It is not because the truth is too difficult

13 December 2017

It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes… we make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions – especially selfish ones.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I’m excited

13 December 2017

I’m excited when an independent press is publishing something other than literary fiction. Literary fiction was, in all seriousness, established by the CIA during the Cold War—it belongs to the state. As such, an independent press with no ties to the state should inherently not be interested in “literary fiction.” Semantically!

M Kitchell

PG has no idea what this quote means.

He found it at 50 Quotes from 50 Presses: The Small Press Database Hits 50 Interviews.

American Literature Needs Indie Presses

13 December 2017

From The Atlantic:

For better or worse, writers and readers live in an age of the million-dollar book deal. The Big Five publishers (Penguin Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster) increasingly gamble on massive book advances in hopes that they might put out one of the biggest hits of the year. Last fall, Knopf—a division of Penguin Random House—paid an unprecedented $2 million advance for the first-time novelist Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire.

. . . .

These large advances correlate with grandiosity on multiple levels: Each of these books is between 400 and 1,000 pages long, costs around $30 for a hardcover, and aims boldly for success on a scale that remarkably few works actually achieve.

. . . .

But when editors and publishers feel they need to fight for every moment of planned reading, and readers are experiencing a shrinking cultural attention span, it’s surprising that large books inherently make the most market sense. With this pattern of investment behavior, major presses are inadvertently helping foster an environment where American indie presses can thrive by doing the very thing they’re best at: being small and, by extension, focusing on creativity and originality over sales.

. . . .

Another notable press subverting traditional publishing standards is Dorothy, which is “dedicated to works of fiction or near fiction or about fiction, mostly by women.” Run by the experimental writer and book designer Danielle Dutton, Dorothy publishes just two books a year, and the books are small, beautiful, and cost only $16. Dutton started the press when she found out that Renee Gladman, a poet she admired, had written a trilogy of novels about the invented city-state of Ravicka. These books are absurd and surreal, and are stabilized by an eerie interior logic: Think The Phantom Tollbooth for adults. Dutton told Gladman she’d start a press if Gladman let her publish these books. Thus, Dorothy was born.

Dorothy powerfully demonstrates the deft curation that’s possible with a small press.

. . . .

Each Coffee House Press book concludes with the tagline, “Literature is not the same thing as publishing,” and that mantra nicely captures the valuable position from which many indie presses operate. Two Dollar Radio markets to the “disillusioned and the disaffected.”

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

How Indie Presses Are Elevating the Publishing World

13 December 2017

From Electric Lit:

Independent presses are a lifeline in the publishing world. At a time when large publishing houses are merging into even larger conglomerates, writers may feel like finding a home for their work requires a very specific, and at times corporate, mindset. But indies show that there’s another way. Via contests, open calls for submissions (for agented and unagented writers), and targeted requests, independent presses provide an alternate arena, making publishing more of a reality for marginalized artists and those with unique voices and writing styles. Plus, they’re getting more and more recognition.

. . . .

Jennifer Baker: In a world full of presses, why did you decide to create yours and what stands out about it that you saw lacking in the marketplace?

Rosalie Morales Kearns: I started Shade Mountain Press in 2013, and launched its first two books in 2014. Our focus is on literary fiction by women. As a feminist, I certainly am not surprised by the VIDA count and other research showing how underrepresented women are in terms of their work being reviewed in the major venues, winning literary awards, being taught in university classes, and being taken seriously in general. Living in a white supremacist culture, I’m not surprised that women of color are even more drastically underrepresented. But perhaps I had a utopian vision that the small press world was more egalitarian, more inclusive, etc. I learned how wrong I was when I was seeking a publisher for my short story collection Virgins & Tricksters. It ended up being published in 2012 by Aqueous Books, a woman-owned press. But before that, as I researched small presses, I kept coming across publishers that praised themselves for being willing to take chances on less commercial work. Then I’d look at their new and forthcoming lists, and see seven out of eight titles by men, nine out of ten titles by men, sometimes 100% of their titles by men.

. . . .

