DOJ v PRH: Agents Have Their Say

From Publishers Weekly:

Thursday’s proceedings in the Department of Justice’s efforts to block Penguin Random House’s acquisition of Simon & Schuster started with the remainder of testimony from Norton’s John Glusman and ended with the testimony of literary agent Gail Ross of Ross/Yoon. In this first full day for the defense, a great deal of time was spent on the submission and acquisition processes in publishing and how these affect book advances, from the perspectives of publishers (Glusman, and later Putnam’s Sally Kim), authors (Charles Duhigg), and agents (Elyse Cheney, Ross, and Andrew Wylie).

Glusman, who in Wednesday’s testimony said he didn’t believe the merger would hurt advances, quipped that the Big Five “regularly overpay for books” and that Norton is impacted directly “because we end up losing authors. We don’t overpay for books. We pay on the basis of what we project for sales.” In his opinion, midlist authors will be harmed by the proposed merger.

Next, The Power of Habit author Charles Duhigg took the stand, testifying that he did not start writing books for advances, but instead “to sell millions of copies… because that’s what allows you to make money,” adding: “You make so much money from things beyond the advance.” While Duhigg acknowledged the importance of money to a writer’s career, he also spoke at length about the power of “the right editor.”

In his case, the editor is PRH’s Andy Ward, and Duhigg also talked about the importance of author support from all members of an imprint and publishing house. “These people worked tirelessly [for my book],” said Duhigg in reference to everyone from PR teams to sales staff. “If this merger goes through,” he said, “I believe PRH wants to make the world a better place for writers. The thing I know about Andy Ward and PRH is that they love authors and want to give us the freedom to write what we want to write.”

Next on the stand was Sally Kim, senior v-p and publisher of Putnam, who has been in acquiring roles for 25 years. The defense took Kim through a long back-and-forth about the acquisition process, but Kim—like others in this trial—said that when it comes to predicting sales, “things can’t be calculated exactly.” “How common is it for different imprints to value the same book differently?” the defense asked; Kim replied, “Very different.” And, again like other who appeared before her at the trial, Kim spoke of publishing as “a relationship business,” between publishers, editors, and agents.

During its cross, the government asked Kim why she is always thinking about Putnam’s reputation, and she answered: “Because we want to be known for publishing… books of prestige and of quality, books that people are still going to be reading 10, 20 years from now.”

Despite more questions about the acquisition process that involved advance payments and proportion of books won by and lost to PRH and S&S, all witnesses for the defense, including the three literary agents who testified Thursday afternoon, emphasized matters of literary prestige, taste, experience, and “nuance.” Elyse Cheney said, “I want to go to an editor who’s going to get the best book out of my client.” She also told the government, when asked about pricing a deal, that she cares less about advances and marketing spending than about reputation overall: “In general, PRH has made a real commitment to books over a long period of time,” said Cheney. “Whereas a company like S&S that is a shareholder driven cannot develop the same tools as a company like PRH, and could post-merger.”

The judge asked if Cheney was saying “competition doesn’t matter in book publishing because you are hand-selecting these editors?” and Cheney replied that competition is not the primary thing.” Her authors, she told the defense, are “very sophisticated clients, and the editor who can help them make the richest, most robust project? It’s huge. How that editor communicates what that book is about, is essential to success of a book.” She wants “ very particular people” when she’s submitting a manuscript. “Of course, everybody wants to make a lot of money, I do as well, but that doesn’t mean I suggest everyone take the largest advance.”

Next, Andrew Wylie of the Wylie Agency told the defense that his agency “doesn’t conduct auctions” and he is satisfied that he’s getting the best deal for his clients because “I’ve been doing it 42 years and I can predict with a high degree of accuracy whether it might be best to do a multiple submission or a single submission.” He believes a merger would have “a positive result” for his clients and that the highest advances he’s negotiated have been with Big Five publishers “because I think they have the broadest talent editorially, they are generally well financed, and their production and distribution is expert.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG notes that any agent who didn’t toe the Big Publishing line would be out of business well before the inevitable appeals of the trial court’s decision in this case are over.

He also wonders how Judge Florence Pan, who is hearing the case without a jury, feels about “competition is not the primary thing” and “literary prestige, taste, experience, and ‘nuance'” being at the heart of an agent’s daily concerns when dealing with publishers.

A history of jazz’s relationship with organised crime

From The Economist:

“Strange fruit,” writes T.J. English, is “the seminal jazz song.” This haunting ballad, written by a Jewish high schoolteacher, Abel Meeropol, in 1937 and burned into the collective cultural memory by Billie Holiday two years later, portrays the crime of lynching as central to the brutal history of the United States. “It is generally agreed that jazz as a new musical art form began to take shape in the early years of the 20th century. It is not generally commented upon that jazz, in its origins, was a response to the horror and reality of lynching in America.”

Mr English makes the persuasive argument that the birth of jazz, rooted in the African-American experience, was “nothing less than an attempt to achieve salvation through the tonal reordering of time and space.” But jazz could not scrub off the stain of violence. “Dangerous Rhythms” is not a book about music as an art form; it is instead a nuanced account of how, in the 60 or so years between the introduction of Prohibition and the enforcement of the rico Act—which brought the mafia to its knees in the 1980s—the development of jazz was facilitated by some of the most notorious criminals of the 20th century.

Music brought business to the mobsters’ speakeasies. The most renowned names in jazz history, including Count Basie and Duke Ellington, are linked with the names of the gangsters who fostered their careers. Louis Armstrong got his start in the seedy clubs of Louisiana: “One thing I always admired about those bad men when I was a youngster in New Orleans is that they all liked good music,” he said.

The criminal underworld was a male-dominated place, yet some female performers learned to navigate it. Mary Lou Williams, a pianist and composer, was managed by Joe Glaser (who also represented Holiday and Armstrong); Glaser had helped run Al Capone’s prostitution scheme in Chicago. Williams was under no illusions when it came to the jazz scene in the 1930s: “Everyone was like a hoodlum.”

Mr English—a journalist and author who has written several books on gangs in America and Cuba—chronicles the privileges of white supremacy. Black artists found protection where they could in a society built on injustice. The second half of the book turns to the career of Frank Sinatra. His ties with organised crime are hardly a secret, but Mr English lays out those brazen connections with clarity.

Link to the rest at The Economist

‘Straits’ Review: Magellan Maligned

From The Wall Street Journal:

If you ask most people to name the first person to circumnavigate the globe, they will likely answer Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese mariner who sailed on behalf of Spain in 1519. But Magellan never even attempted the feat, and he didn’t live to see it accomplished by members of his crew. As we approach the 500th anniversary of their achievement next month, Felipe Fernández-Armesto, a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame and author of contrarian works such as “1492,” “Amerigo” and “The Spanish Armada,” takes exception to the “tradition of hero worship” that persists around Magellan. In “Straits: Beyond the Myth of Magellan,” he launches his broadside.

Magellan was born to an aristocratic family around 1480 on Portugal’s rocky coast. As a boy, he served as a page in the court of Manuel I in Lisbon, where he absorbed the chivalric ethos of the times and prepared for a military career. Starting in 1505, he joined campaigns to India and Africa, as Portugal claimed a share of the fantastically lucrative spice trade.

After falling out with King Manuel, Magellan defected to Portugal’s archrival, Spain, and in 1519 launched his celebrated voyage, destined for the fabled Spice Islands in present-day Indonesia. Because the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas had divided the world into two zones of influence, with Portugal claiming everything east of a line drawn in the Atlantic Ocean and Spain everything to the west, Magellan would approach Asia via the Americas.

On Sept. 20, 1519, the fleet left Spain with five ships, some 240 men and boys, provisions for two years and a stock of trade goods. From the start, as Mr. Fernández-Armesto relates, the company was rent by tension between its Spanish and Portuguese members, and a power struggle between their captain and his second in command, the Spaniard Juan de Cartagena. After a stormy two-month crossing, the flotilla sighted Brazil and veered southward, probing for a rumored strait through the continent.

In April 1520, Magellan ordered winter quarters in the harbor of San Julián, in eastern Patagonia. Faced with months of freezing weather and dwindling rations, a faction of Spanish officers mutinied, demanding to return home. Magellan quashed the uprising with characteristic decisiveness and brutality, killing a pair of the offenders, torturing others and marooning two, including Cartagena, on a deserted island. Also that dismal winter, one ship, the Santiago, was lost when it ran aground in a storm.

In August, with the approach of spring, the expedition continued to reconnoiter the forbidding coast. Nearing the tip of the continent, they finally discovered the channel that today bears Magellan’s name. But to negotiate its 350 miles of treacherous shoals and devilish currents required more than a month, not to mention fortitude, superb seamanship and outright luck. For commercial utility it would never rival the routes already established by the Portuguese.

While still in the strait, another band of mutineers seized the armada’s largest ship, the San Antonio, and bolted for Spain, carrying essential provisions as well as reports of their captain’s cruelty and recklessness. The three remaining vessels entered the Pacific, which Magellan named for its initially gentle seas, then caught the trade winds and rocketed westward. “But,” Mr. Fernández-Armesto writes, “the benignity of the weather was like a villain’s smile,” luring the fleet into an ocean immense beyond their comprehension. Over nearly four months, as their numbers declined from starvation and scurvy, the men sailed for more than 7,000 excruciating miles without landfall until, on March 6, 1521, they spied the islands of Rota and Guam, in the Marianas. When some islanders made off with a skiff and other goods, Magellan retaliated mercilessly, killing several villagers and burning scores of houses and boats.

Later that month, the fleet reached the Philippines, which Mr. Fernández-Armesto, in one of the many contrarian arguments he makes throughout the book, suggests was Magellan’s secret destination all along. The strangers were well received on the island of Cebu, but imposing himself in a conflict between rival chiefs, Magellan made an ill-advised attack on neighboring Mactan, where he and several of his men were slain in battle on April 27, 1521.

Although it seems to run counter to the fierce determination that Magellan had shown throughout the expedition, Mr. Fernández-Armesto believes that the captain, preferring to die a hero rather than return a failure, “crafted his death to suit a narrative he composed in his own mind before the event, imagining a knightly consummation in a battle sanctified by crusading ideals.”

Taking stock of their situation, the survivors scuttled the Concepción for lack of crew and, under the command of the Spaniard Juan Sebastián Elcano, steered their remaining two vessels to the Moluccas, where they loaded the hulls with precious spices. The Trinidad was captured by the Portuguese, whose zone of influence the expedition had violated, but the battered Victoria navigated the treacherous waters around the tip of Africa and arrived in Spain on Sept. 6, 1522, with 18 of the 240 souls who had sailed three years before.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Should “data” be singular or plural?

From The Economist:

For more than a millennium after the fall of Rome, educated Europeans were distinguished by their knowledge of Latin. One of the three subjects of the trivium—the basic tier of a classical education, itself based on a Roman model—was Latin grammar. Europeans have long since stopped writing primarily in Latin, but learned people are still expected to be able to deduce that to “decimate” means to destroy a tenth of something (a mutinous legion was punished in this way), or sprinkle annus mirabilis and mutatis mutandis into their speech.

It is not for lack of knowledge of, or affection for, Latin that The Economist marks a change this week. The reform involves one of the most curiously polarising issues an ending on a foreign word has ever generated in English. We will now allow singular use of data alongside the plural. Specifically, when considered as a concept—as in data is the new oil—the singular will be acceptable, as well as when the data in question is considered as a mass (the data on this mobile-phone plan is insufficient). However, when data points are considered as a group of pieces of information, the plural should still be used: data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicate the hottest summer of all time.

Data, as every child at a grammar school once knew, is the plural of Latin’s datum, “something given”. Originally that plural sense was carried over into English. But already in 1702, the Oxford English Dictionary records, came the first appearance of singular data, in an astronomy textbook. This was almost 60 years after plural data was first recorded.

The rise of computing has changed the balance. While an 18th-century scholar’s data might be a single column of numbers, today’s computers quickly manage billions of bytes. Data points begin to seem like the water molecules in the ocean and so, in such contexts, to be perceived as a mass. Singular data is now more common than the plural in books, and far more prevalent on the web.

Data is hardly the first foreign word to undergo grammatical change in English. The nearest equivalent is agenda, an old plural of agendum, “something to be acted on”. Once those collected agenda started being thought of as a list, the English singular was born. (Candelabrastamina and insignia were all Latin plurals, too.) The Economist’s style guide prescribes a list of Latin -um words in English that pluralise with -a (memorandastrata), but many more that violate Latin grammar and take -ums (forums, stadiums, ultimatums). It demonstrates that those words are now English; Latin rules need not apply.

Those who oppose singular data argue that the word refers to a set of numbers. Yet the properties of the thing itself are not a reliable guide to a term’s grammar. Go to a shop where dried goods are sold from barrels and note rice (a singular) next to lentils (a plural), and wheat (singular) next to oats (plural). Head to the pasta section and see what happens to other languages’ words in English: spaghetti and lasagne, both Italian plurals, are singular when served up in English.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Nothing says yawn

Nothing says ‘yawn’ more than an interminable text-based email or 50 slide attachment. Including a video within a brief email and delivering content in multimedia formats can help drive response rates, improve information retention, and make your company or offer more memorable

Andy Zimmerman

TikTok Has Changed Everything, Especially Book Publishing

From Observer:

TikTok, it has become almost hard to remember, began a few short years ago (2016) as an app for sharing videos of yourself lip-syncing music and dancing. The extremity of its success (it reached one billion users in September and has been the world’s most downloaded mobile app since early 2020, with nearly half of its American users occupying the coveted under-twenty-five demographic) owes something to the universal seduction of music, and quite a bit to a concert of small technical features that make it very easy and effective to use, but most of all to its famously irresistible recommendation algorithm, which measures minutely what you respond to and trawls through its vast bank of freely surrendered videos to serve up for you what you may not even be aware you like. Digital advertising has long sought you out for characteristics you inadvertently disclosed in your online life; TikTok does the work ahead of time by hiving you into ever-more-specific niches. In contrast to previous social media platforms, which were, by definition, social, encircling you with the decisions of people you had chosen to surround yourself with, TikTok opens the tiny window in your hand to the entire inexhaustible world.

TikTok bills itself as an entertainment platform, setting out to “make your day,” and when we start to fault it for not doing other things I am reminded of how, for instance, the novel was for centuries disparaged as a low (women’s) form. All the ways we communicate operate on a continuum between pleasing and substantive, and sometimes real culture comes to us in the form of fun. Currently many artistic forms previously considered pop or commercial—comic books, genres like science fiction and romance, gaming—are getting their day in the sun as ways of communicating their own unique truths, often truths of people left out of the more prestigious mediums. TikTok’s accessible reward of virality does make it a very democratic form, unlike other platforms that multiply the benefits of already being famous: Tech writer Nathan Baschez memorably called it “by and for randos.” It invites people to craft a publicly irresistible face with the promise of a waiting public, and people rocket to visibility out of nowhere.

