Lesya Ukrainka’s Revisionist Mythmaking

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:


February 25, 2021, marks the 150th birthday of the modernist poet at the top of the Ukrainian literary canon, Lesya Ukrainka (Larysa Kosach, 1871–1913). Having chosen, at the age of 13, the pen name “Ukrainian woman,” she went on to reinvent what it meant both to be a Ukrainian and a woman.

. . . .

“I am quite well aware that this is impudence,” she admitted with a sense of delicious irony in a letter to a friend, interlarding her mock-confessional Ukrainian with German words and quotes from Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, “yet ’tis ‘has been pronounced on high’ that I must mit Todesverachtung throw myself into the maze of global themes […], which my countrymen, except two or three brave souls, dare not enter.”

As a modernist, she broke with literary tradition in two significant ways. First of all, she rejected a provincializing paradigm imposed upon Ukrainian culture by the Russian Empire. During her time, the only acceptable image of the colonized people was that of ignorant peasants, and stir Ukrainka’s fancy it did not. A polyglot in command of nine European languages, she populated her poetic dramas with archetypal characters from classical mythology, Scripture, medieval legends, and Romantic poetry. Twining Ukrainian anticolonial subtext and European cultural context, Ukrainka also undermined the masculinist underpinnings of some familiar plots. A turn-of-the-century writer in a ruffled-collar blouse, she revised the key myths of Western culture from a woman’s point of view, venturing into literary territory later to be explored by second-wave feminists.

. . . .

Ukrainka’s poetic drama Stone Host (1912) became the first story of Don Juan in European letters written by a woman. Tirso de Molina, Molière, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Lord Byron, and Alexander Pushkin were among her predecessors. Ukrainka’s version transforms the fabled libertine, the great Romantic sinner and seducer into his supposed conquest’s plaything. Donna Anna is the unmistakable New Woman of the fin de siècle, albeit dressed in Spanish courtly garb. Confused by her rationality, Ukrainka’s Don Juan cries out, “You are indeed stone, without soul or heart,” only to hear in response, “Though not without good sense, you must admit.” Don Juan agrees to sacrifice his freedom and become Donna Anna’s sword in the fight for the throne. Donna Anna’s manipulative power compensates for her overall powerlessness within a male-dominated society, which can silence her no longer. Ukrainka’s heroines seize the right to tell their stories.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

PG doesn’t wish to rain on the triumphant parade of Ukrainica’s heroines, but must point out that Joseph Stalin did a pretty thorough job of crushing millions of Ukrainian women and men during the 1932-33 Ukrainian famine (The Holodomor, “to kill by starvation” or Terror-Famine).

Powerlessness is not always gender-related.

Starved peasants on a street in Kharkiv, 1933. In Famine in the Soviet Ukraine, 1932–1933: a memorial exhibition, Widener Library, Harvard University. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard College Library: Distributed by Harvard University Press, 1986. Procyk, Oksana. Heretz, Leonid. Mace, James E. (James Earnest). ISBN: 0674294262. Page 35. Initially published in Muss Russland Hungern? [Must Russia Starve?], published by Wilhelm Braumüller, Wien [Vienna] 1935.

Tardiness in Approving New Comments

PG apologizes for not tending the store as usual. The post that immediately precedes this one (chronologically) is his only excuse.

PG especially apologizes to those who posted their first comments during the past couple of days. PG has TPV set to require that the first comment from a visitor be held for moderation to help cut down on comment spam.

Once PG has approved the first comment, subsequent comments should appear nearly immediately (you may have to hit the reload button on your browser) provided that you are not bitten by a werewolf and converted into a comment spammer.

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny Teaming up on New Political Mystery Novel

From BookRiot:

If you love political mysteries, you’re in for a treat this October when a novel hits shelves written from an interesting new perspective: that of former Secretary of State and presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Clinton is teaming up with award-winning Canadian mystery writer Louise Penny to co-write State of Terror, which tells the story of a newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State who must solve a series of terrorist attacks. The book will hit shelves on October 12, and is being jointly published by Clinton and Penny’s publishers, Simon & Schuster and St. Martin’s Press respectively.

State of Terror takes place just after a four-year presidential term that pulled America away from the world stage. A novice Secretary of State is appointed by her political rival, and shortly after, the country is rocked by multiple terrorist attacks. The Secretary must put together a team capable of finding the source of the attacks while also preventing the American government from crumbling.

Clinton’s political experience influences several aspects of the new novel. After losing to former President Barack Obama in the 2008 election, Clinton was appointed by Obama to serve as Secretary of State for four years. The novel is also influenced by the Trump administration’s “America First” foreign policy tactics.

. . . .

Penny shared that she “couldn’t say yes fast enough” to writing a book with Clinton. “Before we started, we talked about her time as Secretary of State. What was her worst nightmare? ‘State of Terror’ is the answer.”

Link to the rest at BookRiot

PG felt an impulse to be snide, but perhaps recent intensive grandchild therapy has mellowed him out.

For the time being.

Curators of our culture are hard at work, even under present circumstances. Where would our culture be without them?

Offspring

The reason that posting has been a bit irregular in recent days is that, after their Covid vaccines kicked in, PG and Mrs. PG entered one of the vehicles that has spent most of its time in the garage of Casa PG and turned on the cruise control.

After a period of time, they arrived at the home of one of their offspring who, in turn, has several offspring of her home.

PG will attest that grandchild therapy is an excellent treatment for a condition PG’s father used to call, “Barn Sour.” When an animal, generally a cow/bull/steer or a horse, is kept in a pen in the barn for too long, that animal will become listless and fail to thrive.

The treatment for barn sourness is to let the animal out of the barn into a corral or other space where it has the opportunity to move and interact with a variety of other animals. Even an older large animal will sometimes kick its back legs in the air and trot around a bit before settling down to the serious business of sniffing as many other animals which will hold still for that greeting/examination.

Like an old barn sour bull, PG has rejoiced in being freed from his Covid barn to kick his back feet in the air. He has not noticeably spent a lot of time sniffing his grandchildren (grandsons who have been permitted to roam about generate a sort of sweaty boy smell, particularly if they have been able to somehow avoid a bath the night before), but he has enjoyed interacting with grandchildren of both genders.

The image at the top of this post is a photo of a group of guard animals arrayed across the entrance to PG’s and Mrs. PG’s bedroom. PG was unable to ascertain exactly what threats they’re guarding us from, but since only pleasant experience have occurred since their first appearance, PG expects that is an indication of their efficacy.

Venice’s Mauri School 2021: ‘The State of the Book’

From Publishing Perspectives:

As Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, the 38th Scuola per Librai Umberto e Elisabetta Mauri program, a “School of Booksellers,” was held at the end of last month in a digital format rather than in its customary venue at Venice’s Fondazione Giorgio Cini in the former San Giorgio Monastery.

Titled “The State of the Book in Europe,” the event on January 29 drew as many as 1,200 attendees from many parts of the world, an unusual chance for many to get a look at this normally much more exclusive symposium.

. . . .

Host Nana Lohrengel, secretary-general of the Umberto and Elisabetta Mauri Foundation, opened the day and handed off to the foundation’s chief, Achille Mauri. He described what’s normally the boat ride to “the most beautiful island in the world–Palladio and Brunelleschi’s San Giorgio Maggiore—with “a breakfast of warm pastries” and “a drink of Grignolino,” the red varietal of the Piedmont, “by the labyrinth early in the morning.”

One of the most gracious comments of the entire day came in this brief welcome from Achille Mauri when he explained the special value of the symposium’s traditional, opulent setting. “Luxury,” he said, “is so therapeutic. Zoom can’t compete with that experience.”

. . . .

As the early lockdowns hit, bookseller Linzalone says “We succeeded by drawing not only on our internal resources but also by using the Libri da Asporto service [a book delivery company] in the beginning. That allowed us to keep selling at a level we never expected,” even while applying for supplemental small-business support.

“We realized it was possible and we kept selling, not just in the store but also by visiting the customers at home.”

He adds with a smile, “I wouldn’t call it clandestine selling, but we were literally selling books in the street.”

. . . .

And while the top-line news there was that the Italian book industry saw sales grow by some 2.4 percent last year, Prometeia’s Tantazzi does warn in his new presentation that “It’s virtually impossible to say how 2021 is going to pan out.”

Levi, speaking for AIE, makes the interesting point in his comments that in 2020, while fiction accounted for a third of the market, foreign fiction fared slightly better than Italian fiction. And yet, as has been reflected in many world markets, “The biggest increase during the pandemic year was seen in specialist nonfiction—law, management, literary criticism.”

What may be contrary to many other markets’ experience is the fall tracked in Italy’s children’s book sales in 2020. But Levi notes that this decline had been underway for several years prior to the pandemic.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG loved the quintessentially Italian observation that “Luxury is so therapeutic.”

He’s not certain exactly when he and Mrs. PG will be able to corral the funds and energy for a long flight to Italy, but Venice and Florence are certainly powerful incentives to do so.

The Future Will Be Monthly: Subscription Models for Authors

From Indies Unlimited:

Netflix. Lootcrate. Amazon Prime. Everyone has at least heard of most of these, and you probably subscribe to one or two of them. From TV to men’s razors, the subscription model is catching on with consumers.

According to Deloitte, 69% of households now subscribe to one or more video streaming subscription services. A survey conducted by Global Banking and Finance Review reported that 70% of business leaders say subscription business models will be key to their prospects in the years ahead.

How can publishing get in on this thriving new trend? Let me count the ways.

Publishers have a big hurdle to jumping into a subscription model: no reader buys every book they publish. But authors don’t have that problem. They can cultivate readers who will read everything they put out, and it is these authors who can benefit greatly from implementing a subscription model of their own.

How do we know this? Because they are already doing it.

Services like Patreon allow authors and artists to cultivate patrons either on a monthly basis, to per creation, while services such as Shopify and Payhip let you sell digital downloads and memberships. Another site, Gumroad, gets you set up to sell everything from ebooks to physical products and create a membership site. Want to keep things simple? Add a subscription payment button to your website with PayPal.

Paypal is what author Dean Wesley Smith uses to process subscriptions to his very own magazine, Smith’s Monthly. Each month, Smith publishes a print and electronic magazine containing several short stories a full novel, and serialized fiction (and he sells the individual issues on Amazon and other sites as well).

. . . .

Indie author and small press publisher John G. Hartness uses Gumroad and Patreon as a subscription service for $5 monthly short stories. Hartness also sells ebooks and audio downloads via Gumroad, and these are often cheaper than Amazon and the other ebook sites because Gumroad takes a smaller cut, so it’s a win-win for both the author and his readers.

You’ll need to have at least some of your books wide on Amazon, and you likely won’t get the traffic that the world’s largest search engine for books does, but over time it can be a nice chunk of change. It works for print books as well. For $25 a month, my patrons on Patreon get signed print copies of my books, with free U.S. shipping, as well as free stories and snippets. And it’s another fun way to interact with your readers.

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

PG is old enough to remember various book-of-the-month clubs, so subscriptions are definitely not a new thing in the book world.

That said, indie authors come in all shapes, sizes and personalities. PG knows some that are organizing book projects in which several authors contribute a short story to a collected stories ebook and it is widely-believed that a regular email newsletter from an author to readers who opt-in to receive it is a good way of keeping readers engaged between book releases.

For other authors, writing books is what gets them up and in front of the computer each morning. As much as they appreciate those who buy their books, writing a chatty newsletter instead of the latest chapter in their noir novel is a burden.

Others have day jobs, some in offices, others on assembly lines and others who are shuffling children hither and yon to school, sports, music lessons, doctors, and dentists. These authors may need to spend their writing time focused hard on their first or next book.

A subscription model is fine if you have the inclination, time and energy to pursue it, but, in PG’s HO, getting good books out the door for readers to buy is Job #1.

Waiting for the Plane Tickets: Rights Pros on Digital Events

From Publishing Perspectives:

Almost every time you look into your inbox, another invitation has arrived to a publishing industry event online, right? And as you may have noticed, the specialized rights sessions appear to be gaining on many of the other types of programs vying for your attention.

As the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic wears on, more and more niche rights events are being produced, and they’re drawing increasing levels of participation among agents, scouts, editors, and even rights-savvy authors.

Today, for example, Finland’s Oulu Writers Association has opened its two-day event for rights professionals, focused on northern Finnish writers and their works. We were alerted to this one by Urtė Liepuoniūtė at the Helsinki Literary Agency the program, Black Hole: Books Meet Rights, offers one-on-one business meetings Saturday (February 20).

What we’ll do today is hear from some industry players about how these programs work for them—and how they compare to the physical book fair, rights center, and trade show experiences made impossible for a year now by the pandemic. And we’ll look at several other events coming up this spring.

LeeAnn Bortolussi at Giunti Editore

Giunti Editore international rights manager LeeAnn Bortolussi in Milan says that in her experience, smaller events online seem to be working better than the larger ones.

“They’re more personal,” she tells us, “and I’ve actually met new people this way.”

