Listening Hard to Write Well

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

The acclaimed writer Eudora Welty once noted that “Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them.”

Wow. There’s so much for a writer to unpack in this brief but profound observation. How many times have I rushed headlong into drafting a novel without taking time to listen for the real story—the story behind the story?

Welty wrote often about characters who were not listened to, but of course, that is entirely different from listening for the emotional beats that drive a story forward; the unspoken longings that define characters in a subterranean way; and source material that may come from anywhere and everywhere.

Welty had a way of boiling down the power of listening to a primal force: “Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.”

. . . .

I think there’s a strong case to add listening to the common list of five senses—hearing, sight, smell, touch, and taste. After all, the senses are the building blocks of fiction. Even in the most far-out, world-building sci-fi novels, the writer still grounds the reader in her senses, whether it’s the cold blackness of space or the terrifying grip of alien tentacles.

As Madeleine L’Engle wrote, rather cryptically, but with a nod to the all-encompassing nature of listening well, “We are listening. To the sun. To the stars. To the wind.”

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

What Can Happen When Your Agent Decides To Become Your Publisher

From Writer Beware:

Last week, several people drew my attention to this article in the Des Moines Register. “Iowa Romance Writer Sues Over Efforts to Have Ghostwriter Take Over Series.” 

If your “conflict of interest” radar is screaming right now, it should be. 

Clark’s complaint (which you can see here) accuses Grishman et al. of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and fraudulent concealment, and alleges a variety of malfeasance, including concealing the family connection, and invoking an allegedly non-existent contract clause to justify buying out the final two books in an uncompleted series and hiring a ghostwriter to write them. Clark is seeking to terminate both her RedRock Literary and Pink Sand Press contracts, and to receive an award of “lost profits, damages, costs, and attorney’s fees based on Pink Sand’s breach”. 
As of this writing, Grishman hasn’t filed a response to the lawsuit, but he did have this to say to a local reporter:

. . . .

Apart from the books it has published for Clark, Pink Sand has virtually no track record as a publisher. A search on Amazon turns up two other authors and five other titles–but the status of those titles is unclear. They are nowhere to be seen on the Pink Sand website, they don’t appear ever to have been promoted–or even mentioned–on Pink Sand’s Facebook page, and four of them–by Jeanne De Vita, writing both as herself and under the pen name Callie Chase– have either been taken out of print or are listed as out of stock or unavailable everywhere but on Amazon.

. . . .

Both of the contracts Clark signed–the RedRock agency contract and the Pink Sand publishing contract –are attached to her original complaint. 

The agency contract looks reasonably standard to me, though it imposes a three-year term that the author can terminate only in the event of breach by the agent–not ideal. It also has an arbitration clause, which could complicate things for Clark’s legal effort to be released.

The publishing contract, which covers a whopping 28 titles, is another story. It includes some really terrible clauses, particularly in regard to payment. 

For instance, here are the royalty rates for hardcover publication:

This is seriously nonstandard. Mass market paperback royalties are also substandard, at 5% of wholesale. 
Of course, both of these provisions are moot, since Clause 4(a) of the contract stipulates publication only of “an e-book and trade paperback edition”–but there are big problems with royalties for those formats as well. Ebooks are paid at just 15% of net (even the big publishers typically pay 25% of net, and most small presses pay considerably more). As for trade paper royalties, there is no mention of them in the contract. At all. (!!!)

Subsidiary rights payments too are hugely, one might almost say rapaciously, substandard, with the publisher keeping 85% and the author getting just 15%. These include foreign language, book club, and numerous other rights that are typically allocated at least 50/50 between author and publisher.  
Other lowlights: an overly lengthy grant term (10 years); no advances for certain of the many backlist titles acquired; a non-competition clause that bars Clark not just from publishing competing works, but from publishing anything until the terms of the contract have been completed; an agency clause that empowers RedRock to increase its commission for subagented rights sales beyond the commission rates stipulated in the agency contract; and a clause that empowers Pink Sand to retain rights for five years to a delivered revision it declines to publish, unless the author can find another publisher willing to hand all the author’s earnings over to Pink Sand until advances have been repaid. (Good luck with that.)

It’s hard for me to imagine any reputable publisher offering a contract like this, or any reputable literary agent advising a client to sign it. I see some pretty atrocious contracts from inexperienced publishers who don’t know any better, but Grishman is not inexperienced. Waterhouse Press is a successful house, and he worked there for years. 

Make of that what you will. Make what you will, also, of the timelines involved. David Grishman incorporated RedRock Literary (for the first time) on November 13. Less than three weeks later, on December 2, he signed Clark as an agency client. Six weeks after that, on January 15, Steven Grishman incorporated Pink Sand Press. Clark’s publishing agreement was signed just eight days later, on January 23. 

The whole thing has the feeling of a rush to pin something down.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

PG was inclined to go on a rant, but, surprisingly, he restrained himself.

He will make a few points, however.

  1. Yes, lawyers cost money. Ms. Clark is learning that because she has had to hire a lawyer to represent her in this contract litigation.
  2. Litigation always costs more, lots more, than hiring a competent attorney to look at a contract before you sign it.
  3. (Side note: PG has cut his law practice way back and isn’t accepting any new clients. If anyone has had a personal satisfactory experience with another attorney who reviewed a publishing contract or agency agreement, send a note to PG via the Contact PG link at the top of the blog so PG can add her/him to his list of attorneys to send to people who contact PG for legal help when he’s not able to provide it.)
  4. Any time someone sends you a document for your signature, they are asking you to agree to be bound to a contract, give them permission to do something, give up some right you have, pay them money, act as their body slave, etc., etc., etc. This is standard practice for most reputable businesses and also standard practice for many crooks.
  5. READ THE DAMN CONTRACT BEFORE YOU SIGN IT! READ THE DAMN CONTRACT BEFORE YOU SIGN IT! READ THE DAMN CONTRACT BEFORE YOU SIGN IT! READ THE DAMN CONTRACT BEFORE YOU SIGN IT!
  6. Make a working copy of the contract, sit down with that copy and a red pen and READ THE DAMN CONTRACT! The longest business agreement PG ever reviewed was much shorter than any book PG has read. (And a lot more boring.)
  7. An author who has spent hours and days and weeks and months writing a book should be willing to spend the extra time necessary to make sure that her/his baby is going to have a good home surrounded by honest people. Plus, remember how much it will cost you in legal fees to get out of a bad contract.
  8. Annotate the contract with your red pen as you go through it – underlines, question marks, exclamation points are all great. Write notes in the margins. Use your red pen for anything that worries you, that sounds fishy or that you don’t understand.
  9. If the contract says something like, “As set forth in Paragraph 49 . . . ” make your red pen mark, then go look at Paragraph 49, use your red pen there and combine the Paragraph 49 language with the language that includes “As set forth in Paragraph 49 . . . ” so you’re reading both provisions together.
  10. The other party can give you something in Paragraph 1 and effectively take it all back in Paragraph 49.
  11. Be just as careful reading the end of the contract as you are when you are reading the beginning of the contract. If the contract has exhibits or additional pages after the place where the parties sign it, read those just as carefully as you read the rest of the contract and use your red pen liberally.
  12. In most American business contracts, the last provisions of the contract are called boilerplate and often consist of stuff the person who put the contract together may well have copied and pasted from a prior contract. But just because it’s copied from another contract doesn’t mean the boilerplate provisions are fair or safe or that something nasty isn’t hidden there.
  13. PG can recall more than one contract written by someone else that incorporated what looked like it was a boilerplate “Standard Terms and Provisions” section at the end of the contract. In some cases, these were even a photocopy of something taken from another contract and attached to the custom contract that the parties had agreed to. On more than one occasion, the innocent-looking “Standard Terms and Provisions” included some terms that were deal-breakers for PG’s clients, even though the rest of the contract was fine.
  14. After you get finished with your red-pen fun, either:
    1. Send an email/letter to the person you’re dealing with asking about each of the items that concerned you or that you don’t understand; or
    2. Make a photocopy of your red-marked version of the contract and ask the other side to respond to your concerns.
  15. Aside from specific responses to your redline questions, the manner in which the individual on the other side reacts to your questions may tell you a great deal about whether this is someone you want to work with or not.

PG has millions of additional tips, warnings, cautionary tales, etc., that he could add, but these are the most obvious things you should look at and do.

How to Reach Out to Someone Beyond “How Are You?”

Apropos for the Covid years.

From the Grammarly Blog:

With so many uncertainties stemming from the current pandemic, you might be looking for more human connection and comfort from friends and family. And while it’s good to check in with loved ones more regularly, simply asking how they are doing might not be enough to show true empathy.

There are alternative ways to inquire about how someone is doing that can be more helpful and supportive—especially during a challenging time. The most important thing is to ask a genuine question that invites a genuine answer.

If there’s someone in your life that really needs your support and compassion, here are 10 ways to ask how someone is doing that are empathetic and open-ended.

1. How can I support you? 

If your friend or family member is dealing with something particularly stressful, ask them how you can help. Sometimes, it can be comforting just to know that you are ready to support them. Even if they don’t actually allow you to do anything special for them, like cooking them dinner or babysitting their new puppy, it’s good to express that you are there for moral support and are willing to help if need be.

2. What’s been on your mind lately?

Allowing your colleague to vent about whatever has been on their mind will likely lead to a deeper, more honest conversation. They’ll feel like you really care about their inner thoughts and feelings. By asking such a direct question, you’re letting them know that the floor is theirs and you are ready to listen to anything that’s been bothering them.

Link to the rest at the Grammarly Blog

The upheavals

The upheavals [of artificial intelligence] can escalate quickly and become scarier and even cataclysmic. Imagine how a medical robot, originally programmed to rid cancer, could conclude that the best way to obliterate cancer is to exterminate humans who are genetically prone to the disease.

Nick Bilton

Dominant languages can spread even without coercion

From The Economist:

Never think the world is in decline. A recent book, “Speak Not” by James Griffiths, looks at the bad old days when it was seen as acceptable to impose a culture on others through force. The author tells the stories of Welsh and Hawaiian—languages driven to the brink of death or irrelevance before being saved by determined activists.

. . . .

Americans fomented a coup in Hawaii that led to its eventual annexation. Missionaries built schools and fervently discouraged local customs like the hula, a performance in honour of ancestors that the Americans considered lascivious. Oppression of culture and of the language went hand in hand: by the late 20th century the only fluent Hawaiian-speakers were worryingly old. But activists fought to expand teaching of it, and eventually brought Hawaiian into many schools. The number of speakers is now growing. Even some of the state’s many citizens of other ethnicities find it fashionable to learn a bit.

Welsh survived centuries of union with England largely because of Wales’s relative isolation and poverty. But in the 19th century British authorities stepped up efforts to impose English; schoolchildren had to wear a token of shame (the “Welsh Not”) if they spoke their native language, the kind of tactic seen in language oppression around the world.

Again, activists fought back. In 1936 three of them set fires at an air-force training ground built despite local opposition. The perpetrators turned themselves in, then refused to speak any language but Welsh at their first trial. It ended in a mistrial; their second resulted in a conviction, but on their release nine months later the arsonists were feted as heroes. They had lit a fire under Welsh-language nationalism, which in later decades would not only halt the decline in Welsh-speakers, but reverse it. Today the right to speak Welsh at trial (and in many other contexts) is guaranteed.

Mr Griffiths’s book ends with a sadder tale. Though Mandarin is the world’s most-spoken native language, China still has hundreds of millions of native speakers of other Chinese languages such as Cantonese (often misleadingly called “dialects”), as well as non-Han languages like those used in Inner Mongolia and Tibet. Evidently regarding this variety as unbefitting for a country on the rise, the authorities have redoubled their efforts to get everyone speaking Mandarin—for instance by cutting down Cantonese television and resettling Han Chinese in Tibet, part of a wider bid to dilute its culture. A regime indifferent to the tut-tutting of outsiders can go even further than American and British colonialists.

But English spreads by less coercive means, too. Rosemary Salomone’s new book, “The Rise of English”, tells the tale of a language that has gone from strength to strength after the demise of Britain’s empire and perhaps also of America’s global dominance. These two forces gave English an impetus, but once momentum takes hold of a language, whether of growth or decline, it tends to continue. Everyone wants to speak a language used by lots of other influential people.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Rytr – AI Writing Assistant

This is an example of what one AI Writing Assistant, Rytr, can produce.

PG wrote a short description to seed the AI:

Many authors, both new and experienced, are becoming self-published and maintaining complete control over their books.

He then added key words for the output:

self-publishing, Amazon, Kindle Direct Publishing, independent author, authors

PG then asked Rytr to create some variants of the output and clicked a button on the screen.

