to figure out why it’s happening, what’s important is to chart the high points of this resurgence, and to account for the range of styles, subgenres, experimental approaches, and moral positions that characterize the contemporary American essay.

Of course, roping off a period like the year 2000 to the present and calling it “contemporary” is somewhat arbitrary, but one has to start somewhere. At least this artificial chronological box allows for the inclusion of older authors who made their mark in the twentieth century and had the temerity to keep producing significant work in the twenty-first (such as John McPhee, Joyce Carol Oates, Barry Lopez, Thomas Lynch). Just as set designers of period films make a mistake in choosing only articles of clothing or furnishings that were produced in that era, forgetting that we always live with the layered material objects of previous decades, so it would be wrong to restrict the literary flavor of an era to writers under forty. Indeed, what makes this period so interesting is the mélange of clashing generations and points of view. There are still tightly reasoned sequential essays being written in the classical mode, side by side with ones that resist that tidiness.

The essay has always been an adaptable, plastic, shape-shifting form: it may take the form of meditation, reportage, blog, humor piece, eulogy, autobiographical slice, diatribe, list, collage, mosaic, lecture, or letter. Contemporary practitioners seem bent on further testing its limits. For instance, Lia Purpura, Eula Biss, and Mary Cappello are drawn to the lyric essay, which stresses the essay’s associational rather than narrative or argumentative properties. Cappello has shrewdly spoken about essay writing—“that non-genre that allows for untoward movement, apposition, and assemblage, that is one part conundrum, one part accident, and that fosters a taste for discontinuity.” In line with Modernist aesthetics, a mosaic essay with “a taste for discontinuity” may be constructed from fragments, numbered or not, with white space breaks between pieces that connect intuitively or emotionally if not logically. It is up to the reader to figure it out. The list essay, which is highly generative of disparate materials, by its very nature evades an argumentative through line, and can seem initially as random as a poetic inventory by Whitman, though it may deepen subtly and organically. (For example, Nicholson Baker’s charming “One Summer,” which crisscrosses periods of his life, nevertheless builds to a revealing self-portrait.)

While the influence of poetic technique on the lyric essay has been largely acknowledged, less recognized is the short story’s impact on the contemporary essay. Many memoir essays exist in a kind of fictive space, progressing through scene and dialogue and a sensory-laden mood that stays tied to the moment by moment. The piece itself may be entirely factual, but the sentences give off a Minimalist frisson that shows the influence of short story writers such as Lydia Davis, Amy Hempel, and Lorrie Moore.

Nonfiction has been agitated in recent years by certain ethical questions, such as, “How legitimate is it to insert fictional details in nonfiction?” or “Is it proper to appropriate the voice of some- one of a different ethnicity, sex, or social class?” That both can be done successfully can be seen in Hilton Als’s “I Am the Happiness of This World,” which channels the silent film star Louise Brooks’s ruminations, as though Brooks herself were dictating an essay to Als from the grave.

The role of technology—the internet and social media—in altering our rhetorical lives may even affect the typography of an essay (as evidenced in Ander Monson’s unshackled “Failure: A Meditation”). “Are we merging with our computers and turning into ‘spiritual machines’?” wondered the essayist Meghan O’Gieblyn. The blog, once viewed as a debasement or poor relation of the essay, has proven itself a useful invitation to free-flowing, self-surprising displays of consciousness (see Ross Gay, Eileen Myles). Some feminist essayists have expressed a desire to arrive at a “post-patriarchal essay,” implying that the very structure of linear argumentation is authoritarian and reinforces status quo sexist power relations. (Maggie Nelson’s influential Bluets and The Argonauts offer clues for shaking up the old model.) Yet all these ways to challenge and subvert the classic essay are in the tradition of the essay itself, whose very name bespeaks an attempt, an experimentation, a stab in the dark. All this is to suggest that the essay remains the most open-ended of forms. (It has even spilled out into other media, as witness the essay film and the graphic essay, subjects for another day.)

Perhaps nothing has so shaped the contemporary practice of essay writing as the rise of the personal essay. It scarcely matters whether the subject be illness (Floyd Skloot), loitering (Charles D’Ambrosio), or prisons (Joyce Carol Oates): some insertion of authorial character is likely to invade the text. Much the way journalism has increasingly surrendered its claims of objective neutrality and allowed reporters room for subjective voice, so the essay has come to rely more and more on an “I.” With that has come an infusion of raw honesty, vulnerability, and awkward admission such as would scarcely have been seen in earlier essays. Younger essayists are often willing to acknowledge confusion, psychological distress, thralldom to contradictory drives and uncontrollable desires. There is often a trade-off: more heat, urgency, diaristic excitement, less perspective. Younger essayists might struggle to resolve questions about their authentic nature and perplexing disparities, while older essayists might feel more at ease with the self’s mutable, impure, self-betraying nature. Those who are entering middle age will often situate their “I” characters on a moving platform that begins in childhood or adolescence and transitions into adulthood and sometimes even parenthood. The personal essayist can accommodate these chronological shifts between life’s passages more easily than the short story writer (unless you’re Alice Munro). As the essayists age, they are less likely to be writing from the midst of distressed confusion and more from a place of wry self-mockery and detachment. The younger the essayist—not all, of course—the more likely an identification with a generational perspective. Popular culture, rock music, or TV programs may be convenient markers for that shared membership. The sense of being part of a generation tends to fade as one grows older: one sees one’s unshakable limits and singularities, for better or worse.

It has long been the province of the personal essayist to turn one’s narrator into a character by asserting defining autobiographical facts, eccentric or contrarian notions, odd tastes, behavioral tics, and so on. Having done so, the essayist might then wish to parry that Crusoe-like separateness by analyzing to what extent he or she belongs to a larger group or tribe. Ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, physical or mental disability, national origin, generational awareness, social class, and political alignment are some of the categories increasingly tempting contemporary essayists to situate themselves in the midst of a group or at an ambivalent angle from it. This is especially true when the minority to which you belong is asserting its rights or finds itself under attack—when the question becomes unavoidably topical.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

From a purely sentimental and personal standpoint, PG would like the essay to regain the stature and prominence it once held.

That said, he’s not optimistic about commercial success. He would be happy to be proven wrong on this point, however.

Here’s a Quarter

For those visitors from outside of the United States, Country-Western music (CW) has a long tradition among US popular music genres.

Part of that tradition includes being looked down on by more than a few people who feel they have more refined musical tastes. While the popularity of extends across the US, fans tend to be most concentrated in unfashionable mostly-rural states in the South and lower Midwest.

Yes, PG enjoys classical music and listens to it through most of his workday, but he’s also always enjoyed the gritty, in your face, I-don’t-care-what-anybody-thinks-I-like-it, working-class attitude that is present in a lot of CW songs.

Therefore, last night, PG decided to experiment by dropping a CW video into TPV from time to time. All of the songs PG will use are old ones because he has no knowledge of what’s been happening in this world for several years. For those who hate country music, PG isn’t going to be posting videos featuring it very often. He’ll try to make sure they don’t autoplay on your viewing device, but can’t guarantee anything.

The first is called Here’s A Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares).

The song was written and performed long before anybody but James Bond had cell phones and, if you were away from your home, you needed to use a pay phone to make a call to someone. At the time this song was created, a local call from a pay phone cost a quarter – 25 cents – in most places in the United States.

More than a few CW songs are about lost love, cheatin’ men and cheatin’ women (one famous CW song was titled, “Your Cheatin’ Heart”) and the human tendency to desire a little payback. So, here’s a little country from the point of view of a man who’s been betrayed.

The infantilization of Western culture

From MSN News:

If you regularly watch TV, you’ve probably seen a cartoon bear pitching you toilet paper, a gecko with a British accent selling you auto insurance and a bunny in sunglasses promoting batteries.

This has always struck me as a bit odd. Sure, it makes sense to use cartoon characters to sell products to kids – a phenomenon that’s been well-documented.

But why are advertisers using the same techniques on adults?

To me, it’s just one symptom of a broader trend of infantilization in Western culture. It began before the advent of smartphones and social media. But, as I argue in my book “The Terminal Self,” our everyday interactions with these computer technologies have accelerated and normalized our culture’s infantile tendencies.

Society-wide arrested development

The dictionary defines infantilizing as treating someone “as a child or in a way that denies their maturity in age or experience.”

What’s considered age-appropriate or mature is obviously quite relative. But most societies and cultures will deem behaviors appropriate for some stages of life, but not others.

. . . .

Some psychologists will be quick to note that not everyone puts their “childish ways” behind them. You can become fixated at a particular stage of development and fail to reach an age-appropriate level of maturity. When facing unmanageable stress or trauma, you can even regress to a previous stage of development. And psychologist Abraham Maslow has suggested that spontaneous childlike behaviors in adults aren’t inherently problematic.

But some cultural practices today routinely infantilize large swaths of the population.

We see it in our everyday speech, when we refer to grown women as “girls”; in how we treat senior citizens, when we place them in adult care centers where they’re forced to surrender their autonomy and privacy; and in the way school personnel and parents treat teenagers, refusing to acknowledge their intelligence and need for autonomy, restricting their freedom, and limiting their ability to enter the workforce.

Can entire societies succumb to infantilization?

Frankfurt School scholars such as Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm and other critical theorists suggest that – like individuals – a society can also suffer from arrested development.

In their view, adults’ failure to reach emotional, social or cognitive maturity is not due to individual shortcomings.

Rather, it is socially engineered

. . . .

Researchers on both sides of the Atlantic have observed how this ethos has now crept into a vast range of social spheres.

In many workplaces, managers can now electronically monitor their employees, many of whom work in open spaces with little personal privacy. As sociologist Gary T. Marx observed, it creates a situation in which workers feel that managers expect them “to behave irresponsibly, to take advantage, and to screw up unless they remove all temptation, prevent them from doing so or trick or force them to do otherwise.”

Much has been written about higher education’s tendency to infantilize its students, whether it’s through monitoring their social media accounts, guiding their every step, or promoting “safe spaces” on campus.

. . . .

Researchers in Russia and Spain have even identified infantilist trends in language, and French sociologist Jacqueline Barus-Michel observes that we now communicate in “flashes,” rather than via thoughtful discourse – “poorer, binary, similar to computer language, and aiming to shock.”

Others have noted similar trends in popular culture – in the shorter sentences in contemporary novels, in the lack of sophistication in political rhetoric and in sensationalist cable news coverage.

While scholars such as James Côté and Gary Cross remind us that infantilizing trends began well before our current moment, I believe our daily interactions with smartphones and social media are so pleasurable precisely because they normalize and gratify infantile dispositions.

They endorse self-centeredness and inflated exhibitionism. They promote an orientation towards the present, rewarding impulsivity and celebrating constant and instant gratification.

Link to the rest at MSN News and thanks to Felix for the tip.

PG routinely posts links to books that are discussed in posts, but will note that he noticed the price for the ebook being promoted by the author of the OP. The publisher is Routledge.

Don’t over-explain “default” objects and gestures

From Nathan Bransford:

When novels are bloated with an excessive word count, the extra words are often where you’d least expect them.

In fact, when I’m editing, I often find that very long novels are among the most tightly plotted. The authors know the word count is a problem, so they trim all the extra scenes and streamline the storytelling.

So how do these novels still end up way too long?

It’s almost always at the sentence and the paragraph level. When nearly every sentence has a few unnecessary words and nearly every paragraph has a sentence or two that’s already apparent from context, it really, really adds up. Over the course of a novel these small, seemingly innocuous redundancies can mean tens of thousands of extra words.

I’ve talked about a few different ways of paring back your word count, but today I want to hone in on one pratfall in particular: over-explaining default objects and gestures.

. . . .

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we all have roughly standard ideas of everyday objects and gestures. If you read about a hammer in a novel that a character uses to hit a nail, you and I might have very slightly different mental images but they’re roughly going to conform to a “standard” hammer.

. . . .

It’s not necessary to spend a paragraph describing what this particular hammer looks like. It’s just a hammer. Unless there’s some reason this particular hammer departs from the norm or some characteristic will be important later on…just let it be a hammer.

So, for instance, when you’re describing a car, you don’t need to point out that the car has “round black rubber tires.” That’s the default. Unless you tell us otherwise, we’re just going to assume that a car has black tires.

This extends to gestures as well. Sometimes I’ll see descriptions like:

Nathan stretched his right arm and extended an index finger toward the object that caught his interest.

So, uh… “Nathan pointed?” You can just say that!

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

A Great Storyteller Loses His Memory

From The Paris Review:

Writing about the death of loved ones must be about as old as writing itself, and yet the inclination to do it instantly ties me up in knots. I am appalled that I am thinking of taking notes, ashamed as I take notes, disappointed in myself as I revise notes. What makes matters emotionally turbulent is the fact that my father is a famous person. Beneath the need to write may lurk the temptation to advance one’s own fame in the age of vulgarity. Perhaps it might be better to resist the call and to stay humble. Humility is, after all, my favorite form of vanity. But as with most writing, the subject matter chooses you, and so resistance could be futile.

A few months earlier a friend asked how my dad was doing with his loss of memory. I told her he lives strictly in the present, unburdened by the past, free of expectations for the future. Forecasting based on previous experience, which is believed to be of evolutionary significance as well as one of the origins of storytelling, no longer plays a part in his life.

“So he doesn’t know he’s mortal,” she concluded. “Lucky him.”

Of course, the picture I painted for her is simplified. It is dramatized. The past still plays a part in his conscious life. He relies on the distant echo of his considerable interpersonal skills to ask anyone he meets a series of safe questions: “How is everything?” “Where are you living these days?” “How are your people?” Occasionally he’ll venture an attempt at a more ambitious exchange and become disoriented in the middle of it, losing the thread of the idea or running out of words. The puzzled expression on his face, as well as the embarrassment that crosses it momentarily, like a puff of smoke in a breeze, betrays a past when conversation was as natural to him as breathing. Creative, funny, evocative, provocative conversation. Being a great conversador was almost as highly regarded among his oldest group of friends as being a good writer.

The future is also not completely behind him. Often at dusk he asks, “Where are we going tonight? Let’s go out to a fun place. Let’s go dancing. Why? Why not?” If you change the subject enough times, he moves on.

He recognizes my mother and addresses her as Meche, Mercedes, La Madre, or La Madre Santa. There were a few very difficult months not long ago when he remembered his lifelong wife but considered the woman in front of him claiming to be her to be an impostor.

“Why is she here giving orders and running the house if she is nothing to me?”

My mother reacted to this with anger.

“What is wrong with him?” she asked in disbelief.

“It’s not him, Mom. It’s dementia.” She looked at me like I was trying to pull a fast one. Surprisingly, that period passed, and she regained her proper place in his mind as his principal companion. She is the last tether. His secretary, his driver, his cook, who have all worked in the house for years, he recognizes as familiar and friendly people who make him feel safe, but he no longer knows their names. When my brother and I visit, he looks at us long and hard, with uninhibited curiosity. Our faces ring a distant bell, but he cannot make us out.

“Who are those people in the next room?” he asks a housekeeper.

“Your sons.”

“Really? Those men? Carajo. That’s incredible.”

There was an uglier period a couple of years earlier. My father was fully aware of his mind slipping away. He asked for help insistently, repeating time and time again that he was losing his memory. The toll of seeing a person in that state of anxiety and having to tolerate their endless repetitions over and over and over again is enormous. He would say, “I work with my memory. Memory is my tool and my raw material. I cannot work without it. Help me,” and then he would repeat it in one form or another multiple times an hour for half an afternoon. It was grueling. That eventually passed. He regained some tranquility and would sometimes say, “I’m losing my memory, but fortunately I forget that I’m losing it,” or “Everyone treats me like I’m a child. It’s good that I like it.”

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

How Two Authors Brought a Book on Birthing Into the World

From Publishers Weekly:

In September 2021, our book, Designing Motherhood: Things That Make and Break Our Births, will be published by MIT Press. We’re two design historians, and between us we’ve had babies and books before. But DM, as our most recent offspring is affectionately known, has had the longest gestation of them all. This book sprung from our shared curiosity about why the material culture that defines our reproductive lives was so hidden, and also what it might take to change that. We write about the objects and systems that we came to call “design for the arc of human reproduction”: contraceptives, breast pumps, labor and delivery wards, and at-home abortion kits, to name just a few.

Such objects, spaces, and ideas should be among the most well-considered design solutions; designers should aspire to work on them. Yet these tools, techniques, systems, and speculations are treated as afterthoughts. They receive no attention in design studios or classrooms, and likewise are never present in design collections within cultural institutions. Instead, the subject is treated furtively or as unimportant—as something beneath debate or lacking in intellectual content. This gap inspired our book.

We were tired of society looking away. We wanted to make an image-rich book that could hold these designs to the light. If we told their wildly different—and sometimes totally contradictory—histories, then perhaps they could become part of the canon and, in doing so, could recalibrate it.

