Monthly Archives: October 2014

Being an author

30 October 2014

Being an author is being in charge of your own personal insane asylum.

Terri Guillemets

Political Partisans Agree on One Thing: They Like Amazon

30 October 2014

From Advertising Age:

Democrats and Republicans might not agree on much, especially in a particularly bitter midterm election cycle. But a 2014 YouGov BrandIndex ranking of favorite brands finds some agreement among political partisans. Amazon, for one, comes in No. 1 among Democrats and Independents and No. 2 among Republicans.

Craftsman, Johnson & Johnson, Clorox and Dawn were the four other brands that landed in the Top 10 lists of people of all political stripes. Samsung made its debut; Home Depot fell off.

. . . .

Not surprisingly, Fox News (with a -28) came in last with Democrats and MSNBC (-31) last with Republicans. Perhaps a little surprising: Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy tied for last spot with Independents with a -17.

. . . .

There were a handful of brands that occurred on only one list. Dove, PBS and Barnes & Noble showed up only on the Democratic list. Quaker showed up only on the Independent one. And History Channel, Fox News and M&Ms showed up only on the Republican list.

Link to the rest at Advertising Age and thanks to Dominick for the tip.

For visitors to The Passive Voice from overseas, elections will occur in the United States next Tuesday.

Value in the media industry is moving to the edges, and publishers are in the middle

30 October 2014

From GigaOm:

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about Facebook’s increasing role in how people get their news, and whether or not that is a good thing and/or what to do about it. But one of the smartest things I’ve read on the topic comes from freelance tech analyst Ben Thompson, who writes a blog called Stratechery — and who put Facebook’s dominance into context with a post about how value in the media industry is moving to the edges, and publishers are stuck in the middle.

. . . .

Thompson explains how companies like Largan have gained power, just as chip makers and software providers like Microsoft and Intel did during the rise of the personal computer — leaving the companies who actually assembled and sold computers in the middle, their profit margins dwindling as value moved to the ends: specialized manufacturers on one side, and services on the other.

. . . .

So for example, in the analog world in which newspapers, magazines and other forms of publishing controlled the distribution platform and therefore the channels through which content flowed, they also controlled much of the value. But new platforms have emerged — such as Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and dozens of others — and they have accumulated much of the value and market power that used to accrue to publishers and media companies. As Thompson puts it:

When people follow a link on Facebook (or Google or Twitter or even in an email), the page view that results is not generated because the viewer has any particular affinity for the publication that is hosting the link… if anything, the reader is likely to ascribe any positive feelings to the author. Over time, as this cycle repeats itself… value moves to the ends, just like it did in the IT manufacturing industry or smartphone industry.”

. . . .

In other words, Thompson believes that because of the disintermediating effect that the internet has on content, value is moving towards the individual creators of that content — writers, editors, artists, etc. — and towards the platforms that allow for discovery and/or distribution of that content (Facebook, etc.) and away from publishers and media companies of various kinds.

. . . .

So what does the future look like for those media companies in the middle of the “smiling curve?” Thompson doesn’t say, but it probably isn’t going to involve a lot of smiling — instead, it presumably involves trying to squeeze less and less revenue out of a market where they are rapidly losing control, and trying to form relationships with platforms like Facebook without losing even more.

Link to the rest at GigaOm and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

PG says this is one of the principal results of the disruption that ebooks and ecommerce have visited on traditional publishing.

In the old days, the author created the manuscript, the agent sold the manuscript to the publisher, the publisher took the manuscript and, with the help of a printer, turned it into a book, the distributor took a bunch of the books and put them in a warehouse from which smaller bunches were sent to bookstores/other retailers and the bookstores sold the book to readers.

Under this model, the manuscript was of no value to the bookstores and a lot of intermediate steps were necessary before the manuscript became salable to readers. Without the internet and in an era of mass broadcast and print media, an individual author had very few ways of affecting discovery of the book, which, for most books, happened primarily in bookstores and other B&M retailers.

Today, the author creates the manuscript and either converts it to an ebook or pays somebody to do so, Amazon takes the ebook and sells it to readers. Those are the only necessary parts of the ebook/ecommerce supply chain. Discovery of ebooks takes place online at Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, etc. The rest of the old supply chain is obsolete and an unnecessary expense.

The author and Amazon are the only places where significant value is created in the new supply chain.