Here are the three variants that PG liked the best:

Variant 1

Self-publishing has become a popular way for authors to maintain complete control over their books.

The rise of self-publishing has been driven by the advent of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). KDP allows authors to publish their own books and sell them on Amazon, as well as other retailers. The process is simple and straightforward, and the cost is low.

Self-publishing can be an attractive option for new authors who want to maintain complete control over their work. It also provides an avenue for experienced authors who don’t want to go through the traditional publishing process because they are unhappy with how it could affect their book’s content or quality.

Variant 2

Self-publishing is becoming increasingly popular among authors. It is now possible to publish a book without the help of any publishing house. Authors can now maintain complete control over their books and make all the decisions themselves, including pricing, cover design, and marketing.

The self-publishing industry has grown tremendously in recent years due to the rise of ebooks and digital publishing platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). The number of self-published titles has increased from about 200,000 in 2008 to 1.5 million in 2014. In 2015 alone, there were 2 million new self-published titles released on Amazon’s Kindle store alone!

Variant 3

Self-published authors have total control over their work and how it is marketed. They can choose what they want to publish, how much they will charge for it, and who they will market it to.

The process of self-publishing is more cost effective than traditional publishing because there are no middlemen involved. Authors save money on cover design, editing, printing costs etc.

PG notes that this is not deathless prose, but he produced these and more variants in less than a minute. The service also lets you set the tone of the output. PG selected “Convincing” for the variants shown above.

You can see in some of the variants that the program has added facts and information that PG didn’t include in his short seed language. PG presumes that part of the artificial intelligence involves pulling information from the web and elsewhere to allow Rytr to add such relevant information to its output.

Here’s a link to Rytr

Rytr provides free access to its services for original text seeds of up to 125 words. For PG, this is enough to get a flavor of what the service can offer but is obviously a teaser for Rytr’s paid subscription offers, which, for PG, are not that expensive.

PG would be interested to know if any visitors to TPV have any experience using this or any other AI writing tool. Feel free to share your experiences in the Comments to this post or to PG privately via the Contact Me button in menu bar that’s right below the header image.

PG will be sampling some other AI Writing tools over the next few days and will share what he finds.

Artificial Intelligence Writing Assistants

From Becomeawritertoday:

A writing assistant is a software program that uses artificial intelligence technology to help writers with the creative process. This can include everything from offering a grammar checker to assisting with the nuances of the language to make the writing more engaging.

English writers have a lot of options available for them if they want to use a writing assistant in their work. While an assistant is not going to replace the need for a writer, the right writing tool can help improve readability, reduce grammar mistakes and help writers avoid inadvertent plagiarism.

Link to the rest at Becomeawritertoday

PG is going to explore AI Writing Assistants a bit.

He tried one out a few days ago and was amazed at its output – not Pulitzer-Prize-Worthy, but better than a whole lot of college graduates could produce.

PG is always skeptical about anything that claims to be driven by Artificial Intelligence, but in his quick experiments, he found the AI programs added relevant material that was suggested, but not included in the seed language he put into the Writing Assistant.

The first stage of this class of programs was Grammarly, which PG and many writers started using because of its superior spell-checking ability. Over time, Grammarly added more and more grammar-checking features as well.

Based on PG’s preliminary explorations, some of the AI Writing Assistants are a step beyond PG’s current understanding of what Grammarly does.

But at my back I always hear Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

       But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

       Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Andrew Marvel, To His Coy Mistress

PG’s Note: In 1641, two years after Marvel completed his BA at Cambridge, his father drowned in “the Tide of Humber”—the estuary at Hull made famous by To his Coy Mistress.

The Hotel of the Idle Moon

From The Millions:

It feels safe to say that no other writer of great stature wrote more often than William Trevor about old people. Only Alice Munro comes close—perhaps V. S. Pritchett. Here’s an incredibly stupid admission: when I first encountered Trevor, it made perfect sense to me that he would write so much about old people, since he so perfectly embodied the platonic ideal of an old person. Those twinkly, wise eyes! That signature Irish walking hat! I was in my 30, in the late aughts, when I first read Trevor, and he was in his late-70s. It did not occur to me that he had not always been in his late-70s, that many of the multitude of stories were written when he was my age at the time.

But enough about my stupidity, which I would prefer to reveal slowly over the course of this project, rather than all at once in an information dump. I mentioned Trevor’s interest in the elderly in a previous entry, the way aging is simpatico with his central theme, i.e. coming to terms with one’s life. But it’s more than that. Advanced age and accompanying senescence are, if not an obsession, a fixation. Sometimes, with writers, you viscerally sense the person, place, thing, idea, or general theme that quickens their pulse—you can hear the fingers tap that much faster on the typewriter. With Charles Portis, it’s cars, or more broadly, mechanical objects; with Ottessa Moshfegh it’s any bodily-related function: peeing, pooping, barfing. I sense, in Trevor’s stories, that quickening when it comes to senility, sundowning, the general incapacity of age.

In several of these stories we’ve covered already, an old person’s vulnerability provides a key plot point: Miss Winton’s fuddled inability to wrest control of the situation in “The Penthouse Apartment;” Miss Efoss becoming overwhelmed and subsumed by the Dutt’s desire for a child in “In at the Birth;” General Suffolk’s progressive drunkenness and weakness in “The General’s Day.” Even the titular Miss Smith, a relatively young person, undergoes a sort of premature dotage. This week’s story, “The Hotel of the Idle Moon,” provides the most explicit version of this yet, as a pair of married con artists, the Dankers, invade the country home of the ancient Marstons and their equally ancient servant Cronin. They likely poison Lord Marston, and proceed to consign the Lady and Cronin to a small wing of the house while they convert the rest into a hotel. Cronin dreams of cutting their throats with a razor strop, but in the end, he understands it to be absurd that he “imagined himself a match for the world and its conquerors.”

Link to the rest at The Millions

Politics

PG has received a couple of private messages that are concerned that he has steered TPV into overly-political areas that have generated more heated disagreements than are usually the case at this location.

When PG reviewed the last few weeks of posts, he decided he agreed with with those who shared their concerns with him.

Henceforth, PG will endeavor to avoid posts containing politics of the elected-officials and government bureaucrats genre and stay closer to the author/book world. He does not, however, intend to bridle his scorn at idiots and predators in the publishing business, however.

Over-Active Filters

PG received an email from a visitor to TPV who felt there was a problem with his spam filter.

He couldn’t find the source of the problems, all the usual and shady suspects were in the Spam folder.

PG did find other perfectly-good comments that had ended up in the Trash folder, however.

If you feel your comments have been mishandled by the happy busy electrons residing at TPV, send PG an email via the Contract PG link on the top toolbar of the page.

Chapter House Is Turning A New Page For Indie Book Publishing

From Forbes:

The merger of indie presses Black Ocean and Not a Cult into a new publishing group offers new path for competitive small-press publishing in the digital era.

As debates about the metaverse rage on, a new development in publishing is proving that digital transformation is core to the future of one of the most legacy media formats in existence: books.

Today, two prominent indie presses — Black Ocean and Not a Cult — officially announced a merger, forming the Chapter House Publishing Group.

The move is intended to be greater than the sum of its parts: in addition to the two aforementioned presses, Chapter House will also stand up a raft of additional imprints: Psychonaut Press for speculative fiction and non-fiction (with editor-at-large Sheree Renée Thomas); Tetra House for self-publishing services and strategy; Kin Garden for children’s books and books for parents; Sauce Press for cookbooks and other food-related books, and an as of yet unnamed imprint for esoteric arts & ideas (with discussions of bringing on writer, curator, and host of The Witch Wave podcast, Pam Grossman, as editor).

. . . .

With this merger, Chapter House becomes one of the few U.S. indie publishing groups with a presence on both coasts, and has earned a new deal with prominent indie book distributor Consortium.

Not a Cult Founder Daniel Lisi and Black Ocean Founder Janaka Stucky see this new chapter as an assertion that independent publishing is more vibrant than ever — in contradistinction to the increasing homogeneity they perceive resulting from “Big Five” major book publishing (likely soon to be Big Four).

“As systems become more homogenous, it is necessary to diversify not only backgrounds but also a diversity of thought that isn’t sponsored by corporations beholden to their shareholders or investors,” Lisi said in an interview with the author. “You don’t want to read books 100% from one place. You want to have many sources, many voices, a chorus of information to explore.”

. . . .

Contrary to what some might expect, book sales have actually increased in the 2020s — seeing a rise of 8.2% in 2020 and an 18.5% increase in the first half of 2021 (compared to the first half of 2020). But like any medium, when book publishing is determined by the choices of a select few, authors and readers suffer.

Chapter House is combining the new possibilities of digital publishing with an emphasis on quality to become a publisher that makes the best of new and established practices. Major book publishing emphasizes volume; the more books a press prints at once, the cheaper the price per book. But this means that publishers are often implicitly seeking reliable hits to justify large print runs.

. . . .

Chapter House will continue to emphasize a small-team focus for each imprint, with accessible “unagented” submission periods continuing for both Black Ocean and Not a Cult (both of which received over 500 submissions during their open calls). In collaboration with art curator Alan Weiner, Chapter House opened up a new base of operations in Aero Salon in downtown Los Angeles and hired staff to handle fulfillment, with the goal of creating a sustainable, scalable, and transferable framework for indie presses to compete with big presses — while retaining an emphasis on boundary-pushing books — using streamlined digital tools and practices.

Link to the rest at Forbes

PG doesn’t know anything about either small publisher, but unless both are consistently profitable, he’s reminded of the old story of two drowning men who see one another as potential means of mutual buoyancy.

Book bans in schools are catching fire. Black authors say uproar isn’t about students.

From NBC News:

Nearly six months ago, celebrated Black children’s author and illustrator Jerry Craft received a message saying some of his books were being pulled from a school library in Texas.

“I was caught off guard,” Craft, the Newbery Medal-winning author of the 2019 graphic novel “New Kid,” told NBCBLK. “I felt bad for the kids because I know how much they love ‘New Kid’ and ‘Class Act.’ I know what my school visits do. … I felt bad if there was going to be some kids that would not be able to take advantage of that.”

The person who sent the message to Craft is from Katy, Texas, a town near Houston that has been under fire for attempts to limit the public’s access to books that teach about racism. In October, the Katy Independent School District made headlines for temporarily yanking two of Craft’s books, which tell the stories of Black boys who experience racism in schools, from school libraries and postponing his virtual visit. A now-deleted petition with more than 400 signatures showed parents calling for Craft’s visit to be canceled.

At the time, Craft tweeted that he was shocked by the accusations.

“Apparently I’m teaching critical race theory,” Craft wrote in response to a parent confused about the ban, citing the decades-old academic and legal framework that teaches about racism in America.

. . . .

While the Texas school district reinstated the book and rescheduled his visit, Craft is among dozens of Black authors whose works are being pulled from school libraries under the pretext that they’re teaching critical race theory. (Most of the books that are targeted for bans don’t teach critical race theory but are written by and about people of color.). The American Library Association said its Office for Intellectual Freedom reported 273 books were affected by censorship attempts in 2020, many with content that highlighted race, gender and sexuality. Since September alone, there have been at least 230 challenges, the organization said in an email.

Link to the rest at NBC News

For visitors from outside the United States, the teaching of what is usually called Critical Race studies/lessons/etc., has been causing a great deal of uproar during the last couple of years.

PG doesn’t know whether Critical Race Theory is a “decades-old academic and legal framework that teaches about racism in America” or not.

He does know the the latest uproar concerning Critical Race Theory began with an August, 2019, New York Times initiative titled “The 1619 Project,” with the following introduction:

In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. n the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.

The 1619 date is significant because late in 1620, a group of English pilgrims, dissenters from the Church of England, arrived in Massachusetts to establish a new settlement that would allow them to practice their religion without being persecuted.

In November, 1620, prior to leaving the ship which carried them to the United States, The Mayflower, this group of immigrants approved what has since been titled, “The Mayflower Compact.”

IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great BritainFrance, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of EnglandFrance, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.

Prior to departing, the Pilgrims signed an agreement with The Virginia Company, a British commercial venture chartered by James I, to be industrious in Virginia after they arrived.

The 41 male Pilgrims aboard the ship signed the Mayflower Compact. They concluded that they hadn’t landed in the British Colony of Virginia, their intended destination (established by representatives of The Virginia Company as part of a commercial enterprise in 1607). Instead they had landed in present-day Massachusetts, about 600 miles North of Virginia and well outside of any jurisdiction or sphere of influence of The Virginia Company. PG doesn’t know exactly when anyone in Virginia learned about the Pilgrims, but it was certainly well after they and those who followed them to the Plymouth Colony were well-established and prospering.