These digital events, Bortolussi says, “can never replace physical events, but I’m thinking that in the future if one is busy and a long trip to a far-away event is not possible, then a virtual trip can be an excellent way to participate.”

When asked what the key difference is for her between a physical in-person event and a digital one, she says, “We’re all saying that online is not good for meeting new people and making new contacts and that the serendipity of a physical fair can be lost; on the other hand, we’ve had some great, long and in-depth meetings via video chat that would not have been possible during a chaotic fair.”

And her verdict? Bortolussi sees a place for both kinds of events once the physical fairs are re-engaged. “We’ll find a perfect balance and blend of both methods as they both have positive qualities.”

Michele Young at Macmillan Children’s Books

In London, Pan Macmillan Children’s Books rights director Michele Young tells us that her team “responded quickly to the changing circumstances brought on by the coronavirus.” Her comments are quite indicative of what we hear from many, and Young parses the pros and cons succinctly.

“We immediately embarked on the virtual Bologna book fair in March 2020,” she says, “followed in the year by virtual sales trips to assorted markets undertaken by different members of the team, and then the virtual Frankfurt 2020—by which time our meetings had more than doubled compared to the virtual Bologna across every time zone. We’re now preparing for a virtual Bologna 2021, and virtual fairs have now become business as usual for us.

“We’ve worked closely with the publishers to develop new-style digital sales materials, including video content to showcase our preschool and novelty offering.

“We’ve also expanded into celebratory online events with our international partners,” Young says, “We marked our bestselling picture book The Gruffalo reaching 105 translations.

“We were joined by 115 guests who participated enthusiastically in online chat. Some of these guests would most likely not have been able to join in on a physical celebration, so this virtual moment gave us the opportunity to reach more customers and to stay in touch.

“Our online meetings are less hectic than the 30-minute-or-less rushed meetings at a physical book fair,” she points out, “and we can have more in-depth conversations. But physical fairs allow for chance meetings in exhibition halls or at social events after the fair with new or old customers—or an opportune sighting of a book on a stand which a customer falls in love with.

“Digital fairs can never replicate this,” Young says. “While we’ve adapted and embraced this new virtual way of working, we know that our business thrives on our close relationships and that there will always be a place for face-to-face contact.

“And we look forward to that returning.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes that human beings as a group are very adaptable. He also notes that methods of doing business that were efficient fifty years ago may not be terribly efficient by today’s standards.

In past lives, PG enjoyed getting on a plane at someone else’s expense and flying to an entertaining location where he ate and drank and slept at someone else’s expense. The experience was very nice and he typically had a good time, particularly if the destination had collected a lot of lawyers in one place. (Having attended quite a few gatherings peopled by individuals in various occupational/professional groups, PG will assure one and all that lawyers have the most fun and are the most fun.)

That said, from the standpoint of operating a well-run business enterprise (which automatically eliminates all traditional publishers), if you can get a job done with a series of phone calls or video conferences while sitting somewhere that is a reasonable commuting distance from your home, more of the money generated from your efforts will fall to the bottom line, either yours or your employers’.

If it’s your bottom line, you can use some of the money to travel to a location entirely of your choosing at the time of your choosing with the person/people of your choosing and spend your time there doing or not doing whatever you like.

PG recommends Florence or Venice, but not everyone will agree with him, which is one of the delights of being a member of humanity.

Can Brotherly Love Produce a Book?

From Publishers Weekly:

I began pondering how to describe what it’s like writing with my brother with the metaphor of a river flowing into a sea in mind. It provokes the notion of something vast and abstract, like cognition, that is then contextualized as a specific memory. I next found myself staring at my morning coffee, wondering just how grandiose our ideas tend to be. A French press stood not far behind with more “liquid gold.” The aha moment during my routine will be found herein. This sort of pivoting is a hallmark of our creative endeavors.

Anyone with a sibling can imagine how uncompromising writing with one could become. And yet one could also likely imagine how rich the experience could be because of an inextricable common bond. Ehsan and I are not “classically” trained writers, and that was a major challenge for us as first-time authors. Writing in the service of story can take on a life of its own. Going into writing the Wild Sun series with procedural naiveties—unencumbered by knowledge about the “right” way to craft a story—was arguably the greatest benefit to our collaboration. We gave each other the confidence to create whatever was boiling to the surface. There were no expectations.

Well, that is not totally true. We expected to find our taste translated onto the page. That is something that we have found to be immensely satisfying. Taste is subjective—for the most part. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” At the same time, it becomes objective within context.

We overcame initial collaborative hurdles with a tremendous amount of preproduction planning… and bourbon… and edibles. The one thing I can say about Ehsan and me is that we are dreamers. Not necessarily fantastical or ideological—more so in regard to the depth of a singular idea. Imagine worldbuilding as breadth and narrative as depth. We relish being 15,000 feet up in the air. High, if you will. This is where the abstract and tectonic elements of a story often dwell. The “river flowing into a sea” stuff. Spending so much time in the clouds growing up together allowed us to envision how the coffee would (should) taste when back on the ground.

This process has also been a look into how meandering thoughts eventually find a way back home. And how I need to explain writing with Ehsan through a French press metaphor.

It begins with a trip to the café for coffee beans. They are whole and require a good deal of grinding before they reach their grittier final form. Emphasis on grinding. This would essentially be our preproduction stage. (Ehsan and I began cutting our teeth on writing with a screenplay concept we had been tinkering with. Wild Sun is actually a fully realized backstory to one of the characters from this movie idea.) I personally have a proclivity to visualize story, and fortunately, while Ehsan also does so, he is more into studying plot and structure. We would take our burgeoning formal understanding of writing and apply it to works we love, film or novels. It is how we began to formulate our concept of taste and what we could actually do with what was in our heads.

Once we take the grounds and add them to a French press, it requires boiling water as the vehicle for creating the coffee. Consider this element of heat as one of the more challenging parts of us writing in tandem. It is often grueling at first. We would both take shots at opening the novel, and once combined it would feel dense, slow. We were too mechanical in the initial goings, and pacing suffered. This caused a good deal of frustration for us, because our taste was completely unmoored from what was landing on the page.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

More Apologies

PG apologizes for another light blogging day today.

He realizes that he has had too many of those in recent days, but this one is unavoidable.

Nothing’s wrong, nobody’s sick, the World ‘O PG is looking good.

Back soon.

Story Resolutions: Mastering the Happy-Sad Ending

From Writers Helping Writers:

It was 10pm, and I was trying to sleep when my door flew open and my sister came in, wailing like a wounded puppy. “Why did you kill him?”

I cleared the sleep from my eyes. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Michael! You killed Michael!”

At that, I couldn’t help myself from laughing. Not a nice thing, I know.

Curiously, she went ahead to profess love for the story—particularly the ending that made her cry. Fascinating, right? My story was able to create such a strong emotional reaction because it avoided the safety of a happy ending and the depression of a sad ending. Instead, it opted for the more fulfilling happy-sad resolution.

Why Happy-Sad Endings?

Before we answer the question of why, let’s explore the story endings that we commonly see. To put it bluntly,

  • A sad ending is when the story ends on an overwhelmingly negative emotion 
  • A happy ending is when the story ends on an overwhelmingly positive emotion 

In both instances, it’s clear what the final emotional beat of the story is. However, the third type of ending introduces a new kind of experience. 

In a happy-sad ending, the story ends on two opposite emotional beats, making it harder to pick one over the other and leaving the audience in a happy-sad state. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is a perfect example. I wept like a child and I loved every bit of it. 

One reason these endings work is because they seem closer to real life than happy or sad ones. Life rarely has happily ever afters. There’s always a price to pay, and many times, the sacrifice is unexpected. When a story is able to reflect this familiar experience, it gains an extra philosophical depth. 

Secondly, if one emotion creates a desired effect, two will multiply that effect. Story is about emotional manipulation, and what is a grander act of manipulation than getting the audience to feel more than one emotion?

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

How Getting Canceled on Social Media Can Derail a Book Deal

From The New York Times:

When Simon & Schuster dropped Senator Josh Hawley’s book a day after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, the news caused an explosion of attention, condemnation and praise.

Amid the cries of censorship and cancel culture, however, the way the publisher backed out of the deal got relatively little attention. Simon & Schuster invoked part of its contract typically referred to as a morals clause, which allows a publisher to drop a book if the author does something that is likely to seriously damage sales.

Widely detested by agents and authors, these clauses have become commonplace in mainstream publishing over the last few years. The clauses are rarely used to sever a relationship, but at a time when an online posting can wreak havoc on a writer’s reputation, most major publishing houses have come to insist upon them.

“They’re just something you have to deal with now,” said Gail Ross, a media lawyer and the president of the Ross Yoon Agency, whose clients include Senator Sherrod Brown, former Attorney General Eric Holder and the CNN contributor Van Jones, among dozens of other political figures and journalists. “Because you’re not going to be able to sign a contract without them in some form.”

. . . .

Morals clauses do not require authors to be upstanding citizens. Used in contracts across many industries, such clauses are designed to protect companies’ financial interests if somebody they’ve invested in — be it a chief executive or a football star being paid to wear a logo — does something that harms their reputation. But since the point of these clauses is to protect a company from damaging behavior it doesn’t yet know about, morals clauses are, by their nature, vague.

. . . .

“They’re squishy,” Ms. Ross said. “An agent’s job or a lawyer’s job is to make them as objective as possible.”

The clauses vary from publisher to publisher, and even from one literary agency to the next — every agency strikes its own deal with each publishing house — but the general principle is that they take aim at conduct that would invite widespread public condemnation or significantly diminish sales among the book’s intended audience, and that the publisher didn’t previously know about when it signed the deal. If an author has a propensity for getting in fistfights, for example, the book cannot be dropped because he or she gets in another one.

. . . .

“It diametrically changes the premise between a publisher and an author, which traditionally always meant that the author’s words in the book were what was promised to the publisher, not the behavior beyond it,” said the literary agent Janis Donnaud. “The fact that the publisher can be judge, jury, executioner and, in fact, beneficiary of these clauses seems incredibly outlandish.”

. . . .

Regnery, the conservative publisher that signed Mr. Hawley after Simon & Schuster dropped his book, also has a morals clause — what Thomas Spence, its president and publisher, described as the “infamous 5F of our contract.” Regnery will not take it out.

“This is the one thing in our contract that I have virtually no discretion over,” he said. “I’ve been told it’s got to be in there.” The morals clause in Mr. Hawley’s new contract was not a contentious issue, Mr. Spence added.

. . . .

In the book world, executives say these clauses were a part of Christian publishing agreements before they became fixtures in mainstream deals. The televangelist Benny Hinn was dropped by his publisher, Strang Communications, for violating its “moral turpitude provision” in 2010, after he was caught in a relationship with another minister before his divorce was finalized.

. . . .

The clauses began proliferating more quickly after the #MeToo movement revealed allegations of misconduct against many public figures, including Mark Halperin, a journalist and author whose book contract was canceled by Penguin Random House in 2017 under its conduct clause.

Today, Penguin Random House requires conduct clauses in all its contracts — that way, according to the company, the publisher isn’t implying that it trusts author A but not author B.

. . . .

Agents generally consider Penguin Random House’s clause to be less onerous than others, in part because the company states that authors will not have to repay any money they’ve already received; the publisher just wants the right to walk away. Simon & Schuster, on the other hand, typically includes a clause that says it can demand its money back. (Penguin Random House said last year that it plans to buy Simon & Schuster.)

Link to the rest at The New York Times

PG will observe that morals clauses are massively squishy sorts of things wherever they’re used.

As the OP suggested, some of them are effectively punitive damages clauses when they require an author to repay all the money she/he has received from the publisher, regardless of whether a publisher could prove to a judge or jury that it actually suffered any financial damages due to the author’s misbehavior. As a general proposition, courts tend to look askance at contract provisions that are unduly punitive, but that involves spending the money to get the matter before a judge.

In an era when Woke culture apparently has the power to turn business executives of all sorts into quivering and spineless pools of goo, a morals clause can be dangerous to a traditionally-published author’s financial and emotional health, both presently and in the future.

PG’s three potential responses for an author:

  1. Provide in the publishing agreement that, if the publisher invokes the morals clause to terminate the publishing agreement, neither the publisher nor any of its employees, agents or representatives will make any public announcement or other disclosure that states or implies that the publishing agreement was terminated due to the author’s alleged violation of the Morals Clause. “The parties have agreed to an amicable termination of their publishing agreement” or something boringly similar announcement of the termination of the publishing contract might be specified in the publishing agreement. The purpose is to make certain that the termination of the publishing contract doesn’t bring any attention to the author or publisher. This gives the publisher the protections it seeks via the Morals Clause without publicly tarring the author’s reputation.

2. Write under a pen name, then live in meatspace and politically under your real name. Demand a clause in your publishing contract that requires the publisher never to disclose your real name and include a substantial financial penalty if they do – 3X the amount of money they have already paid you plus any unpaid portion of your advance if the publisher or any past or present employee ever connects your pen name with your real name. Require that a model be used if the publisher wants an author photo and an agreement that any media interviews be conducted remotely without video. Make certain the publisher’s obligations and penalty for failing to maintain your anonymity continue for the full term of the publishing agreement, e.g., the full term of your copyright.