JB: What questions should authors be asking of their publishers in general? Authors may consider publication as that final step but there’s so much more to it.

RMK: Authors should get a really clear idea of their publisher’s timetable, and make sure that the publisher is intending to send out advance reader copies, in hard copy, in a sufficient number and in a timely way (four or ideally more months before publication date).

If the publisher is going to do a very light edit, they should be clear on that with the author, so that the author understands they will have to do various rounds of proofreading themselves. My press hires a professional proofreader, and I also do proofreading at later stages, when I’m working with the book designer and then when the file is converted to ebook format. All kinds of glitches can creep in in the layout stage and in the ebook stage.

The publisher should also be clear about how much of the publicity work will be on the author, and the author needs to realize that this could take a lot of time. As a publisher I take charge of creating copy for book jackets, for the press release, and for other promotional materials (frankly, a lot of authors just aren’t that good at describing their own work). Also I handle the work of identifying possible reviewers, querying them, following up, etc.. But that being said, it’s certainly a common practice at very small presses to let the authors create the copy and do the legwork in identifying and contacting reviewers. Small-press publishers have only so much time.

From Electric Lit

PG admits he’s biased in favor of authors.

If the CEO of a publisher is spending a lot of time proofreading, exactly what value is the author receiving from a publishing relationship that likely results in the publisher receiving most of the money the author’s book generates? Proofreading services can be obtained elsewhere at a lower price.

PG checked the websites of the three publishers featured in the OP and could not find any reference to the amount of compensation the writer would receive, a copy of the press’s standard publishing contract or any details of the proposed financial relationship between the publisher and the author.

Perhaps PG failed to learn that one of the foundational commandments of small presses is, “Thou shalt never talk about money.” Perhaps the target market for small presses (and large) is limited to authors who have day jobs or inherited wealth. Small presses might want to include a disclaimer or statement of purpose that says something like, “We serve authors who don’t need to earn much money from their writing.”

In the broader world of businesses that have financial relationships with individuals, it is customary for the business to provide detailed disclosures of the legal and financial terms of those relationships early on.

PG just did a Google search for credit card offers and near the top of the first page of a site he picked at random, the following appeared (you don’t have to read the whole thing):

The standard variable APR for purchases and balance transfers for the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card is 15.49% – 24.49% based on your creditworthiness. Balance transfers must be completed within 2 months of account opening. The standard variable APR for cash advances is 26.24%. The variable penalty APR is up to 29.99% and may be applied if you make a late payment or make a payment that is returned. Minimum interest charge – $0.50. Annual fee – $95 for each primary cardholder. However, the annual fee is waived for the first 12 months. Fee for foreign purchases — None. Cash advance fee — either $10 or 5% of the amount of each cash advance, whichever is greater. Balance transfer fee — Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. New cardmembers only. Subject to credit approval. Additional limitations, terms and conditions apply. You will be given further information when you apply.

In the nature of such disclosures, the writing style of Citi’s attorneys leaves a bit to be desired, but you see numbers there right on the website and you’ll see more numbers provided for anyone who applies before they accept the agreement.

If a publisher, small or large, is soliciting manuscripts, what’s wrong with a simple financial disclosure? On the website?

Here’s a start for such a disclosure:

  1. Royalties payable to the author will be:
    1. Hardback editions – 10% of the suggested retail price for the first 5,000 copies sold and 15% of the suggested retail price for additional copies sold thereafter.
    2. Paperback editions – 8% of the suggested retail price for all copies sold.
    3. Ebook editions – 25% of the net amount received by the publisher.
  2. Royalties will be paid to the author every six months.
  3. In the event unsold books by author are returned to the publisher for credit or reimbursement or amounts received by publisher are subject to chargebacks with respect to unsold or returned books, royalties shall not be payable to author for such books. If royalties have already been paid with respect to unsold or returned books, future royalties payable to the author will be subject to chargebacks for overpayment of royalties in prior periods.
  4. Absent unusual circumstances, the maximum advance for a first book will be limited to $500.00.
  5. The average royalty payments received all of publisher’s current authors total less than $250 per year.