The Mayflower Compact is significant because it established a framework for the majority of the male residents of The Plymouth Colony to create rules and laws by which all would be governed. Today, it is generally regarded as the first document setting forth a basis for a self-governing settlement anywhere in the English-speaking world and, perhaps in many other worlds as well.

[To} covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony;

More specifically, the male Pilgrims (including two indentured servants) agreed:

  • the colonists would remain loyal subjects to King James, despite their need for self-governance
  • the colonists would create and enact “laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices…” for the good of the colony, and abide by those laws
  • the colonists would create one society and work together to further it
  • the colonists would live in accordance with the Christian faith

The principles reflected in The Mayflower Company would be utilized and expanded upon elsewhere in North America and continue to be fundamental to federal and state governments in the United States. Principles embodied in the US Constitution has been copied and included in the constitutions of a number of democratic nations around the world.

While PG does not condone or excuse slavery in the United States, PG will point out that slaves were freed in the United States more than 150 years ago. The Southern States where slavery existed took more than 100 years to begin to recover economically from the Civil War. Rural poverty, black and white, is still a significantly larger problem in the states of the former Confederacy than it is elsewhere in the US.

PG suggests that the long-term impact of the 1620 document and the people who wrote it has been and is much greater in the US than the tragedy that began in 1619.

But PG acknowledges that others may disagree.

Hochul Vetoes New York’s Library E-book Bill

From Publishers Weekly:

Just hours before it was set to become law, New York Governor Kathy Hochul on December 29 vetoed New York’s library e-book bill. The bill is now back with the legislature, where it is tabled.

The veto comes despite strong grassroots support: in June, the bill unanimously passed the New York Assembly 148-0, and passed the New York State Senate 62-1. But the Association of American Publishers’ December 9 federal lawsuit seeking to block implementation of a similar law in Maryland sparked concern in the governor’s office. And in her brief explanation of the veto, Hochul cited the AAP’s concerns.

“While the goal of this bill is laudable, unfortunately, copyright protection provides the author of the work with the exclusive right to their works,” Hochul wrote. “As such the law would allow the author, and only the author, to determine to whom they wish to share their work and on what terms. Because the provisions of this bill are preempted by federal copyright law, I cannot support this bill. These bills are disapproved.”

The New York bill was also opposed by a cohort of powerful New York-based industry groups, including the AAP and the Authors Guild, which urged Hochul to veto the measure in a recent letter, calling the bill “an unjustified attack” that would have “a significant negative impact on the economy and jobs” in New York.

. . . .

The library e-book bills come after a decade of tension in the library e-book market, with librarians long complaining of unsustainable, non-negotiable prices and restrictions on digital licenses. Specifically, the bills emerged as a response to Macmillan’s controversial (and since abandoned) 2019 embargo on frontlist e-books in libraries, which led library advocates to take their concerns to state and federal legislators.

“This is a powerful moment for libraries,” concluded a December, 2020 report on digital lending from the ALA’s Joint Digital Content Working Group. “If we cannot find ways to make our digital collections robust and lasting, including a return to perpetual access as an option, libraries will never be able to meet an ever-increasing demand and provide equity to the communities we serve.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Great speed in reading

Great speed in reading is a dubious achievement; it is of value only if what you have to read is not really worth reading. A better formula is this: Every book should be read no more slowly than it deserves, and no more quickly than you can read it with satisfaction and comprehension.

Mortimer Adler

Fighting Fake News, In Court

From Persuasion:

In November 2020, Ruby Freeman served as a temporary election worker to help count the vote in Fulton County, Georgia. “The times when I’ve decided to work for the county, I did so because I thought I could help and because I knew I could do the job well,” Freeman said in a statement issued through her lawyers. “What I didn’t know was that it would turn out like this.”

Meaning… this:

After the election, President Trump energetically pushed the bogus claim that Georgia’s election was rigged. Citing grainy images from a security camera, lawyers for the Trump campaign alleged that Fulton county workers had counted illegal ballots. Within hours, the claim was debunked by Georgia officials, including the Republican secretary of state’s office and the state Bureau of Investigation. The video showed “normal vote processing.”

By that time, however, various MAGA-friendly outlets had already published the accusation. They did not retract it. Instead, one of them, Gateway Pundit, identified Ruby Freeman by name, accused her of “voter fraud on a MASSIVE scale,” and added, “Maybe the Georgia police or Bill Barr’s DOJ may want to pay Ruby Freeman a visit.” The article concluded with two photographs of Freeman over the headline, “CROOK GETS CAUGHT.” Over the following days and weeks, Gateway Pundit continued to drive the story, with headlines like, “Has the FBI Spoken with Ruby Freeman or Ralph Jones Yet? And If Not, Why in the Hell Do We Have an FBI?”—complete with additional photos of Freeman.

Not surprisingly, Freeman’s life turned upside-down. “We know where you live, we [sic] coming to get you,” was one of many threats she received, according to her litigation complaint. Strangers camped out at her house, knocked on her door, harassed neighbors. She bought security cameras and deactivated the social media accounts for her business. On January 6, 2021, the day of the U.S. Capitol insurrection, the FBI recommended she evacuate her home. She did not return for two months.

“Right now, I can’t imagine ever going back to election work,” she said in her statement. “My life has been disrupted in so many ways.” Freeman’s daughter, Shaye Moss, who was an employee of the Fulton County elections department, endured similar torments, including messages saying she should die for her “treason,” threats to her grandmother and 14-year-old son, and protests at her office demanding her firing. “I’m afraid to be out in public,” Moss said in a statement provided by her lawyer. “Now I’d rather get my groceries delivered than go to the store because even that makes me nervous.”

Although Gateway Pundit is a well-known trafficker in falsehoods—PolitiFact rates 80 percent of the site’s fact-checked articles mostly or entirely false—it’s a major conservative website. Usually, litigating against such an outfit would be prohibitively difficult for an ordinary citizen, even if the case were watertight. The result: zero accountability.

With the help of a new legal aid project, however, Freeman and Moss are breaking that pattern by suing Gateway Pundit for defamation. (They’re also suing One America News and Rudolph Giuliani in a separate action.) That project—called Law for Truth—could have interesting implications for super-spreaders of toxic disinformation.

Launched in December by Protect Democracy, a nonprofit group in Washington, Law for Truth creates a pathway for victims of political libel to fight back. It’s based on the observation that traditional defamation actions have been one of the few ways of holding purveyors of fake news accountable.

. . . .

“Yet, as effective as defamation suits were when they were deployed, very few were filed relative to the sharp uptick in injurious defamation,” Ian Bassin, Executive Director and co-founder of Protect Democracy, told me. The underenforcement of defamation law is a kind of market failure, he argues. Law for Truth provides a remedy by “essentially creating a nonprofit plaintiffs’ bar focused on ensuring accountability under the law” for defamatory political disinformation.

No, the effort cannot halt the plague of disinformation. But it may change today’s lopsided odds against victims. “There is a real sense of impunity among some of these outlets,” said Rachel Goodman, who leads the Law for Truth legal team. “We think it would be good for defendants and potential defendants to understand that there are significant liability risks for spreading these lies.”

. . . .

Traditionally, civil-liberties advocates have cast a wary eye on defamation actions. All too often, litigation—actual or threatened—has been exploited by powerful interests to harass journalists and intimidate critics. Donald Trump is no stranger to this tactic, having promiscuously threatened to sue his critics both before and during his presidency. Taking journalists to court is a tried and true weapon of authoritarians. Just such abuses were the reason that, in 1964, the Supreme Court slapped down Alabama state officials’ use of libel law to stifle civil rights advocacy.

What the last few years have demonstrated, though, is that underenforcement of defamation law can be just as damaging to free speech as overenforcement. In the world of social media and fake news, spreading lies is trivially easy and often profitable. Russian-style “firehose of falsehood” disinformation campaigns are a staple of the MAGA movement. The prospect of losing your reputation and your safety would deter just about anyone from participating in politics—which, of course, is the point of MAGA’s campaign of intimidation against honest public officials.

Increasingly, civil-libertarians are taking this new reality on board. “There should be a right in a democracy to be involved in discussing and trying to influence matters of public concern without having to sacrifice your reputation,” Nadine Strossen, a New York Law School emeritus professor and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, told me. “That can have a negative impact on the free exchange of ideas and democratic activity.”

The Law for Truth model is not without risk. “We have to keep in mind that whatever tools we create are going to be used by people whose cases are not quite as strong,” Walter Olson, a litigation expert at the Cato Institute, told me. “We need to think about what happens when people put together large financial kitties to sue in the other direction. Think about ten years from now, once it’s been fully accepted to raise money by saying, ‘We’ve got a list of media outlets we can destroy using litigation.’ It will be used to beat up on some small publications or writers who don’t have very good means to defend themselves.”

To avoid this danger, it will be important for initiatives such as Law for Truth to stay within the boundaries of existing defamation law, not stretch those boundaries with novel or expansive claims. “The two women in the Gateway Pundit suit have almost the paradigm of a defamation case,” David French, a writer, lawyer, and Persuasion advisor who formerly led the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told me. “The simple fact of the matter is that we do have large-scale, harmful lying that puts Americans, in some cases, in fear for their lives. The law has always had mechanisms for responding to that. The institutionalization of efforts to protect individuals who otherwise might not have resources to defend themselves is an important development.”

Link to the rest at Persuasion

PG has substantial concerns about using defamation suits in the manner described in the OP.

What has been called, “Lawfare”, in the US takes advantage of the fact that courts in many major cities are terribly backlogged with pending cases.

There are a lot of reasons for this that PG will not bore you with, but one of the many unfortunate results of this situation is that taking someone to court, even if your case has substantial merit, is an extraordinarily long and often expensive project.

Experienced defense counsel know how to make the person/organization that filed suit because he/she/they felt substantially wronged spend a great deal of money over the years that it may take the controversy to be heard by a judge or jury on the merits.

Additionally, in large metropolitan courthouses, criminal cases take precedence over civil matters because of guarantees of speedy trials, the great harm that can be caused to an innocent person who is incarcerated without just cause prior to trial, etc. In the many metropolitan court systems in which a given judge handles both criminal and civil cases, the civil cases are, of necessity, bumped down the trial calendar due to a continuing stream of criminal trials that must take precedence.

Regarding the OP, defamation cases can be used by wealthy individuals or by wealthy groups of individuals motivated to attack political enemies to punish the defendant financially even if the case is dismissed by the person who filed it prior to coming close to going to trial.

New Tech Can Distinguish Brush Strokes of Different Artists

From Smithsonian Magazine:

A new artificial intelligence (A.I.) tool may be able to foil fraud and help art historians determine the original creator behind particular paintings. The system analyzes tiny sections of paintings, some as small as half a millimeter, for telltale differences in brushwork, reports Benjamin Sutton for the Art Newspaper.

While previous projects used a form of machine learning to identify artists based on the analysis of high-resolution images of the paintings, the new system uses topographical scans of the canvasses.

. . . .

“We found that even at the brush bristle level, there was a fair level of success in sorting the attribution,” Kenneth Singer, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University, tells the Art Newspaper. “Frankly we don’t really understand that, it’s kind of mind boggling actually when you think about it, how the paint coming off a single bristle is indicative of what we’re calling the artist’s unintentional style.”

. . . .

To test the A.I. system, four art students at the Cleveland Institute of Art each painted yellow flowers using identical brushes, paints and canvases, reports Steven Litt reports for Cleveland.com. The researchers scanned the surfaces of the paintings using a tool known as a chromatic confocal optical profilometer, creating precise 3-D surface height data showing how the paint lay on the canvases, and digitally broke them into grids. The machine-learning system analyzed randomized samples and was able to sort them by the artist with a high level of accuracy.

“We broke the painting down into virtual patches ranging from one-half millimeter to a few centimeters square, so we no longer even have information about the subject matter,” says Michael Hinczewski, another Case Western physicist and coauthor of the study, in a statement. “But we can accurately predict who painted it from an individual patch. That’s amazing.”

. . . .

In additional research not yet published, the team used the A.I. to try to distinguish original portions of the 17th-century painting Portrait of Juan Pardo de Tavera (1609) by El Greco from sections that were damaged during the Spanish Civil War and restored later.

“This is a painting we have an answer key to, because we have photos of the destroyed painting and the current painting, so we’re able to make a map of the areas that were conserved, and [the A.I.] was able to identify those areas,” Singer tells the Art Newspaper. “But there was another section of the painting that it identified as conserved that wasn’t obvious, so we’re going to have a painting conservator in Spain look at the painting to see what’s going on.”

