Monthly Archives: May 2017

What We Remember on Memorial Day

29 May 2017

For visitors from outside the United States, the US celebrates today as Memorial Day.

From historian Victor Davis Hanson via The Wall Street Journal:

A few years ago I was honored to serve briefly on the American Battle Monuments Commission, whose chief duty is the custodianship of American military cemeteries abroad. Over 125,000 American dead now rest in these serene parks, some 26 in 16 countries. Another 94,000 of the missing are commemorated by name only. The graves (mostly fatalities of World Wars I and II) are as perfectly maintained all over the world, from Tunisia to the Philippines, as those of the war dead who rest in the well-manicured acres of the U.S. military cemetery in Arlington, Va.

A world away from the white marble statuary, crosses, Stars of David, noble inscriptions and manicured greenery of these cemeteries is the stark 246-foot wall of polished igneous rock of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the mall in Washington. On its black surfaces are etched 58,307 names of American dead in Vietnam. They are listed in the chronological order of their deaths. The melancholy wall, birthed in bitter controversy at its inception in 1982, emphasizes tragedy more than American confidence in its transcendent values—as if to warn the nation that the agenda of Vietnam was not quite that of 1917 and 1941.

The Vietnam War may have reopened with special starkness the question of how to honor our fallen dead, but it is hardly a new problem in our history. As today’s disputes over the legacy of the Civil War and the Confederacy suggest, it has never been enough just to lament the sacrifice and carnage of our wars, whether successful or failed. We feel the need to honor the war dead but also to make distinctions among them, elevating those who served noble causes while passing judgment on their foes. This is not an exclusively American impulse. It has deep roots in the larger Western tradition of commemoration, and no era—certainly not our own—has managed to escape its complexities and paradoxes.

Our own idea of Memorial Day originated as “Decoration Day,” the post-Civil War tradition, in both the North and the South, of decorating the graves of the war dead. That rite grew out of the shock and trauma of the Civil War. In the conflict’s first major battle at Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862) there were likely more American casualties (about 24,000 dead, wounded and missing on both sides) than in all the nation’s prior wars combined since its founding.

The shared ordeal of the Civil War, with some 650,000 fatalities, would eventually demand a unified national day of remembrance. Memorial Day began as an effort to square the circle in honoring America’s dead—without privileging the victors or their cause. The approach of the summer holidays seemed the most appropriate moment to heal our civic wounds. The timing suggested renewal and continuity, whereas an autumn or winter date might add unduly to the grim lamentation of the day.

. . . .

The Western tradition of commemoration also includes a unique idea of individual moral exemption. As first articulated by Pericles, we overlook any defects of character of the war dead, attributing to one brief moment of ultimate sacrifice the power to wash away all prior moral faults.

A noble death serves, in the words of Pericles, as “a cloak to cover a man’s other imperfections; since the good action has blotted out the bad, and his merit as a citizen more than outweighed his demerits as an individual.” The great playwright Aeschylus wanted his epitaph to read only that he was a veteran of the Athenian victory at Marathon—a battle where his brother fell.

These themes still resonate in our own habits and rites. This Memorial Day the flags on graves in American cemeteries set the dead apart, in a special moral category that discourages any discussion of the bothersome details of their short lives.

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

Following is a photograph PG took several years ago at an American military cemetery in the achingly beautiful Tuscan countryside outside of Florence, Italy. American dead from the Italian Campaign during World War II are buried there. Click on the photo for a larger version.

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Anthem for Doomed Youth and The Last Laugh by Wilfred Owen

29 May 2017

Because there’s no one better than Sean Bean for performing World War I poetry of stark disillusionment:

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Exactly how I self-published my book, sold 180,000 copies, and nearly doubled my revenue

28 May 2017

From Growth Lab:

The Coaching Habit was published on February 29, 2016. (Leap Day! Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?)

