‘Habits of Culture’ and the Digital Dynamic

27 July 2016

From Publishing Perspectives:

José Manuel Anta, the founding editor of the Spanish Federation of Book, Print Media and Digital Contents Distributors (FANDE) and the International Publishing Distribution Association (IPDA), is speaking . . . at The Markets: Global Publishing Summit as a player in the Spanish marketplace.

We asked Manuel Anta to start by naming four areas of concern in the Spanish market.

“I think the Spanish book market nowadays,” he tells Publishing Perspectives, “is facing different challenges. In some cases [they are] in some cases very similar to other international markets, but with the particular situation in our case of the deep economic crisis that we suffering from 2008, that in the book consumption perspective almost reduced the book market, in terms of turnover, around a 35 percent.

. . . .

“In recent years we have seen how the Internet has transformed business models and organizations in many companies and sectors. The publishing sector is not an exception to this structural transformation process regarding the way products are created, promoted and consumed. Publishing produces cultural and entertainment products, which must succeed in the really hard competitive space of the ‘attention economy.’

“We have access, as never before, to an immense amount of information and knowledge generated by users themselves, which is leading to a reorganization of the roles and business models of the publishing sector. This also means collaboration with other cultural industries such as audio, video, gaming, and education.

. . . .

“The Spanish book industry in general and the media in particular are focusing almost exclusively on aspects of digitization that have to do with the sale of digital content, ebooks. But I think there are also options for using opportunities made possible by technology to support the promotion and sale of more physical books, which currently represent around 95 percent of the Spanish book market, ebooks being currently at only around 5 percent.

. . . .

“The role of physical bookshops is a matter of international concern. Bookshops are spaces for community, reflection and discussion for the populations they serve. They are central to the “buy local” movement and essential cultural engines for communities , arguing for affordable technology to help booksellers in promotion of books and the logistics of bookselling.

“In Spain, our associations are working on projects that combine POD and supply-chain capacities to support the independent bookshop sector in way similar to those of NearSt in the UK, or Aer.io in the US. It’s also important that the project started at the end of 2015 with the collaboration of the Spanish Ministry of Culture and the Spanish Book Chamber in order to recognize “quality bookshops.” The intent is to sensitize the general public about the essential role of bookshops in their communities, improving the economic situation of reference bookshops, and ongoing improvement in service to consumers.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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I thought if I had a Twitter feed

27 July 2016

I thought if I had a Twitter feed and say I had a following of a 100,000, that means 100,000 of them would be interested in my book. It was logical, but it didn’t turn out to be true. It turned out if I had a Twitter feed of a 100,000, four of them were interested in my book.

Steve Martin

Does reading fiction make you a better person?

27 July 2016

From The Washington Post:

I have been a nerd my whole life. I was always “that kid,” the one who read in a corner at recess and talked about Jo March and Ponyboy as though they were real people. I have a vivid memory of myself at 8 or 9, staying up far past my bedtime to read Katherine Paterson’s “Bridge to Terabithia” by flashlight. When I reached the gut-wrenching ending, I began sobbing loudly enough to summon my mother from down the hallway.

As soon as she saw the book in my hand, she knew nothing was actually wrong. “I think I comforted you,” my mom told me recently. “I hope I didn’t say, ‘Stop crying, it’s not real.’ ” (She claims not to remember any details of this incident.)

When I told this story to Keith Oatley, a perfect stranger, he told me I didn’t need to feel silly for getting so worked up over the fates of fictional characters.

“You were just being a human being,” he said.

Oatley would know — he is a cognitive psychologist at the University of Toronto, a novelist and the author of a new review in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences looking at the psychological effects of fiction. In his review of the past decade of research on the subject, he concludes that engaging with stories about other people can improve empathy and theory of mind.

. . . .

“When we read about other people, we can imagine ourselves into their position and we can imagine it’s like being that person,” Oatley said. “That enables us to better understand people, better cooperate with them.”