3. Require that the Morals Clause be reciprocal. Under the publishing agreement, the publisher together with its executives, employees and representatives, will be held the same standards of behavior that apply to the author pursuant to the Morals Clause. In the event of the publisher, etc., violates the morals clause, the author is entitled to exact similar penalties as the publisher can exact if the author violates the morals clause.

Bookstore Sales Fell 28.3% in 2020

From Publishers Weekly:

Bookstore sales rallied slightly in December from deep monthly slumps for most of 2020, but were still down 15.2% in the last month of the year compared to December 2019. For all of 2020, bookstore sales fell 28.3% from 2019, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

December bookstore sales were $879 million, down from $1.04 billion in December 2019. The 15.2% December drop was the smallest decline since February, when sales slipped 0.7% before the global pandemic struck. In March, sales fell 33.2% as retail lockdowns kicked in, then plunged 74.2% in April as stay at home orders fully took hold. May sales were slightly better, falling 60% from May 2019.

Bookstore sales declines generally eased as 2020 moved toward the end of the year. November sales were down 21.5%, following a 28.9% decline in October. For the full year, bookstore sales were $6.34 billion compared to $8.84 billion in 2019.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Yesterday’s Absence

PG apologizes for not demonstrating proof of life on TPV yesterday.

Casa PG had quite a bit of snow yesterday. And the day before yesterday. And the day before that.

Neighborhood skiers have all disappeared.

Along with their vehicles.

One mentioned skiing to PG prior to his disappearance.

PG is willing to admit that skiing actually happens. However, he also suspects that skiing may also be a ruse to avoid shoveling snow.

When giant or semi-giant snow is forecast, the rusor escapes to some snowless place until the snow in the neighborhood finally melts, then returns with a tan and brags about how great the slopes were to every rusee who stayed and shoveled. Thus the rusor is proclaimed as the master or mistress of snow, seeking and conquering the stuff at its deepest wherever it may lie while mere mortals just push bits of it off the sidewalk.

However, no one who resorts to this ruse king of the slopes strategy to avoid clearing their driveway is ever willing to make the sacrifice of reclining beside a pool in the warm sun, a glass of liquid with a little paper umbrella close at hand, wearing ski goggles. If they think of it at all in their langor, they probably believe that tan lines resulting from their sunglasses will fool people into thinking they were wearing goggles on the slopes.

This allows an astute observer like PG to know that no pristine white slope was sacrificed to relieve his neighbor from the Puritanical virtue of shoveling a lot of snow even when more snow will fall during the coming night, a task that Sisyphus would have recognized.

(Yes, PG knows that some people wear sunglasses while they ski, but kings and queens of the slopes always descend so rapidly through the deepest snow that sunglasses would be quickly dislodged. Besides, no one ever sees a a high-speed Winter Olympics ski champion not wearing goggles or sporting a goggles tan.)

On a serious note, PG notes that many in Texas and other southern states, have experienced widespread and prolonged power outages due to a period of extreme cold following an ice storm that has cut off electrical power for millions.

For visitors to TPV who live in warmer climes, an ice storm can be much more destructive and disruptive than even a snow storm.

Ice can bring down multiple electric power lines in rapid succession, triggering outages that can quickly spread across cities and regions. Ice can make driving impossible, even for large trucks responding to fires and trucks that bring much of what people need to live in metropolitan areas and smaller trucks that distribute it from central warehouses. Most US food stores rely upon daily delivery of food via trucks to replenish their shelves and have room for no more than 2-3 days supplies of non-perishable foods in attached storage spaces.

In southern states, many people don’t have cold-weather clothing because they don’t need it. Fireplaces are decorative. Wood stoves or coal stoves are virtually non-existent. Even layering up with ten golf shirts or 15 sun dresses won’t keep you warm.

Let me tell you this

Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.

Jodi Picoult

But love is always new

But love is always new. Regardless of whether we love once, twice, or a dozen times in our life, we always face a brand-new situation. Love can consign us to hell or to paradise, but it always takes us somewhere. We simply have to accept it, because it is what nourishes our existence. We have to take love where we find it, even if that means hours, days, weeks of disappointment and sadness.

Paulo Coelho

How Roses Came to Mean True Love

From The Wall Street Journal:

“My luve is like a red red rose,/That’s newly sprung in June,” wrote the Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1794, creating an inexhaustible revenue stream for florists everywhere, especially around Valentine’s Day. But why a red rose, you might well ask.

Longevity is one reason. The rose is an ancient and well-traveled flower: A 55 million-year-old rose fossil found in Colorado suggests that roses were already blooming when our earliest primate ancestors began populating the earth. If you want to see where it all began, at least in the New World, then a trip to the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, roughly two hours’ drive from Denver, should be on your list of things to do once the pandemic is over.

In Greek mythology the rose was associated with Aphrodite, goddess of love, who was said to have emerged from the sea in a shower of foam that transformed into white roses. Her son Cupid bribed Harpocrates, the god of silence, with a single rose in return for not revealing his mother’s love affairs, giving rise to the Latin phrase sub rosa, “under the rose,” as a term for secrecy. As for the red rose, it was said to be born of tragedy: Aphrodite became tangled in a rose bush when she ran to comfort her lover Adonis as he lay dying from a wild boar attack. Scratched and torn by its thorns, her feet bled onto the roses and turned them crimson.

For the ancient Romans, the rose’s symbolic connection to love and death made it useful for celebrations and funerals alike. A Roman banquet without a suffocating cascade of petals was no banquet at all, and roses were regularly woven into garlands or crushed for their perfume. The first time Mark Antony saw Cleopatra he had to wade through a carpet of rose petals to reach her, by which point he had completely lost his head.

Rose cultivation in Asia became increasingly sophisticated during the Middle Ages, but in Europe the early church looked askance at the flower, regarding it as yet another example of pagan decadence. Fortunately, the Frankish emperor Charlemagne, an avid horticulturalist, refused to be cowed by old pieties, and in 794 he decreed that all royal gardens should contain roses and lilies.

The imperial seal of approval hastened the rose’s acceptance into the ecclesiastical fold. The Virgin Mary was likened to a thornless white rose because she was free of original sin. In fact, a climbing rose planted in her honor in 815 by the monks of Germany’s Hildesheim Cathedral is the oldest surviving rose bush today. Red roses, by contrast, symbolized the Crucifixion and Christian martyrs like St. Valentine, a priest killed by the Romans in the 3rd century, whose feast day is celebrated on Feb. 14. In the 14th century, his emergence as the patron saint of romantic love tipped the scales in favor of the red over the white rose.

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

The Garden

From The Paris Review:

Ma thought it was a good idea. That we work together in the garden. But it wasn’t a garden then, just a long rectangle of funky-smelling earth behind a two-story apartment house in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. An elderly couple named Mr. and Mrs. Schwartz owned the house and backyard. This was in the early seventies, and already the Jews were moving out. I was ten or twelve the summer we worked in the earth. The Schwartzes lived downstairs from us in that house, and on Fridays their apartment went semidark because of the Sabbath. What a beautiful word for something I didn’t know anything about. Then, one day, I saw the tattooed numbers on Mrs. Schwartz’s arm and in a flash everything I’d learned in school flooded my mind and heart: all those bodies laid to waste, gold teeth extracted and made into something else, the gas chambers and the musicians who played as the walking dead stood naked, hoping for water, hoping to be cleaned.

And there was more. There is always more pain and beauty. Recently, a friend told me about the gardens Jews kept for Nazi families who wanted something beautiful to look at while they smelled death at work, had schnapps and what all outside, the condemned Jews not lifting their heads as they worked the earth and tended flowers, such beautiful living organisms thriving on a plantation where murder was grown and harvested. And I think of Mrs. Schwartz now as I think about the earth behind our house—her house—and the numbers blooming on her arm like flowers. I never got to ask her how old she was when she was marked like that, and did she remember or see barbed wire fencing the condemned in like the wiring around flower beds and vegetable beds our innocent neighbors used to keep predators out? Nor did I get to say to her, even as those numbers on her arm blossom and die in my memory, What is it about flowers that no matter where they’re grown—in death camps or by the sea, in private homes or on the border of war zones—why is it they keep on flowering while insisting on their right to inspire feelings in us that we can barely know, or articulate in all our truth and terribleness?

When I think about the Schwartzes, I think about their building, our home, and I think about the steep staircase leading up from the street to our apartment, and the long shape of our apartment itself, and the fact that we lived next door to a gas station where fumes bloomed. This is the only apartment I have vivid memories of—we moved a fair amount when I was a kid—and part of what I remember about it is the garden or, more accurately, how the garden came to be.

It wasn’t anything but overly fertilized rust-colored dirt when Ma said she thought something could grow there. She was always trying to make a family, and to make that family grow. But there was so much bad earth. Our father didn’t live with us; for most of the time I knew him, he lived with his mother, in Crown Heights, a bus ride away. It had always been this way. My parents visited, and on weekends out my father took me and my little brother on long walks around the city. We saw the beautiful consumerist goods on Madison Avenue, and, in the Village, heard women catcalling to passersby from the Women’s House of Detention. Rainy days in Chinatown, and some snowy days at the Guggenheim Museum, or looking at the precipitation falling on the stone lions at the New York Public Library. And then there was my father’s hand, or, more accurately, certainly from an emotional point of view, my hand in his tougher rougher bigger hand and it was the best foreign feeling in the world: I knew his hand but not him, and even now that feels like defeat, my remembering the pleasure of my hand in his, and all that I wanted from him that wasn’t forthcoming. My dreams of him were always tied up with things ending—at the end of our Saturdays together, he took a gypsy cab home—and so with a kind of death. On some level I must have wanted him to stay even though I couldn’t stand him, or stand him leaving. In any case, I can’t believe these memories continue to make me vulnerable to him, the way flowers are to our human hands—cut them or leave them alone? Water them or let nature take care of them? The flowers are vulnerable to us!—and remind me that all I want to do is find my father again, but in a better person, a he who will protect me from the original father who maybe taught us how to cultivate flowers, but certainly not how to find soul-nourishing love when it’s needed, which is always.

I don’t remember when my mother suggested growing flowers. But for sure her impulse was in part inspired by her desire to keep looking for activities that prompted and encouraged our father to be a father to his sons. That was part of what mediocre therapists might call their dynamic—her hope and his pulling back, her cajoling him and telling him what he must do, and him doing it sometimes, but always grudgingly. Daddy was Ma’s only real baby, or the only one who was allowed to be a baby. I remember her saying she would ask the Schwartzes about the land, and I remember my father standing with me at the Schwartzes’ door soon thereafter, and the deeply kind Mr. Schwartz telling my father that the dirt back there had been overly fertilized by someone a long time before, and it had been left untended after that. In my memory or my imagination, which is usually the same thing, my father says to Mr. Schwartz, I’ll take care of it. Or perhaps it was my mother who asked the Schwartzes about the ground, then decided we would make the best of it. Because that’s what she always did. And maybe what I wanted my father to do.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

PG remembers the nice guy who always wore a yarmulke in the shop where he took his dress shirts and dry-cleaning in Chicago a long time ago who also had blue numbers tattooed on his forearm that showed on warm days when he had his shirtsleeves rolled up.

PG never commented on the numbers since he knew what they represented and thought the nice guy might not want to talk about the experience. The nice guy never made any attempt to hide the blue numbers and had certainly earned the right to show them or cover them a million times over without anyone questioning his choice.

Some other guys who had fought in World War II or Korea also had tattoos that identified them with their experiences as well and some of them were detailed and colorful and said things like “Iwo” or “Chosin” but seeing those tattoos never effected PG as much as the tattoo that the nice guy in the yarmulke showed on warm days. That’s the one PG remembers vividly.

Update on Comments Issue

PG thanks those who have sent suggestions about PG’s mysterious problems with Comments numbers not showing correctly, either via comments to PG’s prior post on the topic or via email.

After considering the information submitted by helpful visitors and doing a bit of research, PG think he’s found a fix.

Here’s a brief summary of PG’s latest theories which may or may not be correct. (Time might not even tell if they’re correct. PG doesn’t actually care if he understand exactly what he might have done to fix the problem, he just wants the problem fixed.)

Trigger Warning for Computer Science People: PG is not going to use a lot of technical terms because he would probably not do so correctly. He’ll simplify things down to the level his brain can process today. If PG’s brain mistakenly simplifies something into total incorrectness, feel free to clarify/correct in the comments.

That said, relax. PG isn’t going to try to do this sort of thing on a regular basis or, perhaps, ever again. Unlike straightforward legal doctrines such as The Rule in Shelley’s Case, PG understands that he can’t actually understand computer science stuff.

Being a lawyer for a long time has, however, allowed PG to sharpen his hand-waving abilities into something that impresses him, if not others.

Unfortunately, hand-waving doesn’t always work on computers the way it might work on carbon-based life forms.

