Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Age-Old Cynicism Surrounding the Dream of Book Writing

31 May 2015

From Jane Friedman:

I’ve known about this joke for nearly as long as I’ve worked in book publishing. It goes like this: “More than 80% of people say they have a book inside them. And that’s exactly where it should stay.”

While speaking and tweeting at the International Digital Publishing Forum at BEA this week, I had the opportunity to hear Jane McGonigal speak. . . . She shared this statistic:

More than 90% of young people in the United States say they want to write a book someday.

I tweeted the stat, and while there were some people who considered that inspiring, the more common response looked like this:

That’d be inspiring if more wanted to learn basic grammar and improve their reading skills.

But do they want to READ one?

Jane McGonigal saw the responses later and said:

oh my gosh your followers are very cynical about young people wanting to write books! Wow! (Reading their replies)

Unfortunately, every generation is quite the same in this regard, which is nicely expressed in the following 1900s quotation: “The world is coming to an end. Children no longer obey their parents and every man wants to write a book.”

. . . .

What I observe in the reaction:

  1. There’s an overabundance of books and it’s just as upsetting now as it was in the 1400s. With digital publishing tools, even if you can’t get a publisher, the manuscript doesn’t have to collect dust under the bed. You can publish it. And as Clay Shirky has said, the question today isn’t “Why publish this?” It’s “Why not?”
  2. We think young people are not as smart, hard working, or [fill in the blank]. Every generation thinks the one after it is somehow deficient. Today’s young people are especially under this burden, as they’re constantly referred to or identified by the fact they grew up with the Internet, or digital devices, which tend to take the blame for the many evils in the world. We’re all fretting about whether or not we’re slowing down enough to read a book—even though we’re likely reading more than ever, just in different formats and mediums.

We are potentially entering a new era—what has been called the Era of Universal Authorship. And one of the tweeted responses did in fact acknowledge this subtext: “That [statistic] is a bit depressing. Not just the competition. That takes away from the notion of writer as identity.”

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman and thanks to Suzie for the tip.

Literature as a Chain Letter Among Friends: On the Fantasy of Critical Distance

31 May 2015

From Flavorwire:

Over the weekend, New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan lightly chided the editorial staff of the paper’s book review for a perceived imbalance in the way it chooses its reviewers. At issue is a question of intimacy or closeness. “How Close Is Too Close?” the article’s title asks (mirroring the oppressively Socratic form of theReview’s Bookends column). When a reviewer knows the book’s author, does this constitute a conflict of interest?

“What editors may see as compelling expertise, readers may see as bias,” writes Sullivan. “That’s something that assigning editors should pay even more attention to as they try to get the balance right.”

The fantasy inculcated by Sullivan is one of dispassionate critical distance. But the literary and academic communities — indeed, virtually any community regarded in the pages of the Review — are defined by closeness and proximity, by a web of professional relations that boil down to impassioned respect and disdain, not to mention favors. When you read a book review — any book review — you are, on some level, witnessing a rehearsal of that critic’s location within (or outside) of this web of relations. This performance is part of what defines what you might call the “literary difference” that bolsters a book review. And if you’d rather read something with pretensions to “blind” critical distance, reach for an academic journal instead.

. . . .

Certainly fairness is one thing — mean spiritedness is gross and unenlightening, as are public displays of affection — but “evenhanded” and “dispassionate” critical ideals are not as old and historically justified as one might think. In fact, it’s possible to argue that literary humanism itself is founded on the idea of literature as “letters among friends.”

. . . .

As Elizabeth Gumport wrote in “Against Reviews” in 2011, this dispassionate pose can be traced back (at least) to the poet and critic Matthew Arnold, whose obsession with cold analysis makes the review into something like an autopsy. Noting the fruitlessness of this professionalized review, Gumport reminds us that when we write boring, dispassionate reviews, it’s only our friends who read them anyway:

Who reads reviews? Occasionally a lot of people. But usually just the book’s author, if she Googles herself, plus any pals, parents, exes, etc. who also search for her. Otherwise, our only readers are our friends, who feel obligated to at least skim our boring review because we liked theirs on Facebook. Why do we prioritize some imaginary “public” over people we actually know, and who read our work? Why don’t we want to write, and read, for our friends?

