Gaming the Publishing Industry

From veteran author and writing coach Dave Farland:

I was at a writing conference last week and noticed that several times I passed groups of writers who were trying to figure out how to “Game the System.”

In case you didn’t know it, every distribution industry tries to set up roadblocks for creators so that they can’t bypass the system. For example, if you were to make a movie and try to go out and distribute it to movie theaters yourself, you’d find that the theaters have contracts with the major distributors that require them to not show your movie. The distributors want to make sure that the huge movies that they’ve invested in advertising are available at all of the usual outlets.

In publishing, we have two different distribution systems. The traditional publishing industry has its editors, and they have contracts with the bookstores and with the book distribution companies that are designed to keep you from selling your books at bookstores—and these contracts are very effective. If you’ve ever tried to start your own publishing company, you’ll see what I mean. Not only will distributors refuse to distribute your books, but I once struggled for days to get some television and radio companies to advertise a book—but they refused to work with anyone who wasn’t already a major publisher.

In traditional publishing, the publisher typically creates a “list” of books that they want to promote. The #1 book on the list gets most of the advertising dollars. This might include things like in-store displays, money for cooperative advertising so that the bookstores will place the book on certain shelves with the covers facing out, promotion on radio or television or in magazines or newspapers, and of course money to send the author out on a book tour. 

If you’re not #1 on your publisher’s list, you might not get any of these things. Instead, your book is simply put out there and left to sink or swim on its own merits. Your editor might not even send it out for reviews from critics.

And the publisher will actively stop you from doing too much. For example, let’s say that you don’t like the cover that your publisher gives you—either the picture or the typeface. What can you do? You can complain, and you might get some upgrades, but it is the job of the artistic director to make sure that the #1 book of the season gets the best cover and that each month when new books are shipped out, the monthly books look good, but not as good as the anticipated season hit. The reason for this is that the publisher doesn’t want to confuse the buyers. They don’t want a mediocre book to have a great cover.

So as an author, you may find yourself trying to figure out how to “game the system,” how to promote the book that your publisher won’t. In doing that, you might advertise on social media, send books out to book bloggers, set up your own book signings, create a “book bomb” in order to generate some excitement for your release, and so on.

All of that is fine, so long as you remember that the best advertisement for a book is to write another book. Your fans are always eager to see what you have next in the pipeline.

Indie publishers are often even more eager to game the system. In recent years, Amazon has been working to create a “system” that will reward good books with good reviews and promotion, but Indie authors always seem to be bent on destroying that system. I’ve seen them buy favorable reviews (spending as much as $10,000 on a package), creating sock-puppets so that they can go online and create their own favorable reviews while deriding their competition, and of course trading positive reviews with other authors. As a result of such activities—all of which are immoral and some of them even illegal, Amazon has purchased review sites and now blocks reviews that they believe are fake.

In fact, I’ve known several authors who find that if their book does too well, defies expectations that Amazon has set, then their books are simply delisted—taken off of the bestseller lists, and even taken off of Amazon’s sales site.

To be frank, we need our distributors to create a fair and honest system that rewards great work. 

How should we as authors handle this problem? I think that we need to promote ourselves in every way that we can, so long as it is honorable and honest. At the same time, put your emphasis where it belongs: On writing powerful works. If you do that, success will come eventually.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

PG seconds Dave’s warnings and advice.

Don’t be a sleazeball and don’t hire sleazeballs to help you with your book sales. Once in awhile a sleazeball scheme might seem to work or actually work . . . for a while.

When the scheme caves, guess who’s reputation is tarnished? It’s the author’s name. An author’s name is her/his brand. If you spent a lot of time building a readership and fans as Jane Writer and Jane Writer gets online or offline negative attention, all of Jane Writer’s books get tarnished.

Why, yes, you could continue with a pen name, but, guess what, nobody ever heard of Jane Author. You’re starting back at ground zero building a readership, getting reviews, etc., etc., etc.

The value of big commercial brands is calculated in billions of dollars.

Statista posted Most valuable brands worldwide in 2021.

Apple was #1. Amazon, Google and Microsoft followed right behind. Per Statista, “Apple” is worth over $250 billion.

In past lives, PG worked for a big advertising agency. During this period of time, he learned that the agency’s largest clients invariably had somebody who was, effectively, The Brand Czar.

The Brand Czar was in charge of making certain that the company’s brand was accurately depicted in everything the company did, said, wrote, published or broadcast.

One Brand Czar famously came into the main lobby of her company’s headquarters and saw a large banner on the lobby wall that Human Resources had put up to promote employee appreciation week or something like that.

The Brand Czar noted that the color of the company’s logo was not the right color (brands can include an associated color). The color wasn’t completely wrong, but it was not the the right shade.

The Czar ordered that a custodian immediately bring an extension ladder to the lobby. The Czar kicked off her high-heels, climbed up the ladder in her tailored suit and personally yanked the banner off the wall, nearly dropping it on the receptionist. The custodian was ordered to burn the banner and report back to the Czar in her office after the destruction was complete.

(PG doesn’t know where you burn a banner in a high-rise office building, but he expects that the custodial staff found a way.)

So, you want to be careful with your author brand. You may not have a militant Brand Czar working for you, but being militant about your personal brand is probably not a bad idea.

Author Complaints at City Limit Publishing

From Writer Beware:

I first heard of City Limits Publishing (CLP) in September 2020, via a question about author-unfriendly guidelines in a contest it was running (simply by entering, writers granted “a worldwide royalty-free perpetual license to publish”). At the time, CLP had published just eight books, all by the same two authors . . . and was calling for submissions. 

To me, CLP looked like a self-publishing endeavor that was trying to expand into traditional publishing. This doesn’t always work out well, since not all self-publishers have a solid knowledge of publishing (or, necessarily, any business experience) and may unintentionally disadvantage writers with nonstandard business practices, or author-unfriendly contracts, or both. And indeed, CLP’s original contract had some problems. It included a transfer of copyright, a major red flag in a non-work-for-hire contract…

…that was directly contradicted by a clause stipulating the printing of copyright notices in the author’s name (not the publisher’s, as would normally be the case with a copyright transfer), as well as an extremely generous termination clause allowing authors to cancel their contracts post-publication at will for any reason. This kind of internal contradiction is something I see not infrequently in small press contracts, and is a red flag all on its own: it suggests that the publisher has a less than perfect understanding of its own contract terms.

CLP appears to have recognized this at some point, because the copyright grab disappeared from its contracts in September or October 2020 (the generous termination provision remains). CLP’s catalog has ballooned to over 40 titles, including those original eight, and it has big ambitions for 2021, with plans to publish more than 50 books in total. That’s a very large list for a small press–something that can (and often does) lead to trouble if staff and resources aren’t adequate to handle the load.

. . . .

UPDATE: Robert Martin, CLP’s owner, contacted me after this post went live to say that CLP has “never moved or delayed a publishing date. Ever.” The dates on the CLP website listings, he explained, are actually “pre-sale” dates [I assume this is the date the book goes live for pre-orders]; the reason they’re labeled “publish” dates is because “[t]he Shopify theme we purchased automatically uses the date we put the product into our online store as the Publish date.” CLP’s web developer is apparently working to change this.

When I asked why, if the books are available for pre-order on the CLP website, they aren’t also available on Amazon and other retailers, he told me “As for why they aren’t all on retail sites yet, we put them up as we are able and as projects come to a close, but I don’t feel like we have to explain ourselves for every little thing we do.”)

Also of concern: the multiple documented complaints I’ve recently received from CLP authors. These include late royalty payments, missed editing and other deadlines, difficulty getting CLP staff to respond to questions and concerns, free author copies and books ordered at author discount not received or received months late, books ordered by readers not received or received months late, formatting and other errors in finished books that authors struggled to get corrected (for instance, the author’s name spelled wrong on the spine), substandard editing and proofing, and copyrights not registered as required in contracts. Some writers reported problems with CLP’s heavily hyped online author portal–confusingly named AuthorCentral–which they said suffers from frequent crashes. I also heard from an audiobook narrator who told me that they weren’t informed when CLP lost the rights to a book the narrator was in the process of recording, posing payment issues for the narrator, who was working on a royalty-share contract.

Authors also highlighted issues of transparency: being told that copyright registrations had been filed and later discovering they had not been, claims that print runs of thousands of copies were being done when in fact CLP uses on-demand technology to produce books in much smaller batches as ordered.

. . . .

I contacted CLP’s founder, Robert Martin, for comment on all of the above. He gave me the following statement, which I have edited to remove mention of an individual author (not by name, but likely recognizable even so). 

When I started City Limits Publishing, I committed to full transparency and I’ve tried to provide that from the very beginning. Through our bi-weekly author newsletter to frequent direct updates and notices from me to all of our authors, I’ve kept them appraised of shipping issues related to COVID, updates to our financial systems, implementation of our new author intranet system that would provide them greater access to information and updates, as well as any challenges we’re facing as an organization. And, being a new, small press, there are many. The authors who have stuck with us have been absolutely amazing and their support is inspiring. Together, we’re building something great here. Many of our authors have emailed me thanking me for the transparency they’re getting and have been so encouraging even when receiving direct, unsolicited messages from a handful of authors on a war path.

We’re aware of the situation and some of the issues a small group of former authors have brought up. First, with regards to late royalty payments, we were delayed in sending out payments as we both moved to a new system and I had a personal matter that required my attention and took me away from work for a bit. The payments were made up in full with tracking and confirmation of receipt, along with my sincerest apologies, and a promise that our next payout, July 20, would be made in full and on time, with the exception of authors who have entered into final accounting after requesting to be released from their agreements. Their final payments are being made this month as agreed during termination discussions. We’re in the process of hiring a Business Manager that will take help ensure we are not late in the future. Our royalty statements were delayed in April as we made the transition to RoyaltyTracker (MetaCommet). Their implementation schedule caused us delays in sending out statements. We made a major investment in this new system so that going forward everything would operate more smoothly. With progress comes growing pains.

With regards to author copies, we have committed to making sure that our authors receive at least half of their author copies in the weeks leading up to their release, and half within 90 days of release. Author copies are a large expense for the company. We’re a small business trying to get started during a global pandemic. As for ordering problems, we admit that during our early months we faced many delays, especially with our original printer and our transition to the IngramIgnite program. Still, all orders were fulfilled, and we’re now shipping out daily with no delays.

With copyright registration, we did drop the ball on some of our earlier titles. Before we brought on a full team, I was working mostly on my own with operations. I’m human and did make mistakes with copyright registration of some of our earlier titles. Now, we have a system in place to make sure registration happens within 90 days of publication, as outlined in the agreement. And, we have made steps to help educate authors on the copyright registration process. It’s not a fast process, so we’ve made sure to provide information to authors on timelines and how that process works.

Other complaints mentioned: Our early editing process was not as refined as it is now. We were just getting started, and we really learned a lot. We’ve even gone back through older titles for extensive checks and proofing to ensure we’re putting out the highest quality of work. Authors complained about books going to print with errors, but we do require all of our authors to initial the bottom corner of every page of their book before it goes to print. So, respectfully, that’s a shared mistake, and one we’ve worked extremely hard to rectify, now having four sets of eyes on all works published. Additionally, we do still have a contract with ACX and with Audiobook Universe. We were temporarily suspended from ACX for a contract mix-up where exclusive rights were selected when non-exclusive was intended. We removed the book from our website (it had not sold any copies) and our contract was reinstated. With regards to our printing, we originally used an up-front printing method, but were approached by Ingram’s IngramIgnite program (a program specifically for small presses) about using their system. We transitioned to their system, but still process upfront orders of copies of books and fulfill them to bookstores in the US and Canada that are ordered directly from us through our marketing efforts. Additionally, we make sure our wholesale pricing is competitive to get our books listed with as many retailers as possible, and we’ve enjoyed great success with the help of our partners at Ingram.

Are we perfect? Absolutely not. Are we learning from our mistakes and putting in place processes to ensure they don’t happen again? Absolutely.(I’m not familiar with IngramIgnite; websearches don’t turn up any information.)

To his credit, Martin admits mistakes. But fostering an us-and-them mentality (hints of this come through in the statement, and it’s clear from my communications with Martin, as well as what CLP authors–both pro and con–have shared with me, that the complaining authors are being badmouthed internally), and blaming writers, if only partially, for mistakes such as poor proofing (authors certainly owe their publisher the duty of checking their proofs, but ultimately it’s the publisher’s responsibility, and not the author’s, to make sure books are error-free), doesn’t seem like the most positive way forward.

. . . .

Good intentions are all very well. But most of the publishers I’ve featured on this blog had good intentions, at least to start. Writers need to keep in mind that good intentions–like responsiveness, enthusiasm, praise, and all the other non-publishing-related things that so often entice writers into questionable situations–aren’t a substitute for knowledge, experience, qualified (and adequate) staff, and working capital–all of which are far more important factors in a publisher’s success. Just as new writers can get into trouble if they set out to get published without taking the time to learn about publishing, inexperienced publishers can run into difficulties if they start up too quickly and attempt to learn on the fly. 

In effect, such publishers are using their writers as subjects in a kind of science experiment. Sometimes the experiment succeeds, against odds and errors. Sometimes it doesn’t. But while unwary writers’ screwups harm only themselves, a publisher’s screwups harm its authors.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

PG noted the following in the publisher’s comments about the problems reported in the OP:

Author copies are a large expense for the company.

For PG (who may be wrong), this statement caused a large flashing sign to appear in his mind’s eye:

Undercapitalized

Once the presses start running for publication of a hardcopy book, a few extra copies are pretty cheap.

Here are Amazon’s published printing costs for KDP books:

Paperback specification: black ink with 110-828 pages
Amazon.com0.85 USD per book0.012 USD per page
Amazon.ca1.11 CAD per book0.016 CAD per page
Amazon.co.uk0.70 GBP per book0.010 GBP per page
Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, Amazon.es0.60 EUR per book0.012 EUR per page
Amazon.com.au2.17 AUD per book0.0215 AUD per page
Amazon.co.jp175 YEN per book2 YEN per page

That works out to $3.85 for a 250-page trade paperback on a print-on-demand basis. Twenty free copies cost $77.

The OP says the publisher’s catalog totals 40 books. That’s a total expanse of a little over $3,000 for all the author copies in the publisher’s catalog at the price Amazon calculates its POD cost is.

If $3,000 is a “large expense” for the publisher, PG wonders how much working capital the publisher has available to pay its employees, rent, advertising and promotion costs, printers bills, etc., etc., etc., and afford all the other things any business has to pay for if it’s going to be successful.

From The Free Dictionary:

handwaving

Actions, words, or ideas that are meant to impress or appear convincing but which are in reality insubstantial or inconsequential.The governor has been doing a lot of political handwaving over the issue of immigration lately, but few suspect that anything will actually be accomplished in the coming year.

. . . .

See also:

  • airy-fairy
  • run on fumes
  • run on empty

Link to the rest at The Free Dictionary

Where Is Our Spotify for Books?

From Slate:

For many families and schools, e-books were a lifeline to keep kids reading during lockdown.
Total numbers of digital books borrowed from libraries hit 289 million in 2020—a 33 percent increase over 2019. That makes the feisty public library the main challenger to Amazon, which almost completely monopolizes private sales of e-books and sold 487,000 in 2020.

But there is a giant problem.

Many e-books have incredibly limited availability or are not available at all at public libraries, and library budgets are strained covering the escalating costs of e-book demand.

Publishers make the costs for e-books prohibitive for libraries. For example, before COVID hit, a typical deal at Macmillan was that public libraries had to pay $60 for any e-book and could lend it out only 52 times or for two years, whichever came first, after which they had to repurchase the e-book. Publishers temporarily lowered some prices and loosened rules on select titles during the pandemic, but the costs overall still severely limit the ability of libraries to offer many books. Some publishers, particularly Amazon, still refuse to let libraries get access to any of the e-books they publish, while publishers like Macmillan have withheld new releases from libraries.

. . . .

The reason publishers can charge higher price is because of a quirk in copyright law, called the “first sale doctrine.” Unlike with physical books, the courts have said libraries have no right to buy an e-book and then lend it to their members. Instead, publishers only “license” e-books and can deny that license to a library or condition the right to lend the e-book on paying that much higher price.

Some state legislators are outraged enough they have proposed legislation to force publishers to license e-books they are currently withholding from libraries, and Maryland enacted such a law this spring. But these will likely be challenged by publishers in court as preempted by federal copyright law.

For university libraries and their student patrons, the restrictions on electronic textbooks are even more severe. By one estimate, publishers refuse to license 85 percent of electronic versions of textbooks to university libraries, forcing students to either buy directly from the publisher or do without. And according to a survey during the pandemic of 82 campuses conducted by US PIRG, a consumer group focused heavily on student concerns, 65 percent of students have skipped at least one textbook purchase because of the costs.

When an e-textbook is made available to universities, it’s often more than 10 times the retail price, and may come with additional conditions and subscriptions that drive the costs even higher. “You have to pay thousands for a package with a few eBooks you need and lots of things you don’t,” complains librarian Joanna Anderson, who co-authored a letter protesting these costs signed by 3,000 librarians, academics and students.