The fight between Amazon and Hachette is about the dominant players in the middle of the obsolete supply chain trying to remain relevant and capture more of the value that they used to take for granted.

How To Create A Killer Opening For Your Science Fiction Short Story

30 October 2014

From io9:

A short story is like a chess game: The opening is a huge part of whether you win or lose. The first sentence of a short story doesn’t just “hook” readers, it also sets the tone and launches the plot. So here are the seven major types of short story openings, and how to pick one.

Sure, the opening sentences are important in novels, too. A strong beginning, in a novel, can help provide momentum that will carry the reader all the way to the last page, sometimes in one sitting. But short stories are different: the first sentence, or the first paragraph, often hangs over the whole rest of the story. Many short stories are really about one idea, or one situation, and that’s what the opening sentences establish.

. . . .

 2) The conflict establisher.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with an opening sentence that shows the exact moment when your characters knew they were in trouble. The classic “we were halfway to Mars when our fuel tank blew up” beginning. It creates a nice sense of urgency, and then you can go back and fill in the details once people are on board with the fact that exciting stuff is happening.

Why you might use this one: If you want to start your story with a bang.

Why you might not: If your bang falls flat, then your story is lost. This is actually a high-risk opening. It’s also easy to overuse the “starting with a bang” style. Sometimes you want to be a bit more subtle, and draw your readers in slowly before dropping the boom on them. Your readers may expect the rest of your story to keep that propulsive feeling, and to revolve around the incident you describe at the start, so you have a lot to live up to.


“When it starts we’re in a hotel room, the two of us curled up on a double bed. It’s a two-star kind of place: cracks in the walls, curtains covered in faded daisies, the clinging smell of camphor attaching itself after the first few minutes of your stay. The television stutters as we flick through the channels, colours blending together and rendering the devastation a fuzzy blue or green. Still, we see it happen: the great machines of the merfolk coming up over the shore, rampaging through the city with devastating effect.” — Peter M. Ball, “On the Destruction of Copenhagen by the War-Machines of the Merfolk.”

“Hala is running for class when her cell phone rings. She slows to take it from her pocket, glances at the screen: UNKNOWN CALLER.” — Kij Johnson, “Names for Water”

“They left Abal in a hurry, after Ozma’s mother killed the constable.” — Kelly Link, “The Constable of Abal”

“I slammed the door in the child’s face, a horrific scream trapped in my throat.” — Nnedi Okorafor, “On the Road”

“When Denis died, he found himself in another place. Dead people came at him with party hats and presents.” — Rachel Swirsky, “Fields of Gold”

3) The mystifier

At first, it doesn’t entirely make sense, because it refers to stuff we don’t know about yet. Or it throws us into a situation without giving us all the pieces right away.

Why you might use this one: There’s nothing more intriguing than a mysterious situation, where you’re thrown in the deep end. People are willing to hang with you for quite a while to find out what this is all about.

Why you might not: The mystery has to be really cool, for this to work. Also, you’re asking your readers to work pretty hard — they have to ponder the clues you’re throwing at them, but then they also have to get into your world and your characters. I feel like the “thrown in the deep end” opening is the riskiest type, because it’s the kind that asks the most of the reader. You have to be pretty skillful, to unravel your cryptic opening at the same time as you’re introducing the world and the characters, and it’s a bit of a high-wire act.


“I still have the dollar bill. It’s in my box at the bank, and I think that’s where it will stay. I simply won’t destroy it, but I can think of nobody to whom I’d be willing to show it — certainly nobody at the college, my History Department colleagues least of all. Merely to tell the story would brand me irredeemably as a crackpot, but crackpots are tolerated, even on college faculties. It’s only when they begin producing physical evidence that they get themselves actively resented.” — H. Beam Piper, “Crossroads of Destiny”.

“‘They don’t look very dangerous,’ Xiao Ling Yun said to the aide. Ling Yun wished she understood what Phoenix Command wanted from her. Not that she minded the excuse to take a break from the composition for two flutes and hammered dulcimer that had been stymieing her for the past two weeks.” — Yoon Ha Lee, “The Unstrung Zither.”