In the year since, it’s sold nearly 200,000 copies, including 8,000 ebooks in one week in May. It made the Wall Street Journal bestseller list “organically” (which is to say, accidentally). It received more than 500 reviews on Amazon, 450 of which are five-star. And it’s been the number one book in the business/coaching category for about 95 percent of the year.

. . . .

So perhaps you’re considering writing a book yourself, or you’ve gone as far as to have a first draft in a digital drawer somewhere. We’ve all seen our marketing heroes grow a base of fans, then customers, then empires through “content marketing.” And the big kahuna in content marketing is the book. This is how you officially rise to “Thought Leader” status, it’s how you differentiate yourself from your competitors, you drive revenue, you launch your speaking career, you start hanging out with other cool authors. Easy enough, right?

As with most things involving your business, it’s a bit more complicated than it seems. Writing a book is a long, lonely, and oftentimes unsuccessful endeavor. My “instant success” was anything but. The Coaching Habit was the result of four years of floundering, rejection, and toil. So you don’t make my mistakes, allow me to share everything I used to vault my book from idea to bestseller (with a table of contents to skip to what you’d like to know).

. . . .

Part I: The New York publisher, the big-name agent, and misery

In 2010, I fell into a book deal with a fancy New York publisher. It happened remarkably quickly. I was planning to self-publish my second book and had printed a small run to send out to my friends for their feedback, a final step before I hit the “All In” button and printed several thousand. One of those friends, Nick, sent his copy on to his publisher who got excited and called me. I got excited, and told them they had 48 hours to make an offer, given the impending big print run. They got flustered but made an offer. And in less than a week, we had a deal.

Woo-hoo! (Note: As I’ve subsequently discovered, this is not at all how it normally works.)

Do More Great Work was launched, and it’s done well. In five years, it’s sold about 90,000 copies, and people who like it love it. I had my first experience with a publisher, and it was mostly good. There were the usual disappointments about design compromises (a little gap), and about what they thought of as marketing (a much bigger gap).

Courtesy, as well as my contract, obliged me to offer my next book to this publisher. And this time, rather than “Accidentally Do It Myself” like last time, I thought it was time to get an agent. Because that’s what “Real Authors” have. After talking to a few, I found someone who I considered smart and strategic, and who had an impressive roster of business authors. I signed up… and quickly entered a special kind of purgatory.

The next three years were spent in back-and-forth between me, the agent, and my publisher, and I failed to make any progress. I wrote proposals. The agent turned them down. I wrote more proposals. The agent and the publisher turned them down. I wrote entire books. My editor told me they “loved them” but didn’t “love them.”

So I tried to write the book that I thought they’d think they might love, if they knew what that book was, which they didn’t. Another miserable fail. And I wrote at least one other full-length version of the book somewhere in there as well, also rejected. It was a colossal waste of time that I could have spent growing and improving my business. I had lost my way. It crossed my mind more than once that I should be spending my time on something, anything, more productive. You know, marketing, sales, that sort of thing.

. . . .

Part III: Invest more upfront (and keep more money)

. . . .

Just so you know how the money works, for my first book Do More Great Work, which was published only as a paperback, I was paid an advance of $15,000 (which I was THRILLED about) and a royalty rate of eight percent for full-price books (this does not include those sold at a bulk discount rate).

The book sells for between $10 and $15, depending on how Amazon is feeling, which means I earn about $1 per sale, plus-or-minus 20¢. In the six years since it was originally published, it’s sold about 90,000 copies, meaning I’ve easily earned out my advance, and I get checks once or twice a year from the publisher (checks that get smaller each time).

For The Coaching Habit, I had to invest a bunch of money upfront (more about that above) and had to spend a bunch of money on the launch and ongoing marketing (more about that below). However, the economics of this book, if I can sell it, are much better. It costs me between $1.50 and $2.00 a copy to print it. It costs me money for shipping and storage. Our distributors pay us 60 percent of the sale price. The book sells for between $11 and $15, so that means I earn between about $4 and $6 for each print copy sold. The Kindle version sells for $5, and we get 70 percent of that from Amazon, so about $3.50 per copy sold. That’s anywhere between 300 and 500 percent more than I’d get with a traditional publisher!