That TikTok is addictive and fun and confined to what it is doesn’t necessarily make it “bad,” but its ubiquity demands attention, and because tech always chases the next new thing, its signature characteristics are spreading beyond its little frame. Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta, which has achieved dominance in part by copying and coopting rivals, has characteristically in the last few weeks modified its main two platforms, Facebook and Instagram, to mimic TikTok’s strengths. In Facebook’s case, there will now be internal competition for the posts of your “friends and family” (which within memory Meta devalued news in order to prioritize—in a different kind of bid to keep your attention) via posts from strangers that promise virality. Instagram is now nudging you in the direction of seeing and lingering on more viral content from strangers, a measure it cycled back somewhat this week after complaints from Instagram tycoon Kylie Jenner (who makes a lot of money from her Instagram “friends”) and others. Cal Newport in The New Yorker interestingly pointed out what the social media giants have to lose if they surrender their carefully assembled social connections assets for these agglomerations of strangers.

Link to the rest at Observer

Where Are Mass Market Paperbacks Headed?

From Publishers Weekly:

No matter which way you look at it, sales of mass market paperbacks have been in steady decline since 2017. NPD BookScan data shows that unit sales fell 31.5% in 2021 compared to 2017, while the Association of American Publishers put the decline in dollar sales at a more disturbing 42.7% in 2020. Both data sets show more declines occurring in 2022.

To be sure, the mass market paperback format has experienced ups and downs in the past. The last time PW wrote about the prospects for mass market paperbacks, in October 2014, the format was trying to recover from the shock it suffered due to the explosion of cheap e-books, especially in such important areas as romance and science fiction and fantasy. (Asked last week, during the DOJ’s trial to prevent PRH from acquiring S&S, whether he had made reductions in title output following the Random House–Penguin merger in 2013, PRH CEO Markus Dohle pointed to adjusting the number of mass market paperbacks published by Berkley/NAL in response to the flood of 99¢ and $1.99 self-published e-books that hit the market, luring away readers of genre fiction.)

Low prices have always been one of the most important attractions for readers to mass market paperbacks, and that continues to be the case, according to Craig Swinwood, CEO of HarperCollins’s Harlequin subsidiary and CEO of HC Canada. The most recent research, conducted by the company after the worst of the pandemic was over, found price accessibility and portability to be the first- and second-ranked reasons that consumers buy mass market titles.

Jennifer Long, v-p, deputy publisher of Gallery Books Group, the home to Simon & Schuster’s mass market Pocket Books imprint, said pricing is a “very important consideration” for some readers. “As long as those consumers who want mass market continue to support it, we will continue to publish into it or risk losing them as readers.”

All mass market publishers are aware of the price sensitivity around the format, and even as a few publishers have increased the trim size of mass market paperbacks, they are reluctant to go beyond the $9.99 price point. The so-called price cap, especially in a time of rising costs, puts pressure on margins, acknowledged Swinwood, who noted that sales of mass market paperbacks for the company are generally flat, though they still account for about 49% of the publisher’s revenue, down from 59% a few years ago.

The pricing limit is one reason mass market publishers have cut back on their output. Kristin McLean, analyst for NPD BookScan, said a factor in the drop in both mass market title output and sales is the steady migration of what she calls “the next generation” of major romance and mystery/thriller authors from mass market to trade paperback, a format that has had “tremendous growth” since 2017. One author who has undergone such a transition, McLean added, is Colleen Hoover.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The Unlikely Author Who’s Absolutely Dominating the Bestseller List

From Slate:

This has been the summer of Colleen Hoover, a recent viral TikTok announced, editing together clips of young women at the beach reading books by the Texas novelist. Furthermore, just a couple of months ago we had a Colleen Hoover spring and before that a Colleen Hoover winter and before that a Colleen Hoover fall. On any given week for more than a year now, the 42-year-old Hoover has had three to six books on Publishers Weekly’s top 10 bestseller list. Currently three of the top five titles on the New York Times’ combined print and e-book fiction list are Hoover’s. The most popular of these novels, It Ends With Us, isn’t even new. It was published six years ago. A forthcoming sequel to that novel (or possibly a prequel, it’s not yet clear), It Starts With Us, will be published in October, its perch at the summit of both lists guaranteed.

Observers typically attribute Hoover’s success to BookTok, the segment of TikTok dedicated to authors and readers. And Hoover—known as CoHo to her fans, who call themselves Cohorts—is indeed the queen of BookTok, an adept TikToker herself, as well as the subject of countless videos in which young women appear clutching huge stacks of candy-colored CoHo paperbacks and proceed to rank their favorites among her 24 titles. But while Hoover might just be the ideal author to preside over TikTok, the platform is only the latest online vehicle she had ridden to fame and fortune. She sometimes presents herself as surprised by her own virality, but Hoover has been a savvy self-promoter since 2012, when she distributed free copies of her first, self-published YA novel, Slammed, to influential book bloggers. She was big on BookTube (the YouTube book community) and big on “Bookstagram” well before TikTok came along. Furthermore, her story—social worker and mom transformed into blockbuster author via whatever new technology of the moment is ostensibly revolutionizing the book business (self-publishing, blogging, Instagram, TikTok)—is catnip to traditional news outlets.

But a new technology can’t make readers love a book. It can only persuade people to read it. What is it about Hoover’s work that makes it so popular, so infectiously recommendable? Her novels do seem particularly well-suited to the currently ascendant TikTok because the platform favors big, grabby displays of emotion, as opposed to the tasteful lifestyle curation of Instagram, formerly touted as the hot new way to sell books. CoHo fans on TikTok record themselves sobbing, screaming, gasping in astonishment, and pressing her books to their hearts in winsome displays of adoration. Often, actual words are superfluous to communicating the reader’s response—in fact, they may be more of a hindrance than a help. Above all, BookTok conveys that Hoover’s fiction delivers power jolts of unadulterated feels.

Hoover’s books are more varied than the work of many bestselling novelists. You pretty much know what you’re getting when you grab a James Patterson thriller before boarding a long flight. But Hoover has written YA, romantic comedies, a ghost story, a gothic suspense novel, problem novels exploring such difficult issues as domestic violence and child sexual abuse, and steamy romances like Ugly Love, a novel about an affair between a nurse and an airline pilot that I estimate to be about 70 percent sex scenes. Not all of the Cohorts adore all of her books, but they’ve shown themselves to be willing to follow her into relatively uncharted territory and to appreciate what they find there. (Note to anyone reading further: There will be spoilers.)

Romance of one kind or another plays a role in every Hoover novel, and to judge by her TikTok fans, they speak to an audience with a well-developed awareness of the romance genre’s established—not to say shopworn—tropes.

Currently three of the top five titles on the New York Times’ combined print and e-book fiction list are Hoover’s.

Link to the rest at Slate

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Not Fitting In

From Writers Helping Writers:

Debilitating fears are a problem for everyone, an unfortunate part of the human experience. Whether they’re a result of learned behavior as a child, are related to a mental health condition, or stem from a past wounding event, these fears influence a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality traits. The compulsion to avoid what they fear will drive characters away from certain people, events, and situations and hold them back in life.

In your story, this primary fear (or group of fears) will constantly challenge the goal the character is pursuing, tempting them to retreat, settle, and give up on what they want most. Because this fear must be addressed for them to achieve success, balance, and fulfillment, it plays a pivotal part in both character arc and the overall story.

This thesaurus explores the various fears that might be plaguing your character. Use it to understand and utilize fears to fully develop your characters and steer them through their story arc. Please note that this isn’t a self-diagnosis tool. Fears are common in the real world, and while we may at times share similar tendencies as characters, the entry below is for fiction writing purposes only.

Fear of Not Fitting In

Notes

As social creatures, we all have a basic human need to be loved and accepted by others. This requires us to be able to fit in with the people around us. When your character is unable to do this or they worry about failing in this area, their need to be accepted—in general or by a specific group—can become an obsession.

What It Looks Like

The character allowing people to mistreat them if it means being part of the group
Using self-deprecating humor
Sharing personal accomplishments to impress others
Hiding ideas or beliefs that wouldn’t be popular with the group
The character changing their personal habits (clothing, food preferences, the music they listen to, etc.) to fit in
Over-preparing to be sure everything is perfect
Mimicking the actions, speech patterns, and habits of others
Struggling to say no
Telling people what they want to hear
Laughing or smiling at things the character normally wouldn’t approve of
Putting others down if doing so pleases the group
The character being pressured into doing things they don’t agree with
Seeking out like-minded individuals
Being a loner
Being quiet, withdrawn, and content to stay in the background
Proactively rejecting others before they can reject the character

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Librarian sues for defamation after conservative activist attacks over LGBTQ books

From The Hill:

A librarian in Louisiana filed a lawsuit against two men and a conservative organization alleging they defamed her when they attacked her for supporting the teaching of books involving the LGBTQ community.

Amanda Jones, a middle school librarian and the president of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians, alleged in the lawsuit that a “public campaign” against her started after she spoke out against removing certain books from the Livingston Parish Library system at a board meeting.

The lawsuit states that Citizens for a New Louisiana posted on its Facebook on July 20, the day after the meeting, criticizing “anti-censorship folks” who opposed moving “sexually explicit and erotic materials targeting eight to ten-year-olds” to the adult section of libraries.

A second post from July 22 specifically referred to Jones, asking why she was “fighting so hard to keep sexually erotic and pornographic materials” in the children’s section. The lawsuit notes that a photo of Jones in the post is surrounded by a red circle with a white border, arguing it appears similar to a target.

Michael Lunsford, who leads the group, commented on the post that Jones was on the “public payroll” and was “’advocating’ for having erotica in the kids section.”

Link to the rest at The Hill and thanks to T. for the tip.

Upheavals

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

Nick Bilton

AI-Assisted Inventions Could Spur New Patent Litigation Wave

From Bloomberg Law:

The amount of human involvement needed to secure a patent when artificial intelligence is used to create an invention remains up in the air after a Federal Circuit decision shutting down the possibility of solo AI inventorship.

Patent attorneys expect more litigation on the use of AI in inventions to follow the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s ruling last week that artificial intelligence systems can’t be the sole inventors on patents. The three-judge panel noted that the decision was confined to the question of whether computer scientist Stephen Thaler’s creativity machine could be the only inventor listed on a patent application, not whether inventions “made with the assistance of AI” are eligible for patent protection, according to the precedential opinion.

The opinion left unresolved how some provisions of the Patent Act should be interpreted when AI is involved and what constitutes sufficient human contribution for the person to qualify as an inventor, attorneys said. As the US Patent and Trademark Office grants such patents, courts will start having to grapple with new legal challenges surrounding AI inventions across industries.

. . . .

Thaler’s loss last week marked his latest setback in his quest to convince jurisdictions around the world that his creativity machine called DABUS is the rightful inventor on two patent applications. The Federal Circuit sided with courts in Australia and Europe that found only humans can be inventors under existing statutes. Thaler said he plans to appeal the Federal Circuit’s decision to the US Supreme Court.

It would be up to Congress to change the Patent Act to allow for non-human inventors, but until then, there’s “no ambiguity,” Judge Leonard P. Stark wrote in the opinion.

More challenges to patents created with the help of AI will follow, said Susan Krumplitsch, a partner at DLA Piper, though they likely won’t center on whether the AI should be allowed to be the inventor, as Thaler argued. When inventions rely on machine learning and neural networks, it’s not clear how important the person was in the creation of the invention, she said.

“These issues haven’t been explored,” Krumplitsch said. “I would expect in the coming years, as these patents come up, and we see them in court, and they’re pulled apart, we’ll see more of a focus on who was doing what, and was the human contribution enough to be an inventor contribution.”

If the artificial intelligence system did all or most of the work, the humans involved in the inventions may not be able to take the oath required by the patent office that they are the rightful inventors, said Christopher S. Schultz, a partner at Burns & Levinson LLP in Boston.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg Law

As PG mentioned in earlier posts, it’s only a matter of time until the AI/author copyright question arises as well.

What is Your Character Hiding: The Power of Secrets

From Writer Unboxed:

In Kate Atkinson’s When Will There Be Good News? Joanna Hunter, whose mother, sister, and baby brother were murdered by a lunatic when she was six years old, explains to a police officer why she tells no one about this: “People look at you differently when they know you’ve been through something terrible. It’s the thing about you that they find most interesting.”

Most people, however—and characters—do not harbors secrets out of fear of being “interesting.” On the contrary, what we choose to keep hidden, and why we do so, says a great deal about what we fear, if exposed, will undermine or even destroy our standing among our friends and family, community and peers. That fear may be unreasonable, out of all proportion, but that’s far less important than that it exists—especially for writers.

Secrets provide writers with an intrinsically valuable way of conjuring depth in a character—there is automatically an inside and an outside, what is concealed and what is revealed. And the tension created by the character’s decision to conceal something about themselves provides an immediate dramatic payoff—we can’t help wondering what they’re hiding, why they’re hiding it, and what will happen if the secret is revealed.

Secrets also provide an economical way to depict vulnerability—the very fact a secret is being kept means the character fears being exposed.

That threat—of being exposed or “found out,” and therefore ostracized or abandoned—is one of the key dreads of existence. In a sense, our secrets hint at the isolation we associate with death, and our keeping them hidden is part of the magical thinking we perpetuate as part of the ritual of life.

The mask we call our ego or persona is crafted on the premise of concealing our fears, our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities—our secrets. Instead we display to the world our confident, competent selves—with some allowances for self-effacing humor and sociable humility.

A great deal of modern drama is premised upon the peeling away of the mask concealing our secret selves, and the struggle to summon the courage and honesty to deal with the consequences of being known more authentically, more completely.

It may be that there is no such thing as living without a mask, and that the stripping away of one simply predicates the donning of another. It may be that what I think of as my honest self is really just a different one: slightly less dishonest, defensive, deluded. But it remains true that whatever mask I wear, its purpose isn’t mere concealment; it’s also protection.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

What we gain from independent publishers and bookstores

From Nathan Bransford:

The antitrust trial over Penguin Random House’s proposed acquisition of Simon & Schuster is now in its third week. There’s a whole lot of coverage and smaller bits to chew on, and if you want a deep dive, Publishers Weekly and Publishers Lunch ($ link) have comprehensive coverage.

Just two of the eyebrow-raisers yesterday came when agent Andrew Wylie testified that he doesn’t do auctions, and when author Charles Duhigg asserted that authors don’t want advances higher than they can possibly earn out. (Um, yes they very much do).

But I also wanted to touch on two articles that discuss the impact on authors and the independent publishing ecosystem. Bookseller Richard Howorth argues in the NY Times that industry consolidation threatens the number of quality midlist books that get published, and Nicole Chung writes about the need for independent publishers to survive so they can nurture authors.