PG also noted some discrepancies in the state of the publishing industry described by the publishers described in the OP.

Shade Mountain Press cited “the VIDA count and other research showing how underrepresented women are” in the book business.

On the other hand, 7.13 Books states:

This is what we know: Big Five publishers are more or less the only way for writers to get a book advance large enough to resemble a living annual wage. What is not commonly known is that the Big Five announce roughly 160 such deals a year for debut authors of literary fiction, which does not include Sci-Fi, YA, Thrillers, etc. (Not all are announced)

Here’s what is also not commonly known:

– 75% of those announced deals were given to female writers. Out of 320 debut deals given by Big Five publishers and their imprints in 2015 and 2016, only 84 were given to authors who identified as male and one to an author who identified as transgender. If you are one of the thousands upon thousands of non-female writers with a novel or story collection manuscript, you’ll be fighting for one of what appears to be roughly 40 new deals annually. A rather large inequity that pretty much no one talks about.

– 30% of the debut deals were given to writers who live in NYC (the city represents 2.6% of the total U.S. population). A rather large inequity that almost everyone talks about.

– Under 25% of those debut deals were given to writers with MFAs. According to The Atlantic, 3,000-4,000 writers graduate from MFA programs each year.

To recap: thousands of new writers each year for 160 new spots.

PG is feeling underrepresented, so he will stop blathering now.

A hilarious new Harry Potter chapter was written by a predictive keyboard

13 December 2017

From Mashable:

There’s a new Harry Potter chapter that was written using a predictive keyboard trained on the Harry Potter series. Let’s just say we’re glad it’s not canon.

. . . .

The team over at Botnik Studios, a community of creatives concocting weird project including the Predictive Writer, gave the world access to a predictive keyboard trained on all seven Harry Potter books. Botnik used those algorithmically constructed sentences to write a new chapter in the Harry Potter saga, and the results, including the name of the new book, are equally insane and hilarious.

. . . .

Within roughly three full pages of the new book titled Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash, Ron begins eating Hermione’s family, two Death Eaters kiss, Harry blinds himself, Hermione sticks a Death Eater’s face in mud, and Harry falls down a staircase for several months.

Here are some highlights of the chapter, dubbed “The Handsome One”:

“Magic: it was something that Harry Potter thought was very good.”

“Ron was going to be spiders. He just was.”

“The pig of Hufflepuff pulsed like a large bullfrog. Dumbledore smiled at it, and placed his hand on its head: ‘You are Hagrid now.'”

“Ron was standing there and doing a kind of frenzied tap dance. He saw Harry and immediately began to eat Hermione’s family.”

. . . .

The Predictive Writer takes chunks of text and examines it to find patterns in sentences, and then produces suggestions for how a sentence should continue based on what words came before it, similar to how some smartphone keyboards make suggestions based on what you type.

Link to the rest at Mashable

On the Perilous Plight of the Part-Time Librarian

13 December 2017

From The Literary Hub:

Shh. Quietly now, join me as I observe the Modern Part-Time Librarian, once known simply as The Librarian (Scientific Name: Full Timias Benefitus Pension) and seen commonly around public libraries at all hours. Now only observed evenings, weekends, and most holidays. Keep your eyes out for a classic harried facial expression, pilled cardigan (hurriedly mis-buttoned), and a name tag that reads STAFF.

. . . .

In the first semester of my third year of college, with most of a creative writing degree under my belt, I began to wonder if my liberal arts degree would pay my bills after graduation. An advisor suggested I might find taking on the additional schooling required to become a librarian (a master’s degree) worthwhile. Public librarianship seemed like a practical and dependable career, and the more thought I gave to it, the more exciting this profession started to look to me. It was everything I felt was important: being of service, engaging my community, and, let’s not forget the consummate perk for a book-lover and writer: being surrounded on all sides by reading material.

