Non-Fiction

Prior rejects ‘out of date’ industry image

3 July 2015

From The Bookseller:

Tackling an outdated image of publishing as a closed world unreceptive to the digital future is a key challenge Joanna Prior has set herself as president of the Publishers Association for the coming year.

In an interview in this week’s issue of The Bookseller, the Penguin General m.d. has said that publishing has “so many good stories to tell” but still needs to get home to the wider public, to potential new recruits, and to politicians both in the UK and Brussels, that it is has moved on completely from its old-fashioned image.

Particularly crucial is to combat “this dichotomy that perhaps exists in people’s minds between traditional publishing and digital technology – as though one is opposed to the other. One of the truly impressive things about our industry is how we have responded to the changes in technology and the new ways that readers are accessing entertainment.”

. . . .

“We’re not a closed world that is difficult to get into, we’re open to innovation, to doing things in new ways.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks”  Hamlet, Act III, Scene II

The crisis in non-fiction publishing

27 June 2015

From The Guardian:

Amid the ambient wails of doom about the publishing industry, I’d like to enter a note of encouragement. The mainstream may be getting dumber by the day, but we are living in what looks like a golden age of publishing for, of all people, the university presses.

At the moment, I don’t think there’s a trade publishing house producing high-calibre, serious non-fiction of the quality and variety of Yale University Press; and snapping at its heels are Harvard, Oxford, Princeton, Cambridge and Chicago. As the literary editor of a middlebrow news magazine I’m finding ever more of the reviews I commission are from such presses.

Where 15 or 20 years ago the big trade publishers were, oddly, swamping the market with sort-of-scholarly micro-histories of salt or longitude, they now seem, with exceptions of course, to be tiptoeing away from specific, knotty, deeply researched and nuanced books about things. The sorts of book on which they tend now to rely are investigations of “big ideas”. Their lodestars or exemplars are the Malcolm Gladwells and Daniel Kahnemans and Nicholas Carrs. I do not mean to denigrate those individual authors, rather to say that they produce a particular type of work.

These are talking-point books. They are easily imitated; their headline conclusions tend towards the categorical, and can be summed up in a dinner party one-liner or a 900-word newspaper op-ed; they lean on a vogueish but vague pop-theoretical or neuroscientific framework. They often have in their titles, or imply, a big question answered; or they have a flavour of self-help or how-to. They like to offer us things in the forms of lists. And – did I say this before? – they are easily imitated. Because imitated they are. From William Carlos Williams’ notion of “no ideas but in things”, we’re moving towards “no things but in ideas”.

The imitation books are, unsurprisingly, not as good as the originals. Their argument often seems appropriate to a compelling 10,000-word magazine article, but has been expanded to fill a full-length study. We have a flock of books arguing that the internet is either the answer to all our problems or the cause of them; we have scads of books telling us about the importance of mindfulness, or forgetfulness, or distraction, or stress. We have any number about what one recent press release called the “always topical” debate between science and religion. We have a whole subcategory that concern themselves with “what it means to be human”.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Will Book Publishers Ever Start Fact-checking? They’re Already Starting.

25 June 2015

From Slate:

Another spring book season has come to pass, and with it another set of factual mini-scandals. Earlier this month, the New York Post found major inaccuracies in Primates of Park Avenue, Wednesday Martin’s “study” of Upper East Siders and their wife bonuses, prompting Simon & Schuster to slap a quick disclaimer onto its best-seller. A Salon.com writer found that a key statistic in David Brooks’s The Road to Character was badly mangled and wrongly sourced. (Random House will correct it in future editions.) And last week, New York’s Jesse Singal fact-checked On the Run, Alice Goffman’s immersive, quasi-academic account of Philadelphia lawbreakers, which has come under fire for its shakiness on details.