Statement of Problem and, Hopefully, Solution

  1. Like a great many other WordPress sites, TPV uses a caching plugin. PG has a very good hosting provider (now), Hosting Matters, but even a very good host uses hard drives and, even with fast hard drives and fast internet connections, there’s going to be a lag between a visitor to TPV clicking on something and any hosting provider delivering a response to the visitor’s browser.
  2. A widely-used means of reducing that turnaround time is to add a caching plugin to the WP site. Basically, a caching plugin tells WP it doesn’t need to bother the servers much, because the plugin already knows what WP is looking for.
  3. This works fine so long as the caching plugin actually knows what it claims to know.
  4. Sometimes when a widget or something else is changed in a WordPress site, the caching plugin doesn’t get the message. So it says bananas are still yellow today because they were yellow yesterday even if the yellow bananas have disappeared and been replaced by green bananas. (PG apologizes if he got too technical about bananas.)
  5. So PG has added another plugin that says it fixes the problem with the existing TPV caching plugin holding onto stale info by forcing the caching program to forget the stale info.
  6. PG doesn’t know what happens if the plugins disagree about what truth is.
  7. So far, it’s looking like it works, however.

Let PG know if the comments seem to be better.

Arrogant people

Arrogant people are non-learners. They invest their energies in maintaining a cozy feeling of complacency, and complacency is the biggest single enemy to the process of continuously learning from experience. Arrogant people are exactly the sort of people who are destined to have one year’s experience 20 times rather than 20 years’ worth of experience.

Peter Honey

Strange Behavior with the Comments

PG has received a couple of messages that describe something he’s observed himself.

Sometimes when PG pulls up TPV and examines a post for which he knows there are comments, when he gets to the bottom of the post, there is no indication that there are a number of comments, only the “Leave a Comment” link that has, in the past, meant that if you click on the link, you’ll be the first to comment on that post.

On other posts which have comments, at the end of the post, the number of comments that have been made is shown in the manner PG expects them to appear.

He has only noticed this behavior over the past few weeks and doesn’t recall seeing it before. In some cases, it seems to come and go, 10 comments listed for a post now and nothing shown a couple of hours later.

PG hasn’t made any changes to the site, theme, etc., to which he can attribute this behavior.

PG has archived about the oldest 20% of the posts on TPV (quite old ones) over the past few weeks simply to reduce the size of the TPV database, but has noticed that the number of comments (over 300,000) have not diminished on the TPV admin dashboard although he would have expected that archiving the posts might do something similar with the related comments.

Clearing his browser cache, opening TPV in a different browser, etc., haven’t yielded any useful information about this odd behavior.

Since PG’s plate has been full lately, he hasn’t had a chance to research the problem, but hopes to find time to do so soon.

For those who have left comments, but haven’t seen them show up in the “XX comments” line below the posts, PG has discovered that, if he clicks on the “Leave a Comment” link below a post that doesn’t indicate that there are any comments, he sometimes finds comments that have been made relative to that post.

That’s not a very efficient solution to this problem, however.

If anyone knows what’s causing this behavior or can point PG to potential causes or solutions, PG would appreciate you leaving a comment to this post. It would save him time spent looking for information online and get things running right around this joint again.

Libby is stuck between libraries and publishers in the e-book war

From Protocol:

On the surface, there couldn’t be a more wholesome story than the meteoric rise of the Libby app. A user-friendly reading app becomes popular during the pandemic, making books cool again for young readers, multiplying e-book circulation and saving public libraries from sudden obsolescence.

But the Libby story is also a parable for how the best-intentioned people can build a beloved technological tool and accidentally create a financial crisis for those who need the tech most. Public librarians depend on Libby, but they also worry that its newfound popularity could seriously strain their budgets.

Before 2017, e-books were still pretty niche, and checking out library e-books was torture. In 2016, just over a quarter of Americans had read an e-book within the previous year, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Not many people even knew their libraries offered digital books. Overdrive — the digital marketplace for publishers and libraries, and the creator of Libby — was (and still is) clunky, slow and unintuitive. Overdrive hit just under 200 million checkouts in 2016; in 2020, that number more than doubled, surpassing 430 million.

Few noticed when the cute, friendly virtual library app launched in 2017. Libraries are never very good at selling themselves, and neither is Overdrive. But the app’s seamless, user-friendly experience was so exceptional that it spoke for itself. Libby became a cult favorite for book lovers and dedicated librarygoers, and almost every public library in the country, already dependent on Overdrive for their growing digital collections, loved that they could make reading online a little bit easier. It was the public library’s best-kept secret.

And then in March 2020, when libraries closed their doors and books sat gathering dust, the Libby app became so much more than a cute reading tool. People turned to digital books and were delighted to discover they were so much simpler than remembered. You could access the web app anywhere on any computer, and everything synced to a phone app as well. You could download library books to Kindle. You never needed a password. You could use more than one library card. Libby downloads increased three times their usual amount beginning in late March. E-book checkout growth and new users on Overdrive both increased more than 50%.

Libby had helped to save libraries.

It had also accelerated a funding crisis. Public library budgets have never been luxe, and book acquisition budgets in particular have always been tight. Though it may seem counterintuitive to readers, e-books cost far more than physical books for libraries, meaning that increased demand for digital editions put libraries in a financial bind.

Because e-books are not regulated under the same laws that govern physical books, publishers can price them however they choose. Rather than emulate the physical model, where libraries pay a fixed cost for a certain number of books, they instead offer digital editions through a license that usually includes a limit on the number of times a book can be checked out, the length of time a library holds an edition, or both. Just like with movies, music and software, book publishers have moved from an ownership model to a subscription model for their digital products (none of the major publishing houses responded to multiple requests for comment for this story). Librarians sometimes pay hundreds of dollars to circulate one copy of an e-book for a two-year period, a number that could theoretically add up to thousands for one book over decades, according to a 2019 American Library Association report to Congress.

The librarians I spoke with celebrate Libby. They love that more people are reading digital books. But they can’t help but quietly curse the technological problem that brought them here.

“It is definitely problematic,” said Michelle Jeske, the city librarian for the Denver Public Library and president of the Public Library Association, a division of the American Library Association. “You’re buying it in print, you’re buying it in e-book, and in audio e-book, CD, and in Spanish. With either a steady or decreasing collection development budget, it’s a serious problem.”

Despite Overdrive’s dominance, the company has escaped criticism for the funding crisis. Overdrive makes good money on the digital book-lending business; it’s the largest marketplace for publishers to sell to public libraries in the U.S., is expanding rapidly in other major publishing powerhouse countries like Germany and China, and offers a popular school reading app called Sora. More than 23,000 new schools and libraries joined Overdrive in 2020 alone.

“It’s important for us to have the same values and standards that the libraries do, protecting privacy and confidentiality, making information accessible in as broad a ways as possible,” said David Burleigh, the communications director for Overdrive. Overdrive also became a Certified B Corporation the same year it launched the Libby app, and it now leverages that status to avoid getting mucked up in the financial fight.

The ALA lobbying arm has been pushing Congress to consider regulating digital media to address this problem, and it’s no secret to anyone who reads Publishers Weekly that tensions between librarians and publishers have spilled over into public animosity. “Publishing is a tough tough world, and it sometimes has felt like librarians and publishers have been pitted against each other. They need to make money, and we need to be able to serve our public. There has got to be some place in the middle,” Jeske said.

Publishers justify the increased cost of e-books because they say the new technology has reduced friction too much, hurting their sales. They have argued that Libby and libraries have made it too easy for people to read books without buying them. Macmillan, one of the big five publishers, placed an eight-week embargo on library sales of new e-book releases in late 2019 for just that reason, though it reversed its position in March 2020 because of the pandemic. “In today’s digital world there is no such friction in the market. As the development of apps and extensions continues, and as libraries extend their reach statewide as well as nationally, it is becoming ever easier to borrow rather than buy,” wrote John Sargent, Macmillan’s then-CEO, in an open letter to librarians justifying the embargo.

And though librarians like Jeske and Eileen Ybarra, the e-book coordinator for the largest digital collection in the country at the LA Public Library, vehemently disagree — they believe it’s still too hard for people to access digital books — they say that in one respect, the publishers are absolutely correct: Overdrive wants to make the e-reading experience as frictionless as possible.

“That’s the idea. It’s to make it as easy as possible for people to read as much as they like,” Burleigh said. “Ease,” “accessibility” and “efficiency” are his keywords: He repeats them over and over again in every conversation about his company’s app.

Overdrive doesn’t believe that frictionless library lending hurts publishers. In fact, Burleigh said, it actually can help.

While Burleigh wouldn’t directly answer questions about Overdrive’s role in reducing the friction — it would be awkward for business if he did, given that Overdrive mostly makes money through a cut of what publishers sell on its platform — he pointed to research that shows that increased library lending actually helps book sales. (Overdrive funds Panorama, the independent group that conducted the research.)

“Libraries are part of the ecosystem. They’re not competing necessarily with booksellers,” Burleigh said, adding that the research shows that when people read more, it creates a channel of discovery for lesser-known books.

. . . .

Burleigh said that Overdrive advocates for a wide range of funding models and the best deals for libraries, but he also hesitated to describe an “ideal” solution for e-book pricing that would satisfy everyone. “It’s a good question. I don’t know that I have the answer. Publishers have different strategies. Libraries have different strategies.”

Link to the rest at Protocol and thanks to DM for the tip.

The OP constitutes PG’s Exhibit 723,467 in support of his proposition that major publishers are run by idiots.

  1. You hate Amazon because it’s too successful at selling books because it knows how to price books optimally to generate the largest number of sales to optimize profits from those sales.
  2. Once again, demonstrating the stupidity of groupthink you put all your ebook lending eggs into one basket and give the entire business to Overdrive, mainly because it’s not Amazon.
  3. PG doesn’t know if Overdrive is run by smart people or not, but it recognizes a great opportunity for a quasi-monopoly-scale profit that a mind-blown ex-hippie drug dealer could see. To whit (or, to wit (PG is old-style on this topic)), that it can deliver organized groups of electrons that it receives from publishers to libraries almost for free.
  4. There is no technological reason that each major publisher could not put together its own version of Overdrive’s system and deal with libraries directly. (Yes, the publishers would have to hire some outside technology experts to build the system, but graduates from the computer science departments of any number of major and minor universities could handle the job providing that they graduated in the top half of their class. (LexisNexis has been doing the same thing for thousands of years. (PG knows this because he worked there when dinosaurs roamed the earth. (and it was not rocket science then))))

PG is in an uncharacteristically-charitable mood (probably an unannounced side effect of the covid vaccine), so he will lay out a plan for Big Publishing to extricate itself from this self-made car-crash.

  • Fly to Seattle (you can share a chartered jet to save money because you love private meetings with no one listening in)
  • Enter Bezos Mansion dressed in sackcloth on bended knees
  • Beg the Jeffster to please, please, please forgive you of your follies and save you from your stupidity
  • Explain that you know the smart folks at Amazon can put together their own version of Overdrive over a long weekend (you might offer to reimburse any overtime expenses Amazon accrues and provide food and Jolt Cola for all concerned)
  • Change back into New York business attire on the plane flying back. Imbibe freely because you aren’t going to be fired after all. Glance out the window to view terra incognita.
  • A week later, send a joint letter (more Big Publishing “cooperation”) to all libraries in America announcing that they have an alternative to Overdrive that will cost them less and is coming to them from (through gritted teeth) Amazon.

PG feels much better now. For a moment, it was almost like he wasn’t sheltering in place.

PG is familiar with Libby because his local library uses it for ebook lending. Libby works, sort of, and reminds him of the 80’s.

Amazon’s discovery, lending and check-out systems for books are light-years better than Libby (Libby even uses Amazon to deliver ebooks to PG’s Kindle Fire). Amazon may already have the bones of an ebook lending reporting system for publishers in the KDP reporting system.

Making a deal with Amazon could solve Big Publishing’s Overdrive problem and make them more money with one flight to Seattle.

In PG’s limited view, only one potential cloud my be on Big Publishing’s ebook lending horizon – the possibility that each of the major publishers signed an exclusive contract with Overdrive.

There’s only so much PG can do for really stupid people.

One of his rules for practicing law is “Don’t do business with fools.”

One of PG’s observations on the practice of law is “Fools can be so ingenious.”

But, if everything always worked out as expected, life would get boring pretty quickly.

PG is feeling rather wise, which is a sure sign he’s acting stupidly.

A Worse Place Than Hell

From The Wall Street Journal:

“The real war will never get in the books.” Walt Whitman’s well-known prediction has not prevented thousands of writers, including Whitman himself, from trying to put the Civil War between covers. Many kinds of chronicles have been written—military histories, political studies, overviews of society or culture, portraits of leading figures. One especially striking way of bringing the war alive is to convey it from the standpoint of the unexalted individual. That is the choice John Matteson makes in “A Worse Place Than Hell,” a moving group portrait that uses the Battle of Fredericksburg, in late 1862, as the focal point for the story of five participants in the Civil War, four Northerners and one Southerner.