Ten years after receiving my degree in Library and Information Science, I’m still excited about being a public librarian. It remains everything I’m good at and everything I want for the world wrapped up in one job. I love helping people. I love the resourcefulness and problem-solving skills I have to use daily, and the broad scope of knowledge I acquire as a result of finding the answers to everyone else’s questions. I still get giddy when I walk through the stacks or when a patron thanks me for making their day easier. My only problem is—this steady gig I trained for? It isn’t so steady. And after years of seeking full-time employment, my pipe dream creative writing degree is subsidizing my work as a librarian, instead of the other way around.

. . . .

My personal situation may be a result of bad timing (I graduated during the 2008 economic crash) and the choice to remain in my home state of Michigan. Even so, more and more I find that I am not alone in my predicament. The growth rate for our field volleys between average and lower than average. The mass retirement of librarians promised throughout library school hasn’t been so massive. And when librarians do retire, their full-time positions may be replaced with part-time ones.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

UPDATE: PG originally titled this post as On the Perilous Plight of the Part-Tim Librarian. While that might make for an interesting book title, he thanks those who pointed out his typo.

The Secret Life of ‘Um’ – How filler words and tiny pauses keep conversations from going off the rails

12 December 2017

From The Atlantic:

When one person asks another a question, it takes an average of 200 milliseconds for them to respond. This is so fast that we can’t even hear the pause. In fact, it’s faster than our brains actually work. It takes the brain about half a second to retrieve the words to say something, which means that in conversation, one person is gearing up to speak before the other is even finished. By listening to the tone, grammar, and content of another’s speech, we can predict when they’ll be done.

This precise clockwork dance that happens when people speak to each other is what N.J. Enfield, a professor of linguistics at the University of Sydney, calls the “conversation machine.” In his book How We Talkhe examines how conversational minutiae—filler words like “um” and “mm-hmm,” and pauses that are longer than 200 milliseconds—grease the wheels of this machine. In fact, he argues, these little “traffic signals” to some degree define human communication. What all human languages have in common, and what sets our communication apart from animals, is our ability to use language to coordinate how we use language.

. . . .

N.J. Enfield: When we’re having a conversation, because of the entirely cooperative nature of language, we form a single unit. Certain social cognitions that humans have—the capacity to read other people’s intentions and the capacity to enter into true joint action—allow us to connect up to each other in interaction and ride along in this machine.

Obviously, animals communicate in a range of interesting and complex ways. But where I draw the line is the moral accountability that humans have in interaction. If one person doesn’t do the appropriate thing, for example not answering a question when it’s being asked, we can be held to account for that. We don’t see that in animals. [In humans], one individual can say: “Why did you say that?” Or “Please repeat that.” You don’t see animals calling others out for their failures, asking why did they say that, or could they repeat that. [What’s unique in humans] is the capacity for language to refer back to itself.

. . . .

The fact that this is average, 200 milliseconds, suggests people are aiming for that. So if you are late, it suggests you were not able to hit that target because of some trouble in finding the words you wanted. Or maybe you didn’t hear what was said, or maybe you were distracted in some way. That delay is caused directly by some kind of processing problem. And if you ask people difficult questions, their answers will tend to be delayed

One of the big traffic signals that manages that is these hesitation markers like “um” and “uh,” because they can be used as early as you like. Of course, they don’t have any content, they don’t tell you anything about what I’m about to say, but they do say, “Wait please, because I know time’s ticking and I don’t want to leave silence but I’m not ready to produce what I want to say.”

There’s another important reason for delay, and that is because you are trying to buffer what we call a “dis-preferred response.” A clear example would be: I say “How about we go and grab coffee later?” and you’re not free. If you’re free and you say, “Yeah, sure, sounds good,” that response will tend to come out very fast. But if you say “Ah, actually no, I’m not really free this afternoon, sorry,” that kind of response is definitely going to come out later. It may have nothing to do with a processing problem as such, but it’s putting a buffer there because you’re aware saying “No” is not the thing the questioner was going for. We tend to deliver those dis-preferred responses a bit later. If you say “no” very quickly, that often comes across as blunt or abrupt or rude.

. . . .