“Mariska shivered when she realized that her room had been tapping at the dreamfeed for several minutes. ‘The Earth is up,’ it murmured in its gentle singing accent. ‘Daddy Al is up, and I am always up. Now Mariska gets up.'” — James Patrick Kelly, “Going Deep”

“I remember the night I became a goddess.” — Ian McDonald, “The Little Goddess”

“Memory is a strange thing. I haven’t changed my sex in eighty three years.” — Vandana Singh, “Oblivion: A Journey”

“There is a magic shore where children used to beach their coracles every night.” — Sarah Rees Brennan, “The Spy Who Never Grew Up”

Link to the rest at io9

Not Reading

30 October 2014


Reading a book is an act of concentration that abolishes the world. As the type on the page dissolves before the reader’s private re-creation of the people, images or ideas that the ink evokes, reality is enhanced by insights, emotions or perceptions that were not there before. This compensatory quality is the product of concentration; it arises because reading is linear, reeling us along sentence by sentence toward a series of revelations. Reading a book remakes the temporality of the physical world. The shapelessness of experience yields to a chronology whose internal symmetry feels superior to the disorder of life. Book-based transcendence fuelled the three ancient Middle Eastern monotheisms that became the core religions of the early modern period in the West and on its fringes, and which were exported to other continents; all were “religions of the book.”

The book’s sacred status survived the secularization of society. The words of the imaginative writer, particularly the novelist, invested specific social configurations with mythic resonance: Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, Dostoevsky’s St. Petersburg, Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, García Márquez’s Macondo, Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo.

. . . .

More than a decade ago, when I moved to the university town where I teach, it was common to see students reading books on municipal buses. Now, with the exception of the occasional nerd stuck into a fantasy novel, or a diligent student poring over a diagram-filled textbook on her lap, this sight has disappeared. The students travel in stooped postures, jabbing their cellphones with their thumbs. Most of this jabbing is texting, or playing solitaire; but even when the students are browsing online course readings, what they are doing is not reading, because they are not performing an act of concentration, but rather one of perpetual distraction. As Marshall McLuhan perceived, the medium is the message. Reading is an act confined to books and magazines, and, in somewhat more scattered form, newspapers; what we do when we absorb words from a screen—and we haven’t yet evolved a verb for it—is not reading.

. . . .

The term ebook, more than a misnomer, is an oxymoron: we may read a text on a screen, in between anxious jumps to other windows, but we do not read a book because we do not achieve the level of concentration necessary to experience the spiritual or artistic affects that books provide. Some software even invites the user to read the book and watch the movie at the same time. A tweet is a perfect match with the medium of the screen; approaching a book in this way is like trying to view the rings of Saturn with cheap binoculars.

Link to the rest at GEIST and thanks to Timothy for the tip.

Andrew Wylie talks about the state of the publishing industry

30 October 2014

From Quill & Quire:

Andrew Wylie has much to say about the book business, but it’s not for the faint of heart. In his keynote address at the International Festival of Authors (and in the Q&A with CBC’s Carol Off that followed), the internationally renowned agent of Martin Amis and Salman Rushie offered up his characteristic zingers, calling Amazon “the equivalent of ISIS,” 50 Shades of Grey “one of the most embarrassing moments in Western culture,” and self-publishing “the aesthetic equivalent of telling everyone who sings in the shower they deserve to be in La Scala.”

. . . .

On the future of Amazon

In fact what’s happening is a continuation of what used to go on with the chains. It is a set of terms dictated by a digital trucking company, and the publishing industry, up until now, has cowered and whined and moaned and groaned and given Amazon pretty much everything they want. Now I think that’s going to stop. I think Hachette, to their great credit, drew a line in the sand and didn’t fold…. The deal that Simon & Schuster cut with Amazon – and no one is allowed to know anything about the deal, and nobody has any idea what it is – but basically, it’s back to the agency model. And, it’s pretty good for authors. And there is a good chance, in my view, that Amazon will be told, “You either do business on our terms, or we’re going to develop other channels of distribution.”

. . . .

On publishing books that matter

You can buy your clothing at K-Mart, or you can buy your clothing at Hermès. You have to decide what you want in life. If you want disposable razors, that’s one way to approach it, or you could buy a razor that might last a little longer. I think what a culture depends on is what is best about a culture. And what a book depends on is what’s best about books. Those are the books that last, those are the books that sustain the industry. Not the sort of high-level bets that are placed on short-term profitability, and is all led by shareholder interest and pressure.

Link to the rest at Quill & Quire and thanks to Michael for the tip.