. . . .

It’s not personal, but it can really feel like that sometimes. Jillian Medoff talks about breaking up with her agent.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Lots of links in the OP.

Them’s the Breaks

From Daily Writing Tips:

Including an extract from Boris Johnson’s recent resignation speech, a reader suggested that a post on the expression “them’s the breaks” might be in order.

I was a bit puzzled, considering that the expression is quite common. I was surprised that the out-going British Prime Minister, a classical scholar, graduate of Oxford’s Balliol College, would use such an informal expression—an Americanism at that—in such a formal context.

It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore a new prime minister. … I know that there will be many people who are relieved and perhaps quite a few who will also be disappointed. And I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world. But them’s the breaks.

Following the speech, a flurry of tweets expressed confusion as to what the retiring Prime Minister had meant by saying, “them’s the breaks.’”

A BBC article included some of the pleas for an explanation:

What does them’s the breaks even mean?? I’m lost on that one.

I missed the ‘thems the break’ thing and now everyone is saying it. Please can someone explain what it means?

Hi I’m from Colombia and I have no idea what ‘thems the break’ means. Can someone explain? Please, I’m so lost.

Thems the breaks?? What does that mean I don’t understand British English.

Origin

“Them’s the breaks” comes from the game of pool.

As the game begins, the balls are racked in a triangular frame. The frame is removed and one of the players takes the first shot. This is called “the break.” The balls go rolling around the table and land in random positions. The players must then make do with where the balls have landed.

Sometimes, the balls are lined up in such a way as to make it easy to take the desired shot. But if the balls are not in favorable positions, there’s nothing a player can do to change them.

The idiom describes a situation in which something not only does not go according to hopes or expectations, but is a fait accompli, a done deal. One can only accept disappointment and move on.

Still, I remain surprised that Johnson’s expression caused such a media uproar.

As may be expected of an American slang term, it has a wide use in the US. For example, a TV comedy series called Con Man has an episode called, “Them’s the Breaks.” A former Disney series called The Owl House had an episode called, “Them’s the Breaks, Kids,” and there’s a song by John Robert Matz with the same title.

But the phrase is not unknown outside US English. I have seen it used in the sports pages of the British newspaper, The Guardian.

Them’s the breaks, I suppose, but we can more than hold our heads up high, considering we were the only team in the whole competition to come from outside the respective countries’ top tiers.

The New Zealand Film Commission has produced a dramatized documentary titled, Them’s the Breaks, based “on the experiences of a group of young Māori women in New Zealand.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

Amazon moves to block website it says sells fake 5-star feedback

From The Seattle Times:

In another effort to crack down on fake reviews for products on its digital store, Amazon has sued a Massachusetts company that it says sells fake 5-star “verified feedback” and creates accounts for sellers who have been suspended.

The lawsuit comes weeks after Amazon sued the administrators of more than 10,000 Facebook groups for allegedly coordinating fake product reviews in exchange for money or free products. Amazon is ramping up ongoing legal activity against fake review brokers, the company said. The most recent lawsuit is the first aimed at stopping fraudsters who are posting fake seller feedback, which is separate from product reviews.

“Every day, millions of consumers who shop in Amazon’s stores use customer product reviews or seller feedback to assist with purchasing decisions,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in King County Superior Court and first reported by Axios. “The bad actors who pay for product reviews and seller feedback erode that customer trust, compete unfairly with the millions of honest entrepreneurs who sell in Amazon’s stores and tarnish Amazon’s brand.”

In this case, Amazon sued Trey King, a Rhode Island resident, and his company, Auction Sentinel, as well as Sentinel Solutions, a corporation organized in Massachusetts.

Auction Sentinel bills itself as the “#1 marketplace for third party sellers” and offers services for people selling their goods on Amazon, eBay, Etsy and Walmart. “If you want to sell and profit in E-com [e-commerce], you need a coach who has been in the game for a while and not just a glorified Instagram or YouTube personality who flashes luxury cars,” King wrote in a pitch for Auction Sentinel’s services on its website.

Amazon claims Auction Sentinel creates fake 5-star “verified feedback” for sellers on its platform in order to “artificially inflate” a seller’s ratings. One package offers 10 feedbacks for $200 and another promotes up to 100 for $700.

Link to the rest at The Seattle Times and thanks to C. for the tip.

PG to Amazon: Keep up the good work! Your lawyers already have copies of their pleadings ready to add other phony review sites with a simple cut and paste.

Filling Your Writing Life

From Writer Unboxed:

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could pick up a manual on “Best Writing Practices” and follow its advice all the way to publishing success? Reality is, though, we writers are each wonderfully and necessarily unique, and how we spend our days will reflect that. Because new opportunities and changing priorities have caused me to revisit the components of my diminished writing life, a recent episode of THE HAPPINESS LAB, a podcast hosted by Dr. Laurie Santos, clarified my issues by offering up a commonsense image of how to envision time in my overfull life. I share it here in case it might help you, too.

A professor placed a big, clear jar on his desk and then filled it with golf balls. When he asked if the jar was full, the students nodded. Then he poured pebbles into the jar, which filtered in between the balls. When he asked if the jar was now full, the students nodded with knowing smiles. Then he poured sand into the jar, which filled in even smaller gaps. When he asked if the jar was now full, the students said yes.

He said, “This jar is your life. The golf balls are the things that really matter to you. The sand is all the thoughtless ways we spend our time. If we put that in first, the important things won’t fit.”

. . . .

If you could spend your day exactly how you wanted, what would you do to be happier?

The podcast guest who shared the golf ball story, social psychologist Cassie Holmes of UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and author of the forthcoming Happier Hour, had something to say that will be relevant to the writer who has fantasized about clearing eight hours day to finally nail their novel: psychologically, that might not be the best solution.

For an optimal sense of fulfillment, Holmes’ research suggests we seek a sweet spot of 2-5 discretionary hours per day to invest in activities that will make our lives feel fulfilling. So while there is such a thing as having too little discretionary time, there is also such a thing as having too much: on the regular, her data shows that having more than 5 hours per day of discretionary time results in a decreased sense of life satisfaction.

If you were to dump the contents of your jar, which activities would you add back in to foster the most fulfilling creative life?

Our answers will have much in common, since writers have little discretionary time. Writing itself requires a handful of golf balls right off the bat. Publication adds more. Many golf balls may well be devoted to the reliable paycheck that supports our writing habit. We must continue our education, be that reading novels or craft books, researching, or giving/receiving critique.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Sex, drugs, celebrities, vampires – Just another day in the Regency

From The Austen Connection:

Lately we’ve been thinking way too much about the real life of the Regency.

And what’s got us thinking about this is not only the recent discussions about what’s historic and what’s not in the recent Persuasion film, but also a big book – Robert Morrison’s history The Regency Years: During which Jane Austen writes, Napoleon fights, Byron makes love, and Britain becomes modern.

It appears, friends, that in Jane Austen’s real times it was of course (we know this, but we forget!) not just manners and romance among the privet hedges but also was an awful lot of chaos, and violence, and injustice based on gender, on race, on class, on ability, and on whom we chose to love.

. . . .

Here’s our list of some serious Real Regency things – just a few – that you can often see in the subtext of Austen but that you might not find in the bold glare of the screen version of your favorite Jane Austen adaptation.

. . . .

Lady rakes! 

We have on the side of the Rakes, not only Willoughby, Wickham and Henry Crawford breaking hearts, but we also have Lydia Bennet, and also: Mary Crawford, who in this day and age we’re always tempted to like! We have lady rakes! 

Other Real Regency Lady Rakes, to list just three obvious ones, include Lady Libertines like:

  • Real-life Lady Caroline Lamb, and her novel Glenarvon
  • Real-life Duchess of Devonshire, and her novel The Sylph
  • Real-life Claire Clairmont, half-sister of Mary Shelley, who labored away pursuing Percy Shelley in a love triangle with Shelley and Shelley, and then pursued Byron, with whom she had a child, Allegra. 

Yes, the Lady Libertines might have more at stake and more suffering at hand than their male-identifying counterparts – but like their Libertine male cousins, they do operate from a position of privilege that powers their carelessness.

It’s a class thing: Rakes and Privilege

And Austen for one is not here for any of it.

These rakes like Byron, Shelley, and the Prince Regent himself were able to simply ignore social strictures of their day. They “reveled in almost unfettered sexual freedom” of the “libertine creed,” writes Morrison. “The Regency era was the last great brazen huzzah for rakes” before the Evangelical forces won out for the Victorian age.

Yes these rakes are present in the adaptations, but in the Real Regency they were a dominant force, and part of the power base.

So next time you are enjoying your Austen adaptation’s rolling bucolic countryside drive into an English Great House like Mansfield Park, just remember that Austen was de-fanging, parodying, and turning upside down the immense powers of rakery, privilege, exploitation, and carelessness exemplified by the gentleman sitting on top of it all – whether it’s Mansfield’s Henry Crawford, or the Prince Regent himself, chief rake of the Regency. 

Link to the rest at The Austen Connection

Multi-factor Authentication

Is anyone other than PG aggravated by websites that require multi-factor authentication these days?

PG’s least favorite is Google, which makes PG enter his ID and Password, then insists that he pick up his cell phone, load Gmail and tap another button, except when Google requires that PG tap another button, then choose one of three numbers that he has to use his cell phone yet again.

Google offers a checkbox that is supposed to allow PG to opt out of the extra authentication process, but, although PG has checked that box many times, he’s still not opted out.

Then, of course, there are the times when PG wants to quickly check something, but has left his phone in another room on another floor of Casa PG.

PG has used long random passwords for years and none of his accounts has ever been successfully hacked via guessing his password.

FYI, he’s not a fan of various authenticator applets either. They never seem to work right the first time.

PG moved into adulthood centuries ago and has been actively using computers for longer than many Google programmers have been alive, so he demands the right to opt-out of these sorts of “improvements” in his user experience.

The Wondrous and Mundane Diaries of Edna St. Vincent Millay

From The Nation:

On April 3, 1911, Edna St. Vincent Millay took her first lover. She was 19 years old, and she engaged herself to this man with a ring that “came to me in a fortune-cake” and was “the symbol of all earthly happiness.” Millay had just graduated from high school and had taken charge of running the household while her mother worked as a traveling nurse. She fixed her younger sisters dinner, washed and mended all their clothes, and entertained their guests. Her lover had no name and no body; he was a figment she’d conjured up to help her get through the stress and loneliness of being a teenage caretaker. This first lover, her “shadow,” is not often recounted among the many others she later had, but Millay had various ways of making these exhausting days of her early adulthood endlessly charming and alive. In one note to her lover, she describes the chafing dish she served her siblings’ dinner on, which she called James, and jokes, “Why don’t you come over some evening and have something on ‘James’—doesn’t that sound dreadful—‘have something on James’!”

Millay’s imaginary lover is the only one mentioned in great detail in the pages of her diary, collected for the first time as Rapture and Melancholy. The editor of the collection, Daniel Mark Epstein, ventures that “few, if any, serious reputations” in American literature “have so quickly arisen and burned so brightly” as Millay’s: In 1923, only 12 years removed from her days as a surrogate mother, she became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and in her highly publicized life she also became known for her many flesh-and-blood lovers in the literary world as well as her fatal addiction to morphine.

But her diary doesn’t include these things, and it often skips over the most dramatic events in her life. The Millay who emerges in these entries is not the famed poet, performer, and lover but another Millay, whose inner world helps situate the story of her life anew. She embraces the mundanity of the non-writing life, that part of every literary artist’s existence unseen by critics and readers, and finds moments of rapture in the melancholy of these pages.

. . . .

In 1912, while she was still living at home in Camden, Me., the 19-year-old Millay submitted her poem “Renascence,” which she had begun writing the year before, to a prestigious poetry competition. It was a favorite among the judges, and Millay came home from picking blueberries for supper one day to find a letter from a New York editor informing her that her poem had been selected to be published in a volume called The Lyric Year. Critics raved about her poem, and soon people began to court her.

Caroline Dow, the dean of the YWCA Training School in New York, used her connections to find Millay sponsors who would fund her studies at Vassar College; Charlotte Bannon, who knew the head of the English department at Smith College, promised to arrange for a full scholarship if Millay were accepted there. Millay chose Vassar, with a preparatory semester at Barnard College. She boarded a sleeper train and arrived in New York City at the age of 21, in pigtails, having lost her comb on the journey. Her fame, by then, preceded her.

In New York, Millay had to take English, French, and Latin courses to make up for her shortage of high school credits; she balanced her mounds of homework with high teas and luncheons and mixers at the Poetry Society (with “celebs, more or less,” as she mentions in one entry) and regular meetings with her patrons to give them updates. She was expected to keep her grades up and to continue to write her verse. For the most part, these details are mentioned only in passing, often in the same breath with more domestic matters: ironing and discussing Horace; sending out laundry and writing poems in the library.

At Vassar, Millay was untouchable. She negotiated her first book deal, which would lead to the publication of Renascence, and Other Poems in 1917, published poetry in magazines, and took part in college theater productions. She got in trouble constantly for skipping classes, smoking and drinking in the dorms and in the cemetery, and sneaking off campus to go for a drive with her friends up the Hudson River. On at least one occasion, she spent the time allotted for a geometry test writing a letter to a friend. “Perhaps I’ll be expelled,” she quips, but she couldn’t be; though she was suspended just before graduation, she was given a special exemption to receive her degree. While at college, she also developed a relationship with the poet and playwright Arthur Davidson Ficke, an affair that would lead to a lifelong friendship and more than a decade of regular letters, but he doesn’t make a single appearance in her diaries until long after the affair has ended.

Millay’s diary animates the world around her, as she turns everyday objects into a cast of characters. Her new hat is “a dear,” and the faucet in her new room gives her a “feeling of comradeship” because the hot water comes out where the cold water should. When she goes to Paris a few years later, she writes about the Seine (“a French river. It speaks no English”) and little pleasures like tavern desserts: brown pears “squat & twisted as quinces…. I wondered if they had not ripened near a wall, maybe, in a thorny garden, where in the summer-time go walking of an afternoon an old blind woman & a little boy in bright blue apron.”

These were not quiet times for her. The same day she bought her lovely new hat and expressed relief in her diary that she did not have an ulcerated tooth, she mentions offhand, in the same breath, “Saw something about me in the April Bookman.” It was a review of “Renascence” by William Aspenwall Bradley, who called the poem “a more remarkable production” than any of the other poems in the collection it originally appeared in, but Millay does not mention that. Nor does she mention that her reason for going to Paris was to get away from the tangle of her messy love life, which by then encompassed Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop, whose work and friendship were strained by their common romantic interest.