None of these flubs belongs in the pantheon of hardcover frauds and fabricators whose names must by law be dropped in a piece like this: James Frey, Jonah Lehrer, pretend–Native American gang member Margaret Seltzer. Nor have they prompted five-alarm hand-wringing over the utterly shocking revelation that books aren’t fact-checked. Thanks to Oprah, we all know that now. Or do we? In fact, the practice of checking books is fairly common, though it’s also expensive. This fall, for the first time, one publisher is even promising to pay for it. Which is a pretty radical departure. Until now, authors have not just cut the check but decided whether to hire a checker, found one themselves, and directed the process. That’s probably not the most effective system, since it means that the most cautious writers are the ones likeliest to end up with fact-checker support, while the writers who need it most are the least likely to get it. That includes, almost definitely, the next big fraud that comes slithering in.

By tradition and by default, books aren’t verified to anything near the standard of a magazine piece. Publishers don’t even consider verification their business. (Nor do newspapers or most websites, which don’t have the time for it; magazines are actually the anomaly here.) Every nonfiction book contract contains a standard author’s warranty: that every fact is true, and that its accuracy is the writer’s sole responsibility. Thus indemnified, the editor focuses on style and narrative, while a copy editor checks basic dates and names. Outside experts are occasionally consulted (but rarely paid) just to ensure that, say, some counternarrative of Napoleon’s death isn’t completely wacko. The publisher’s lawyer will review it, but only to flag libel, copyright infringement, and the like. If a writer wants to hire a fact-checker, she’s on her own. The house won’t supply one, help find or pay for one, or even build a fact deadline into the publication schedule. Any checker is effectively an employee of the writer, working on the side, and any writer who’s taken the trouble to hire him already has more than the average level of integrity and research funding. The rich get richer; the poor and the duplicitous just get printed.

. . . .

“The publisher functions more like an executive producer on a movie,” says the nonfiction author Susan Orlean. A New Yorker writer steeped in its culture of obsessive fact-checking, Orlean has had the converse publishing experience to Shane’s. “I remember being absolutely flabbergasted when I turned in my first book and they said, ‘Terrific, we’ve already typeset it.’ I said, ‘Are you kidding? What about the tortured process of fact-checking that comes next?’”

Orlean soon realized it was up to her; she hired an expert to cover the finer points of botany in The Orchid Thief. No editor ever talked to her about checking. “Publishers assume that writers do their own fact-checking,” says Orlean, “but that’s a little bit like having an internal-investigation department that’s run by the people being investigated.”

. . . .

Writers who want to be investigated—and can afford it—tend to opt for either a young research assistant (as David Brooks did) or one of a small but growing band of elite checkers. The latter group, mostly connected to The New Yorker or The New York Times Magazine, will usually offer a menu of services—anything from trumped-up copy-edits to a rereporting Cadillac plan. They charge authors and magazines between $50 and $70 an hour, but usually agree on a flat fee for books. Most fall between $5,000 and $25,000.

. . . .

“It’s called self-selection,” says David Rosenthal, the publisher of Blue Rider Press (another Penguin Random House imprint). He thinks in-house fact-checking on a large scale would be “logistically impossible.” When it comes to outright frauds or extremely fast-and-loose memoirists, he believes “common sense is the best answer. There needs to be more diligence, and whether it’s on the part of the editor, the publisher, the author, the agent—that can be discussed. Whether you need to formalize it as a fact-checking thing, I’m skeptical about that.”

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

Even this art project to print Wikipedia can’t actually print all of Wikipedia

20 June 2015

From The Verge:

Some people might call it a waste of time, others, “a poetic gesture toward the futility of the scale of big data.” Either way, it’s clear that printing out Wikipedia is hard. The latest person to attempt this feat is Michael Mandiberg, an interdisciplinary artist whose exhibition on the subject — titled From Aaaaa! to ZZZap! — opens at New York’s Denny Gallery this week.