The Percy Jackson Problem

29 October 2014

From The New Yorker:

About a year ago, the novelist Neil Gaiman delivered a lecture at the Barbican, in London, on behalf of the Reading Agency, a not-for-profit organization that promotes literacy and reading for pleasure among children and adults. In the lecture, which was reprinted in the Guardian, Gaiman came out in favor of what might be called the “just so long as they’re reading” camp.

“I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children,” he argued, adding that it was “snobbery and … foolishness” to suggest that a certain author or particular genre might be a baleful influence upon young reading minds—be it comic books or the works of R. L. Stine. Fiction is a “gateway drug” to reading, Gaiman said. “Every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn’t hackneyed and worn out to them.” Well-meaning adults, he continued, can easily kill a child’s love of reading: “Stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian ‘improving’ literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.”

The opposite argument—that the kind of book a child has his or her nose buried in does make a difference—has been mounted elsewhere, notably by Tim Parks, in an essay that appeared on the blog of the New York Review of Books. “If the ‘I-don’t-mind-people-reading-Twilight-because-it-could-lead-to-higher-things’ platitude continues to be trotted out, it is because despite all the blurring that has occurred over recent years, we still have no trouble recognizing the difference between the repetitive formula offering easy pleasure and the more strenuous attempt to engage with the world in new ways,” Parks wrote. He enlisted the example of his own children’s reading habits, and those of his young students, to argue that there is little evidence to suggest that readers will make progress “upward from pulp to Proust.” “I seriously doubt if E.L. James is the first step toward Shakespeare,” he concluded. “Better to start with Romeo and Juliet.”

This debate came to mind earlier this month at the New York Public Library, when Rick Riordan, the author of the best-selling Percy Jackson series, was in town to promote “The Blood of Olympus,” the latest and final volume in his second cycle of novels drawing upon Greek mythology. The first, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” has sold upwards of twenty million copies worldwide.

. . . .

For those unfamiliar with the Riordan’s Olympian fictions—which is to say, people without children between the ages of seven and seventeen—their hero, Percy Jackson, thinks he is just a kid with a learning disability and a troublesome tendency to get kicked out of school, until he learns that his difficulties can be explained by the fact that he is a demigod, the offspring of Poseidon and a mortal woman. In the first book of the series, “The Lightning Thief,” Percy gets shipped off, at the age of twelve, to Camp Half Blood, a refuge on Long Island populated by his demigod peers. There he learns the skills becoming of his lineage—sword fighting looms large—and discovers his own peculiar gifts: even when injured, he is miraculously healed and empowered by water.

. . . .

That slangy, casual style is a hallmark of the Percy Jackson books, which often read like a faithful transcription of teen uptalk. At the level of language, Riordan’s books make J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series seem as if it were written by Samuel Johnson. Unlike the Harry Potter books, which, notoriously, have been embraced by adult readers as well as juvenile ones, the Percy Jackson books seem positively contrived to repel adult readers, so thoroughgoing is their affectation of teen goofiness.

. . . .

Riordan’s books prompt an uneasy interrogation of the premise underlying the “so long as they’re reading” side of the debate—at least among those of us who want to share Neil Gaiman’s optimistic view that all reading is good reading, and yet find ourselves by disposition closer to the Tim Parks end of the spectrum, worried that those books on our children’s shelves that offer easy gratification are crowding out the different pleasures that may be offered by less grabby volumes.

. . . .

What if the strenuous accessibility of “Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods” proves so alluring to young readers that it seduces them in the opposite direction from that which Gaiman’s words presuppose—away from an engagement with more immediately difficult incarnations of the classics, Greek and otherwise? What if instead of urging them on to more challenging adventures on other, potentially perilous literary shores, it makes young readers hungry only for more of the palatable same?

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

It is impossible to discourage the real writers

29 October 2014

It is impossible to discourage the real writers — they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write.

Sinclair Lewis

A Call for Digital Media Ethics

29 October 2014

From Publishing Perspectives:

Self-appointed digital experts on any digital topic are very popular these days in the digital media. It seems that just being “digital something” gives anyone the right to feel competent at anything that has some “digital” flavor/attribute/declination/relevance. While there is a clear difference between being “a jack of all trades, but master of none” and a “windbag,” in the digital media almost anyone feels to belong to the former rather than to the latter. This is often because they believe their readers know even less than they do. While this might or might not be the case of the average reader, it is never true for the entire reading community. There always are readers that know better than any bigmouth.

