Monthly Archives: June 2015

Author Warns U.S. Military to Focus on China

29 June 2015

From The Wall Street Journal:

Peter Singer, one of Washington’s pre-eminent futurists, is walking the Pentagon halls with an ominous warning for America’s military leaders: World War III with China is coming.

In meeting after meeting with anyone who will listen, this modern-day soothsayer wearing a skinny tie says America’s most advanced fighter jets might be blown from the sky by their Chinese-made microchips and Chinese hackers easily could worm their way into the military’s secretive intelligence service, and the Chinese Army may one day occupy Hawaii.

The ideas might seem outlandish, but Pentagon officials are listening to the 40-year-old senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank.

In hours of briefings, Mr. Singer has outlined his grim vision for intelligence officials, Air Force officers and Navy commanders. What makes his scenarios more remarkable is that they are based on a work of fiction: Mr. Singer’s soon-to-be-released, 400-page techno thriller, “Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War.”

. . . .

Pentagon officials typically don’t listen to the doom-and-gloom predictions of fiction writers. But Mr. Singer comes to the table with an unusual track record. He has written authoritative books on America’s reliance on private military contractors, cybersecurity and the Defense Department’s growing dependence on robots, drones and technology.

The Army, Navy and Air Force already have included two of his books on their official reading lists. And he often briefs military leaders on his research.

“Ghost Fleet,” co-written with former Wall Street Journal reporter August Cole is based on interviews, military research and years of experience working with the Defense Department.

“He’s the premier futurist in the national-security environment,” said Mark Jacobson, a special assistant to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who made sure his boss read the book. “Peter’s always where the ball is going to be. And people in the Pentagon listen to what he has to say.”

Release of the book by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on Tuesday comes during a new period of soul-searching for the U.S. military.

. . . .

“Ghost Fleet,” which includes hundreds of endnotes, challenges conventional military doctrine and relies on real events to warn that the U.S. military is vulnerable to cyberattacks that could cripple its ability to win a war with China.

The time has come, Mr. Singer tells military officials in his briefings, for the Pentagon to consider the possibility that Americans could face real dog fights in the sky and deadly naval battles unlike anything the U.S. has seen since World War II.

“It may not be politic, but it is, in my belief, no longer useful to avoid talking about the great power rivalries of the 21st century and the real dangers of them getting out of control,” he told Air Force officers at the Pentagon. “Indeed, only by acknowledging the real trends and real risks that loom can we take the mutual steps to avoid the kind of mistakes that would set up such an epic fail in both deterrence and diplomacy.”

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

Here’s a link to Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War

While not making light of the security issues Mr. Singer raises as a consultant/researcher, PG does think this is a potent way of generating publicity for a new novel.

Pre-promotion or not?

29 June 2015

From author Patricia C. Wrede:

I was at a book signing recently and admitted to the person in line behind me that I was about a quarter of the way through writing my book. I should note here, she is also a writer. She immediately asked me what writing conferences I had attended, if I was on Facebook, if I had a blog, etc., and began overwhelming me with all the things I was not doing to sell myself that I ‘should be doing’ in her opinion….

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of pre-promoting yourself in the manner this person suggested?

First off, let me point out that when I was getting started, computers were room-sized boxes of blinking lights that required lots of esoteric knowledge before you could persuade them to add two numbers together. The Internet didn’t exist at all. I wrote my first novel on a typewriter. Consequently, I don’t exactly have much experience in “pre-promotion” of the sort you describe.

This does not, however, stop me from having opinions. Quite strong opinions, in fact.

I will begin with a question: What, exactly, is it that you hope to sell? Yourself? Or your books?

While you think about that, I will point out that every writing career is different. Not only that, but the way into a writing career is different for every writer. If you want some control over it (you will never have total control, but you can have some), it is worth thinking about different possibilities.

. . . .

But fundamentally, the only thing that every writer has to do is write.