In 2017 we embarked on the journey of pitching Designing Motherhood as a public reckoning. We sent out the proposal to directors and decision makers at various presses, and waited with glee, ready to fend off multiple offers.

When the replies did trickle in, they were polite rejections: “Not sure there’s an audience for this….”

A constant refrain: “A women’s issue. We don’t really publish in that area.”

Though we were positive the audience for such a book would be far-reaching, no one seemed to see this topic with the same fervor and potential as we did. In our evenings and weekends, in times when children were napping or on lunch breaks from work, we began to write. We knew we’d need money for image permissions and so we started to think about applying for a Pew grant. The only problem was that we were individuals and we needed an institutional partner—and none of the institutions we knew or worked for were remotely interested.

At the 11th hour, we were introduced to Maternity Care Coalition. MCC has been working since 1980 to support pregnant people and their families with direct services, like doulas and lactation support, as well as advocating for policy change at the city and national level. It is an organization that envisions an equitable future, grounded in racial and social justice. They understood our project right away, because it was their project too. It took folks outside the museum and art and design worlds to “get it”—probably because that’s where the real work usually happens.

When we passed the first stage of the Pew application, we cowrote a proposal for a book, two exhibitions, and a set of public programs that would center the expertise of MCC’s staff. To our disbelief, we were awarded the grant, and MIT Press came on board as the publication partner.

We began writing, mainly during the pandemic. We had a lot to say and more to show—in the 350-plus images we chose to illustrate our writing, and with the 50-plus contributing artists, writers, and interviewees we spotlighted, we wanted to make sure we were as polyvocal as 344 pages would allow. All throughout the book, we cast a critical eye on designs that ultimately shape every living person. We partnered with the Mütter Museum and the Center for Architecture and Design to devise the two exhibitions.

Bringing Designing Motherhood into the world was not easy or painless. But it was a good birth.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Hard times are coming

Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.

Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers, in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an e-book six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa. And I see a lot of us, the producers, who write the books and make the books, accepting this – letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish, what to write.

Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.

I’ve had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good company. Here at the end of it, I don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds; but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. Its name is freedom.

Ursula K Le Guin

Writing Prompt Generator

A website for ServiceScape, “a global marketplace for service-related commerce. An expansion of the freelance directory systems of EditAvenue and LanguageScape.” includes an automated writing prompt generator.

PG gave it a couple of tries:

“Billionaires (Romance)” produced the following:

You’re a woman fleeing an abusive marriage and you meet your husband’s billionaire boss. You fall in love and your husband learns the hard way that abusers don’t win.

PG next pressed “Gothic (Romance) and received the following as his first option:

During the Victorian era, a man has been falsely accused of murdering his neighbor. His wife, desperate to prove his innocence, conducts her own investigation into the crime. Venturing into the castle ruins where the murder took place, she finds both clues and assistance from the long-dead residents of the castle.

PG then clicked through to additional options for “Gothic (Romance)” and received this one:

You’ve worked years to get to where you are as hairstylist to the stars. It’s good work that pays well and lets you help your family back home with their financial struggles. Plus, you love to the work. The only downside is that the patrons of your salon aren’t exactly easy to talk to. Their priorities are so different! Vanity plagues their every move, and their cavalier attitudes drive you crazy. No one is worse than your weekly customer: a billionaire obsessed with his aging appearance. He’s handsome and you know from overhearing a dozen phone calls that he’s pretty charming, so you can’t quite understand why he’s so insecure over a few wrinkles. You tell him as much, and he’s surprised to learn that you find him attractive. He asks you out and, despite the age difference, you find yourself saying yes. Over time, you help him find the confidence he needs. You discover that you share much in common, and love grows.

Obviously PG doesn’t have the technical chops to use the Writing Prompt Generator properly or he needs to update his knowledge of Gothic Romance.

However, PG didn’t give up. He tweaked the response and generated an entirely new genre – Gothic Billionaire Romance.

Here is PG’s Gothic Billionaire Romance writing prompt:

You’ve worked years to get to where you are as hairstylist to the stars in Victorian London. It’s good work that pays well and lets you help your family back home in Wales with their financial struggles and squalor. The only downside is that the patrons of your salon aren’t exactly easy to talk to because you only speak Welsh.

Vanity plagues their every move, and their cavalier attitudes drive you crazy. No one is worse than your weekly customer: a billionaire Duke obsessed with his aging appearance. (Besides, he sends an ox cart to pick you up and bring you to his mostly-ruined castle and then to take you home. His oxen pass gas during the entire journey.)

The Duke is handsome and you know from overhearing him give orders to his servants that he’s unusually charming toward the lower classes, so you can’t quite understand why he’s so insecure over a few wrinkles and a gray goatee. His belly barely shows under his perfectly-tailored velvet waistcoat.  You tell him as much, and he’s surprised to learn that you only speak Welsh.

Fortunately, one of his servants, a wrinkled old woman who looks like she might have been cast off by a billionaire a long time ago is from Wales. The Duke commands her presence and she waddles in, still dreaming of her long-lost billionaire Earl. You speak. The old woman speaks. The Earl speaks. The old woman speaks.

From the old woman, you learn that the Earl wants to ask you out and, despite the age difference and the way he occasionally passes gas, you find yourself saying yes.

Over time, you help him find the confidence he needs with the help of a perfumed handkerchief. You discover that you share much in common, and love grows.

Bible Publishers

Bible publishers are not selling Bibles. What they’re selling is that iconic idea of the Bible. Their value-added biblical content promises to provide answers to questions, solutions to problems, and speaks in no uncertain terms about God’s plan for your life and how to live it. Adding value to the Bible almost always means adding “biblical” values that are either missing or really hard to find in the Bible itself but that provide that feeling of Bibleness so many seek.

Timothy Beal, The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book

I reminded him that I was there by appointment to offer him my book

I reminded him that I was there by appointment to offer him my book for publication. He began to swell and went on swelling and swelling and swelling until he had reached the size of a god of about the second or third degree. Then the fountains of his great deep were broken up and for two or three minutes I couldn’t see him for the rain. It was words, only words, but they fell so thickly that they darkened the atmosphere. Finally he made an important sweep with his right hand which took in the whole room, and said: “Books—look around you! Every place are books that are waiting for publication. Do I want any more? Excuse me, I don’t. Good morning.”

― Mark Twain

Payment and reserved copyright

Payment and reserved copyright are at bottom the ruin of literature. Only he who writes entirely for the sake of what he has to say writes anything worth writing. It is as if there were a curse on money: every writer writes badly as soon as he starts writing for gain.

Arthur Schopenhauer

PG will note that both of Schopenhauer’s parents were descendants of wealthy German-Dutch patrician families.

But really it says everything that’s wrong about the publishing industry

But really it says everything that’s wrong about the publishing industry, that a quarter of a million people bought and read a sex and shopping novel that wasn’t even written by one of those footballer girlfriends, and yet most of the shortlisted titles on the Orange Prize, which is an award for women writers, don’t even sell ten thousand copies. It’s just not right.

Sarra Manning

Adult Child and Elderly Parent

From Writers Helping Writers:

Successful stories are driven by authentic and interesting characters, so it’s important to craft them carefully. But characters don’t usually exist in a vacuum; throughout the course of your story, they’ll live, work, play, and fight with other cast members. Some of those relationships are positive and supportive, pushing the protagonist to positive growth and helping them achieve their goals. Other relationships do exactly the opposite—derailing your character’s confidence and self-worth—or they cause friction and conflict that leads to fallout and disruption. Many relationships hover somewhere in the middle. A balanced story will require a mix of these dynamics.

. . . .

The relationship between a child and their elderly parent can be riddled with challenges. Oftentimes, the child must care for the aging parent as their health needs rise and their ability to maintain independence declines. But the roles are sometimes reversed, with an elderly parent still needing to fill the parental role for their adult child. If existing conflict is a major factor in the relationship, dynamics such as neglect, resentment, and strife may preclude each party from meeting one another’s needs.

. . . .

Description:
The relationship between a child and their elderly parent can be riddled with challenges. Oftentimes, the child must care for the aging parent as their health needs rise and their ability to maintain independence declines. But the roles are sometimes reversed, with an elderly parent still needing to fill the parental role for their adult child. If existing conflict is a major factor in the relationship, dynamics such as neglect, resentment, and strife may preclude each party from meeting one another’s needs.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. 

An elderly parent and adult child who speak everyday (via phone, Skype, FaceTime, etc.) and offer mutual support

The younger party caring for their aging parent in the child’s home

An elderly parent who actively supports the child and their family (babysitting, driving them to the airport when they’re going out of town, helping out financially, etc.)

An amiable relationship that is distant or superficial

One party only reaching out to the other when they need help

One party being ignored or neglected by the other

Personality differences or past wounds making intimacy between the parties difficult

One party verbally or physically abusing the other

A codependent dynamic

One party tolerating the other for short periods of time until they can’t take being with them anymore

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

How Bad Contest Entry Rules Can Be Mitigated: The Medium Writer’s Challenge

From Writer Beware:

That’s right, boys and girls–it’s another of my posts about hinky contest rules.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know I publish a lot of these. That’s not because I like repeating myself…it’s because bad contest legalese is depressingly common, especially in contests conducted by high-profile organizations or individuals, such as HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” short story contest, or T.A. Barron’s Once Upon a Villain flash fiction contest, or the Sunday Times/Audible Short story award, or any number of others. Because it’s so common, though, it never hurts to put out another warning….especially when a contest offers the kind of prize money that’s sure to attract droves of writers.

In a twist, though, I’m not just going to talk about greedy legalese, but also about how one contest sponsor responded to criticism and made it better.

The Medium Writers Challenge is an especially rich contest, with a $50,000 grand prize, $10,000 for four finalists (one of the finalists will be the grand prize winner, so one person will actually win $60,000), and 100 honorable mentions who will each receive $100.

. . . .

To enter, writers choose a prompt, create an essay of 500 words or more, and publish it on Medium. A prestigious slate of judges that includes such luminaries as Roxane Gay and Natalie Portman will select four finalists, one for each prompt, and then choose the grand prize winner and the honorable mentions. The deadline to enter is August 24, 2021.

Moving on to the fine print, namely this paragraph of the official rules:

The concern was with the license writers grant simply by entering the contest, the wording of which gives Medium “an irrevocable, royalty-free, worldwide, nonexclusive, sublicensable, assignable” license to do pretty much anything it wants with any entry, whether or not it’s a winning entry.

This kind of language is extremely common, especially, as I’ve mentioned, in high-profile contests. The intent isn’t so much a nefarious scheme to steal writers’ rights or bind them to eternal servitude, as it is a shortcut for contest sponsors, who don’t have to fuss around with contracts for winners because they’ve already agreed to terms. It’s very easy to mitigate such language–for instance, by releasing non-winning entrants from the license once the winners are declared–but, carelessly or lazily or just sharkily, depending on how many lawyers formulated the rules, many contest sponsors don’t bother, even though it means that they retain rights they likely have no interest in and no intention of ever using.

In Medium’s case, though, they did take steps to mitigate. Note the second line of the paragraph, which limits the license to one year from the end of the contest period (presumably that’s the August 24 deadline). In other words, this is not the perpetual license that some other contests demand: it has an endpoint, after which it expires.

Here’s the interesting thing, though. Paragraph 10 didn’t always read the way it does now. This is the original version, the one that got people upset:

Note the difference: there’s no limit on the grant period. In this version of the contest rules, the license really is perpetual. 

Link to the rest at Writer Beware®

In PG’s experience with large organizations, ignorance or stupidity can be just as destructive as evil intent.

If we rule out evil intent on the part of Medium (which seems to be the case if you read the entire OP), we’re left with ignorance and stupidity. These two characteristics can cause problems either individually or in conjunction with each other.

Drawing on his study of human nature, here’s how PG thinks this mess probably went down:

  1. Somebody in editorial at Medium could see that the publication would be short on content at some time within the next few months. Perhaps no one could think of new story ideas or maybe the business owners had cut back on budgets for commissioned articles so the cupboard was rapidly becoming bare. Staff writers had been squeezed dry and had no more good writing in them for awhile (or maybe they were fired, if they ever existed).
  2. The inevitable question followed: “Where can we get content for nothing?”
  3. One of the stock answers: “Let’s hold a writing contest and we’ll feature the winning entries in next month’s issue!”
  4. Scramble time.
    1. “Suzie, think up a theme and draft two or three good paragraphs about the contest. Run them past a couple of other people for quick takes. Make it sound sexy, cool and current.”
    2. “Bob, organize the summer interns to screen the entries and forward anything decent to you. I know you’re going to have to hold their hands, but that’s why you run the interns.”
    3. “Prizes! Hercule, figure out some cool prizes, but remember the budget. The main prize is being published.”
    4. “Thanks for reminding me, Heloise, we need to have rules. Go look for our last contest and use those. If we didn’t have a last contest, use Google to find some rules online.”
    5. “OK, team, you know what to do. Get going!”

See? No sign of ill will towards authors in sight.

Unfortunately, when the author of one of the submissions (they came in third in the contest) wins the Nobel Prize for Literature and another submitter hits the New York Times bestseller list, even though the summer interns are long gone, somebody at Medium will remember the names, look back and decide there’s a book there – “Famous Entries to Our Contest from People Who Made It Big!”

Unfortunately, one of the published entries is a seriously steamy piece by a best-selling Christian author who has since turned her life around and headed in the opposite direction without looking back.

In conclusion: READ THE FINE PRINT, EVERY BIT OF IT!

If you’re too busy to read the fine print and figure out what it means, don’t enter the contest.

Top-selling items on Amazon in 2021 reflect a shifting America

From About Amazon:

Amazon’s newly released shopping data shows Americans are embracing a more social 2021—but they’re not giving up their sweatpants.

Party decorations are now best sellers on Amazon. Purchases of dresses and tuxedos have tripled in the last year. Luggage sales are up a whopping 460%. And perhaps most telling that Americans are ready to leave home and socialize this summer: Teeth-whitening toothpaste sales are climbing.

Amazon’s latest year-over-year shopping data provides a snapshot of what Americans are doing now compared to last year. The data reflects a stark shift. In 2020, customers pounced on puzzles, garden tools, cookware, headphones, exercise bikes, and other products to help them stay healthy and entertained at home.

But at least one pandemic trend is here to stay. Purchases of sweats, leggings, and all things athleisure spiked in 2020—and sales remain comfortably strong.

After an unprecedented year, many Americans are adjusting back to normal routines. Shopping habits have shifted accordingly, reflecting how people across the U.S. are feeling, spending time, and even celebrating.

. . . .

2020 shopping trends

Building a safe haven at home

As people worldwide spent more time at home in early 2020, product sales increased across at-home entertainment, home office items, home improvement, and cookware.

Work and play from home

  • Arts and crafts items more than doubled in sales, while puzzle sales were up 75% and building blocks were up 70% from April to June 2020 (Q2 2020), compared to the same three-month period in 2019. Top products included Crayola Colored Pencils, Kinetic Sand, Melissa & Doug Deluxe Standing Art Easel, Ravensburger Cozy Retreat, and Melissa & Doug Solar System.
  • Laptop computer sales doubled from April 2019 to April 2020. Other top consumer electronics products included headphones (more than 50% increase from 2019), ink (90% increase), headsets (more than 130% increase), and gaming monitors (150% increase). Apple MacBook Air (13-inch) and Acer Aspire 5 Slim were among the most popular laptops, while the Sceptre 24” Gaming Monitor, LG 27” Ultragear Monitor, and Sceptre 30” Curved Gaming Monitor.were among the bestselling gaming monitors.
  • Home office desk sales more than doubled in Q2 2020 compared to 2019. Chair sales were up more than 135% year over year, with gaming chairs and Amazon Basics office chairs among the most popular. Sales in the shelves and storage category increased by more than 155%.
  • Exercise and fitness product sales increased by nearly 75% in the first three months of 2020 (Q1 2020), compared to the same period in 2019, with top process across weights, exercise bikes, and treadmill categories.

Opting outside

  • Gardening product sales increased by 50% year over year (Q1 2020) with AeroGarden Indoor Hydroponic Garden, Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller Alexa and Apple Compatible, and Flexzilla Garden Lead-In Hose among the most popular. Sales of outdoor pools and bounce houses more than doubled, and sport games purchases are up 70% (Q2 2020) with top products including Amazon Exclusive LEGO Razor Crest, Little Tikes Rocky Mountain River Race, and Amazon Exclusive Bunch O Balloons.

Link to the rest at About Amazon

There are links to each of the mentioned products in the OP.

8 Manga About School Life

From Book Riot:

High school kids fill the pages of many manga series. In fact, it’s a common complaint from readers. Aren’t there any older protagonists? But it makes sense that teen characters dominate the format because this is such a pivotal time in life. This is never more apparent than in manga about school life. Discovering yourself. Remaking your personal image. Forging lifelong friendships. First loves. All these themes, and more, can be found in manga set in school.