These diaries reveal a moment-by-moment kind of life, in which the secret history of a squat brown pear or a rogue faucet or a chafing dish may be just as significant as the public life of the writer. The Millay of these diaries, then, reveals a different kind of writer: less engaged with an audience, with her readers, editors, or fellow writers, and more engaged in the distinctly private pleasure of simply taking in the world. A famous writer’s letters are written with the knowledge that they will be read—certainly by the recipient, but also perhaps eventually by the general public. Diaries, on the other hand, are motivated by a much more ambiguous impulse. Only in diaries does a writer have the true freedom to be no one but a witness to the world, the freedom to not tell a story or make a point. It seems to me that being interested in writers’ lives necessitates being interested also in the nothingness that often fills those lives; we want excitement, but reading the private observations of a writer’s largely static surroundings can perhaps excite us about the world as it is, and not as it promises to be.

Link to the rest at The Nation

How Are Books Adapted for the Screen? Two Agents Demystify the Process

From Jane Friedman:

Over the last couple of years, it’s been tough not to notice the increase in dramatic rights deals in the book industry. A quick search on Publishers Marketplace reveals a new film or television deal almost every week. Publishers Weekly’s “page-to-screen” news feed is equally active, and The Hollywood Reporter recently ran a piece on How the Publishing World Is Muscling In on Hollywood Deals.

These deals don’t appear to be limited to a particular genre or category. Streaming services and film producers are expressing an interest in a wide range of book properties—fiction and nonfiction for both adult and children’s audiences. And from the outset, it looks as though they are inviting authors—bestselling and debut—to take part in the adaptation process, at least to an extent.

During a PEN America event I attended a few months ago, Your Option on Options, one of the speakers noted that the rise in streaming companies, coupled with the pandemic, has made today a golden age for IP content. Curious to find out if this is true, I reached out to Allison Hunter of Trellis Literary Management and Jennifer Weltz of Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, both of whom represent authors whose work has been or is being adapted for the screen. As with all my literary agent Q&As, neither knew the other’s identity until after they provided their answers to my questions below.

Why don’t we start by defining what a book-to-screen option is. Is it correct to say that this is an agreement whereby a producer is granted the rights to adapt an author’s book for television or film?

Is there a standard fee, term, or renewal process for options, or do these vary widely in the same way that book advances vary?

How does an option differ from a shopping agreement, and what is more common today?

Allison Hunter: Yes, an option is an exclusive right to shop the book to producers, studios, directors, writers, and actors to see if anyone is interested in turning the book into a movie, TV show or limited series. Pre-pandemic, options were usually for a 12-month period, but now we’re seeing more 18- and 24-month options, as it’s taking longer to get projects made. Option fees do vary widely, from the very low (a few thousand dollars) to the high (hundreds of thousands).

A shopping agreement similarly asks for exclusivity but doesn’t offer any payment in exchange. It’s a way to test the waters to see if there is any interest in the property without a financial commitment. Shopping agreements are generally for a shorter time period than option agreements (often six months), because there is no money offered. They are becoming more and more common, especially when it’s not a competitive situation.

Jennifer Weltz: Yes, that is correct, and there are no standard fees, terms, or renewal processes for options. These vary even more than book advances. But I would say that terms usually aren’t shorter than three or six months and aren’t longer than 24 months; they can be 6 months, 9 months, 12 months, 18 months. It’s more important to ask: How new is the book? How desired is the book? And if a producer wants to have it for a long period of time, how is the author getting compensated for that exclusive time with the book?

A shopping agreement has become more and more popular with producers because this involves no or little money. Also, the producer is already attached to the project, which gives them the safety of knowing you can’t cut them out of the deal. If you’re doing a shopping agreement, I would encourage you to do it for as short a period of time as possible. It’s basically saying that the producer has limited time to make the magic happen, and if not, you both part ways.

Does your agency partner with television and film co-agents, or do you pitch books directly to producers, production companies, studios, or streaming services?

Do you attempt to sell dramatic rights for all the books your agency represents, or only those that seem well suited for adaptation? In what cases, if any, would the publisher retain and exploit these rights?

AH: We partner with co-agents, who have the relationships in Hollywood that we do not. Our goal is to find co-agents for all narrative projects, fiction and nonfiction. We never allow the publisher to retain film rights. We consider those rights extremely valuable, and only in very rare cases can a publisher make a better deal for film rights than our co-agents can. We want to give our authors as much input and control in potential film adaptations as possible, which is why we always prefer to handle those rights.

JW: We do both. We work with some amazing co-agents, but we are an agency that’s almost 45 years old with a huge list of books, and not all co-agents are aware of some of our books. For example, just today, I had somebody contact me about a series of books from the late eighties or early nineties that had reverted, and they wanted to know if rights were available for film. We deal directly with producers who contact us directly, and we negotiate our deals in-house. But if we’re pitching them a book, we have wonderful co-agents we refer them to.

The publisher does not retain film rights. If a publisher is attempting to obtain film rights, question whether you should be doing a deal with that publisher. Sometimes that’s your only option and they have you over a barrel. Obviously, there are exceptions to every rule, such as publishers who have a first-look deal with a studio; there’s nothing wrong with this if it doesn’t bind you to the terms. But we retain film rights for almost all the books we have ever done in 45 years.

We sell dramatic rights for all our books, but not all books lend them themselves to film. The ones that we actively go out and try and sell tend to be ones that might lead to a series or to a film documentary. This means fiction as well as nonfiction books work well for the screen.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

NPD Books on July’s US Print Market: 6 Percent Lower, Year to Date

From Publishing Perspectives:

The United States’ market’s print book sales declined by 1.6 million units in July by comparison to the four weeks prior, according to data from the NPD Group’s NPD BookScan update from Kristen McLean.

In her discussion, McLean writes, “Losses in July are historically normal and were a little shallower this year, resulting in 1-point year-to-date gain. July ended 6 percent lower for the year to date on a total print volume of 414 million units, which is 26 million units under 2021 but 51 million units over 2019.”

The upshot, then, is a steady field, “pretty consistent trends across the first seven months of the year,” McLean says. “I don’t expect any major change of course before Labor Day; it seems increasingly likely that we’ll see incremental market movements heading into Q4, and at the moment the larger economic volatility isn’t hitting too hard.”

. . . .

As far as bestseller charts, July’s bestsellers in the States were all fiction, McLean points out, and nine of the Top 10 were adult fiction.

Four of the Top 10 were frontlist titles—again, a point being carefully watched in the American market. The four frontlisted titles have their titles in blue below. Only one of those bestsellers is in hardcover.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes that nine out of the Top Ten were trade paperbacks which typically have lower royalty rates than hardcovers and ebooks (and earn less for the publisher on a per-unit basis).

Amazon’s top sellers are hard to match with a monthly trade publishing top ten list because, to the best of PG’s knowledge, Zon updates its charts in close to real time. If Amazon posts a monthly top-ten list, PG doesn’t know about it.

However, here is Amazon’s list of the Top Ten Best-Selling Paper Books for the week ending July 24:

  1. Where the Crawdads Sing
  2. Verity
  3. It Ends with Us
  4. Reminders of Him
  5. Ugly Love
  6. Things We Never Got Over
  7. Portrait of an Unknown Woman
  8. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
  9. The 6
  10. The Hotel Nantucket

The Sublime Danielle Steel: For the Love of Supermarket Schlock

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

IN 1978, BILL GROSE, editor-in-chief at Dell, decided to make a star of a young author from San Francisco. Grose was a thumper of novelizations from popular film and television, a fan of media tie-ins, a man with his finger in the air to feel the direction of the wind. Dell, a mass-market house, had recently been acquired by the trade giant Doubleday, which also owned radio and television stations and would in two years buy the New York Mets. Grose and Dell were looking for the next big thing. This woman, Grose thought, was it. She had a made-for-marketing name, too. Danielle Steel.

She wasn’t born with that name, exactly. She cut it from Danielle Fernandes Dominique Schuelein-Steel. Her mother was a Catholic Portuguese American and her father a Jewish German refugee who fled to New York City from Hitler’s Third Reich. They divorced when Steel was eight. She had a lonely childhood living with her father in Manhattan at 45th and Lexington, “a very adult kind of childhood,” she said, attending dinner parties and watching adults flirt or talk politics. She attended the elite Lycée Français de New York, fantasizing about becoming a nun. In her teens, she attended haute couture shows in Paris and fell for fashion. Her grandmother gave her her first couture suit when she was 17. She married a wealthy French banker, Claude-Eric Lazard, when she was 18 and studied at Parsons School of Design and NYU. In 1968, at 20, she gave birth to a daughter, Beatrix, but she wanted more than to be a mother. She saw two women on The Tonight Show talking about their PR firm, Supergirls. The next day she called to apply for a job.

Steel arrived at work looking like Audrey Hepburn: big eyes, short hair, outfitted in the season’s high fashion. She was quickly named director of public relations and vice president of marketing. She buzzed around the office with incredible energy, chain-smoking, making needlepoint kitsch, and typing letters to prospective clients in French, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese (if not always with perfect grammar). One of her clients, an editor at Ladies’ Home Journal, saw promise in Steel as a writer, and told her so.

She took him seriously and wrote her first novel in the summer of 1971. She hired an agent and sold the book to Pocket Books, which published it in 1973. The protagonist is a woman who works for advertising campaigns and women’s magazines, a young divorced single mother who moves to San Francisco from New York to restart her life. There she falls in love with a filmmaker who also works in advertising, a bad boy who gets her pregnant and, when she refuses an abortion, sends her back to New York. But she can’t quit him — until he dies in a freak accident on set. She has the baby, but the baby dies within the day. In the end, our heroine runs off with the art director of the women’s mag where she now works.

It’s a bawdy post-feminist romance, closer to Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, which came out that same year, than Kathleen Woodiwiss’s chaste The Flame and the Flower from the year before, which helped build a massive audience for historical romance. Steel’s debut bears traces of literary ambition, expressed by her avatar-protagonist who brings a short story anthology with her to set just in case she has time to read and is thrilled by a dinner party where the discussion rushes from “Japanese literature” to “the political implications of American literature vs Russian literature at the turn of the century.” But the novel was primly panned in Publishers Weekly; its protagonist, “for all her beauty, sophistication, and use of the proper four-letter words, is not very interesting, and neither is her story,” read the verdict. The book sold modestly.

Steel, like her protagonist, moved to San Francisco. She had separated from Claude-Eric and lived for a spell in a commune with a band of street musicians. She often visited a friend in the hospital who was imprisoned as a conscientious objector to the war in Vietnam but who had negotiated an early release to participate in a medical study for NASA. The patient in the next room, Danny Zugelder, an inveterate bank robber, developed a crush on Steel, and the two began corresponding, which continued after he was sent back to Lompoc Correctional Institute. He says that they consummated the relationship in the prison’s women’s bathroom. She rented a flat in Pacific Heights and took a job as a copywriter for an ad agency and wrote fiction at night. Zugelder was released in 1973 but was arrested again and sent to the state penitentiary in Vacaville in 1975 for robbery and sexual assault. He and Steel married in the prison canteen that year. She published her second novel, a romance about a socialite and her ex-con, prison-abolitionist lover, in 1977, and her third, about a man falsely accused of rape, in 1978. Both did decently well for Dell, selling several hundred thousand copies.

That’s about when Bill Grose decided it was time to make her famous.

. . . .

When I met Sean Fader, he was wearing a pink tee that said, “Ask Me About Danielle Steel.” His beard was auburn, thick, well trimmed, and flecked with gray. His eyes were cobalt and intensely present. Fader is a conceptual artist working with photography and performance and at the moment he — like I — was obsessed with Steel. “Please,” he said, “come into my studio.”

There, on a small table, sat a typewriter, a bowl of grapes, and a copy of Steel’s novel Daddy. On learning that Steel writes on a 1946 Olympia, he rebuilt the closest he could acquire, a 1954 Smith Corona Silent Super, and used it to type her a very long letter with a strange request. He wanted her to collaborate with him on a photographic project about the original sugar daddy.

In 1990, Steel bought the Spreckels Mansion, a French Baroque chateau in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights, built in 1913 by Adolph Spreckels for his wife, Alma. Spreckels inherited a Hawaiian sugar plantation staffed by Japanese immigrants and the largest sugar refinery on the West Coast. Fader wrote to Steel, “Since he was 24 years older than her and his money came from sugar, she called him her ‘sugar daddy.’” (Fader acknowledges that the couple didn’t popularize the phrase: that happened a few years later with a serialized story in a Syracuse paper and then the still-extant candy, which rebranded after trying “Papa Sucker.”) Alma chose the site for the chateau because of its views of the San Francisco Bay. “Is it still true that you can see six counties from the circular observatory?” Fader asks Steel. “Did you know that she put the pool in her/your backyard to swim naked while drinking pitchers of martinis in order to piss off the neighbors?”

After seven typed pages, including a description of how he worked with a milliner to build a replica of a flamboyant wool-and-ostrich-feather hat of Alma’s, Fader comes to his request: “I want to take a picture in your home with me as Adolph and a twinky boy 24 years younger than me as Alma. I want to model the photograph after several Rodin sculptures and a few early 20th-century paintings that Alma had in her collection.” And he wanted Steel in the background.

Trying flattery, he wrote, regarding her Instagram, “If you find you are getting a lot of followers in the Southeast, it may be because of me.” To be candid, reader, it may also be because of me.

. . . .

It was unexpected. She used to be like Muzak to me, or JonBenét Ramsey: supermarket schlock. I have no memories before she was there, so I assumed she always had been, ageless, outside of time, a brand like little Debbie from Little Debbie is a brand.

But then I started studying the publishing industry. Why, of all possible book worlds, had we ended up with ours? Once I posed that question, I could see that Danielle Steel was a cosmic accident whose story revealed the hidden logic of contemporary publishing, what I call the conglomerate era for reasons I will explain in a moment. This is to say, at first my interest was professional. How long could it stay that way, though, given the life she’s led and the books she’s written? The more I learned about her, the more obsessed I became. Soon she was the only topic I wanted to talk or tweet about. I went out with friends and harangued them for hours: Claude-Eric, Supergirls, the Vacaville wedding; the vault into superstardom; novels with titles such as Message From Nam, The Klone and I, and Toxic Bachelors. Eventually we’d arrive at the difficult present.

Something unsettling has happened to Steel. For the first couple decades, she published one or two novels most years. From 1997 through 2014, she plateaued at a steady three. In 2015, she ticked up to four. Then, in 2016, an alarming six. She’s done six or seven annually since. That’s a novel every 50 days or so for a woman now 74 years old.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books and thanks to K. for the tip.

Amazon’s One-Stop Shop for Identity Thieves

From The Intercept:

Imagin if a budding identity thief had a free, user-friendly, publicly searchable database that contained the name, location, date of birth, and mother’s maiden name of millions of people. Enter Amazon registries. We already know that Amazon collects plenty of personal information and data that can be arduous for its users to obtain, but the company also readily shares your information for anyone to access when you set up a registry. Because the default visibility settings of registries for weddings, birthdays, new babies, and other occasions are preset to public, Amazon reveals to the world information that financial institutions and other service providers request for identity authentication — and that identity thieves can use to take over your life.