There is no one best route to the top. Furthermore, “the top” has almost as many definitions as there are writers, and every definition has a multitude of different ways to reach it. The successful writers I know are successful by their own definitions, not someone else’s, and have gotten to that success by routes that suit them, not somebody else.

Back to that first question. I can name several writers for whom their writing is in large degree secondary; what they are selling is themselves. They make as much (and in some cases a lot more) money from their blogs, courses, speeches, workshops, movie rights, radio programs, podcasts, and so on, as they do from their actual writing. There is nothing wrong with this. They are all having a blast doing stuff they love doing. Most of them took to social media like dolphins take to water. They are in their element. Their definition of “the top” has to do with personal appearances and being out there in public and well-known and respected, whether or not their books are bestsellers (some are; others have only modest sales).

. . . .

There may also be some use to “pre-promoting” yourself if you are planning to skip the world of traditional publishing and go straight to self-published ebooks. To make this worth doing, though, you have to catch a large audience and maintain it until you finish your book. Given how quickly Internet buzz comes and goes, this is often best left until a week before the book goes live, even if one is planning to self-publish.

In both cases, far too many would-be writers end up promising far more than they can deliver. I know a couple of folks who have been writing about their writing for a couple of decades now, without ever producing an actual story. Their social media accounts don’t attract as much attention as they expected, because they don’t have anything to talk about but themselves (and frankly, they aren’t all that interesting). And their desperate struggles to “build an audience” soak up whatever time and energy they might have used to actually write fiction.

If what you want is to write and/or to sell your books rather than yourself, then there’s not a lot of point in doing social media until you have something to sell.

Link to the rest at Patricia C. Wrede and thanks to Suzie for the tip.

Here’s a link to Patricia C. Wrede’s books

So in America

29 June 2015

So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.

Last line from On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Tipping the Editorial Apple Cart

29 June 2015

From Digital Book World:

Software is at once the existential threat and the messianic savior of the publishing industry. Publishers that pursue transformation strategies and successfully reinvent themselves as software companies will thrive, propelled by the value of their content assets and skills.

This is no simple feat, however. Coupled with the backdrop of financial, technical and market challenges, one overarching challenge makes any publisher’s transformation especially daunting—corporate culture.

Corporate culture shows up across any organization in a million small ways. It’s the set of reflexive behaviors, like default settings, that companies develop over time. It influences everything from how the company hires and how it interacts with customers to the way it develops its products. Corporate culture is the result of countless subtle inputs over time, and as many CEOs have discovered, it’s profoundly difficult to change.

But culture is precisely what must change in today’s publishing industry. From stem to stern, the most successful publishers are rethinking risk tolerance, speed of development, the opinion of the customer and even the structure of their companies. Although culture isn’t good or bad, it can certainly be right or wrong for what a company is trying to accomplish.

. . . .

A few decades back, in the heyday of desktop publishing, publishers were centers of intense innovation, leveraging new software to move from analog layout mechanisms to digital ones. Experimentation with tools like Aldus PageMaker and Quark Xpress led to entirely new workflows. Initial investments, while expensive, yielded exciting results in both the products and the financial efficiencies of the publishing process.

Over the ensuing years, publishers adeptly outsourced the non-strategic parts of their digital workflows. More and more work was done offshore and less of it in-house, and the institutional knowledge of these methods largely dissipated. Business process outsourcing (BPO) companies now own many of those core processes, with publishers providing inputs and receiving outputs, such as illustrations and page layouts.

It’s within that environment that publishers today confront the completely new problem of constructing digital content and products, and they haven’t yet figured out how to do it at large scale. Meanwhile, these same BPO companies are asked to ‘solve’ the digital content problem. They try, but these companies are skilled in process optimization, not in initial problem solving, especially when the end product isn’t yet fully understood by anyone.

When publishers reflexively outsource these supposedly non-strategic processes, the outsourced work is either frustratingly poor in quality or impossible to scale up. Instead, publishers themselves must first invest in the problem-solving, just as in they did in the ’90s with desktop publishing. Only then can the optimization of outsourcing begin.