. . . .

Participants who knew the most fiction writers on the author recognition test scored far higher on the measurements of social acumen.

“People who read more fiction were better at empathy and understanding others,” Oatley said.

Any author would tell you as much (then again, they have a vested interest in doing so). But according to Oatley, psychology had long been “very sniffy” about studying fiction.

“People thought it was just made up,” he said. “So who knows what could be happening?”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Valerie for the tip.

AAP Sales: February Sales Jump

27 July 2016

From Shelf Awareness:

In February, total net book sales rose 4.2%, to $622.2 million, compared to February 2015, and represented sales of 1,205 publishers and distributed clients as reported to the Association of American Publishers. For the first two months of the year, total net book sales fell 3%, to $1.63 billion–because of January’s 6.7% decline.

In February, all e-book categories, excluding university press e-books, continued to fall precipitously along with physical audiobooks.

. . . .

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Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

You Must Be Talented to Be a Professional Writer

27 July 2016

From Dean Wesley Smith:

The word “talent” has been used for a very long time to destroy writers.

I have always believed that the word is the worst myth of them all in publishing, so here goes a chapter that I’m sure will be annoying to some people. Especially to those of you who think you are talented.

Okay, first to my trusty and well-worn Oxford American Dictionary for a standard definition.

Talent: Special or very great ability, people who have this.

That’s about it. Pretty straightforward. Notice the word “ability” and notice it says nothing about being “born with.” Just notice.

Okay, when it comes to writing, let me put my definition right out front here.

Talent in Writing: A measure of a person’s craft at storytelling at any given moment that depends on who is judging and the age of the person being judged.

As I have said before in a number of places, when I started writing, I was so untalented, it scared anyone who even tried to read something I wrote.

In school I hated writing because I was so bad at it. If I had listened to all the people who told me I had no talent for writing, I would have quit four decades ago. No, make that six decades ago, because all my early report cards said I had no talent for writing.

Now, after millions and millions of words practiced, many books and stories published, I get comments all the time like, “You are a talented writer, of course you can do it.”

Or one I got the other day. “You have the talent to write fast.”

Sorry, that one actually made me laugh.

Well, when I started to get serious about fiction writing, it took me hours and hours to do one page. Then that page would be so poorly written and riddled with mistakes that it got tossed away more often than not. Yup, I was a “naturally talented” fast writer.

. . . .

Thank heavens for me I came to the realization early on in my life that talent was only a measure of craft at a certain point in time and nothing more.

Yet, frighteningly, parents, teachers, and so many family and friends think that talent is FIXED. If you are talented when you are young in something, you should be for your entire life. Well, sadly, as many have discovered, it doesn’t work that way.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

Here’s a link to Dean’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

The Last Book Store

27 July 2016

You Should Read More Romance Novels

26 July 2016

From Reason.com:

Libertarians like their genre fiction just fine and read lots of it. Science fiction is a staple, from Ayn Rand’s Anthem to the works of Robert Heinlein to Joss Whedon’s dearly departed television series Firefly. Murray Rothbard is on record as a reader of detective novels. Rand praised Ian Fleming and Mickey Spillane for the rough heroism of their potboilers. Rose Wilder Lane’s and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s independence-minded stories of settlers on the frontier have been staples of children’s literature for generations.

But when it comes to romance novels, it seems as if fans of the free market aren’t buying what Fabio is selling. Hayek isn’t on record anywhere as a fan of Gone With the Wind. And Coase and Mises are strangely silent about the charms of regency romances and modern gothics. Maybe it’s the lurid covers, with their heaving bosoms and metallic lettering? Maybe there’s something to the stereotype of libertarians as emotionless rational calculators? I prefer a third thesis: Maybe libertarians just don’t know what they’re missing under these covers.

In fact, modern romance fiction is filled with lessons about the things independent thinkers value—or ought to value—most highly. If you’re a reader looking for novels that understand the importance of work and markets, that promote the bourgeois virtues, and that enthusiastically support Millian experiments in living, you should be reading romance.