The battle that Mr. Matteson highlights has attracted a lot of scrutiny over the years, most notably in Francis Augustín O’Reilly’s “The Fredericksburg Campaign” (2003) and George C. Rable’s “Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!” (2002). These books give details of the fateful encounter near the Rappahannock River on Dec. 13, 1862, in which Army of the Potomac under Ambrose E. Burnside met resounding defeat at the hands of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The futile assaults by waves of Union soldiers on Confederate troops, who were protected by a stone wall on Marye’s Heights, have become a fixture of Civil War lore. On that grim winter day, the Union suffered more than 12,000 casualties, compared with some 5,300 on the Confederate side. President Lincoln put a positive spin on the battle by praising the surviving Union soldiers for their bravery. Privately, however, he confessed that the battle had left him in “a worse place than hell.”

Although Mr. Matteson uses Lincoln’s phrase for his title, he doesn’t dwell on the hellish aspects of the war. Instead he concentrates on personal and cultural transformation. The people he follows were profoundly changed by the war, he tells us; all of them “confronted war and struggled to redeem themselves within it.” Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the son of a famous Boston physician and author, entered the war as an idealistic man and emerged from it hard-bitten and skeptical, leading him to seek direction in a legal career. The Rev. Arthur Fuller, the brother of the women’s rights champion Margaret Fuller, served as a chaplain in a Massachusetts regiment but at Fredericksburg traded his ministerial role for a military one, taking up a gun in a burst of patriotism and losing his life to Confederate bullets. The budding author Louisa May Alcott, hoping to contribute to the Northern cause, became a volunteer nurse in a Washington war hospital, an experience that fed into her popular book “Hospital Sketches” and later provided the emotional background for “Little Women,” a fictionalized portrayal of the Civil War’s toll on her Concord, Mass., family.

As for Walt Whitman, he was writing poems and newspaper stories in Brooklyn and hobnobbing with bohemians when he heard that his brother George had been wounded at Fredericksburg. He traveled first to Washington and then south to the environs of the battlefield in search of his brother, whose wound, as it turned out, was not serious. Walt stayed on for several years in Washington, taking on minor government jobs while serving as a volunteer nurse in war hospitals, setting the stage for his later role as the major poet and memoirist of the war. Two of Whitman’s poems about Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” and “O Captain! My Captain!,” are timeless eulogies of America’s greatest president, and his writings about the war, in poetry and prose, are at once crisply realistic and emotionally resonant. George Whitman, Walt’s brother, ended up serving in many Civil War battles and thus provides, in Mr. Matteson’s narrative, a kind of moving lens on the war as it unfolded on the battlefield.

In addition to these Northerners, Mr. Matteson describes the dashing John Pelham, a Confederate artillery officer who exhibited unusual courage. At Fredericksburg, partly hidden by a dip in the land, Pelham coolly supervised the firing of a cannon that was protected by its very proximity to Union troops: Their return volleys mainly went over the heads of the rebels. Pelham’s death at the Battle of Kelly’s Ford, three months after Fredericksburg, becomes in Mr. Matteson’s handling a dramatic, hopeless flourish of Confederate chivalry. Pelham charged forward on a horse like a blond god of war before being felled by an enemy shell fragment. The loss of Pelham was a blow for Confederate morale. Mr. Matteson writes: “No individual in the Confederate Army had seemed more invincible than Pelham. His risks had never been punished, and his audacity had been continually rewarded. If he could fall, so, too, might the army he left behind.”

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

PG notes the scale of death of the American Civil War – 620,000 in the Civil War vs. 644,000 US deaths in all other conflicts in the history of the nation.

The Civil War killed over 2% of the total US population at the time. In a distant second place, World War II killed .39% of the US population.

For every three soldiers killed in battle, five more died of disease. No record was kept those who were psychologically damaged, but not killed, in the war.

Recruitment on both sides was very local and either no records or very scanty records were kept of the number who enlisted from various counties and states and who they were. Neither army had systems in place to accurately record deaths or notify the families of the deceased or wounded during the war.

Because families and communities went to war together and served together, a single battle could devastate the communities and families whose sons served together.

As just one example, in the Battle of Gettysburg, the 26th North Carolina, comprised of men from seven counties in the western part of the state faced the 24th Michigan. The North Carolinians suffered 714 casualties out of 800 men. The Michiganders lost 362 out of 496 men.

Nearly the entire student body of Ole Miss (The University of Mississippi) –135 out 139–enlisted in Company A of the 11th Mississippi. Company A, also known as the “University Greys” suffered 100% casualties in Pickett’s Charge.

It is estimated that one in three Southern households lost at least one family member in the war. Of those who survived the war, one in thirteen veterans returned home missing one or more limbs, making them unemployable in most parts of the country. 

PG obtained much of this detailed information from Civil War Casualties.

Light Blogging – Covid Vaccination Edition

As mentioned earlier, Mrs. PG and PG received their second of two Covid vaccinations yesterday.

Each felt fine yesterday, but both woke up with a lot of aches and pains throughout their bodies today.

PG has been assured that these are among the common after-effects of vaccination #2 and they will subside, likely by the end of the day today.

In the meantime, PG is feeling a few decades older than his chronological age and about the only thing he feels capable of doing is sitting in a very comfortable chair and reading a book.

He has a book he hasn’t yet read yet about the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918, which infected an estimated 1/3 of the world’s population and caused the death of between 50-100 million people at a time when the world’s population was much smaller than it is today.

He expects that reading about the Spanish Flu may help him put his temporary condition into proper perspective and expects to be hale, hardy and skeptical by tomorrow.

Science knows no country

Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world. Science is the highest personification of the nation because that nation will remain the first which carries the furthest the works of thought and intelligence.

Louis Pasteur

Writing Locations as Characters

From Writers in the Storm:

Where we choose to set our stories is an important decision. It can inform everything that happens in the story, from plot points and character development to pacing and mood. For this reason, I like to treat my locations as I would the characters in my stories.

Just like people, locations can have certain traits that bring out their personalities and influence the way our characters interact with them. Each location we choose has its own unique set of physical characteristics as well as a general feeling or mood that it gives off.

. . . .

Character Traits of Locations

Setting Type

Setting type is the physical location where your story takes place. It can be a real location or a fantasy world. Maybe it’s all happening in your main character’s head, like a dream. Every location has its own personality. Even dream worlds have characteristics that impact the narrative and are often reflective of the person dreaming.

Another example might be an urban setting as opposed to rural. Both have their own obvious characteristics, such as population density, that sets them apart, but there are similarities as well. A big city might have a small-town feel, whereas a small town could be laid out to exude more of a big city attitude. The architecture and street layouts also lend character to a particular location. Narrow avenues with old-world cottages might add warmth and feel like an old friend, whereas tall glass-shrouded buildings and a maze of traffic clogged streets could feel cold, inducing stress and anxiety.

Terrain

The physical terrain of a story’s location can have a major influence on how the characters interact with it and with each other. If a character is familiar with the terrain, they may see it as an ally working to give them an advantage over an opponent. On the other hand, it may be a hindrance, throwing obstacles in the protagonist’s path. Sometimes the terrain itself is the antagonist and the thing that must be overcome to reach a satisfying ending.

Climate and Weather

Climate and weather may sound like the same thing, but they are different animals. Climate is the long-term average of the atmospheric behavior of a particular place, whereas weather is more isolated—it’s what’s happening right now. I like to think of climate as a location’s overall personality and weather as its current mood.

Most writers use weather almost instinctually. We all know how a raging storm, or a gentle rain can set a mood, but there are so many other things we can accomplish if we anthropomorphize things a little. Fighting an angry wind or beating back the cruel rays of the Sun breathe life into weather and set it up as an opponent that must be vanquished if our hero is to succeed. Weather can also be fickle and turn on a dime, lashing out like a scorned lover or throwing a tantrum like a three-year-old child who doesn’t want to take a nap.

Climate is a little trickier and requires more thought. The long-term nature of climate is what dictates things like flora, fauna, and seasons. It also sets expectations in the same way a parent might explain what to expect to a child before entering a museum or attending a funeral. Of course, we all know expectations and reality don’t always line up. It’s in that gap where the best stories are born.

Just like terrain, climate and weather can become the main antagonist. Look at Jack London, for example. In many of his stories the main character is fighting with the physical world rather than another person.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Tough Topics

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

To survive the first few weeks of 2021, I have read a lot. I have also watched a lot of television. And I’m writing on a project just for me, something I haven’t done for a long time. The project just for me does some things that long-time friends might not approve of. The project just for me discusses a few things that people in my world probably would prefer me not to discuss. The project just for me is a tiny and somewhat joyous rebellion in the middle of the cluster**** that has been our lives in the past year.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoy that little bit of freedom. I know quite well that the project just for me will eventually get published. In the past, I would have lied to myself and said I wasn’t going to publish that project at all.

But now, I know it will and, honestly, with all the horrors of this last year, I no longer care about the opinions of the minions that are quick to condemn or even about the opinions of the friends who, with a gasp, will wonder if I really should go there.

. . . .

I’m going there.

And it’s not really rebellion. It is a return to the writer I was before I became known. I have tried other ways of handling that return in the past. I’ve written under secret pen names. I’ve written in other genres. I have, as I mentioned above, written things I promised myself would never see the light of day.

None had that overall sense of freedom that this past year have given me.

It took a bit of analysis to figure out why. Right now, I have bigger things to worry about than my reputation. 

. . . .

Will our country survive this mess? Will our friends make it through the economic hard times? Will our business?

And so on and so forth. Much more important things than a ding to my writerly purity, if I ever had such a thing.

And no, I don’t normally allow critics’ voices in my head. But, no matter how hard I try to fight it, there is a construct of who I’m expected to be as a writer. Sometimes I like breaking that construct. Sometimes I like creating a new construct. But whenever I think about the construct, it takes energy. I either have to embrace it or push it aside.

For some reason, since things have gotten worse worldwide, the construct has crumbled. All of the constructs have crumbled. At least in my head.

I also find that I’m exceptionally impatient with the pushback against discomfort in entertainment. This thing in that story, it makes a reader uncomfortable, and for that reason, that story is suddenly questionable.

Some of the points are real good ones. I’m tired of books in the canon of whatever genre that are filled with racist and sexist stereotypes. I think those books should be removed from what passes as canon. I think the books should not go away; I think that they should be studied as part of the historical past.

We can even build on them. Here: this racist story is the basis for that marvelous piece of modern fiction. Or: let’s read this original story filled with hate, and see how it was answered by this no-longer-marginalized writer. I think there’s a place for fiction that holds discredited notions, but that belief comes from my background as a historian and my love of the way things evolve.

. . . .

I recently recommended in my monthly recommended reading list a lot of stories from an anthology that includes stories from the past 100 years, but did not recommend the anthology.

The anthologist and I disagree about something: he is willing to put his name on a book that contains racist epithets in the title of a story, as well as making those epithets and their stereotypes the basis of that particular story.

When I edit an anthology, I figure there’s a better story that deserves my readers’ attention. I don’t need to be the person to keep something deeply offensive visible in the world. If someone wants to find that crap, well then, they can search the old anthologies and original publications for it. I don’t need to bring it into 2021.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

Covid Update

PG and Mrs. PG each received their second Covid vaccination today (Pfizer for Covid aficionados).

The talking Covid drums have been saying that side effects from the second vaccination can be more difficult than the first. For PG, the only side effects he has experienced from the second is feeling a bit tired, hence, he will do a little blogging after lying down for an extended (and atypical) nap after receiving his vaccination and may take another nap thereafter.

Mrs. PG is still snoozing after watching an episode of Virgin River, based upon a 19-book series of the same title.

Time, unfortunately

Time, unfortunately, though it makes animals and vegetables bloom and fade with amazing punctuality, has no such simple effect upon the mind of man. The mind of man, moreover, works with equal strangeness upon the body of time. An hour, once it lodges in the queer element of the human spirit, may be stretched to fifty or a hundred times its clock length; on the other hand, an hour may be accurately represented on the timepiece of the mind by one second.

Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography

What We See When We Read

From The Paris Review:

If I said to you, “Describe Anna Karenina,” perhaps you’d mention her beauty. If you were reading closely you’d mention her “thick lashes,” her weight, or maybe even her little downy mustache (yes—it’s there). Matthew Arnold remarks upon “Anna’s shoulders, and masses of hair, and half-shut eyes … ”

But what does Anna Karenina look like? You may feel intimately acquainted with a character (people like to say, of a brilliantly described character, It’s like I know her), but this doesn’t mean you are actually picturing a person. Nothing so fixed—nothing so choate.

*

Most authors (wittingly, unwittingly) provide their fictional characters with more behavioral than physical description. Even if an author excels at physical description, we are left with shambling concoctions of stray body parts and random detail (authors can’t tell us everything). We fill in gaps. We shade them in. We gloss over them. We elide. Anna: her hair, her weight—these are only facets, and do not make up a true image of a person. They make up a body type, a hair color … What does Anna look like? We don’t know—our mental sketches of characters are worse than police composites.