. . . .

I’ve often marveled at the power editorial teams wield within publishers. They’ve traditionally controlled budgets, product roadmaps and sales teams, all in one. Talk about influence! But this cultural hallmark is unattractive to engineers and designers, who expect to be at the center of the discovery and decision-making processes of a software company. It’s the age-old MBA-meets-engineer cliché on the grandest of scales: “I’ve got a great idea, all I need is an engineer to build it for me!” Alas, the engineer, if she’s smart, has her own ideas.

The publishers that successfully shift their internal cultures to be technology-driven, rather than editorial-driven, will more quickly adopt methods and practices that favor the transition from publishing to software. These companies will, in turn, attract better talent. And the virtuous cycle will accelerate.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

The author of this piece doesn’t use the term, but he is talking about disruptive change in the publishing world.

One of the common responses to disruptive challenges is “Let’s disrupt ourselves!” and change the disruptee into the disruptor. Perhaps the disrupt yourself strategy has worked somewhere, but PG can’t think of an example.

One of the reasons that startups are the most common creators and exploiters of disruptive technology is that a startup has no preexisting corporate culture to slow it down (or defeat it altogether). Disruptive technology doesn’t just disrupt companies, it also disrupts the management within companies. Many of the old kings and queens will lose out under the vastly different new business structure and they invariably manage to submerge the innovative new ideas beneath established corporate fiefdoms and processes.

PG suggests that tradpub corporate culture is the ultimate reason it will find survival in anything resembling its current form almost impossible in an ebook/ecommerce world.

He’s mentioned it before, but since most big US publishers don’t own themselves, but are owned by large international media conglomerates, PG says the corporate culture challenge is even more daunting. You not only have to change the culture of the publisher, you also have to change the culture of the conglomerate managers who are at least one step removed from understanding the disruptive business challenge and the need for change.

A tech startup is expected to lose money, often for a long time. Figuring out how to disrupt an existing business is very difficult work. Mistakes will definitely happen and U-turns will probably be necessary.

Conglomerate bosses become very nervous about any plan that expects to lose money and can’t demonstrate a clear path to a profit. Mistakes and U-turns are anathema.

Trends in Russia’s reading culture

29 June 2015

From Russia Beyond the Headlines:

According to survey carried out by Public Opinion Foundation this year, despite a rise the popularity of their electronic counterparts, most Russian readers still prefer printed books: 49 percent, as opposed to only 9 percent. However, this is only based on individuals who read at least once a month, and perhaps a more telling statistic is that 37 percent of those surveyed said that they do not read books at all.

29-year-old Anna Yudina loves to read and always buys books, even though she lacks the space to store them in her apartment. “I really love going to bookstores or just rummaging through bookstands on the streets,” she says. “I guess it’s the best way to relax. I then have to take them to my grandmother’s because my rented apartment is too small to keep them.” She explains that despite her passion for printed books, she is being forced to download more and more electronic books in order to take them on her business trips.

Vadim Mescheryakov, the director of the Mescheryakov Publishing House, explains that the percentage of people who read books has not changed for several generations. “Some of these people buy electronic books, but this does not prevent them from reading printed ones,” says Mescheryakov. According to the publisher, readers today are characterised by their solidarity.

“People who read books exchange opinions and buy after a careful selection process. They have become better connoisseurs of literature. Literary tastes are formed in childhood and are unrelated to trends. If parents have good taste, they’ll pass it down to their children. Hence, a new generation of readers is formed and the percentage holds steady. It is also interesting that it is usually individuals on average and below average salaries who buy and read books, rather than wealthier members of society.”

. . . .

Mescheryakov believes that people are buying less books now than in the 1990s. “The prices are far higher these days,” he notes. “Russia has never had a particularly large reading public in relation to other countries. You will that find bookstores in Germany or France are far busier than in Russia, for example.”