Beck: Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but one of the things that they tell you to do if you’re doing an interview is to just wait. If they’re not responding, just sit there quietly, because people get uncomfortable and then they just keep talking.

Enfield: Exactly. The interesting thing about it is you as an interviewer have to suppress quite a strong tendency to jump into that space. It’s a skill you’ve got to learn to do. I think people naturally don’t feel comfortable with that silence. Once you’ve got that one second going by, somebody’s got to do something. Unless it’s a situation where you’re with your loved ones in your house or you’re on a long car drive or something like that. Obviously, we can lapse into silence and that’s not a problem, but if we’re in the middle of a to-and-fro conversation, we’re generally not going to let that happen.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

America’s malls are rotting away

12 December 2017

From CNN:

As Macy’s, JCPenney, Sears and other major department stores close their doors, the malls that housed those stores are facing a serious crisis.

That’s because when so-called anchor tenants leave a mall, it opens the door for other stores to break their leases or negotiate much cheaper rent.

As one big store closes, it can take several smaller stores along with it like a house of cards. Experts predict that a quarter of American malls will close in five years — around 300 out of 1,100 that currently exist.

. . . .

Retailers often sign co-tenancy agreements in their leases with malls, allowing them to reduce their rent or get out of a lease if a big store closes.

That’s because the smaller retailers next to anchor stores no longer benefit from the foot traffic that the major retailers received, according to Garrick Brown, vice president of retail research for Cushman & Wakefield.

. . . .

Many former anchor tenants are closing hundreds of stores as Amazon eats their lunch.

Sears, which had operated nearly 3,800 stores as recently as a decade ago is now down to 1,104 stores. Macy’s closed 68 stores this year, and JCPenney was set to shutter 128.

. . . .

Experts classify malls into “A” “B” “C” and “D” grades characterized in part by sales per square footage of the malls. “B” malls and below are going to have a particularly hard time with the financial burden of the changing mall landscape.

Link to the rest at CNN

You can’t build

12 December 2017

You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.

Henry Ford

Jolabokaflod

12 December 2017

From National Public Radio:

Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world, with five titles published for every 1,000 Icelanders. But what’s really unusual is the timing: Historically, a majority of books in Iceland are sold from late September to early November. It’s a national tradition, and it has a name: Jolabokaflod, or the “Christmas Book Flood.”

. . . .

“If you look at book sales distribution in the U.K. and the States, most book sales actually come from a minority of people. Very few people buy lots of books. Everybody else buys one book a year if you’re lucky,” Bjarnason says. “It’s much more widespread in Iceland. Most people buy several books a year.”

Link to the rest at NPR

Although some of PG’s ancestors emigrated to the United States from Sweden (one of the Scandinavian Countries (which are grouped among the Nordic Countries (one of which is Iceland))), no portion of whatever genetic memory may be floating around his body is devoted to pronouncing any of the Nordic languages.

If you would like to pronounce Jolabokaflod properly, you can go here.

(Hint: if you are a member of the generation who was taught to sound out words when you were learning to read, that strategy has never worked for PG in any Nordic language.)

As long as we’re talking about Nordic Christmas traditions, we can’t omit lutefisk or lutfisk.

PG has no idea what the status of lutefisk is in the Nordic countries where it originated, but it’s still part of Christmas traditions among Swedish-Americans and Norwegian-Americans living in the upper Midwest (think mostly Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and the eastern parts of the Dakotas).

Among descendants of Norwegians and Swedes living in America, the origin stories of Lutefisk fall into two broad categories:

  • During the centuries-long era of Viking raids on Ireland, the Irish put lye into barrels of fish the Vikings were likely to steal in order to poison the raiders. The Vikings decided they liked the flavor of lye-poisoned fish and started soaking fish in lye without the (conscious) intent to poison anyone.
  • A Norwegian (or maybe Swedish) fisherman’s fishing shed burned down one day. In an attempt to salvage something from the wreckage, the fisherman tried eating some of the ash-covered fish and decided it tasted OK.

Here’s even more about lutefisk (the dinner is almost certainly in the basement of a Lutheran Church):

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