Visualizing seems to require will …

… though at times it may also seem as though an image of a sort appears to us unbidden.

(It is tenuous, and withdraws shyly upon scrutiny.)

*

I canvass readers. I ask them if they can clearly imagine their favorite characters. To these readers, a beloved character is, to borrow William Shakespeare’s phrase, “bodied forth.”

These readers contend that the success of a work of fiction hinges on the putative authenticity of the characters. Some readers go further and suggest that the only way they can enjoy a novel is if the main characters are easily visible:

“Can you picture, in your mind, what Anna Karenina looks like?” I ask.

“Yes,” they say, “as if she were standing here in front of me.”

“What does her nose look like?”


“I hadn’t thought it out; but now that I think of it, she would be the kind of person who would have a nose like … ”

“But wait—How did you picture her before I asked? Noseless?”


“Well … ”

“Does she have a heavy brow? Bangs? Where does she hold her weight? Does she slouch? Does she have laugh lines?”

(Only a very tedious writer would tell you this much about a character. Though Tolstoy never tires of mentioning Anna’s slender hands. What does this emblematic description signify for Tolstoy?)

Some readers swear they can picture these characters perfectly, but only while they are reading. I doubt this, but I wonder now if our images of characters are vague because our visual memories are vague in general.

* * *

A thought experiment: Picture your mother. Now picture your favorite literary character. (Or: Picture your home. Then picture Howards End.) The difference between your mother’s afterimage and that of a literary character you love is that the more you concentrate, the more your mother might come into focus. A character will not reveal herself so easily. (The closer you look, the farther away she gets.)

(Actually, this is a relief. When I impose a face on a fictional character, the effect isn’t one of recognition, but dissonance. I end up imagining someone I know.* And then I think, That isn’t Anna!)

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

There are a number of additional images in the OP.

Amazon Recommendations and Also Boughts

PG put a link to this article at the bottom of a prior post but then realized that it definitely deserved its own post.

From David Gaughran:

Amazon recommendations drive millions of dollars of book purchases every single day, and Also Boughts are central to this system, which can lead to panic when they periodically disappear.

Also Boughts play an important role in Amazon recommendations — that process of pairing books to readers like some literary version of Tinder — but the exact role in Amazon’s recommender system can be misunderstood.

So let’s break it all down today, and show you the exact role Also Boughts play in Amazon recommendations, and why you need to protect yours.

What Are Also Boughts?

Also Boughts reflect the other purchases your readers are making, and also influence which readers Amazon recommends books to next. As a result, Also Boughts have become the focus of attention among savvy self-publishers in recent years.

You can view them on any book’s product page on Amazon, where you may have noticed a strip of books usually placed underneath the product description, headlined with “Customers who bought this item also bought.” It looks like this:

Also Boughts example - customers who bought this item also bought

The Also Bought strip doesn’t update as frequently as some parts of the Kindle Store, but it usually refreshes twice a week, on Thursday and Sunday evenings, which means they are a relatively up-to-date indication of how Amazon’s system views your book.

Meaning that authors watch them very closely.

Amazon’s system is always trying to determine what kind of products each individual customer is most likely to purchase, so it can make more accurate recommendations. One thing which is super important in this process is the connection between products. People who buy printers tend to buy ink, for example, and recommending a printer-buyer some ink to purchase will elicit a lot of clicks.

But it’s not just obvious pairings like leathers and feathers, Amazon’s system is constantly analyzing what everyone purchases and then using that to predict what they will buy next, in its never-ending quest to maximize sales by crunching All The Data.

The net effect when it comes to authors is this: if your book appears in the Also Boughts of a book in your niche which is selling well, this can lead to a considerable spike in sales. Conversely, if something goes wrong with your Also Boughts, it can lead to a measurable dip.

It was understandable that authors would begin worrying when Amazon seemed to remove Also Boughts from book pages, with some speculating that Amazon would stop recommending books organically and only give visibility to those using Amazon Ads.

But that’s not how the recommender system works. And I can show you exactly what I mean.

How Amazon Recommendations Really Work

Amazon makes millions of book recommendations to readers every single day — both on-site in various slots around the Kindle Store, and by email as well. These recommendations take many different forms.

Some Amazon recommendations are very top-down, but most are either personalized for each individual reader, or contextual — based on what the reader is viewing at that moment, or the place they are in the Kindle Store, or an action they just performed. And all of this is completely unaffected by Also Boughts disappearing from book pages.

Let me give you an example.

During the research process for my book Amazon Decoded, I conducted a number of revealing experiments.

Have you ever noticed what happens when you buy a book in the Kindle Store? Specifically, have you noticed what happens on-screen afterwards? Amazon never misses a trick and as soon as you complete payment, a confirmation screen appears recommending more books.

Amazon is split-testing things all the time, so you may see this play out slightly differently each time you purchase a book, but, commonly, you will see Amazon push the book in the #1 Also Bought slot pretty hard.

(Unless there is an audiobook edition which is Whispersynced, then Amazon will often favor that recommendation instead. It can experiment with other approaches, such as a carousel of books, but this will also be heavily influenced by the Also Boughts of what you just purchased.)

If that #1 Also Bought is also the next book in the series, then Amazon will helpfully flag that it is indeed the next in the series – which can really drive that spillover when you are promoting Book 1, especially if you have also discounted Book 2.

(Assuming your Book 2 is that #1 Also Bought, of course, and that your series metadata is in perfect shape.)

This is the kind of thing that doesn’t happen so much on the other retailers, because they simply don’t have recommender systems quite as sophisticated as the one powering the millions of recommendations Amazon makes every day.

Other retailers do have rudimentary recommendation engines, but Amazon is quite literally years ahead of the competition, and it doesn’t feel like that gap is closing because fundamentally different philosophies are at work.

Link to the rest at David Gaughran

6 BookBub Ads Features You May Not Know About

From BookBub Partners:

2. Browse “Related Authors” for your author targets

For many advertisers, choosing author targets is a critical part of creating successful ad campaigns. To help make it easier for advertisers to discover author targets with large audiences on BookBub, we added a tab to the author targeting module of the ad creation form to surface “Related Authors.”

BookBub Ads - Related Authors

After you select at least one author target for a campaign, we’ll generate a list of other authors who share readers with the author(s) you’ve already selected. Of course, you should always test your targets to determine which will be the most effective for your particular books and campaigns, but we hope this will help you find new audiences to test out!

3. View improved stats for individual author targets

When you’ve added more than one author target to a campaign, you can view the impressions, click-through rate (CTR), and cost-per-click for each target under the “Aggregate Stats” tab. These stats are now visible for each target as soon as your ad starts serving impressions.

BookBub Ads data

We recommend waiting to draw conclusions about an author target’s effectiveness until you have at least a few hundred impressions. The more data you have, the more reliable the results.

Note that many of our readers fall into the targetable ad audiences of multiple authors. If a reader who sees an impression of your ad falls into the audience of more than one of the authors your ad is targeting, we include the stats from that impression under each of those authors. This may help you collect data more efficiently than if you were to target each of those authors’ audiences with separate ad campaigns.

Link to the rest at BookBub Partners

PG notes that BookBub is not the only book promo service used by indie authors (there are quite a few).

However, PG included this excerpt because it highlights what can often be a useful principle for marketing and promoting a book (as well as a great many other things) – Watch what your competitors are doing to sell their books and try to determine if it’s working well or not.

One of the common things that advertising agencies do is to carefully monitor all the advertising and marketing activities undertaken by companies that are competitive with the agency’s clients. For example, Coke’s ad agency watches what Pepsi is doing for advertising and promotion and vice-versa.

Sometimes this practice results in copy-cat advertising, but more often, it may disclose something more subtle: the competitor has discovered a consumer segment (let’s use single women over 40 who have a reasonable amount of disposable income as an example) that responds positively to a certain type of message and has created advertisements that carry that message and is placing them in online locations that attract such visitors (or magazines focused on such readers or television programs with a high percentage of such viewers).

BookBub’s suggestion is the same. Very few readers only read books by a single author. One of the reasons that genres exist and are cultivated by publishers and bookstores is that the best way to sell more books to those types of readers.

We’ll take an example: Mystery and Crime Fiction (which are actually two genres, but are often lumped together):

Some basic sub-genres would be:

  1. Detective Novels (Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Sue Grafton are some well-known examples)
  2. Cozy Mysteries (Dorothy L. Sayers, Elizabeth Daly and sometimes, Dame Agatha again)
  3. Police Procedural (Ed McBain, P. D. James, and Bartholomew Gill)
  4. Caper Stories (W. R. Burnett, John Boland, Peter O’Donnell, and (sometimes) Michael Crichton)

So, if you write detective novels, you might want to see if you can successfully promote your book by targeting readers who like Sue Grafton’s books. In a crude way, you might use an advertising headline that reads, “If you like Sue Grafton books, you’ll really love mine!”

However, as an indie author who has complete control over your advertising and needs no one’s approval to spend some of your hard-earned royalties to generate more royalties, you can be much more sophisticated and cost effective. You can use the techniques described in the OP and also learn more about Amazon Recommendations and Also Boughts.

David Gaughran has written an excellent post on that very subject.

To me

To me, murder seems to be the ultimate form of social distancing.

J. P. Pulkkinen, Finnish crime novelist

Not Dark Mysteries

From Book Riot:

A Midsummer’s Equation by Keigo Higashino

I love Higashino’s detective mysteries and wish they’d all get translated — he’s huge in Japan! First, a note on the whole #6 in the series — you don’t have to read these in order, you actually technically can’t unless you read the untranslated original works because they have not all been translated to English, and the ones that have been were done out of order. Publishing, am I right? So pick up whichever sounds the best first, and then read them all.

Now about A Midsummer’s Equation: it has so many elements of the genre stitched nicely together it makes for a perfect curl-up-with-a-mystery-book read. The premise is: a guest dies at a family inn in Hari Cove, a now economically struggling tourist town, and the question is, “was it murder or an accident?” You follow the family inn members, mostly the visiting nephew and the daughter who works at the inn but is also fighting a company from undersea mining their ocean. We then also follow not one, not two, but three crime solvers: the small town police who rule the man falling into the water an accident; the Tokyo police who ask for an autopsy and suspect foul play, especially upon realizing it is a former detective who has died; and Manabu Yukawa, a physicist and college professor who is referred to as Detective Galileo as he assists the Tokyo detectives.

There’s a lot to love here, from the way the mystery is built and unraveled, reminding me of old school mysteries with a bit of Sherlock: the different perspectives; a nice armchair trip to Japan; and Detective Galileo bonding with the inn’s nephew and performing science experiments with him. If you’re looking to watch a complex mystery solved and don’t want dark, gritty, nor graphic, this is your book. (TW brief discussions of possibility of suicide/mentions past cancer death, side character with brain tumor)

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG doesn’t include many book reviews in TPV, but he’s finding the usual grist for his mill to be a bit sparse today.

So now do you see why books are hated and feared?

So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless.

Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451

Banned Books

From The American Civil Liberties Union:

Ideas are powerful. That’s why intellectual freedom is protected by the First Amendments — and it’s also why sometimes governments try to suppress them.

For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has fought to make sure Americans have the right to read what they want. Despite our many victories, there are still misguided attempt to ban books. The American Library Association keeps track — some of the most frequently challenged books from 2015 include the best seller Fifty Shades of Grey along with Fun Home and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (both of which were turned into Tony Award-winning Broadway shows, by the way).

But you can’t keep a good book down. See the menu below for more on those “dangerous” collections of words.

Link to the rest at The American Civil Liberties Union

PG acknowledges that there are meaningful distinctions between a government agency attempting to prevent people from reading books about certain subjects and a private publisher acting in the same way.

However, he suggests the human impulse of someone with a bit of power to ban the dissemination of ideas that don’t fit in with their opinions or prejudices is at the root of both actions.

Big Publishing Pushes Out Trump’s Last Fan

From The New York Times:

If you were a certain kind of distinctly Trumpy public figure — say Donald Trump Jr. or Corey Lewandowski — looking to sell a book over the last four years, there were surprisingly few options. The Big Five publishing companies in New York, and even their dedicated conservative imprints, had become squeamish about the genre known as MAGA books, with its divisive politics and relaxed approach to facts. And small conservative publishers probably couldn’t afford you.

So if, like the younger Mr. Trump in 2018, you found yourself rejected by most New York publishers, there was one last stop: a corner cubicle in the fifth-floor offices of the Hachette Book Group in Midtown Manhattan. There, Kate Hartson, the editorial director of the conservative Center Street imprint, was the one mainstream editor who would buy what no one else would — and make a tidy profit for her employer.

Ms. Hartson, a fit 67-year-old who once ran a small press specializing in dogs, had all the trappings of a liberal book editor, including an apartment on the Upper East Side and a place in Hampton Bays. But she also seemed to be that rarest of figures in New York media: a true believer in Donald J. Trump, people who worked with her said. She published “Triggered” by Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Lewandowski’s “Trump: America First: The President Succeeds Against All Odds” and the work of other Trump die-hards like the Fox News host Jeanine Pirro and Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker.