Amazon requires that certain information be provided when setting up a registry. For a wedding registry, Amazon requires the first and last names of both partners, the wedding date, the number of guests attending, and a mailing address. The default share setting is to make the registry searchable not only on Amazon but also via the third-party wedding planning website The Knot. This has led to confusion from Amazon wedding registry users over how The Knot received their registry details. Similarly, when creating a baby registry, Amazon asks for a first and last name, expected due date, whether the baby is the parents’ first child, and a mailing address. The default visibility setting is also set to public and to appear on pregnancy and parenting websites The Bump, What to Expect, and Baby Center.

Anyone can search for a public registry (even without an Amazon account) with just a name or further specifying a date and location. In addition to the list of desired products, wedding registries show the names of both partners, the event location, and the event date. Baby registries return either the name of the upcoming baby or the names of the parents, their city and state, and the expected due date.

At first glance, only wedding registries for weddings happening between 2020 to 2032 and baby registries with due dates between 2020 to 2023 can be searched for. However, there are ways to bypass the date restrictions to access registries from years prior. In the case of multiple results, wedding and baby registries display the top 100 matches, and if no date parameters are entered, search results may contain entries outside the default date ranges. For example, even though Amazon only lets you select dates from 2020 onward, if you don’t specify an exact range when searching a common name, you could get results from, say, 2008.

Perhaps the more critical vulnerability in Amazon’s date range search, however, is that the fields can be modified using the developer tools functionality available in browsers like Chrome and Firefox. A cursory search with modified date fields brought up wedding registries dating as far back as 2004, and baby registries dating back all the way to 2006. So someone could discover the details of a registry set up for a present-day 16-year-old. Who knows how this information could be weaponized in two years, once such a teen becomes a legal adult?

Knowledge-based authentication, known as KBA, is a form of identity authentication favored by service providers such as financial institutions that relies on shared secrets: information that is only known to you and your bank, email provider, or other service. For example, if you lose the password to your bank account, you can regain access by entering information that most people likely don’t know about you, like your mother’s maiden name or your date of birth.

Link to the rest at The Intercept

PG hadn’t seen The Intercept before finding the OP in his online wanderings looking for Amazon stories. He will leave it to others to judge how credible the threat described is.

Amid a housing crisis, Chinese readers turn to a novel of 1937

From The Economist:

Published in 1937, “Rickshaw Boy” tells the story of Xiangzi, a young man trying to eke out a living in Beijing. At the beginning of the novel, he is kind and determined. He has no money and no real prospects, but reckons that with hard work he will be able to buy a rickshaw and build a life for himself. The cart would “guarantee his freedom and independence”, Xiangzi thinks. “Owning a rickshaw meant never having to suffer mistreatment or do the bidding of people who rented them out.”

By the end of the tale, he is a changed person. Each time he has bought—or come close to buying—a rickshaw, his dream has been taken from him. His loved ones have died. He has become selfish and cruel. Lao She, the author, intended the novel to be a critique of individualism; the character’s fate might not have been so dire, the story suggests, had he organised with other rickshaw-pullers and worked as part of a collective. Yet “Rickshaw Boy” seemed to warn readers that you cannot prosper in an unjust society, no matter how hard you toil.

Much has changed since the 1930s. China’s gdp has ballooned. Life expectancy has more than doubled (it was a paltry 35 years when Lao wrote the book). In 1949, after a bloody civil war, the Communist Party seized power. Yet this month the rickshaw boy returned to the country’s consciousness, invoked by angry homeowners. They had studied “Rickshaw Boy” in school to understand how weak China was in a bygone era; it has also been adapted into a film and an opera (pictured). Now people saw themselves in the story.

Tens of thousands of homeowners in China are refusing to pay mortgages on unfinished apartments. Many buy homes before they are built, often ploughing their life savings into the initial down-payment, but developer defaults and bankruptcies have stalled construction across the country, leading buyers to fear their homes will never be finished. They see no reason to keep paying for homes they cannot live in; some struggle to pay back mortgage loans on top of existing rent. “If I pay one yuan for a bottle of water and the store does not give it to me, I can report it to the police. If I pay a developer 1.5m yuan for a home and they refuse to build it for me, nothing happens to them,” one furious buyer said. “If I go on the streets I’m called a rioter.”

In Zhengzhou, a city in central China, a group of homebuyers concluded their declaration of a mortgage boycott with a quote from “Rickshaw Boy”. (“Xiangzi’s money was stolen, his rickshaw was smashed, he himself was beaten. He was not even allowed to cry out in pain, even a whimper was a mistake.”) They added that there are now “tens of thousands of rickshaw boys” in China: “We must throw off our chains, and let those who steal our money and smash our rickshaws know that the rickshaw boy is no longer a sheep to be slaughtered.” Discussions on social media often contained references to the novel. Between July 11th and July 13th, daily Weibo searches for “Rickshaw Boy” rocketed from under 500,000 to nearly 5m. The novel entered Weibo’s “newly popular” list of books.

Link to the rest at The Economist

DOJ v. PRH

From Publishers Weekly:

After months of anticipation, the government’s bid to block Penguin Random House’s acquisition of rival Big Five publisher Simon & Schuster got underway in Washington, D.C., on August 1. It wasn’t exactly an electrifying start.

In opening arguments, there were no surprises. The parties largely stuck to their pre-trial briefs, with the government asserting that a merger would harm authors and the defense insisting on the opposite. Then the government’s first witness, Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch, took the stand to offer a basic, foundational view of the current competitive landscape in the publishing world, with many a detour into the nuts and bolts of the business.

The result was a sort of meandering publishing 101. In halting, often clipped responses, Pietsch, a 45-year publishing veteran who estimated he has personally acquired between 300-400 titles over his career—and overseen many more acquisitions as an executive—attempted to explain to the court how basic things like book advances and rights auctions work, and how publishers manage their bidding strategies.

But the key points of his testimony involved the competition for book rights, in which Pietsch explained in no uncertain terms that when Hachette loses a book they’ve bid on, they “very seldom” lose it to a publisher outside the Big Five, and even more rarely when it comes books with advances over $250,000, the portion of the market the government is focusing its case on. In fact, Pietsch revealed that Hachette keeps a running list of the books the publisher loses out on over $500,000—called “The Ones That Got Away”—and of the 302 books on the list (at the time the list was entered into evidence) Pietsch told the court that Hachette lost the most to PRH (124), followed by their fellow Big Five publishers in order of size: HarperCollins, S&S, and Macmillan.

Under questioning from the government, Pietsch also outlined the significant advantages that the Big Five publishers hold over their smaller competitors, chief among them their large backlists, cobbled together over decades of acquiring other companies (HBG has made six acquisitions under Pietsch). A bigger backlist means more revenue, and importantly more profitable revenue—and more revenue means more resources, and a greater tolerance for taking risks on higher advances. Hachette derives roughly $300 million a year, roughly a third of its revenue, from backlist sales, Pietsch testified, noting that smaller publishers do not have such a cushion, and later adding that it is “not conceivable” that a new entrant in the publishing business could build a competitive backlist advantage “organically.”

Furthermore, Pietsch explained, the Big Five publishers enjoy other significant scale advantages over other publishers, including more media pull, review attention, as well as marketing and retail advantages. He noted that Amazon Publishing, despite its parent company’s size and influence in the book business, has not emerged as a competitor where book acquisitions are concerned—nor is the self-publishing industry Amazon helped forge. “Anyone can publish a book now, and that’s a wonderful thing,” Pietsch said—but those books and authors simply do not compete with the major publishers.

When finally asked for his take on how for a PRH/S&S merger would impact the industry, Pietsch expressed a litany of concerns. Advances would likely decline, he suggested, as one of “the major houses” would be subsumed, decreasing the number of bidders for a work. Title count would also likely go down, he surmised, as there is likely some redundancy between PRH’s and S&S’s publishing programs that would be eliminated. Pietsch also expressed concerns about the impact on the “variety” of books published and the risk of “homogenization.”

On cross-examination, defense counsel Daniel M. Petrocelli engaged in a few strained exchanges with Pietsch. These included a line of questioning about bidding strategies, which was intended to suggest that PRH would be unwise to pursue a strategy of offering lowering advances because other publishers—including Hachette—would simply step up and win the books, but instead left Pietsch questioning Petrocelli’s logic.

One of the punchier exchanges involved a discussion of the potential buyers for S&S should the merger be blocked—including Hachette, with Pietsch admitting that he would like to see parent company Hachette Livre bid on S&S even though the company did not do so in 2020.

“So you’re not concerned with a 5-4 merger,” Petrocelli remarked, to which Pietsch responded that he was never concerned with a merger taking the Big Five down to a Big Four, but with the creation of one “super dominant publisher” that is “so far out of scale” with the rest of the business, a view shared by many industry insiders. The problem isn’t so much that S&S is being acquired, Pietsch suggested, the problem is that Penguin Random House, already the largest Big Five publisher, was acquiring it.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Freud Explains Cancel Culture

From The Wall Street Journal:

There sure is a lot of moralism going around. Censorship, condemnation, excommunication, demands for apologies. There are even spontaneous chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” directed at the villain of the moment. I recently saw an ad for a psychology workshop that argued outright that people from “privileged” groups should “hurt” and “feel shame.” People are guilt-tripped for using disposable straws, liking a canceled song or speaking “ableist” words.

How did we descend from the libertine culture of the 1960s—“if it feels good, do it”—into a pit of endless shame?

Ask Sigmund Freud. He divided the psyche into three parts: the id (unconscious drives), the ego (the conscious self) and the superego (the site of moral ideals, inhibitions and shame). Freud saw mental health as the result of balance—being aware of feelings as they come and go, but not letting any one part of the psyche become too dominant.

A large amount of mental illness is attributed to an overactive superego. Cycles of harsh self-criticism can induce depression or push people toward drugs or alcohol. Inhibitions around things like cleanliness or public speaking can underlie anxiety disorders. Rigid prohibitions can contribute to sexual dysfunctions and eating disorders. Judgments, righteous anger and control can lead to interpersonal problems.

Some psychoanalysts argue that the superego, in its purest form, is linked to a “death drive,” which seeks to regulate all thoughts and feelings down to zero. This is the suffocating aspect of Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Fully internalized, it’s the logic of suicide.

The superego isn’t always ethical. Someone could feel intense shame for having something stuck in his teeth during a date and no guilt at all about cheating on his taxes. The superego is often irrational, though its pronouncements can feel as if they come from on high.

. . . .

How does all this fit into the transformation of the 1960s counterculture? In the 1960s, many figures on the left tried to abolish the superego (some consciously, others less deliberately), and this goal seeped into the entire counterculture. It wasn’t only the overthrow of “the patriarchy,” an anti-father ethos, or the shifting of sexual mores, but a deeper attempt to overthrow rules and gratify desire.

Obviously it didn’t work. Selfish desires are too destructive. Children need discipline; societies need laws. New rules emerged—rules that were somehow still opposed to the old rules but attempted to perform the same functions. The result is a patchwork morality that’s harsh in some places, absent in others and ultimately incoherent. If excessive sexuality is causing trauma and exploitation, rather than curtailing sexuality, activists demonize masculinity, deny the differences between the sexes, and eliminate due process.

Hypermorality is now everywhere. “Implicit bias” training attempts to purify the unconscious of forbidden thoughts. There are the extreme inhibitions of safety culture and the use of ostracization to target heretics. Then, there are grandiose moral ideals. Zero carbon. Zero gun crime. Zero pedestrian deaths. Zero tolerance.

There’s also the misattunement of moralization. Criminals get compassion while police are vilified. There’s sometimes more judgment of people who don’t wear a mask than of people who rob stores. Insults directed at white people or men are seen as the epitome of justice and wisdom, while even unconscious bias against other groups is seen as unforgivable.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Murder in the Family

Nobody died at Casa PG.

But someone did die in the world of the Catherine Tregowyn Mysteries, however.

Here’s how it starts:

Lostwithiel, Cornwall, England

Tregowyn Family Chapel

December, 1935

Chapter One 

“Harry! What are you doing here?” Catherine said to her bridegroom as he entered the robing room off the vestibule of the old chapel. “You’re supposed to be out at the front of the chapel! You’re not meant to see my gown!” 

“Sorry, old thing,” Harry said, looking about as though he had lost something and not paying attention to her at all. “You haven’t seen my uncle, have you?” 

“Uncle Jonathan?” 

“Yes. My best man. He’s not shown up.” 

“Oh, Harry! You’d best get back where you belong before everyone thinks you’ve got cold feet. My mother will be having vapors!” 

“Right. He must have had car trouble. Perhaps the old Hispano Suiza wouldn’t start. I’ll have the pater stand in for him.” He finally looked at her. “I say! You look devilish fine! You’re an out and out stunner, darling.” 

She grimaced at him. “Pretend you didn’t see.” 

Grabbing her about the waist, he kissed her before he left. “I’ll see you at the other end of the aisle!” he said over his shoulder.  

Where was Uncle Jonathan? Catherine tried to compose herself. She’d always dreamt of being married here in the family chapel. She loved its weathered granite walls and slate roof, now mostly green with moss. A thick Celtic cross, predating the chapel by centuries, stood nearly upright near the entrance beside an ancient stone well. There was a legend of an unnamed saint who had stopped to refresh himself on a journey and left a blessing that the well would never run dry. 


There’s more that follows.

Sharp-eyed visitors to TPV will note that PG’s other name is included on the cover below Mrs. PG’s name.

This was none of PG’s doing. Mrs. PG insisted it must be so.

PG has provided anonymous assistance to Mrs. PG with her books for quite a long time. Usually, he has been a proofreader, formatter, and general dogsbody and was quite happy to continue to act in those capacities for Mrs. PG.

For this book, Mrs. PG asked PG to write some scenes involving lawyers.

As regular visitors know, PG is a recovering attorney.

The most important thing to remember as a recovering attorney is that you’ll never be able to say that you are completely cured of attorneyism. You’re always one short step away from falling off the wagon, suing somebody, then you have to go through the seven-step detox program all over again.

So PG was a little concerned when Mrs. PG asked him to write a courtroom scene for her latest book.

He kept assuring himself that this exercise was not real. For one thing, the scene he drafted was set in an English courtroom. PG has been in English courtrooms on a couple of occasions (as an observer, not a participant) and observed the many similarities as well as more than a few dissimilarities to proceedings in American courtrooms, so that was a bit of a guardrail.

Although English and American courtrooms are not the same, they both involve human beings and, while cultures and traditions vary greatly, human nature is very much the same everywhere. That’s one reason the stories in the Bible still resonate thousands of years later to people who live much different lives than the people depicted in the Bible did. We see the same sorts of behaviors, good and bad, in the Bible as we do in contemporary society.