The team’s next project is analyzing two paintings of the crucifixion of Christ by El Greco in the hopes of distinguishing portions painted by himself, by his son Jorge Manuel; by other members of his workshop; and by later conservators.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian Magazine

PG has been reading a bit about Artificial Intelligence and will have more on implications for authors tomorrow.

How This Woman Spearheaded Amazon’s Kindle Vella Platform Providing Indie Authors New Opportunities

From Forbes:

Virginia Milner, principal product manager for Kindle Direct Publishing and head of Kindle Vella, changed the creative landscape for writers. In a technological world that is ever-changing, many platforms assist artists in generating income. But what about the quality of the content for the users? When designing Amazon’s latest creator’s platform, Milner kept the reader’s perspective at the forefront to provide a more engaging experience. As a result, Kindle Vella launched as a new reading format for serialized stories.

“We were hearing from customers that they were interested in shorter reading experiences, content that they could read quickly, and more in-between moments during their day,” Milner explains. “They really enjoyed having a connection with a longer story or feeling a connection with an author that you get from reading a series. So the idea for Kindle Vella was basically to combine those two things and create a product where authors could tell stories one short snippet at a time, but the reader could follow the story as it was told for weeks, months, or even years. As a result, catching up with their favorite characters becomes almost part of their daily routine.”

. . . .

“I was looking at the opportunity cost of going back to school versus what options would be available to me if I didn’t. I could see a career path very clearly in PR or making a pivot into a broader marketing role. But I knew that my passion was really being able to create something and build something. … There were a lot of things that I needed to learn to make that first step and also tools I was going to need to grow in an alternate career as a product manager, ultimately leading a technology team or leading a technology company.”

. . . .

After graduation, she joined Amazon as a product manager, helping independent brands build their businesses selling merchandise on the platform. Then, four years ago, she transitioned over to the Kindle Direct Publishing team.

“Both my parents are authors,” she smiles. “I’ve watched them spend many hours trying to get their works published. Just the idea that an author can just spend their time writing and then publish and immediately make their book or their work available to all of Amazon’s customers is so powerful and very inspiring to me.”

As Milner witnessed how customers consumed content and began to understand their needs, the idea for Kindle Vella flourished. She envisioned how a new platform could change the landscape for indie authors. Kindle Vella allows authors to continue their content but not necessarily in the long format required on other platforms. For example, authors could produce a prologue in Kindle Vella for books that they’ve already published or write a story based on one of their secondary characters.

Milner and her team also found ways for the author to engage directly with the reader. At the end of every episode, authors can leave an author’s note explaining the process or excitement for the chapter. It allows the reader to go behind the scenes with their favorite writers. Since the launch, thousands of authors have published thousands of stories, totaling tens of thousands of episodes.

“It was a product manager’s dream,” Milner states. “At Amazon, we have this culture where we write a press release at the beginning of a project for what our vision is for the product when we finish it, and we’re ready to release it to customers. So I’ve worked on Kindle Vella from the beginning, wrote that original press release, and then took it through launch a couple of months ago. So it was the full end-to-end experience of creating the vision, building a team, working with the team to build the original vision, and then taking it through launch.”

Link to the rest at Forbes

PG hasn’t taken the time to explore Kindle Vella yet, but would appreciate hearing the experience of visitors to TPV who have and their thoughts about what sort of writers might benefit from/thrive on the platform.

PG is also interested in how Kindle Vella may be similar to or different from a blog where the blogger writes all her/his own material.

Dear John

From The Wall Street Journal:

‘If the Army had wanted you to have a wife, it would have issued you one.” It’s an oft-repeated quip within the armed forces. As Susan Carruthers demonstrates in “Dear John: Love and Loyalty in Wartime America,” it takes a very sturdy relationship to survive the institutional culture of the military.

Ms. Carruthers, a professor of U.S. and international history at the University of Warwick in England, takes as her central motif the “Dear John letter”—a breakup note sent by a woman at home to her man in uniform overseas. The term was first used, we are told, in a national newspaper in October 1943. Such letters have since become a symbol of the female treachery that can damage a man as deeply as the wartime loss of life or limb.

The author acknowledges that women had written rejection letters before—Ernest Hemingway received one after being hospitalized during World War I. But World War II involved more troops and lengthier overseas service, putting more romantic relationships under strain for longer periods of time.

In subsequent years, during the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, Dear Johns have been mythologized within both popular culture and the armed forces. In 1953, Jean Shepard warbled: “Dear John oh how I hate to write / Dear John I must let you know tonight / That my love for you has died away like grass upon the lawn / And tonight I wed another dear John.”

The armed forces’ distrust of romantic relationships—and the apparent misogyny that underlies this view—ripples throughout Ms. Carruthers’s prose. From the start, the military feared that wives posed an alternative pole of attraction, pulling enlisted men’s attention away from duty and discipline. Writing in the Ladies’ Home Journal in 1942, the advice columnist Gretta Palmer told readers: “Among the officers, there is an unofficial belief that ‘a colonel must have a wife, a major should, a captain may and a lieutenant mustn’t.’ ”

Women who wrote letters to their sweethearts or husbands on the front were encouraged to make their missives sunny and supportive. A soldier’s rage at receiving a Dear John letter reflected his sense of betrayal. This sentiment was captured by Gen. George Patton when he said that women who wrote Dear John letters “should be shot as traitors.” There was no room in this picture for a woman’s gnawing anxieties, loneliness or sense of abandonment.

. . . .

Analysis of military wives ramped up in the 1970s as Army psychiatrists and psychologists began publishing studies of their behavior. During the Vietnam era, according to these studies, these women were full of inexpressible rage against both their absent husbands and the pressures to satisfy their husbands’ emotional needs while endlessly stifling their own. Returning prisoners of war were shocked to find that, in their absence, some of their wives had joined the antiwar movement. “The ending of marriages was woven into a larger national tapestry of loss,” Ms. Carruthers argues. “A lost war, lost respect for traditional values, lost male authority, lost national valor all tied together by allegations of individual and institutional disloyalty.” Yet Ms. Carruthers finds no evidence that any Dear John letter was prompted by disapproval of the war.

In her chapters dealing with emotional injuries and suicide, Ms. Carruthers discusses how the association between lost loves and lives lost became entrenched, especially after 2003, when the armed forces began compiling suicide statistics. The proposition that a romantic breakdown was the No. 1 precipitating event for active-duty suicide was treated as a claim that needed no further corroboration.

Yet, as Ms. Carruthers points out, precipitants are not necessarily causes. There are many contributing factors to the suicide of a psychologically vulnerable soldier, not leastof which is that distance aggravates existing problems in a marriage. A relationship that already included domestic violence, infidelity, money problems, sexual dysfunction or other conflicts will not blossom when one partner is in Kansas and the other is in Kabul. The author suggests that “it was (and still is) easier for some military commanders and psychiatrists to castigate failing relationships than to candidly reckon the psychological toll of prolonged war-waging.” A raft of new programs has recently been introduced to help soldiers build resilient relationships, but the programs still imply that “it’s the job of women to preserve ‘their’ soldier’s mental health.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (This should be a free link, but PG apologizes if you hit a paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Barnes & Noble Unveils Union Square & Company

From Publishers Weekly:

Approximately one year after Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt tapped Emily Meehan to reinvent the retailer’s publishing operation, Meehan has unveiled a new name for the press as well as a host of new initiatives.

Union Square & Co. is the new public-facing name of what has been known as Sterling Publishing. Meehan explained that the underlying business will still be called Sterling Publishing, but that all books will be released under the Union Square & Co. and Union Square Kids imprints, plus two existing imprints: Sterling Ethos and Puzzlewright. Books bearing the Union Square name will roll out this fall, while the publisher’s website and email addresses will be updated January 10.

Meehan said she is keeping the Sterling Ethos and Puzzlewright names because they are so well known in their categories of magic and mystic publishing and pencil-and-paper puzzles, respectively. Meehan said Puzzlewright accounts for about 10% of Union Square’s revenue, and she sees more opportunity to grow both that business as well as the business of Sterling Ethos. Specifically, she plans to take hit titles within those imprints and expand them across a variety of formats, including calendars and journals, with the goal of reaching not only existing fans but also a wider audience. Kate Zimmermann is heading up Sterling Ethos and Francis Heaney is leading Puzzlewright.

The launch of the Union Square brand is in keeping with Meehan’s previously announced strategy to broaden the types of books that the group publishes for both adults and children. She believes Union Square is well positioned both to help authors who are looking to reboot their careers and to assist new authors with launching theirs. She said Union Square will be looking for authors who are writing on subjects that reflect shifts in the culture.

“We will be placing bets in the areas where we believe we have a good chance to grow,” Meehan explained, noting that she has no intention of going head-to-head with the Big Five on a regular basis. “We’ll act on books in categories where we want to put a stake in the ground.”

Meehan said a good example of the type of author and book Union Square will focus on is a new untitled interior design book by Carmeon Hamilton, the winner of HGTV’s Design Star: Next Gen and star of the Reno My Rental show. Hamilton “wants to move design in some new ways,” Meehan noted. The author was signed by Amanda Englander, who joined Union Square from Clarkson Potter and who will oversee the publisher’s lifestyle efforts, which include the decorating, food and drink, and health and wellness categories.

Growing Union Square’s fiction list is another Meehan priority, and to that end she signed the Wolf Den trilogy by Elodie Harper. The first installment, The Wolf Den, was a U.K. bestseller, and the series has been touted by B&N’s U.K. sister company Waterstones. Meehan said Union Square will use Waterstones’ merch team as a sounding board when looking to sign other U.K. authors.

. . . .

Accompanying changes to Union Square’s editorial approach, Meehan has made changes to its sales operations, with an eye to improving the publisher’s sales across the entire trade. To that end, Elena Blanco has joined as director, trade sales, and her duties include expanding Union Square’s outreach to independent booksellers. 

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG checked out Union Square’s website and found a word salad of tired clichés.

We focus on making publishing a partnership. Through collaboration and a team approach publishing is made easier and more profitable while providing business skill and global reach.

We combine industry-best experience with business creativity and expertise, then collaborate to help realize the possibilities you created from the first moment you set pen to paper.

. . . .

Authors become part of our Algorithms for Success trademarked Ecosystem which establishes the best future for the author and title.

PG is certain that a great deal of research went into what authors really want – an Algorithms for Success trademarked Ecosystem.

PG wondered if this new collection of English majors who couldn’t get work elsewhere had ever created an algorithm.

Perhaps they started off with “How to Create an Algorithm” with MS Word 2010 on a PC.

Of course, every talented contemporary author who recalls the first moment you set pen to paper will, without a doubt, be thoroughly enchanted.

PG can barely restrain his enthusiasm. His first moment produced something like “Acme Construction (hereafter “The Party of the First Part”)”.

A Staple of Sci-Fi Space Travel Will Likely Remain a Fantasy

From Wired:

IN POUL ANDERSON’S 1970 novel Tau Zero, a starship crew seeks to travel to the star Beta Virginis in hopes of colonizing a new planet. The ship’s mode of propulsion is a “Bussard ramjet,” an actual (though hypothetical) means of propulsion that had been proposed by physicist Robert W. Bussard just a decade earlier. Now, physicists have revisited this unusual mechanism for interstellar travel in a new paper published in the journal Acta Astronautica, and alas, they have found the ramjet wanting. It’s feasible from a pure physics standpoint, but the associated engineering challenges are currently insurmountable, the authors concluded.

A ramjet is basically a jet engine that “breathes” air. The best analog for the fundamental mechanism is that it exploits the engine’s forward motion to compress incoming air without the need for compressors, making ramjet engines lighter and simpler than their turbojet counterparts. A French inventor named Rene Lorin received a patent in 1913 for his concept of a ramjet (aka, a flying stovepipe), although he failed to build a viable prototype. Two years later, Albert Fonó proposed a ramjet propulsion unit to increase the range of gun-launched projectiles, and he was eventually granted a German patent in 1932.

A basic ramjet has three components: an air intake, a combustor, and a nozzle. Hot exhaust from fuel combustion flows through the nozzle. The pressure of the combustion must be higher than the pressure at the exit of the nozzle in order to maintain a steady flow, which a ramjet engine achieves by “ramming” external air into the combustor with the forward speed of whatever vehicle is being powered by the engine. There is no need to carry oxygen on board. The downside is that ramjets can only produce thrust if the vehicle is already moving, so they require an assisted takeoff using rockets. As such, ramjets are most useful as a means of acceleration, such as for ramjet-powered missiles or for increasing the range of artillery shells.