But despite the seemingly limited setting, there’s still a lot of variety in the genre. To that end, here are some recommendations for manga about school life:

HORIMIYA BY HERO AND DAISUKE HAGIWARA

Anime fans have probably heard of this series, thanks to the adaptation that aired earlier this year. It introduces us to Kyoko Hori, a pretty and popular high school student, and Izumi Miyamura, her nerdy classmate. But that’s only in school! At home, Kyoko takes care of her little brother and kind of has a bossy and terrible personality. By contrast, despite his in-school reputation, Izumi has multiple tattoos and piercings. And one fateful day, their two paths cross outside of school.

BLUE PERIOD BY TSUBASA YAMAGUCHI

At first glance, Yatora has no reason to complain about his high school career. He’s well-liked by his classmates. He has good grades. What’s there to complain about? But he feels empty inside. That is, he does until a painting catches his eye and he joins the school art club. We’ve all had the experience of going through the motions to please other people at some point in our life, and this really hits that note—and how everything can change when you find your one true driving passion.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG knows nothing about Manga other than they are immensely popular in Japan. He will rely on those more knowledgeable than he is for further information.

If you click on the Amazon affiliate links above, you can use look inside on Amazon to see English-language versions of a lot of different Manga, but the Amazon WordPress embed app that allows PG to include look inside capability on TPV isn’t working.

This is a problem he’s encountering on a more frequent basis with a variety of different Amazon ebooks. He’s not certain whether the WordPress app needs an upgrade or if some publishers are doing something to prevent the app from working. He’s seen this problem even when the Look Inside function works fine on Amazon.

State of the Author July 2021 edition, ending an era

From Michelle Sagara/Michelle West:

Some of you may remember a couple of months ago I said things were… stressful (possibly worst month ever) on Twitter.

If I had been thinking, I would have made certain to separate terrible month from pandemic, which has – for my family – remained a large and consistent weight in the background. We’ve been lucky; we’ve lost no one. We made sure that the less internet-savvy were signed up and vaccinated, and we got vaccinated ourselves; I have no under 12s in my household, and there are none in the household we bubble with when its safe to do so.

Mostly, however, what I was thinking was: How do I tell people? And what do I do going forward?

So let’s start with that first part: Telling people the bad news. TLDR: DAW will no longer be publishing the West novels going forward.

. . . .

My first four books were published by Del Rey. They were The Books of the Sundered, my first sale. And I watched those with anxiety. I’ve worked in bookstores since I was sixteen years old, so I knew that books that I loved with the passion only an adolescent can achieve disappeared without a trace, going out of print and becoming inaccessible.

It was shocking to me; it was inconceivable that something so brilliant could disappear without warning: when I was sixteen, I equated “good” with “successful”. If I loved it, how could it be unsuccessful?

The obvious answer is: not everyone loved it as I did, because we all have different tastes (the acceptance of this obvious answer would not occur until another decade had passed.)

So the first series did not, in the end, succeed at Del Rey.

. . . .

I wrote the Hunter books; Hunter’s Oath was my first DAW title. I wrote The Sun Sword series.

The House War series was, in the end, eight books long. It was supposed to be shorter; it was supposed to be fewer books. It would have been, had Hidden City not insisted on being the book it became, because my intent with that, when I started it six times, was to write a braided past/present narrative.

I always watched the sales numbers with a certain tension, and that escalated with time. I have always loved my West readers, and I have always, always loved these books — but truthfully, the sales numbers failed to climb in any way.

In publishing that’s … not good.

. . . .

DAW is, and has been, distributed by Penguin Random House (PRH going forward) for decades (I could go into their distribution granularly, because they started with NAL, which was absorbed by Penguin NA, and then by Random House, but I think the general statement covers that).

DAW has offices in the PRH building in NYC; their books are produced in the PRH production department; their books are sold to stores by the PRH sales reps; their books are warehoused in PRH warehouses and shipped by those warehouses. DAW is, however, independently owned. But all of the elements of the publication process are tied tightly into Penguin Random House. Someone with no knowledge of SFF publishers could easily be forgiven for assuming that DAW is a division – like Ace or Roc – of Penguin Random House, given office space, etc.

They aren’t.

Editorial is independent. Editorial decisions are made by DAW, not a PRH editorial board.

Distribution, however? All PRH. In order to be distributed by PRH, DAW has a distribution agreement, which gets renegotiated as it nears the end of its term. This agreement is what gets DAW all of the above: office space, production/PR departments, sales force, warehouse and shipping-to-bookstores. All of the above is necessary.

That negotiation period is this year. And the negotiations have impacted the West novels which are a) too long and b) not great sellers. My DAW editor has, in spite of this, continued to publish the West novels until now, because she’s always loved them.

But she can’t do that going forward.

This isn’t her fault. This isn’t, in the end, PRH’s fault either, although it is largely their decision. I’d like to think it’s not mine, because I wrote the books and as much as I can love anything I’ve personally written, I love them fiercely.

But the last leg of the West series will no longer be published by DAW. While writing is a creative art, publishing is a business. PRH has no personal connection to me or my writing; what they have is numbers, which is how business decisions are ultimately made.

. . . .

This has been a stressful couple of months as I’ve tried to envision some way forward. I did try to start again from page zero, to see if I could structure the books to be shorter, because shorter books would be acceptable to PRH. But as this would only be proven true or false when I reached the end, and no attempt I’ve ever made has worked, I gave up on that.

I then began to look at the publisher side costs. Editing. Copy-editing. Proof-reading. Covers. Those expenses would, except for the cover, be at least double what most self-publishers would have to pay, because the books will be longer, and most freelancers charge by either page or per 100k words.

Revenue neutral activity is, essentially, a hobby. It makes no money, but you do it for love. If the costs are higher than the income coming in it becomes an expensive hobby. We work to earn money and we pour it into our hobbies because we love our hobbies, right? But… for most of us, a hobby is distinctly separate from work.

. . . .

Self-publishing will make some money. But…

Self-publishing is most successful at shorter lengths (like, say, 75k words), and at shorter publishing intervals (three to four months).

The Michelle West novels are exactly the wrong type of novels for self-publishing success. I don’t know how many of my current readers will follow ebook only new releases. (The cost for print on demand for Broken Crown, a book whose length I do know, would be 36.00 US for a trade paperback, assuming I make 1.00 a book, and the PoD service takes the rest. Page-count defines the price of a PoD book, sadly.)

Because the publishing gaps between books would be much longer than self-publishing ideal, and the books would be 3 – 4x too long, I… can’t gain traction, in a purely sales sense, publishing them myself. Also: These are related to the previous books; they’re not something new. They’re not the books that will draw in new readers because I can’t control the pricing/promotion of all of the books.

Link to the rest at Michelle Sagara/Michelle West and thanks to E. for the tip.

The original post is much longer than the excerpt.

Most of the OP wasn’t a surprise for PG. If you’re with a traditional publisher and your books don’t sell, regardless of whose fault it really is, it’s always the author’s fault and the author pays the price for not selling enough books.

The one item that interested PG was Ms. Sagara/West’s comment that her books won’t work for self-publishing because they’re too long. She then mentioned the cost for POD for one of her long books would be $36.00 for trade paperback and each sale would result in her earning $1.00.

Her only mention of ebooks is “I don’t know how many of my current readers will follow ebook only new releases.”

Perhaps an alien invasion occurred last night and the world is completely changed from yesterday, but yesterday, most indie authors typically earn the large majority of their income from ebook sales.

Ebooks are gold because you don’t have to pay $35 to publish a long ebook.

KDP ebook files can be up to 650MB. KDP will accept Word doc and docx files, MOBI, EPUB, HTML, and PDF.

In the interest of scientific inquiry, PG pulled up the MS Word manuscript for one of Mrs. PG’s early books, The Last Waltz, which Amazon says is a 480 page POD trade paperback (priced at $14.99 for hardcopy and $4.99 in ebook).

The original manuscript is 1.8 megabytes, virtually all text.

PG was going to copy and past a complete copy of the manuscript at the end of the original and continue repeating that process until he had a manuscript that was 650 MB in size.

However that process would be taking PG’s scientific research too far. Applying simple mathematics, 650 MB would hold more than 360 copies of Mrs. PG’s book.

If 360 copies of Mrs. PG’s book were combined to make a single large book, that book would be over 172,000 printed pages long, about the largest ebook file that KDP would permit you to upload and self-publish on Amazon.

Circling back to the OP and the author’s concerns about her books being too long to self-publish successfully, PG thinks she may wish to do a bit more research.

As far as the author of the OP being concerned that her current readers won’t “follow” her into self-publishing, PG suggests a couple of brief investigations:

  1. Are the author’s current traditionally published books available in ebook form? A quick check suggests that the answer is affirmative although the sales ranks aren’t very good, in part because the ones PG checked are overpriced.
  2. Of the titles PG checked, the sales rank for the ebooks was significantly higher than the sales rank of the printed books. (PG hopes sales through physical bookstores were better than via Amazon.)
  3. For PG, this means that the author won’t have as much problem getting her fans to follow her to ebooks as she might think she will, especially if she prices her ebooks right. It’s quite likely that the author’s current ebook readers are buying almost all of the ebooks she sells through Amazon, so the transition to the author’s indie ebooks should be pretty automatic.

For PG, the worst part of the story is that apparently, the author isn’t in a position to get the rights back to her current DAW books, or at least, she thinks she isn’t.

PG didn’t check to see what the costs of a book the size of the author’s prior work would be through KDP’s print on demand service, but someone else can do that and provide that information in the comments.

One final observation – If Ms. Sagara/West is still wedded to the idea of physical books in physical bookstores as her future career path, PG wishes her well.

However, he suggests that becoming a professional indie author with KDP (and agreeing to the exclusivity part to bump ebook royalties to the highest rate possible and pricing her ebooks in a sweet spot for Amazon ebook sales and max royalty rates) may be her best avenue to continue her writing career profitably.

But, as usual, PG could be completely wrong.

The Things We Hid

From The Paris Review:

“Ballet was full of dark fairy tales,” Megan Abbott observes in her new novel, The Turnout, noting that “how a dancer prepared her pointe shoes was a ritual as mysterious and private as how she might pleasure herself.” These mysterious and private rituals of young women—these “dark fairy tales”—are at the heart of Abbott’s work. Over the course of ten novels, she’s explored the violence and crime that pervade American girlhood. In Dare Me, competitive cheerleaders become suspects in a murder case. In The Fever, an outbreak of illness is tied to the “enigmatic beauty, erotic and strange” of a small-town high school. While undoubtedly one of our best crime novelists, Abbott has also always struck me as akin to an anthropologist; she not only explores the hidden subcultures of teenage girls but reveals the coded language and shared ethos of their cliques and sects, the way their secrets are not merely secrets but a means of expressing forbidden eroticism, dreams, and rage. In The Turnout, Abbott delves into the rarified world of ballerinas, astutely noting the symbols and signals underlying the romantic image. “There was such a boldness to this girl, a barbarism to her,” she notes. “This pink waif, her tidy bun.”

. . . .

What drew you to write about ballerinas in The Turnout?

When I was seven or eight, I took ballet classes at this strip mall dance studio where two sisters—twins, actually—were the main teachers. They were so beautiful, in that classically ballet way, and seemed to contain mysteries. I was fascinated by them, their bodies, their rigor, their coolness and elegance. And their wordless exchanges with each other. I wondered what they were like out of the studio. Did the coolness ever slip? Did they have grand romances? Were they close? Growing up in suburban Detroit, I was always yearning for a glamour that felt just beyond, and they seemed to embody everything I longed for—mystery, exoticism, self-containment. And they looked like they held secrets. They became the spark.

Did the coolness ever slip?

Never. At least not that I saw. But it also seemed so hard to imagine how I—as one of those pigeon-breasted, awkward little girls—would ever become that. It felt unreachable.

I wish I’d had a glamorous teacher! My ballet teacher was very plain and just incredibly unforgiving. I was knock-kneed and shy, and she gave me such a hard time that I dropped out. Meanwhile, my best friend was confident and stuck with it, but later she struggled with anorexia. The rigor and cruelty of ballet are pretty hidden from the public, who just see the tutus and plies. I can see how that contradiction would also interest you.

Exactly! I was just writing something about that same tension. The idea with ballet, as it is with femininity or womanhood itself, is to hide your work. Keep the fantasy alive.

. . . .

You mentioned being inspired by your own ballet teachers, whom you found secretive and glamorous. The teachers in the novel, Dara and Marie, seem to be antiglamour, a bit wounded and angry.

I guess for me they are glamorous. One of the weirdnesses of writing fiction, for me at least, is how much I love my characters—not despite their messinesses but because of them. And that’s an adult kind of glamour to me. The extremity of their desires, the shame they carry, the intricate blend of rivalry and deep love in their relationship.

And that rivalry and love is complicated by the fact that they’re teaching young girls—they’re mirroring their mother, who taught them when they were young ballerinas. It allows you to explore these cycles of girlhood and adulthood in a very specific way.

I’ve always thought that was one of the most compelling things about teaching—how you can see versions of yourself. See yourself in the students, as they see a possible future self in you. It’s almost like a haunting. It can be dangerous—as in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie—but I suppose it can save someone’s life, too. It’s a tricky mix of mentorly support and identification. In the case of The Turnout, when it’s familial, too, it’s doubly charged, doubly dangerous, a kind of prison for Dara and Marie—especially somehow for Dara, who hews closer to her mother, who nearly merges with her.

. . . .

The young dancers, like Bailey Bloom, seem to be striving for beauty, but the adults seem warped and broken by age and life—they don’t seem to be fighting for beauty anymore.

Oh, gosh, for me they are. I guess I define or evaluate beauty differently. For me, the struggle and battle scars are beautiful, far more so than ethereal grace. And I don’t consider them warped or broken but beautiful survivors. They came out of a harrowing childhood, they saved one another, and they’re still growing and changing. For instance, Marie’s desire for freedom is moving and lovely. And Dara’s efforts to keep things the same forever—well, that’s the threshold she has to cross, but she’s not ready yet. How do you give up all the things—order, solidarity, discipline—that kept you alive and whole?

The novel has some very startling twists. Do you plan these with outlines, or are you surprised by where the story goes?

I planned the big “plotty” ones early on, but there’s one that surprised me, too. Something emerged for me as I wrote, as I figured out the “between” years of Dara, Marie, and their brother Charlie’s early adolescence and the present day. I realized it had to go in the novel or I’d be cheating. Teasing without risking going into the dark center of it. So I just went for it.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

PG has three questions:

Question 1:

The Amazon product page for The Turnout is huge. The initial blurb about the book is standard size, but down farther, after AlsoBoughts and Related Products, there is a large From The Publisher section that must include some paid ads in the form of large graphic designs containing excerpts from reviews. (It’s not clear to PG whether the blurbs are all for the book on this product page or whether they include excerpts from reviews for earlier books by the same author.

The graphic blurbs are followed by Editorial Reviews consisting of a list of “Best Reads” and “Best Of” mentions for either this book or prior books. (PG wonders how many of these various lists included paid listings.)

This section is followed by a fairly generic About the Author section.

But there’s more!

The About the Author section is followed by a very long excerpt from the book. PG has pasted the excerpt below the Amazon links showing covers below. Note that seeing the excerpt required PG to click on a link to see more information at the bottom of the ad as originally displayed on Amazon.

Question 2:

Is it possible for indie authors to use this much space for their books?

If so, is there anything special that needs to be done in order to open up this extra space?

PG just checked on one of Mrs. PG’s KDP listings and there was still a character limit in place that would not permit nearly as much promotional copy as was included in the Amazon product description for The Turnout.

Any insights from anyone who knows anything about getting more space for an indie listing on Amazon would be appreciated by PG and, likely, a lot of other people as well.

Question 3

Despite all of the money that Ms. Abbot’s publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin, has apparently spent on promoting her latest book, why doesn’t the Look Inside feature for Amazon’s ebook not work?

The release date in the Amazon product listing is August 3 (five days following the date of this blog post), but is there a reason why the Look Inside feature for the Amazon ebook doesn’t work?

Is this an Amazon thing or a Penguin thing?

For Mrs. PG’s books, PG doesn’t remember anything but typical back-end processing lead time between the upload and the ebook appearance, complete with Look Inside capabilities.

As someone with some experience in online marketing and promotion in prior lives, the accepted wisdom for any sort of online appearance or promotion of a new product happens when the product is available for sale.

Online attention spans are short and if you get someone to view a product blurb, you want click-to-buy to be right there so the prospective purchaser doesn’t forget to buy your product at some later time when it’s actually available.

PG thinks that most savvy advertisers and marketers of physical goods would subscribe to the same philosophy. If you want to sell sausages and spend a lot of effort and money to expose the virtues of your latest sausage flavor to a lot of people, you want them to be able to buy it right now while they remember why it might taste good.