As a friend of PG’s once said, without human nature, lawyers wouldn’t have anything to do.

With that said, PG hopes that as many visitors who think they might enjoy Mrs. PG’s latest book, Murder in the Family.

(When PG posted this, Amazon’s Look Inside feature wasn’t working. He hopes it’s just because Zon’s computers haven’t gotten to that stage in the ebook publishing process.)

Don’t Call Them Trash

From The Atlantic:

One of my most enduring school memories is of an austere English teacher urging us—a class of two dozen 13-year-old girls with all the raging hormones of a Harry Styles arena tour—not to succumb to the books of Jackie Collins. “If you read trash, girls,” she articulated, with icy precision, “you will write trash.” Thinking back on this, all I can summon is: I wish. Collins sold half a billion novels during her life, made more than $100 million, and had a Beverly Hills mansion and a gold Jaguar XKR with the license plate lucky77. We should all be so blessed as to write like she did.

Still, for me, the message stuck—not a moralistic warning about the dangers of sexually explicit popular fiction, but an aesthetic one. The idea that “bad” novels could poison someone’s thinking, could plant roots in the recesses of her brain only to send out shoots of florid prose years later, was an alarming one. I read all of Jackie Collins anyway, while feeling slightly embarrassed about it, my initiation into a world where virtually everything that’s pleasurable for women is shaded with guilt. Her characters—bold, beautiful women striding through Hollywood in leopard-print jodhpurs and suede Alaïa boots—embodied a combination of desirability and ambition that was totally intoxicating to a British teenager with a school uniform and a clarinet. And her writing did settle into my subconscious, I can see now, but not at all in the ways my teacher feared it would.

Dip even a toe into the pool of popular fiction by women writers, and you’ll discover that this word, trash, has a long lineage. George Eliot, in her 1856 essay “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists,” excoriated what she interpreted as “the most trashy and rotten kind of feminine literature,” a genre of contemporary fiction that concerned itself merely with “the ideal woman in feelings, faculties, and flounces,” written by ladies in “elegant boudoirs, with violet-colored ink and a ruby pen.” One year earlier, Nathaniel Hawthorne, in a fit of pique, had vented to his publisher about the “damned mob of scribbling women” dominating the American literary market. “I should have no chance of success,” he pouted, “while the public is occupied with their trash.”

The intellectual disdain for novels enjoyed by women often went hand in hand with a paternalistic sense of unease about how these kinds of stories might influence the innocent, unsuspecting reader. “Let us go into the houses of the poor, and try to discover what is the effect on the maiden mind of the trash which maidens buy,” Edward G. Salmon suggested in his 1886 essay “What Girls Read.” “We should probably find that the high-flown conceits and pretensions of the poorer girls of the period, their dislike of manual work and love of freedom, spring largely from notions imbibed in the course of a perusal of their penny fictions.”

Salmon might have been onto something. I’m not here to suggest that all, or even most, romance novels aspire to be highbrow endeavors (the works of E. L. James in particular are still the most brain-meltingly awful and regressive things I’ve ever read), or that a novelist’s popularity is a metric for literary accomplishment. Or that no “literary” fiction these days devotes sexually graphic attention to female ambitions and appetites. But it’s worth considering where so much of the anxiety over popular stories written by and for women, especially romances, might stem from. The history of fiction is full of stories about men who do; their deeds, wars, journeys, heroic triumphs are the texture of the tale. In stories about women, by contrast, characters primarily are: The action lies in their inner lives, dreams, conflicts, desires.

“Admiration for the heroine of a romantic novel … is love for an idealized image of oneself,” Rachel Brownstein wrote in her 1982 book, Becoming a Heroine. The subversive potential of so many works derided as trash is that they focus on female interiority, female pleasure, female aspiration. The “notions” sparked by romantic fiction and Nancy Meyers movies alike are that women’s earthly desires—for love, for sex, for chocolate cake, for professional elevation, for pristine Poggenpohl kitchens with white-marble backsplashes—can and should be gratified.

How fitting, then, that many of the ideas this genre draws from were pioneered by a woman whom hardly anyone remembers. So argues the historian Hilary A. Hallett in Inventing the It Girl: How Elinor Glyn Created the Modern Romance and Conquered Early Hollywood. Glyn’s 1907 novel, Three Weeks, about a young man drawn into an obsessive romantic relationship with a married European royal, was more explicitly sexual than a mass-market novel had ever been (the bookseller WH Smith & Son refused to stock it) but also, Hallett insists, more progressive. It made the case, while the Victorian era and its mores still loomed large in the popular imagination, that women’s sexual desire not only existed—a heretical concept—but burned with an intense heat. (Glyn’s female protagonist describes love in one scene as “a purely physical emotion … It means to be close—close—to be clasped—to be touching—to be one.”) Its power was so great, in fact, that it threatened the patriarchal structures that the 20th century was built on. If women experience desire with a fervor equal to men’s, what else might they also secretly be craving? Glyn, in her autobiography, described the furious response to Three Weeks as “a curious commentary on the stupendous hypocrisy of the Edwardian age.”

Glyn enjoyed unprecedented success as a novelist during the early 1900s—by 1917, Three Weeks had sold more than 2 million copies—and went on to become an equally successful Hollywood screenwriter. Yet more than a century later, her radical vision of sexual politics seems to have all but vanished from the screen, as mid-budget movies have waned and audiences for streaming have become more segmented. The romantic comedy, after an ’80s and ’90s heyday that at its best furthered the idea that men and women could meet on equal terms, is essentially dead in the U.S. (with sporadic, gloomy attempts at resurrection—2022’s Marry Me, starring Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson, featured an extremely silly odd-couple setup and almost negative sexual tension between its stars). Sex on television is largely relegated to the dead-eyed, joyless teen couplings on Euphoria and the bouncy, intimacy-avoidant bonkfests of Sex Education. Even adaptations of romantic fiction such as Outlander and Bridgerton struggle; sex is lamentably suffused with violence in the former, and was quietly sidelined in the most recent season of the latter. Meanwhile, romance novels, reliably one of the most profitable and well-read genres in book publishing, have for decades featured a degree of diversity and (not always heteronormative) sex positivity that puts mainstream culture to shame, yet are still derided.

. . . .

Three Weeks, written in what Hallett likens to a haze of longing for a recently departed paramour, was an extraordinarily bold work for a writer in 1907 to publish under her own name. The so-called sex novel had already existed for centuries alongside its more sedate cousin, the romance. (John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, popularly known as Fanny Hill, published in 1748, was so graphic in its biography of a former sex worker that it was banned in the U.S. until a Supreme Court ruling in 1966.) But Glyn brought the two genres closer than any other writer had managed. Three Weeks is told from the perspective of a well-off young Englishman banished to Europe after a flirtation with an unsuitable local girl. There he becomes sexually enthralled by a woman he notices one night dining in his hotel.

She has—unbeknownst to him—fled the clutches of her husband, a cruel and psychopathic Slavic king; she’s smitten with the Englishman, Paul, and decides to take his sexual and romantic initiation into her own hands. Paul is young and handsome and what we might now call basic. His passions include hunting, clothes, and ogling “perfectly virtuous” young women at the theater. The lady (who is only ever referred to as such) gently mocks him as a “great big beautiful baby.” Before he can be her lover, he has to submit to her authority and accept her terms. “I don’t belong to you, baby Paul,” she tells him when he tries to pay for lunch during one of their outings in the Swiss mountains. “You, for the day, belong to me.”

Three Weeks, in so many ways, predicted the formula for the romance novels that would follow it. The genre tends to be structured around accumulation: of pleasure, of possessions, of status. The protagonist, who is almost always female, begins the novel with next to nothing and emerges having gathered all kinds of capital. In a world in which marriage has been enshrined as “the one great profession open to our class since the dawn of time,” as Virginia Woolf wrote, love and wealth were already tied in the popular imagination. Three Weeks, though, bucks the marriage plot (the lady pursues the man because she desires him, and is more intent on having his child than his hand). It emphasizes the sensuality of luxury, the headiness of comfort, “the redemptive powers of sexual pleasure when performed in the key of glamour,” as Hallett writes.

The novel contains all the tropes of popular escapist fiction: exotic locations, extravagant sumptuousness, an older, experienced person seducing a naive ingenue. But the seducer is, crucially, a woman. And the most rebellious feature of Glyn’s writing is that the lady insists that Paul indulge her, meet her on her terms. “I must try to please you,” Paul learns, “or you will throw me away.” In positioning Paul as the ingenue transformed by his entanglement with the lady, Three Weeks was more subversive than most standard romantic fare. Callow and two-dimensional at the beginning, he grows more intelligent, more sensitive, and more fascinating to the people he encounters.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

The Illusionist Brain

From The Wall Street Journal:

Psychological science and stage magic are the best of frenemies. Both scientists and magicians attempt, for instance, to uncover the workings of the human mind, albeit toward different ends. The former seek to share their methods and results widely, for applications in medicine, education or management, or for the sheer sake of knowledge. The latter mean to deceive and entertain, while keeping their methods proprietary; replication is very much not the point. The two fields also differ in their standards of success. In science, statistical patterns count as discovery. On the stage, a single slipup spells disaster.

In “The Illusionist Brain: The Neuroscience of Magic,” Jordi Camí and Luis Martínez elucidate the ways the two disciplines can illuminate each other. The book adds to the steady stream of academic articles and popular-science books published in the past 15 years—among them Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde’s “Sleights of Mind” (2010) and Gustav Kuhn’s “Experiencing the Impossible” (2019)—that explain how tricks fool us. Dr. Camí, a professor of pharmacology and a member of the Spanish Society of Illusionism, and Mr. Martínez, a neuroscientist, offer an accessible introduction, spending the first third of their book laying the groundwork for how the brain operates, before delving into the mechanics of magic.

One central message is that the brain has limitations, leading to apparent flaws in perception, attention and memory. For example, each retina has a blind spot where it attaches to the optic nerve. According to Dr. Camí and Mr. Martínez, “this is a point where we should not see anything, but we do not even realize that the blind spot exists because the brain fills that gap.” Ultimately, the authors write, “our brains are in charge of building reality.”

. . . .

In . . . a classic study of “memory reconsolidation”—participants are asked to assess the speed at which two cars either “hit” or “smashed” into each other; when asked later whether they had seen any broken glass as a result of the accident, those in the higher-velocity “smashed” group were more likely to falsely recall seeing shards of glass at the scene.

As the authors move from such laboratory fare to magical illusions, however, they rarely reveal all. They suggest ways in which an illusionist might direct our attention away from the pocketing of an object or talk us into recalling an action that never actually happened, but the book is light on concrete walk-throughs. Maybe the authors intended to remain abstract to protect the secrets of the trade. The most satisfying demonstration is a video they point to—viewable online—that annotates the beats of a magic trick using the labels “divided attention,” “attention capture,” “active deviation of attention,” “neutral maneuver,” “physical concealment,” “amodal completion” and “speed.”

What’s amazing is how stubborn the brain is in its fallibility. There’s the phenomenon called “choice blindness,” in which people are easily tricked into justifying a decision they never made. There’s also “choice blindness blindness,” in which people exhibit the phenomenon of choice blindness and then deny their susceptibility when it is explained to them.

While the book focuses on how magicians undercut our smarts, it also touches on the muddier terrain of why we enjoy such brazen humbling. The authors don’t explore this ground fully, noting little more than magic’s inducement of wonder. I suspect it’s a combination of a few factors. First, it highlights human errancy in a nonthreatening way. (The psychologist Peter McGraw has described humor as resulting from “benign violations” of how we believe the world ought to be.) Second, it displays a performer’s ingenuity or dexterity at exploiting such mental bugs. Many also see magic as presenting tantalizing puzzles, but some audiences don’t want a solution. As the magician Teller once told me, “it’s the joy of being defeated by art.” Sometimes, there’s also an engaging narrative, although acts rarely tap into deep emotions like sorrow or anger, denying magic the reach of music or film.

. . . .

In fact, magic and science pair best at the educational level, with science explaining to nonmagicians how magic works, and magic demonstrating scientific ideas to nonscientists. Still, the authors suggest some scientific questions about magic, probing the neural correlates as one witnesses the “impossible,” exploring the characteristics of those who dislike magic or studying the possibility of using artificial intelligence to invent tricks. The latter would be a feat. Using AI simply to predict human reactions to elaborate acts would be a grand challenge, requiring common-sense reasoning and perhaps emotional processing.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

30-year-old retiree earned $97,000 in passive income from Amazon last year: Here’s how she got started

From CNBC:

In 2017, by age 24, Rachel Richards had already worked as a financial advisor and then as a financial analyst at a manufacturing firm. After picking up her license, she began working as a Realtor. No matter what kind of work she was doing, one thing remained constant: People in her life were constantly looking to her for help with their finances.

“I began to wonder, ‘Why aren’t they learning on their own? Why aren’t they reading books, or listening to podcasts or looking on websites?’” says Richards, now 30.

Then it dawned on her: Most of the financial books she’d come across were boring and esoteric, bordering on intimidating. And few were targeted toward young women. “So I thought to myself, ‘How can I make this topic sassy and fun and simple?’”

Richards began writing her first book, “Money Honey” in January 2017 and self-published on Amazon that September. By just about any measure, it was a massive success. In its first month, the book brought in $600. The next month it brought in $1,000. “After that, it was pulling in $1,500 a month pretty consistently,” she says.

. . . .

The robust income she earned from publishing didn’t hurt. All told, through the end of July 2022, Richards has sold about 25,000 copies each of “Money Honey” and her second self-published book, “Passive Income, Aggressive Retirement,” a 2019 release which details her strategies for early retirement.

In 2021, royalties from the two titles netted Richards more than $97,000 in profit. Here’s how she did it.

She self-published online

Richards, like many aspiring authors, dreamed of seeing her name in print through the window of her local bookstore. She also hoped that with a traditional book deal, the publisher would handle the labor-intensive task of promoting the book. That turned out not to be the case.

“The more I asked authors about their experience, the more I learned that publishers expect you to do 99% of the marketing and promotion,” Richards says. “If you’re an author with no platform, they’re not going to send you out on a national book tour.”

Once she learned she’d have to flog the book herself no matter what, Richards was far less inclined to give a publisher a big chunk of her royalties. “When you get a book deal, you earn a 10% to 15% royalty. When you publish on Amazon, you earn a 35% to 70% royalty.” (Royalty structures vary between different formats, such as e-books and paperbacks, and factor in costs such as shipping and tax.)

She also says that self-publishing guarantees creative control, even if it comes at a cost. Thinking her book wouldn’t sell and hoping to limit her losses, Richards spent just $561 to hire an editor and a cover designer for “Money Honey.” She says a more “realistic” minimum budget is at least $2,000 and ideally would include an interior formatter as well. She spent $3,500 putting together her second book.