Link to the rest at Growth Lab

Here’s a link to Michael Bungay Stanier’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

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There was a time

28 May 2017

There was a time when self-promotion was considered so verboten, especially for authors.

Jess Walter

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How Not to Start Your Novel: 6 First Page No-Nos

28 May 2017

From author Anne R. Allen:

There are as many ways to start your novel as there are writers, so be aware that these are not hard and fast rules. But newbies tend to fall into certain patterns when beginning a work of fiction. Those patterns can be less than enticing to the modern reader, who expects a story to start on page one.

. . . .

1) Faux Starts

These can include:

a) “It was all a dream”

The princess fights the dragon in a fierce blood-and-guts battle and, just as the beast moves in for the kill…a 12 year old girl wakes up in her Disney princess bedroom and we find out it was all a dream.

She then goes downstairs for breakfast and has a mundane conversation with Mom and Dad about school.

You’ve left your readers feeling cheated and they’re not going to want to go on.

b) The genealogy moment

The mage casts a deadly spell on the evil tyrant who has held the land in perpetual winter for 1000 years, and just as he is about to speak the final word, a wraith wafts through the castle walls and offs the mage in a shower of ice crystals.

In chapter two, the great, great granddaughter of the mage wakes up in her Disney princess bedroom.

Again, you’ve set up the reader to expect one kind of story and given them another.

c) Dead man walking

As you start your novel, the pitiful homeless man clutches his meager possessions stuffed into the Disney princess pillowcase that is all he has left of his children and former middle-class life. We learn all about his tragic existence as a shadowy figure stalks him.

Cut to the police detective serving breakfast to her squabbling kids when she gets the call about the dead homeless guy with the pillowcase.

This is a classic opener for TV cop shows, but it doesn’t work to start a novel, because readers will identify with the first character they meet in a book, and if you kill off that character immediately, readers will feel betrayed.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen

Here’s a link to Anne R. Allen’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

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Facebook Targeted Advertising – younger users during moments of psychological vulnerability

28 May 2017

From Wired:

Data mining is such a prosaic part of our online lives that it’s hard to sustain consumer interest in it, much less outrage. The modern condition means constantly clicking against our better judgement. We go to bed anxious about the surveillance apparatus lurking just beneath our social media feeds, then wake up to mindlessly scroll, Like, Heart, Wow, and Fave another day.

But earlier this month, The Australian uncovered something that felt like a breach in the social contract: a leaked confidential document prepared by Facebook that revealed the company had offered advertisers the opportunity to target 6.4 million younger users, some only 14 years old, during moments of psychological vulnerability, such as when they felt “worthless,” “insecure,” “stressed,” “defeated,” “anxious,” and like a “failure.”

The 23-page document had been prepared for a potential advertiser and highlighted Facebook’s ability to micro-target ads down to “moments when young people need a confidence boost.” According to The Australian’s report, Facebook had been monitoring posts, photos, interactions, and internet activity in real time to track these emotional lows. (Facebook confirmed the existence of the report, but declined to respond to questions from WIRED about which types of posts were used to discern emotion.)

The day the story broke, Facebook quickly issued a public statement arguing that the premise of the article was “misleading” because “Facebook does not offer tools to target people based on their emotional state.” The social network also promised that the research on younger users “was never used to target ads.” The analysis on minors did not follow Facebook’s research review protocols, the company wrote, so Facebook would be “reviewing the details to correct the oversight,” implying that the analysis had not been sanctioned by headquarters in Menlo Park.

Link to the rest at Wired

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5 types of rest every creative should adopt

28 May 2017

From TNW:

There’s a pervasive idea out there that life and creativity are a zero-sum game. Indulge one, destroy the other. Or, as designer Stefan Sagmeister once wrote in a mural of coins across a plaza in Amsterdam: “Obsessions make my life worse and my work better.” But as anyone who has ever experienced it knows, there comes a point when obsession makes your work worse too. Burnout can be creatively lethal.