The complicated legal distinction between selling physical books and “licensing” e-books is one reason private attempts at subscription book services for monthly fees have mostly failed or had limited book availability. In the publishing trade, publishers have the right to sell books, but authors often retain the copyrights that would allow licensing to monthly subscription services and have their own demands for fair compensation, so deals for subscription services are often legally impossible or economically untenable. One version, Oyster, shut down a few years ago. Epic! Books has had modest success with a subscription service solely for a subset of kids’ books used mostly by schools. Scribd, the most successful surviving version, still lacks most popular books.

Amazon has created an end-run around this problem by creating an unlimited reading program for subscribers solely with authors who self-publish with Amazon itself and opt into the program. Estimates are that nearly 50 percent of paid e-books downloaded are now self-published, largely due to the popularity of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, making Amazon’s program the most successful model for a monthly unlimited reading service—but for only a limited subset of books.

. . . .

Congress could fix the problem instantly by extending the first sale doctrine to allow school and public libraries to purchase e-books at regular retail prices and keep them in their collections permanently. At a stroke, this would triple to quadruple the number of e-books libraries could purchase with current budgets and, since the books would never expire, increase their e-book holdings by orders of magnitude over time.

The Congressional Research Service in an April 2020 review of the issue noted that Congress considered doing this back in 1998, the last time the federal copyright law was updated, but put off that decision until the market for e-books “has matured sufficiently and in a manner that would warrant further action.” Obviously, with nearly $2 billion in annual sales, e-books have reached that point.

At the same time, authors who often already struggle financially have reasonable fears that reducing library fees to publishers will further reduce their incomes. But instead of depending on strapped local library budgets to supply the income authors need to keep writing, Congress could, at the same time they restore the first sale doctrine, also institute a federal “Public Lending Right,” or PLR, a mechanism used by 35 nations around the world, including almost all of Europe, to offer authors payments for each book, physical or digital, borrowed from a public library.

In fact, the Authors Guild, which promoted a PLR in the U.S. decades ago, relaunched a campaign in 2019 to enact legislation to have the National Endowment for Humanities distribute payments to authors for each book borrowed from a library. “PLR recognizes two fundamental principles,” then-Authors Guild President James Gleick wrote in 2019, “the need for society to provide free access to books, and the right of authors to be remunerated for their work.”

Link to the rest at Slate

PG notes that, contra to the author of the OP, there isn’t a “quirk” in the copyright law.

The First Sale doctrine relates to copyrighted objects like a physical book or painting.

When an author signs a publishing agreement for a physical book, the author is granting a license to the publisher to (among other things) make copies of the author’s creation in the form of physical books and sell them to others.

An ebook is not, of course, physical. It’s a collection of organized electronic charges on a medium that can keep them from vanishing. When someone licenses an ebook, a copy of the collection of electronic charges is made and that invisible electronic packet is sent via other media capable of transmitting those charges in their organized fashion. It’s almost as easy to create and transmit a hundred copies of the ebook as it is to transmit a single copy.

A physical book only exists by itself as a manufacture object. The First Sale doctrine permits someone who purchases a physical book to give or sell her/his copy to someone else. Nobody makes a copy of the physical book during such a transaction.

Making a photocopy of a physical book to give or sell to someone else is a violation of the author’s copyight just like making an electronic copy of an ebook to give or sell to someone else is a violation of the author’s copyright.

Not so difficult after all, is it?

Business Musings: Traditional Writers

From Kristine Kathryn Rusc h:

The other day, I got an email from a writer friend who was about to give advice to one of their friends. Seems that friend had a niche how-to book for parents who are dealing with a certain kind of health issue. My writer friend asked me, Is there any reason for this person to go to traditional publishing?

I looked at the whole thing with an unusual thought for me: Some niche products might do well in traditional. The friend of the writer friend (hereafter known as FoWF) wasn’t in this for the money or even to hold onto rights. FoWF wanted to get information out there, and really, wasn’t trad pub the way to do so?

I started answering my friend by email, and as I did, I realized that publishers know nothing about this niche field because there are no books about it. Which meant that FoWF would have to educate an editor, find places to market the book on their own, do all the social media, and…eventually FoWF would discover that the traditional publisher has no in with the places that could effectively sell this book, like seminars for parents of kids with this issue.

The more I typed, the more I realized that, nope, trad pub wouldn’t help FoWF at all. It might even hurt them, because the book wouldn’t sell well, which meant that it would probably go out of print. And it would be priced too high, so that parents struggling with this issue and day jobs and all the things parents struggle with probably couldn’t afford it. So I wrote:

But as I type this, I realize they can probably do all that on their own.

So, never mind.

No, there’s no advantage to traditional publishing.

Yeah, even I get tripped up once in a while, thinking—hoping—wanting traditional publishing to have some benefit for writers.

There really isn’t any. And anyone who would do a modicum of research about the field they’re trying to enter would learn that pretty darn quick.

In fact, traditional publishing itself tells you that in a myriad of ways—and has since I got into this field forty years ago. The evergreen article just appeared in that company town rag, The New York Times, in April under the title, “What Snoop Dog’s Success Says About The Book Industry.”

The article had this little tidbit: “…about 98 percent of the books that publishers released in 2020 sold fewer than 5,000 copies.”

That would be new releases, not backlist.

But here’s the thing that the company town rag doesn’t tell you: For decades, the majority of new releases from traditional publishers sold fewer than 5,000. For decades.

The new figure in this little equation isn’t the 5,000 copies; it’s the 98 percent. If you combine that with the other statistics that came out about our pandemic year, you’ll see that this is up by maybe about a third. Bookstore sales, which are generally frontlist, were down 30% in 2020.

We don’t have the statistics on how many frontlist books felt the impact of the closed bookstores which is why I think that percentage is higher, but we do know this: trad pub doesn’t know how to market direct to consumer, nor do they know how to market to any place other than a bookstore. Their ebook prices are too high, so a lot of readers migrated to other new-to-them books, which included a lot of backlist.

But the backlist isn’t up as much as trad pub would want you to believe. Backlist sales were 69% of all book sales in 2020. In 2019, backlist sales were 63%. Yes, the pandemic accelerated the rise of the backlist, but not by as much as the trad pub editors are screaming about.

And yet, traditional publishers don’t put any money into their backlist. They make backlist books extremely hard to find. They take the paper books out of print.

In May, I got Nora Roberts’ new book, and in the Books By Nora Roberts section up front, it had this gem: “Ebooks by Nora Roberts.” Those ebooks were the titles she wrote for Harlequin back in the day. Apparently, some not-so-brilliant exec figured that Nora’s fans who hadn’t read those books were undeserving of a paper edition.

Yeah, that’s pretty damn dumb. But I’m not seeing much intelligence from traditional publishing these days.

. . . .

I get emails all the time from writers like her, writers who are happy to have an agent for the book they want to publish through traditional, writers who like telling me that my head is up my ass for not promoting traditional book publishing, and—last week—a writer who asked, sideways, if I would be his agent for traditional publishing because I “clearly know so much about the business.”

What are these writers doing?

Well, not thinking for one.

But there’s more to it than that. They’re terrified of going down a path that they see as mostly untested. Never mind that many writers have been making a living at publishing their own books for a decade now. One of those writers, Lindsay Buroker, mentioned on Twitter last month that she’s been freelance for ten years now and has published roughly 80 books.

In the same amount of time that this other writer wrote one entire novel—and made zero dollars on it.

Examples like Lindsay’s, though, seem to make no difference to writers like the one I mentioned, because that writer is operating out of fear.

The writer wants someone to take care of her, and she’s not alone. She doesn’t want to learn the business. Like that writer who wrote to me, she wants someone else to learn the business so that she can…what? Be famous? Because writing clearly isn’t her passion, or she wouldn’t have wasted all this time on one book.

. . . .

But writers who want to go into traditional publishing feel they need several things. They need a curator—an editor—to tell them what they’re doing right or wrong with their books. They need an agent to “defend them” and do the messy stuff like learning contracts and dealing with money. They need a marketer to buy ads in all those (non-existent) places that advertise books. They need someone to handle sales and bookstores and…

They’re just too scared to do any of it themselves.

And that’s a shame.

The fact that there are vestiges of the 1950s and 1960s versions of publishing, where some of that stuff actually did happen, still around makes it hard for these folks to step out of their comfort zones and learn how the business is actually done these days.

And if these writers manage to sell something to a traditional publisher—a big if, as you can see from that writer above—they will sign away their copyright for a 4-figure advance, and lose their chance to ever have a writing career outside of what has become a small and narrow niche of publishing.

That niche is small and narrow. Bookstat with its narrow little focus on the big players in the bookstore economy found that of the 2.6 million books sold online in 2020, only 268 of them sold more than 100,000 copies that year. (I added that year because remember, traditional only looks at recent sales, not cumulative sales).

One blogger wrote this after she found that statistic:

As an author, this is distressing. If I can spend two to three years writing a novel and my best case scenario is having it sell a couple hundred copies on Amazon, perhaps it’s time to face the music and realize that writing books—like knitting or playing the harp—is nothing more than a hobby. Something I can do for fun on the weekends but should never hope to earn a living from.

Yep. Distressing.

Note all the fear in that paragraph. Two to three years writing one novel. What the hell? What is she doing the rest of the time? Actually playing the harp? Because real writers write. They don’t have people look over their shoulder, go over every word, churn out a paragraph a day, and then have agents ask them to rewrite the book to make it presentable for some editor who is going to lose their job in a year or so anyway.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

Senator Klobuchar Advocates Against Amazon, Other Monopolies

From Publishers Weekly:

Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar continued to make the case for stepping up antitrust actions yesterday, appearing in a webinar sponsored by the American Booksellers Association and Small Business Rising, a coalition of independent businesses advocating against monopolies.

Saying that “we can’t use duct tape and band aids anymore” in dealing with monopolies, Klobuchar noted that she and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) had cosponsored a bill, the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act, that will, among other things, provide $100 million to the Federal Trade Commission and the antitrust division of the Department of Justice to hire more lawyers to ensure enforcement of antitrust laws “to get the job done.”

Klobuchar said she hopes the bill will be approved by the full senate soon, since the government needs more tools in its arsenal to take on Amazon and other conglomerates. “This is all about cracking down on unfettered growth and abuse of market power,” she argued, advocating for a “reboot” of the antitrust movement in the U.S. by updating laws so as break the stranglehold of conglomerates upon the economy.

Klobuchar spoke of the negative impact of Amazon on the economy, describing it as “both a monopoly and a monopsony, because the people who sell things to Amazon don’t sell to anyone else and that is the definition of a monopsony.” She noted that “too much consolidation in concentrated markets” has a disproportionate negative impact upon “the minority community and small businesses within the minority community.”

It’s not just Amazon either, she pointed out, it’s also Facebook and Google and other Big Tech companies. Citing an email written by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in which he’d written, “We’d rather buy than compete,” Klobuchar noted, “You buy all your competitors up, you lose that competitive force” in the marketplace.

“We know the stakes are high, the facts are stark, and if we don’t act now, the curse of bigness that Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once warned about will continue to threaten American innovation,” she said. “As Justice Thurgood Marshall once said of our antitrust laws, they are as important to the preservation of our free enterprise system as the Bill of Rights is to the protection of our personal freedom.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG wonders if Sen. Klobuchar cares about what consumers, including those living in Iowa, think about Amazon.

The reason Amazon is so big is that ordinary Americans really, really, really like buying things from Amazon. Do they have a voice in the monopoly/monopsony discussion?

Of course, consumers don’t hire Washington lobbyists and, to the best of PG’s knowledge there is no wealthy Political Action Committee that has been created by consumers that provides large campaign donations to elected officials in Washington or elsewhere.

PG doesn’t like to see any small business have financial problems, but one of the great strengths of the US economy is that it is constantly changing in response to what customers would like to have.

PG has mentioned this before, but he really, really doesn’t want to have to walk into a physical bookstore to buy a book any more. It’s just so much nicer to get what he wants from Amazon. The books are easier to find on Zon and he doesn’t have to worry about whether the store will be open or not.

Additionally, PG won’t say that he is forever swearing off of physical books, but it has been at least a couple of years, probably more, since he has bought or read from a physical book other than a couple of reference works.

PG is very happy to not have to worry about Covid when he walks out of his house these days (unless you live in PG’s neighborhood, your experience might be different), but he has been much more anxious to go to enjoyable restaurants where he and Mrs. PG can have a good conversation than he is to resume shopping trips to any locations other than a couple of grocery stores and Costco (when he needs a pallet-load of Raisin Bran or socket wrenches or some such thing).

Perhaps PG and most others will revert entirely to pre-Covid patterns of behavior, but PG doubts it.

Write What You Know—But Not Exactly

From veteran author and teacher, Dave Farland

Yesterday I got an email from a former writing student who had dazzled me a couple of years ago. He worked as a shepherd in New Zealand, and so had no ability to network with a local writing group, but his writing skills were superb. To me, it seemed he had the sophisticated sensibilities of a Hollywood pro.

Yesterday he mentioned that he had just self-published his first book a few weeks ago. Sales are exploding. He’s got nearly a thousand reviews on Amazon already, and they’re nearly all five stars. His book is doing so well that he has now gone to writing full time. 

like that. I’m excited that he’s making his dream come true. The title of his book is fun:  Oh Great! I was Reincarnated as a Farmer: A LitRPG Adventure : (Unorthodox Farming: Book 1) by Benjamin Kerei. That sounds like him. Benjamin packs a bit of humor in his tales, along with a lot of adventure and a truly wild imagination.

But when you hit your first jackpot as a writer, there are some dangers to avoid. I often tell writers in this position, “You need two income streams.” 

Why? Because writing income can sometimes get blocked.

Let me explain. If you’re publishing traditionally, your writing stream might get blocked by a publisher. An editor may decide that she doesn’t like your next book, or the publisher goes bust. I’ve even seen publishers dawdle on signing new contracts apparently in order to force a writer to take a bad contract. 

Of course, the same kinds of things happen even when you are self-publishing. I’ve seen authors have their books pulled off of Amazon precisely because the book is doing too well! It looks so suspicious that the book police pull the title until they can figure out how the author has gamed their system. In fact, I’ve had books pulled on a couple of occasions. And sometimes, with a writer as good as Benjamin Kerei, it really might look fishy.

So I recommend that the author have a second income stream. This might be outside money—a spouse who works, or an investment portfolio. But it could include a hefty savings account meant to get an author through hard times.

And there often come hard times. Authors can lose time due to medical issues—either his or her own, or a family member’s. I’ve seen authors stop writing for up to three years as they grieve the loss of a loved one. Sometimes a writer can get writer’s block due to stress, depression, anxiety, brain fog, or just because a new novel is harder to write because it breaks some molds.

So a writer needs multiple income streams.

There’s one piece of advice that we hear over and over as writers: “Don’t quit your day job!” 

But day jobs might not pay very much. 

So I often tell writers, if you really want to write full time, get a second stream. For example, dabble with a different genre, perhaps with a whole new identity! (Sometimes, a writers’ name can turn bad, as happened with two writers named Timothy McVeigh. One serial killer can put a stain on your entire literary persona.)

So as a hot new writer, you need to nurture a second income stream, either by making money outside the writing field, by amassing enough in savings so that you can support yourself for a couple of years, by writing under more than one name, or writing in two separate series at the same time. 

That way, if one career path becomes blocked, you can still support yourself and your family!

Link to the rest at David Farland’s Writing Tips

Chasing the Thrill

From The Wall Street Journal:

Begin it where warm waters halt / And take it in the canyon down, / Not far, but too far to walk. / Put in below the home of Brown.

From there it’s no place for the meek, / The end is ever drawing nigh; / There’ll be no paddle up your creek, / Just heavy loads and water high.

Have you ever heard of the Lost Dutchman Mine and the Beale Cipher? How about the Oak Island Money Pit? Or the artist Kit Williams’s “Masquerade” (aka the Quest for the Golden Hare) and the magician David Blaine’s “The Mysterious Stranger” (aka the Search for the Golden Orb)? I hadn’t either. But now I know all about treasure hunts and those who plan them—especially one eccentric denizen of the American Southwest, whose self-published memoir of 2010 contains the near-incomprehensible verse-clues quoted above.

Reading Daniel Barbarisi’s “Chasing the Thrill: Obsession, Death, and Glory in America’s Most Extraordinary Treasure Hunt” might feel a bit like watching a Discovery Channel documentary, but the book is quite a yarn. In fact, it’s an exhaustive account of one of the oddest episodes in the crowded annals of bizarro Americana.

The impresario of “Chasing the Thrill” is Forrest Fenn, a former Vietnam War fighter pilot who made a fortune peddling Native-American artifacts and other works in arty Santa Fe, N.M. As we learn from Mr. Barbarisi, a former Wall Street Journal sportswriter and the author of an earlier book on fantasy-sports gambling, Fenn, at age 80, got the notion to hide a treasure chest in the rough country north of Santa Fe. He then printed a slim autobiography called “The Thrill of the Chase,” whose final chapter released his poetic arrows into the public imagination—verses containing nine gnomic pointers to the whereabouts of the trove of 265 gold coins, dozens of gold nuggets, plastic baggies of gold dust, a block of $1,000 bills, plus rare Mayan relics, Chinese jade and more. The 42-pound cache—secreted in a smallish 12th-century Italian lock box—was valued at up to $2 million.