Mescheryakov feels that bookstores should be supported through subsidies in order to change the situation for the better.

Link to the rest at Russia Beyond the Headlines

A Gronking To Remember Lawsuit Gets Strange While Amazon Argues Liability Would Chill Speech And Art

29 June 2015

From Techdirt:

Somewhat surprisingly to me, the tale of the now infamous eBook, “A Gronking To Remember” continues to develop. Yes, this whole thing started when a book purportedly written by a woman named Lacey Noonan, which details one housewife’s sexual liberation at the sight of Patriots tight-end (heh) spiking a football, was taken down off of Amazon. The speculation at the time was that the cover of the book was the cause of the takedown, with the NFL being the likely complainer, as the cover features Gronkowski in full uniform.

. . . .

We learned later that the NFL wasn’t actually the reason for the takedown. Instead, it was the photo of that couple embracing had apparently been appropriated from the wider interwebz without permission by the author or whoever designed the cover. That couple, choosing to remain anonymous, was suing not only the author but Amazon and Apple as well for selling the work on their respective platforms. So, what have we learned since?

Well, to start with, Lacey Noonan is a dude. Greg McKenna to be specific. Which, whatever, there’s no reason a guy can’t write sex-fics about a housewife wanting to nail a football player, but it was a surprise. We’ve also learned that the New England Patriots did indeed complain to Amazon about the appearance of the team’s uniform on the cover, but it turns out Noonan/McKenna removed The Gronk from the cover and republished the book again, with the image of the anonymous couple still in place, we assume. We’ve also learned that Amazon has an automated system that checks the works authors seek to publish for pure plagiarism or insanely offensive material.

Link to the rest at Techdirt

The World’s 57 Largest Book Publishers

29 June 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

The growing complexity of international book publishing is reflected in this year’s ranking of the world’s largest publishers. While Pearson once again maintained its top spot as the world’s biggest publisher, currency fluctuations, consolidations, the digital transition, and the emergence of China all played a part in altering the makeup of the companies that hit the Livres Hebdo/Publishers Weekly annual global ranking.

Two Chinese publishers made the top 10 list for 2014; it’s possible they would have hit the list earlier if information had been available. Phoenix Publishing and Media Company is the sixth largest publisher on the ranking this year, with sales of $2.84 billion, an increase of 16% over 2013, while China South Publishing & Media Group is in the seventh spot with revenue of $2.58 billion, an increase of 31%. In all, four Chinese publishers qualified for the ranking in 2014, by virtue of meeting the requirement of having $200 million in sales as well being willing and able to document their figures.

The greater financial transparency by China’s publishing giants is in keeping with their goal of becoming a much more important factor in the international publishing scene.

. . . .

While Phoenix Publishing and China South shook up the top 10 ranking for 2014, the top four publishers are all familiar names (although Reed Elsevier has rebranded itself as Relx Group) and specialize in the education and professional markets. The ability of professional and educational publishers to remain so large is due to a combination of acquisitions and their expansion of the digital delivery of information, the revenue of which is included in compiling the ranking. Revenue from the top 10 publishers combined accounted for 54% of all revenue generated by the 57 companies on the list, up from 53% in 2013.

Penguin Random House remained the world’s largest trade publisher last year. Sales rose 25% over 2013, to more than $4 billion, due primarily to the Penguin merger (completed July 1, 2013) and the purchase of Santillana Ediciones Generales (completed July 1, 2014). (The 2013 results do not include sales for Penguin for the first six months of that year.)

. . . .