But this is not the way of traditional book publishers.

From PG’s review of the current strategy with the latest book by Ms. Abbot, PG suspects a strategy from an earlier era may be in operation.

  1. Penguin is trying to “build awareness and demand” for the book.
  2. With each passing day, this demand will will build because readers will become more and more obsessed about seeing Ms. Abbot’s newest book at the earliest possible moment.
  3. Readers largely identifying as female, will gather in their coffee klatches (kaffeeklatschen) in Scarsdale, New Canaan, Saddle River, Beacon Hill and Winnetka and talk excitedly about the upcoming release, each one secretly planning to buy it at the local bookstore when it opens on August 3 (a Tuesday) and spend all day reading it so they can be the first to tell their friends how wonderful it is. The non-employed MFA’s in these groups will be in the vanguard of this groundswell (centered on extremely expensive ground in those communities) building towards a rapidly.
  4. Early on Tuesday morning chauffeured vehicles will pack the streets near Brookline Booksmith and other similarly-named booksellers. Since these vehicles include only the most serious readers, they’ll go into the shop themselves instead of directing their chauffeur to do so and buy five copies of The Turnout.
  5. Since Brookline Booksmith, Politics and Prose, Rizzoli Bookstore and their compatriots report their sales to The New York Times, The Turnout will rapidly climb the list, immediately catching the attention of people in Omaha, Nashville, Ocala, Hattiesburg, Pueblo and other hotspots in flyover country.
  6. After that, marketing magic will happen as the tastemakers of Saddle River and Hattiesburg inform everyone they know about The Turnout. Who knows, one of the maids will likely pinch a copy to start the ball rolling among the Little People (a significant, but sometimes overlooked demographic).

Suffice to say, there’s a reason why those who create the marketing and promotion plans plans for traditional publishers don’t work in marketing for Coca Cola, Apple, Nike or Starbucks.

In Conclusion

At the end of this rant, PG will acknowledge that Penguin managed to create a book page that is more impactful than any PG has seen for an indie author. There sure is a lot more to read and it looks bigger in PG’s browser than any he can recall seeing before.

And PG will cycle back to his most important question posed much earlier in this post – Is it possible for indie authors to do any of the things on Amazon that Penguin did for Ms. Abbot’s latest release?

Feel free to list any other giant book pages you have found on Amazon in the comments to this post.

Following is the excerpt from the product page that PG mentioned above:

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


They were dancers. Their whole lives, nearly. They were dancers who taught dance and taught it well, as their mother had.

Every girl wants to be a ballerina . . .

That’s what their brochure said, their posters, their website, the sentence scrolling across the screen in stately cursive.

The Durant School of Dance, est. 1986 by their mother, a former soloist with the Alberta Ballet, took up the top two floors of a squat, rusty brick office building downtown. It had become theirs after their parents died on a black-ice night more than a dozen years ago, their car caroming across the highway median. When an enterprising local reporter learned it had been their twentieth wedding anniversary, he wrote a story about them, noting their hands were interlocked even in death.

Had one of them reached out to the other in those final moments, the reporter wondered to readers, or had they been holding hands all along?

All these years later, the story of their parents’ end, passed down like lore, still seemed unbearably romantic to their students-less so to Marie, who, after sobbing violently next to her sister, Dara, through the funeral, insisted, I never saw them hold hands once.

But the Durant family had always been exotic to others, even back when Dara and Marie were little girls floating up and down the front steps of that big old house with the rotting gingerbread trim on Sycamore, the one everyone called the Hansel and Gretel house. Dara and Marie, with their long necks and soft voices. Their matching buns and duckfooted gait, swathed in scratchy winter coats, their pink tights dotting the snow. Even their names set them apart, sounding elegant and continental even though their father was an electrician and a living-room drunk and their mother had grown up eating mayonnaise sandwiches every meal, as she always told her daughters, head shaking with rue.

From kindergarten until fifth and sixth grade, Dara and Marie had attended a spooky old Catholic school on the east side, the one their father had insisted upon. Until the day their mother announced that, going forward, she would be giving them lessons at home, so they wouldn’t be beholden to the school’s primitive views of life.

Their father resisted at first, but then he came to pick them up at the schoolyard one day and saw a boy-the meanest in fifth grade, with a birthmark over his left eye like a fresh burn-trying to pull Marie’s pants down, purple corduroys to Dara’s matching pink. Marie just stood there, staring at him, her fingers touching her forehead as though bewildered, transfixed.

Their father swerved over so fast his Buick came up on the curb, the grass. Everyone saw. He grabbed the little boy by the haunches and shook him until the nuns rushed over. What kind of school, he wanted to know, are you running here?

On the car ride home, Marie announced loudly that she hadn’t minded it at all, what the boy had done.

It made my stomach wiggle, she said much more quietly to Dara in the backseat.

Their father wouldn’t talk to Marie for days. He telephoned the school and thundered at the principal, so loud they heard him from upstairs, in their bunkbed. Marie’s face in the moonlight was shiny with tears. Marie and their father were both mysterious to Dara. Mysterious and alike somehow. Primitive, their mother called them privately.

They never went back.

At home, lessons were different every day. You could never guess. Some mornings, they’d get out the great big globe from their father’s den and Dara and Marie would spin it and their mother would tell them something about the country on which their finger landed. (Singapore is the cleanest country in the world. The punishment for vandalism is caning.) Sometimes, she had to look things up in the mildewed encyclopedia in the den, its covers soft with age. Often, it seemed like she was making things up (In France, there are two kinds of toilets . . .), and they would laugh about it, the three of them, their private jokes.

We are three, their mother used to say. (They were three until they were four, but this was before Charlie came, and all of that.)

But mostly, the day-every day-was about ballet.

Their father was away for work so often, and for so long. To this substation, or to that airfield, doing things with fiber optics-none of them knew, really.

When he was gone, they wore leotards all day and danced for hours and hours, in the practice room, along the second-floor landing, in the backyard thick with weeds. They danced all day, until their feet radiated, tingled, went numb. It didn’t matter.

That was how Dara remembered it now.

House cats. That’s what their mother used to call them, which was funny, if you thought about it, because their mother was the one who kept them home with her. Not one sleepover, nor camping trip, nor a neighbor’s birthday party their entire childhood.

They made their own fun. Once, on Valentine’s Day, they all cut out valentines from faded construction paper and their mother made a lesson for them about love. She talked about all the different kinds of love and how it changed and turned and you couldn’t stop it. Love was always changing on you.

I’m in love, Marie said, like always, talking about the fifth-grade boy with the birthmark who pulled her pants down, who had once hid under her desk and tried to stick a pencil between her legs.

That’s not love, their mother said, stroking Marie’s babyfine hair, brushing the back of her hand against Marie’s forever-pink cheek.

Then she told them their favorite story, the one about a famous ballerina named Marie Taglioni, whose devotees were so passionate they once paid two hundred rubles, a fortune at that time, for a single pair of her discarded pointe shoes. After the purchase, they cooked, garnished, and ate the pointe shoes with a special sauce.

That, their mother told them, is love.

Now, more than two decades later, the Durant School of Dance was theirs.

All day, six days a week for the past more-than-a-dozen years, Dara and Marie taught in the cramped, cozy confines of the same ashen building where their mother had once reigned. Steamy and pungent in the summer and frigid, its windows snow-blurred, in the winter, the studio never changed and was forever slowly falling apart. Often thick with must, overnight rain left weeping pockets in every ceiling corner, dripping on students’ noses.

But it didn’t matter, because the students always came. Over a hundred girls and a few boys, ages three to fifteen, Pre-Ballet I to Advanced IV. And a waitlist for the rest. In the past six years, they’d advanced fourteen girls and three boys to tier-one ballet schools and thirty-six to major competitions.

Every summer, they hired two additional instructors, three on weekends, but during the school year, it was just Dara and Marie. And, of course, Charlie, once their mother’s prize student, her surrogate son, her son of the soul. And now Dara’s husband. Charlie, who couldn’t teach anymore because of his injuries but who ran all the business operations from the back office. Charlie, on whom so many students had passing crushes, a rite of passage, like the first time they took a razor blade to their hardened feet, or the first time they achieved turnout, rotating their legs from their hip sockets, bodies pushed to contortion. Pushed so far, the feeling ecstatic. Her first time, Dara felt split open, laid bare.

The Durant School of Dance was an institution. Children, teens came from three counties to take classes with them. They came with sprightly dreams and limber bodies and hard little muscles and hungry, lean bellies and a desire to enter into the fairy tale that is dance to little girls and a few special little boys. They all wanted to participate in the storied Durant tradition set forth by their mother thirty or more years ago. Encore, ŽchappŽ, ŽchappŽ, watch those knees. Their mother, her voice subdued yet steely, striding across the floor, guiding everything, mastering everything.

But now it was Dara’s and Marie’s voices-Dara’s low and flinty (Shoulders down, lift that leg, higher, higher . . .) and Marie’s light and lilting, Marie calling out Here comes the Mouse King! to all her five-year-olds and bending her feet and hands into claws, the girls screaming with pleasure . . .

Charlie in the back office listening to parents bemoan their child’s lack of discipline, the exorbitant cost of pointe shoes, the holiday schedule, Charlie nodding patiently as mothers spoke in hushed tones about their own long-ago ballet aspirations, of the mad fantasy of tutus and rosin, satin and tulle, floodlights and beaming faces, leaping endlessly into a lover’s waiting arms.

Everything worked, nothing ever changed.

And yet gradually the Durant School of Dance, decades after opening in a former dry goods store with a drooping ceiling, had become a major success.

“I always knew it could be,” Charlie said.

Which one does your daughter have? Dara or Marie?

They look so much alike, but Dara’s dark to Marie’s fair.

They look so much alike, but Dara has the long swan neck and Marie the long colt legs.

Both carry themselves with such poise. They show our daughters grace and bearing.

They bend and twist our squirmy, pigeon-breasted little girls into lithe and lissome dancers. Our girls walk into the Durant School shrill and strident, with the clatter of phones and the slap of flip-flops, and an hour later, they have been transformed into the strong, sweated stillness of an empress, a czarina, a Durant.

Our daughters love them both, especially Marie.

Marie, because she taught the younger ones. Because she would get down on the floor with them, would fix their loose braids and, when they burst into tears, secretly give them strawberry sugar wafers. After class, she might even teach them how to do that dance like their favorite pop singer if they showed her first on their phones. At day’s end, Dara would peek into Marie’s studio, the pastel crush of wafer crumbs, the abandoned hair ribbons and bent bobby pins, and wonder if Marie understood little girls too well.

Dara followed their mother’s model. In her studio, she stood queen-like, her chin jutting like a wolf’s-that’s how Charlie described it-quick to correct, quick to unravel them, the girls with the lazy extension, the girls pirouetting with bent knees.

Someone had to keep up the tradition of rigor, of firm discipline, and it inevitably fell to Dara. Or suited her best. It was hard to tell the difference.

But, for the most part, to all the little girls, their faces upturned, their matching pink tights and scuffed leather slippers-still more to their parents who crowded the lobby, who steamed up the windows, unwrapping their children from fuzzy, puffy coats and nudging them, gently, into the studio-Dara and Marie were the same, but different.

Dara was cool, but Marie was hot.

Dara was dark, but Marie was light.

Dara and Marie, the same but different.

“Every girl wants to be a ballerina . . .”

It was always the photograph that first drew them in. Dark Dara and pale Marie, their heads tilted against each other, matching buns, their feet in relevŽ. The photograph was the first thing you saw when you walked into the studio lobby, or clicked on the website, or picked up the community circular or the sleek lifestyle magazine and saw the glossy ad in the back.

Charlie had taken the photograph and everyone talked about it.

So striking, everyone would say. E-theeeer-real, some would even venture. The littlest girls, padding in in their ballet pinks, would stare up at the photo mounted in the lobby, fingers in their mouths.

Like fairy princesses.

So Charlie took more photos. For the local paper, which featured them regularly, for their marketing materials as the school grew in size. But the photos were always, fundamentally, the same. Dark Dara and pale Marie, poised, close, touching.

Once, a marketing person offered them a free consultation. After observing them in the studio one summer day, sweating in the corner, wilting on the high stool they’d given him, he spoke to Charlie under his breath for a long time. That was how they ended up with the photo of Dara and Marie at the end of a long day, after dancing together in the quiet studio, their bodies loose, their leotards soaked through.

Charlie shot them collapsed upon each other on the floor, their faces pink with pleasure.

“Move closer,” he said from behind the camera. “Closer still.”

Closer still. Back then, it seemed impossible to be any closer. The three of them, so entwined. Charlie was Dara’s husband, but he was also so much more. Dara, Marie, and Charlie, their days spent together at the studio, their nights in their childhood home. Back then.

After the shoot, looking at images on Charlie’s computer, Dara hesitated, imagining what their mother might say of the photos, their bruises and blisters and blackened toenails hidden, their bodies so smooth and perfect and bare. “Are you sure?” she asked.

“They tell a story,” Charlie said.

“They sell a story,” Marie added, snapping her leotard against her damp skin.

Dancers have short lives, of course. What happened to Charlie-his crushing injuries, his four painful surgeries-never left their minds. His body, still as lean and marble-cut as the day their mother brought him home, was a living reminder of how quickly things could turn, how beautiful things could be all broken inside. One had to plan, to make a trajectory. That was what made Dara and Charlie different from Marie, from their parents.

Marie always seemed ready to bolt, but never for long and never far. How far could one get if one still struggled to remember a bank card pin number, and left gas burners lit wherever she went.

So, when Dara and Charlie did marry-at city hall, he in an open-collar shirt and back brace and she in a tissue-thin slip dress that made her shudder on the front steps-he brought with him a small trust fund from his long-deceased father, to be broken open at last like a platinum piggy bank on his twenty-first birthday. The amount was modest, but they used it to pay off the mortgage for the studio building, drooping ceiling and all. They owned it outright. It was theirs.

We’ll do it together, he said.

And Marie.

Of course, he said. We three. We means three.

It was the three of them. Always the three of them. Until it wasnÕt. And that was when everything went wrong. Starting with the fire. Or before.–This text refers to the hardcover edition.

Most people prefer reading paper books over digital books on tablets, phones

From Study Finds:

Digital books on tablets, smartphones, and devices like Amazon’s Kindle are certainly convenient, but according to a new survey most people still prefer a good old fashioned paper book. There’s just something satisfying about turning the page and holding a physical book in one’s hands, as over two-thirds of adults say they always opt for a real book over digital reading.

Put together by Oxfam, researcher polled 2,000 respondents in the United Kingdom regarding their thoughts on paper books versus digital books. Close to half (46%) enjoy physically turning pages and 42 percent prefer the feel of a physical book in their hands. One in four say they love the smell of paper books. Meanwhile, another 32 percent feel like they become much more immersed in the story while reading a paper book and 16 percent go for traditional books because they remind them of libraries.

. . . .

Interestingly, over a third of respondents (35%) enjoy buying paper books because that allows them to proudly display them on their bookshelf as a background during Zoom meetings.

All in all, only 16 percent of adults prefer digital books and a meager eight percent who favor audio books. On average, the survey finds most adults own 49 books and read for three hours per week.

“People prefer to read physical books because they offer something more tangible and grounded. There’s something that can feel more “permanent” about real books over digital formats,” says Dr. Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, in a statement. “Reading offers us a form of escapism. It provides us with a break from our everyday lives, and often also, an opportunity to learn something new and expand our minds.”

. . . .

Three-quarters say they’re considering donating books they’ve finished and 72 percent usually buy used books themselves. Moreover, this research suggests that books are the top item most adults are willing to buy used. Seventy-one percent say they buy used books because it is cheaper and 52 percent do it because it is better for the environment.

Link to the rest at Study Finds

The Rise of Must-Read TV

From The Atlantic:

If you want a preview of next year’s Emmy Awards, just take a walk past your local bookstore. According to data drawn from Publishers Marketplace, the industry’s clearinghouse for news and self-reported book deals, literary adaptations to television have been on a steady climb. The site has listed nearly 4,000 film and television deals since it launched in 2000, and both the number and proportion of TV deals have increased dramatically in that same period. Last year, reported TV adaptations exceeded film adaptations for the first time ever.

. . . .

Literary adaptations are big business. For streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, they provide a reliable source of content for limited or multiseason series; Publisher’s Weekly reported in 2019 that Netflix was on a “book-buying spree,” and the company has shown no sign of slowing. Rotten Tomatoes cites 125 literary adaptations in development right now.

. . . .

All of this has had a profound effect on the literary world. As you might expect, becoming a TV show increases a novel’s popularity enormously. Adaptations can drive book sales, as in the case of this winter’s breakout hit Bridgerton. The Regency-era bodice-ripper is not alone: A number of backlist titles, such as The Queen’s Gambit, have enjoyed a late-in-life revival thanks to Netflix’s attention.