Word of the Fenn lode predictably set off a gold rush of tens of thousands of ambitious, greedy and often deeply disturbed “clue solvers” who spent the next decade busting their brains and pondering maps, draining their bank accounts and risking their lives. They scoured “The Thrill of the Chase,” followed Fenn’s frequent interviews, watched and re-watched a 2013 “Today” segment he’d done, besieged his Santa Fe compound, corresponded by email, and followed a bunch of Fenn-obsessed blogs and YouTube channels. Then they traipsed through northern New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and southern Montana, certain that the Fenn treasure—like the mythical Land of Prester John in the Middle Ages—was just over the horizon.

The author spent years commuting from his home, job and family in Boston to the Southwest. He immersed himself in the Fenn hunters’ subculture, and pursued a number of failed solves with his wingman, Jay Raynor, a Canadian fantasy-sports wizard and crypto-currency trader. He then cozied up close to the magus, trying to get to the bottom of what motivated Fenn to launch his quest. Was he chasing a kind of pop immortality for himself? Or was he more a sadistic puppet master, savoring the spectacle of addicted hunters abasing themselves to win his favor in hopes of priceless hints to the solution? Or was he, as one cynical solver had it, simply a “media whore” hooked on attention. In any case, he writes, “Fenn had managed to mythologize his own past.”

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

PG has spent significant portions of his life living in dry and sparsely-populated parts of the United States. He will say that the open desert can be very beautiful, but will also acknowledge that it can attract some individuals who are a bit off and move farther in the off direction the more time they spend alone in the desert.

Catch Those Repetitious Redundancies and Pleonasms

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

Hello there. How are you today? Are you ready to test out your redundancy eye?

You might ask, “Why should I care about redundancies?”

Before we begin, I’ll answer that question.

Redundancies are superfluous words or phrases also known as pleonasms: the use of more words than are necessary to express an idea.

Pleonasm is an unfamiliar term to some people, which is why I and other writers often refer to unnecessary words as redundancies.

Rather than augment writing, these extra words slow down action scenes and increase word count — without adding helpful details.

Did you notice the strikeouts in the previous paragraphs? Each strikeout represents a redundancy. If I were intentionally bloating this post, I might leave them in. However, they’re just useless padding.

Oh, wait. I guess I did leave them in, and that means they still count as words. Oops, sorry, Anne, I needed them to illustrate my point.

A Few Words About the Quiz

Below you’ll find fourteen sentences that contain redundancies, and fourteen suggested solutions. They’re revised examples from books, news, social media, television shows, and conversations.

Scrutinize the examples and try to find the pleonasms. Will you score 100%?

Welcome to the Promenade of Useless Redundancies

  1. The village was home to a community of people with many diverse talents.
  2. The thick clouds entirely obliterated the sun and darkened the sky.
  3. If the pump doesn’t perform as expected, you’ll be eligible for a full refund of the money that you paid for it.
  4. They couldn’t have been more different. They were total polar opposites.
  5. A hunter picked up the lion’s scent spoor and tracks fortuitously by accident.
  6. The writer tried various different phrases, but none of them seemed to fit the context.
  7. The most quintessential obsession of Pauline’s existence was the consumption of coffee, coffee, COFFEE.
  8. The new scanner reads UPC codes much faster than the old one.
  9. The toddler threw a noisy temper tantrum when his mother took away the toy.
  10. They had reached a critical juncture — which of the options should they choose?
  11. They didn’t have the same resources now that they used to have before.
  12. Just to be on the safe side, Bryan decided to cram a medical kit into his bulging knapsack.
  13. We need more information about exactly what that means.
  14. The both of them knew that they were in for a severe trouncing.

Suggested Edits

Edit #1:

The village was home to a community of people with many diverse talents.

community: a group of people who live in the same place or share particular characteristics

diverse: many different types of people or things

Note how the definitions embrace the meanings of the deleted words.

Alternative edit: The village was home to many people with diverse talents.

Choose the connotation that matches your storyline.

Edit #2:

The thick clouds entirely obliterated the sun and darkened the sky.

obliterate: make invisible by obscuring

If something is invisible, can it be partially invisible? If not, we don’t need to mention that it’s entirely invisible.

When readers visualize the sun obliterated by thick clouds, they’ll imagine a dark sky. We don’t need to mention the darkness.

Other phrases to beware:

  • entirely by chance
  • entirely decimated
  • entirely inappropriate
  • entirely natural
  • entirely surrounded
  • entirely [fill in the blank]

Whenever you encounter entirely or one of its synonyms, question its necessity.

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

Top 10 novels told in a single day

From The Guardian:

Recently I had the good fortune to publish a novel based, in part, on the years I spent working as a plumber. After reading it, some of my new literary friends commented, “Ah, so you’re writing in the circadian tradition, then?” I nodded my head – and dived for a dictionary to discover the meaning of “circadian”. It turns out the word describes the process of going around, of returning. Books set within the confines of 24 hours. A day in the life.

I can’t claim that writing such a work had been my intention. In seeking to bring to life the world of manual labour – a world not over-represented in modern fiction – I’d found it necessary to focus on the minute and the granular. If we can have police procedurals, why can’t we also have plumbing procedurals? And quite quickly this technique of the tight focus, the super closeup, found itself being played out within the characters themselves, and their stories. There’s a freedom, after all, to working within limits, and perhaps the most important limit is time itself. New possibilities for compression open up; opportunities for strange amplifications. Lo and behold, and without quite realising it, I’d created a work of circadian fiction.

Why don’t more writers do it? It sounds common but, in fact, it isn’t. Here I’ve gathered together 10 examples deserving of measurement against the finest atomic clock.

1. Ulysses by James Joyce
You can play Cluedo with Ulysses. If it’s 11am we must be on the strand with Stephen Dedalus, the colour is green and the technique is monologue. If it’s 10pm, we must be in the hospital with Leopold Bloom, the colour is white, and the technique “embryonic development”. And so on. Joyce himself said, “I may have oversystematised Ulysses”. But it’s worth remembering that this book, the numero uno of circadian novels, possibly of all novels, happens also to contain some of the most beautiful descriptive passages written in the English language.

2. The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
Tightening the circadian focus even further, this story is packed, crammed, shoehorned within a single lunch break. Here the ingenious device of the extended footnote animates the internal life of young office worker Howie. Between bouts of “escalatorial happiness” ascending to his workplace, he ruminates on fraying shoelaces, the wonders of perforated paper, ice cubes, Marcus Aurelius and many other micro-matters. A treasure chest of the quotidian.

3. Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
Tommy Wilhelm, failed actor with a wife and children to support, has decided to invest his last $700 in lard. His commodities broker is a shady psychiatrist-cum-speculator, Dr Tamkin, who wastes no time in undermining Tommy with his own brand of wild psychoanalytical theory. It’s one more mistake in a long line for Tommy, but like Sisyphus he’s cursed to repeat his errors over and over again.

4. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Mrs Dalloway is throwing a party; it’s over and done during a day and a night in June. There’s an effortless flux between past, present and future here, a sharp clarity, even the occasional moment of playfulness, which is rare in Woolf’s work. Bird’s-eye perspectives of London become intimate views. Eavesdropping abounds – not such a rarity. Mrs Dalloway is the creation of a prose master in top gear; it’s a privilege to be caught in her slipstream.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Princeton Dumbs Down Classics

From The Atlantic:

My Atlantic colleague John McWhorter and I must have received the same high-frequency language-nerd alert, audible only to the types of people whose idea of fun is Esperanto grammar. We both recently learned that Princeton’s classics department had ceased requiring its students to study Latin and Greek, and we reacted in predictable horror. A classics department without Latin and Greek is like a math department without multiplication and division, or an art department without paint. More than a thousand years ago, the monk Ælfric prefaced his Latin Grammar by saying it was “the key that unlocks the understanding of books.” I had a vision of a new generation of Princeton classicists, sniffing and thwacking at padlocked volumes of Thucydides or Cicero with looks of total incomprehension, like Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson trying to get the files “in the computer” in Zoolander.

. . . .

But then I remembered my own language training, and I’ve come around to Princeton’s point of view. My classical education started, oddly enough, just like Owen Wilson’s. We attended the same private school about a decade apart, and like all students, we were subjected to a mandatory year of Latin. (After that requirement was abolished, Wilson and his co-screenwriter Wes Anderson made the film Rushmore, in which the nixing of Latin from a prep-school curriculum is a plot point.) We had the same teacher, who told me that Wilson was one of the worst students he’d ever taught. I took another five years of Latin, plus four of Greek, while Wilson went off to find his fortune in Hollywood. I think even Ælfric would agree he got the better end of that deal.

I never met Wilson, but I clearly remember many classmates squirming in their seats, struggling to give a damn about whether nauta was masculine or feminine, or how to turn it into a dative plural, or what the hell a dative plural was anyway. They off-loaded all knowledge of Latin seemingly seconds after handing in their final exam. Some of us did give a damn, however, and after a couple of years of Latin-grammar boot camp, we could read erotic poetry from 2,000 years ago and be genuinely, uh, moved. I remembered that difference years later when I met linguists who were recruited as spies by the United States government. To assess their abilities, the government would invent complicated languages and give them tests to figure out who would catch on. The best candidates were the ones who liked the process so much that they asked if they could please have more tests to take home—you know, just for fun.

Princeton’s deliberation about Greek and Latin requirements amounts to asking: Should our classics department, which is devoted to all aspects of the study of antiquity, introduce the subject with a sequence of classes most hospitable to the oddly built minds of language fanatics? The classical world appeals to philosophers, archaeologists, historians, poets, rhetoricians, and others. To study the history or mythology of Greece and Rome in a state of total ignorance of those civilizations’ language sounds to me like a sad imitation of a classical education. But if a student becomes initially interested in classics by reading a Greek myth, it is not obvious to me that requiring her to chant the principal parts of the verb βαινω for a semester will tend the flame of her curiosity rather than snuff it out. Is she more like me, or more like Wilson?

A classicist at Princeton told me that his department expects to teach just as much Greek and Latin as it ever did. No classes will be cut. But instead of making these courses a gateway to the classics, they’ll be an option the majority of majors will take—without the implication that philology is the best or only way to get into the subject. If that hypothesis is correct, he said, and classics attracts more undergraduate majors and most of them take Greek and Latin, Princeton will have more students proficient in these languages after dropping the requirement. (Con artists and drug dealers will recognize the move here, enticing the customer with a harmless product, only to hook them later on the harder stuff.) Conversely, students may begin to regard Greek and Latin the way English majors regard Middle and Old English: as antique curiosities that only the strangest of their fellow students spend much time on.

The classicist I spoke with is more optimistic. Those who do not take Latin and Greek would, he supposes, be from the minority of undergraduates with niche interests relatively remote from Latin or Greek grammar. “We have students who are using computational and CGI modeling of ancient Greek architecture,” he told me. “We want those students to be in classics.”

But will those students really be in classics—or just in the classics department? To be classically educated, as I understood it, meant taking one’s place in a line of students stretching back two or three thousand years. Each of those students learned many of the same things, and learned them roughly the same way, so that if you were to travel back in time (either by DeLorean or by library card), you could converse with anyone in that line and have access to that person’s knowledge. That access is Ælfric’s key, and if you skip the philology and substitute in CGI classes, the key doesn’t fit anymore, and the culture traced by that line of students, from Hesiod to Derek Walcott, is locked away.

. . . .

“People are very sensitive about tradition right now,” the Princeton classicist told me. (He asked not to be named, because of the incessant trolling his department has received for its decision.) “And these changes can look to an ungenerous eye like they are not giving due respect to tradition.” That would be the case, he said, if Princeton were trying to persuade students to learn less Latin and Greek, rather than more, while recruiting students with other original interests and backgrounds. Various fields have already made this shift. After all, you can now study English without knowing much about the history of English; at Princeton and many peer institutions, a single course on Shakespeare is enough to satisfy one’s requirement for pre-1700 study of the English language. You can write a senior thesis on Thomas Pynchon, and no one will make you start your education by learning when the dual dropped out of English grammar, or by deciphering Chaucer. Princeton students can still learn about these things, and I think they should. But the grammarians and Chaucerians are not posted like riddling bridge-keepers outside the department.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

  1. PG agrees with the “Dumb Down” headline.
  2. The quotes from the various Princeton professors in the OP demonstrate (for PG) one of the reasons that professors et al should teach and competent administrative minds should be recruited to actually operate the various academic departments.
  3. PG suspects this change will not be looked back upon as the beginning of the rebirth of Classics at Princeton.
  4. PG predicts that, absent the Atlantic article (which was a decision by an Atlantic editor that puzzles PG), no one other than a few classicists at other institutions would have noticed this change.
  5. Yes, PG did take Latin in college, but quit without completing the first year. That makes him an expert on this topic.

7 Character Lessons from a Real Life Heroine

From Writers in the Storm:

This week on June 8 was Women’s Fiction Day, celebrating strong female protagonists. More and more stories these days are bringing us great female characters. In thrillers and military fiction, one challenge is to write those strong women as authentic, well-rounded female personalities rather than alpha males with lady parts.

One good way to address this challenge is to study the real-life heroines of the past, who used wits, wiles, cunning, determination, and subterfuge to stay alive and conquer their foes. Today, we’ll take a look at the life of a real-life heroine who was feared by the Nazis as “the most dangerous spy in all of France,” Virginia Hall Goillot.

. . . .

Say the name “Virginia Hall” to anyone in the Clandestine Services, and they may well get choked up with reverence. Being a woman with no special physical ability and lacking one leg, no recruiter then or now would entertain thoughts of Virginia being capable of military service, especially behind enemy lines.

Nevertheless, she was determined to serve an active role in the battle against Nazi Germany, and serve she did, becoming one of the most revered 20th-century icons in the Intelligence Community. Altogether remarkable, she is a breathtaking example of selflessness, courage, and commitment and a true role model for both the Intelligence Community, and for fiction writers.

Virginia Hall was born on April 6, 1906, to a wealthy family in Baltimore, Maryland. Having a gift for languages, she studied French, German, and Italian at Radcliffe College and Barnard College. She then traveled to Europe to continue her education in Austria, France, and Germany. Her goal was to enter the US Foreign Service.

After finishing her studies in 1931, she worked as a Consular Service clerk at the US Embassy in Warsaw. From there, she was assigned to a consulate office in Izmir, Turkey, where a hunting accident forced her to have her lower left leg amputated. She obtained a wooden prosthetic leg, which she named “Cuthbert.” She was then assigned to the US consulate in Venice.

When Virginia requested permission to take the US Foreign Service Exam, she was informed that, due to her injury, she could not apply for a position as a diplomat. She returned to the United States and attended graduate school at American University in Washington, DC.

. . . .

Virginia was visiting Paris when Germany invaded France in 1940. She immediately volunteered with the French Ambulance Corps and drove ambulances to evacuate wounded French soldiers from the front. When France surrendered to Germany, Virginia escaped to Spain and then on to England.

In London, Virginia applied for service in the British Special Operations Executive (“SOE”) and was accepted. With the SOE, Virginia trained in weapons, communications, and as a resistance organizer for occupied France, and in August of 1941, she infiltrated Vichy in France. Some sources state that she was the first female SOE agent to do so.

The United States was not yet directly involved in the war, so Virginia posed as a news correspondent for the New York Post. Once the United States did enter the war in December of 1941, the sensible thing for her to do would have been to hustle back to England. Fortunately for the Allied effort, she declined to escape and went underground.

At the time Virginia infiltrated Vichy in 1941, operating there under the Pétain government was more dangerous for an SOE agent than operating in the Nazi-occupied region of France. The Vichy government had command of the French police departments, and with so many reliable local assets, it could more easily discover infiltrators and resistors. Most SOE agents sent into Vichy in 1941 and 1942 were killed or captured within days.

. . . .

Virginia quickly earned a reputation as a great recruiter and resistance organizer in France. She was instrumental in the rescue of hundreds of downed Allied aviators, and she arranged their safe return to England. She also organized a network of safe houses and coordinated numerous air drops of weapons and supplies to the French Resistance at a time when most drops were being intercepted by the Vichy police and the Gestapo.

Virginia’s successes did not go completely unnoticed by the Vichy government and the Nazis. The Gestapo branded her as the most dangerous spy in all of France, and they made her capture a priority. When the Germans took over Vichy in November of 1942, infamous Gestapo leader Klaus Barbie demanded that “the woman with the limp,” as Virginia was known, be captured and brought directly to him so that he could personally strangle her.

Virginia used her one good leg to stay one step ahead of the Gestapo, and that November, she escaped on foot over the Pyrenees to Spain. Some convincing sources say she was alone on this trip. Some other convincing sources say she was not alone on this trip. It is possible that she made more than one trip over the Pyrenees.

. . . .

Once in Spain, Virginia had no identification papers at a time when such documents were crucial. The Spanish arrested her and incarcerated her for several weeks. When the US consulate in Barcelona learned of this, they claimed Virginia as a legitimate US citizen and demanded her release.