But Hachette, like The New York Times and other media companies, has been torn in recent years between the politics of its staff and its historic commitment to publishing conservative speech. Its liberal proprietors, of course, always abhorred the conservative content while cashing the checks. At Hachette, this meant employees having their salaries paid by Donald Trump Jr. while objecting to publishing liberals who had fallen out of favor, like Woody Allen or J.K. Rowling.

Ms. Hartson’s list was a somewhat more direct attack on her colleagues’ politics. The last book she bought was the forthcoming “Woke Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam,” by Vivek Ramaswamy. And so last month, even as Ms. Hartson was riding high with the best-selling political book on Amazon, “Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy,” Hachette fired her.

The official reasons for Ms. Hartson’s termination, two people familiar with it said, were mundane. But she told associates that she believed she’d been fired for her politics. In a Zoom meeting with employees on Jan. 26, the chief executive of Hachette Book Group, Michael Pietsch, and Daisy Hutton, the executive who oversees Center Street, didn’t mention Ms. Hartson. But they reassured employees that they had learned the lessons of the Capitol siege of Jan. 6: no hate speech, no incitement to violence, no false narratives. And they’ve separately made clear to both editors and agents that they’re shifting back toward think tank conservatives, and away from fire-breathing politicians. (Ms. Hartson didn’t respond to questions about her views and her firing.)

“The conservative movement is in a state of flux, and the next few years will be a particularly rich time for conversation about the future of conservatism in America,” Ms. Hutton, who is based in Nashville and whose background is primarily in Christian publishing, said in an email. “Center Street will continue to publish thoughtful, provocative, lively and informative books that contribute meaningfully to the shaping of that conversation.”

Hachette is hardly the only mainstream publisher steering away from MAGA books. Simon & Schuster invoked its “morals” clause to cancel the publication of a book by Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, after he objected to the results of the November election and cheered the protests right before violence broke out. Simon & Schuster, two sources familiar with its plans said, will also stop publishing the right-wing activist Candace Owens.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

It appears to PG that Hachette and other members of Big Publishing have decided that some things are just more important than publishing books that a great many Americans enjoy buying and reading.

“Not our sort of customers, you know.”

Large advances notwithstanding, PG suggests this is yet another shot in the arm for Amazon’s sales.

And one more reason to reopen fewer physical bookstores when the lockdowns in various locations lift enough to allow for most individuals to think about whether they want to go to a local bookstore and look at books for old times sake.

Perhaps combining bookstores with antique stores might be a good marketing move.

As PG mentioned a day or two ago, he and the French language began a difficult relationship when he was a fainéant during an introductory French class in college, but he didn’t recall that hachette was a synonym for belette.

That said, PG needs to leave off using his French language skills to trash others.

The Johnstown Flood

A locomotive whistle was a matter of some personal importance to a railroad engineer. It was tuned and worked (even “played”) according to his own personal choosing. The whistle was part of the make-up of the man; he was known for it as much as he was known for the engine he drove. And aside from its utilitarian functions, it could also be an instrument of no little amusement. Many an engineer could get a simple tune out of his whistle, and for those less musical it could be used to aggravate a cranky preacher in the middle of his Sunday sermon or to signal hello through the night to a wife or lady friend. But there was no horseplay about tying down the cord. A locomotive whistle going without letup meant one thing on the railroad, and to everyone who lived near the railroad. It meant there was something very wrong.
The whistle of John Hess’ engine had been going now for maybe five minutes at most. It was not on long, but it was the only warning anyone was to hear, and nearly everyone in East Conemaugh heard it and understood almost instantly what it meant.

David McCullough, The Johnstown Flood

Smalltime

From The Wall Street Journal:

Do we really need another Mafioso-in-the-family memoir? I mean, seriously, we’ve had books that could be called Mafia Wife, Mafia Dad, Mafia Son, Mafia Stepdaughter, Mafia Uncle, Mafia Dachshund, Mafia Goldfish—okay, well, I made up a couple of those, but you get the point. When Al Capone’s purported grandson publishes a memoir, and he has, I think it’s safe to say we’ve reached saturation.

Which is why I was surprised how thoroughly I enjoyed Russell Shorto’s “Smalltime: A Story of My Family and the Mob.” Even more so once I realized a more accurate subtitle for the book would be “Searching for Grandpa: Second-in-Command of the Johnstown (Pa.) Mob.” In other words, this is not Mafia history that will send Geraldo Rivera scrambling to open a Shorto family safe anytime soon.

And that, oddly, is part of the book’s charm. The author of well-received histories of Amsterdam and New York City, Mr. Shorto has produced something that feels altogether fresh, a street-level portrait of how his late grandfather helped build what amounted to a Mafia small business—or businesses, actually, everything from the numbers and rigged card and dice games (Grandpa’s specialty) to pool halls, a cigar store, bars, bowling alleys and pinball arcades. There’s a murder mystery here—there has to be, right?—but make no mistake, this is a spry little book about small business.

As Mr. Shorto tells it, he had only the vaguest notion of his namesake grandfather Russell “Russ” Shorto’s career until an elderly cousin buttonholed him and urged him to write a book. Mr. Shorto is reluctant—“not my thing,” he avers—but soon finds himself in a Johnstown Panera Bread, surrounded by a gang of ancient, white-haired wise guys dying to tell him about the old days. Grandpa Russ, it seems, had a long run as a mid-level Mafia bureaucrat, running a sports book and crooked card games among other things, until his drinking got out of control and the law finally came calling.

For Mr. Shorto, the challenge is Grandpa Russ’s personality, or lack of one. He was a quiet man and, despite all the Panera chats, remains a cipher for much of the book. The story opens up once Mr. Shorto goes in search of the public Russ, tracing his family from its Sicilian roots and cataloging his newspaper clippings and arrest and FBI records. What emerges is the gritty tale of a talented card-and-dice cheat who gets his break in the late ’30s when a buttoned-down Mafioso named Joseph “Little Joe” Regino, who made his bones in Philadelphia, marries into Russ’s family and opens a Mafia franchise in Johnstown.

This was industrial-age Pennsylvania, and postwar Johnstown was a city of steel factories, whose workers quickly cottoned to the backroom gambling and after-hours places Russ and Regino opened. Russ’s masterstroke was something they called the “G.I. Bank,” a thrumming numbers operation that proved a cash machine. They invested the profits in a dozen local businesses and paid off the mayor and cops, while allowing them to make periodic “raids” to sate the newspapers. A handful of foot soldiers would get pinched, a few hundred dollars in fines would be paid, and they would do it all again the next year.

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

Betsy and George

PG isn’t being a slacker, but he thought of this song out of the blue.

Stan Freberg worked for a variety of New York City advertising agencies and was named as one of Advertising Age’s Top 100 People in Advertising at one point in his career.

However, the general public knew him best as a creator and performer of slightly-strange satirical television skits and songs, including the following.

The Art of Story Structures

From Write to Done:

Picture this: In a sudden burst of divine inspiration, you find yourself visited by the ancient Muse who bestows upon you the perfect idea for your very own novel. It’s every author (and aspiring author’s) dream. But once the initial adrenaline wears off, it can quickly morph into a nightmare. Between the scattered plot points and fuzzy technicalities, it’s difficult to imagine that any organized form of writing can come from this creative vision.

Enter the art of story structures.

. . . .

In essence, a story structure is the roadmap for your story.

At their best, story structures help you to visually align the events of your novel in an organized and logical sequence, making it easier to draft the story itself by defining the important plot points.

There are various kinds of story structures, each suited to a different type of writer, but all of them generally consist of:

  • a conflict
  • a climax
  • a resolution

Next, we’ll take a closer look at these common elements.

. . . .

Keeping in mind that there are multiple methods that authors use to structure and outline their stories, we’ll focus on some of the main aspects that remain the same throughout each technique.

  1. The Opener: This is perhaps one of the most important aspects of any story. In this portion, you identify both the protagonist and the driving force of the entire plot. Be it a quest, a problem, or a challenge, this force must be strong enough to propel your character through the entire story and compel your readers to stick around till the very end.
  2. The Catalyst: This is the event that gets the ball rolling. The catalyst is the moment where the problem becomes so undeniable that it finally forces the protagonist to act in order to avoid the worst possible result or consequence. The stakes should be high.
  3. The Tension Grows: With the stakes floating comfortably in the upper atmosphere, it’s time to take them to the stars. This portion of the story should involve a series of crises that fit logically into the plot while progressively getting worse. These are what motivates your protagonist to continue fighting the problem and working towards the desired solution.
  4. The Climax: Many people are tempted to mistake the climax for the end of the story, but it’s far from it! This is the point in the story where things have escalated to their absolute worst. Hopeless and faced with utter failure, this is a turning point for the protagonist; they must decide whether to continue on against all odds or to give up and accept the worst.
  5. The End: It all comes down to this. Using what they’ve learned along the way, your protagonist must act and either succeed or fail. Ideally, an ending will both satisfy the reader as they complete their journey with your protagonist and leave them wanting more.

Seven Story Structures

One: Dean Koontz’s Classic

This structure is simple enough to be ideal for writers who prefer a loose approach to outlining. It consists of only four steps:The sooner the trouble, the better. The moment the stakes are high enough to carry the plot of your novel, throw your character head-first into the thick of it. Before you take this high-dive, though, make sure you’ve developed your character into someone your readers are genuinely invested in.

It’s all downhill from here. Everything that your character does should inevitably make their dilemma even worse. It’s important to make sure that each problem proceeds logically from the one before it, but the deeper the trouble, the better.

Enter utter hopelessness. This is what your protagonist has been training for. Everything they learned in overcoming the previous obstacles should come into play here as the reader (and maybe even you yourself) wonder how the protagonist is ever going to escape the inevitable.

Success or failure, against all odds. Loyal readers expect an ending that neatly ties up the story. Whether that ending is one of victory or disappointment depends on the individual circumstances of each story; either way, this portion should provide a sense of closure for your readers and the protagonist.

Link to the rest at Write to Done

Suite bergamasque

PG will stray far from his normal subjects for a moment.

Sometimes PG has a college radio station that plays classical music playing in the background while he works in his office.

A bit earlier this morning, that station played Suite bergamasque by Claude Debussy.

Debussy began composing this piece around 1890, at the age of 28, but significantly revised it just before its 1905 publication.

The composer had resisted the publication of his earlier piano works because they were much different than (and he thought, inferior to) his mature style. However, a French music publisher persuaded Debussy to allow the publication after Debussy spiffed it up a bit. (PG thinks “spiff” is a musical term. Debussy would have said, “les sous-vêtements de ma mère“)

PG has queued up the best-known portion of this piece, often known as Clair de Lune, which PG seems to recall means moonlight in French.

Or perhaps, eating snails by moonlight. (He barely passed the only French class he attempted in college.)

.

Opening Scenes: 3 Critical Elements

From Writers Helping Writers:

One of the most common questions I get as an editor is, “Am I starting my novel in the right place?” Let’s discuss how you can craft an opening that subtly shows you are, in fact, starting in the right place and feel confident about your choice.

We often think we need to open with a huge bang, something that’ll catch the reader’s attention and play out like a blockbuster movie. But here’s the thing about those high-powered opening scenes: readers don’t care because they don’t yet know the characters or the baggage they bring onto page one. Readers don’t know what the events mean for the characters, or what’s at stake for them.

There’s no doubt it’s difficult to balance establishing the protagonist’s ordinary world, or before, while hooking readers. Ordinary world sounds boring, right?

. . . .

But the trick to establishing your protagonist’s ordinary world and crafting a successful opening scene isn’t in impressing your reader as much as you think it is. The trick is in crafting an interesting event that somehow impresses your protagonist. To do that, we need enough of a glimpse of their before to understand how whatever happens toward the end of your opening will change their lives.

Think of your opening as having 3 parts:

  1. Let us meet your protagonist. We need a clear understanding of who they are and what they believe about their world when we meet them. Preferably, this is done through interesting action and dialogue. Meaningful action that will reveal something about their current beliefs and personality. Think of protagonist Katniss in The Hunger Games, waking up to find she’s alone in her bed when typically, her younger sister is beside her. Her immediate concern flares in the form of dialogue and action. We become acquainted with Katniss on a deep level before she steps foot into the arena, and all she’s done is wake up. No car chases. No mythical beings showing up. Just normality with an interesting twist.
  2. The primary external event toward the end of your opening scene leads to a noticeable turn. The “turn”— or the “opportunity,” as it’s called in the One Stop for Writers’ Story Mapping tool—is the moment the opening’s main event impacts the protagonist and leads to a decision of some sort. In light of establishing your character’s ordinary world, your reader will better understand the context and meaning of this new event. So going back to The Hunger Games, the turn is when Katniss’ younger sister’s name is called to become a tribute in the games. It’s the moment that forces Katniss to make some sort of a decision. By then, we know Katniss’ primary goal is to protect her sister (ordinary world) and that this “turn” will force her hand. And because we felt Katniss’ reaction to feeling that cold spot in the bed where her sister should have been, the event of having her name called has context. We already know what Katniss cares about and why, which makes the event far more engaging. 