. . . .

The basic structure of most romance novels is not terrifically complicated. The hero and heroine are introduced to the reader and one another very early on. As savvy readers know, even if the protagonists claim to despise one another, they are destined for a happy ending by the novel’s final pages. So the job of the romance author is to throw a compelling obstacle in their way.

Sometimes the obstacle is a past insult (like Mr. Darcy’s famous snub of Elizabeth Bennett early in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice). Sometimes it’s a tortured past (such as Mr. Rochester’s mad first wife, locked in the attic at Thornfield Hall). Really, the thwarting device can be anything—an overly protective older brother, a difference in class status, a run of incredibly bad timing, a poorly chosen outfit, a cursed demon amulet. It just has to keep the hero and heroine apart for enough tantalizingly torturous pages to make the happy ending feel satisfying and earned.

What’s interesting, though, is how often the obstacle is work. While Fifty Shades of Gray has made us all annoyingly familiar with the “mysterious billionaire” subgenre of romance novels, in which the hero has a seemingly endless supply of wealth while apparently doing very little to obtain or maintain it, other romances manage the realism somewhat better.

Melia Alexander’s Merger of the Heart, for example, begins with the heroine’s discovery that her grandfather died moments before selling the family construction business out from under her. The hero is, of course, the man who was ready to buy it. Conflict ensues.

What’s great about Merger of the Heart is that we hear the details of the heroine’s business. She’s anxious because Grandpa purchased construction equipment rather than leasing it and wasn’t able to pull in enough work to break even with the cost. She’s worried about the fates of her 200 employees. Throughout the novel we consistently see her thinking about and working on the company on a daily basis.

The trouble with Merger of the Heart, though, is one that plagues “contemporaries,” or romance novels set in the current time. The company that wants to buy our heroine’s family construction business seeks it to raze the corporate offices, get the zoning changed, then redevelop the valuable riverfront property. The heroine protests because of her emotional investment in the business. It’s a familiar cliché, and it’s as present in contemporary romance fiction as in popular culture writ large: The big company is always the bad guy, and the hero who works for the big company only achieves redemption and wins the heroine’s heart when he realizes that mom-and-pop shops are more important than big, faceless corporations. Atlas Shrugged it ain’t.

. . . .

In Sabrina Jeffries’ How to Woo a Reluctant Lady, our heroine Minerva is a gothic novelist who wants to arrange a fake engagement to an inappropriate man in order to encourage her grandmother to release her inheritance. (The basic plot of the romance may be simple, but there are endlessly delightful variations and rococo complexities to discover.) What Minerva finds, instead, is a lawyer and fanboy: “I’ve read them all,” he says of her books. “When she’s with people she hides behind her clever quips and her cynical views, but you can see the real Minerva in her novels. And I like that Minerva.”

His genuine affection and respect throws Minerva for a loop and she finds that she doesn’t hate him after all. But here comes the mandatory obstacle: She believes their professions mean she can never have him, since a king’s counsel requires a wife of pristine reputation and she could never be that. She could never play the part of adoring spouse exclusively, and he would come to resent her need to write. Two hundred pages later they’ve found a way to continue both their careers and their romance.

. . . .

My favorite discussion of work, however, happens in Loretta Chase’s Silk Is for Seduction. Here, the Duke of Clevedon must learn to appreciate and even participate in the bourgeois virtues of the dressmaker heroine, Marcelline Noirot. Her job, he points out to her, “isn’t employment. It’s your vocation.” They begin working together, combining his connections and her talents. By the end of the book, they have gotten into business, and into bed, together.

In romances like these, appreciating a heroine’s occupation means appreciating the heroine. A woman who is free to be herself in her working life is free to be herself in her romantic life. And no happy ending is possible without that.

Link to the rest at Reason.com and thanks to Dave for the tip.

