Monthly Archives: March 2014

Genre lines: Why literary writers won’t self-publish

30 March 2014

From TeleRead:

Paul Bowes suggests that the reason literary writers can’t or don’t want to self-publish is a genre thing.

Guardian Books, and the literary world generally, have a tendency to conflate ‘writing’ with literary fiction: or at least, with literary fiction and the kind of serious non-fiction that is aimed at the same readership. I don’t think it’s possible to exaggerate the contempt with which these people regard self-publication. To other people, working in other genres, it looks like a reasonable option: but to someone who expects to be reviewed in the LRB or the TLS and the daily ‘heavies’, self-publication is an up-front admission that nobody who matters thought your stuff was good enough to publish.

In a follow-up, someone going by the handle “400pages” writes that traditional publishers are still seen as the “gatekeepers” of literary fiction to a greater extent than in other genres.

Unfortunately (as so many commentators have pointed out), this gatekeeping system is extremely elitist and cliquey, totally opaque to outsiders, and is biased towards a certain particular model of “writing” and “writers.” Self-publishing is to reject that system entirely – it is to throw a big “**** you” to the whole literary establishment and walk off on your own. That shuts a lot of doors, and means a lot of influential opinion-forming people will not bother to read your book. Perhaps you’ll get a good number of readers and even earn some money that way, but call yourself a “writer” in the hearing of the guardians of literary fiction and most of them will quietly sneer. As I mentioned in another comment, things are rather different in the music business, with glorious traditions like indie shoestring labels and unsigned bands with early cult followings making it rather the done thing to despise major record companies, encouraging experimentation with new models (it may also help that listening to a song is rather less of a time investment than reading a new novel). If self-publishing were to become sexy, with the rebellious down-at-heal classiness of good indie music, that would be the greatest revenge it could have on the traditional literary publishers. Is it going to? I don’t know. Frankly, I rather hope so: it would be fun to see.

I must confess to enjoying a bit of schadenfreude here. After years and years of looking down their snooty noses at genre fiction, literary fiction writers are now looking at something akin to an apocalypse. Traditional publishers just aren’t able to pay them as much money anymore, and they place too much of a value on traditional gatekeepers to let themselves dip a toe into the self-publishing water.

. . . .

Meanwhile, genre fiction writers, who don’t take themselves nearly so seriously, are able to get off the dying horse of traditional publishing and take their work directly to the readers.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Will computers replace literary critics?

30 March 2014

From The Telegraph:

We were taught that in the study of great works, only one thing will do: Close Reading. Mind you, the nature of this “close reading” was always a little mysterious, and seemed to require almost as much individual genius as the authors it was applied to. The critic who after the Second World War seemed to embody the virtues of close reading, FR Leavis, had a mystique at least as great as any novelist. However the basic premise was simple enough. A great book has layers of meaning, which can be uncovered only by peering in at the tiniest details of the text, weighing the words and phrases for their rhythms and meanings and allusions.

And now along comes Franco Moretti with a book called Distant Reading, which stands all that on its head. He’s one of the stars of the field known as Digital Humanities, and his work certainly involves a fair amount of number-crunching. What interests him is not the usual few dozen great novels. It’s the thousands of novels that have ever been published, in many languages, in many countries. He grasps them all, good, bad and indifferent, with the methods of the statistician. Instead of peering closely at the wood of each literary tree, he stands back to survey the forest. His books are peppered with graphs showing such things as the rise and fall in numbers of novels published over a certain period. This, says Moretti, casts a whole new light on literature. Instead of the stand-out qualities of this or that novel, we get to learn about “the regularity of the literary field, its patterns, its slowness.”

So what exactly do all these fancy graphs actually tell us? In his New Yorker blog, Joshua Rothman offers the following: “A typical Moretti finding is that, in 18th-century Britain, for instance, the titles of novels grew shorter as the market for novels grew larger – a fact that is ‘interesting’ only in quotes.” Oh how true, I thought, pleased to find my indignation at Moretti’s outrageously philistine method justified by the triviality of the result.

. . . .

I was all prepared to join in the anti-Digital Humanities chorus, which is vociferous and populated by disgruntled advocates of the old book-learning. Fortunately I thought it prudent to take a look at Moretti’s own writings first. I’m very glad I did because in fact he is exhilaratingly witty, and penetratingly intelligent.

. . . .

In the first place it signals a shift to a busier marketplace. In the earlier 18th century, when there were only one or two titles jostling for the readers’ attention, authors could afford to be long-winded. Later, when there are 20 or 30 , the short title inevitably wins out. Moretti’s response to his own finding is typically blunt: “That titles became short is interesting, yes, but in the end, so what?” He then searches for the real meaning underneath the statistical phenomenon, and concludes that “by becoming short [the titles] adopted a signifying strategy that made readers look for a unity in the narrative structure.” We’ve moved from numbers to interpretation.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph and thanks to Peter for the tip.

The first thought that popped into PG’s head when he saw the title of this piece was “Will computers replace publishers?”