After four months working undercover in Spain, Virginia returned to England in 1943 in the hope of doing more “useful” work. Once there, Virginia left the SOE to join the fledgling American OSS and volunteered to return to occupied France.

Virginia dyed her hair gray and disguised herself as an elderly farmer. Since her wooden leg made a nighttime parachute drop too dangerous for her, she was infiltrated back to Bretagne, France, on a British torpedo boat. Using the alias “Marcelle Montagne” and the code name “Diane,” she made her way to central France, where she set up radio communications with London.

In addition to transmitting intelligence back to London, Virginia again organized successful supply drops for the French Resistance, established safe houses, helped train three battalions of Free French guerrilla forces, and linked up with a Jedburgh team after the Allied invasion. In spite of Klaus Barbie’s personal vendetta against her, Virginia avoided capture and continued operating until the Allies liberated central France in 1944.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Les Marguerites Fleuriront ce Soir (the daisies will bloom at night) by Jeffrey W. Bass via Wikipedia. This image is a work of a Central Intelligence Agency employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a Work of the United States Government, this image or media is in the public domain in the United States.
French identification certificate for “Marcelle Montagne” forged by OSS

The OP draws from the following book, Key Figures in Espionage:

Amplified Publishing

From Publishing Perspectives:

While one of the main tenets of Amplified Publishing at this point is that we don’t yet know exactly what we mean when we say the phrase, Kate Pullinger does know what her key interest is in this, her latest project in exploring creativity and technology.

“Creative work, yes,” she says, “but also the bottom line. I’m interested in helping creators in the broad publishing sector figure out how to earn a living.”

. . . .

What Amplified Publishing is trying to discern is how creative forms could be developed to reach audiences through technologically enriched means. What has the emergence of Zoom and Teams and other platforms during the pandemic meant in terms of a potential for creativity and its search for audience? Has that “digital acceleration” ended? Or is there more to be found once the world of conference calls and panel discussions stops owning the Zoom world?

Is there more—better yet, isn’t there more—that we could do with these communications technologies?

Where she starts to look at the issue is by turning around, if you will, not to face the creator but to face the people the creator is looking for: “How to find an audience” is, as her writing on the project points out, the common denominator.

“We live in a world where everyone with access to technology can publish,” the opening backgrounder says. “From YouTubers to Instagram-influencers, from gamers watching each other play online to writers self-publishing, content is everywhere. And yet, the biggest company with its most promising title and the podcaster putting their first episode online share the same problem: how to find an audience?”

. . . .

The Amplified Publishing program’s background materials tell us:

“Digital technologies have fostered the proliferation of new platforms for publishing as well as new platforms for broadcasting, and the rise of video streaming has further dissolved the boundaries between these two modes.

“The music and games sectors include publishing as part of their workflows, though what publishing means in practice varies widely across these sectors. New models of content creation in virtual, augmented, and mixed reality environments further adds to the possibilities for blue sky research. The rise of audio along with voice activation via smart speakers in the home also provide multiple opportunities for R&D.

“While the COVID-19 crisis has delivered rapid change, increasing our use of video conferencing tools, pushing teaching and learning online, boosting sales for some sectors, while decimating delivery models for others, we are asking big questions: What does ‘publishing’ mean in the 21st century? How will the increased availability of seamless and synchronous visual and audio media enhance and expand traditional media, like books and magazines? What does personalization offer to both content creators, their publishers, and their audiences? With the rise of visual storytelling, what is the future of reading?

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG’s initial reaction to the story and, especially to the quotes from Ms. Pullinger is that she is seeking gigs as a paid consultant or a paid speaker in the publishing world.

But he could be wrong.

OverDrive to Acquire Kanopy

From Publishers Weekly:

OverDrive, the market leading digital reading platform for libraries and schools, has announced that it is acquiring Kanopy, a popular video streaming service for public and academic libraries. Terms of the acquisition were not announced.

The acquisition of Kanopy adds an extensive video catalog to the OverDrive platform, with some 30,000 films available to students and library users through the Kanopy platform, including iconic films produced by A24, Criterion Collection, Paramount, PBS and Kino Lorber. The move is yet another major move for OverDrive, which in June of last year acquired the library assets of RBmedia, just weeks after OverDrive itself was acquired by investment firm KKR.

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

The boy who lived and lived and lived

From The Bookseller:

In every skirmish in the ‘culture war’, be it fought in universities, Twitter or Parliament, there’s an inevitable reference to Harry Potter. The Potter references can seem like a joke; the perpetual furore around the politics of a ‘mere’ children’s author more so. But it is no laughing matter. Harry Potter is a cultural force and a financial powerhouse, one that is, ultimately – and for some, frustratingly – ‘uncancellable’.

According to YouGov, British Millennials have a 95% awareness of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. For context, this puts Harry Potter significantly above classics such as Winnie the Pooh (90%) and Alice in Wonderland (85%), or, for that matter, Marvel movies. It is uniquely high among all publishing properties. By comparison, The Hate U Give – a stunning contemporary book with massive cultural ramifications and prolonged sales dominance – has a 24% awareness in the same demographic. That level of familiarity is, for a book, incredibly impressive. But Harry Potter is a universal cultural touchstone.

And, again for context, “Millennial” means anyone born between 1980 and 1994, a group that now makes up nearly 14% of the population of Britain (and 90% of the headlines). The eldest Millennials are now in their late 30s and early 40s, and have children of their own. Yet, despite countless efforts by publishers and creators of all types, there is no “new” Harry Potter; no other property with the same ubiquitous cultural presence. 

How is it that a children’s book from three decades ago has successfully remained at the heart of every conversation?

The first reason is found in the story itself. There have been countless theses written on this very subject, but there is, unquestionably, something special about the boy. Henry Jenkins has examined the phenomena at length, and argues (to paraphrase) that the series’ appeal stems from its ability to allow readers to see themselves in Rowling’s world. It is, again, to paraphrase, just rich enough: readers are fascinated by the world, but there’s still room for them to fit in. It is welcoming, and more than that, participative. The loose fabric of the Potterverse invites its readers to indulge in passionate meddling, a form of imaginative activism that has translated to a long lasting, and real world, belief in the power to make change.

Secondly, it is impossible to underestimate the cultural supernova that was the release of individual Harry Potter books when they were first published. By the end of the series, it was a national obsession akin to, one suspects, Beatlemania. Pottermania united the British public – often in the queue at Sainsbury’s, where they would be patiently waiting to snatch up a copy. Readers – and even non-readers! – were all feverishly tearing through books on buses and trains, during lunch breaks and all through the night.

Potter’s explosion also took place before online retailers dominated the scene – in those innocent days when supermarkets were seen as the Dark Lords of book retail. People crammed into brick and mortar retailers, all physically coming together in their need for the book. This increased the visibility of the moment, and the sense of cultural unison. Wanting, buying, reading Harry Potter was the thing to do. Potter’s moment was made all the more unique, and bittersweet, by the fact it will not – and cannot – ever happen again. The retail and media landscape have fragmented too much, and take place in quieter, more personal, and less visible ways. It was, again to borrow from Jenkins, the “last gasp of mass culture”.

. . . .

The result is a creative property that is both culturally influential and an unavoidable, arguably essential, pillar of the publishing sector. Harry Potter is deeply woven into our culture. And Harry Potter is also a financial juggernaut, one that single-handedly keeps publishers and retailers afloat.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

The Freedom to Change Genre as a Self-Published Author

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

Traditional publishers like an author to stick to the genre that has been successful for them. Self-publishing provides an author the freedom to write in any genre they wish. However, anything you self-publish or is traditionally published under your name will be forever on Amazon, whether you like it or not. The only control you have is to stop self-publishing the titles you no longer want to distribute. But the title and description, and possibly used copies, will always be there, reminding you that you didn’t always write as well as you do now.

For me, writing and publishing started with my book THE CLAY CANVAS. I fell in love with the maiolica style of ceramic painting while living in Italy. After returning to the U.S. I found a way to replicate it using American products, and was soon doing commissions. Finding joy in creative painting on functional, everyday ceramics, I decided to write an illustrated guide not only to give instructions for the complete ceramic process, but also to give advice on finding inspiration, starting a business etc. The book was traditionally published and led to my writing dozens of articles for ceramics and crafts magazines.

Having discovered the joys of writing, I was eager to try my hand at fiction. A novel about World War II seemed the right place to start, as the war had never been far from my mind. I was born a year before the war ended, though luckily ten days after Rome was liberated. But the cost of that war was everywhere. It had exploded my Viennese Jewish-Catholic family, sending its members to three different continents, never to be fully reunited. I grew up with fellow displaced Europeans—many of them also Viennese—in Italy, Argentina and New York. I listened and absorbed their stories, understanding that the past is never really past, and there are losses you never get over even when life is good.

I wrote my novel and sent it out to publishers—something one could do thirty years ago. I received letters of encouragement but was told that the novel needed some structural changes. I tried to fix it but didn’t fully understand what was meant, so it remained unpublished as my husband and I moved to Switzerland for his work with the U.N. We stayed for six years and the novel was put aside.

When we returned my son surprised me by having it printed in book form. I was delighted and reformatted it and self-published it on Amazon. Then changed the cover and the title and republished it. A few friends ordered copies.

I joined a small writers’ group and began to write in earnest. I read books about writing, and took online writing classes. The more I learned, the more I realized what I had done wrong the first time around. I “unpublished” the early versions, but to my dismay the titles will live on on Amazon, though they are not available for purchase.

With the encouragement of my writers’ group, I wrote a new novel. But World War II still beckoned and I returned to the Vienna novel and totally changed the earlier version. I unexpectedly found myself writing about what life might have been for someone who had stayed in Vienna and lived through the war and its aftermath. In the process, I collected so much information, videos, articles, photographs, that I incorporated them into my website https://all-that-lingers.com.

I sought professional assessment to make sure I had it right this time, and then self-published. I soon discovered one major advantage of self-publishing. I could correct overlooked typos, reformat using Vellum, and change the cover to be more marketable. The new improved novel, ALL THAT LINGERS, was given a Kirkus star, received a silver star and honorable mention in book competitions and good customer reviews.

It was time to return to the novel I’d worked on before. THE BEST THING ABOUT BENNETT is not historical fiction, and not defined by war. It is the story of a woman who, in striving to become the person she had always longed to be, breaks out of her shell to find friendship, adventure and love. It was inspired in part by experiences my husband and I had in Uganda.

I debated whether to publish under a pseudonym, as it was a different genre, but realized there was no point. Amazon already had a record of my multi-genre writing.

I’d self-published an updated edition of my ceramic book, adding many more photographs, and also offering it in ebook format.

The designs I’d painted on a series of ceramic tiles had been the inspiration for watercolor paintings I used to illustrate a whimsical, alliterative alphabet book for children. I self-published that as well.

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

The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me

The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is: I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me. You might be all of those things. You got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple.

Los Angeles Dodgers baseball player Will Smith

You Won’t Find the Hardcover of Dave Eggers’s Next Novel on Amazon

From The New York Times:

Dave Eggers has a new novel coming out in the fall called “The Every.” But you won’t be able to buy it in all the usual places — at least not right away.

The hardcover of “The Every” will be published by McSweeney’s, which Eggers founded in 1998, and will be released on Oct. 5, but only in independent bookstores. The novel will have at least 32 different covers randomly distributed.

Six weeks later, Vintage will publish the e-book and paperback, which will have only one cover. They will be available everywhere, as will the audiobook edition, which comes out the same day.

But you still won’t be able to buy the hardcover on Amazon; that version will only be available at independent stores, and on the McSweeney’s website.

“I don’t like bullies,” Eggers wrote in an email. “Amazon has been kicking sand in the face of independent bookstores for decades now.”

The novel follows a former forest ranger and tech skeptic, Delaney Wells, as she tries to take down a dangerous monopoly from the inside: a company called The Every, formed when the world’s most powerful e-commerce site merged with the biggest social media company/search engine.

“One of the themes of the book is the power of monopolies to dictate our choices, so it seemed a good opportunity to push back a bit against the monopoly, Amazon, that currently rules the book world,” he said. “So we started looking into how feasible it would be to make the hardcover available only through independent bookstores. Turns out it is very, very hard.”

Eggers said that even distributing the book in a way that excluded Amazon was a challenge, because McSweeney’s usual agreement with its distributor, Baker & Taylor Publisher Services, prevented it from circumventing the retail giant. Vintage, part of Penguin Random House, would not be in a position to skip around them either.

“We’re retail-agnostic,” said Paul Bogaards, deputy publisher and executive director of communications at Knopf and Pantheon. But this arrangement, he said, is good for all parties involved. “They go out and they’re supporting indies,” Bogaards said of the hardcover plan, “and then six weeks later we get the trade paperback, which is great for us.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Awwww. How precious.

This will impress about 1% of the literate population of New York City and .000000001% of the rest of the world’s population.

PG says that, to support Dave, you should only purchase anything he writes from an indie bookstore that also sells strictly vegan food and snacks, recycles the entire store every week and donates 90% of its gross revenues to saving endangered furry lobsters wherever they may be.

Any store employee who takes a selfie after egging Jeff Bezos’ car qualifies for a free winter living in a commune outside of Yellowknife while providing volunteer snow-shoveling services for members of indigenous tribes and providing support services and counseling to needy musk oxen.

June 10, 1942: The Lidice Massacre

From Fishwrap:

The village of Lidice was located in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (present-day Czech Republic) during WWII. In reprisal for the assassination of a Nazi official in the Spring of 1942, Adolf Hitler ordered the assassination of all men in Lidice, aged 16 and older. The women and children were taken to concentration camps or gassed, and the village of Lidice was destroyed.

In 1939, the area around Lidice came under Nazi control. Reinhard Heydrich, a high-ranking German official, was appointed Deputy Reich Protector of the area. Heydrich was one of the principal architects of the Holocaust. He was known for brutality, murder, and efforts to destroy any Nazi resistance. On May 27, 1942, Heydrich was being driven to his headquarters at Prague Castle when his car was attacked by two Czechoslovak resistance operatives. The operatives were trained in Great Britain and operated under the approval of the Czechoslovak government. Heydrich was wounded and died less than a week later.

German officials declared a state of emergency and established a curfew in Prague. They began a massive search for the attackers, promising that anyone involved, and their families, would be executed. Days later, when they failed to locate any conspirators, they decided to destroy the village of Lidice in reprisal. They chose Lidice because its residents were suspected of harboring members of the local resistance.

On June 10, 1942, German police and SS officials surrounded Lidice to block off any escape route. They rounded up 192 boys and men from Lidice and marched them to a farm on the edge of town, where they lined them up and shot them in groups.

Nazi officials separated the women and children and loaded the women onto rails cars for transport to concentration camps. Most went to Ravensbrück, where 60 died. A few of the children considered racially pure were handed over to SS families. The rest were likely killed in late June when Nazi official Adolph Eichman ordered the children to be gassed to death at Chelmno extermination camp.

In all, some 340 people from Lidice died and the town was destroyed. Nazi officials shelled the village, set it on fire, and plowed over the remains. To further erase the memory of Lidice, the name of the village was removed from all local municipal records.

Link to the rest at Fishwrap

More grisly details from Wikipedia:

Men

Horst Böhme, the SiPo chief for the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, immediately acted on the orders. Members of the Ordnungspolizei and SD (Sicherheitsdienst) surrounded the village of Lidice, blocking all avenues of escape. The Nazi regime chose this village because its residents were suspected of harbouring local resistance partisans and were falsely associated with aiding Operation Anthropoid team members. Post-war memorial ceremony to honour victims

All men of the village were rounded up and taken to the farm of the Horák family on the edge of the village. Mattresses were taken from neighbouring houses where they were stood up against the wall of the Horáks’ barn to prevent ricochets. The shooting of the men commenced at about 7:00 am. At first the men were shot in groups of five, but Böhme thought the executions were proceeding too slowly and ordered that ten men be shot at a time. The dead were left lying where they fell. This continued until the afternoon hours when there were 173 dead. Another 11 men who were not in the village that day were arrested and murdered soon afterwards as were eight men and seven women already under arrest because they had relations serving with the Czech army in exile in the United Kingdom. Only three male inhabitants of the village survived the massacre, two of whom were in the RAF and stationed in England at the time. The only adult man from Lidice actually in Czechoslovakia who survived this atrocity was František Saidl (1887–1961), the former deputy-mayor of Lidice who had been arrested at the end of 1938 because on 19 December 1938 he accidentally killed his son Eduard Saidl. He was imprisoned for four years and had no idea about this massacre. He found out when he returned home on 23 December 1942. Upon discovering the massacre, he was so distraught he turned himself in to SS officers in the nearby town of Kladno, confessed to being from Lidice, and even said he approved of the assassination of Heydrich. Despite confirming his identity, the SS officers simply laughed at him and turned him away, and he went on to survive the war.

Women and children

Maria Doležalová, one of the children kidnapped from Lidice, testifies at the RuSHA trialMemorial to the murdered children of Lidice

A total of 203 women and 105 children were first taken to Lidice village school, then the nearby town of Kladno and detained in the grammar school for three days. The children were separated from their mothers and four pregnant women were sent to the same hospital where Heydrich died, forced to undergo abortions and then sent to different concentration camps. On 12 June 1942, 184 women of Lidice were loaded on trucks, driven to Kladno railway station and forced into a special passenger train guarded by an escort. On the morning of 14 June, the train halted on a railway siding at the concentration camp at Ravensbrück. The camp authorities tried to keep the Lidice women isolated, but were prevented from doing so by other inmates. The women were forced to work in leather processing, road building, textile and ammunition factories.