I don’t think anyone is ever writing

26 July 2016

I don’t think anyone is ever writing so that you can throw it away. You’re always writing it to be something. Later, you decide whether it’ll ever see the light of day. But at the moment of its writing, it’s always meant to be something. So, to me, there’s no practicing; there’s only editing and publishing or not publishing.

Steve Martin

Amazing Post

26 July 2016

PG has neglected the comment spam bucket at TPV for too long.

Here’s a wonderful example of the genre from just a couple of days ago:

Amazing post. I was glad to find this since I was also given birth to in the big apple. in addition, we appreciate your seeing Paris and encouraging me to better fully understand grilling and cooking food. This helped me with my admission to University of arizona.

A Tougher Turing Test

26 July 2016

From Neurologicablog:

In 1950 Alan Turing, as a thought experiment, considered a test for telling the difference between a human and an artificial intelligence (AI). If a person had an extensive conversation with the AI and could not tell them apart from a real person, then that would be a good indication that the AI had human-like intelligence.

This process became known as the Turing Test, and every year various groups administer their version of the Turing Test to AI contestants. The test has limits, however, and is generally considered to be too easy. It is also dependent on the skills of the human questioner.

. . . .

A recent AI contest used a different approach, the Winograd Schema Challenge (WSC).This is one of many alternatives to the Turing Test that are being explored. Here is the format of the challenge:

  1. Two entities or sets of entities, not necessarily people or sentient beings, are mentioned in the sentences by noun phrases.
  2. A pronoun or possessive adjective is used to reference one of the parties (of the right sort so it can refer to either party).
  3. The question involves determining the referent of the pronoun.
  4. There is a special word that is mentioned in the sentence and possibly the question. When replaced with an alternate word, the answer changes although the question still makes sense (e.g., in the above examples, “big” can be changed to “small”; “feared” can be changed to “advocated”.)

Here is an example question:

I. The trophy would not fit in the brown suitcase because it was too big (small). What was too big(small)?
Answer 0: the trophy
Answer 1: the suitcase

This is an interesting format, because language can be ambiguous and we need to think about context and common sense in order to make sense of it. Even the, intelligent and well-educated people will occasionally misinterpret what other people say or be temporarily confused because of an ambiguous sentence.

This is especially true of spoken language. When writing we tend to be more formal and careful. In conversations, however, people tend to jump around more, reference back to previous points without clarifying the shift in subject, and depend more on context.

. . . .

The WSC uses statements that most people should have no problem parsing based on context. It is obvious that the suitcase needs to be big enough to fit the trophy. We rely on general knowledge and common sense.

As an interesting aside, neurologists sometimes use similar complex or ambiguous statements to test patients for language ability or cognition.

. . . .

It is often necessary to clarify what we mean by AI when we discuss it. AI does not necessarily refer only to self-aware conscious computers. It is essentially any software that mimics intelligence in a dynamic way – software that is interactive, will react to what the user is doing, or will learn from experience.

If you have ever played a modern video game, you have experienced AI.

One type of AI is referred to as a chat bot. They mimic human dialogue. You can speak with a chat bot and it will have a conversation with you. This requires some understanding of language and a general knowledge base. These are the programs that have been taking the traditional Turing Test. They can now often fool humans in casual conversation, especially if you are not experienced with them or are not specifically trying to identify that you are talking with a chat bot.

There are also expert systems, like IBM’s Watson, that are programmed with vast databases and can give contextual information as needed (like when playing Jeopardy).

Such systems, however, are all top-down, meaning that the software is not conscious, it is not thinking as humans think. It does not have any common sense. Rather, the software is following a complex algorithm. What the computers do well is store vast amounts of data accurately, and supercomputers have very fast processing speed.

These systems are very good at things like playing chess, or Go, which are games with finite rules that benefit from being able to process many possible moves and calculate outcomes.

What they are not good at is inferring new information or meaning based on context and common sense.

Link to the rest at Neurologicablog and thanks to Lexi for the tip.

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