Robert Bussard thought the concept might be modified as a means for interstellar propulsion. The basic premise outlined in his 1960 paper is to scoop up interstellar protons (ionized hydrogen) using enormous magnetic fields as a “ram scoop.” The protons would be compressed until they produced thermonuclear fusion, and magnetic fields would then divert that energy into rocket exhaust to produce thrust. The faster the ship traveled, the higher the proton flow, and the greater the thrust.

But then scientists discovered that there was a much lower density of hydrogen in the regions of space outside our solar system. That’s why, in a 1969 paper, John F. Fishback proposed a possible functional magnetic scoop field, taking into account such factors as radiation losses and the thermal distribution of the interstellar gas.

In particular, Fishback calculated what the cutoff speed would be. “The faster the ship, the higher the magnetic field lines that focus them into the fusion reactor,” the authors of this latest paper explained. “Stronger field[s] induce higher mechanical stresses.” Fishback concluded that an interstellar ramjet could only constantly accelerate up to a certain threshold speed, at which point it would have to throttle back, lest the magnetic source reach a breaking point.

Link to the rest at Wired

PG always preferred teleportation for his own travels.

Quoting someone

Quoting someone and rewriting their words makes it a quote from you and not them any longer. To change the meaning of someone’s words without permission is offensive enough, to then contact the quoted person and try to justify it to them is even worse. It’s verbatim or bust!

Stewart Stafford

What a previous iconoclastic period reveals about the present one

From The Economist:


They struck
 at night, but many people must have seen them. First a group of young men stretched ropes across Cheapside, an east-west thoroughfare in the City of London, to block traffic. Then they attacked one of the largest, most famous images in Britain.

Cheapside Cross was a stone monument to Eleanor of Castile, queen consort of Edward I, which had stood in the capital since the 1290s. It was a tiered structure, rather like the candle-powered Erzgebirge pyramids that some put on their Christmas tables. It contained statues of God, Mary, a dove representing the Holy Ghost and other things offensive to contemporary eyes.

The iconoclasts probably could not reach the crucifix on top of the monument, which was as much as ten metres from the ground. They tried toppling lower statues by yanking on ropes, but failed. So they plucked the infant Christ from Mary’s lap, defaced her and smashed the arms off other images. Then they vanished. A reward was offered for information on the attackers, but there were no takers.

That attack took place in June 1581. It was just one of many on images in Britain between the 1530s and the 1640s. Indeed, it was only one of those on Cheapside Cross. The monument was assaulted again in 1601—when Mary lost her child for a second time and was stabbed in the breast—and was finally demolished in 1643, on the orders of the Parliamentary Committee for the Demolition of Monuments of Superstition and Idolatry. Change a few details, though, and it could have been in 2021.

Britain is in the midst of an image controversy, centred on the many public statues erected by the Victorians. In June 2020 a crowd inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement used ropes to pull a 125-year-old statue of Edward Colston, a slave trader and local benefactor, from its plinth and dumped it into Bristol harbour. Other statues were sprayed with paint. Local governments hurriedly removed some objects before crowds could get to them. A statue of Thomas Picton, a particularly violent governor of colonial Trinidad, was boxed up in Cardiff City Hall; Robert Milligan, a slave owner, was hauled out of West India Quay in east London on a flatbed lorry.

Local authorities and other organisations have launched inquiries into statues, monuments, murals and street names. Some of these have already begun to report. An impressively detailed one for the Welsh government found 13 items commemorating slave traders, as well as 56 memorials to people who owned plantations or benefited directly from slave labour, 120 to people who opposed the abolition of slavery and still others to colonialists. Officials have not yet decided what to do about many of them. Other investigations, including one commissioned by the mayor of London, continue.

The reaction to this assault on historical images has been just as fervent. Vigilantes, most of them polite, have formed protective cordons around statues, including those of Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Baden-Powell. Newspapers and politicians rail against vandals both unofficial and official. In his speech to the Conservative Party conference in October 2021, Boris Johnson condemned “know-nothing cancel-culture iconoclasm”. His government has written to museums, threatening to cut their funding if they remove images.

Large differences exist between the iconoclasm of the 16th and 17th centuries and today’s rows. The earlier iconoclasts had different motivations and different ideas about how images worked on the mind. They were far more destructive than modern iconoclasts. Medieval churches were filled with murals and painted statues of saints, almost all of which have been destroyed. Not one English parish church retains all its pre-Reformation stained glass; St Mary’s Church in Fairford, in the Cotswolds, comes closest.

But there are similarities between the iconoclastic waves, too, which ought to discomfort conservatives. Those who oppose removing or destroying images today often argue that people should learn about history, not try to eradicate it. They mean that historical figures should be studied in the round and placed in the context of their times, rather than judged solely by modern criteria. But iconoclasm also has a history, which in Britain is long and largely triumphant: the hammers tend to prevail.

Although Renaissance iconoclasts sometimes erased political symbols, most of their targets were religious. They were following divine law, as they interpreted it. British Protestants argued that the words of the law given to Moses on Mount Sinai, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,” began a separate commandment—the second—which specifically proscribed idolatry. They also cited examples from the Old Testament of believers destroying images. Moses burned the golden calf and ground it into powder. A statue of Dagon, a Philistine god, was magically destroyed when the Ark of the Covenant was placed in its temple, losing its head and its hands.

The reformers believed that images were actively dangerous. Objects were thought to interact with the people who gazed upon them, including by staring back. To look at an image was almost to embrace it or consume it. As Margaret Aston, the leading historian of English iconoclasm, pointed out, medieval churchgoers usually experienced the Eucharist only by looking at it. They believed it had a powerful effect on them nonetheless. Iconoclasts believed that images worked on people through their eyes, tugging them back into idolatry. Those images had to go.

. . . .

This is far removed from the modern understanding of images. Those who argue for the removal of statues today claim not that images are harmful in themselves, but that their presence in public places signals institutional reluctance to root out racism and other enormities. Students at Oriel College in Oxford who want a statue of the colonialist Cecil Rhodes to be taken down from its perch above the High Street argue that it “can be symbolically communicative of a subtler and insipid prejudice in Oriel and the university”.

Modern iconoclasts are also far more restrained than their predecessors. Topple the Racists, a website that lists images and memorials deemed offensive (some of which have already been removed) contains 151 items. In 1643, during the English civil war, the zealous iconoclast William Dowsing eradicated at least 120 images in Jesus College, Cambridge in a single day. Attacks were often violent. In 1559 a congregation in Perth, in Scotland, smashed a tabernacle above the altar by flinging stones at it during the service.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG is generally opposed to any action that impairs the understanding of history, regardless of whether it offends the sensibilities of some of those who weren’t alive when that history was made.

The method in history’s madness

From The Guardian (in 2007):

As with all good ideas, one wonders why this one had not been thought of before. Despite countless books about the second world war, [Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World 1940-41 is] the first to examine the key decision-making processes during this crucial early period in sequence, and how fortunate that it is Ian Kershaw bringing his immense knowledge and clarity of thought to the task.

Major wartime decisions often appear either inevitable or idiotic, but that is because we view them in retrospect and often in isolation. Kershaw’s great strength is to explain the emotions as well as the circumstances that framed the choices. And he then shows how one decision affects the next. History may be “one damn thing after another”, but cause and effect is everything.

Kershaw begins with Churchill’s war cabinet in May 1940. French resistance had virtually collapsed and the British army, retreating towards Dunkirk, seemed to be doomed to destruction. French leaders wanted to approach Mussolini to discover what Hitler’s terms would be. The British war cabinet came close to following down that track, mainly influenced by the foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, but Churchill and others realised the danger just in time. Even to ask about conditions would undermine any attempt to fight if the terms were unacceptable. Churchill called it “the slippery slope of negotiations”.

Britain’s decision to fight on was crucial to the fate of western Europe. Only America had the power to reverse Nazi conquest, and Britain provided the only base to fight back. Hitler, whose main objective was the total subjugation of the Soviet Union, faced a quandary. Should he attack Britain directly with Operation Sealion? That was too dangerous with the Royal Navy and RAF intact. Should he follow the so-called “peripheral strategy”, of crushing British power in the Mediterranean and Middle East, although it would be impossible to reconcile the conflicting expectations of Mussolini, General Franco and Marshal Pétain? Or should he ignore the Bismarckian taboo of fighting a war on two fronts, and invade the Soviet Union before the United States could intervene? A rapid defeat of the Red Army, he argued, would force Britain to capitulate before Roosevelt could coax a reluctant Congress into all-out support. “It was madness,” concludes Kershaw, “but there was method in it.”

Roosevelt had to keep Britain in the war. The United States, he declared, should be the “great arsenal of democracy”. The first symbolic step was to hand over 50 antiquated destroyers. The next, and incomparably greater one, was Lend-Lease, providing the money and the weapons for the war. FDR suspected he could not carry the country until one of the Axis powers attacked the United States. Churchill was privately exasperated, but it is hard to fault Roosevelt’s instincts and his handling of events.

Mussolini showed the opposite of caution. Feeling patronised by Hitler, he launched a hopelessly inept attack on Greece from Albania without warning Berlin. Hitler was furious that the Balkans should be stirred up at the worst moment. The Wehrmacht then invaded Yugoslavia and Greece in the spring of 1941, which at least secured the southern flank for the invasion of the Soviet Union and protected Romanian oil reserves. Hitler, who remained sceptical of the airborne invasion of Crete in May, was reassured that the Allies could not use it later as a bomber base to attack the Ploesti oilfields. Hitler later claimed that this diversion southwards delayed the opening of Operation Barbarossa with fatal consequences, because the Wehrmacht was unable to reach Moscow before the winter. But Kershaw rightly discounts this. The heavy rains in central Europe that spring prevented the Luftwaffe from deploying to forward airfields.

Stalin, meanwhile, had persuaded himself that Hitler would never invade the Soviet Union before defeating Britain. The Nazi leader played cleverly on this idea, claiming that the troops massing on the border were being concealed there from the RAF while he prepared his assault on southern England. The Soviet dictator did not dare face the truth, because the Red Army was still in such a pitiful state after the purges and the neglect of his own crony, Marshal Voroshilov. He instinctively viewed British warnings of a Nazi attack as a deliberate “provokatsia” to force the Soviet Union to help an imperilled British Empire. Hitler, however, suffered from his own blind spot. He had failed to see any lessons in Japan’s cruel war in China launched in 1937. The vastness of China meant that the imperial army was overstretched, and its conspicuous brutality was counterproductive. It provoked resistance, not submission.

Ironically, the Wehrmacht’s overwhelming defeat of France had been the trigger for Japanese hopes, their “golden opportunity” to seize the French, Dutch and British colonies of southeast Asia. The hubris of the military-dominated Japanese government grew. Its leaders decided to strike south into the Pacific rather than attack the Soviet Union, partly because its army had received a bloody nose in 1939 at Khalkin-Gol from Red Army divisions commanded by General Georgi Zhukov. During the late summer and autumn of 1940, while Hitler began to plan his immense gamble, they considered attacking western colonies on the Pacific rim.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

It appears that PG has been in a Twentieth-Century military history frame of mind today.

While this will not be a permanent focus of TPV, as long-time visitors know, PG is of the opinion that the aftermath of World War II, which began over 80 years ago, continues to have a profound impact on the shape of the word today.

For one thing, the ending of the war divided Europe into two spheres of influence, the border of which was the approximate boundary between United States and Soviet Union’s armies at the time the war ended. The Western portion would be under the protection of the United States and Eastern Europe would lie in the Soviet sphere. Germany would be divided between areas controlled by Western and Soviet militaries. Berlin, the wartime capital which lay in East Germany, was similarly divided between Russia and West (US, Britain and France were each in charge of a portion of the West Berlin).

As one important and lasting economic change, in the aftermath of the war, the shattered economies of Western Europe received some important help from The Marshall Plan, also known as the European Recovery Program, enacted in 1948, under which the United States, which had not been subject to invasion or substantial land battles during the war, provided significant financial aid to help rebuild cities, industries and infrastructure in Western Europe.

In 1951, France and West Germany formed the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), integrating their coal and steel industries, began the process of removing long-standing trade barriers between the nations of Western Europe. In 1967, six European nations met in Rome to create what was then known as the European Economic Community, which would develop into the European Common Market which removed inter-European tariffs and other trade barriers. The accession of the United Kingdom to the European Communities was finalized in 1973.

This process was encouraged by the United States, which had not been subjected to the destruction of its homeland during the war. Additionally, the lack of trade barriers between the individual states in the United States provided an example of the economic benefits that open borders could provide.