We see evidence of the adaptation effect in other measures of literary success as well. We compiled a list of about 400 21st-century novels that met certain criteria—inclusion in top-10 best-seller lists, critics’ picks, publishers’ comp titles, and so on. Within this group, a novel that becomes a show will receive about four times as many ratings on Goodreads.com as a novel that has never been adapted to TV or film. (Film still has a bigger effect, boosting a novel’s Goodreads ratings more than 1000 percent; TV nonetheless dramatically improves the fortunes of a novel.

. . . .

Television adaptations are influencing every stage of a book’s life, including how it’s acquired in the first place. Scouts from networks and streaming services are talking more and more with publishers about big- and small-screen options at earlier stages of negotiations, in many cases before the ink on a book deal is even dry. Production companies such as Anonymous Content are bringing publishing-industry veterans on staff, and agencies and scouting firms are hiring specialists in literary development. Clare Richardson, a senior scout for film and TV at Maria B. Campbell Associates, one of the firms that works with Netflix, told us, “An important part of my job is having long-standing connections with literary agents and editors—what they’re reading, what they’re liking, what’s working. I’m trying to dive deep and find things as early as possible.” Richardson adds that simultaneous submission—that is, when a book deal and a screen option are negotiated at the same time—is common. Writers, agents, and editors have more incentive than ever to craft novels with TV in mind. The system rewards the adaptable.

So we wondered what kinds of novels were most likely to end up on screen. What qualities—of genre, structure, or style—make a novel seem most adaptable? We coded our sample of contemporary fiction not only for what has been successfully brought to TV, but also for what producers and scouts have optioned in the belief that it could be.

Reviewing that larger sample, we noticed several common features that unite texts as seemingly disparate as A Visit from the Goon Squad (which Jennifer Egan herself said she modeled on The Sopranos),N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings, and Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (all of which have been optioned for television). Although not every novel under contract for potential adaptation shares all of these features, they do seem to possess a consistent set of what we call “option aesthetics”: episodic plots, ensemble casts, and intricate world-building. These are the characteristics of contemporary fiction that invite a move from the printed page to the viewing queue.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

‘Immersive Media & Books’ Study: Audiobooks and Context

From Publishing Perspectives:

As many programs and presentations this year have demonstrated, the digital acceleration prompted by the still ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic  created strong market movement for audiobooks in 2020, in many parts of the world and particularly in the United States.

. . . .

Panorama and the Audio Publishers Association offer several key top-line findings that add numbers to our growing understanding of the energy in digital formats and particularly in audio— energy that has in many markets, the States included, persisted beyond what some would have expected into this year.

Note, for example, the importance to the trade book publishing industry of the second point in which we see audiobook-engaged consumers buying the same book in multiple formats. This is a key to the messaging coming from the association and the Panorama Project survey, a depiction of audiobook consumers as both interested and integrated in the broader community of literature and its commerce.

  • 43.6 percent of the general survey population respondents said they engage with audiobooks
  • 49.6 percent of those who engage with audiobooks said they buy the same book in multiple formats
  • 67.9 percent of those surveyed who engage with audiobooks said they are also avid book readers (on the order of four or more books per month)
  • That subset of audiobook-engaged consumers equates to 53 percent of the general survey population
  • Audiobook engagers surveyed identified themselves as younger than the general survey population, with 41.5 percent of millennials and 43 percent of Gen X people responding saying that they’re engaging with audiobooks
  • Greater percentages of people of color—Black 19.6 percent, Latinx 16.4 percent—said they engage with audiobooks compared to the general survey population
  • Audiobook engagers surveyed said they rely heavily on word-of-mouth for book discovery, with 21.6 percent citing friends, 13.6 percent citing family, and 10.1 percent citing social media
  • 81.4 percent of audiobook engagers surveyed said they have a library card, compared to 75.8 percent of the general survey population

Audio enthusiasts surveyed said their favored genres in adult fiction are mystery, classics, fantasy, romance, and thriller. In adult nonfiction, respondents listed history, biographies and autobiographies, body/mind/spirit, spirituality, and business. The audio enthusiasts surveyed said they engage with YA (fiction and nonfiction) in all genre categories at higher rates than was reported by the general survey population.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The Caconym

From The Hydrogen Sonata:

The Caconym was silent for a few moments. It watched a small solar flare erupt from near one side of the sunspot over which it had stationed itself. Another tendril of the star’s gaseous shrapnel, ejected by an earlier outburst of the furious energies erupting for ever beneath it, and thousands of kilometres across and tens of thousands long, washed over and around it, bathing its outer field structure in radiation and delivering a distinct physical blow.

It allowed itself to be gently buffeted by the impact, using its engine fields to adjust its apparent mass and so increasing its inertia so that the effect would fall within acceptable parameters, while observing the outermost elements of its field structure deform inwards by a few micrometres under the weight of the blast. The effect of the colliding gust of plasma was to send it drifting very slightly across the face of the sunspot, spinning slowly.

Link to the rest at The Hydrogen Sonata

10 More Naming Words Ending in -nym

From Daily Writing Tips:

eponym
The person for whom something is named: chauvinism, Caesarian Section, boycott.

exonym
A name for a people used by outsiders and not by the people themselves. For example, English-speakers call the people of Wales the Welsh.

autonym
A name by which a people refers to itself. The name the Welsh people call call themselves is Cymry. They call their country Cymru. Switzerland, which has four official languages, each of which has a different word for Switzerland–Suisse, Schweiz, Svizzera, Svizra—uses the Latin word Helvetica for the country on its postage stamps and for other uses. Here are some more country autonyms with their English exonyms:

Austria—Österreich
Belgium—Belgique
Germany—Deutschland
Greece—Hellas
Israel—Yisra’el
Japan—Nippon
Poland—Polska
Spain—España
Sweden—Sverige

ethnonym
The name of an ethnic group, tribe, or people. The residents of the United States are called Americans. Other ethnonyms used by Americans include African-American, Black, Indian, Native American, and Asian-American. A similar term, demonym, is a term that refers to the inhabitants of a place. For example, Chicagoans, Londoners, Mancunians (inhabitants of Manchester, England).

toponym
The name of a place. Because the Romans occupied Britain for three and a half centuries, many British place names derive from Latin words. For example, the Romans called their camps castra, a word that developed into the suffix chester/cester, giving modern Manchester, Winchester, and Cirencester.

caconym
“An erroneous name.” The Greek word for badkako, gives us several English words. Cacophony is “bad sound,” for example from an untuned musical instrument, or harsh- sounding words. A cacodemon is an evil spirit. A caconym is a “bad name,” i.e., an incorrect or faulty term. A malapropism, for example, is a caconym.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

Rare Tablet Bearing Ancient Epic Poem Forfeited to U.S.

From The New York Post:

Brooklyn federal prosecutors want an ancient artifact known as the “Gilgamesh Dream Tablet” returned to Iraq — where it was looted years ago before being sold to an unwitting Hobby Lobby for the arts and craft chain’s bible museum.

Brooklyn US Attorney Richard Donoghue’s office filed a civil action Monday asking that the $1,674,000 artifact, dating to 1600 BC, be handed over to the Iraqi government.

The Sumerian epic poem written in cuneiform on the clay tablet is considered one of the world’s oldest pieces of literature, officials said.

“Whenever looted cultural property is found in this country, the United States government will do all it can to preserve heritage by returning such artifacts where they belong,” said Donoghue in a statement.

“In this case, a major auction house failed to meet its obligations by minimizing its concerns that the provenance of an important Iraqi artifact was fabricated, and withheld from the buyer information that undermined the provenance’s reliability.”

Federal agents seized the 5-by-6-inch work in 2019 from the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC.

In April 2003, an unnamed antiquities dealer purchased the tablet along with a number of other items from another dealer in London, prosecutors said.

In 2007, that dealer sold the tablet for $50,000 to another buyer, and allegedly provided a fake provenance letter, falsely claiming it had been legitimately obtained at an auction in 1981 before laws were passed restricting the importation of Iraqi artifacts.

The tablet was later sold by an unnamed international auction house to Hobby Lobby Stores in 2014, in a private sale for an eye-popping $1,674,000 for display at the Museum of the Bible.

Three years later, a museum curator contacted the auction to clear up some contradictory information about the item’s origins.

Despite inquiries from the museum and Hobby Lobby, the auction house failed to disclose details about how they had obtained the artifact and withheld the false provenance letter, which it knew would not hold up to “scrutiny in a public auction,” prosecutors wrote in court papers.

It’s unclear whether the museum, which cooperated with the investigation, alerted federal authorities to the suspected theft.

The piece is known as the “Gilgamesh Dream Tablet” since it contains a portion of the poem in which the protagonist describes his dreams to his mother.

Hundreds of thousands of artifacts have been looted from archaeological sites throughout Iraq since the early 1990s and sold on the black market, officials said.

Spokeswoman Charlotte Clay said the museum fully supports the effort to return the tablet to Iraq.

“The museum, before displaying the item, informed the Embassy of Iraq on Nov. 13, 2017, that it had the item in its possession but extensive research would be required to establish provenance,” she said in a statement.

Link to the rest at The New York Post

Here’s what the tablet looks like:

the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet

Provenance: Important, Yes, But Often Incomplete and Often Enough, Wrong

From Artnet News:

This essay addresses provenance issues in the context of a sale. Of course the provenance of a piece is an important factor in determining its authenticity, but how important to the seller and buyer is knowing that, for example, there were three private owners between the artist and the current owner. If one of those owners was Paul Mellon or a major museum, it might be very important. And, have the buyer and seller made that importance clear in their sale agreement?

• • •

Ask anyone at the next gallery opening or museum exhibition and you will find nearly universal agreement that the provenance (lit. “origin”) of a work of art is important.1 In fact, a New York federal judge recently observed that “[i]t is a basic duty of any purchaser of an object d’art to examine the provenance for that piece…”

Less clear is whether the standards that exist in the art world about what should be included in the provenance are followed with any regularity or even can be followed as a practical matter. While theoretically intended to be a “chain of title” that should include every owner of the work since its creation, provenance typically tends to be a non-exclusive listing of interesting facts concerning the background of the work, such as notable former owners (at least those who are willing to have their identities disclosed) and the exhibition of the work at prestigious venues. Should galleries which held the work on consignment be listed? Does a seller have potential liability if the provenance provided to the buyer turns out to be inaccurate in any material respect? What if it is merely incomplete?

Before addressing those questions, it is useful to consider how provenance is relevant to sales of art. Art litigation generally falls within one of three categories: disputes concerning ownership, disputes concerning authenticity, and, to a lesser extent, disputes concerning value. The provenance of a work may bear on each of those potential areas of dispute. Obviously, to the extent provenance represents a chain of title, it may bear quite directly on a dispute concerning ownership. (If “H.W. Göring, Berlin” is listed in the provenance, that is probably a red flag).

More typically, provenance will be scrutinized where questions of authenticity arise. A few years back, an issue arose concerning the authenticity of a century-old sculpture attributed to a 20th-century artist of iconic stature. The work was sold to a prominent collector through an auction house with a certificate of authenticity from a qualified and appropriately-credentialed scholar of the artist’s work. According to the provenance provided at the time of sale, the work had been acquired in Paris after World War II by an art history professor from an Ivy League university. When questions of authenticity arose several years later, an Internet search and a few telephone calls to the university revealed that no such art history professor ever existed. Also left off the provenance was the fact that just months prior to the multi-million dollar sale to the prominent collector, the work had been purchased from an obscure antique store owned and operated by someone who had served jail time for art insurance fraud. Had these “errors and omissions” in the provenance been discovered at the time of the sale, the sale itself and several years of costly litigation would have been avoided.

Many works of art acknowledged to be authentic carry some risk that in the future questions of authenticity may arise. After all, experts sometimes change their minds, new experts may disagree with the old consensus, and new facts or technologies may emerge. An impeccable provenance that can be verified serves to mitigate that investment risk. On the other hand, we have seen that a dubious provenance may itself be used as circumstantial evidence that the work is a fake. Thus, even where authenticity is not currently an issue, an inaccurate or incomplete provenance still could give rise to a claim in the future.

Recently an art dealer faced a claim that the provenance he provided with a painting was incomplete because it did not include all of the owners going back to the artist. According to the disgruntled buyer, this omission was material because the provenance included a gallery involved in a well-publicized forgery scandal and, therefore, the painting would be hard to re-sell at an appropriate price without a verifiable provenance going back to the artist. Significantly, the painting had been sold at auction a decade earlier and the dealer had provided the current buyer with exactly the same pre-auction provenance as the prominent auction house had provided at the time of the auction sale. The dealer did not think to second-guess or investigate the completeness of the provenance provided by the auction house and did not have the resources to do so. Previous owners of the work did not want their identities disclosed due to privacy concerns (which is not uncommon), so a more complete provenance was not even feasible. Nevertheless, the buyer claimed that he had been promised a “verifiable provenance” and sought to revoke the sale. The buyer did not contend that the work was not an authentic painting by the famous artist, but merely that it would be hard to re-sell without a complete and verifiable provenance going back to the artist. Although the dispute ultimately was resolved without litigation, this episode starkly highlights the potential risks a seller may be assuming by providing—without qualification—a provenance that he or she has no real reason to doubt.

Link to the rest at Artnet News

Forging Papers to Sell Fake Art

From FBI News:

Michigan art dealer Eric Ian Hornak Spoutz grew up in a family of artists. His namesake uncle, Ian Hornak, was famous among Hyperrealist and Photorealist painters, and his mother was a gifted painter as well.

Spoutz became an artist in his own right—a con artist peddling fakes. His specialty was forging the paperwork that he used as proof of authenticity to sell bogus works.

His deceit finally caught up to him on February 16, when he was sentenced in New York to 41 months in prison on one count of wire fraud for defrauding art collectors of $1.45 million. The judge also ordered Spoutz, 34, of Mount Clemens, Michigan, to forfeit the $1.45 million and to pay $154,100 in restitution.

Spoutz’s scam was straightforward but well executed. He contacted art galleries or auction houses and offered for sale previously unknown works by artists such as American abstract impressionists Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Joan Mitchell. The art did not appear in any catalogs or collections of the artists’ known works, said Special Agent Christopher McKeogh from the FBI’s Art Crime Team in our New York Field Office.

“He was selling lower-level works by known artists,” explained McKeogh, who worked the case for more than three years with fellow agent Meridith Savona and forensic accountant Maria Font. “If it’s a direct copy of a real one, the real one is going to be out there and the fraud would be discovered.”

Before paying thousands of dollars for works of art, collectors and brokers want assurance the work is real—especially if the work is previously unknown, McKeogh said. Among other things, they look at the provenance—the paper history of an item that traces its ownership back to the original artist—for proof.

Spoutz, who also owned a legitimate art gallery, understood the value of provenance. He forged receipts, bills of sale, letters from dead attorneys, and other documents. Some of the letters dated back decades and looked authentic, referencing real people who worked at real galleries or law firms. Spoutz also used a vintage typewriter and old paper for his documentation.

The old typewriter turned out to be the smoking gun in the case. “We could tell all of these letters had been typed on the same typewriter,” McKeogh said. The type of a letter allegedly sent from a business in the 1950s matched the type in a letter allegedly sent by a firm in a different state three decades later. Spoutz also mistakenly added a ZIP Code to the letterhead of a firm on a letter dated four years before ZIP Codes were created.

Another red flag was that many of the people referenced in the letters were dead. And some of the addresses were in the middle of an intersection, or didn’t exist at all. “All these dead ends helped prove a fraud was being committed,” McKeogh said.

When marketing his fakes, Spoutz stopped just short of saying the works were authentic. “He tried to give himself an out and said they were ‘attributed to’ an artist,” McKeogh said.

. . . .

Spoutz produced the fake provenance, but not the fake art. “Spoutz was not known as an artist. He had a source he kept going back to,” McKeogh said. The FBI used experts in the field and artist foundations to determine the works Spoutz sold were forgeries.

Many of the fakes passed through auction houses in New York City, McKeogh said, and a suspicious victim eventually contacted the FBI. McKeogh inherited the case about three years ago, when another agent retired.

Although Spoutz has been sentenced, McKeogh and Savona do not believe they have seen the last of the fakes he peddled. The FBI recovered about 40 forgeries; there could be hundreds more that were sold to unsuspecting victims. “This is a case we’re going to be dealing with for years. Spoutz was a mill,” McKeogh said.

Link to the rest at FBI News

The OP’s are all dealing with the fringes of intellectual property, but, in each case, the original creator (or the individual creating the forgery) took something that had little to no intrinsic value — clay in the case of the Gilgamesh Dream Table, blank canvases in the case of the paintings — and added value to it

The Art of Fiction

From The Paris Review:

Kenzaburo Oe, The Art of Fiction No. 195
Issue no. 183 (Winter 2007)

INTERVIEWER

Many writers are obsessive about working in solitude, but the narrators in your books—who are writers—write and read while lying on the couch in the living room. Do you work amid your family?