Eighty-eight Lidice children were transported to the area of the former textile factory in Gneisenau Street in Łódź. Their arrival was announced by a telegram from Horst Böhme’s Prague office which ended with: the children are only bringing what they wear. No special care is desirable. The care was minimal and they suffered from a lack of hygiene and from illnesses. By order of the camp management, no medical care was given to the children. Shortly after their arrival in Łódź, officials from the Central Race and Settlement branch chose seven children for Germanisation. The few children considered racially suitable for Germanisation were handed over to SS families.

The furore over Lidice caused some hesitation over the fate of the remaining children but in late June Adolf Eichmann ordered the massacre of the remainder of the children. However Eichmann was not convicted of this crime at his trial in Jerusalem, as the judges deemed that “… it has not been proven to us beyond reasonable doubt, according to the evidence before us, that they were murdered.” On 2 July, all of the remaining 82 Lidice children were handed over to the Łódź Gestapo office, who sent them to the Chelmno extermination camp 70 kilometres (43 miles) away, where they were gassed to death in Magirus gas vans. Out of the 105 Lidice children, 82 died in Chełmno, six died in the German Lebensborn orphanages and 17 returned home.

Lidice, die Zerstörung (The Destruction of Lidice) – Wikimedia Commons – This image was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the German Federal Archive (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
The destruction of Lidice, Czechoslovakia, in 1942, in a propaganda photograph released by the Nazis. (Archive, Lidice Memorial)
Maria Doležalová, one of the children kidnapped from Lidice, testifies at the RuSHA trial – The RuSHA trial against the SS racial policies (officially, United States of America vs. Ulrich Greifelt, et al) was the eighth of the twelve trials held in Nuremberg by the U.S. authorities for Nazi war crimes after the end of World War II. (via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
This is Nazi Brutality, poster by Ben Shahn, 1943, published by the US Department of War Information, via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
Eighty-two statues of children are depicted in Marie Uchytilová’s “A Monument of children’s war victims.” (Archive, Lidice Memorial via Wikimedia Commons)

PG hasn’t put together this litany of horrors to ruin your day.

He is concerned that the great wars of the Twentieth Century and their aftermath are being forgotten. Virtually all of Europe and large swaths of Asia were terribly damaged. The exact number of deaths will never be known, but an estimated 20 million deaths were caused by World War I and 70-85 million people were killed in World War II. In each case, the civilian deaths exceeded deaths of members of the military.

In addition to deaths by violence, there were 19 to 25 million war-related famine deaths in the USSR, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and India caused by World War II that are not usually included in war casualty figures.

Like others, PG is sometimes disturbed by Wokesters who are triggered by seeing the statue of a Civil War General and claim deep hurt and lasting harm from this experience.

Anatomy of a Hoax

From The Paris Review:

Eric Carle, the author and illustrator of more than seventy books that captivated, amused, and educated generations of children, died last month at ninety-one. Carle’s work, and his seemingly effortless connection to young readers, was motivated by the privations of his own childhood. Raised in Nazi Germany, he was forced to dig trenches on the Siegfried line; his father, whom he adored, had become a prisoner of war in Russia. Carle’s later proclivity for vivid, exuberant colors was a reaction against the “grays, browns and dirty greens” of buildings camouflaged to protect against bombing. After the war, in America, he worked as a commercial artist, developing meticulous collages of tissue paper and acrylics that soon launched his career as an illustrator and children’s writer. His most famous book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, came in 1969, and has sold more than 55 million copies worldwide. “I think it is a book of hope,” he said on its fiftieth anniversary, in 2019. “Children need hope. You—little insignificant caterpillar—can grow up into a beautiful butterfly and fly into the world with your talent.”

If you looked at Twitter after Carle’s death, you may not have seen that quotation. It was lost in the din surrounding another remark:

My publisher and I fought bitterly over the stomachache scene in The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The caterpillar, you’ll recall, feasts on cake, ice cream, salami, pie, cheese, sausage, and so on. After this banquet I intended for him to proceed immediately to his metamorphosis, but my publisher insisted that he suffer an episode of nausea first—that some punishment follow his supposed overeating. This disgusted me. It ran entirely contrary to the message of the book. The caterpillar is, after all, very hungry, as sometimes we all are. He has recognized an immense appetite within him and has indulged it, and the experience transforms him, betters him. Including the punitive stomachache ruined the effect. It compromised the book.

This story was drawn from Carle’s interview with The Paris Review for Young Readers, and tens of thousands of people shared it in praise and remembrance. “What a good man,” one wrote. Another posted, “Eric Carle said f*** the system eat cake and be unapologetically hungry.” A third was inspired to go big for lunch: “a chicken Parm and a whole ass order of garlic knots.” Nigella Lawson retweeted the story, Smithsonian Magazine included it in their obituary, and the parenting site Motherly noted that it had “a profound impact … Eric Carle recognized the harm in implying shame should be something a living creature feels simply for eating food they need to eat in order to grow.” On KQED, during a live broadcast, the radio host asked Carle’s son, Rolf, for more details about the stomachache quarrel. “That’s one of the stories I haven’t heard,” Rolf said, “and when you get an answer, please get it to me.”

He hadn’t heard the story because it never happened. Debunkers, including Snopes, soon pointed out that The Paris Review for Young Readers had originated in 2015 as an April Fools’ Day joke. There had been only a single issue of the “magazine,” which included a rewrite of American Psycho focused on haute couture lunchboxes, a word hunt that featured terms like chiaroscuro and post hoc ergo propter hoc, and a photo of the editor reading to an avid crowd of children, a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. Though few had fallen for the Carle interview at first sight, the passage about the stomachache dispute had been republished in a 2019 book, Fierce Bad Rabbits, and its appearance in print, out of context, gave it a legitimacy that was hard to shake. Clare Pollard, the book’s author, had cleared the citation with the Review and a prominent literary agency. But institutional memory lapses quickly, and neither party knew to inform her that it was a hoax.

The Review issued an apology and attached a disclaimer to the article. Meanwhile, reactions to the ruse were divided. Some, wedded to the story’s message, would only reluctantly concede that it was fabricated. “It clearly resonated with many for a reason, though we do regret the error,” Motherly wrote in a retraction. Others were so delighted by the quotation that they chose to go on believing it anyway: “This is the reality I will be moving forward with, thanks!” But still more felt sorely deceived. The Very Hungry Caterpillar was wrapped up in intimate memories of reading to their children, or being read to, and those memories had been disturbed. Because, after Carle’s death, this fiction was crowding out the facts of his remarkable life, it risked tainting his legacy and should be expunged. An indignant reader felt that “whenever misinformation like this goes viral”—a phrase that may call for retirement, after a global pandemic—“the people who are MOST key to spreading it … are often so extremely reluctant to admit and correct it!” With these criticisms came others: the interview was too believable to pass as parody; it was fatphobic, and churlish in its implication that children’s literature is unworthy of deep discussion. “Satire needs a clear target and clarity of purpose,” Literary Hub warned. “If the point is unclear, your joke might be misconstrued as reality.”

I followed the story with great interest, because I’m the author of The Paris Review for Young Readers, including the notorious Carle interview. I was surprised to learn that a paragraph I wrote six years ago has, in all likelihood, found more readers than anything I’ve published under my own name. As the chaos unfolded, I experienced a combination of pride and dread—what I imagine it’s like to spend a counterfeit bill so old that you’ve forgotten it’s fake. Six years is not such a long time, but the world that bought into my Carle interview is in some ways unrecognizable from the one in which I wrote it: before alternative facts, before widespread concerns about information literacy, before 15 percent of Americans believed in adrenochrome-guzzling satanist pedophiles. A hoax is designed to be misconstrued as reality—a fact that seems to have eluded some people—and though mine has succeeded beyond my wildest Obama-era fantasies, it stirred up fragments of the past, broken links, and undigested, polarizing half-truths. It has, in short, given me a stomachache.

. . . .

In 2015, I resolved to do better. Children are precious; they were an obvious target. Children’s literature, at its worst, bottles and ferments that preciousness with adult insecurity, which is exactly what I hoped to do. The magazine had recently published an interview with the psychotherapist and essayist Adam Phillips, parts of which I’d committed to memory, I liked them so much. “One of the things that is interesting about children is how much appetite they have,” Phillips said. “How much appetite they have—but also how conflicted they can be about their appetites”:

Children are incredibly picky about their food. They can go through periods where they will only have an orange peeled in a certain way. Or milk in a certain cup … There’s something very frightening about one’s appetite. So that one is trying to contain a voraciousness in a very specific, limiting, narrowed way. It’s as though, were the child not to have the milk in that cup, it would be a catastrophe. And the child is right. It would be a catastrophe, because that specific way, that habit, contains what is felt to be a very fearful appetite. An appetite is fearful because it connects you with the world in very unpredictable ways.

These insights came back to me whenever I had a bowl of cereal—so, multiple times a day. As a preschooler, in the back of the family Honda, I’d once fallen into a tantrum and demanded a box of Lucky Charms. I was so relentless that my parents, usually strict, had given in, stopping at a supermarket to produce that manna, frosted toasted oats with marshmallows. And then I had eaten hardly any. This became an embarrassing chapter in the family lore. I’d attributed my breakdown, apart from my being a little shit, to the power of advertising: Lucky Charms were “magically delicious,” a slogan that generated a want that I confused for a need. Here was an alternate theory, an apoplexy of containment; all food was magic, all hunger dangerous.

I thought I could bring some of this into a spoof of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, another story of unbridled appetite. This is the gist of the book: the caterpillar eats. In the end he turns into a butterfly, which is nice, but the main attraction is his boundless craving. “But he was still hungry”: a refrain familiar to all who’ve lingered in the light of the refrigerator. Whatever Eric Carle’s feelings about psychoanalysis, the man was a student of appetites. Feeling clever, I dressed him up in the language of that student—ludicjouissance, and other favorites of the ivory tower—and had him argue vociferously for the merits of overeating. I thought this was a hilarious stance for a writer who’d risen to success on a wave of salami and cherry pie, and it got at something unique about Caterpillar, which flirts with the insatiable in a curious way. My imaginary Carle venerated children past the point of reason. He favored the abolition of adulthood. He mainlined Christmas music and spouted off like a drunken Lacanian. Yes, I thought, this is my masterpiece, so plausibly implausible. I cracked myself up imagining a magazine like Highlights for Children shot through with the pretensions of The Paris Review, collecting dust in some pediatrician’s waiting room until it caught the eye of a status-conscious parent. “Look, honey, Timmy can read the pull-out section on the objective correlative”—that sort of thing. When we launched the “magazine” on April 1, some were amused, but few were fooled. Their loss, I thought. Pearls before swine. As Phillips had said, “We are children for a very long time.”

It takes a certain blundering confidence to perpetrate a hoax. 

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Are Royalties Fair? A Publisher Weighs In

From Mark Gottlieb Talks Books:

The Authors Guild released a chilling report on January 5th showing a drastic decline in author earnings over the last decade. The New York Times article on the report largely blames this decline on Amazon’s dominance of the book marketplace. There’s no getting around the reality of this. Amazon’s share of the market grows each year, and their ability to insist on better terms and increased coop and other fees increases proportionally. Publishers are getting squeezed, and are, in turn, lowering the advances they pay for all but superstar projects.

At the same time that authors’ incomes have been dropping, the number of books being published, through publishers and self-published, has grown dramatically. Self-published books alone grew more than 28% in 2017, to over one million books published. With consolidation of the marketplace, lower advances, and an increasing number of books published, it’s no wonder authors are getting squeezed.

While it’s natural for authors and agents to prefer higher royalties, there seems to be a general recognition by most industry players that this isn’t the source of the problem. Even in the Authors Guild’s analysis, the focus isn’t on publishers paying more, except in the areas of eBooks and deeply discounted book sales.

“…is the current system of advances and royalties equally fair to all authors?”

The standard royalty rates in the publishing industry have evolved throughout history, the result of an ongoing push and pull between powerful literary agencies and publishers. I doubt there’s any objective way of establishing whether these rates are “fair,” and, if they aren’t, what “fair” royalties would be. In this blog post I want to look at a more nuanced question: is the current system of advances and royalties equally fair to all authors?

. . . .

Advances range broadly, from a few thousand dollars (or less) to millions, but royalties, at least among the top houses, are basically the same. Authors are paid, for hardcovers, 10% of the cover price on the first 5,000 copies sold, 12.5% on the next 5,000, and 15% thereafter. For paperbacks authors receive 7.5% of the cover price (occasionally with an escalator) and for eBooks 25% of the publisher’s net receipts. Many independent publishers pay lower royalties than these, but rarely do they pay higher. Competition between publishers takes the form of advance competition, with royalties generally being very similar, especially at the big houses.

“…it’s a can of worms that publishers don’t want to open up.”

Why don’t publishers compete on royalty rates? I suspect because it’s a can of worms that publishers don’t want to open up. It would make every deal very complicated, as there would be multiple rates to be negotiated. It’s a lot easier to just have a standard royalty rate and compete on advances (not to mention easier on the accounting department).

Also, it’s my understanding that often, the most powerful authors and agents have negotiated “most favored nation” clauses into their contracts, meaning that if that publishing house offers a higher royalty rate to a new author, they have to match that rate on these older contracts, which no one wants to do. Obviously, contracts and terms are confidential, so I’m sure there are deals out there that don’t follow this practice, but I ran this by a few agents who do very large deals and they confirmed that competition is generally on advances, not royalties.

. . . .

The Unfairness of the Current System

Fairness is subjective, of course, but it’s clear that some authors do a lot better in this system than others. I don’t mean that some authors sell more books than others; there’s nothing unfair about an author that sells more books making more money as a result. I mean that some authors get to keep a much bigger part of the value they generate than others.

Perhaps the easiest way to look at this is to consider the percentage of the publisher’s revenue that is paid to the author. Under standard royalties, an author gets roughly 20 to 30% of the publisher’s revenue for a hardcover, 15% for a trade paperback, and 25% for an eBook. So, very roughly, every hardcover release that earns out brings the author something like 25% of all revenue earned by the publisher. This percentage would drop once the paperback comes out, if it sells in significant numbers.

Obviously, an author that doesn’t earn out keeps a larger percentage of the total revenues than one who does. If an author gets a $100,000 advance, and has total net books sales of $100,000, the author keeps 100% of all revenue (in this scenario the publisher, of course, takes a bath).

“…the authors that earn out and sell very well fund the books that don’t earn out…”

Consider this from the publisher’s perspective: A book that earns out (assuming the advance was not trivial) is nicely profitable. A book that continues to sell well after earning out is incredibly profitable. In these scenarios, the publisher is keeping (something like) 75% of a book’s revenue. Of course, the publisher has to pay for printing and other expenses out of that 75%, but this still leaves room for significant profit. This profit goes to supporting the overhead of the publishing house and to funding another major cost—unearned advances. In other words, at any given publisher, the authors that earn out and sell very well fund the books that don’t earn out—the big celebrity memoir that disappoints, the amazing debut novel that falls flat, etc.

If a publisher didn’t have to pay advances, royalties could be significantly higher. How much higher would vary by publisher, but I do recall that at a publishing conference I attended a few years ago, one CEO of a major publishing house stated that their total payments to authors (advances and royalties) were between 40 and 45% of revenues. So if an author that earns out keeps 25% of revenues, royalties could be roughly 70% higher in a world without advances. This number is a rough swag, but considering that the majority of books don’t earn out, and the huge advances that are often paid in high-profile auctions for books that don’t work out, it’s likely in the right ballpark.

“The publishing business is notoriously unpredictable…”

So, the authors that earn out subsidize the authors that don’t, but this isn’t necessarily unfair. The publishing business is notoriously unpredictable (the first printing of the first Harry Potter book was around 1,000 copies). One can think of advances as being like fire insurance: If your home doesn’t burn down, you are subsidizing the person whose house goes up in flames. Yet it’s innately fair because no one knows whose house will wind up needing the coverage.

But this analogy only goes so far in describing the situation of authors. There is a subset of authors that have a reasonably good idea of how many copies they are likely to sell, at least relative to most authors. I’m going to focus on non-fiction here, because that’s the world I understand.

. . . .

“…while self-publishing is a great option for many authors, there are inherent limitations.”

Increasingly, they are turning to self-publishing as a more viable option. Rather than agree to a deal where the bulk of the profits will likely accrue to the publisher, some authors, particularly large-platform authors, are experimenting with this. But while self-publishing is a great option for many authors, there are inherent limitations. It is very hard to replicate the capabilities of a strong, experienced publisher, in everything from editorial attention and cover design to marketing and distribution. At BenBella, we’ve taken on a handful of already successful self-published books, and have frequently managed to sell five to tentimes as many books in our edition.

Link to the rest at Mark Gottlieb Talks Books and thanks to S. and others for the tip.