. . . .

“I waste a lot of time,” poet John Ashbery wrote. “That’s part of [the creative process]… The problem is you can’t really use this wasted time. You have to have it wasted.” Gertrude Stein agreed: “It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much, doing nothing, really doing nothing.”

. . . .

Stress is the enemy of creativity. Our best work often comes from a state of nonchalance, when our minds are calm. “Qualities such as focus, calmness, clarity, and insight are as important to your creative process as glamour and stimulation,” wrote Mark McGuinness in a post on the site 99U. But a calm mind doesn’t happen by accident. It’s something you have to practice. How? Meditation. Of all the forms of creative rest, meditation is the most immediately beneficial. And the benefits only increase the more you do it. There are plenty of sites that offer meditation techniques, but the basics are incredibly simple: put yourself in time-out for 10 minutes. Think about your breathing. Let thoughts pass through your mind but don’t acknowledge them. Soon they will stop coming at all, and you will feel your mind clear. Think of it like restarting a computer.

Link to the rest at TNW

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Fifty Top Literacy Statistics

27 May 2017

From the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy:

1. The greatest amount of brain growth occurs between birth and age five. In fact, by age 3, roughly 85% of the brain’s core structure is formed. In contrast, the majority of our investments are made in the traditional education years of K-12, which begin at age five.“Lifetime Effects: The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through age 40.” Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, 2005.

2. Cognitive processes develop rapidly in the first few years of life. At birth your baby’s brain is only 25 percent of its adult size. By age three your child’s brain will be 80 percent of its adult size. www.zerotothree.org/child-development/healthy-minds.html

3. The developing brain triples in the first year alone and is virtually fully formed by the time a child enters kindergarten. Eliot, L. (1999). What’s Going on in There? : How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life. Bantam Books.

4. Given the course of brain development, it is not surprising that young children who are exposed to certain early language and literacy experiences usually prove to be good readers later. Just as a child develops language skills long before being able to speak, the child also develops literacy skills long before being able to read. National Research Council. (1998). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

5. The average child from a professional family hears 215,000 words per week; a child from a working class family hears 125,000 words per week; and a child from a family receiving welfare benefits hears 62,000 words per week. Hart, B. & Risley, T.R. (1995). Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.

6. Researchers found that when mother frequently spoke to their infants, their children learned almost 300 more words by age 2 than did their peers whose mothers rarely spoke to them. Huttenlocher et al., 1991. Early vocabulary growth: Relation to language input and gender. Developmental Psychology, 27, 236-248.

7. The most important aspect of parent talk is its amount. Parents who just talk as they go about their daily activities expose their children to 1000-2000 words every hour. Hart and Risley (1999) The social world of children learning to talk.

8. In the first three years, infants and toddlers begin acquiring the first of thousands of words they will use throughout their lives. Simultaneously, children are learning the rules of grammar as well as absorbing the social conventions that exist around communication in their community. Im, J., Osborn, C., Sánchez, S. and Thorp, E. (in press). Cradling Literacy: Building Teachers’ Skills to Nurture Early Language and Literacy Birth to Five. Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE.

. . . .

16. The single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school. National Commission on Reading, 1985

17. Having books in the home is twice as important as the father’s education level. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 2010

18. The only behavior measure that correlates significantly with reading scores is the number of books in the home. The Literacy Crisis: False Claims, Real Solutions, 1998

19. An analysis of nearly 100,000 U.S. school children found that access to printed materials is the “critical variable affecting reading acquisition.” JMcQuillan, J. (1998). The Literacy Crisis: False Claims, Real Solutions.Heinemann.

20. The most successful way to improve the reading achievement of low-income children is to increase their access to print. Newman, Sanford, et all. “American’s Child Care Crisis: A Crime Prevention Tragedy”; Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, 2000.

21. Creating a steady stream of new, age-appropriate books has been shown to nearly triple interest in reading within months. Harris, Louis. An Assessment of the Impact of First Book’s Northeast Program. January 2003.