OE

I don’t need to be solitary to work. When I am writing novels and reading, I do not need to separate myself or be away from my family. Usually I work in my living room while Hikari listens to music. I can work with Hikari and my wife present because I revise many times. The novel is always incomplete, and I know I will revise it completely. When I’m writing the first draft I don’t have to write it by myself. When I’m revising, I already have a relationship with the text so I don’t have to be alone.

I have a study on the second floor, but it’s rare that I work there. The only time I work in there is when I’m finishing up a novel and need to concentrate—which is a nuisance to others.

.

The Blind
By Sigrid Nunez
Issue no. 222 (Fall 2017)

There are things I’d like to know, too. For example, why, when these two girls want to talk, do they keep getting into their cars and driving to each other’s houses? Why do they never use their phones, not even to text to find out first if the other one is home? Why do they not know things about each other that they could easily have learned from Facebook?

It is one of the great bafflements of student fiction. I have read that college students can spend up to ten hours a day on social media. But for the people they write about, though also mostly college students, the Internet barely exists.

“Cell phones do not belong in fiction,” an editor once scolded in the margin of one of my manuscripts, and ever since—more than two decades now—I have wondered at the disconnect between tech-filled life and techless story.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

O poor, unthinking human heart

O poor, unthinking human heart! Error will not go away, logic and reason are slow to penetrate. We cling with both arms to false hope, refusing to believe in the weightiest proofs against it, embracing it with all our strength. In the end it escapes, ripping our veins and draining our heart’s blood; until, regaining consciousness, we rush to fall into snares of delusion all over again

Rabindranath Tagore

Find Your Topic, Not Your Voice

From Jane Friedman:

In setting out to become a writer, you must strive, above all, to discover your unique voice. At least, that’s become the conventional wisdom, taught in MFA programs as well as in more casual settings, from writers group meetings at Starbucks to free classes taught in the stuffy backroom of your local library. Yet there is so much wrong with this advice that, if you spend even one full minute giving it serious thought, your eyes will roll heaven-ward all on their own like Where even to begin?

Still, we must begin somewhere, so here goes.

How can you know what your tone will be when you don’t yet know what your topic is?

Where exactly do we think voice comes from if not from subject?

Which is the right cart and which is the right horse?

Sure, your unique sensibility may account for a large part of your hot takes, but would you write about muffins and genocide the same way, or Fords and fjords? And are we really so sure that voice trumps all other aspects of a piece of writing?

Finally, who is responsible for advancing this damnable, now-inescapable sick logic, and what is their address, because I’m thinking I might like to T.P. their house?

Maybe that seems a tad aggressive. But you have to consider the real damage this advice has wrought. All over the world, people’s drawers bulge with unpublishable novels, essays collections and memoirs in which there’s plenty of voice, yet no story, no real through-line, no sense of one’s audience beyond the assumption that they’re there. That’s the problem. This overemphasis on voice puts the focus on the writer and what they want to say and how they want to say it, ignoring more pertinent questions. Namely, considering how there’s Mare of Easttown to binge on HBO, why should anyone spend hours poring over your writing instead?

It also ignores the credentialism involved with the few novels and works of nonfiction that get acquired, more or less, because of voice alone. Publishers are a lot less apt to value your unique voice if that voice doesn’t come with degrees from Harvard or Iowa, or if you’re not reading this article while lounging on the terrace at Yaddo. It’s just a fact. There are exceptions, of course. The overall picture is, however, about as clear as any close-up of Kate Winslet, though not as pretty.

I rant like this from firsthand experience, from the wish I could time-travel back about 15 years and tell myself all this. My own writing breakthrough, the one that got me a book deal after a dozen years of trying, came from focusing on topic ahead of voice. Your writing struggles and goals may well be different. You are probably miles ahead of me, much less dense and much quicker to learn. But considering the prevalence of the conventional wisdom, let’s turn it on its head a minute.

What if you were to put the primary focus on your topic?

It might just help you land a book deal, climb some lofty bestseller list, scale those Everest-like Amazon ranks—and what’s more, the process is simple, no matter if you’re writing fiction or nonfiction.

  1. Pick a topic that fascinates you, or learn about a topic until it fascinates you.
  2. Lead with research. Google your subject to see what’s out there. Begin to gain a sense of whether an audience already exists.
  3. Bring that topic to the world.

This strategy can lead to more interesting writing, and interesting is what you need to be, considering you and I and everyone else we know are all working inside a full-fledged, entertain-or-GTFO attention economy. Few of us occupy such exalted positions that we can take audience for granted. This is all the more true if your goal is to eventually sell a book—again, fiction or nonfiction—because first you must prove to agents and acquisition editors that there’s a crowd of people eager to pay for it.

Your topic could, for example, take any of the following forms:

  • Things that interested you as a child
  • Ideas you can’t get out of your head
  • Places that have become your personal obsessions
  • Or some such B.S.: weird jobs, strange headlines, cultural trends, etc.

And your audience may pop up in such places as:

  • Facebook fan groups dedicated to your subject
  • Publications and other outlets (from podcasts to YouTube channels) dedicated to your subject
  • Reddit boards about your topic
  • Other writers who’ve covered this same subject, plus their audiences.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG hasn’t decided if he needs to establish a quota for the number of articles he posts that include a discussion about the difficulty of getting a traditional publishing contract or not. He’s happy to receive suggestions on this topic in the comments.

As he was thinking about this quite common trope, the thought occurred to him that the consistent appearance of such stories might be evidence of some sort of common cognitive error or mental disorder that seems to plague more than a few would-be authors who wish to be traditionally published. He’s not certain if an MFA is a contributory factor to contracting this condition or merely a symptom of it.

PG needs some help in understanding what’s going on here.

Note that PG is not disparaging mental health professionals or the great benefits they can provide to those who are genuinely mentally ill or otherwise emotionally impaired. Nor is he ridiculing those, author or non-author, who have genuine mental, emotional and/or cognitive problems.

He’s simply providing the many intelligent laypersons who visit TPV and who may have observed the anguish and anger exhibited by many authors who are frustrated with the arbitrary and unfair treatment traditional publishing and it’s enablers visit on them, particularly when those authors have other avenues for getting their books in front of readers.

Per Positive Psychology, here is a list of common cognitive errors AKA cognitive distortions:

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking / Polarized Thinking

Also known as “Black-and-White Thinking,” this distortion manifests as an inability or unwillingness to see shades of gray. In other words, you see things in terms of extremes – something is either fantastic or awful, you believe you are either perfect or a total failure.

2. Overgeneralization

This sneaky distortion takes one instance or example and generalizes it to an overall pattern. For example, a student may receive a C on one test and conclude that she is stupid and a failure. Overgeneralizing can lead to overly negative thoughts about yourself and your environment based on only one or two experiences.

3. Mental Filter

Similar to overgeneralization, the mental filter distortion focuses on a single negative piece of information and excludes all the positive ones. An example of this distortion is one partner in a romantic relationship dwelling on a single negative comment made by the other partner and viewing the relationship as hopelessly lost, while ignoring the years of positive comments and experiences.

The mental filter can foster a decidedly pessimistic view of everything around you by focusing only on the negative.

4. Disqualifying the Positive

On the flip side, the “Disqualifying the Positive” distortion acknowledges positive experiences but rejects them instead of embracing them.

For example, a person who receives a positive review at work might reject the idea that they are a competent employee and attribute the positive review to political correctness, or to their boss simply not wanting to talk about their employee’s performance problems.

This is an especially malignant distortion since it can facilitate the continuation of negative thought patterns even in the face of strong evidence to the contrary.

5. Jumping to Conclusions – Mind Reading

This “Jumping to Conclusions” distortion manifests as the inaccurate belief that we know what another person is thinking. Of course, it is possible to have an idea of what other people are thinking, but this distortion refers to the negative interpretations that we jump to.

Seeing a stranger with an unpleasant expression and jumping to the conclusion that they are thinking something negative about you is an example of this distortion.

6. Jumping to Conclusions – Fortune Telling

A sister distortion to mind reading, fortune telling refers to the tendency to make conclusions and predictions based on little to no evidence and holding them as gospel truth.

One example of fortune-telling is a young, single woman predicting that she will never find love or have a committed and happy relationship based only on the fact that she has not found it yet. There is simply no way for her to know how her life will turn out, but she sees this prediction as fact rather than one of several possible outcomes.

7. Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization

Also known as the “Binocular Trick” for its stealthy skewing of your perspective, this distortion involves exaggerating or minimizing the meaning, importance, or likelihood of things.

An athlete who is generally a good player but makes a mistake may magnify the importance of that mistake and believe that he is a terrible teammate, while an athlete who wins a coveted award in her sport may minimize the importance of the award and continue believing that she is only a mediocre player.

8. Emotional Reasoning

This may be one of the most surprising distortions to many readers, and it is also one of the most important to identify and address. The logic behind this distortion is not surprising to most people; rather, it is the realization that virtually all of us have bought into this distortion at one time or another.

Emotional reasoning refers to the acceptance of one’s emotions as fact. It can be described as “I feel it, therefore it must be true.” Just because we feel something doesn’t mean it is true; for example, we may become jealous and think our partner has feelings for someone else, but that doesn’t make it true. Of course, we know it isn’t reasonable to take our feelings as fact, but it is a common distortion nonetheless.

9. Should Statements

Another particularly damaging distortion is the tendency to make “should” statements. Should statements are statements that you make to yourself about what you “should” do, what you “ought” to do, or what you “must” do. They can also be applied to others, imposing a set of expectations that will likely not be met.

When we hang on too tightly to our “should” statements about ourselves, the result is often guilt that we cannot live up to them. When we cling to our “should” statements about others, we are generally disappointed by their failure to meet our expectations, leading to anger and resentment.

10. Labeling and Mislabeling

These tendencies are basically extreme forms of overgeneralization, in which we assign judgments of value to ourselves or to others based on one instance or experience.

For example, a student who labels herself as “an utter fool” for failing an assignment is engaging in this distortion, as is the waiter who labels a customer “a grumpy old miser” if he fails to thank the waiter for bringing his food. Mislabeling refers to the application of highly emotional, loaded, and inaccurate or unreasonable language when labeling.

11. Personalization

As the name implies, this distortion involves taking everything personally or assigning blame to yourself without any logical reason to believe you are to blame.

This distortion covers a wide range of situations, from assuming you are the reason a friend did not enjoy the girls’ night out, to the more severe examples of believing that you are the cause for every instance of moodiness or irritation in those around you.

In addition to these basic cognitive distortions, Beck and Burns have mentioned a few others (Beck, 1976; Burns, 1980):

12. Control Fallacies

A control fallacy manifests as one of two beliefs: (1) that we have no control over our lives and are helpless victims of fate, or (2) that we are in complete control of ourselves and our surroundings, giving us responsibility for the feelings of those around us. Both beliefs are damaging, and both are equally inaccurate.

No one is in complete control of what happens to them, and no one has absolutely no control over their situation. Even in extreme situations where an individual seemingly has no choice in what they do or where they go, they still have a certain amount of control over how they approach their situation mentally.

13. Fallacy of Fairness

While we would all probably prefer to operate in a world that is fair, the assumption of an inherently fair world is not based in reality and can foster negative feelings when we are faced with proof of life’s unfairness.

A person who judges every experience by its perceived fairness has fallen for this fallacy, and will likely feel anger, resentment, and hopelessness when they inevitably encounter a situation that is not fair.

14. Fallacy of Change

Another ‘fallacy’ distortion involves expecting others to change if we pressure or encourage them enough. This distortion is usually accompanied by a belief that our happiness and success rests on other people, leading us to believe that forcing those around us to change is the only way to get what we want.

A man who thinks “If I just encourage my wife to stop doing the things that irritate me, I can be a better husband and a happier person” is exhibiting the fallacy of change.

15. Always Being Right

Perfectionists and those struggling with Imposter Syndrome will recognize this distortion – it is the belief that we must always be right. For those struggling with this distortion, the idea that we could be wrong is absolutely unacceptable, and we will fight to the metaphorical death to prove that we are right.

For example, the internet commenters who spend hours arguing with each other over an opinion or political issue far beyond the point where reasonable individuals would conclude that they should “agree to disagree” are engaging in the “Always Being Right” distortion. To them, it is not simply a matter of a difference of opinion, it is an intellectual battle that must be won at all costs.

16. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

This distortion is a popular one, and it’s easy to see myriad examples of this fallacy playing out on big and small screens across the world. The “Heaven’s Reward Fallacy” manifests as a belief that one’s struggles, one’s suffering, and one’s hard work will result in a just reward.

It is obvious why this type of thinking is a distortion – how many examples can you think of, just within the realm of your personal acquaintances, where hard work and sacrifice did not pay off?

Sometimes no matter how hard we work or how much we sacrifice, we will not achieve what we hope to achieve. To think otherwise is a potentially damaging pattern of thought that can result in disappointment, frustration, anger, and even depression when the awaited reward does not materialize.

Per WebMD, here is a list of the most common categories of mental disorders:

Anxiety disorders: People with anxiety disorders respond to certain objects or situations with fear and dread, as well as with physical signs of anxiety or panic, such as a rapid heartbeat and sweating. An anxiety disorder is diagnosed if the person’s response is not appropriate for the situation, if the person cannot control the response, or if the anxiety interferes with normal functioning. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias.

Mood disorders: These disorders, also called affective disorders, involve persistent feelings of sadness or periods of feeling overly happy, or fluctuations from extreme happiness to extreme sadness. The most common mood disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, and cyclothymic disorder.

Psychotic disorders: Psychotic disorders involve distorted awareness and thinking. Two of the most common symptoms of psychotic disorders are hallucinations — the experience of images or sounds that are not real, such as hearing voices — and delusions, which are false fixed beliefs that the ill person accepts as true, despite evidence to the contrary. Schizophrenia is an example of a psychotic disorder.
Eating disorders:Eating disorders involve extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors involving weight and food. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are the most common eating disorders.

Impulse control and addiction disorders: People with impulse control disorders are unable to resist urges, or impulses, to perform acts that could be harmful to themselves or others. Pyromania (starting fires), kleptomania (stealing), and compulsive gambling are examples of impulse control disorders. Alcohol and drugs are common objects of addictions. Often, people with these disorders become so involved with the objects of their addiction that they begin to ignore responsibilities and relationships.

Personality disorders: People with personality disorders have extreme and inflexible personality traits that are distressing to the person and/or cause problems in work, school, or social relationships. In addition, the person’s patterns of thinking and behavior significantly differ from the expectations of society and are so rigid that they interfere with the person’s normal functioning. Examples include antisocial personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): People with OCD are plagued by constant thoughts or fears that cause them to perform certain rituals or routines. The disturbing thoughts are called obsessions, and the rituals are called compulsions. An example is a person with an unreasonable fear of germs who constantly washes their hands.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a condition that can develop following a traumatic and/or terrifying event, such as a sexual or physical assault, the unexpected death of a loved one, or a natural disaster. People with PTSD often have lasting and frightening thoughts and memories of the event, and tend to be emotionally numb.

The political history of dubbing in films

Not exactly about books, but Felix suggested it and I usually agree with him.

From Salon:

English-speaking audiences rarely come across dubbed films and television programmes. This probably explains why they tend to find dubbing so, well, weird. Dubbed voices usually sound a bit flat and never quite sync up with the mouths we see onscreen. This can be off-putting and perhaps even a bit unsettling.

But since the birth of sound cinema in the late 1920s and 1930s, dubbing has been commonplace in many countries, including (looking just at Europe) Italy, Spain and Germany. Dubbing is still used in many of these countries as a way of translating foreign films and television. In Italy, the dubbing system became so developed in the 1930s that it was even used to add voices to Italian films, right up until the 1980s when the growth of TV (which used directly recorded sound) led to changes in standard industry practice.

So why did such a seemingly bizarre practice gain a foothold in these countries’ burgeoning film industries? After all, aren’t subtitles a better way to keep the original film intact and translate it at the same time? There are a few reasons.

. . . .

In the early 20th century, much of Europe’s film-going population had low literacy levels. Subtitles are useless if you can’t read them (or read them fast enough). There’s also the argument that subtitles ruin a film’s images and keep the viewer’s eyes glued to the bottom of the screen. However, perhaps the most important reason for dubbing’s favour was political.

Dubbing is a brilliant tool for film censorship. Sound films began to appear in the early 1930s, a time when many countries were falling under the sway of totalitarian regimes. In Europe, these included those of Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco and the Nazis. Censorship had been a feature of film production and distribution in Italy, Spain and Germany since before these dictatorships took power, but it increased markedly after they did so.