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Using “He said.” in your dialogue?

From Dave Farland:

I don’t often give actual tips on how to compose stories. I tend to focus my lessons on storytelling to things that you can’t learn elsewhere.  Yet from time to time, it might be worthwhile to actually give a few technical tips. Today we will go over one on how to improve your dialogue. 

A few years ago, I listened to a bestselling writer give perhaps the worst advice on dialog tags that I’ve ever heard.  He told new writers, “Never use the word said.  It’s boring and repetitious.  Worst of all, it doesn’t really tell us much about the feeling behind what has been spoken.”

His advice was that you should “mix it up, and never repeat verbs that deal with speaking on the same page.  If you are forced to use the word said, he suggested that you add an adverb to it in order to define the quality of the words spoken.  

Given his advice, you might have a teen “mumble” one sentence:

“I don’t want to go to church,” she mumbled.

While the reply would use a different verb:

“Well you’re going to go, Missy,” Dad retorted.

The problem that arises is that we find ourselves using a lot of verbs that seem rather silly when put into a string of tags.  Thus, you might have people mumbling, shouting, profaning, teasing, snarling, squealing, averring, blaming, and so on in rapid succession.   

Do you see the problem?  When you handle dialog that way, you fall into a trap where your characters seem to be emotional butterflies, endlessly flitting from one powerful emotion to another.  Sometimes authors even fall into the trap of using unfortunate combinations:

“Why don’t you come over to my place?” she teased.

“Sure!” he ejaculated.

In reality, people don’t flit from one powerful emotion to another.  Each person that you meet has something of an emotional tone about them.  Some people are stern most of the time, while others might be thoughtful, pleasant, or excited.  So when you write about that person, you’ll most often be depicting that person with his or her natural tone. The link is to a lesson on common mistakes writers make in regards to tone. 

Many a literary writer would suggest that we use the words said or asked when we make our attributions.  Both of these words are neutral in tone.  This allows the writer to imply the tone through the content of the dialog.  If I write:

“Get your butt out of my chair,” he said. 

I don’t need to modify it with a verb like roared, shouted, fumed, and so on.  Nor do I really need to add an exclamation mark.  The tone of the speaker in this case is implied by the content of the sentence.

Another advantage of plain old said is that it’s invisible in your writing.  You can repeat the verb in every line of dialog in a short story, and no reader will ever complain.  (In the same way, character names don’t attract too much attention.  If you’re writing about the Wizard Wythian, you can repeat his name a dozen times on a page without the reader feeling that it is overused.)

But there are a couple of problems when using said.  Often a writer might modify the word for greater effect when a different verb would be more suitable.  For example, you might say “she said very softly,” when “she whispered” actually conveys the same information more concisely.

For this reason, many literary writers will tell you to “get rid of adverbs,” the words that end in –ly, and as a result they will search through a document during their editing process trying to get rid of as many –ly words as possible.

However, getting rid of all of your adverbs can lead to new problems.  If you’ve read a lot of authors from the past 70 years, you’ll find that their style is becoming increasingly homogeneous as they allow their writing to be informed by such strictures.  In short, too many a writer now writes in an abbreviated Hemingway-esque style that feels smooth and professional but which also sounds like the same voice as any of ten thousand other writers.  You can learn to write in that homogeneous tone by following a popular handbook, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.  For this reason, I’ve heard authors complain that Strunk and White have stolen the voices from an entire generation of America’s young writers.  We sound like clones.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

PG notes in passing that, for him, using the term, “ejaculated,” in place of “said” has presented a mental speed-bump for some time. He has less of a problem if it is used in a period piece, but on occasions when female characters ejaculate, he finds the term to be a bit more off-putting.

But PG is ancient, quirky, opinionated and suffering from the severe effects of being socially isolated from many of his stabilizing and sanity-enhancing human resources other than Mrs. PG for an extended period of time, so his thoughts on this subject should likely be disregarded.

Book Cover 101: Covering A Cross-Genre Novel

From Writers in the Storm:

Here on Writers In The Storm we’ve talked about putting the promise of your genre on the cover and how vital it is for selling your novel. As I’ve said before, a good cover is a contract with the reader that this story fits in the genre they’re looking for.

But what if you’ve written a cross-genre story? 

Here’s the short answer: it’s almost impossible to do both at once. You have to lean one way or another, or you’ll miss both sides.

Let’s say, for example, you’ve written a sci-fi/romance novel. Think carefully about the main story elements. Is the romance really front and center? Or is it more interstellar shenanigans with strong romantic elements?

My latest series, Raegan Reid, is a blend of urban fantasy and sci-fi. When I look at it objectively I see that it’s heavier on the urban fantasy elements. If I put a typical urban fantasy cover, a badass female protagonist standing in a sinister city landscape, and then tried to insert a futuristic element into the background, I would end up with a confused cover and no one would buy my book. It would leave both urban fantasy and science fiction readers scratching their heads, and their main thought would be: “I don’t know what that is, but I’m pretty sure it’s not for me.”

You do not want that reaction for your book.

Steps to a successful cross-genre cover.

1. Take a step back and analyze the major story elements in your novel.

  • What genre do they belong to?
  • Which reader is it going to appeal to more?

Typically, you’ll find you’ve got more elements of one genre than the other.  

For instance, I did not lean into the science elements hard enough in my story to market it to science fiction readers. If your cover incorrectly promises your genre, you’ll end up with angry readers, bad reviews, and a mental cross beside your name when it’s seen on future books.

As a side note, some genres are more accepting of experimentation, while other genres are more purist. If you’ve read within the genres you’re publishing in—as you should have—you’ll know which is which.

2. If your story is truly evenly balanced and you can tip either way, consider which genre has the biggest audience. You are seeking the largest pool of potential readers, because a bigger pool means more potential customers.

For instance, if your sci-romance is equal parts science fiction and romance, I’d lean romance. Biggest. Genre. Ever.

If you’re still not sure, take a look at the covers from your comp authors, and see which genre they’ve chosen to highlight. If they’ve been selling well…it’s a smart move to mimic their approach.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Book PR and Marketing Questions Answered

From Writer Unboxed:

I spend a good portion of each day answering questions. There are the mom questions…”what did you pack me for snack?” There are the wife questions … “do I have 10 minutes to finish up this deck before dinner?” While the dog can’t speak, his eyes, tail wags, and door scratches are just loaded with questions. And since almost everything is about food, my answers don’t require much thought or even complete sentences. But then I’ll get a client question, which might go something like this: “My publisher got me something called a BookBub deal that’s running early next week in the historical fiction category, and my first question is, what’s BookBub? My second question is what else is it that I should be doing to support that deal? My third question is what will you be doing to support that deal?

These questions require greater thought, a review of the calendar, a discussion with my team, and a strategic plan. Sometimes still a client is having trouble understanding it all and then we make arrangements for a call where I lead him or her to various websites and social media platforms to get a clearer picture.

. . . .

1. [Insert Author Name] is on [Insert National Morning Show like Good Morning America] talking about the same thing my book is about. Why didn’t they choose me and can you go back to them?

We don’t usually get feedback about why a producer went with one author over another, but the reasons can be many including: that particular author may have an already established relationship with the network/show and is called on to be their expert on that topic whenever it is in the news; the author may be more well-known and have a larger following on social media, which is definitely a factor when producers are considering guests; that author may have an affiliation with an organization that can help amplify the segment that others do not; and that author may have clips to past TV interviews that show they would be engaging and have experience on TV. Those are just some possible reasons and publicists rarely, if ever, get feedback as to why a specific author was not booked. The producers do not have the time or bandwidth to report back with that level of feedback. I don’t expect they will be covering this topic again so soon, but I will continue to follow up as is appropriate to be sure you are on their radar as an expert for future bookings around the topic.—Kathleen Carter is a book publicist and founder of Kathleen Carter Communications, a literary p.r. agency.

2. Why did [Insert Bookstagrammer or Book Blogger Name] post that negative review? Can you get them to take it down?

Although it doesn’t happen very often, a blogger will sometimes post a negative or lukewarm review of a book. In my experience, this happens if a character or situation depicted in the novel makes the reader connect negatively on a personal level. More and more we see movies and television shows proactively post trigger warnings, and unfortunately, this has not yet been adopted by the book industry. The reader may have also selected a book to read that wasn’t the right fit after seeing others review it, and then find that they could not connect with the novel.Due to the strong relationships that I have built with the blogger community, typically an open and honest discussion will happen if a reader is not enjoying the book. Sometimes all it requires is a follow up on how negative critiques of a book can change ratings on review sites and what books will work better in the future to feature on social media. As a facilitator of virtual book tours, these situations help me in understanding the types of books that a certain blogger may or may not enjoy in the future and bring me closer to my community of bloggers.—Suzanne Leopold, founder of Suzy Approved Book Tours. 

3. I have a really friendly relationship on Instagram with this [Insert Book Media Professional or Book Influencer] but they didn’t include me in their monthly round-up or event—did I do something wrong? 

Book influencers must diversify their lists based on genre, publisher, time of the year, etc. They simply cannot include every book or author. That doesn’t mean they won’t promote your book elsewhere or that they won’t promote your next book.—Andrea Peskind Katz, founder of Great Thoughts blog and the Great Thoughts’ Great Readers Book Salon on Facebook.

. . . .

5. My book is not selling—the PR nor advertising is leading to sales, what can you do to fix this? 

The job of advertising and PR is to interest someone in a book. Then the book itself must clinch the sale when the potential reader goes to the retailer. Most readers need to read the book’s full description, still be interested enough to read the book’s excerpt, and then usually check other readers’ opinions in the form of reader reviews —both the good and the bad ones. (Many readers say the bad ones are even more important.) And then lastly a potential reader will check out the price. That alone can kill sales if the author is not already a favorite. I’m a writer too and I think a copy of my book should be worth more than a latte — but readers have endless choices of books on sale for $2.99 or less and sometimes a high priced book is what is throwing off sales.So other than price, if the ads and PR were done correctly, the problem is on the retailer’s page. There are so many things on that page that can turn off a reader and kill a sale. Is the book’s description doing its job? Positioning the book correctly? Is the synopsis compelling enough?  Is the book’s excerpt strong enough? The first five pages of a book are its most important.Also are there enough reader reviews on the page? Generally, you need at least 20. If you don’t have those, you need to get them — which can often be accomplished by a $119 eBook giveaway at Goodreads.  A few weeks after one of those, more reviews do appear. I think the hardest thing to accept is not every book finds its audience even when you do everything right because it is not about a book being good or bad — but about the book being appealing that clinches a sale.

When you do everything right and the book still doesn’t sell (and it has happened to me with my own novels) the best advice I can give is to write the next book.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG will drop in one bit of information that some visitors to TPV may not understand.

Advertising and Public Relations are two different things.

Advertising is where you pay to put up an advertisement somewhere – online, print, video, etc. Within limits, the person or entity has complete control over the content and appearance of the advertising. Typically, advertising will look different than whatever content the advertising platform produces itself (if it does that sort of thing). An advertisement in The New York Times will likely have some features that make it look different than NYT news content.

A reputable advertising vehicle may decline to run your ad if you claim your book has been #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List for 50 weeks in a row if that’s not a true statement, but most will allow quite a bit of latitude in your description of your book.

Public Relations (sometimes called Publicity) is focused on gaining favorable comments in a variety of media vehicles that don’t qualify as paid advertising in that vehicle. Persuading the New York Times editors to have the Times book review editor accept a copy of your book and write a review of it is typically a public relations or publicity project.

While that sounds free, most of the books the Times includes in its book reviews are pitched to the editors by public relations professionals who have developed a good relationship with the Times editorial staff over a period of time by bringing worthwhile books and information about authors to the Times staff. If Publicist A has a track record of identifying and suggesting books that are going to be big sellers that will be interesting to Times readers, when Publicist A calls or emails an editor, the editor will pay attention to what the Publicist says.

While an advertising agency or advertising professional doesn’t want to get on the NYT list of deplorables, the NYT will accept quite a few different types of advertisements from a wide range of advertisers so long as somebody’s willing to pay the rather large bill the Times will charge to publish the advertisement.

On the PR side of things, there’s a lot more persuasion that goes on and the results are less certain. The NYT may accept a book for review, then write a negative review about the book or defer publication of the review until after the book’s initial introduction push is done or review the book along with several other competing books in its genre in a single article. Typically, the Publicist gets paid regardless of the outcome of her/his efforts with respect to a certain book.

While PG has used the NYT as an example, the same general distinction between advertising and publicity applies to most other large and mid-sized media organizations.

Down on the smaller end of things, some bloggers or websites will write a review for a price or if an advertisement is purchased, likely to appear at the same time or near the same time the review appears. In some cases, a platform will publish an advertisement that looks like a written review.

An indie author can, of course, do both advertising and public relations and a great many have already learned how.

PG would be interested to hear anything that authors would like to share about their experience with advertising and public relations efforts for their books. You can send him info through the Contact PG button at the top of the blog.