The exhibition doesn’t actually feature a complete, printed copy of Wikipedia. Instead, according to the gallery’s description of the work, it “draws attention to the sheer size of the encyclopedia’s content and the impossibility of rendering Wikipedia as a material object in fixed form.” Mandiberg’s approach has been to code software that renders the online encyclopedia into book-sized chunks, and then upload these to self-publishing platform Lulu.com. Fans will then be able to order individual volumes for $80 a pop. This sounds relatively reasonable, but it does mean that buying the entire set — estimated by Mandiberg to eventually cover some 7,600 books — will cost $500,000.

Link to the rest at The Verge and thanks to Jan for the tip.

Alice Goffman’s Heralded Book on Crime Is Disputed

6 June 2015

From The New York Times:

Since her book “On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City” was published last year, Alice Goffman has achieved a measure of fame that is rarely visited on a young sociologist.

“On the Run” won attention because of its timely subject matter — the lives of low-income black men and their interactions with the police — and vivid storytelling, based on six years of immersive fieldwork. It was the subject of dozens of articles and often-glowing reviews in publications including The New Yorker and The New York Times. An impassioned TED talk Ms. Goffman delivered in March has been viewed more than 800,000 times.

But all that enthusiasm has curdled somewhat, as critics, in published reviews and anonymous online critiques, have debated not just her facts, interpretations and methods, but the fraught politics of privileged white outsiders’ studying minority communities.

Now, Steven Lubet, a law professor at Northwestern University, has added a jolt to the already charged conversation with a blunt question: In her book, did Ms. Goffman not only describe street crime but also admit to having committed a felony herself?

Mr. Lubet’s charge, made in an article in the online book review The New Rambler and reposted in condensed form by The New Republic, concerns an anecdote that appears at the end of a long appendix in which Ms. Goffman describes how she spent six years observing and sometimes living among a group of young men in a Philadelphia neighborhood she calls Sixth Street.

In that anecdote, Ms. Goffman describes driving the car when a young man named Mike went looking for the man who had recently killed their close friend Chuck. In Ms. Goffman’s account, Mike, with a gun tucked into his pants, gets out of the car to approach someone. The man turns out not to be the killer, and no shots are fired, but Ms. Goffman describes being deeply shaken by the recognition of what she calls “my desire for vengeance.”

No matter that nothing happened, Mr. Lubet writes. According to legal experts he consulted, Ms. Goffman’s actions, as described in the book, “constituted conspiracy to commit murder under Pennsylvania law.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Jenny and several others for the tip.

Does the Octopus Have a Soul?

26 May 2015

From The Daily Beast:

What has eight legs and just might have a soul?

The answer, surprisingly, is an octopus.

These leggy cephalopods, long a prominent player in human fear of the ocean depths, are the subject of a touching yet informative new book by Sy Montgomery, The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness.

In her attempts to understand the octopus, a creature that for a variety of reasons has caught her eye, Montgomery, author of The Good Good Pig, befriends the men and women of the New England Aquarium, and while there she develops what can only be called a relationship with its various octopus inhabitants. The book is sort of three in one. It is in part an attempt to grapple with animal consciousness as it relates to the octopus. It is part grab-bag of interesting factoids about this incredible species. And it is also a memoir, as Montgomery is very much a part of the story—it follows her relations with fellow enthusiasts, her struggles with scuba diving, and her own emotional connection to the creatures.

“The commonest of sea creatures are miracles,” writes Montgomery, and the octopus is a prime example.

Link to the rest at The Daily Beast and thanks to Julia for the tip.

Thinking Different(ly) About University Presses

7 May 2015

From Inside Higher Ed:

Lynn University, to further its tablet-centric curriculum, is establishing its own university press to support textbooks created exclusively for Apple products.

Lynn University Digital Press, which operates out of the institution’s library, in some ways formalizes the authoring process between faculty members, instructional designers, librarians and the general counsel that’s been taking place at the private university in Florida for years. With the university press in place, the effort to create electronic textbooks now has an academic editor, style guides and faculty training programs in place to improve the publishing workflow.