Italy and Spain, in particular, found dubbing ideologically useful. Mussolini’s Fascists, for example, manipulated foreign films during the dubbing process by changing dialogue to remove any unflattering reference to Italy or Italians. They also used dubbing to alter morally undesirable elements of film plots. For example, the Italian dub of the 1931 American film “Men in Her Life” was altered to remove a reference to Mussolini.

. . . .

Perhaps even more nefariously, they also insisted that films be dubbed into standardised national Italian (the official form of the language that was generally understood around the country). This was an effort to stop people in different regions from speaking local dialects and minority languages, and to prevent foreign words from entering Italian culture. Dubbing became a key nationalist tool that could unify and isolate Italy at a fundamental socio-cultural level.

The same story played out in Franco’s Spain where dubbing kept films ideologically acceptable and marginalised minority languages like Catalan, Basque and Galician. In post-Nazi Germany, dubbing was used to alter film dialogue to play down references to the country’s Nazi past and the atrocities it entailed. For example, the Nazis in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 “Notorious” were rebranded as generic drug smugglers.

. . . .

In the post-second world war period, western Europe (with the exception of Spain) broke free of totalitarianism and literacy began to increase, but dubbing remained. This was partly because it had become an established and familiar habit. But dubbing had also become vital to the system of co-production, which European cinema was increasingly reliant upon. Co-production basically involved two (or more) production companies in different countries teaming up and making a film together. It was popular with producers as it meant they could pool resources and access grants and tax relief from multiple governments.

. . . .

Dubbing meant that each actor could act in the language of their choosing on-set (if you watch an old dubbed film closely, you can often tell that actors are speaking different languages. Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is a clear example of this practice). The films were shot without sound and a range of different dubs in different languages were produced in post-production, using various teams of voice actors.

. . . .

Dubbing is still used as a key method of audio-visual translation in many countries and it still attracts politicised debates. For example, the film market in French-speaking Canada has argued that dubs produced in European French are not appropriate for that territory. Dubbing frequently and unsurprisingly ends up at the centre of debates around the politics of language and cultural imperialism, the imposition of one country’s culture onto another country or people.

Link to the rest at Salon and thanks to Felix for the tip.

The Goodreads Bot Problem

From Book Riot:

Goodreads, the popular book cataloging website, functions as a hybrid social media platform and digital library. The social media aspect of Goodreads allows for interaction between users. Users can see their friends’ reviews, reading progress in a book, and even the giveaways friends have entered. The reviews on Goodreads are public, meaning anyone — even those without an account — can access and read reviews.

When anyone does a quick search for book reviews, Goodreads is frequently the first result. The problem with Goodreads being within the first search results for book reviews is that makes the reviews on Goodreads that much more desirable. Goodreads reviews, for many, feel more trustworthy because they are peer written.

For the most part, Goodreads reviewers are average readers. Their reviews are imperfect, full of grammatical errors, gifs, and internet slang. Goodreads users write their reviews in a way that makes sense to them. Some users write reviews for their own cataloging use, others write reviews to be helpful to others, some reviews are simple and short.

. . . .

Like many social media platforms, Goodreads can  feel like a competition. In addition to a yearly reading challenge, Goodreads offers stats on their users. Anyone can read and access these stats to see the Top Reviewers and Readers, Most Popular Reviewers, Most Followed, and Top Librarians. It’s a popularity contest no one signed up for. Stats are updated on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis, and can be sorted by country or worldwide ranking of Goodreads users. It’s important to note that clicking “Meet People,” under the community tab, directs to Most Popular Reviewers, even though it’s in the center of the list. Top Reviewers is second on the Meet People option.

On similar websites, Top Reviewer and Most Popular Reviewer might refer to the same type of ranking, based on community votes or interaction. On Goodreads, however, Top Reviewer refers to number of reviews written within a certain time frame. A Goodreads reviewer can be a Top Reviewer without being a popular one. This type of ranking makes it extremely easy for people and not-people to fake their ranking as Top Reviewers and Top Readers. The Top Readers are simply ranked by number of books read.

Weeding through the weekly Top Reviewers, many profiles appear ordinary. The astonishing number of books read and reviewed per week by the Top Reviewers makes it clear that these profiles are not average, albeit avid, readers. To read 400 books per week, every week, is simply not possible, by human standards. While there is nothing preventing actual people from inputting hundreds of books every week into their Goodreads accounts, there isn’t much of a reason to do so. So, what’s going at Goodreads? 

Bots. Bots are what’s going at Goodreads. Since Goodreads is also used by non-account holders, it is a desirable internet space for advertisers. What happens is that a company or individual will pay for hundreds of positive reviews of their product, so that when a potential buyer sees the reviews, all they see are positive reviews and 5-star ratings. In the case of Goodreads, the product is books. These reviews can be written by a bot or a person with multiple fake accounts.

Top Reviewers’ fake profiles might not always be easy to spot, as they often use stock images as the profile picture, or leave the avatar blank. Their reviews, though are fairly easy to spot. Hundreds of reviews per week? Check. Poor grammar and short reviews? Check. Strange, vague, or unrelated reviews? Check, check, check. If it sounds like the warning label on a blood pressure medication, rather than a review for a regency romance, a bot probably wrote it. Bot reviews are often copied and pasted from another book. Many fake accounts will post multiple reviews of the same book. Going down the list of the Top Reviewers, reviews will often trend towards the same book or topic.

. . . .

So why doesn’t Goodreads do anything about the bots, fake profiles, and scammers? Goodreads knows about the scammers. Users are asked to flag the reviews and keep it moving. That seems extremely unhelpful of them. Fake reviews and reviewers are a well-documented phenomenon. Goodreads isn’t the only website filled with profiles named “Keyboard” with blank avatars. In 2019, the popular skincare brand, Sunday Riley settled with the FTC for writing positive reviews on the Sephora website, for over two years. These reviews were written by Sunday Riley employees. Amazon, Goodreads’ parent company, is also riddled with fake reviews.

Amazon shops rely on reviews to get consumers’ attention. Five-star reviews, whether they’re genuine, or from a bot, boost the rating and boost the buying potential. Amazon is the top bookseller in the world, so of course it would want to boost reviews of books. Whether Amazon is paying for the ersatz reviews or it’s another party is unknown, but Goodreads is absolutely swarming with bot accounts. 

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG notes that Goodreads is owned by Amazon.

Reading Beyond Neurodivergent Sterotypes

From Publishers Weekly:

Ableism against neurodivergent authors is a widespread problem within the publishing industry. Neurodivergent people include those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and other neurological differences.

Popular, award-winning books with neurodivergent characters written by authors who don’t have lived experiences of neurodivergence permeate the publishing landscape. Some of the common and harmful stereotypes that appear in these books show neurodivergent kids as burdens to their families, or depict neurodivergent protagonists who “overcome” their disabilities. When neurodivergent authors present different, more nuanced experiences in their books, they’re asked to change them to be more like these award-winning books, or they’re rejected outright because of narratives that don’t fit publishers’ expectations of how neurodivergence should be represented.

I thought I was one of the lucky ones. A publisher approached me to write a children’s picture book based on my lived experiences with autism, which became my debut, Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism. But I was shocked when my agent, Naomi Davis at BookEnds, told me the same publisher sent a rejection letter with ableist comments about my new chapter book series highlighting neurodivergent experiences. It indicated that my proposed series was too focused on kids with issues and therefore wouldn’t reach a wide audience.

Kids with “issues.” The publisher referred to neurodivergent kids as kids with “issues”—as if neurodivergent children are defined by their weaknesses rather than their strengths. As if they shouldn’t be embraced for their different ways of experiencing the world. And as if they don’t have any interest or need to read a series like this.

At least one in five kids are neurodivergent, according to the CDC’s statistics. But in a 2019 study, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center found that only 3.4% of children’s books have disabled main characters, and only a fraction of that includes neurodivergent main characters—nowhere near the 20% that should represent neurodivergent kids.

The rejection letter went on to say that the series wouldn’t reach a wide audience because that’s not what I wanted. The publisher claimed that it didn’t want to push me into creating a series that it wanted.

Despite my desire to reach a broad audience, and the multiple rounds of revision I had already done on this proposal over eight months, I was blamed for the publisher’s view that my story would not matter to people beyond the neurodivergent community. The publisher spoke over me, rather than hearing my voice.

My agent wrote a long response, objecting to the language in the rejection and pointing out how it implied that neurodivergent stories appeal only to neurodivergent readers. The publisher’s rejection language was ableist. It’s not what we expected from a publisher already publishing my book specifically about autism. It’s insulting to imply that a book that appeals to neurodivergent readers more than to neurotypical readers won’t have a wide enough audience. We were shocked, and we were furious.

The publisher’s response to my agent’s letter was a performative one-line statement “apology” that provided no insight into how it intended to repair our relationship, support my currently published book, or do better going forward. In fact, it seemed to place the burden of this conflict on my agent and me for being upset, rather than on its actions.

If an agented and published author like me faces ableism from a publisher, how is the publishing industry treating unagented aspiring authors? 

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG isn’t quite certain what he is supposed to say or not say regarding an article written by a neurodivergent author.

PG is certainly divergent in a number of ways, but doesn’t believe he is neurodivergent as he understands the term.

However, the author’s reported experience with a prospective publisher as described is not at all atypical of the way publishers treat all sorts of people – healthy, impaired, etc., etc.

Additionally, there is no great surprise if a manuscript from an agented and published author is rejected by a publisher for any reason or no reason. There are no versions of a season pass for a season of any length in the traditional publishing world.

Publishers as a group are also noted for their reluctance to work with an author who is “difficult” for any reason.

PG is not certain whether there are any degrees of “difficult” that apply in this behavior by publishers.

Whenever he’s read/heard about it, “difficult” seems to be a binary characteristic for an author. One is or one is not difficult. If one is a teeny bit difficult, perhaps such behavior is not enough to trigger the difficult trapdoor.

Additionally, an author may be in the good graces of a publisher one day and difficult the next. Overstep some invisible line, even if it wasn’t present yesterday, and you’re difficult.

Disagreeing with a decision made by a publisher as is depicted/implied in the OP is a behavior characteristic of more than one “difficult” author regardless of whether the author is absolutely correct and the publisher is absolutely wrong or not.

It’s not about right vs. wrong, it’s about not difficult vs. difficult.

Publishers may be difficult to any degree, but authors may not.

How Amazon and Bookbub Will Help You Sell Books–FREE

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

Yeah, we know…

A BookBub feature will rocket your book skyward.

Stacked promos can help you tickle the algos and ride the tsunami.

A great launch strategy well executed can get your book a bestseller badge.

But all these options are pricey—especially a BookBub feature if you can even get one.

And they don’t all necessarily work or don’t work as well as you hoped.

Then what?

What if your Book is a Dud?

What can you do if the book you’ve worked on had professionally edited, bought a great cover for, hired a pro blurb writer—is a wall flower? The lonely, overlooked guy or girl all primped and ready for the prom, but who just doesn’t get the love?

What if you keep submitting and your book just doesn’t click with BookBub?

What if you can’t afford a BookBub feature even if you could get one?

Or what if your book just isn’t a hot seller in a hot genre?

Do you give up?

Do you weep, wail, gnash your teeth and curse the fates?

Of course you do.

Who doesn’t?

Or, after a bout of weepy, whiny self-indulgence, do you pull yourself together and search for other ways to get where you want to go?

Did You Know that Amazon Wants you to be Successful?

It does?

You’re kidding. Right?

No. Definitely not kidding. In fact, you’re wrong.

Of course Amazon wants your book to sell, because the more money you make, the more money they make.

But how do they do that? And how do you get in on the goodies?

Amazon provides every author with access to an exclusive book page whose content you control.

Yes, you probably have a website, but think of your Amazon author page as a website on steroids with two huge advantages.

The first advantage is that every one of your book pages on Amazon contains a clickable link that takes a reader directly to your Amazon author page.  The more books, the more clickable links.

That clickable link takes a reader or a prospective buyer one click to find out more about you and all your books. One click ease leads directly to your author page where you can post photographs, videos, and blog posts, where they can view your complete catalog, come-hither covers, yummy blurbs, alluring bio, and reviews, the good, the bad and the not terrible but not-so-hot either.

The second significant advantage to your Amazon author page is that the author page has a big, clickable follow button when readers can sign up to received news about your new releases and pre-orders. Make the most of that follow button by using your email lists and social media to encourage your fans to follow you on Amazon.

Why?

The reason is that Amazon will send an announcement to everyone on your “follow” list whenever you have a new release.

Amazon with its powerful marketing muscle and tons of buyer data will send out an alert to each of your followers telling them you have a new book for sale for FREE.

So be sure to claim each new release on your Amazon Author Page and take the time to polish your author page to a high sparkle.

Here is Amazon’s own guide to what your Author Page can do for you.

Besides Amazon’s powerful Author Page and clear guidelines, they provide the responsive and helpful Author Central for any issues or glitches you might encounter along the way.

An email or call to Author Central can help:

  • *Fix and update metadata
  • *Clean up boo-boos
  • *Untangle issues with the Series Manager
  • *Remove scammy reviews because Amazon hates misuse of its review system as much as you do
  • *Remove early, outdated editions of your ebooks (but not print editions)

This detailed, easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide by Dave Chesson will  guide you through the process of setting up your Author Page in Author Central. There are pointers about how to make the most of your Author Page.

Tip: I have found that if your first attempt to resolve a glitch fizzles, giving Author Central a second chance can result in a different outcome—so don’t give up if the issue persists. Just try, try again.

BookBub is On Your Side, Too

BookBub, with 20 million followers, will also put its powerful marketing muscle to work for you and your books. At the BookBub subscriber sign up, readers indicate which genres they prefer and where they purchase their eBooks—at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Google.

Like Amazon, BookBub provides several tools for authors to get the word out about themselves and their books, and get their books in front of that large audience of readers. According to BookBub many of their subscribers are reading a couple of books every month. Some are reading a book a week, or even a book a day!

Bottom line: BookBub subscribers are avid readers and are always looking for new books.

FREE Bookbub Features

Along with its powerful, pricey, and hard-to-get Features, BookBub also provides authors with FREE ways to reach prospective readers whether or not you’re able to score a Feature.

Analogous to Amazon’s Author Page, BookBub offers an Author Profile Page with many of the same customizable features. Go to BookBub’s home page to find the Author Profile tab, and follow the instructions to set up your own Profile page. Any author — trad pubbed or self pubbed — can claim a BookBub Author Profile.

BookBub, like Amazon, will send out new book alerts to your followers and will help drive interest to your pre-orders.

BookBub’s own articles will step you through the process of setting up your author profile and offers tips about how to polish your bio with examples, and explanations of exactly what makes an author bio great. Plus a checklist to help keep you on track.

BookBub’s information-packed articles, like Amazon’s guidelines, offer specific help to step you through every part of the user process from setting up your account  to the specifics of launching a new book.

BookBub’s savvy book marketing team also goes into the details of their New Releases For Less program, tips on pricing and discounting strategies, and tutorials on how to target readers via BookBub ads. You will find all this — and more!, as the pitchmen say — on the BookBub blog.

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

PG has become aware of discontent among some indie authors with BookBub. Basically, that BookBub is rejecting books for paid promotions it would have almost certainly accepted a couple of years ago.

PG hasn’t seen any online information he trusts as reliable about what’s changed with BookBub’s acceptance process, but a look at the free assistance mentioned in the OP might be useful.

New tips on Amazon are almost always helpful. Afterall, that’s where most indie authors want those who click on BookBub or other third-party promotional sites to end up anyway. (No insult to other, perfectly reliable online bookstores intended, just an opinion based on how many ebooks and other books the Zon sells.)

Note: PG usually doesn’t include links in his OP excerpts because they can lead who-knows-where. He’s left the links in this one because Anne and Ruth’s blog has been useful and reliable for a long time plus he clicked on the links to the OP and they link to the sites they describe.

Bad Contract Alert: Bytedance’s Fictum Reading/Writing

From Writer Beware®:

Over the past year, I’ve gotten a flood of questions and complaints from writers who’ve been approached by reading/writing platforms or apps based in Hong Kong or Singapore.

There’s a growing number of these platforms, and they are aggressively soliciting for content, including on established platforms like Wattpad. While most of the solicitations target writers directly, agents are receiving approaches as well.

Some platforms appear professional, with contracts that are fairly reasonable and straightforward. Others…not so much. Last October, I wrote about the terrible contracts offered by A&D Entertainment and EMP Entertainment, two companies that are deputized to recruit for Webnovel.

A new player in in the reading/writing app field is Fictum (domain registered just this past November). Available on Apple and Google Play, it’s owned by ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, and is currently recruiting writers with existing published books, as well as writers willing to produce 200,000 words or more of new material for its Long English Story Project.