Gumport concludes:

If we wouldn’t describe a book to someone we wanted to sleep with, we shouldn’t write about it. It is time to stop writing — and reading — reviews.

Link to the rest at Flavorwire

Amazon Plans to Add Its Own Line of Food

31 May 2015

From The Wall Street Journal:

Following the playbook of countless retailers, Inc. is preparing to broadly expand its fledgling lineup of private-label brands to include an array of grocery items such as milk, cereal, and baby food as well as household cleaners, people familiar with the matter said.

Amazon’s planned expansion in the private-label business mirrors a more traditional retail model where name-brand products are sold beside store-owned goods. Private labels have become a vital business for mass-market retailers, generating stronger margins and building loyalty with consumers who no longer view generic products as lower quality.

. . . .

Many of Amazon’s coming private-label products will be ingested, making quality-control a critical issue.

The Seattle retailer has long dabbled in private labels. Besides diapers and wipes, it has offered all customers batteries, USB cables, backpacks and even ceramic plates under the Basics label, noted for its spartan black-and-white color scheme. And Amazon sells patio furniture and linens under its Strathwood and Pinzon brands.

. . . .

“It makes a lot of sense for any retailer to get into private label,” said Eddie Yoon, a principal at brand consultancy The Cambridge Group. “Private label has a lot of room to grow in terms of sales and can attract a new value-focused customer.”

Mr. Yoon said that despite their lower price tags, private label merchandise tends to have higher margins than name-brand goods for both retailers and manufacturers because of savings on marketing and brand development.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire) and thanks to Barb for the tip.

Between Books

31 May 2015

From The New York Times:

Novelists do all kinds of things as they wait for their books to be published, from imagining unforeseen commercial success to imagining unforeseen commercial success. Just kidding — we also update our websites. But eventually we have to face the fact that we are finished with that book — finished, and it’s not even in bookstores yet — and it is time to start something new.

This is not an easy moment. In an interview after the publication of his story collection “The Wonders of the Invisible World,” David Gates was asked, “What are you working on now?” He replied: “Same to you, buddy.”

. . . .

 Most manuscripts have more pages than the books they eventually become, but let’s be conservative and estimate that the manuscript consists of 350 pages, too. Figure four drafts (again: conservative), plus copies read by editors and friends, and it’s easy to see how a writer might have several thousand pages taking up prime real estate on her desk and making it impossible for her to start a new project. What to do with all this paper? Even though each draft is on a computer file, the printed pages are valuable because they contain notes from those who read the book along the way. How can one decide whether or not to save these manuscripts without rereading the comments?

I read a margin note on one manuscript page that said, “She is the world’s worst mother.” Twenty minutes later, looking through a different copy of the same draft, I discovered that another reader had written, “I feel so much sympathy for her here.” Which reminded me that reading is subjective, and that for the most part people enjoy debating the faults and virtues of characters — witness the popularity of book clubs. But things get complicated when readers meet writers.

“Which of your characters do you like best?” they want to know, and “What do you think happened to them after the book was over?” and “Was it hard to let go of them?” Some writers can jump right into this kind of conversation. “I like all of my characters, but I really love So-and-So.”  “I think they probably moved to Carmel and bought a fixer-upper.” I can’t do this. Sometimes I hem and haw, saying, “Oh, they’re like children, you don’t have favorites, you love them all,” or “Gosh, I don’t know, what do you think?”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Tom for the tip.

Using Author Pen Names on Facebook – and Getting Locked Out!

30 May 2015

From author Shoshanna Evers:

Boy do I have a story to tell – and fortunately, the solution that finally worked to get my Facebook access back after they locked my access to both my profile and Page due to my not using my “real name.” 

(Shoshanna Evers has been my pen name since 2009, which makes it legally my real name in 46 states just by the fact that I use it everywhere – and I have an Idaho-state DBA (doing business as) Shoshanna Evers).

I had a Shoshanna Evers profile from 2010 that was converted into a “Like Page” when I couldn’t add more friends. For a couple years I just had that Page, and no profile attached.

Then, FB made me create a profile to attach to the Page. So I created a Shoshanna Evers profile. I hid the profile in searches so only my Like Page would come up (I don’t want to have to double post in two places on FB), I didn’t add any friends to it, and only used it to interact in my Street Team FB Group and during FB events like book release parties.

. . . .