Creating a Classic of Military Literature

From Publishers Weekly:

In the summer of 1942, during the first seven weeks of fierce fighting between U.S. Marines and the Japanese on Guadalcanal, an island in the Solomons, the Americans were watched over by a young correspondent from the International News Service, Richard Tregaskis. In his pockets he carried notebooks, on which he wrote key details about the brutal conditions faced by the Marines in this first major combat offensive in the Pacific theater.

Tregaskis would transfer the information nightly into a black, gilt-edged diary. “The theory and practice was that I could get all the details I needed by referring to the notebook number—one, or three, or four—when and if I could later get to writing a book from my notes,” he recalled.

After leaving Guadalcanal on a B-17 Flying Fortress on September 25, Tregaskis went to New Caledonia, where he was waiting for a military transport plane to take him to Honolulu, and began writing his book. In Hawaii, his writing had to be done in the Navy offices at Pearl Harbor, under the supervision of a censor. Every morning he would go there to work, and every night, his diary was locked in a safe; he never got it back and could not find out what happened to it. “And as fast as I could write my manuscript, a naval intelligence officer took my efforts and hacked away with a pencil and a pair of scissors,” Tregaskis reported. “That was the way it was with sharp-eyed military censorship in those days.”

Tregaskis’s manuscript describing his time on Guadalcanal, arranged in an easily understood diary format, was sent to the INS offices in New York City in early November 1942. Barry Faris, INS editor-in-chief, wrote Tregaskis that he had turned the manuscript over to Ward Greene, executive editor of King Features, which was owned and operated, as was INS, by newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. Faris said Greene would work to get the manuscript accepted by a book publisher and subsequently serialized in magazines. “I did not have a chance to read it thoroughly as I would have liked,” Faris informed Tregaskis, who would be splitting the proceeds from the book 50/50 with his employer, “but from what I did see I think you did a magnificent job on it.”

One person who took the time to read Tregaskis’s writing from beginning to end was Bennett Cerf, cofounder of Random House. Greene had distributed copies of the manuscript to nine publishers and asked them to bid on it, a method “that had never been done before,” Cerf noted. Just the day before he received Tregaskis’s text, he had been telling his colleagues that the first book published about Guadalcanal would be “a knockout,” because “Guadalcanal marked the turning of the tide” in the war in the Pacific.

Cerf received the manuscript from King Features on November 11 and read it that night. The next morning, he called Greene and told him, “I’ve got to have this book.” A pleased Cerf related years later that Random House had signed the young reporter’s work before “any of the other eight publishers had even started reading it.”

The publisher’s prediction that the American public would be interested in learning more about the Marines and their pitched battles on a remote island thousands of miles away turned out to be accurate. Rushed into print on Jan. 18, 1943, Guadalcanal Diary made a steady climb up the bestseller charts, reaching, the publishing company’s advertisements were quick to report, the #1 position on lists compiled by the New York Times and New York Herald Tribune. Sales of the book were boosted by positive reviews from critics, who praised Tregaskis not for his literary flair but for his factual and honest reporting about what the Marines faced during combat.

John Chamberlain of the New York Times wrote that Tregaskis’s book served as “a tonic for the war-weary on the homefront,” showing that a country “doesn’t necessarily have to love war in order to fight it.”

Interest in the book was so great that Guadalcanal Diary became the first Random House book to sell more than 100,000 copies.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Words of the Year

From Daily Writing Tips:

Since the 1990s–beginning with the American Dialect Society—various entities, including dictionaries and individual lexicographers, have announced Words of the Year in English. (The Germans started their Wort des Jahres in 1971.)

In 2021, the US dictionary, Merriam-Webster, and the British dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary, are almost on the same page.

For M-W, the word of the year is vaccine. which has been given a revised definition to include the new kinds of vaccination made possible with RNA.

For the OED, the word vax is the choice, along with its related forms:

vax (noun): a vaccine or vaccination
vax (verb): to treat with a vaccination to produce immunity against a disease
vaxxie: (noun) a photograph of oneself taken during or immediately before or after a vaccination, especially one against Covid-19, and typically shared on social media; a vaccination selfie.
anti-vax: (adjective) opposed to vaccination
anti-vaxxer: (noun) a person who is opposed to vaccination
double-vaxxed: (adjective) having received two doses of a vaccine

Another British dictionary, Collins, has chosen the initialism NFT as its number one word in a list of ten words of the year.

NFT: (noun) non-fungible token—a unique digital certificate, registered in a blockchain, that is used to record ownership of an asset such as an artwork or collectible; an asset whose ownership is recorded by means of a non-fungible token.

The other nine words on the Collins list include three pandemic-related words:

double-vaxxed: (adjective) having received two doses of a vaccine.

pingdemic: (noun) the epidemic of absences from work caused by “pings” from apps that warned users if they’d been in close contact with an infected person.

hybrid working: (noun) the practice of alternating between different working environments, such as from home and in an office.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

The Spine Collector

From Vulture:

On the morning of March 1, 2017, Catherine Mörk and Linda Altrov Berg were in the offices of Norstedts, a book publisher in Sweden, when they received an unusual email. A colleague in Venice was asking for a top-secret document: the unpublished manuscript of the forth-coming fifth book in Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” series. The books, which follow hacker detective Lisbeth Salander, have sold more than 100 million copies. David Lagercrantz, another Swedish writer, had taken over the series after Larsson’s death, and his latest — The Man Who Chased His Shadow — was expected to be one of the publishing events of the year.

Norstedts was guarding the series closely. Lagercrantz wrote his first “Millennium” book on a computer with no connection to the internet and delivered the manuscript on paper, at which point Norstedts mailed a single copy to each of the book’s international publishers. With the new title, Norstedts wanted to streamline the process — Lisbeth Salander’s publisher, they figured, should be able to protect itself from hackers and thieves. Mörk and Altrov Berg, who handle foreign rights at Norstedts, consulted with other publishers of blockbuster books. The translators working on one of Dan Brown’s follow-ups to The Da Vinci Code, for instance, were required to work in a basement with security guards clocking trips to the bathroom. Norstedts decided to try sharing the new “Millennium” book via Hushmail, an encrypted-email service, with passwords delivered separately by phone. Everyone would have to sign an NDA.

The unusual email came from Francesca Varotto, the book’s Italian-edition editor, and arrived shortly after Norstedts sent out the manuscript:

Dear Linda and Catherine,

I hope you are well. Could you please re-send me the link to the manuscript of The Man Who Chased His Shadow?

Thank you!

Best,

Francesca

Minutes later, and a few blocks away from Norstedts headquarters in Stockholm, Magdalena Hedlund, the agent representing the book, received a similar email from Varotto. It was strange that Varotto had lost something so valuable, but she and Hedlund were old friends, and the email struck a familiar tone. Plus everyone was scrambling: The book was set for release in 27 countries simultaneously, and the translators had to get started. Hedlund sent her friend the link to the manuscript.

Varotto replied instantly. “I’m sorry M,” she wrote. Varotto said that her password was “disabled/expired.” Could Hedlund send a new one?

Back at Norstedts, Mörk also received an email from Varotto. “Sorry Catherine,” the message read. “Could you please give me the Hushmail code?” Altrov Berg dashed off a separate message to Varotto, asking if everything was okay.

Suddenly, her phone rang. “Why are you sending me this?” Varotto asked. Altrov Berg explained what was happening. Varotto was confused. She hadn’t sent any emails to Norstedts all day.

With Varotto on the phone, the two Norstedts employees scrolled through the messages. The emails looked like ones Varotto would send: The text used the same font, and the signature at the end was styled just like hers. Then, with Varotto still on the line, Mörk got yet another email asking for the password.

They scanned the messages again. Only now did Varotto notice that the signature listed her old job title; she had been promoted two months earlier. The subject line also misspelled the name of her companyFinally, they realized the email address wasn’t hers at all: The domain had been changed from @marsilioeditori.it to @marsilioeditori.com.

Everyone deleted the emails. What other malicious tricks were lurking inside? The IT department at Marsilio Editori began investigating and found that the fraudulent domain had been created the day before through GoDaddy. It was registered to an address in Amsterdam and a Dutch phone number. When an employee tried calling, it went straight to a recording: “Thank you for calling IBM.”

The “Millennium” team was in a panic. The thief didn’t yet have the password, as far as they knew, but was clearly determined to get it. Publishers around the world depend on a best seller like this, and an online leak of the manuscript could derail its release.

But the book’s publication came and went without a hitch. The manuscript never reappeared. What was Fake Francesca Varotto after? Much more than Lisbeth Salander’s best-selling exploits, it turned out. On the same day as the “Millennium” emails, Fake Francesca asked someone else in publishing for an early look at Lot, Bryan Washington’s story collection, as well as a debut novel about an accountant who becomes a fortune teller. Even stranger, the thief had other identities. Later that day, a fake Swedish editor went to the Wylie Agency in London to request a copy of Louise Erdrich’s just-announced novel, and someone pretending to be Peter van der Zwaag, a Dutch editor, asked a colleague in New York for the same fortune-teller book. Fake Peter then introduced his new assistant to request that she be added to a private mailing list filled with confidential publishing information. The assistant followed up with a friendly note: “It’s so busy and overwhelming now with the London Book Fair, isn’t it?” The assistant didn’t exist.

This was a setup Stieg Larsson would have admired: a clever thief adopting multiple aliases, targeting victims around the world, and acting with no clear motive. The manuscripts weren’t being pirated, as far as anyone could tell. Fake Francesca wasn’t demanding a ransom. “We assumed it was the Russians,” Mörk said. “But we are the book industry. It’s not like we’re digging gold or researching vaccines.” Perhaps someone in publishing, or a Hollywood producer, was desperate for early access to books they might buy. Was the thief simply an impatient reader? A strung-out writer in need of ideas? “In the hacker culture that Stieg Larsson depicted, they do a lot of things not for financial benefit,” Mörk pointed out this spring, “but just to show that they can do it.”

When I first heard about the scheme in February, four years after the attempted “Millennium” heist, the thief was still on the loose, exhibiting behavior that was even bolder and more bizarre as they chased after everything from Sally Rooney’s latest to novels by obscure writers never published in English before. This sounded like a fun challenge, a digital mystery to obsess over at a time when the real world was shut down. I texted a friend in publishing to find out more. She quickly replied, “The culprit has been identified.” This was unexpected. The New York Times had two reporters on the case last year, and the FBI had been called in to investigate, but no charges or accusations had been leveled publicly. One of my colleagues, Lila Shapiro, looked into the scam in 2019 but dropped the story after concluding the case might be too baffling to crack. Many in publishing were too paranoid to discuss it. One literary agent, who had become obsessed with solving the mystery, had declined to talk because she feared Lila herself might be the thief.

And yet my contact was certain — or “like 85 percent sure” — that the thief was a particular person, a man who had worked in New York publishing for a decade. He was an outsider in the industry with a reputation for becoming pushy when he didn’t get what he wanted. He seemed to conduct his business almost entirely over email.

Link to the rest at Vulture

Embracing the Mystery: Deep POV

From Writers in the Storm:

Q: What’s Deep POV?

A: I can’t tell you, but I know it when I see it.

This worked well enough—until it didn’t.  So I got busy trying to get to the bottom of it.  Nail it down. Carve it in stone. Cement it immovably amid the legendary constancy of the English language.

I’ll wait till you stop laughing.

You can sort of follow the progress of this endeavor by the history of the titles I tried out:

  • A brief definition of Deep POV
  • Deep POV: Cracking the Code
  • Deep POV: Cracking the Code. Maybe
  • Deep POV: Legend, or Myth? [wait, those are the same thing…]
  • Deep POV: Is it really a thing?

as well as some of the discarded verbiage I left behind along the way (see strikeouts).

Deep POV is all about eliminating reducing managing distance between the reader and the story, and immersing the reader in the story. I knew intuitively how to use Deep POV (see “I know it when I see it,” above), but when one of my editing clients needed me to explain it, I realized I didn’t have a clear enough understanding of it to define it universally, without resorting to customized examples every time. I wanted something that would travel well from one manuscript to another. Something I wouldn’t have to re-create for each author or student I worked with.

What I found—and didn’t find

The struggle is real: nearly every website I visited had a slightly—or sometimes not so slightly—different definition, and Deep POV has yet to be covered by the likes of The Chicago Manual of Style or merriam-webster.com.

So you can see my dilemma. Someone had to do it. (Oh, the chutzpah.) (In my defense, I had significant prodding from a writer and publisher whose idea this column was in the first place.)