For new material, Fictum offers both exclusive and non-exclusive contracts, with different levels of financial remuneration that are rather confusingly described here. You must first publish three chapters in order to apply for a contract; once you’re contracted, you must fulfill punishing word counts and maintain a grueling schedule in order to earn. For the exclusive contract, for instance, you must publish at least 1,000 words a day in order to receive a “daily update bonus” of $200 per month. More words equal more cash: if you can bang out 100,000 words a month, you get $400. Time is money, though: you can’t take more than four days off in a single month, and if you fail to produce for more than four days in a row at any time, you forfeit payment.

Over the past year, I’ve gotten a flood of questions and complaints from writers who’ve been approached by reading/writing platforms or apps based in Hong Kong or Singapore. 
There’s a growing number of these platforms, and they are aggressively soliciting for content, including on established platforms like Wattpad. While most of the solicitations target writers directly, agents are receiving approaches as well.

Some platforms appear professional, with contracts that are fairly reasonable and straightforward. Others…not so much. Last October, I wrote about the terrible contracts offered by A&D Entertainment and EMP Entertainment, two companies that are deputized to recruit for Webnovel.
A new player in in the reading/writing app field is Fictum (domain registered just this past November). Available on Apple and Google Play, it’s owned by ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, and is currently recruiting writers with existing published books, as well as writers willing to produce 200,000 words or more of new material for its Long English Story Project. 

For new material, Fictum offers both exclusive and non-exclusive contracts, with different levels of financial remuneration that are rather confusingly described here. You must first publish three chapters in order to apply for a contract; once you’re contracted, you must fulfill punishing word counts and maintain a grueling schedule in order to earn. For the exclusive contract, for instance, you must publish at least 1,000 words a day in order to receive a “daily update bonus” of $200 per month. More words equal more cash: if you can bang out 100,000 words a month, you get $400. Time is money, though: you can’t take more than four days off in a single month, and if you fail to produce for more than four days in a row at any time, you forfeit payment.

I’ve seen one Fictum contract, offered for an existing published book. You can view it here. To put it mildly, there are issues of concern.

– The Grant of Rights is non-exclusive and time-limited–but it is also irrevocable. In other words, you aren’t stuck forever–but you have no right to cancel. 
There was originally a clause allowing the author to terminate for cause, but in the contract I saw, that clause had been blacked out. The deletion wasn’t as effective as someone thought, though, because when I converted the contract to PDF, the excised words showed up:

This isn’t much better than saying “no, you can never cancel”. You’d have to wait a year, and you could only invoke the clause if not a single person had accessed your work in all that time (which might be hard to show, given that Fictum doesn’t have to tell you how your work is performing–see below). Talk about crafting an option so that it practically never happens! Plus, if even if you were unfortunate enough to fulfill the requirements, you’d still be screwed, because you’d have to give money back to Fictum:

Let me know if you can make sense of that formula.

– You must waive your moral rights. Moral rights include the right of attribution (the right to be identified as the author) and the right of integrity (the right to protect your work from changes that would be prejudicial to the work or to you). If you waive your moral rights, you surrender both. Among other things, this means that your work could be published without your name, or under someone else’s name.

Moral rights aren’t really recognized in the USA, but they are important in other countries, and the Fictum app is distributed in multiple nations across the world.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

If you’re an author and not familiar with Writer Beware, you probably should be. To the best of PG’s knowledge, the site was founded under the auspices of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Curently, it’s also supported by the Mystery Writers of America, the Horror Writers Association, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

The current staff, as listed on the website is Victoria Strauss (also a co-founder), Michael Capobianco and Richard C. White. All are authors and each is a volunteer.

To the best of PG’s knowledge, none of the three is an attorney, but his strong impression is that each is a savvy veteran author who knows her/his way around both the legal and non-legal aspects of the publishing business. Besides, PG knows an unfortunately large number of dumb attorneys and you don’t have to climb very high on the smart and savvy tree to be better at locating traps in contracts that authors sign than a dumb lawyer.

Besides, PG has never seen any information about a US law school that includes any specialized program that focuses on laws affecting authors and the publishing world. (Way more money in representing people who have been injured in auto accidents involving insured drunks.)

As full disclosure, PG learned about intellectual property law in law school (Gutenberg was still suing people who ripped off his printing press), and worked for a company that made its money licensing patents, but his first exposure to the world of publishing contracts was when Mrs. PG became dissatisfied with her traditional publisher.

That was the first time PG had looked at her publishing contracts (barefoot shoemakers’ children, etc.). He figured out how to break the contracts so she wasn’t shackled to her publisher any more. Prior to that, PG knew a lot about business contracts, but nada about publishing contracts.

So, PG thinks it’s a good idea for authors to visit Writer Beware on a consistent basis. He’s going to be more consistent in checking the site for potential TPV posts, but don’t rely on him to tell you everything you know about whatever appears on Writer Beware.

Hong Kong Police Arrest Five Over Children’s Books

From The Wall Street Journal:

Hong Kong’s national-security police arrested five people for allegedly conspiring to commit sedition through a series of picture books that portray sheep being targeted by wolves—an allusion to China’s crackdown on pro-democracy supporters in the city.

Hours after police detained five members of a speech therapists’ union, police displayed three illustrated books that they say incited hatred against the government among children as young as four. The cartoons simplified “political issues that kids wouldn’t comprehend and beautifies criminal activities,” Superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah told a news conference. “They’re meant to poison the minds of children,” he said.

Described as teaching aids, the books were distributed through pro-democracy businesses, local political offices and online by the speech therapists’ union, which was founded in November 2019—a time when some activists formed workers’ groups as a way to organize protest actions against the government.

The books include one titled “The Guardians of Sheep Village,” which is set against the backdrop of antigovernment protests that rocked Hong Kong in 2019. It depicts a malicious plot by the wolves to take over the sheep’s village and devour them all.

Another, “12 Warriors of Sheep Village,” refers to a dozen activists who were caught by the Chinese coast guard during an ill-fated boat escape from Hong Kong last year. The third book in the series, titled “Street Cleaners of Sheep Village,” alludes to a medical workers’ strike last year when Hong Kong faced its first coronavirus infections imported from China, using cartoons of littering wolves to portray outsiders.

. . . .

Thursday’s arrests are part of an intensifying crackdown on dissent in the former British colony and were made on the same day that four former executives and journalists of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily appeared in court charged with violating the national-security law by conspiring to collude with external forces. Apple Daily, founded by jailed media mogul Jimmy Lai, was forced to cease publication last month after authorities seized its assets.

. . . .

Publishers have been among the targets of authorities since the national-security law was imposed last year. Media groups and opposition groups have raised concerns that free speech is being eliminated and so-called red lines about what amounts to a crime are being expanded to eliminate criticism of authorities.

“Even children’s picture books cross the red line,” Herbert Chow, a local businessman who supports the protest movement, wrote in a Facebook post referring to the arrests.

The five people arrested—two men and three women, aged between 25 and 28 years old—are board members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists. They were detained under a colonial-era antisedition law rather than the security law imposed by China.

In its online mission statement, the union says it has chosen to align itself with the politically marginalized. “We are a group of speech therapists, we should walk with the unheard,” it said on its website. “Those who are lucky won’t understand that being able to speak is a luxury. But we resonate with this.”

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

Pay the writer

From The Bookseller:

I’m currently reading Capitalism’s Toxic Assumptions (Bloomsbury, 2015) by the brilliant writer, Eve Poole. The book meticulously slays capitalism’s dragons in fairy dresses: the assumptions of competition, the invisible hand, ‘market pricing is just’, the supremacy of the shareholder, the legitimacy of the limited liability model and more. It is a very thorough and intellectually robust read. I strongly recommend it.

I did notice that the book doesn’t cover one key toxic assumption that capitalism appears to consider to be fact: writers neither want or need to get paid.

I cannot think of any other reason why anyone would consider it wise or fair to approach a professional writer to work for them for free. I also cannot think of any other realm of professionalism (outside of the creative sphere) in which mega profitable organisations expect to be able to extract labour and expertise for free.  

Don’t cry for me -I am to blame for my own woes. I struggle to resist Twitter and often put ideas out there, like many people. Perhaps I accidentally gave the impression that I like giving away my labour for free. So, it should probably come as no shock that the source of my current bewildered disdain permeates from a tweet I wrote.

I was approached by a blue-chip multinational corporation to write a piece for them on the governments’ seeming push to regulate social media organisations in light of the racist abuse faced by England footballers.

Noticing they hadn’t mentioned a fee, I asked what it was. Their response:

“Sadly there is no fee for opinion pieces ☹ I am told it’s because it is the ‘foundation’ so it’s all meant to be charitable.”

I’d have no problem contributing my time to a charity. But context is critical here: the ‘foundation’ arm of a corporation that made $5.98bn last year asked me to clear my diary, research, write, rewrite, battle with my self-doubts (and demons), rewrite again and then send them a professionally written piece. For free. Or, as they put it, ‘for charity’. I passed.

The representative of the organisation came back to me and said: “That’s fair enough. I am fighting internally for opeds [sic] to be paid so I’ll keep you in mind in case it changes. Have a lovely day!”

. . . .

“I hope that works out well internally. I am part of an organisation called the Black Writers’ Guild and we’re very strong on this. Being a Black writer is often a double whammy – our labour as Black people and then as writers is often not valued. I understand this is a ‘foundation’ but I’m assuming everyone in your hierarchy is getting paid for their labour. Writers have bills too. If the ‘foundation’ wishes to contribute their proceeds to charity – that is admirable. But it is an unfair assumption that writers can afford for the fruits of their labour to go to charity. Home is where charity starts after all. And we won’t have homes if we don’t get paid for our labour.”

. . . .

This is not the first or tenth time this has happened to me. I was once asked to come and spend half a day with another multi-billion-pound organisation. Upon enquiring about pay they offered me “five thousand dollars…”. ‘HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN THE SKIES ABOVE ARE CLEAR AGAIN!’ I thought… until I read the sentence in full: “…five thousand dollars… in Ad Credit… to a non-profit organization of interest to you”. Again, I passed.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG has a somewhat different take on the free work than the author of the OP. PG’s take is based on his experience of many years as a retail attorney in a low-income area.

One of the (many) things that malpractice insurance companies warn attorneys about is what is sometimes called, “street-corner advice” or “coffee-shop advice.”

Attorney bumps into an acquaintance who owns a factory that employs a couple of hundred people at a street corner. The factory owner is someone who would make a nice client. The two stop and chat briefly then the acquaintance says something like,

"I was thinking about you the other day after my kid, who just got his drivers' license, bumped into another car in the high school parking lot. 

It was a little thing that didn't do much damage and nobody got hurt. Since he's a new driver, my car insurance premiums will go through the roof if I tell my agent about it. 

There's nothing wrong with me keeping the whole thing quiet and just giving the other kid's family a couple of hundred dollars to fix the scratches is there?" 

The attorney wants to do this guy a favor because then when he needs help with something bigger, the factory owner might remember how nice the attorney was when his kid had a problem. He smiles and says, “Bob, you’re probably right. I do some work on accidents and know all about those crazy auto insurance bills. Sometimes handling little things like this off the books is best for everybody.”

Bob smiles and says, “Thanks a lot. I won’t forget how you helped me.” Attorney walks back to his office smiling even though there’s nobody sitting in his waiting room.

A couple of months later, the helpful attorney receives a letter from the largest law firm in town announcing that the firm has been retained by the factory owner to pursue a legal malpractice claim. That claim is based upon the incorrect legal advice their client received when the helpful attorney suggested that he not report the accident to his insurance carrier to avoid a premium increase.

The accident in the school parking lot resulted in $25,000 in damages to the other driver’s new Mercedes, a birthday present from her parents. The other driver has also been seeing an orthopedist for back pain and may require back surgery.

The factory owner’s auto insurance company has cancelled his policy and is refusing to pay damages because the factory owner failed to make a timely report of the accident to the company and admitted his child’s liability for the accident while offering the injured girl’s parents money in exchange for their signatures on an agreement to hush up the whole affair.

And the son totaled the family Rolls Royce the day after the policy was cancelled.

End of over-long hypothetical lawyer horror story.

Like nearly every other attorney who has practiced for very long, PG was sometimes asked for informal advice in a non-business setting. His response was usually something like, “I’m so sorry to hear you’re having trouble and I’m happy to help. I’ll have my assistant call you to schedule an appointment as soon as I get back to my office on Monday morning.”

The response accomplished a couple of things:

  1. It communicated that PG was a concerned acquaintance and was happy to help and
  2. PG was a professional and wanted to handle the problem in a professional manner.

PG did a lot of free legal work, but he wanted to choose who he did free work for and what types things he would do without charge instead of having free legal work choose him.

When PG was in his office, he was in friendly lawyer mode and did things like ask a lot of questions, take a lot of notes (which included a summary of what the client told him) and treat the matter in the same way he did other legal matters when he was asked to give legal advice.

With the help of his brilliant and hard-working assistant (No sarcasm whatsoever intended – she was both brilliant and hard-working. So was his other assistant who handled billing and bankruptcies.) he would set up a file for each client that included his notes, letters or emails he sent and a record of the things he did and what he said. In some cases when he gave verbal advice, he would send a follow-up letter to the client summarizing his advice so he was as certain as he could be that the client understood the advice.

There was some CYA in this process, but it also was a way to help PG make certain that he had done his best to clearly explain and communicate his advice to his client and could remember that advice and his basis for it if the client asked him a question about it two years later.

If he wanted to be an effective professional lawyer, acting like an amateur wouldn’t help him reach that goal.

So how does this apply to a professional author (or would-be professional author), like the creator of the OP?

A couple of things come to mind:

  1. If you would like to write for an individual or organization at no charge, you choose the recipient of your charity. There are many that would welcome the help of someone who is talented in written communications.
  2. If someone asks you to provide your professional expertise at no charge, think about how you will respond ahead of time. Your planned response might include something like, “I’m flattered by your offer, but I’m a professional author. Writing is what I do to help support myself, so, unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of extra time to provide my professional services without monetary compensation.”

(PG notes that the end of the hypothetical response included in item #2 above strayed into a bit of lawyer-speak, but sometimes he can’t help it.)

Perhaps PG was a little put-off by the OP author’s complaints about people who asked him to write for free. PG heartily agrees with the sentiment, “Pay the writer!” (and “Pay the attorney!”), but he doesn’t complain if people don’t understand everything about what he does to earn his money.

Close Encounters of the Initial Kind – Tips for When Characters Meet

From WriterUnboxed:

Here is the thing you need to understand about this post – It is not a recipe for perfecting the meet-cute scene of a new romantic comedy, at least not exactly. Simply ask Google to find dozens of suggestions for tackling that particular knot, which makes for a good writing exercise even if not your normal cup of tea. But, no, today my inspiration derives from something much simpler – an admiration I have long held for writers of stage, screen and print, across a wide range of genres, who manage to craft indelible moments when characters engage each other for the first time. Such interactions, handled deftly, add intrigue, tension and occasionally, as with the aforementioned rom-com hook, even humor to a tale. They also offer opportunities to develop character and to underscore core themes of your story.

Wow! That is some heavy lifting for what typically starts out as a checklist item while laying out a plot – Protagonist meets new boss, future father-in-law, child’s teacher, man who later tries to kill her, etc. But if such encounters are necessary on the page, shouldn’t we make the most of them to advance the story in ways beyond the perfunctory? 

. . . .

Keep in Mind Character Needs

In crafting the first encounter, it may help to start by asking yourself a few questions, such as these:

  • What do your characters want from the interaction?
  • What do they fear? What do they desire?
  • How do the characters present themselves? And what motivates them to do so?
  • Is one character more self-assured or aggressive? Is so, why?
  • How does the situation (or how can the situation) reflect a larger conflict within the story?

Remember, each new encounter is an opportunity to explore character, both for you as the writer and ultimately for your audience. 

. . . .

While even chance encounters with minor characters can provide opportunities to layer or reinforce a character’s nature, the initial moments of more complex relationships are even more ripe for exploration. This is where the “meet-cute” exercise comes into play. I may never write a romantic comedy, yet I can appreciate the skill involved. Every rom-com hinges on the moment early on when the love interests first meet. What elevates successful ones, actor chemistry aside, is when the witty interplay reveals personality traits that will drive the action – and the emotional arc – for the remainder of the journey.

In When Harry Met Sally, protagonist Sally Albright’s nearly OCD approach to life encounters, clashes with, and ultimately complements Harry Burn’s more pessimistic take, with both maturing to the point they can appreciate the love that has grown between them and commit to the relationship. In their initial meeting, Sally arrives for their 18-hour road trek from Chicago to New York City, maps and schedule in hand, only to find Harry deep in embrace with his latest girlfriend, content to linger and disrupt her carefully constructed plans. Cuteness ensues as she nudges him to pay heed to her schedule. The scene works because the personalities and stakes are seeded with an economy of words, setting the stage for a delightful exploration of how people worlds apart in philosophy and outlook can still bond, building a durable foundation for a lasting love.

Link to the rest at WriterUnboxed