22. By the age of 2, children who are read to regularly display greater language comprehension, larger vocabularies, and higher cognitive skills than their peers. Raikes, H., Pan, B.A., Luze, G.J., Tamis-LeMonda, C.S.,Brooks-Gunn, J., Constantine,J., Tarullo, L.B., Raikes, H.A., Rodriguez, E. (2006). “Mother-child book reading in low-income families: Correlates and outcomes during the first three years of life.” Child Development, 77(4).

23. Children who are read to at least three times a week by a family member are almost twice as likely to score in the top 25% in reading compared to children who are read to less than 3 times a week. Denton, Kristen and Gerry West, Children’s Reading and Mathematics Achievement in Kindergarten and First Grade (PDF file), U.S. Department of Education, NCES, Washington, DC, 2002.

24. Children who live in print-rich environments and who are read to during the first years of life are much more likely to learn to read on schedule. Southern Early Childhood Association, “Making Books Part of a Healthy Childhood.”

25. Children with greater access to books and other print materials express more enjoyment of books, reading, and academics. Children’s Access to Print Material and Education Related Outcomes.

26. Children who are “well-read-to” (at least five times a week), when asked to tell a story, used more literary language than unread to children, and they used more sophisticated syntactic forms, longer phrases, and relative clauses. They were also better able to understand the oral and written language of others – an important foundation for the comprehension skills that will develop in the coming years. Wolf, M. (2007). Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. New York: Harper Perennial.

27. Children growing up in homes with at least twenty books get three years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class. Evans, M. D., Kelley, J., Sikora, J., & Treiman, D. J. (2010). Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 28(2), 171-197.

28. Books contain many words that children are unlikely to encounter frequently in spoken language. Children’s books actually contain 50% more rare words than primetime television or even college students’ conversations. The Read-Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease.

29. The nurturing and one-on-one attention from parents during reading aloud encourages children to form a positive association with books and reading later in life. Reach Out and Read, Archives of Disease in Childhood, Reading Aloud to Children: The Evidence, 2008.

. . . .

32. In middle-income neighborhoods the ratio of books per child is 13 to 1, in low-income neighborhoods, the ratio is 1 age-appropriate book for every 300 children.  Neuman, Susan B. and David K. Dickinson, ed. Handbook of Early Literacy Research, Volume 2. New York, NY: 2006, p. 31

Link to the rest at Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy

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But the children knew

27 May 2017

But the children knew, as I m sure you know, that the worst surroundings in the world can be tolerated if the people in them are interesting and kind.

Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning

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Publisher Jason Pinter Goes DIY Route for His New Novel

27 May 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

Inspired by the 2016 presidential election, Jason Pinter, founder and publisher of indie house Polis Books, is returning to his first calling—writing novels. Pinter will publish The Castle, a political thriller, on June 26. In an interesting move, Pinter is self-publishing the title, keeping it entirely separate from the Polis Books list.

“I wrote this book during the insanity of the election campaign,” Pinter told PW, “and I wanted it out right now, not in 18 months, [which is the usual publishing cycle]. I knew I would need to do it myself.”

Pinter and his agent, Scott Miller at Trident Media Group, submitted the book to several publishers, before withdrawing it. Because of the topical subject, Pinter said, “several editors liked the book, but said it needed to be out now. I agreed with them.”

. . . .

Aside from Pinter’s desire to get the novel to market quickly, he also didn’t want to see it overshadow any of the titles he’s working on as a publisher. “I didn’t want my sales reps to have to deal with my book or for my Polis authors to feel shortchanged, or make them think they would have to line up behind me,” Pinter said.

With this in mind, he set up Armina Press—the name was inspired by his daughter, who is due to be born in June—which will act as the book’s publisher. Pinter plans to use IngramSpark, Ingram’s self-publishing platform, to deliver the book in print. The e-book will be sold and distributed through Amazon KDP Select and other retailers.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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