So, clothed in nothing but sheer, naked hubris, I tackled this slippery eel of a question: What exactly is Deep POV?

. . . .

I took what I was thinking and turned it into an equation. (And you thought that if you became a writer, you’d never need to use algebra again.) Here was my first hypothesis:

  • third-person limited POV + Deep POV = Deep POV
  • third-person limited POV + Deep POV – Deep POV = Deep POV – Deep POV
    (Stay with me; we’re just keeping both sides of the equation balanced.)
  • third-person limited POV = 0

Highly illogical. Thank you, Dr. Spock. My hypothesis was disproven.

So I tried this hypothesis instead:

  • third-person limited + inner dialogue = Deeper POV 

And the lights came on. I’d been crediting a literary device (internal dialogue) as the sole alchemy that magically turned one point of view into the gold of another, and mentally equating the two—internal dialogue and Deep POV—as essentially one thing. But it was adding the literary device of internal dialogue to an existing point of view that took the reader deeper into experiencing the story.

So, I had gotten this far in organizing my thoughts, most of which are obvious, but bear with me; I was fighting my way out of the deep underbrush here. I needed visuals.

  • Third-person limited* is a Point of View (POV).
  • Internal dialogue** is a literary device.
  • Using both in a story creates a deeper variant of third-person limited POV.

What I was actually looking at was the convergence of one point of view with a literary device that made it deeper, thicker, like cornstarch thickens broth and turns it into gravy.

So far, so good. BUT, for those of you holding your breath or yelling at your computer that I’m just wrong, wrong, WRONG, and I wouldn’t blame you at this juncture, here it is:

My hypothesis was much too limited. I needed a new hypothesis—and a fresh perspective.

. . . .

I had been looking at only a narrow segment of Deep POV, one that utilizes internal dialogue, taking readers inside your characters’ minds to live, as closely as possible, their experience. And it’s a powerful device, the rules of which are better left for another day.

But it’s not the only POV or literary device that can bring the reader closer, deeper into the story. Look at this short (and not exhaustive) list of things that can also do that:

  • First person can bring the reader into a story and add or remove distance, depending on what the story needs at any given point.
  • Present tense can establish an immediacy that brings the reader deeper into the character’s experience.
  • The narrator in third-person limited POV brings a level of closeness as the narrator paraphrases a character’s thoughts.
  • Visceral responses, subtext of varying kinds, body language can all enhance closeness for the reader.

All these things and more create an ambience, a mood, an attitude. I am no longer even sure that Deep POV is best described as a POV.

I am increasingly convinced that Deep POV is more a state of mind. Multiple devices can bring readers closer to what a character is thinking, feeling, experiencing, and thus bring the reader deeper into the story—at a level that you, the author, can manipulate with increasing skill as you use it. You can bring the reader only as far into the story as you want them to be, at any point in your story, as it serves your purpose.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

No, PG doesn’t understand Deep POV.

Contracts: Traditional Publishing

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

Here’s a weird thing about businesses: When a business is rolling in cash, the people who run it loosen their grip on the details. Instead of solving a problem, they throw money at it. Often they don’t recognize the problem for the danger that it might be, until it comes back to bite them, years down the road.

However, when the business notices that its revenues are down, and nothing it does seems to improve them, the business tightens whatever belt it can find. It also gets draconian about the details. Before, when the business was throwing thousands of dollars at a problem, the business didn’t really care about hundreds of dollars or tens of dollars or the pocket change.

When that business realizes its revenues are down, though—and maybe down for a bunch of months or even years—then that business watches every single dollar that flows in and out. In fact, if it’s a publicly traded company and/or if it has a board of directors and/or if it has shareholders to answer to, the business also finds a way to inflate its bottom line.

Inflating the bottom line attracts investors. It also keeps the stock price up (for any publicly traded company), and it makes the folks running this slowly sinking ship look like they’re doing Just Fine.

I’ve been thinking about that principle a lot this past semester. I’ve been taking an Entertainment Law class. I love it. I really do. I was exhausted at the end of the semester from that class, from finishing a (surprise) novel, from a bunch of things, and I still find myself looking forward to the second half of the EL class in the spring, so much so that I couldn’t quite believe it when one of my classmates said she didn’t think she’d take the second part of the class, even though it has units on movies, television, and streaming, things she, as a wannabe screenwriter, needs to understand.

For me, the first two weeks of the class were a gimme—copyright law, the bedrock foundation of entertainment law here in the U.S. (and abroad). I got that stuff. But the rest of it showed me just how haphazard my knowledge is.

In class, we read a lot of cases, and that, more than anything, showed my why my book contracts morphed and changed over the years, why it became so hard to suddenly negotiate points that seemed small to me, but seemed very, very important to the person on the other side of the table.

Usually, the changes came about because copyright law changed in a major way (twice in the United States during my active career; three times in my lifetime), but sometimes the contracts changed because some publisher lost a big dramatic lawsuit, and everyone wanted to prevent the same kind of loss from happening to them.

. . . .

Case in point was the sample publishing contract in the 12-year-old edition of the textbook. I have never, in my entire career, seen a contract like that one. Not a single one. And I have read maybe close to a thousand publishing contracts.

How have I read so many when I haven’t published that many books? Early on, I was in a group with young writers who shared contracts, even though we weren’t supposed to. That was a hell of an education in levels of contracts. Later, friends shared, particularly when they got high-end deals. And in the past thirty years or so, students have sent contracts, asking for help in understanding them. Or at least, students used to. Most of the people Dean and I teach now are indie.

The book contract in that textbook had a lot of clauses that were more favorable to the writer than I had ever seen. It also had some truly bizarre clauses that publishers seemed to think they wanted.

What caught my attention, though, was the advertising section of the contract. It went on for pages, with a suggested ad budget and an advertising plan as part of the contract.

You lawyers and the contract-savvy will understand this: If the advertising budget and the proposed plan are part of the contract, and the publisher reneges or somehow cannot pull off that advertising plan, then they are in breach of contract.

All I can think is that this sample contract dated from the 1970s or was very specific to one author that the book’s authors were familiar with. Because I’ve seen contracts with a stipulated advertising section. That section is as vague as possible. (The Publisher will use all best efforts to run a full-scale advertising campaign in accordance with best practices for the period when the Work appears…)

. . . .

Over the decades since the first edition of this textbook was published in the early 1980s, writers have lost a lot of their clout. Writers also stopped relying on knowledgeable people to help them negotiate their contracts and relied on literary agents instead.

With few exceptions, literary agents do not use the services of lawyers to help negotiate a contract. Some of the larger agencies do, especially if they’re affiliated with other branches of the entertainment industry, but most of the time a traditional book contract is being negotiated by a person without a law degree whose knowledge of contract law is more haphazard than mine is.

What this has done with traditional publishing contracts is make them exceptionally inequitable. The contracts favor the publishers and, in some cases, actively harm the writers.

I’ve been shouting about this for years now. The problem is that in the years since I last got a traditional publishing book contract, the destructive nature of the contracts has grown worse, not better. Major companies are trying to license as many rights as possible for the life of the copyright. These companies have a hand-waving termination clause in the contract—something like if the book can’t be found for sale somewhere then it’s out of print—which means nothing in these days of internet sales.

Even contracts that have a good termination clause negate that clause in a different section (usually in the warranties). And within the last two or three years, some traditional book publishers have gotten smart and added a clause like this:

This contract represents the entire Agreement between the Publisher and the Writer. If any part of this Agreement is deemed unlawful or unenforceable, the rest of the Agreement shall remain in effect.

Think about that for a moment. In the past, a bad clause or two would have caused a breach of contract. I’d like to say not anymore, at least with these clauses at the very end, but I don’t know. I suspect that clause has not been challenged in court.

. . . .

But traditional publishers are using contracts for things other than swallowing and holding other people’s IP. The larger companies, particularly the Big 5, are adding morality clauses.

I couldn’t find a good example of these clauses in the handful of contracts I have at my fingertips, but The New York Times a few years ago gave two good examples. The first is from Penguin Random House, which is poised to control even more of the traditional publishing industry.

At the time this article was written, four years ago, Randy Penguin’s clause read like this:

These clauses release a company from the obligation to publish a book if, in the words of Penguin Random House, “past or future conduct of the author inconsistent with the author’s reputation at the time this agreement is executed comes to light and results in sustained, widespread public condemnation of the author that materially diminishes the sales potential of the work.”

As of February, Randy Penguin did not require the author to repay all monies paid in that instance.

The 2017 article pointed out Condé Nast’s morality clause in its annual contract for regular magazine contributors, a clause which is infinitely worse than Randy Penguin’s was. The article says,

If, in the company’s “sole judgment,” the clause states, the writer “becomes the subject of public disrepute, contempt, complaints or scandals,” Condé Nast can terminate the agreement.

Um, what? What?  “Contempt”? “Complaints”? What do those things even mean? And does it matter, since those are determined only by Condé Nast, not by any objective (if there is one) source?

. . . .

Again, clauses like this are designed to chill behavior, not to punish it. Sure, it will give the publishing company an out if the writer goes from, say, being the doctor to an entire gymnastics team to being outed as a serial rapist, but the morality clause could just as easily be frivolously used to break a contract with a prickly author who the replacement for the acquiring editor does not like.

Or as PEN America said in its opposition to the morality clause:

While the necessity of such clauses may be understandable where an author with a signed book contract is convicted of a crime or publicly admits to immoral behavior, PEN America is concerned that some clauses pave the way for publishers to cancel publication on the basis of speech that is controversial, offensive, or provocative, but legally protected. If writers are on notice that a provocative comment, quote, or social media post that stokes uproar may prompt the cancellation of a book contract, they may constrain their expression for fear of harming their careers. Morality clauses thus risk chilling speech and narrowing discourse among writers who fear a loss of livelihood based on their publisher’s response.

The morals clause and the copyright license are big issues in current contracts. A smaller, telling issue shows yet again how traditional publishers are trying to control the behavior of the writers they bring on board.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

PG’s first rule of business relationships is:

Don’t do business with crooks.

This is PG’s shorthand vernacular for advice not to deal with people or organizations which are dishonest. Some publishers and some agents fall into this category.

PG regards some of the contract provisions described in the OP as substantial overreaching, an indication for him that whatever organization inserted them in its “standard” contract is, at a minimum, overreaching and not to be trusted.

Morals clauses or morality clauses originated, like a great many other one-sided contract provisions, in Hollywood contracts between movie studios and their major stars. Morals clauses first appeared there in response to a scandal involving silent screen star, Fatty Arbuckle.

Fatty was charged with the rape and killings of an actress in the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco in 1921. He was tried for these alleged crimes three times. The first two trials resulted in a hung jury and the last resulted in an acquittal of Arbuckle on all charges.

Despite the acquittal, the official motion picture censor banned all of Arbuckle’s films and Arbuckle’s career was over for a period of time. He never regained his former stature or compensation level.

Universal Studios placed the first morals clause in its contracts for talent in 1921:

The actor (actress) agrees to conduct himself (herself) with due regard to public conventions and morals and agrees that he (she) will not do or commit anything tending to degrade him (her) in society or bring him (her) into public hatred, contempt, scorn or ridicule, or tending to shock, insult or offend the community or outrage public morals or decency, or tending to the prejudice of the Universal Film Manufacturing Company or the motion picture industry. In the event that the actor (actress) violates any term or provision of this paragraph, then the Universal Film Manufacturing Company has the right to cancel and annul this contract by giving five (5) days’ notice to the actor (actress) of its intention to do so.

Morals clauses are most commonly found in contracts for actors or other performers, including television personalities and newscasters. Stars of reality television shows are also likely to have these clauses. Morals clauses are also common in professional sports contracts between players and team owners.

One way that PG has used to help deal with unfair contract provisions is to ask the other party for a reciprocal provision in the agreement that obligates them in the same manner as PG’s client is obligated.

If PG’s client is obligated to pay money to the other party on a certain date and the other party has the right to terminate the contract upon the failure to pay that money on that date, PG might suggest a similar provision that allows his client to terminate the contract if the other party fails to complete its promised actions at the time(s) set forth in the agreement.

This doesn’t always work but, when it’s rational, it’s a great way to cause the other side to become more realistic in its contract language.

The same strategy has been used in response to morals clauses. If an organization wants an individual to sign a contract including a morals clause that allows the organization to terminate its agreement if the individual commits certain acts, including saying or writing something offensive, a reciprocal morals clause could be proposed for the officers, directors and major shareholders of the company asking for the morals clause.