“We’ve felt we really needed infrastructure around our faculty so they could concentrate on the right content and not necessarily on being experts in being an author or editing or rights and permissions,” said Christian G. Boniforti, the university’s chief information officer. He compared Lynn’s decision to create its own university press to the larger push to promote technology in the classroom generally, which he said can sometimes “get in the way of the faculty teaching.” With the electronic textbook initiative, he said, “we found ourselves in that same situation.”

. . . .

Unlike many university presses, which are exploring new business models and products to sustain their scholarly publishing efforts, the Lynn Digital Press does not yet have to worry about financial viability. Its immediate goal, which precedes any expansion plans, is to help faculty members create textbooks to cover the university’s core curriculum, known as the Dialogues.

. . . .

Faculty members receive both a new laptop (the textbook authoring software, iBooks Author, runs only on Macs) and a $2,000 stipend when they volunteer to create a textbook. The first two faculty members are planning to make their books available for purchase through iTunes, which will result in a 30-20-50 revenue split between Apple, Lynn and the author, Ross said.

Link to the rest at Inside Higher Ed and thanks to Victoria for the tip.

Mazeppa

12 April 2015

From The Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day:

Mazeppa, n.

. . . .

Etymology: < the name of Ivan Stepanovyč Mazepa (1644–1709), Ukrainian Cossack leader, popularized in English in the form Mazeppa by Byron’s poem of that name (1819).
In Byron’s version of the story, based on a passage in Voltaire’s Histoire de Charles XII (1731), Mazeppa is discovered to have been having an affair with the wife of a Polish nobleman, and is punished by being tied naked to a wild horse, which is lashed into madness and then let loose.

. . . .

A person likened in some way to Mazeppa, esp. in being the unwilling rider of a wild horse.

. . . .

1851 H. Melville Moby-Dick lx. 314 Only by a certain self-adjusting buoyancy..can you escape being made a Mazeppa of, and run away with.

Link to the rest at Oxford English Dictionary

Five Years of Grit and Determination: Self-Publishing a Pop-Up Book

8 April 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

Many indie authors encounter a steep learning curve when writing and self-publishing their first book—and that’s just for novels or memoirs. Denise Price encountered even more obstacles when she set out to write, design, and self-publish her pop-uo book,The Freedom Trail Pop Up Book of Boston.

But after five years and a successful campaign on Kickstarter that netted $52,500, Price’s book was released on on April 1 and is already the top new release in “Boston Massachusetts Travel Books” on Amazon.

Before she could even begin the project, Price had to figure out how pop-up books are made. Next came mastering paper engineering and learning to create digital art. Price then had to find out where pop-ups are printed. She located a handful of companies that can produce 5,000 copies of a pop-up book: two in China and one in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. Price also had to obtain permissions from the Freedom Trail Foundation, which promotes the 16 historic sites covered in the book.

. . . .

Determined to go ahead with The Freedom Trail Pop Up Book of Boston, Price spent days taking apart damaged pop ups that she bought online to figure out how to transform a two-dimensional book. She took a few classes as well, one with British pop-up artist Paul Johnson at North Bennet Street School in Boston and a two-day pop-up intensive with Stephanie Mahan Stigliano at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She also watched Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of Spongebob SquarePants on YouTube to learn how to draw and bought drawing software and a tablet.

Then Price put her training to use and made a dummy of the book—it took roughly 12 hours per page to cut, score, and fold by hand—and submitted it to traditional publishers. However, she was told the book was too local and wouldn’t interest readers outside Boston.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Here’s a link to Freedom Trail Pop Up Book of Boston

gammock

24 March 2015
Comments Off on gammock

From The Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day:

gammock, n.2

. . . .

A piece of fun; a game, a jest; a frolic

. . . .

1904 C. M. Gaskell Old Shropshire Life 258 She has dared to come here… I tell thee I’ll have naught to do with witches and their devil gammocks.

Link to the rest at Oxford English Dictionary

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