Link to the rest at CNBC

It’s Time to Embrace Physical Media Again

From LifeHacker:

It’s finally time to admit streaming apps and digital distribution have ruined most creative media industries, and maybe physical media was the right choice all along.

Okay, that’s a tad dramatic. But it’s not exactly wrong.

To be fair, streaming apps aren’t all bad. Streaming services and digital storefronts make it easy to access our favorite shows, bands, and video games on just about any device we own. And they give us legal ways to support legacy media without succumbing to greedy scalpers or shady piracy sites. But what started as a way to “cut the cord” and stick it to cable companies and record labels has only birthed a new corporate overlord—one that does not respect its customers, the media it distributes, or the people who make it.

The issue with streaming and digital media

One could argue annoyances like The Office leaving Netflix or that the first Mannequin film is unavailable digitally while Mannequin 2: On the Move is readily available are just part of the reality of the new digital landscape.

But that impermanence is starting to seem a lot more like a bug than a feature. This past week, we learned Warner Bros. Discovery unceremoniously delisted TV shows from the HBO Max app for no reason other than it wanted to stop paying residuals to its creators—sorry if you ponied up your $14.99 per month expecting HBO Max Originals content to actually be available on HBO Max. Meanwhile, digital video games are regularly delisted from digital shelves, making them impossible to purchase or redownload, even as inevitable server shutdowns render multiplayer modes—or even entire games—unplayable even after you’ve purchased and downloaded the game.

It’s not just music, movies, and games—even ebooks and comics are in peril due to streaming and all-digital platforms. Just look at the backlash against Amazon’s recent Comixology overhaul, which made purchasing new comics almost impossible for certain users, and rendered some comics and manga unreadable thanks to unwanted layout changes.

All streaming apps, regardless of media, revoke your access to their free libraries if you unsubscribe, they experience a sudden service outage, or they permanently go offline—not to mention streaming business models notoriously screw over the artists and creators that distribute their work through these apps.

These issues and more make it increasingly difficult for customers to enjoy their purchases, and make media preservation virtually impossible.

You know what doesn’t have those issues? Physical media.

Link to the rest at LifeHacker

PG doesn’t want to go back to printed books. On rare occasions (once per year or so), he’ll purchase a pbook, but he finds the percentage of those which are set aside after reading the first part is quite high.

The newsletter boom is over. What’s next

From Vox:

Remember when newsletters were hot?

This was all the way back in 2020 and 2021: Big Name Writers were leaving Well-Known Publications to start one-person publishing operations, and some of them were making a lot of money doing it. Serious people were asking whether Substack, the email platform of the moment, was a threat to the New York Times. Facebook and Twitter wanted in on it.

That was then.

Now newsletters are less … heated. Some writers who’ve gone out on their own have decided that they’d like a full-time job working for someone else, just like the old days. Substack has struggled to raise funding and has laid off some of its staff. Twitter doesn’t talk much about its newsletter plans anymore. And a year after launching Bulletin, its own Substack platform, Facebook has put the project on the “back burner.”

Which doesn’t mean newsletters have gone away. At all. Just some of the hype surrounding them. And in its place, there’s a more realistic attitude about the format and the business you can build around it: Newsletters, it turns out, are just like blogs and podcasts — they’re super simple for anyone to create. But turning them into something beyond a hobby — let alone turning them into a full-time job — requires talent and sustained effort.

“I don’t think it’s an easy path to fame and riches,” says Judd Legum, who has been writing his Popular Information newsletter since 2018. “But that was a thing that I never believed.”

Legum, whose muckraking newsletter focuses on the way big companies interact with public policy — he recently pressured Match Group, the dating app operator, to stop donating money to the Republican Attorney Generals Association following the demise of Roe v Wade — is doing quite well. He says he has more than 15,000 subscribers paying at least $50 a year, which means he is likely grossing more than $750,000 annually. And that revenue has given him the ability to hire two full-time employees for his micropublishing company.

Link to the rest at Vox and thanks to R. for the tip.

Writers’ Arbitration Ruling Yields $42 Million From Netflix

From Publishing Perspectives:

On Thursday (August 4), it was announced to members of the Writers Guild of America that a case of arbitration with Netflix has resulted in a huge win for screenwriters, coming to some US$42 million in residuals.

As the pace of development of books to film picks up—and as many international book publishers and literary agencies work to develop stronger channels into screen development deals for their properties and authors—the case highlights an interesting inflection point in the relationship of filmmakers’ writers and the streamers. And as EJ Panaligan at Variety reports, the arbitration was based in the case of the Netflix Original Bird Box, a film based on the 2014 novel of the same name by author Josh Malerman from HarperCollins’ Ecco. (Our interview with Malerman and background from literary agent Kristen Nelson is here.)

As reported by Wendy Lee at the Los Angeles Times, the Writers Guild of America West has reported that 216 writers who worked on Netflix’s theatrical films are being paid a total US$42 million in unpaid residual fees, thanks to the arbitrator’s ruling.

Eric Heisserer (Bird Box, Arrival, Hours) is the most visible screenwriter, thanks to his work on Bird Box. The arbitration has resulted in Netflix being required to pay him US$850,000 in residuals as well as $350,000 in interest.

The point on which the arbitration turned was Netflix’s own move into self-production, the Netflix Originals work—some of it written by guild members—which has become a major element of the company’s film library.

David Robb, writing for Deadline, carries part of an explanation provided by the union to its members on Thursday, and it’s a good summation of how the self-production vs. third-party production aspect of this was at the heart of the decision.

For our international readership: there are several industry acronyms here, all of which may not be familiar. Rather than spell each out on first reference–which complicates the text–we’ll list them here in the order you’ll encounter them before quoting the guild.

MBA: minimum basic agreement
DGA: Directors Guild of America
SAG-AFTRA: Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists
AMPTA: Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers

The Writers Guild of America West leadership writes to members:

“When a theatrical [film] is licensed or released in any other market—like streaming or television or home video—residuals must be paid on revenues earned in those markets. The typical residual for the credited writer is 1.2 percent of the license fee paid to the producer for the right to exhibit that film.

“If the license is between related parties—for example, when Netflix is both the producer and the distributor of the film—the MBA [minimum basic agreement] requires that the company impute a license fee based on arm’s-length transactions between unrelated parties of comparable pictures—for example, a Sony film licensed to Netflix. This critical definition, negotiated as part of the resolution of our strike in 2008, protects against the undervaluation of license fees through self-dealing.

“Rather than follow the established MBA definition for related-party transactions (which exists in the DGA and SAG-AFTRA agreements with the AMPTA as well), Netflix negotiated new deals with the DGA and SAG-AFTRA that allow Netflix to pay residuals on significantly less than the cost of the film. Netflix then tried to force the Writers Guild of America to take this ‘pattern’ deal. Since it was clear the new formula negotiated by the other guilds undervalued these ‘imputed’ license fees, the guild instead took the dispute to arbitration.

“During the arbitration, the guild showed that when Netflix licensed comparable theatrical films from third party producers it almost always paid a license fee that exceeded the budget. The industry refers to this model as ‘cost-plus.’ The guild argued that Netflix must apply this cost-plus model to its own films and impute license fees in excess of the budget for the purpose of paying residuals. The arbitrator agreed and ruled that the license fee should be 111 percent of the gross budget of the film.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

A Love-Hate Relationship with Book Promotion

From Publishers Weekly:

Do you always wait for the launch day of the year and then miss it?

Sorry for the awkward paraphrase, but my novel Daisy was recently published digitally (print follows in September), and as I write this, my long-awaited digital launch has also passed. Yet, just as Daisy Buchanan coyly makes fun of her own forgetfulness, I’m wondering about my, well, nonchalance.

. . . .

I’ve been prancing around the internet talking about it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, cringing, as I suspect most authors do, at the BSP (blatant self-promotion) required of writers. Which leads me to a question: does any author really enjoy promoting their own books? I veer between wanting to sing the song of my stories and wanting to sit quietly in my home without saying a peep about them, hoping somehow the world discovers them.

In my (mumble, mumble)years of writing, I’ve done blog tours, radio and newspaper interviews, book signings (one at BookExpo America back in the day), book talks, and readings. I’ve given away free copies to my (dozens of) fans. I’ve asked readers to consider penning fair reviews at Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble if they like my books.

As enthusiastic as I might be at the start of this process, at some point I always come to feel, well, what is the point?

We all know that as valuable as those promotional activities are, they’re not what makes a bestseller. Starred reviews don’t always make bestsellers, either. Nor do blurbs from top authors. Nor do many of the tips in “how to market your book” blogs and tomes. It’s buzz, that elusive buzz, that makes the difference, and finding it is as difficult as Gatsby’s quest for the woman behind the green light at the end of the pier.

After looking at that green light for decades now, I’m convinced that influencers talking about a book might be the single best way to increase sales. But influencers seem to gravitate toward books that already have some buzz or some great preorder sales, and rarely do they focus on books published by small presses. Which reminds me—excuse me for a moment—Oprah, Reese, are you listening? I have a book coming out that I think you might like, but it’s published by a small press! (More book promo, check.)

I think authors have two dreams when they start their careers: one is just to get published, and the other is to be bestsellers. But after you’ve bumped around the business for a while, you realize that even if you don’t achieve that latter goal, you just can’t stop writing. You have to tell stories—even if they, like Gatsby, only become bestsellers after you’re gone.

In fact, there’s consolation in looking at bestseller lists over the decades. While you find many books there that are still read today, there are also many titles you’ve never heard of. Fame—in the form of bestseller status—can be fleeting.

Nonetheless, selling a lot of copies of your book usually means more money—or a film deal, which means more money. Excuse me a moment once more—Hollywood producers, I have a novel coming out with a strong female lead! (Book-to-film promo, check.)

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The Wedding Present

From The Atlantic:

During my very first term of high school, I failed elementary algebra, and as a consequence was doomed to study German. It was 1942, when the war was well under way—the Second World War, for my generation always “the” war, despite all that came after. Mine was a traditional school that claimed old-fashioned standards; today they might be regarded as archaic. Four years of Latin were required, and a choice between French and German. There seemed no need for Spanish; Cervantes notwithstanding, it gave off a faint hint of infra dig, of roiling Central and South American populations at a time when these were remote.

Together with nearly everyone else, I had opted for French. German, especially for a Jewish student in 1942, was a sinister tongue contaminated by its criminal speakers, repellent in its very substance. The massive murders of European Jews were already in progress when, in that same year, the infamous 90-minute Wannsee Conference systematized and codified the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question,” a concealing German euphemism among others equally flagrant. The term deportation invokes a kind of authoritarian dignity—Napoleon on Elba, say—papering over the terror of outright savagery in the abduction of millions of defenseless Jews torn from their homes. Was I to be condemned to the penalty of learning German solely for the sin of flunking algebra?

Still, the German teacher—Frau Doktor Eva Lange, Ph.D., whose doctorate was in linguistics—was contractually in place, and also the German department and its four-semester curriculum. And so the obligatory German class was filled—for the most part with flunkees from Latin, but no others (that I was aware of) from elementary algebra. A number were the children of post–World War I German immigrants who heard German at home but could neither speak nor read it. For these, the language carried no explicit threat or horror: Theirs was a pursuit of nostalgic family retrieval.

Our teacher was middle-aged and graying and German-born. She might have passed for one of the Jewish refugees who had lately escaped Hitler’s genocidal reach and were beginning to settle in parts of New York. Their children, mostly native to Berlin and Vienna and Antwerp and Paris, were being pressed by the speech department to erase their accents, while in our class, in that very hour, Doktor Lange was urging the perfection of our German. The ubiquitous ch was particularly difficult for American tongues. It was this offensive consonant, placed somewhere between phlegm and a sibilant, that was mocked in anti-Nazi wartime movies. Under Doktor Lange’s tutelage it, and also the umlaut, had a place of honor. She hoped to lure us into the sonorities and ingenuities of the language. She surprised us by teaching the dazzling phonetic morphings of the “High German consonant shift.”

. . . .

By the end of the war, in 1945, more was emerging from that history. In the movie houses, between the feature and the cartoon, a film of a British bulldozer pushing gargantuan heaps of twisted corpses was shown again and again. Studies recording scores of witnessed atrocities began to proliferate. The term Holocaust had yet to take hold, and when it did, it filled a void: War implied combat by two or more armed forces. The Jews of Europe were neither combatants nor enemies. They were, or had been, fellow citizens.

Yet few of these burgeoning disclosures had fully entered public awareness; nearly two decades passed before the meaning of Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, and all the others became rooted in popular discourse. My high-school years, from 1942 until Germany’s defeat, were mainly untouched. During the summer break, groups of classmates—those not vacationing or working as camp counselors—met to write patriotic letters to American soldiers. Food rationing was imposed, but no one went hungry. The lack of nylon stockings was lamented. Young men were drafted by the thousands.

. . . .

At commencement I won the German Prize. It was a 19th-century history of German painting, a lavish art book, the colors brilliantly true, printed on exquisite linen paper. As I later learned, there was no graduate German Prize; there never had been. Doktor Lange had paid for this treasure out of her own pocket.

. . . .

Germany was in collapse, its bombed-out cities in ruins, its people dazed and demoralized. Berlin, where swastika banners had lately hung in their hundreds, was cut in two, half parceled out to the victorious Soviets. Hitler had promised conquest and Lebensraum; instead, Aryan zeal was muzzled, Aryan belief bludgeoned. And meanwhile I was steeped in Goethe, Lessing, and Schiller.

It was then that my correspondence with Karl Gustav Specht began. Precisely how it happened I can no longer recall, but I surmise that it came about through one of those postwar exchanges, Americans writing to their foreign counterparts, who replied in their own language. Each would enrich the other’s skills. Each knew nothing about the other. But at the very start, Karl Gustav Specht told me that he was a soldier who had been at the Eastern Front. A soldier? This meant the Wehrmacht, the so-called regular army, soon to be exposed as a force as fully implicated in overt criminality as the SS itself. The Eastern Front? This meant Stalingrad, the battle that devastated and routed the German military—fatally short of supplies, its straggling troops unfed and shoeless and dying in the Russian cold, more than 700,000 killed, wounded, or captured. (Supply trains elsewhere were at the same time industriously moving their human cargoes.) On May 7, 1945, the Germans officially surrendered to the Allies, and on May 9 to the Soviet Union.

To Karl Gustav Specht’s introductory greeting, I wrote back politely. Beyond this one biographical datum—his presence at the Eastern Front—nothing else of his experience appeared in his letter. Nor did I pursue more. My own circumstances spoke for themselves: I was an American student with a literary bent who was attracted to foreign languages. I was also attracted to Karl Gustav Specht’s voice, impressively bookish and high-minded. If I stripped him of his recent history, I might think of him as kind and enlightened. An idealist. A humanist. But he had no irony, or avoided it, and his tone, even when it carried a smile, was clear of humor. He was above all earnest. And it was plain that he delighted in our exchanges; so did I.