If a performer’s or author’s contract with an organization will be terminated for saying or doing something offensive, the officer or director’s relationship with the organization will also be similarly terminated if the officer or director says or does the same sort of thing and the performer wishes to exercise this contractual power. Major shareholders could be be required to divest themselves of their ownership interests in the company or put them in a blind trust with a large bank as trustee.

If you would like to read more about morals clauses, PG located a 2016 law review article on the subject that seems to be free of paywalls. You can find it here.

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.

FBI Arrests Suspect Scamming Authors for Unpublished Manuscripts

From The Authors Guild:

As we reported a few months ago to members, authors have fallen prey to several scams, including one in which a person claimed to work with an author’s publishing house to gain access to that author’s unpublished manuscript.

The New York Times today reported that, after five long years, an arrest has been made on allegations of wire fraud and identity theft. Picked up when he arrived at New York’s JFK airport, the FBI arrested Filippo Bernardini, an Italian citizen, whose social media profile claims he works for Simon & Schuster UK’s rights division.

As we previously reported, the accused would send out emails “impersonating real people working in the publishing industry — a specific editor, for example — by using fake email addresses.” He would employ slightly tweaked domain names like penguinrandornhouse.com instead of penguinrandomhouse.com, — putting an “rn” in place of an “m.” According to the indictment, Bernardini had registered more than 160 fraudulent internet domains impersonating publishing professionals and companies.

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

Terraforming: Worldbuilding for Sci-fi Authors

From Writers in the Storm:

There are few more liberating genres than science fiction. Unfettered by petty limitations like technology or the laws of physics, a sci-fi setting can be crafted to suit the whims of the storyteller and the needs of the story. But anyone who has consumed more than a few pieces of sci-fi literature can tell you that the limitless potential of a sci-fi setting can quickly spiral out of control if care isn’t taken to craft it with depth and consistency.

Let’s go through a quick crash course on how to build a sturdy foundation for your sci-fi story.

Hard Sci-fi vs Soft Sci-fi

A good place to start when crafting your setting is the simple question of how hard or soft you want your sci-fi to be.

Hard Sci-Fi

For the uninitiated, Hard Sci-Fi refers to science fiction with firm roots in reality as we understand it now. There’s still plenty of fiction in a setting like this, but the science is as near to fact as the author can manage. The Martian, for example, is a rock-hard sci-fi story. Everything from the launch date of a Mars mission to the nitty-gritty of orbital mechanics is mapped out with mathematical detail to find the intersection of the realities of science and the requirements of drama.

Hard Sci-Fi comes with a lot of benefits.

First and foremost, the more realistic underpinnings of the setting will make for a world far more familiar to the readers. The technology is likely to look and feel like something that exists in the real world. Even when the technology is futuristic, the reader will generally be able to feel the evolutionary connection to things they work and play with every day. It also takes some of the world-building pressure off the author’s shoulders, as a big hunk of your story bible can be found in science textbooks.

However, if its concrete basis in fact is the greatest strength of hard sci-fi, it is also its greatest weakness. Hard sci-fi is a version of science fiction that you can get wrong. And because hard sci-fi fans tend to be science buffs, chances are very good you’ll hear about it if you forgot to carry a one on that power to mass calculation. This means you’ll be doing loads of homework to get things to align correctly, and bending reality to suit your narrative can become a bit of a puzzle, teasing the laws of physics into just the right configuration to get your characters where they need to go.

Hard sci-fi also is much more likely to feel dated.

Basing it on known and understood scientific principles favors setting it in a near future. This means that as science marches on, it could trample all over your speculative technology by surpassing it in a fraction of the time you’d predicted. Alternately, you could extrapolate your future tech on a theory that could be abandoned or disproved, retroactively making your hard sci-fi much softer than you’d intended.

Soft Sci-Fi

That brings us to soft sci-fi. In short, this is sci-fi where you get to fill in the gaps between what we can do and what you want to do with physics-defying mechanisms of your own concoction. Here’s where you get things like warp drive, bionics, and assorted other forms of applied phlebotinum. Nothing is off the table, so long as you can assemble enough technobabble to convince your audience that it’s plausible within the setting.

The assets of a soft sci-fi setting are clear.

The entire setting can be a playground for your imagination. You never have to worry about a desired plot becoming impossible. Soft sci-fi is where you get space operas of magnificent scope and unbridled adventure. It gives the writer a full palette of colors to paint their masterpiece, rather than simply those offered by Newton and Einstein. It’s what many people think of when they think of science fiction.

There is a dark side to soft sci-fi, however.

Most often, it comes when a writer fails to realize that “new rules” does not mean “no rules.” A soft sci-fi writer should, ideally, be creating a universe with its own laws of physics. Sure, they allow for things like time travel or faster than light travel, but the mechanisms that allow these divergences from our reality must be consistent and believable. If exceeding the speed of light requires a Carpinelli Drive, don’t have someone crossing the galaxy in six minutes using a standard rocket unless you’ve got some really compelling technobabble to justify it.

Taking away all limitations or changing the rules at the drop of a hat will confuse and frustrate readers. In the worst case, this could completely defuse any attempts at creating tension or stakes. Why should we worry if the heroes will reach the imperiled planet in time to save the day if you’ve already established spaceships don’t have to follow their own rules?

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

BookTok: A Safe Haven for Young Female Readers

From Jane Friedman:

It might well be impossible at this point to host a children’s publishing event without offering at least one session focused on TikTok—or, more specifically, BookTok, the community of young book lovers on the platform. At The Bookseller’s children’s online publishing conference last fall, a panel discussed the power of BookTok and why it’s pushing YA books up the bestseller lists. The latest title to fly off shelves because of BookTok is They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, the second best-selling book of 2021 overall in the UK children’s market—and number-one bestseller in the US.

The marketing power of BookTok starts with peer-to-peer recommendation.

All book marketing research shows that people are strongly influenced by what friends suggest they read, and that describes TikTok on a global scale. But the twist with TikTok is that it goes beyond a simple recommendation or just flashing a book cover. Instead, BookTokers focus on a book’s plot, themes, and genre—the real meaty heart of the book, not necessarily the aesthetic. Panel moderator Charlotte Eyre (children’s editor at The Bookseller) said, “TikTok is about conveying the emotion” felt while reading the book. Author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, an avid consumer of BookTok videos, says, “I really like living through [BookTok readers] as they’re experiencing the emotions.”

TikTok remains a positive place for young people.

TikTok creator Faith Young, whose audience is 97% women, said, “I sort of describe it as the last wholesome place on the internet. It’s just become this safe haven for young women.” Young, who is 22, described growing up as an uncool teenager who spent all of her time reading books in the library. She then discovered her people on TikTok. Georgia Henry, a children’s specialist campaign manager at Rocket (a UK marketing agency), said that, given her job, she hardly ever has time to pick up a book for relaxation, but whenever she goes on BookTok, “I just want to curl up with a cup of tea and open a book and lose myself in a book, and it’s just really inspiring.” Young audiences are now walking into bookstores and libraries in significant numbers to buy and read books. (If you haven’t visited a brick-and-mortar store lately, try it. You are sure to find a display based on BookTok.)

. . . .

However, as with all social media, TikTok requires authenticity and may come more naturally to younger authors. Àbíké-Íyímídé said that posting on TikTok feels like an extension of her overall creator skills—skills she’s built up over time as a Gen Z author. She and her author-peers are using what they know about internet culture and applying it to their publishing careers in how they talk about books and engage with readers online. “Especially as Gen Z we can see when something is inauthentic,” Àbíké-Íyímídé said.

Publishers can use the platform organically and succeed. 

Young said that one of the first accounts she followed on TikTok was Penguin Teen because they have a designated person who creates their social media posts and also shares about her own life. “An important part of TikTok is feeling like you know the people that you follow,” Young said. “It wouldn’t work if [publishers] have loads of different people creating videos.” Similarly, she really likes the content coming out of Sourcebooks Fire, one of her favorite publishers. “They recently casted—no, hired—a new head of social media, and she already had a big following on TikTok, and she now runs their TikTok, and that felt very authentic and I really like their videos.”

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Color PG skeptical about TikTok. He has visited a couple times, but didn’t find much that interested him. He has, however, read more than a few horror stories about young people getting into bad situations on TikTok.

About Gen Z folks understanding “internet culture,” PG suggests that there are a zillion internet cultures. ISIS and Al Qaeda have internet cultures. Left-wing and right-wing radicals have their internet culture. English-speaking romance readers have their own internet culture. Ditto (likely) for German-speaking romance readers.

PG will grant that there are lots and lots of internet sub-cultures and some authors of books for female teens may be familiar with female teen online sub-cultures, but PG suspects that it’s easy to age-out of a subculture based on age and stage of life.

PG is happy to be further enlightened by those more familiar with TikTok.

As far as traditional publishers and authenticity – that’s a bridge too far for PG.

Predictions for Journalism 2022

From Nieman Lab:

Newsrooms, social scientists, public health professionals, and librarians unite

“We’ll see more attacks on public institutions — libraries, universities, school boards, news organizations. They’ll be hard to parse and hard to think about as connected.”

Melody Kramer

. . . .

Audience development roles broaden further

“We’ll mitigate the risks of our often uneasy relationships with Facebook, Google, and Apple by further doubling down on diversifying our audience sources and cultivating direct relationships with readers.”

Sarah Marshall

. . . .

Audience engagement ≠ community engagement

“Newsrooms won’t find the key to any of this in their analytics.”

Ariel Zirulnick

. . . .

We remember the importance of face-to-face reporting

“It might let you glimpse that almost imperceptible frown on your source’s face when you ask a question.”

Alice Antheaume

Link to the rest at Nieman Lab

The Top Eight Publishing Trends For 2022

From Written Word Media:

What publishing trends will 2022 reveal? What will change for indie authors in the coming new year?

Every year at Written Word Media we analyze our own data and talk to industry experts to get an idea of what’s going on in the world of publishing, and what publishing trends authors and publishers can expect in the upcoming year. Here are our top eight publishing trends for 2022.

. . . .

Direct Sales for Authors Continue to Grow

More authors saw success with direct sales from their own websites in 2021, and we see this continuing in 2022. Bryan Cohen of the Sell More Books Show says that authors with a following could see the largest gains here.

“Many higher-end authors who are looking to expand their brand will consider the wild world of direct sales on their own website,” said Cohen. “The learning curve there is steep, but these authors will embrace the value of growing their team to help them pull off the seemingly impossible.”

Mark Leslie Lefebvre of Draft2Digital also sees direct sales growing in 2022.

“As tools and platform availability make it easier, such as plug-ins for WordPress or other sites, and as savvy authors continue to build upon their author newsletter strategies, they can drive more people to get their books direct,” said Lefebvre. As more tools, like Shopify and BookFunnel proliferate, direct sales become a more viable channel for authors.

. . . .

Book Prices Will Increase

At Written Word Media we’re big believers in discount promos or free first-in-series books, but we also see some authors increasing their set prices in 2022. An increase in price can make a discount promo even more appealing, especially a Kindle Countdown Deal where readers can see how much they are saving, and it can signal quality to readers.

Craig Martelle, best-selling author and 20 Books Vegas host says that changes in the entertainment and social landscape in 2022 will contribute to price changes. “Prices will go up. We’ve already seen that with paperbacks since paper and shipping have both increased in cost, but we’ll see it with ebooks, too,” said Martelle. “Entertainment value for discretionary income leads us back to quality over quantity. Good books will always be able to find an audience.”

In 2022 we see more authors increasing the prices of backlist titles to increase revenue and experiment with better margins.

. . . .

Bonus Trend

More authors will consider writing and publishing serializations via reading apps
This trend comes to us via Jane Friedman who thinks that more authors will experiment with new formats in 2022.

“If you have kids who read any fiction at all, they likely have read something at Webtoon, Tapas, or Wattpad,” said Friedman. “While many see online literature and webcomics as separate from the traditional publishing market, that thinking is likely to change. Webcomics companies are adapting popular novels into their format, and popular online stories are moving into print.”

While Amazon’s Kindle Vella hasn’t had the readership many authors hoped for, a slow start doesn’t mean serialization, or Kindle Vella, are dead. In fact, Friedman says that serialized storytelling is poised for continued growth and sees signals coming from international markets.

“Webtoon, Tapas, Radish, and other online reading apps have seen dramatic growth during the pandemic and operate profitably. While online and serialized literature continues to be more popular with writers in Asian markets, they also attract US authors, especially genre fiction authors, who can earn extra money from serializations and adaptations into mobile storytelling formats. Royal Road is now seen by digital-first publishers as rich territory for mining talent (like Wattpad before it), and Inkitt received millions in funding for its serialized storytelling app, Galatea,” said Friedman.

Link to the rest at Written Word Media