These days I have been asked by few friends and colleagues in Europe what I thought about the recent and very popular article appeared on titled“Amazon is doing the world a favor by crushing book publishers” by Matthew Yglesias.

The title speaks for itself: it is clearly not unbiased journalism, but just another self-serving and very effective propaganda, with 2,300+ shares on Twitter, 6,700+ on Facebook. A lot less (300+) on LinkedIn. Good job, great traffic, a lot of eyeballs and advertising money. This is an example of how a digital media can become “creative” at content publishing to pursue advertising money.

Bashing “book publishers” is a very common sport these days, as publishing expert Mike Shatzkin noticed.

. . . .

However no individual has the right to be listened to. Especially not if it’s for his/her own profit. Being listened to is a privilege that needs to be ethically earned and handled. Not seized by exploiting listeners’ trust or abusing own properly earned listeners’ base. Intentionally and unintentionally. This is still one of the things where the most digital media companies have got plenty of room to improve.

Thus the only point I have here is ethics. Manipulating readers for its own profits perhaps it is legal but not always ethically correct. In my humble opinion.

. . . .

However no individual has the right to be listened to. Especially not if it’s for his/her own profit. Being listened to is a privilege that needs to be ethically earned and handled. Not seized by exploiting listeners’ trust or abusing own properly earned listeners’ base. Intentionally and unintentionally. This is still one of the things where the most digital media companies have got plenty of room to improve.

Thus the only point I have here is ethics. Manipulating readers for its own profits perhaps it is legal but not always ethically correct. In my humble opinion.

. . . .

This would help, in the end, to reduce the overall online buzz around unqualified opinions and ultimately better curate a quality selection of content by ethical digital media to the great benefit of the readers. And still — hopefully — with decent profits for the digital media owners.

“Digital media ethics” are three simple words that open an entire very complex world of options, risks and opportunities. A Pandora’s box, perhaps. It is about time to seriously do something about it. The readers will certainly appreciate ethics. Advertisers will follow and shareholders will be happy too.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to Bill for the tip.

In PG’s inexhaustibly humble opinion, this article has a fairly high incomprehensibility index. However, the comments are great.

From David Gaughran:

Ethics? Values? Give me a break. What kind of values does the publishing industry have exactly?

Penguin Random House owns the biggest vanity press in the world and is aggressively expanding its exploitative operations. Harlequin, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster have white label vanity press imprints powered by Author Solutions. Harlequin is facing a class action for swindling its own writers out of contractually agreed royalties. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The reason we criticize the industry (as I explained to Shatzkin), is because (a) we find this behavior unacceptable and (b) we want the industry to change.

From Joe Konrath:

You claim Yglesias is engaging in the sport of “book bashing” in order to make advertising dollars. You claim the author didn’t disclose his background. You claim this is unethical.

You’re funny.

Where is the citation and refutation of any of Yglesias’s points? You make a claim of “fiction” without supporting your belief that Yglesias isn’t telling the truth. We should agree with your “fiction” pronouncement because you’re an expert?

Must I have a PhD in mathematics to say “2 + 3 = 5″? Am I not allowed to defend gay rights because I’m not gay?

Do you know that the “arguement from authority” is a fallacy?

You speak of propaganda that “pursues advertising money.”

Kind of like someone who makes money in the digital book business and writes an editorial defending the groups who hire him? But there’s no propaganda behind your piece, eh?

From William Ockham:

I notice that the author doesn’t follow his own advice. Shouldn’t his disclaimer include that he has never run an online magazine, never been a professor of ethics, etc.?

Negative disclaimers are silly. This isn’t about ethics, it is about attacking the credibility of outsiders who have the insolence to opine about publishing. Vena wraps his hit piece in the veneer of ethics, but he really seems to be afraid of open debate with people outside his ‘tribe’.

Children’s fuels 2014 growth in US

29 October 2014

From The Bookseller:

YA/children’s books are fuelling growth, including e-book growth, in the US, according to new figures from the Association of American Publishers (AAP).

New figures released by the group covering January to July 2014, show that the e-book revenue grew 7.5% compared to the same period in 2013. This was driven largely by a huge growth of e-book revenue in the children’s and YA category, with a 59.5% growth compared to the same period last year. Another growth area is religious e-books, which has climbed 25.7%

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

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