U.S. judge OKs class action in e-book suit against Apple

29 March 2014

From Reuters:

A federal judge in New York granted class certification on Friday to a group of consumers who sued Apple Inc for conspiring with five major publishers to fix e-book prices in violation of antitrust law.

U.S. District Judge Denise Cote said the plaintiffs had “more than met their burden” to allow them to sue as a group. She rejected Apple’s contentions that the claims were too different from each other, or that some plaintiffs were not harmed because some e-book prices fell.

“This is a paradigmatic antitrust class action,” wrote Cote, who has scheduled a trial later this year to determine damages, which could reach hundreds of millions of dollars.

. . . .

Cote on Friday also denied Apple’s motion to exclude the opinions of the plaintiffs’ damages expert. In a separate ruling, Cote largely threw out the opinions of Apple’s two damages experts, saying they were not based on “rigorous application of economic methods.”

Link to the rest at Reuters and thanks to BS for the tip.

In the Beginning

29 March 2014

In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

First line of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

Yes, Book Editors Edit

29 March 2014

From The Page-Turner blog at The New Yorker:

Where do book editors fit in the culture of American fiction? After reading “MFA vs NYC,” the provocative essay collection edited by Chad Harbach and published by the literary magazine n+1, one might be forgiven for thinking that we don’t fit anywhere at all. “MFA vs NYC,” according to the back cover, “brings together established writers, MFA professors and students, and New York editors, publicists, and agents” so that they might explore, if not really square, the “two cultures of American fiction.” Oddly, the voice of the New York City book editor is absent from these proceedings.

As an overview of the pressures that bear on an emerging writer today, “MFA vs NYC” is delectable reading. It also proves that there are some very good essayists who have devoted themselves to the publishing careers of others—whether as teachers in graduate programs (George Saunders, Alexander Chee) or as literary agents in New York (Melissa Flashman, Jim Rutman). I don’t think Harbach intended to send a message about book editors by excluding the voice of the professionals who help to bring many novels and short-story collections to bookstores. I know that he asked at least one of our number—not me—for a contribution. Still, the fact that “MFA vs NYC” doesn’t contain the voice of a book editor seems significant, an indication of where book editors stand in the “culture of American fiction.” I attribute this omission, accidental or not, to the longstanding rumor that editors don’t actually edit.

I was first exposed to such piffle when I was in college and working as an editorial assistant atZoetrope: All-Story, Francis Ford Coppola’s short-story magazine. I once asked a Zoetropeeditor why he didn’t move to New York and edit books. This was during a walk home from the office that made me feel grownup and like a pseudo-peer, even though I was just the kid logging submissions into a computer database. I don’t remember his exact words, but the gist of his response was: book editors are business people. Since I moved to New York, where the smaller publishing houses of yore have combined—and are combining still—into global behemoths, I have heard some version of this over and over. The real work, the saying goes, is performed at literary agencies, the “R. & D. wing of the publishing world,” as Flashman, the well-respected agent, puts it in her lapidary piece.

. . . .

“MFA vs NYC” suggests a growing rift between fiction writers and the so-called Big Five publishing houses, which is not helped by the persistent rumors of our laziness and obsolescence. None of the essays in the book’s New York City portion challenge, or even engage, the ingested rumor that the editing of book-length fiction is not performed by editors at publishing houses but, instead, by agents heroically spilling ink for their fifteen per cent.

. . . .

True, sometimes a submission arrives from an agent in publishable or nearly publishable shape. No less real is the existence of writers who “refuse” editing. Fair enough—it’s their name that appears on the book’s cover. But the idea that editors don’t have time to spend on manuscripts, or simply don’t bother, insults the job entirely. In a business as reliant on hope and potential as book publishing is—a business, in other words, reliant on the development of talent—the accumulation of exceptional anecdotes of perfect manuscripts does not tell the whole story. “Cloud Atlas” is a piece of genius. That doesn’t mean that editors don’t edit.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Canadian Judge Explains Why Agency eBook Pricing is Still Alive North of the 49th Parallel

29 March 2014

From The Digital Reader:

No one was surprised when Kobo objected to the end of Agency pricing in Canada, but when the Canadian Competition Tribunal granted them an initial delay it did come as a shock.

The Tribunal has since laid out their reasons for the delay, and for hearing Kobo’s objection, and for the most part they make sense. According to the summary written by Justice Donald J. Rennie, the chairperson of the Competition Tribunal, Kobo was granted the initial delay because without it Kobo would have been harmed even if they won their case.

Rennie notes that “In my view, the balance of convenience favours granting the stay. While maintaining the status quo might have the effect of depriving consumers of lower e-book prices in the short term, not granting the stay will certainly have a profound impact on the usefulness of Kobo’s application. In the event that Kobo is successful in its application and the Tribunal finds that the Consent Agreement ought to be rescinded or varied, Kobo would have already suffered loss and there would be no way to wind back the clock.”

But that’s not all. The summary goes on to indicate that the Tribunal might rule in Kobo’s favor. Apparently it is reasonable to listen to Kobo’s objections because there is no evidence that any collusion or anti-competitive activities occurred.