On May 21st 2015 (as I write this is the 28th, and the problem just got resolved a few hours ago), I participated in a FB party using my Shoshanna Evers profile. I’ve done that before. This time, I decided to message the 4 winners to make sure they knew to email me for their prizes. BAD MOVE!! That flagged FB, because I was messaging people who weren’t my “friends.”

So don’t ever message someone who isn’t a “friend” from your profile, because that will get you flagged! Good to know, right? Fortunately I have made all the mistakes this week so you don’t have to! 😉

The next day when I went to log in, I got a message saying my account access has been locked until I “verify my identity.”

Silly me, at first I was happy. Yay, they’re going to give me a blue check mark just like Twitter did, right? NOPE. I sent them what I had sent Twitter – a pic of a contract that showed I was (legal/birth name) writing as Shoshanna Evers along with my driver’s license showing I am my legal name.

Denied. So I end up going back and forth, sending a total of eleven documents (including my Idaho DBA, a royalty statement, a screen shot of my access into my own official website, a screen shot of a Tweet to FB from my Verified Twitter account, etc) all verifying that I am really Shoshanna Evers, and that it’s really me running the profile and Page – unlike, for example, the Shoshanna Evers page that I *don’t* run, which I also linked to.

Every step of the way, a new person contacted me to tell me no. It took me a very long time to realize that no one was actually looking at my past emails or documents – each time they denied me and said I have to verify my legal name is Shoshanna Evers.

. . . .

Then, some jerk at FB closed my support ticket (and I’m thinking, “hey, we’re not done here!”) and worst of all, changed my Shoshanna Evers profile name to my married name. I couldn’t even get into my account to deactivate it! He totally doxed me and put my married, private name out to all the FB groups I am a part of. I got a screen shot and a confused email from another author asking why my name had changed, but she couldn’t click it because the profile was gone. Fun, right?

Link to the rest at The Writer’s Challenge and thanks to PD for the tip.

Here’s a link to Shoshanna Evers’ books

Things need not have happened

30 May 2015

Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and adventures are the shadow truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes and forgotten.

Neil Gaiman

Authors Guild Dumps Author Solutions (And Pretends It Was All A Bad Dream)

30 May 2015

From David Gaughran:

The Authors Guild – which bills itself as America’s leading writers’ organization – has terminated its partnership with Author Solutions.

The Authors Guild joins companies like Bowker, Writers’ Digest, and Crossbooks in cutting links to Author Solutions – a company which has faced a sustained campaign from writers targeting its deceptive and exploitative practices, as well as multiple class actions which are still working their way through the courts.

. . . .

The announcement was made yesterday at Book Expo America, but the Authors Guild decided to bury its own lede. No mention is made of Author Solutions, just a brief mention of the subsidiary which the Authors Guild was partnered with: iUniverse. If I hadn’t been waiting for this announcement, I would have missed it.

It’s almost as if the Authors Guild is trying to airbrush its partnership with Author Solutions from the history books. As if it was all just a bad dream.

. . . .

None of this stopped the Authors Guild renewing its partnership with Author Solutions in 2008, and again in 2011. As an organization purporting to represent its members best interests, surely it would have been aware of the terrible reputation of Author Solutions companies, and how much service levels at iUniverse had deteriorated. Was there another reason why the Authors Guild was so reluctant to terminate this partnership?

. . . .

If you want to verify any of this information, it has all now been wiped from the Authors Guild’s website… but the internet never forgets.

. . . .

Things get more bizarre the more you look around. had a humorous eligibility requirement. It would only publish work by Authors’ Guild members (understandable), and

Only books that have been previously published by an established U.S. publishing house (no vanity presses or self-published) are eligible.

Wut? That makes no sense at all! It’s like an Irish pub with a “No Irish” sign in the window.

. . . .

I could go on and on about how terrible a publishing option this was – how metadata was routinely screwed up, how the books were overpriced and in the wrong categories, how crappy the covers were because members could only choose between three colors, how Author Solutions’ sales reps attempted to upsell worthless marketing packages, how iUniverse published digital editions of members’ books without permission – but the key point is that publishing with iUniverse was the only self-publishing method recommended by the Authors Guild.

. . . .