PG didn’t see a date on the OP, but thinks it may be a couple of years old.

The author of the OP is the Publisher at Benbella Books. Per the company’s website:

BenBella Books is a publishing boutique that aims to be the publisher of choice for a select group of authors who value personal attention, a partnership philosophy, flexibility and a creative approach to marketing.

Benbella lists two imprints, SmartPop Books, “Proudly geeking out about pop culture since 2003”, and Benbella Vegan, “Whether you’re a veteran vegan or simply experimenting with more veg in your diet . . . .”

Benbella’s website featured Broke in America: Seeing, Understanding, and Ending US Poverty and The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide along with several other titles.

PG checked out each of these two titles on Amazon:

Broke in America: Seeing, Understanding, and Ending US Poverty, released in February, 2021, was ranked #200,724 in Kindle Store, #206,093 in Books and 48,984 in Audible Books & Originals.

The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide, released in 2017, was ranked #87,034 in Kindle Store, #19,916 in Books and #8,166 in Audible Books & Originals.

PG picked the two Benbella books because they were the first two that showed up on the publisher’s Featured Titles listing. Other books from this publisher may be selling better right now.

PG suspects a lot of indie authors can point to books that are selling better on the Zon than the two PG checked out even with self-publishing’s “inherent limitations” whatever that means.

When you find a writer who really is saying something to you

When you find a writer who really is saying something to you, read everything that writer has written and you will get more education and depth of understanding out of that than reading a scrap here and a scrap there and elsewhere. Then go to people who influenced that writer, or those who were related to him, and your world builds together in an organic way that is really marvelous.

Joseph Campbell

Thanks to R for the tip.

3 Beautifully Descriptive Novel Passages

From Pat Verducci:

I wanted to share with you three short novel passages that are observant and beautifully descriptive.

From Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

“Snow blew down the Royal Gorge in a horizontal blur. With Ollie’s sleeping head in her lap and a down comforter around them both, she tried now and then to get a look at that celebrated scenic wonder, but the gorge was only snow-streaked rock indistinguishable from any other rock, all its height and grandeur and pictorial organization obliterated in the storm. The dark, foaming, ice-shored river was so unlike the infant Arkansas that she used to ford on her horse that she didn’t believe in it. The circles that she blew and rubbed on the window healed over in secret ferns of frost.”

Can’t you just see the “snow streaked rock,” the “dark, foaming ice-shored river,” the “secret ferns of frost?”

From The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

Notice how she takes this simple object, a fig tree with all its fruit, and uses it to reveal her character’s aching, overwhelming, and despairing quest for identity?

From Room, by Emma Donoghue

“I don’t tell Ma about Spider. She brushes webs away, she says they’re dirty but they look like extra-thin silver to me. Ma likes the animals that run around eating each other on the wildlife planet, but not real ones. When I was four I was watching ants walking up Stove and she ran and splatted them all so they wouldn’t eat our food. One minute they were alive and the next minute they were dirt. I cried so my eyes nearly melted off. Also another time there was a thing in the night nnnnng nnnnng nnnnng biting me and Ma banged him against Door Wall below Shelf, he was a mosquito. The mark is still there on the cork even though she scrubbed, it was my blood the mosquito was stealing, like a teeny vampire. That’s the only time my blood ever came out of me.”

Donoghue, through the eyes of a little boy, finds extra thin silver spiderwebs a thing of beauty, and imagines tiny mosquitoes, like vampires, stealing blood and leaving permanent smears on cork. One minute the ants are alive, “the next minute they were dirt.”

Each of these three passages is keenly observed. In order to write like this, you have to be in the habit of really LOOKING and seeing things. And in translating these descriptions to the page, making them specific and visible and magical somehow, revealing the deepest parts of your character.

Link to the rest at Pat Verducci

6 Key Strategies for Emotionally Affecting Fiction

From Jane Friedman:

People sometimes talk about emotion in fiction like it’s some discrete quantity you can just dial up in your prose—like perhaps if your novel is too plot-heavy, or too cerebral, you can just turn a few knobs here and there and wind up with an emotionally affecting story.

The most obvious indicators of emotion are found in scene, so this is where newer writers tend to focus in their quest, interlarding their scenes with the body language associated with emotion—the pounding hearts, the sweaty hands, the chills up the spine—along with overt statements of emotion (“walking into the meeting, he felt nervous”) and a preponderance of adverbs (“she snarled angrily”).

The body language of emotion is important—and certainly, there are times when overt statements of emotion are called for. And personally speaking, I’m not in the “no adverbs” camp (though I do think they tend to backfire in the hands of less experienced writers). But these are just the most obvious techniques for generating emotion in fiction, and relying too heavily on them tends to have the opposite of the intended effect, coming across as cartoonish, exaggerated, forced.

There are techniques that are subtler, less obvious, and they work best in tandem with one another. Because the truth is, emotion is an emergent property of fiction, a sort of alchemical magic generated by the synergy between multiple elements of the story; to create it in your fiction, you need to approach the challenge from more than one angle.

1. What’s at stake?

When we talk about what’s at stake in a story, we’re talking about what the protagonist stands to gain or lose, and in stories with strong emotions, both of these possibilities hold a real emotional charge for that character.

What does your protagonist stand to gain if they achieve their goal? If it’s a large sum of money, for example, that goal will have more emotional stakes if the protagonist is on the verge of dropping out of college because she can barely afford her tuition.

And if failing to achieve that goal means not only losing that large sum of money, it means losing her scholarship to her dream college, the one her folks were so proud she got into? So much the better.

When you up the stakes in your story, you dial up the emotions involved.

2. How close is the relationship?

Interpersonal conflicts are one of the hallmarks of effective fiction. But conflicts with friends matter more than conflicts with strangers; conflicts with close friends matter more than conflicts with acquaintances; and conflicts with family members tend to matter most of all.

If you find yourself struggling with how to strengthen the emotional quotient of your story, take a look at the primary relationships in it. Is there a way you can make one or more of those relationships closer?

Sometimes it’s just a matter of making a friend an old friend—one who was there for the protagonist at one of the toughest moments of her life. Maybe the neighbor lady, the one who’s dying of cancer, is actually the nanny who helped to raise the protagonist. And maybe that conversation with the old man in the park should actually be a conversation with the protagonist’s dad.

When the relationships are closer, the emotions involved tend to be stronger.

3. What’s the backstory?

Backstory is a big part of the emotional power conflicts hold in a story, because it’s a big part of what those conflicts mean for the characters going through them. Backstory also helps the reader put herself in the character’s place, giving her the background info necessary to understand and sympathize with those strong emotions.

For instance: A conflict between a mother and her teen daughter will be more powerful if the mother had strong conflicts with her own mother as a girl. A conflict between two brothers will be more powerful if one of them has always dominated the other. And a conflict between two friends over a new love interest will hold a lot more charge if the one who’s fallen in love has a history of falling for abusive men.

For any given scenario, emotionally charged backstory will increase the emotional quotient—so a key strategy for generating the sort of emotion you’re looking for in any given scene or conflict is to first set up the backstory to support it.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Stop Being So Hard on Yourself

From The Harvard Business Review:

One of my clients, Ben, a research and development director at a pharmaceutical company, arrived at our coaching session feeling distraught. “A situation happened at work today that I can’t get out of my head,” he said. It turned out that Ben had spent hours preparing for an all-hands meeting with colleagues across the globe. He reviewed the agenda, drafted his talking points, and logged on to the conference software ready to contribute.

Then, things went askew. Ben struggled to be heard above more dominant colleagues, and when he did get an opportunity to speak, he felt flustered and flubbed his words. Afterwards, Ben was preoccupied by the incident. He couldn’t quit beating himself up. Why hadn’t he spoken up earlier or been more assertive? Why did he over explain and blabber on instead of sticking to his talking points?

Ben is what I call a sensitive striver — a high-achiever who is also highly sensitive. He is driven and demands excellence from himself at all times. But when he falls short of those impossibly high expectations, his innate sensitivity and thoughtfulness cause him to spiral into self-recrimination. If you can relate to Ben’s reaction, then you also may be too hard on yourself. This can take the form of harsh, punitive judgements, overanalyzing your shortcomings, rumination over minor missteps, worry, and assuming fault.

Perhaps you have thought that self-criticism is what keeps you sharp. Sensitive strivers like Ben often use it as a form of motivation, hoping that if they’re tough enough on themselves, they’ll be compelled to perform. But research shows that self-criticism is a poor strategy. When used excessively, it is consistently associated with less motivation, worse self-control, and greater procrastination. In fact, self-criticism shifts the brain into a state of inhibition, which prevents you from taking action to reach your goals.

Being hard on yourself may be ineffective, but it is also a hard pattern to break. It requires consistent attention and practice. Here are a few strategies I shared with Ben that can set you on the path to taking a more balanced, emotionally equanimous approach to your performance.

Name your inner critic.

Create psychological distance from self-criticism by personifying it. For example, choose a silly name or a character from a movie or a book. Mine is called Bozo, but you might name yours “the little monster” or “gremlin.” I once had a client who called his Darth Vader (of Star Wars fame). He purchased a small Darth Vader action figure for his desk, which reminded him to keep the critical voice in check.

Naming your inner critic leverages cognitive defusion — a process by which you separate yourself from your thoughts. Defusion is shown to reduce discomfort, believability, and the stress of negative thoughts. It also promotes psychological flexibility, or the capacity to steady your mind, manage your emotions, and be aware, open, and adaptive to changing demands.

Avoid generalization.

When I pressed Ben for details about the all-hands meeting, it became clear that no one noticed he was flustered. In fact, the COO later told Ben she thought his comments were the only moment of clarity in the conversation. This shocked Ben since it did not match his impression. It was a clear example of the spotlight effect — a tendency in which you misjudge and overestimate how much attention others pay to your behavior.

To combat the spotlight effect, consider your performance on aggregate versus zeroing in on a singular negative event. Think of a bell curve: you’ll likely perform average or higher than average most days. Some days will be below average, and that’s normal. Keep an eye on the bigger picture. Ben realized that while the all-hands wasn’t his best showing, he was only paralyzing himself further by taking this one unfavorable meeting and generalizing it to an ongoing pattern. Specifically, I coached him to avoid using extreme statements like “I always mess up,” “I’ll never get my voice heard,” and “This happens every time.”

Link to the rest at The Harvard Business Review

Can Writers Still Be Readers?

From Writer Unboxed:

All writers begin as readers, right? We fell in love with other people’s stories—where they could take us, what they could do—and then, one day, decided to make a story ourselves. The love of words begins young in some of us, takes longer for others, but has stayed lifelong for nearly every writer I know.

Yet becoming a writer changes our relationship with reading. In my case, since I’m a novelist, it has changed my relationship with novels. I read as much as I ever did, plus some more—reading upcoming novels for potential blurbs, reading other work in my genre, reading my friends’ books, reading for research, reading books to review, and of course, when there’s time, reading for pure pleasure.

But unfortunately, as its position at the end of that list shows, reading for pleasure sometimes has to wait until the other reading is done. The thing we do just for fun becomes something else entirely. That’s one reason I asked the question in the headline—can writers still be readers? Can we still fling ourselves into books, get swept away by them? Can we still disappear entirely into a story someone else has created?

In my case, I find it a challenge. Especially if a book is very successful, I keep slipping out of the story to analyze it from the outside. For example, I read Gone Girl about a year after it came out, and I couldn’t experience the characters as people at all. I wasn’t thinking about why Amy did or said something, but why Gillian Flynn chose to have Amy do or say that thing, which is a very different angle and therefore a very different reading experience. My writer brain was there the entire time, like a lens imposed between me and the writing that I couldn’t set aside.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Boxing’s Moral Quandary

From The Wall Street Journal:

To use all the old metaphors, Tris Dixon’s “Damage: The Untold Story of Brain Trauma in Boxing” is a slap in the face, a punch in the gut, a kick in the groin. Given that this remarkable, long-overdue treatise on the mental and physical ravages of boxing doesn’t hold anything back, it’s fitting that Mr. Dixon’s book lands with power and precision. For boxing fans, it’s a wake-up call. To remain a fan of the sport—to cheer on the punishment that takes place in the ring, then choose to ignore its consequences—constitutes a cruel form of enabling.

Even for readers who are not aficionados of the sweet science, “Damage” hits hard. At its core is the public adoration of athletes as modern-day gladiators—or, at least, icons of physical prowess—and what we demand of them: the courage and sacrifice that we celebrate from the peanut gallery. “This is a sport in which bravery can be measured by the amount of punishment one can withstand,” Mr. Dixon tells us. Meanwhile, in the ring, “bravery” is a surefire prescription for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a deterioration of the brain caused by repeated head trauma.

A veteran boxing journalist in the U.S. and England, Mr. Dixon tackles his subject with great compassion. He interviews neurologists, psychologists and overseers of the sport—managers, trainers and commissioners—but mostly he spends time with the fighters. Some are remarkably sanguine about the physical and mental toll they can see coming. “I’m on the back end, I know what it’s like,” says former World Boxing Organization heavyweight champion Shannon Briggs, who is still fighting as he nears his 50thbirthday. “I know I’ve got something wrong with me, I know all these punches are going to eventually catch upto me, so I’m reading about CTE and I started taking CBD,” Mr. Briggs tells the author, referring to cannabidiol, the cannabis-derived compound. “I poured the [antidepressant] pills down the toilet the day I tried cannabis.”

Like lambs to the slaughter, boxers trudge on, only to wind up on “queer street.” The most notable example is Muhammad Ali. In his prime, Ali was known for his ability to slip punches and avoid punishment, but his career was long and brutal. He fought the best and toughest fighters. And, like nearly all boxers, he stayed in the ring too long. “Age thirty is the cusp,” Ferdie Pacheco, Ali’s onetime fight doctor, is quoted saying. “Thirty-five is over the line. I don’t care how good you are, after age thirty-five you’re getting brain damage.” Ali had six fights after the age of 35; he lost three of them. The result may well have been Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s and other maladies—dementia; memory loss; the rapid deterioration of verbal skills and motor functions such as bowel control, breathing and walking—are all common results of CTE.

In the past, the image of the punch-drunk fighter was a source of humor and playful ridicule, on stage and on screen. Mr. Dixon cites the example of “Slapsie” Maxie Rosenbloom, a light-heavyweight from the 1930s who had 298 professional fights. Following his boxing career, he became a comic actor in movies and on television, where he lampooned the tortured speech patterns and lumbering mannerisms of a late-career palooka. But after generations of concussions, cerebral hemorrhaging and deaths in the ring, by the early 21st century the image of a brain-damaged boxer was no longer funny. Unlike Rosenbloom, most wound up in asylums, hospitals and sanitariums.

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

‘Who are we performing for?’: Will McPhail on the strange art of small talk

From The Guardian:

One morning this week, Will McPhail went out to buy a coffee. While fishing for his keys, he rested the takeaway cup on the roof of his car. A passerby spotted him.

“Oof,” the man said, with a convivial, wotcha-cobber gesture at the coffee. “Don’t drive off!”

“Nearly lost it there!” replied McPhail cheerily.

He hadn’t. “I knew exactly where it was, the whole time,” says McPhail now, from his Edinburgh flat. “I just wanted to join in. And then I said,” he winces: “‘That’d be 10 quid these days!’ These days! Like I know anything about coffee prices through the ages!”

McPhail has built a whole career on examining the minutiae of human interactions with fond exasperation and impish humour, the kinds of autopilot-patter we all deploy to smooth our passage through life. As a regular cartoonist for the New Yorker, McPhail pokes gentle fun at social conventions and the ludicrousness of following them when, in the end, we’re all going to die anyway. In one, Death himself stands on a doorstep, craning down to speak into an intercom: “It ruins the effect if I say who it is. Can you just come down?” A man dismisses a stork bringing a bundle of joy: “No, I ordered the lifetime of doing whatever I want.” A man and a woman on a date laugh, at ease and engaged – while, underneath the table, their duck legs are paddling furiously. Lady No-Kids is a fan favourite.

. . . .

“All the time, I find myself in conversations where I am saying things that I don’t care about, or even mean, just to join in the performance,” says McPhail. “It’s when I can tell that the other person is doing it too, that makes you think: what are we doing? Who are we performing for?”

His debut graphic novel In explores what might happen if we were to stop. Nick is an aimless and unfulfilled young artist, fumbling for meaningful connections in the most superficial ways. He cherishes small talk with bartenders, recommends craft beers he doesn’t like and tries to engineer a “usual” at the pretentious cafes where he works so as to be seen working. (“A lot of dudes who look like you come through here, man,” shrugs the barista.)

But midway through a banal exchange with a plumber fixing his leaky toilet, “just making the noises that will navigate us both out of the conversation unscathed”, Nick stumbles upon a superpower: saying what he really feels.

. . . .

“I’ve always been fascinated by how combinations of letters and words can change the mechanics of a conversation, and turn it from one completely different thing into another. When that’s happened to me, on the rare occasions, and I’ve been transported into this other person’s world … the book was an attempt to describe that feeling.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Urban Publishing Myths: Bookstore closures hurt frontlist sales

From The New Publishing Standard:

Seriously? It’s taken a pandemic to make publishers realise that marketing can be done online? No wonder indie authors have been raking in a billion bucks in royalties from KU while mainstream publishers have been looking the other way.


Mixed headlines this past week as Publishers Weekly acknowledged backlist sales could be sustained even after high street bookstores re-opened, while The Bookseller focused on how lockdown supposedly hurt frontlist sales due to less discoverability of debut authors.

Of course there are elements of truth on both sides, but the key point that publishers chose to offer fewer new titles during the pandemic and therefore fewer books were available to be sold is barely acknowledged.

It’s the same kind of self-defeating argument we see about ebook and audiobook subscription, where frontlist titles and big name authors are kept off these sites and publishers then point to low engagement as a self-fulfilling prophecy that subscription cannot deliver.

But let’s stick with the issue of backlist, by which we mean books first published at least a year previously. Books that therefore no longer receive any publisher love and promo-cash and are left to wither on the vine.

At PW’s US Book Show in May representatives from four major houses discussed,

strategies on how to continue to build a publisher’s backlist revenue.

PW explained:

Panelists agreed that the pandemic was the major reason backlist sales have soared as more buying shifted online, an environment that tends to favor backlist titles over new releases.

Well, yes and no.

Here’s the problem with this argument. Bookstores are great for discovery, no question. I can (if I were in a country that had such an option) walk into a well-stocked bookstore and with a sweeping glance see literally thousands upon thousands of books, and I can move down an aisle and have books to the right of me, books to the left of me, all full size, tangible and within a hand’s reach.

Online I’m faced with at best a page of thumbnail images. I go to another page and the previous page is out of sight. I narrow down to a particular book and I have to search again to find my next promising title.

Recommendations will be flung at me that are either paid ads or algorithm driven.

But what does a bookstore offer in terms of discovering a new debut author, which seems to be the concern of The Bookseller?

The reality is, very little, unless the publisher is paying the bookstore to showcase the title. And if that’s the case, what exactly is stopping the publisher putting the same energy and money into showcasing the title online?

The answer is that the publisher generally is print focused and will not give equal promotional efforts to the bookstore and to the online retailer, perpetuating the myth that frontlist titles perform better in high street stores than online.

Publishers might, then, want to ask themselves how so many indie authors manage to sell books when they are almost totally digitally-focussed.

Per past TNPS posts, the volume of ebooks being sold that are not tracked by Nielsen or the AAP runs to tens of millions of dollars worth each month. Said books being by digital-first/POD online publisher and seller APub, and by digital-first indie authors.

Since Jan 2018 the Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription service has paid out over $1 billion in royalties to indie authors

Somehow said indie authors managed to bring in over one billion dollars in royalties over the past three years – just from Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription service, where absolutely no bricks and mortar stores are involved.

. . . .

The Bookseller, meanwhile offered some revealing statistics. For example, that,

As a proportion of the (UK) market as a whole, backlist accounted for 57% in volume (in spring 2020), compared to spring 2019’s 50%.

The Bookseller goes on to say, using Enders Analysis data, that sales initially crashed as lockdown first arrived,

With publication dates moving and events cancelled, before they more than recovered, with annual growth rates “much higher than would be expected in a good but ‘normal year’”.

One more unhelpful admission that bricks and mortar bookstores are not as indispensable as previously believed, and that in fact book sales rose, as more booklovers went online, which almost begs the heretical question, might bricks and mortar stores actually stifle sales to some extent?

The reality is both bricks and mortar and online sales are invaluable sales channels for publishers, but of course online tends to mean Amazon, and that presents a whole range of issues for publishers who have traditionally demonised the Everything Store while simultaneously milking it for all it’s worth to sell ebooks, audiobooks and of course print.

. . . .

Jeremy Trevathan at Pan Macmillan, talking about rising backlist sales, said:

It was more of a blip than a massive change in what we do. It did focus our minds on the increased possibility of backlist sales. There’s no diminution in the appetite of launching new authors or doing new things. What has changed is the possibility of online marketing and things like events, which I suspect will go hybrid as much as hybrid working [will].

Seriously? It’s taken a pandemic to make publishers realise that marketing can be done online? No wonder indie authors have been raking in a billion bucks in royalties from KU while mainstream publishers have been looking the other way.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

How Tove Jansson’s love of nature shaped the world of the Moomins

From The Guardian:

In 1964, when she was in her 50s, the Moomin creator Tove Jansson settled on her dream island. Klovharun in the Finnish archipelago is tiny – some 6,000 sq metres – and isolated, “a rock in the middle of nowhere”, according to Jansson’s niece, Sophia. It has scarcely any foliage, no running water and no electricity. Yet for Jansson, it was an oasis. For 18 years she and her partner Tuulikki Pietilä spent long summers there, heading out from Helsinki as soon as the ice broke in April, leaving only in early October. The island meant “privacy, remoteness, intimacy, a rounded whole without bridges or fences”.

Klovharun encapsulates something of Jansson’s originality as an artist and writer – and her human presence. Her illustrated Moomin books, which began to be published just after the second world war, brought her phenomenal acclaim and devotion. The tales of amiable troll creatures have been taken to generations of hippy hearts; their pear-shaped faces have adorned a million ties. Their marketing triumph – in which Jansson enthusiastically participated – has overshadowed her other achievements as a painter, novelist, short-story writer, anti-Nazi cartoonist, and designer of magazine covers

. . . .

In the last decade nature writing has surged in Britain, and proved extraordinarily varied. Robert Macfarlane has caused us to look at paths as revealing “the habits of a landscape”. Tim Dee has reminded us to look up at the sky and listen to the birds; Merlin Sheldrake’s studies of fungi are making us consider what fusions are going on under our feet; Alice Oswald’s poetry can make you hear water moving as if it were the blood in your veins. These investigations have reverberated strongly in cities over the last year, with lockdowners thrilling to the idea of unreachable wide open space and to the miniature excitements of their own neighbourhoods, the individual blooms they can entice into their flats.

. . . .

Tove Jansson’s writing is different. She has wonderful passages in which entire landscapes are made by peering at blades of grass and scraps of bark. Yet her main Moomin adventures are startlingly catastrophic. For all the light clarity of the prose – which is comic, benign and quizzical – these books show places gripped by ferocious forces, laid waste by storms and floods and snows. They speak (but never obviously) of characters resonating to the winds and seas around them. They include visions that now read like warnings of climate change: “the great gap that had been the sea in front of them, the dark red sky overhead, and behind, the forest panting in the heat”.

. . . .

There is some relish in these extremes: Jansson loved a storm and her island aesthetic is distinctive. Anti-lush, sculpted by the elements rather than softly shaped by a human hand. This is not like living in a garden. Everything is provisional, prey to winds and fogs and being swept away. It is the outdoor equivalent of chucking out your chintz. What’s more, this is writing about nature that provides not only wonder and leisure but a living. Jansson and Pietilä worked hard to support themselves on Klovharun: they chopped wood, made fires, rowed boats, gutted fish. Their attitude reminds me of James Rebanks, the inspiring Cumbrian sheep farmer, who points out that while visitors look at the fells and hills and see beauty, his fellow farmers see sustenance, income and labour.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

One of the things that touches me most

One of the things that touches me most when I play for an audience is that although we may be unable to communicate in words or have diametrically opposed views on hot-button issues, while the music sounds we can be at peace, we can be friends. The vibrations that fill an auditorium have no passports, and they unite ears when hearts may be divided.

Stephen Hough

Why We Find Certain People More Attractive Than Others, According to Science

PG would not normally post an item that indicates by its title that it relies on “Science” but will make an exception in this case.

From Medium:

If I were to ask you what you find attractive, what would you say? Would you date someone shorter/much taller than you? Do you think you could fall in love with someone who is not your type?

I decided to look for meaningful connections with people instead of falling for looks, and it’s the best decision I ever made. The first message I received from my boyfriend on the online dating app was not the best introduction of all times. However, we did have a great conversation, and I liked his profile pictures. When we first met, I felt happy instantly. We had arranged to meet at a park on a beautiful sunny Sunday. He stood there with his bicycle and grinned at me. I liked his charisma, which radiated pure optimism and joy, which blew me away. After the first awkward seconds of saying hello, we had such a ball, laughing, giggling, and talking for five hours straight. In short: We hit it off right away.

Today, I love our conversations and his opinion on the many things I write about. Truth be told, he influences much of what I write and is an avid critic of my work. Also, I think he is the most handsome guy on this planet — seriously, he is awesome in any way imaginable. Just recently, I asked him what he thought when he saw me for the first time. His answer: I think I thought you were hot and easy to talk to.

Easy communication influences attractiveness

Although we had sent each other several messages beforehand, I couldn’t tell for sure from the photos whether I found him truly attractive. How could I? I didn’t know how old or new the photos were, whether he still had his hair like that, or whether he had gained or lost weight in the meantime. And, more importantly, I wanted to get to know the person behind the profile.

A study found that after a good in-person meeting, people find their future dates more attractive. With online dating platforms such as Tinder, users try to manage the vast number of profiles by picking the seemingly most attractive people. However, rating someone’s attractiveness by judging pictures is not the best way to find a partner. We can overlook crucial aspects such as what makes for a good conversation. The qualities of a good conversational partner influence how attractive they are in our eyes.

But not only smooth communication impact the attractiveness of our date, but also whether the person radiates certain security and commitment. While dating and throughout relationships, we want to know how our partner feels about us and know their intentions. This is why uncertainty, at least to some extent, is a relationship killer.

Being uncertain about love interests is devastating

Before we met for the first time, he told me that he could definitely commit to a relationship. Therefore, we both knew what we were getting into and what our intentions were. For me, it was not like additional pressure, but a kind of security, which I liked very much. So I knew that I was going to meet someone who cared about getting to know me. That was very important to me at that moment.

It’s exactly that sense of security we need, according to several studies. Furthermore, being unsure of a potential romantic partner’s interest in you could cause you to view them as less sexually appealing. Basically, since we are afraid of disappointment, we deceive ourselves into thinking that someone is less desirable. Because we want to know how much our date likes us — if someone doesn’t let us know how they feel, we are inclined to see that person as less attractive.

But it’s not just our fear of possible rejection that influences whether or not we find someone attractive, but also how often we see a person. Or, to put it another way: Proximity plays an integral role in who we find attractive.

Link to the rest at Medium

The OP includes several links to a website called Futurity, which PG had not encountered before. Futurity appears to cite at least some of its articles to individuals who say they are related to one university or another, e.g. “Algorithm Takes the Grunt Work Out of Quilting” – “Stanford” by a person who is apparently writing a doctoral dissertation for the Computer Science Department in the vicinity of Palo Alto.

PG has enough experience in his field to judge articles written by lawyers about legal issues, but claims no expertise with respect to quilting or computer science (although he’s not diametrically opposed or non-diametrically opposed to either field of endeavor (whatever winds your clock)).

Whenever PG reads an article like the OP, he is very grateful to have been married to Mrs. PG for a long time and hopes to remain in that state for a much longer time in the future.

Man Sues After Field Drug Test Says His Daughter’s Ashes Are Meth And Ecstasy

In keeping with the Anne Frank uproar described in the post immediately below this one.

From Above the Law:

Cops like cheap field drug tests. They don’t like them because they’re accurate. They like them because they’re cheap. And since you get what you pay for, they’re way cheaper (in the long run) then sending for a drug dog.

Field drug tests are probable cause at $2 a pop. They’re even more unreliable than drug dogs when it comes to correctly identifying drugs. That’s why some prosecutors — the nominal best friends of law enforcement — are refusing to accept plea deals for drug charges stemming solely from field drug tests.

Field drug tests have said donut crumbs, cotton candy, and honey are methamphetamines. They’ve said bird poop on a car’s hood (!!) and bog standard aspirin are cocaine. Whatever a cop imagines to be drugs can usually be “confirmed” by the test kits they carry with them. Once the vial says it’s drugs, the cops are free to search, seize, and arrest.

Cops don’t need to be this wrong about drugs. But there’s no penalty for being this wrong. So, it continues. Prosecutors may have to drop a few cases when the drug lab says the supposed drugs aren’t actual drugs, but plea deals tend to go into place before labs get around to testing the evidence. And that’s if the evidence even makes its way to a lab. Cops aren’t the best at paperwork, which is convenient when it’s their word against yours. Even if a cop gets sued for turning non-contraband into contraband and drug charges, they’re usually indemnified by the city they work for or granted qualified immunity for relying on what they thought was actual science.

. . . .

Newschannel 20 and FOX Illinois obtained new body camera video of the incident sparking Dartavius Barnes to sue the City of Springfield.

In the suit, Barnes claims his vehicle was unlawfully searched on April 6, 2020 when he was pulled over near Laurel and 16th Streets in Springfield.

He says officers placed him in handcuffs while they searched his vehicle without consent, valid warrant, or probable cause.

During the search, Barnes says officers took a sealed urn of his daughter’s ashes, unsealed it, opened it without consent, and spilled out the ashes.

If you think that’s terrible, just wait for the backstory. Barnes’ daughter Ta’Naja Jones was only two when she died. And she may have been killed. The girl’s mother and her current boyfriend were both arrested on murder charges.

The ultimate insult to Ta’Naja Jones and her father happened here. Ta’Naja Jones’ final resting place wasn’t in the urn Barnes kept in his car. It was in a field drug test that officers performed because they just couldn’t bring themselves to believe it might be the last remains of a loved one.

According to law enforcement’s favorite faulty test equipment, the ashes of Ta’Naja Jones were possibly ecstasy. And that conclusion was reached after the ashes failed to test positive for cocaine.

An officer presented the officer whose body camera was rolling with a narcotics test kit.

“I checked for cocaine, but it looks like it’s probably molly,” the officer said.

“X pills,” the other added, citing the street name for ecstasy.

In the end, the cops decided the ashes were a combination of meth and ecstasy because that’s how drug users carry their drugs: all mixed together in a single container. 

. . . .

Field drug tests allow cops to work backwards from their conclusions. If it doesn’t test positive for one drug, it’s probably some other drug. And if it doesn’t test positive for anything, it might still be drugs because sometimes drugs are carried in containers.

Link to the rest at Above the Law

Readers Angered over Anne Frank Reference in New Hilderbrand Novel

From Publishers Weekly:

Author Elin Hilderbrand has come under fire for a passage in her new book that some readers on social media are calling anti-Semitic. The bestselling writer’s new book Golden Girls was published by Little, Brown on June 1. In it, character Vivian “Vivi” Howe plans to stay in the attic of her friend Savannah’s parents’ home on Nantucket.

As they debate whether or not to ask the parents for approval, Vivi makes reference to Holocaust victim Anne Frank, after which both characters laugh off the comment.

The passage reads: “’You’re suggesting I hide here all summer?” Vivi asks. “Like…like Anne Frank?

The narrator continues, “This makes them both laugh—but is it really funny, and is Vivi so far off base?”

On Instagram, readers criticized Hilderbrand and Little, Brown, calling the scene an example of “casual antisemitism” and demanding action from the publisher. “As a Jewish woman, one who lost 18 members of her family in the holocaust I’m disgusted in you as a publisher that you allowed that line to be published. It’s inexcusable,” Instagram user Cecile Leana wrote.

Hilderbrand responded to numerous complaints by telling readers she had sent them private messages, but also responded openly to at least one reader. “If you read my novel SUMMER OF ’69, you know that I absolutely REVERE the story of Anne Frank,” Hilderbrand wrote. “The line was not a throwaway quip. It was an expression of angst from someone who felt marginalized socioeconomically. But nonetheless if I offended you and/or anyone else, I owe you a huge apology.”

The author wrote that she had a sensitivity reader for the book who had not called attention to the passage. She added that she planned to ask her publisher to excise the passage from the e-book and future print editions.

After initial publication of this article, Hilderbrand posted a formal apology on Instagram. “I want to wholeheartedly apologize for this,” she wrote. “It was meant as hyperbole but was a poor choice, that was offensive and tasteless. I have asked my publisher to remove the passage from digital versions of the book immediately and from all future printings.” Hilderbrand added that she wrote the book for her children. “I want them to be proud of every word,” she wrote.

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

Sheesh!

Participants honored Britain’s long and loud tradition without a single shout

From Atlas Obscura:

“IT’S AN EXTREME SPORT,” SAYS Alistair Chisholm. “The secret is to read the weather forecast, and to wait for that moment when the wind is behind you and your lungs are filled with air, and then off you go!”

The extreme sport is competitive town crying, and Chisholm knows a thing or two about winning: A town crier for a quarter-century in Dorchester, in the southern English county of Dorset, he’s shouted his way to victory at national championships on 10 occasions. But this year, things are very different.

. . . .

“Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!” The ancient call to attention that starts every cry—derived from the Norman-French word ‘to listen’—was imported during Norman rule, beginning in the 11th century, though town crying likely has much older roots. But the competitive side of the tradition fell silent in 2020. For the first time since the Loyal Company of Town Criers began holding competitions in 1995, all contests were cancelled thanks to the pandemic. This May, the members of the group—one of the largest and most prestigious crier organizations—decided to shout the only way they could: in silence.

Putting pen to paper at the world’s first-ever silent town crier competition, Britain’s loudest citizens would be judged not on the volume and clarity of their shouted cries, but on the content of their written words. And it was anyone’s game to win.