Rank 2015 Rank 2014 Publishing Group or Division Parent Company Parent Country 2014 Revenue in $M 2013 Revenue in $M
1 1 Pearson Pearson PLC UK $7,072 $7,801
2 3 ThomsonReuters The Woodbridge Company Ltd. Canada $5,760 $5,576
3 2 RELX Group Reed Elsevier PLC & Reed Elsevier NV UK/NL/US $5,362 $6,093
4 4 Wolters Kluwer Wolters Kluwer NL $4,455 $4,920
5 5 Penguin Random House Bertelsmann AG Germany $4,046 $3,664*
6 NEW Phoenix Publishing and Media Company Phoenix Publishing and Media Company China $2,840 $2,781
7 NEW China South Publishing & Media Group Co., Ltd China South Publishing & Media Group Co., Ltd China $2,579 $2,237
8 6 Hachette Livre Lagardere France $2,439 $2,851
9 10 McGraw-Hill Education Apollo Global Management LLC US $2,190 (Est.) $1,992
10 7 Holtzbrinck Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck Germany $2,000 $2,222

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Eric for the tip.

For those who are not into revenue numbers, Apple had revenue of over $182 billion in 2014 and Amazon’s revenue was $89 billion.

Desert Solitaire: An Uncommonly Beautiful Love Letter to Solitude and the Spiritual Rewards of Getting Lost

28 June 2015

From Brain Pickings:

“As the desert offers no tangible riches, as there is nothing to see or hear in the desert,” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in his exquisite memoir of what the Sahara Desert taught him about the meaning of life, “one is compelled to acknowledge, since the inner life, far from falling asleep, is fortified, that man is first animated by invisible solicitations.” No one captures this invisible animation of inner life more bewitchingly than Edward Abbey in Desert Solitaire — a miraculously beautiful book, originally published in 1968.

. . . .

In the late 1950s, Abbey took a job as a seasonal park ranger at Arches National Monument in Utah’s Moab desert. “Why I went there no longer matters; what I found there is the subject of this book,” he writes. Between April and September, between the canyons and the pages of his journal, he found a great many of the things we spend our lives looking for — a Thoreau of the desert, mapping the maze of the interior landscape as he wanders the expanse of the exterior.

. . . .

Abbey writes:

The time passed extremely slowly, as time should pass, with the days lingering and long, spacious and free as the summers of childhood. There was time enough for once to do nothing, or next to nothing, and most of the substance of this book is drawn, sometimes direct and unchanged, from the pages of the journals I kept and filled through the undivided, seamless days of those marvelous summers. The remainder of the book consists of digressions and excursions into ideas and places that border in varied ways upon that central season in the canyonlands…

Abbey’s digressions, to be sure, are oases of meaning — he writes about the ideas that animate his spirit with unsentimental sincerity and deep respect for the aliveness of language itself:

In recording my impressions of the natural scene I have striven above all for accuracy, since I believe that there is a kind of poetry, even a kind of truth, in simple fact… Language makes a mighty loose net with which to go fishing for simple facts, when facts are infinite… Since you cannot get the desert into a book any more than a fisherman can haul up the sea with his nets, I have tried to cecate a world of words in which the desert figures more as medium than as material.

He begins with what is possibly the most charming, disarming disclaimer in all of literature:

I quite agree that much of the book will seem coarse, rude, bad-tempered, violently prejudiced, unconstructive — even frankly antisocial in its point of view. Serious critics, serious librarians, serious associate professors of English will if they read this work dislike it intensely;. at least I hope so. To others I can only say that if the book has virtues they cannot be disentangled from the faults; that there is a way of being wrong which is also sometimes necessarily right.

Link to the rest at Brain Pickings

Here’s a link to Desert Solitaire

And here are a couple of photos that PG took a few years ago at Arches, formerly a National Monument, now a National Park.

End of Park Avenue
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The Courthouse
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And here’s a photo of the Delicate Arch, photo courtesy of The National Park Service:
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Lastly, she pictured to herself

28 June 2015

Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.

Last line from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The Long Goodbye

28 June 2015

For those who like Raymond Chandler, Brendan says:

The Long Goodbye is Audible’s deal of the day, today-Sunday June 28th.

Here’s a link to the audiobook of The Long Goodbye

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