The consent agreement, which was negotiated by the Canadian Competition Bureau and 4 publishers (Hachette, Harpercollins, S&S, and Macmillan), says that the publishers don’t admit to any wrongdoing. There was also no evidence in the consent agreement to show the existence of an anti-competitive agreement or arrangement between the consenting publishers.

It was for those two reasons that the Tribunal decided that the consent agreement might not be enforceable: “Can the Tribunal make an order prohibiting a person from doing anything under a putative 90.1 agreement where it has not identified any terms of such an agreement or is not satisfied that such an agreement exists or is proposed?”

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG is not in any way knowledgeable about Canadian law, but it certainly sounds like whoever negotiated the consent agreement for the Competition Bureau really screwed up.

Excerpt from The Winds of Winter

29 March 2014

From George R.R. Martin:

She woke with a gasp, not knowing who she was, or where.

The smell of blood was heavy in her nostrils… or was that her nightmare, lingering? She had dreamed of wolves again, of running through some dark pine forest with a great pack at her hells, hard on the scent of prey.

Half-light filled the room, grey and gloomy. Shivering, she sat up in bed and ran a hand across her scalp. Stubble bristled against her palm. I need to shave before Izembaro sees. Mercy, I’m Mercy, and tonight I’ll be raped and murdered. Her true name was Mercedene, but Mercy was all anyone ever called her…

Except in dreams. She took a breath to quiet the howling in her heart, trying to remember more of what she’d dreamt, but most of it had gone already. There had been blood in it, though, and a full moon overhead, and a tree that watched her as she ran.

Link to the rest at George R.R. Martin and thanks to Julia for the tip.

UK Government publishes its copyright exceptions

28 March 2014

From The Bookseller:

The government has published a series of changes to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, including giving people the right to use a work for parody, pastiche and caricature, and the right to copy work for text and data analysis for non-commercial research.

. . . .

They follow the Hargreaves Review of 2010, which was set up to look at “barriers to growth” within the intellectual property system, and will affect how consumers “can use content like books, music, films and photographs” and “will also introduce greater freedoms in copyright law to allow third parties to use copyright works for a variety of economically and/or socially valuable purposes without the need to seek permission from copyright owners”.

. . . .

The Intellectual Property Office said: “The changes make small but important reforms to UK copyright law and aim to end the current situation where minor and reasonable acts of copying which benefit consumers, society and the economy are unlawful.”

. . . .

However Sam Edenborough, president of the Association of Authors Agents, said the group was “particularly concerned with the new exception created for parody, pastiche and caricature”.

He said: “Our view is that an exception for pastiche is a very broad gap through which one could sail a large boat. Parody is relatively easy to define but pastiche is very hard to define – musical pastiche is different to literary pastiche and so on. It always involves copying or mimicry. In theory someone could take large chunks of several works, stitch them together and claim the result is pastiche. It is unlikely to happen with any regularity but we feel this new exception is a further chipping away of an author’s rights.

“This isn’t the end of the world but it’s another blow to authors’ ability to earn a living from their writing.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Amazon Considers Streaming Media Service

28 March 2014

From The Wall Street Journal: Inc. is considering an advertising-supported streaming television and music-video service, a departure from its strategy of linking video to its $99-a-year Prime subscription service, according to people close to the company.

The proposed service, as Amazon has outlined it to potential partners, could launch in the coming months and could feature original and licensed content, these people said. As part of the service’s development, Amazon has held talks with the creators of “Betas,” a series about a Silicon Valley startup that Amazon co-produced last year, these people said.

Amazon also plans to offer free music videos with advertising to people visiting its retail website, two of the people said. A search for Bruce Springsteen CDs, for example, might yield an option to watch the “Born in the U.S.A.” video.

. . . .

Ad-supported video would be part of a broader move by Seattle-based Amazon to transform itself from a retailer into a force in multimedia. The company dominates e-commerce, but rivals like Google Inc. ‘s YouTube and Netflix Inc. have leapt ahead in streaming music and video. TV advertising is expected to generate $68.5 billion in the U.S. this year, estimates industry researcher eMarketer.

. . . .

Ad-supported streaming video would give Amazon an opportunity to flex its advertising muscle. Amazon has been quietly building out a service for placing ads on its own and other websites. eMarketer estimates the ad-placing unit will hit nearly $1 billion in sales this year, rivaling AOL Inc. and IAC/InterActiveCorp but smaller than Google’s or Yahoo Inc.’s operations.

By comparison, YouTube—which streams a combination of music, television, film and original content such as home videos—generated about $5.6 billion in revenue last year through advertising, estimates eMarketer.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Grammar is a piano

28 March 2014

Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed. Many people know about camera angles now, but not so many know about sentences. The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind. The picture dictates the arrangement. The picture dictates whether this will be a sentence with or without clauses, a sentence that ends hard or a dying-fall sentence, long or short, active or passive. The picture tells you how to arrange the words and the arrangement of the words tells you, or tells me, what’s going on in the picture. Nota bene. It tells you.
You don’t tell it.

Joan Didion

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