. . . .

Town crying is obviously no longer the most efficient way for authorities to broadcast news to the masses. The historic tradition has evolved into marching at the head of parades and greeting guests at civic functions, dressed in regalia evocative of times past. But as “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!” continued to be heard in town squares across the country, criers became curiously competitive. What Chisholm calls an “extreme sport” now sees international events taking place as far afield as Belgium and Bermuda.

Carole Williams, who since 1996 has been town crier for Bishop’s Stortford, a historic market town northeast of London, says that, ordinarily, participants in the competitions are scored on “sustained volume and clarity, and diction and inflection.” Entrants write a cry on a theme that’s provided in advance, then perform it in front of a large crowd (usually made up of other competitors and bemused locals). The cries are generally limited to a count of 140 words, which must include three “Oyez!” at the beginning and “God Save the Queen!” at the end. Some competitions might award marks for accuracy—does the spoken cry match the written submission or has the crier gone freestyle?—and there’s always a prize for best-dressed town crier up for grabs.

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura

The Literature of the Con: Great Books About Grifters and Swindlers

From CrimeReads:

Con men flourish in two diametrically opposite times—when the people have nothing and are desperate for anything that will raise them out of poverty; and when there is boundless plenty for the vast majority, when countries are newly awash with easy money, and there are countless newly rich men and women who can just as easily be separated from their money as they acquired it.

My book How To Kidnap The Rich is set in India, a country which is in both of these moments at once. For hundreds of millions of its very poorest, very lowest caste people, many former agricultural workers newly urbanised, every day can be a pitfall in being separated from their hard earned pittance of a salary by the army of hustlers, petty politicians, policemen, middle-men, holy men that prey on their hopes and dreams, and their precarious existence on the edge of poverty. For the few tens of millions of the upper middle class, India is the latter, where their incomes have grown tenfold since the 90s, and they fight now for the intangibles, for status, for culture, for art and experiences, and for that most important status good of all—their children’s educations.

Con men do very well in this newly rich India, and are often men from the first India looking to strike out a path in the second in search of their own wealth and escape from the strictures of a society that enforces social status with an iron fist.

Here is a list of my favourite books about hucksters, hustlers, con men big and small, desperate for their own piece of the action. You’ll notice how many of the books are set in mid-twentieth century America, a country which was the richest place that had ever existed in the history of the world, filled with newly rich citizens ripe for exploitation, ripe for crime, ripe for the taking, as well as an underclass, outlaws of wealth, race, gender, sexuality, who were cut off from social protections, social advancement, even social existence.

Huey Long, by T. Harry Williams

One of the quintessential political biographies, dazzlingly researched and written, about a figure who’d do as well in India today as he did in the America of the 1930s. A consummate liar, an abuser of mass media politics and showmanship, a political machine embezzler who used populism to break the old interests and replace them with his own. Long would tell diametrically opposed stories of his childhood to different audiences on the same day, and walk away with their votes. A genius at vote bank politics who produced a political machine that survived his death by 50 years. Williams shows that the best grifts are always the ones blessed outwardly by legality, inwardly by emotion, so much so that many Americans revere Long as a socialist genius long after all of his various tricks have been long exposed.

. . . .

The Talented Mr Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith

The quintessential American novel. Everything that can be said about it has—gender, class, sexuality, the meeting of the worlds Old and New. I’ve always read it with a nod to modern India—how does a person break out of a rigid social, educational and class system when every exit is barred? By stealing someone else’s life, it turns out, and being handsomely rewarded all the way. Many modern millennial novels, post-crash, post-2008, post-meritocracy, post-Obama, are clearly deeply influenced by it, but lack the playful and delightful immorality of Tom Ripley, as well as Highsmith’s trademark lack of judgement.

Link to the rest at CrimeReads

Will Voice Recognition Tech Be the Target of a New Wave of Complaints?

Not really anything to do with writing and books (at least so far), but PG found this legal issue to be interesting.

From Class Actions Reporter:

How would you feel if you knew that, when you placed an order at a fast-food drive-up window, the fast-food company was recording your voice and voiceprint for future use in its artificial intelligence (AI) systems? The complaint for this class action alleges that’s what McDonald’s Corporation does when you order in some locations, and it claims the practice violates the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).

The class for this action is all individuals whose voiceprint biometric identifiers or biometric information were collected, captured, stored, or otherwise used by or on behalf of McDonald’s within Illinois, at any time within the applicable limitations period, and for whom McDonald’s does not have a written record of consent.

Biometrics are unique, personally-identifying features, like voiceprints, fingerprints, facial geometry, and iris configurations. They can be obtained by scanning, recording, or otherwise capturing records or images of these things.

Illinois passed BIPA because it recognized that biometrics are unlike other personal identifiers in that they cannot be changed. If someone steals your credit card number, you can cancel that credit card and get a new one with a different number. But if someone steals your fingerprints, you cannot get a new set of fingers with different prints. BIPA attempts to give private companies that deal with biometrics some oversight and basic regulation.

While many companies are now using biometrics for worker timekeeping purposes, that’s not the use this complaint objects to. Instead, the biometrics are collected for the use of an AI voice assistant McDonald’s is using in some of its drive-throughs.

McDonald’s is using voice recognition to allow customers to order without interaction with other human beings. The complaint alleges, “Critically, McDonald’s AI voice assistant’s voice recognition technology collect customers’ voiceprint biometrics in order to be able to correctly interpret customer orders and to identify repeat customers to provide a tailored experience.”

BIPA requires that private companies must do certain things if they wish to take an individual’s biometrics, as set forth in the complaint:

  • They must tell the subject in writing that their biometrics will be collected and stored.
  • They must tell the subject in writing “of the specific purpose and the length of time for which such biometrics are being collected, stored, and used[.]”
  • They must get a written release from the subject permitted them to collect the biometrics.
  • They must publish “a publicly available retention policy for permanently destroying biometrics when their use has been satisfied or within 3 years of the individual’s last interaction with the private entity, whichever occurs first.”

The complaint alleges, “However, McDonald’s has failed to comply with BIPA’s regulations and does not notify its customers that when they interact with McDonald’s AI voice assistant their voiceprint biometric information is used and collected, nor does McDonald’s obtain” their customers’ consent for this collection and use.

Link to the rest at Class Actions Reporter

Amazon has felt some heat about guaranteeing a right of privacy to users of Alexa voice-powered devices. It appears that the plaintiff’s tort bar in Illinois thinks McDonald’s is a nice target.

McDonald’s, which was once headquartered in the Chicago suburbs (and in DuPage County, which historically didn’t award big jury awards in suits by individuals against large companies), now has its headquarters west of the main business district in downtown Chicago (in Cook County, where juries are willing, sometimes anxious, to give large verdicts against large companies), not far from Greektown, one of the city’s many ethnic neighborhoods.

PG will have to rely on more recent residents of Chicago than he is to explain why that neighborhood is a good place for a huge company to build its headquarters. When PG last spent much time in the city, Dianna’s Grocery was the only attraction that could draw him to that general area.

AAP Vows to Protect Copyright from All Challengers

From Publishers Weekly:

(The Association of American Publishers held its annual meeting via Zoom.)

[Maria Pallante, CEO of AAP] said that the financial results of publishers, particularly for trade publishers, during the pandemic proved that readers have never lost interest in good stories, and that the importance of books to people was highlighted during the lockdown. That publishers were able to quickly meet the increased demand for books reflects the resiliency of the industry, Pallante said, and also shows that “there has never been a better or more important time to be in publishing.”

To make sure that publishing remains a good business to be in, AAP’s job, Pallante said, “is to ensure that you can compete fairly in the modern marketplace.” Regrettably, she continued, “there are actors who seek to weaken your legal protections in order to advance their business interests, whether that interest is in bloating the fair use doctrine to illogical boundaries or, more blatantly, appropriating and monetizing your works without permission.”

In Pallante’s view, the exclusive rights delineated in the Copyright Act are under assault, as is an effective enforcement framework, and she said the DMCA, which governs how infringing content on websites can be taken down, “is badly in need of updating.” She also lamented the lack of a competitive marketplace in which authors’ works can be discovered and publishers can compete “without unfair control or manipulation from dominant tech giants.”

Challenges to copyright protection are also happening at the state level, Pallante warned, where library lobbyists and “tech-funded” special interest groups are working to “divert copyright protection away from Congress to state assemblies,” an apparent reference to Maryland’s passage of a law late last week that would force publishers to make any digital content they license to consumers available as “an electronic literary product” to public libraries in the state “on reasonable terms.” The AAP opposed the law, and in her remarks, Pallante argued that these state efforts “are clearly preempted by the express language of the federal Copyright Act,” while also spinning a “false narrative.”

Pallante said libraries are an important part of the publishing ecosystem, but added that, “authors, publishers, and bookstores also have policy equities, which is why Congress enacted a singular cohesive federal copyright system that has address the ownership and sale of books since 1790.” She also hit back against what she said are lobbyists pushing states to fund open educational resources “through ugly misinformation campaigns aimed at publishers” and designed to replace publishers’ materials.

In a final point about copyright, Pallante said that the lawsuit the association filed a year ago against the Internet Archive for copying 1.3 million scans of books is still in discovery, but said the IA’s activities “are well outside the boundaries of both the law and copyright commerce, and ultimately pose an existential threat to the copyright framework on which authors and publishers rely.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Another “Kryptonite” Issue: who vs whom

From Daily Writing Tips:

For all practical purposes, the pronoun form whom is ready to go the way of ye, an old form of the pronoun you.

Ideally, speakers who do not understand that who is a subject form and whom is an object form would simply stop using whom altogether. The forms are so similar that we can get along just fine by using who for both. Millions of English speakers already do.

Speakers who have mastered the grammar concepts transitive verb and object pronoun are free to use both forms until a generation arises that knows not whom.

That time may be delayed, however, by a segment of English speakers who do not understand the object function of whom, but who have decided that whom must be a more elegant way of saying who.

The forms who and whom function like the other pronouns, such as he and himshe and her, and I and me. The first form in each pair is used as the subject of a verb. The second form is used as the object of a verb or preposition.

Admittedly, the subject/object forms of the personal pronouns are under siege from speakers who use subject forms as objects and vice versa, as in these examples from the web:

Me and my friends are in class.
This trip proved to my husband and I that we can still travel.

CORRECT: My friends and I are in class.
CORRECT: This trip proved to my husband and me that we can still travel.

Nevertheless, I/m, he/him, she/her, we/us, they/them have not yet reached the state of confusion that exists with who/whom.

Who as the subject of a verb
Who is that masked man? (Who is the subject of the verb is.)

Garett Morgan is the man who invented the yellow traffic light. (Who is the subject of invented.)

Whom as the object of a verb
The first employee they hired was Jeff Johnson, whom Knight had met at Stanford. (Whom is the object of had met.)

Whom do you prefer in this election? (Whom is the object of do prefer.)

Whom as the object of a preposition
Figure out how much you owe, to whom and on what terms, and start paying it off. (Whom is the object of the preposition to.)

The Daniels have five children, three of whom are adopted. (Whom is the object of the preposition of.)

Incorrect uses of whom (These examples are from printed sources.)

They were aware of students participating whom had not participated in the past.

. . . a detained Palestinian whom, according to police, stabbed two people in a supermarket.

Springdale police are searching for this man whom they say robbed an Arvest Bank branch Thursday.

CORRECT: They were aware of students participating who had not participated in the past. (Who is the subject of had participated.)

CORRECT: a detained Palestinian who, according to police, stabbed two people in a supermarket . . . (Who is the subject of stabbed. Beware of intervening phrases like “according to.”)

CORRECT: Springdale police are searching for this man who they say robbed an Arvest Bank branch Thursday. (Who is the subject of robbed. “They say” intervenes between the subject and verb of a relative clause.)

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

PG doesn’t think he has a problem with who and whom (although his mother did work hard with him on the proper usage), but can’t say he has a strong opinion on the question of whether whom should be sent to the language dump.

How to troll book people and other gullible romantics

From BookForum:

IN FEBRUARY OF THIS YEAR, the Twitter user @LouiseGluckPoet announced some sad news. “A great loss. Thomas Pynchon dies. He was one of my favorite authors. I have now received the news from my publisher. They want the news to remain secret for a few hours, I don’t know why. However Pynchon has left us and the mystery is useless. Bye my dearest!” The syntax was strange, and the purported impropriety even more so, but nevertheless the author’s bio was definitive: “Poet. Official account.” Her profile said she had joined in November 2020, shortly after Louise Glück had won the Nobel Prize. Perhaps as good a time as any to finally kick back and see what’s up on the World Wide Web. Besides, members of older generations are known for being a little weird online, as anyone who saw the August 2020 photo of Joyce Carol Oates’s blistered, purple foot can attest.

@LouiseGluckPoet’s tweet circulated immediately among the insular communities of people who would care about such a thing, many of whom were so eager to offer their 280-character musings on Pynchon’s top 280 characters that they didn’t seem to notice the announcement was obviously fake. Soon enough @LouiseGluckPoet was chastened by the minor calamity she had caused and followed up with, “Someone deceived me. Thomas Pynchon is alive and well. I apologize.” Many of the premature eulogizers deleted their tweets and quietly moved on. But the credulity of writers online has been measured many times before, most frequently by the Italian journalist Tommaso Debenedetti, who first came to the attention of Americans around 2010, when it became apparent that he’d fabricated interviews with luminaries—among them Philip Roth and John Grisham—in which they seem to criticize Barack Obama. (The interviews were published in Italian in conservative newspapers, so it’s conceivable that the injured parties might never have noticed.) For the past decade, he’s taken to making fake Twitter accounts, often in the names of writers and politicians as well as of entities that might have access to early information about such persons’ deaths; his projects are usually characterized by a “Welcome to my account! Twitter is good!” sort of thing followed by some big-deal breaking news, and the lies are eventually appended with an explanation I imagine spoken in a measured, slightly somber tone: “This account is hoax created by Italian journalist Tommaso Debenedetti.” (The absence of this disclaimer, both self-aggrandizing and somehow fair-minded, is the reason we don’t know whether @LouiseGluckPoet belongs to him, but it probably does.) During the pandemic, he aggravated German speakers with his announcement of the death of Hans Magnus Enzensberger, which was picked up by a Swiss newspaper that sent out a push notification to its followers.

What’s important to note about these hoaxes is that they are absolutely terrible—totally artless, not believable at all, only really a “fool me once” situation if you were born or signed up for a Twitter account yesterday. Their relative success is even more embarrassing when you consider that the targets are supposed to be readers, people who approach language actively, if not critically. We live in a world in which people are constantly lying and cheating for no reward beyond fleeting attention, and in which Louise Glück does not write in ESL. You know this, but it doesn’t seem to matter. The literary world—full of gullible romantics, blinkered narcissists, and people who understand their preferences as inseparable from their souls and therefore never to be insulted—is easy to troll.

UNLIKE INTERNET TERMS that function as metaphors for the physical realm—“link,” “post”—“trolling” defines something that had previously not really had a name but has long been a feature of culture. (“Subtweet,” which refers to the passive-aggressive disparagement of someone without using their name, might also make a useful transition to broader application, so that in two hundred years someone can look up from their phone and say, “Did you know the word ‘subtweet’ originally came from a website? Yeah, it was called ‘Twitter’ . . . ”) A troll is not quite a schemer, or a scammer, or a prankster, or a performance artist; he is a creator of chaos and dissension. If we ignore the trolls who just scream at private citizens for tenuous reasons—and we should just ignore them, because the others are actually interesting—we can say a good troll often performs a critique; his work can be a satire, or merely an “intervention.” The closest preexisting term we had might be “provocateur”—what you become when you age out of “enfant terrible”—but that doesn’t necessarily convey the mischievousness of a troll; provocation is too distant and pretentious for what the troll is after, and indeed the troll seeks to collapse distance and puncture pretentiousness in particular. You might be wondering, “Collapse distance? But trolls are ironic, and irony is distancing. . . . That’s why it’s a scourge in our culture!” This is totally wrong, but I don’t have the space to explain why.

For a troll to work, a portion of the audience must not be in on the joke; trolling is almost always a form of mockery. This can happen directly—most commonly, an anonymous person says you suck in some creative way—or indirectly, by encouraging the trolled to engage in stupid behavior. Stupid behavior may take the form of public outrage or any strong feeling, eventually followed by private embarrassment masked by sputtering justifications. (Death is serious, and shouldn’t be faked!) The cycle repeats. A troll deplores nitpickers, point-missers, hand-raisers, pearl-clutchers, hypocrites, and denialists. He’s also completely willing to engage recklessly in precisely those tactics to get across his message: people are stupid, and they deserve to be mocked. A gross generalization, possibly even despicable—but there is some truth in it. If you don’t agree, you haven’t gotten out enough, and that deserves to be mocked, too.

Link to the rest at BookForum

My mother told me once

My mother told me once that she had her talk with God whenever she started a new sweater: ‘Please don’t take me in the middle of the sweater.’ And as soon as she finished knitting a sweater, and it was blocked and put together, she already had the wool to start the next sweater so that nothing bad would happen.

Judy Blume