I could go on and on about how terrible a publishing option this was – how metadata was routinely screwed up, how the books were overpriced and in the wrong categories, how crappy the covers were because members could only choose between three colors, how Author Solutions’ sales reps attempted to upsell worthless marketing packages, how iUniverse published digital editions of members’ books without permission – but the key point is that publishing with iUniverse was the only self-publishing method recommended by the Authors Guild.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books

The Mystery of the Hardy Boys and the Invisible Authors

30 May 2015

From Atlantic:

In the opening pages of a recent installment of the children’s book series The Hardy Boys, black smoke drifts though the ruined suburb of Bayport. The town’s residents, dressed in tatters and smeared with ash, stumble past the local pharmacy and diner. Shards of glass litter the sidewalk. “Unreal,” says the mystery-solving teenager Joe Hardy—and he’s right. Joe and his brother Frank are on a film set, and the people staggering through the scene are actors dressed as zombies. But as is always the case with Hardy Boys books, something still isn’t quite right: This time, malfunctioning sets nearly kill several actors, and the brothers find themselves in the middle of yet another mystery.

Eighty-five years have passed since readers first encountered both the Hardy Boys and their teen-detective counterpart, Nancy Drew, yet new books continue to be released several times a year. The novels bear the same pseudonyms as the originals: Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene. A few things have changed, though—characters listen to MP3 players and reference science-fiction movies, and Hardy Boys chapters (oddly)alternate between the first-person perspectives of Frank and Joe. But the main modern achievement of the series is simply that it continues to exist.

The secret behind the longevity of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys is simple. They’re still here because their creators found a way to minimize cost, maximize output, and standardize creativity. The solution was an assembly line that made millions by turning writers into anonymous freelancers—a business model that is central to the Internet age.

. . . .

If writing seems like a lonely profession, try ghostwriting children’s books. “You’re usually in touch with one person, the editor,” says Christopher Lampton, who wrote 11 Hardy Boys books in the 1980s. He sent his books not to a publisher but to a packager called Megabooks—effectively a conduit between the writer and the publisher, Simon & Schuster. When Lampton mailed in drafts, they came back with comments written in several colors. “There were other people, looking at your books, making comments. They’re phantoms,” he says.

Book packagers are a kind of outsourced labor, not unlike factories in China or tech-support centers in Mumbai. They develop new story ideas, recruit and manage freelance writers, and edit the first drafts of series books. Then they deliver manuscripts to the publisher, who rewrite and polish them to produce the final book. “Hiring a book packager is a way of hiring staff without putting them on your payroll,” explains Anne Greenberg, who worked for Simon & Schuster from 1986 to 2002, when Lampton was writing. Greenberg edited hundreds of Nancy Drew mysteries after they came in from book packagers, and suspects she worked on more books in the series (approximately 300) than anyone else. “You have to keep feeding the machine,” she says.

. . . .

Readers rarely hear about book packagers, yet they’re responsible for some of the most successful fiction series in existence, from Sweet Valley High to Goosebumpsto For Dummies. Because ghostwriters and freelance editors do most of the work, packagers push down the considerable expenses of literary labor: They don’t need to offer health insurance, vacation time, or office space.

. . . .

Lampton spent about two weeks writing each manuscript, not including the time it took to develop new plots and edit manuscripts. Each book earned him $5000 in the 1980s. Leonhardt was paid $2000 up front and $2000 upon completion of each Nancy Drew book. At the time, giving up royalties and name recognition was just part of the deal. “You know that when you sign on the dotted line,” says Lampton. “I just liked seeing the check show up.”

. . . .

Ghostwriting might constrain writers, but it can free them, too. Writers put their best efforts into the narrative equivalent of a potted plant, but they also work under the comfort of anonymity, which allows them to make a living without being accountable to readers, or without worrying about their reputations. The best and luckiest writers use ghostwriting to carve out the freedom for the kind of bylined writing they care deeply about.

Less fortunate writers often try to do that, too, but they can end up shackled to the mercenary work they intended to outgrow. This was true for the first Hardy Boys ghostwriter, Leslie McFarlane, who was initially relieved that his name wouldn’t appear in the series. But by the time he had written 21 books, many readers knew his name anyway. Before he died, he worried that he would be remembered primarily for his work on the Hardy Boys, instead of the films he directed and the series books that bear his name. Unfortunately, he was right.

Link to the rest at Atlantic and thanks to Dave for the tip.

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