Looking back at a distance of decades, it seems perverse—even lunatic—that a young Jewish woman in New York was corresponding, in a friendly way, with a soldier loyal to his national duty, a German who had only a short time before served at the Eastern Front, who belonged to the nation that had conceived and carried out the Decree Against Folk Pests. Of which I was one. And still I knew nothing: not his age, nothing of his family, no inkling of his inward thought. Of his outward thought I learned much: art, philosophy, Roman history, his mastery of languages, English and French and Greek and Latin. We had the Aeneid in common; we could speak feelingly of infelix Dido on her pyre. At the center of it all was an unnamed silence.

But once, only once, he had written, “Ich hasse keine Rasse.” “I hate no race.” It was a sentence that was left floating like a wayward mote in the middle of a vacuum.

In june of 1945, one month after Germany’s surrender, my brother graduated from dental school, and was instantly sent, as a second lieutenant, to Camp Grant, in Rockford, Illinois, to join an Army medical unit. He was 22, and was assigned to housing for unmarried officers. Abutting Camp Grant, some distance away, was Camp Hampshire, where German prisoners of war were interned. Camps like this were scattered all over the Midwest, partly to keep the prisoners away from the bigger cities, and also to supply farm and factory labor at a time when such workers were scarce. The Germans were paid wages identical to those of the Americans. They ate identical meals, and feasted on whatever they wished from an abundantly stocked camp canteen. There were manifold entertainments—movies, some in German, supplied by public libraries, and performances the prisoners organized for themselves. They were permitted, on their honor, to frequent restaurants in the center of town, where Jim Crow routinely turned away the Black American soldiers of Camp Grant. German friendships with the local population were mushrooming. Following their release and repatriation, several thousand former prisoners returned to become American citizens. Intermarriages abounded.

On a blizzardy midwinter night, when a pelting of sleet was blinding and ice smothered trees and roads and footpaths, my brother received an apologetic telephone call from Camp Hampshire: It was an emergency. The alternate dentist who was to have been on duty was not to be found; it was not my brother’s turn, but would he come immediately? A German officer, an Oberstleutnant, was in howling agony. Half his face was swollen, a throbbing molar was festering, the pain was unbearable.

My brother was shaken: He had pledged to serve and succor and heal and repair and renew. But here, unexpectedly, was a Nazi soldier, a lieutenant colonel no less, one who had commanded obedience, and was himself obliged to obey—to do what? What was the nature of his complicity? Had he ordered the ditches to be dug, and the naked women with their little ones lined up on the brink to be shot and tumble in?

A below-zero blast stung my brother’s eyes, and the dental offices were a long and miserable trek away. A suffering man was waiting for him, a man dedicated to the credo that a Jew was a Folk Pest, no different from vermin. Zyklon B, a common pesticide, the gas used in the death camps, was manufactured by the German firm IG Farben, a conglomerate that included Bayer, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. Although Bayer lost the trademark in 1918, its name was still commonly used for aspirin, a popular remedy for toothache.

Were these brutal associations in my brother’s thoughts? I cannot say, but he knew what he must do.

He followed his skills and their urgencies. He injected the anesthesia. He spoke to the patient as he would speak to any patient, reassuring, explaining the procedure to come. He wrote prescriptions for post-care medication. When all of these ameliorations were completed, and the unendurable pain was relieved, the German broke into shamelessly grateful sobs.

And then my brother did what he had known he must do. He exacted his punishment.

Ich bin Jude,” he said.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Stephen King Testifies Against Book-Publishing Merger

From The Wall Street Journal:

Famed horror novelist Stephen King took the witness stand in a federal antitrust case on Tuesday, testifying that up-and-coming authors would be harmed if his longtime publisher Simon & Schuster is acquired by larger rival Penguin Random House.

“I came here because I think consolidation is bad for competition,” Mr. King said in a Washington, D.C., courtroom. “That’s my understanding of the book business, and I’ve been around it for 50 years,” he said.

The bestselling author said less-established writers are harmed by corporate consolidation in the industry. As publishers combine, “it becomes tougher and tougher for writers to find money to live on,” he said.

Mr. King’s testimony came on the second day of trial in the Justice Department’s lawsuit challenging Penguin Random House’s planned purchase of Simon & Schuster, a deal valued at more than $2 billion.

The trial is being closely watched by authors, literary agents and publishing-industry executives. Instead of arguing that the deal will increase book prices, the government has focused on author wages, saying writers of anticipated bestsellers likely will receive smaller upfront payments, or advances, if the deal is completed.

Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster have defended the transaction as pro-competitive, saying that author advances won’t be lowered and that Simon & Schuster authors will benefit from access to Penguin Random House’s distribution channels and supply chain.

The German media company Bertelsmann SE, which owns Penguin Random House, agreed in November 2020 to buy Simon & Schuster from ViacomCBS.

. . .

Mr. King testified that he wasn’t reassured by Penguin Random House’s pledges that, if the merger is completed, imprints it owns will continue to compete against imprints owned by Simon & Schuster.

“It’s a little bit ridiculous,” Mr. King said. “You might as well say you’re going to have a husband and wife bidding against each other for the same house,” he said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal and thanks to S. for the tip

PG notes that Bertlesman is a very large media conglomerate which is owned and controlled by one very wealthy German family, both directly and via a family-controlled trust.

PG suggests that such ownership is usually not conducive to innovation, including lower prices.

Nobody cares about feminist academic writing

Nobody cares about feminist academic writing. That’s careerism. These poor women in academia have to talk this silly language that nobody can understand in order to be accepted… But I recognize the fact that we have this ridiculous system of tenure, that the whole thrust of academia is one that values education, in my opinion, in inverse ratio to its usefulness—and what you write in inverse relationship to its understandability. […] Academics are forced to write in language no one can understand so that they get tenure. They have to say ‘discourse’, not ‘talk’. Knowledge that is not accessible is not helpful.

Gloria Steinem

Oxford University Press Is Migrating Its Catalogue to Its Online Platform

From Publishing Perspectives:

A migration of Oxford University Press‘ books as well as journals to the online platform Oxford Academic announced Wednesday (August 3) is expected to “further streamline access to high-quality scholarly content,” according to media messaging.

At this point, the company writes, more than 42,000 books and more than 500,000 chapters have been uploaded to the site, which already hosts some 500 journals and roughly 3 million articles.

Last month’s migrations included books from Oxford Scholarship OnlineUniversity Press Scholarship OnlineOxford Handbooks OnlineOxford Medicine OnlineOxford Clinical Psychology, the AMA Manual of Style, and Very Short Introductions.

. . . .

While it may seem something that a company as prominent as this in academic publishing would have done before now, the rationale for the move is one that makes sense: the ability to create a one-stop point of access and search for a broad base of high-profile and disparate content.

“By collating core research books and journals onto one online platform,” Oxford’s media messaging says, “Oxford University Press is better enabling its users to rapidly share and seamlessly connect ideas that advance research.

“This will continue a cycle of scholarship that furthers the press’ mission to create world-class academic and educational resources and to make them available as widely as possible. The platform will be further expanded and updated over time to provide the most effective and accessible service for users and customers.”

David Clark, for the nearly five years the managing director of Oxford Academic, is quoted, saying, “Scholarly publishing is becoming increasingly digital and this migration is an important step in realizing our potential as a digital-first publisher.

“By implementing new digital tools to access and share research faster, we’re increasing our reach as a publisher … I look forward to seeing the impact of the new Oxford Academic platform for authors, librarians and, of course, readers.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes this item would be deemed not newsworthy anywhere except in academic publishing.

The 12 Best Writing Organization Tools of the Year

From The Book Designer:

Writing a book is one of the most meaningful projects you can dedicate your time to. Your book has the potential to entertain and inform people far into the future. It also sets an amazing example for those around you, showing them it’s possible to dream of being an author and then realize that goal. Crafting a full book is difficult and requires organization and discipline for any writer, but for self-published authors, even greater levels are required.

Why? As a self-published author, you’re responsible for many more moving pieces than authors with a traditional publishing deal. The trade-off is far more creative freedom and a bigger slice of any sales revenue. But until you’ve released a book independently, you shouldn’t underestimate the amount of work required in different areas.

Thankfully, a wide range of apps and other solutions exist to help keep your writing projects, not to mention your writing itself, organized and on track. From the simplest planning and tracking tools through to powerhouse writing software that does it all, there’s an option that’s suited to your needs.

Read on to discover our guide to the best writing organization tools to help you succeed.

1 – Your phone’s notes app (or a paper notebook)
Depending on which writer you ask, you might hear of a love or hate relationship with their phone. Some writers love the connectivity, information, and ease smartphones offer. Others have mixed feelings, seeing both the benefits and the downsides. As for writers who detest them, check out Cell by Stephen King!

If you carry a smartphone, consider using your notes app to organize your writing. You can use it to capture quick ideas and plans related to your writing that strike no matter where you happen to be. Most notes apps also allow for checklists, doodles, voice recordings, and other features.

For those of you who fall into the Stephen King camp regarding smartphones, carrying a small notebook is a good option.

Sometimes, the simplest ways of organizing your writing are the best. Try using your notes app for this purpose and see if you agree.

2 – Writer’s Companion
Perhaps you like the idea of using a simple tool like a notes app on your phone, but worry you won’t have all the features and functionality you need. You might prefer something similar but more directly suited to writers.

If that’s the case, check out Writer’s Companion. It’s an app for both iPhone and Android devices that allows you to plan books and build worlds. Writer’s Companion is available as a free edition or as a paid product with greater functionality.

The free version of Writer’s Companion allows you to work on up to 4 projects at a time and also provides limited worldbuilding functionality. If you opt for the premium edition you get unlimited projects, advanced wordbuilding capabilities, straightforward backups of your work, and the ability to use Writer’s Companion in dark mode.

Writer’s Companion is a great middle-ground between the simplicity of a notes app and a fully-featured planning tool. It’s affordable and worth exploring if you like organizing your writing from your phone.

3 – Todoist
While Todoist isn’t an app specifically created for writers, it is packed with functionality that will help you keep your writing projects on track. You can use Todoist by logging in through a web browser or downloading a mobile app. The service syncs between the two options so you can work wherever you happen to be.

Todoist allows you to create tasks and assign them to different prioritization levels, so you don’t end up wasting too much time on less important parts of your writing project. You can track your progress and visualize your performance. If you’re independently publishing a book you’ll probably collaborate with designers and book layout specialists. You can easily work with collaborators within Todoist. The app also allows you to easily convert emails into tasks so important action items don’t get lost in your inbox.

Unlike some other apps, Todoist helps organize more than writing, so it’s a great solution if you want a single tool to organize everything that goes along with a project.

4 – Trello
Trello is one of the easiest to use and most intuitive writing organization apps available. It’s based around a simple drag and drop interface that allows you to create boards and cards before dragging and dropping them as needed. If you’re familiar with the Kanban method of organization, you’ll feel at home in Trello.

Trello is available as a mobile app or as a service to log into via your web browser. Your Trello account syncs data between devices, allowing you to work seamlessly wherever you are. Although the card system used by Trello is very simple, it’s also powerful, allowing you to create tasks and assign them to different users, set due dates, and automate functions easily without any need for code.

You can also integrate Trello with many of the tools you already use, meaning this is a great choice of organization app to enhance your existing ways of planning your writing.

5 – Scrivener
Scrivener has a lot to offer in terms of organizing your writing effectively but does far more besides just that. Investing in Scrivener purely for planning purposes would not be a good choice, but if you would benefit from everything it’s capable of, it could make sense as your primary organization tool.

You can use Scrivener for almost anything imaginable related to writing, editing, and publishing. Its organizational features include corkboards to visually plan your books, information and notes related to your writing project, and stats and progress metrics.

Scrivener offers a free trial so you can get hands-on and see if it’s a good fit for your needs before making a final investment.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

Shakespeare, Pronouns, and the New World Order

From Daily Writing Tips:

One of my favorite go-to news sources is the BBC Daily News. Reading an account of a shooting in Norway not long ago, I came to this sentence:

King Harald, Norway’s monarch, said him and his family were horrified.

The BBC is an institution I have long admired. During the seven years I lived in London, my main source entertainment was the radio. I even named a child after a character on The Archers. I often consult the “BBC Learning English” site for explanations and examples of standard usage.

And then came that sentence about King Harald and his family.

The error was corrected before the end of the day, but the fact that it found its way onto a BBC page at all left me feeling shaken. I suppose it seemed as if the last bastion had fallen.

For a long time now, I have been hearing subject/object pronoun errors in British productions like Father Brown and Midsomer Murders and even in the speech of members of the royal family, but to see something like this appear even briefly on the BBC site gave me a jolt. (I can at least comfort myself with the thought that the person who wrote it probably won’t write a subsequent article to defend the usage.)

Another institution that has represented canonical literacy to me is Harvard. I’ve always imagined that even Harvard freshmen must be much better-read than most teens. Then I read an interview with author Geraldine Brookes in the New York Times (June 16, 2022). One of the questions the interviewer asked was “What book should everybody read before the age of 21?

Her response:

I taught writing at Harvard last year and half my students had never read a Shakespeare play. That set my hair on fire.

She did not answer the question directly, but I infer that she means that the works of Shakespeare should be read before the age of 21.

That revelation did not disillusion me about Harvard, but about the feeder high schools that send students there. Ninety-three percent of the Harvard class of 2024 earned a place in the top ten percent of their graduating high school classes. When I graduated from a small-town Arkansas high school (nowhere near the top) years ago, my class (most of whom were not headed to college) had studied four Shakespeare plays—one per year, from ninth to twelfth grade. And we could quote from all of them.

. . . .

Does it matter?
According to a recent survey, Harvard is one of only four of fifty-two universities on the US News & World Report list of the highest-ranking educational institutions that still require English majors to study Shakespeare. English majors. (That fact sets my hair on fire.)

Some of my readers may be thinking,

So? Why the fuss about Shakespeare or pronoun case? Everybody knows that Shakespeare is irrelevant, not to mention misogynistic, racist homophobic, classist, and anti-Semitic. And, as for Standard English, the Conference on College Composition and Communication has decided that teachers should “stop using academic language and standard English as the accepted communicative norm.”

The battles over Shakespeare and pronoun case are not mere academic quibbling. The BBC pronoun error made me realize that conflicts about language and literature are universal and that they mirror other clashes going on in the body politic.

Does having one standard English dialect for general use unify or divide?

Does rooting English instruction in a traditional literary canon enrich thinking and communication, or does it perpetuate a mindset unsuited to a modern secular and racially diverse society?

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips