The Thriller That Predicted the Russia Scandal

18 February 2018

From Politico:

David Pepper recently had to block someone on Twitter for the first time in his life, because he was tired of being accused, repeatedly, of hiding his real identity as a Russian spy.

“If I were a Russian spy, would I really release my plot in novel form in advance?” the 46-year-old Cincinnatian asks me, mock-bewildered, on a recent Friday morning. “Then I wouldn’t be a very good spy.”

The online tormentor isn’t just throwing out random espionage allegations for no reason. He’s decided to go after Pepper because his first book—The People’s House, a quick, lively thriller full of labyrinthine scandal and homey Rust Belt touches—reads like a user’s guide to the last two years in U.S. politics.

And Pepper wrote the book before any of it actually happened.

The People’s House centers around a Russian scheme to flip an election and put Republicans in power by depressing votes in the Midwest. Pipeline politics play an unexpectedly outsize role. Sexual harassment and systematic coverups in Congress abound. But it’s no unimaginative rehash. Pepper released the book in the summer of 2016, just as the presidential contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was heating up—and before Russia’s real-life campaign to influence the election had been revealed. In fact, the heart of the story had been written for three years when Russian government sent hackers to infiltrate the Democratic National Committee and sent their trolls to influence the election on social media. The Putin-like oligarch Pepper portrays as pulling the strings of U.S. politics had been fleshed out for two.

Using a self-publishing service, Pepper didn’t expect much of a reception, and he didn’t get one at first, beyond his amused friends and colleagues. But when a Wall Street Journal reviewer that November surprised him by calling The People’s House “a sleeper candidate for political thriller of the year,” that started to change.

. . . .

As he waited for edits on the first book, early in 2016, Pepper got started on a sequel, The Wingman. He finished the bulk of the manuscript by January 2017, as Trump was getting sworn in. Now, one year into Trump’s tenure, his second offering in the otherwise dull world of political thrillers—which comes out on Monday—is an equally complex tale of kompromat influencing a presidential election, even more sexual misconduct, and an Erik Prince-like military contractor with close ties to the administration, this time told through the lens of a rollicking Democratic presidential primary. He wrote it before the now-infamous Steele dossier became public knowledge (and before, Pepper says, he learned about it)and months before revelations about the Blackwater founder’s close ties to the Trump team and its Russian entanglements. If the first parallels were eerie, these ones were, Pepper admits, maybe even spooky.

. . . .

The key to writing a successful political thriller is to come up with a scenario that’s far-fetched enough to stretch the reader’s imagination, but not so insane as to be wholly unbelievable. Two years ago, a successful Russian plot to throw an American election by manipulating the Midwest would almost certainly fall into the latter category. So might the idea of systematic blackmail of a presidential candidate.

Link to the rest at Politico

Editorial Power Means Blowing Up the Machine from the Inside

9 February 2018

From The Literary Hub:

Many of us aren’t surprised by the revelations of sexual misconduct and abuses of power that have recently come to light, and as editors, we have long expected similar reports of sexual discrimination and abuse in the literary world. Literary Hub decided to bring together nine women editors to have a discussion about these issues, focusing specifically on journals and magazines and the way women in positions of leadership have navigated these issues throughout their careers, and how they continue to navigate them.

. . . .

What does editorial “power” mean to you?

Elissa Schappell: Getting to blow up the machine from the inside. Being able to amplify the voices of the writers whose stories aren’t being told and need to be.

 Marisa Siegel: Editorial power means the following to me: 1) The power to shape an editorial mission, and in doing so, to shape a publication’s identity and to use its platform in the ways I believe are most important, and, 2) The power to share writing with readers, and hopefully, to open readers’ minds to new ideas, possibilities, and worlds.

Eliza Borné: It’s the freedom to create the kind of magazine I want to read, and it’s an enormous privilege. Many people have put their trust in me as I occupy the editor’s chair—the magazine’s readers and contributors, my colleagues, our board of directors. As editor, I have a responsibility to maintain their trust.

. . . .

Jennifer Acker:  Marisa’s definition is spot on, and I also want to highlight Eliza’s point about management. Keeping an organization running is a behind-the-scenes business—one that’s a prerequisite to publishing anything. As a founder, I am keenly aware that we need to keep the lights on in order to create literary conversations and launch the careers of writers.

Medaya Ocher: Editorial power is an odd thing to dissect because it is extensive and pervasive in some ways and negligible in others. There are a few people in this world who decide who speaks and when and where, and editors are part of that small minority. Not only that, but editors also have power over how someone speaks. That is a massive privilege to hand to some other person. I wouldn’t even let someone else order for me at a restaurant. It involves trust and a measure of faith that is kind of shocking if you think about it. Of course, part of being a good editor is maintaining and respecting that voice, but still, I’ve got someone’s language in my hands. What a thing to handle. The other way of looking at this kind of power, is the power of making a text or a voice stronger, clearer, helping another person articulate something that they may have trouble saying. Legibility, making one person’s thoughts legible to another, is a significant power in itself.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG suggests that real editorial power looks like this:

A little woodworkin’ an’ bookmakin’…

5 February 2018

From The Tinkers’ Guild:

Not that kind of book making. The publishing kind of bookmaking.

As some of you know and might even care  I’ve taken up producing my own TWB books, as my previous supplier apparently fell asleep at the switch.

… For seven years.

Anyway, I’m slowly refining my technique and workflow on this stuff, and should be ready to launch here very shortly. One of the last little noodly bits I wasn’t happy with was stapling the bodies of the books together.

The stapling goes well enough- I bought some quality Bostitch staplers and Bostitch staples to go in ’em (and scored a crate of some 96,000 staples off eBay, so I’m set for a while) -it’s keeping the stack of loose papers in some kind of alignment ’til I can shoot the first staple, that’s the problem.

Well, after trying a couple of ideas and techniques, and trying to be really, really careful, I decided it needed a proper fix. I ordered three more staplers, and sat down to design a fancy fixture that would hold the papers in place, and with a single stroke, would drive all four staples at once.

. . . .

I have several hundred books to bind, and I hate trashing a set of prints just because I couldn’t hold it quite right while I shot a staple, so it was time for a Patented Temporary Make-Do Fix.

First, we take the two good staplers and a junk of scrap plywood, and stare at it until I hallucinate in just the right way.

. . . .

The angle on the handles isn’t ideal, but the back edge of the bundle is dead flat and even. That is the edge that gets the binding strip, so the smoother and more even it is, the better the thermoset adhesive holds.

The other three edges of the book get trimmed in the paper cutter, so minor whoopsies there are less important.

I’d considered an end stop, but with just the two staplers, I shoot the middle two first, then slide the bundle left, shoot the rightmost one, then slide it right and do the leftmost one.

Link to the rest at The Tinkers Guild and thanks to HG for the tip.

PG says this author takes self-publishing to an entirely different level.

Army of Clones: Author Solutions Spawns a Legion of Copycats

26 January 2018

From Writer Beware:

I don’t think there’s much dispute that the many “imprints” under the Author Solutions umbrella are among the most negatively regarded of all the author services companies.

From the predatory business practices that gave rise to two class action lawsuits, to the huge number of customercomplaints, to the relentless sales calls and deceptive recruitment methods, to the dubious and overpriced”marketing” services that are one of the company’s main profit sources, AS’s poor reputation is widely known. Along with other factors, such as the competition from free and low-cost self-publishing platforms, this has pushed AS in recent years into steady decline.

Unfortunately, whatever gap AS’s contraction has created has been filled by a slew of imitators. Why not, when hoodwinking authors is as easy as setting up a website and opening an account with Ingram? In some cases, the imitators have first-hand experience: they’ve been founded and/or staffed by former employees of AS’s call centers in the Philippines.

Like AS, the clones rely on misleading hype, hard-sell sales tactics, and a lucrative catalog of junk marketing services. Even if authors actually receive the services they’ve paid for (and judging by the complaints I’ve gotten, there’s no guarantee of that), they are getting stiffed. These are not businesses operating in good faith, but greedy opportunists seeking to profit from writers’ inexperience, ignorance, and hunger for recognition. They are exploitative, dishonest, and predatory.

. . . .

3. Elaborate claims of skills and experience that don’t check out. A clone may say it’s been in business since 2006 or 2008, even though its domain name was registered only last year. It may claim to be staffed by publishing and marketing experts with years or even decades of “combined experience”, but provide no names or bios to enable you to verify this. A hallmark of the clones’ “About Us” pages is a serious lack of “about.”

. . . .

 5. Junk marketing. Press releases. Paid book review packages. Book fair exhibits. Ingram catalog listings. Hollywood book-to-screen packages. These and more are junk marketing–PR services of dubious value and effectiveness that are cheap to provide but can be sold at a huge profit. It’s an insanely lucrative aspect of the author-fleecing biz, not just because of the enormous markup, but because while you can only sell a publishing package once, you can sell marketing multiple times.

. . . .

Stratton Press claims to offer “an experience that is one of a kind for both novice and veteran authors”. Oddly, it doesn’t display its publishing packages on its website; you have to go to its Facebook page to see them. Named after famous writers, they start at $1,800 and go all the way up to $10,500.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

PG has had extensive exposure to quite a few different categories of businesses. While every business has its frauds and con artists, he has to say that publishing seems to attract a larger share than many other types of business.

Unfortunately, phony agents, phony publishers and phony marketers abound. Some have worked in legitimate parts of publishing in the past, but haven’t been able to support themselves in that arena and use their past experiences to support their pitches to authors.

While PG thinks indie publishing offers the best financial opportunities for most authors over the long run (or as long as anything is in internet years), if you’re convinced that the magic of Manhattan will make you an overnight sensation, PG suggests that selling very well as an indie author is the best way to attract contacts from legitimate agents.

Flogging an unpublished manuscript to agent after agent tends to become soul-destroying for many authors. Why not just polish the ms to the best of your ability, accessing your own resources, self-publish it and at least start earning a little bit of money from your writing while you query away.

If you’re paying attention to reader responses and suggestions, you may get some ideas to write a second book that’s better than the first. Number 2 may attract an agent when Number 1 failed.

PG suggests that your marketing of your indie books is not a lost effort. Nearly every publisher who talks about what they’re seeking in a new author is a platform, meaning an online presence that has attracted a lot of people to the author’s work, personality, videos, etc. On the one hand, if you have a good platform, you may gain fewer benefits from signing with a publisher, but build your platform and see how things turn out. A good author’s platform will attract more readers if indie publishing is what’s going to happen either in the near term or for an extended period of time.

Amazon laying off 58 workers at North Charleston self-publishing business

17 January 2018

From the Charleston Post & Courier:

Amazon says it’s cutting part of its office staff in North Charleston this summer, a year after the e-commerce giant moved its book-printing factory out of the city.

Amazon’s self-publishing service, Createspace, is laying off workers in its editing, marketing and design division in July because the company is getting out of the business of offering services to writers. The layoffs will mostly affect customer service positions. Createspace will continue to print books for authors with ambitions to sell their work without a publisher.

. . . .

This marks the second round of job cuts Amazon has made in the Charleston area in as many years. Last year, the company moved its on-demand book printing warehouse — and about 150 jobs — from North Charleston to West Columbia, where it runs a distribution center.

“After a thorough review of our service offerings, we’ve made the decision to discontinue Createspace’s paid professional editing, design and marketing services,” Amazon said in a statement. “We will work closely with impacted employees through this transition to help them find new roles within the company or assist them with pursuing opportunities outside the company.”

Link to the rest at Charleston Post & Courier and thanks to Elizabeth for the tip.

How Kickstarter Is Changing Publishing

4 January 2018

From Electric Lit:

Laura Olin raised the money to publish her book in a little over a day.

Olin, an author and social media strategist who worked on President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, spent November Kickstarting her children’s book Our President Was Called Barack.

The book, written by Olin and illustrated by artist Franziska Barczyk, was funded in 33 hours, raising $39,792 — $14,792 more than its $25,000 goal, falling just a few hundred dollars short of its $40k stretch goal.

. . . .

“’I’m not asking you to believe in my ability to bring about change — I’m asking you to believe in yours’ was his overriding message from the beginning,” said Olin. “I think it’s important that kids hear that right now. Most biographies or otherwise traditional books seem to be uninterested or downright timid about getting into that space.” She wrote the book to provide a good presidential example to her nephews and kids like them.

It’s the second book for Olin, whose novelty book Form Letters: Fill-In-the-Blank Notes to Say Anything to Anyone came out in 2016. That project was published by a traditional publisher, Harry N. Abrams. It was a process Olin described as “perfectly okay.” But she had different aspirations for Our President Was Called Barack. For one thing, she wanted to get it on shelves quickly.

. . . .

“I realized that I wanted to go faster with this book than traditional publishers can go,” she said. “Their time horizons tend to be a year and a half from proposal to publication, even two years.”

Olin was also inspired by Chance the Rapper and other artists who’ve found an audience and without the help of traditional publishing gatekeepers. “We’re at this point in the life of the internet where being pretty autonomous can be possible sometimes, if you’ve got something compelling to offer and you get a bit of luck,” she said.

. . . .

Publishing, a category which encompasses books, comics, and journalism, has so far had 13,297 projects funded in Kickstarter’s nine years, raising $132 million total. Right now, there are more than 300 publishing campaigns live on Kickstarter. Those projects include bookstores, journalism projects (notably, a campaign to save Gawker), and of course, books.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Paying to Play: On Submission Fees in Poetry Publishing

3 January 2018

From the Wordfence blog:

Things we need:
1. Money

Someone wrote the above text on a whiteboard in the Fort Des Moines Museum earlier this year. I’ve returned to it often, ever since a friend retweeted a photo of it, as a reminder of the inherent difficulty in critiquing small presses and literary magazines’ funding practices, especially in light of renewed interest in eliminating the government allocations for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities (whose FY2018 allocations are still under congressional consideration).

Each time I revisit this tweet, I imagine being in the conference room for this theoretical planning meeting in Iowa, and I think of the similar scarcity-driven discussions I’ve participated in both as poet and editor, largely—in either role—as unpaid labor.

. . . .

Whatever the reason we each write or publish poetry, it’s safe to say none of us make this art for its promise of riches—and nor should we. Despite this essay’s abundant economic wonk (you’ve been warned), I refuse to make a capitalist argument for poetry on behalf of poet, press, or journal. None of us should turn to profit as the sole engine driving our artistic and professional decisions. I wish to distinguish, early on, this commodifying argument from the claims regarding fair compensation and best financial practices in poetry publishing that follow below. Somewhere in the vast space between profit and solvency, a fraught practice in poetry publishing comes to the fore: the submission fee. Charging a fee in order to have one’s work read by a journal has become increasingly commonplace in our industry, and charging for book-length poetry contests and open reading periods has long been the norm for small independent and university presses. Today, a standard literary journal submission fee hovers around $3 to submit (usually) 3-6 poems, and a book-length submission costs a writer roughly around $25.

. . . .

[I]ndividual magazines represented 30.5 percent of the overall number of sponsoring organizations for contests in 2014, with presses close behind at 28 percent and government agencies at 3.5 percent. These percentages represent a shift towards more press and magazine contests and fewer government contests: the press and magazine share of the contest sponsorship pie has increased from 2004 to 2014 by 56 percent for magazines and 29 percent by presses, while 39 percent fewer government agencies sponsored contests over the same time period. This left us, in 2014, with 94 presses, 103 magazines, and 11 government agencies sponsoring writing contests. If government participation has lessened while fee-dependent contests have increased in number over the past decade, presses and magazines likely rely more heavily than they did 15 years ago on submission and contest fees to stay solvent; if we lose government funding for the arts, these same organizations may depend on fees even more.

. . . .

How much are poets spending to get their full-length books published? How much do presses and journals depend on submission fees for funding, and what other sources of funding are primary for them? Is the submission-fee model equitable or sustainable for poets and for presses/journals—and if not, can we make it more equitable for either or both groups? What alternatives do we have to the submission fee, both as submitters and publishers?

I found that nearly all surveyed poets spent out-of-pocket money to publish their books, up to—in this survey—$3,000. Royalties and prize money recouped costs for some poets, but not all, and inconsistently. This means poets who financially depend on recovering their costs post-publication cannot dependably publish their books in this model.

. . . .

If a sizable majority of poets must spend money to secure publication for their books (and, ever increasingly, to submit to journals), and it’s uncertain whether or not those costs will be recouped upon publication, is the submission-fee model equitable for poets? By equitable, I mean accessible across, here, class: can a poorer or working-class poet submit her manuscript as often as a wealthy or institutionally supported poet? The data is unequivocal: no. So long as we maintain poetry publishing’s status-quo reliance on the submission fee, this system will favor publishing poets with money—poets for whom it’s more of an inconvenience than an impossibility to lose money or break even on a book, or to recover fee costs slowly or unpredictably. And when considering a published collection’s role in accessing other markers of success, including financial success, in the poetry community—the ability for poets to apply for certain academic jobs, be eligible for certain prizes, or secure well-paying reading gigs—this inequality magnifies even further.

Link to the rest at The Millions

PG spent a great deal of his time as an undergraduate reading and analyzing poetry. (Homer, Sappho and Sophocles had recently ended their careers, but newer poets, not all of them Greek, were eagerly anticipated.)

Some are surprised that the rigorous analytical approach PG learned to apply to poetry has served him quite well in analyzing contracts and other legal documents.

One of the elements in a proper analysis of a poem is the prosody of that poem – the patterns of rhythm and sound of the words of the poem.

Since prosody is very much a learned taste, PG will provide only a short introduction.

The opening passage of Bleak House by Charles Dickens is not a poem, but demonstrates an appreciation of the interaction between the sounds of words and their meaning. Sounds are repeated throughout the passage to create an impression and atmosphere that reinforces the literal meaning of the words. Note particularly the repetition of words and sounds in paragraphs 2-4. Feel free to read them out loud so the sounds and repetitions of sounds become more obvious:

Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if the day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.

Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time — as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look.

The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln’s Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river . . . fog down the river . . . . Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping . . . fog lying . . . fog drooping . . . . Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners . . . . fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers . . . . a nether sky of fog . . . .

Gas looming through the fog . . . .

The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction . . . . And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln’s Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.

PG suggests that the sounds of these lovely Dickensian words, as well as their dictionary definitions, combine to carry a dreary and dark message more powerful than would have existed without the repetitions and sensitivity of Dickens to creating a scene that sounds oppressive and overpowering.

“Water droplets in the atmosphere” would not have conveyed the same meaning.

Back to paid submissions by poets.

In PG’s oppressively humble opinion, much of modern poetry is built upon literal meanings of words (and abstract words they are) and not the character and sounds of words. Such poems would be more at home in a doctoral thesis than a Dickens novel.

Here’s a comment about contemporary poetry by Adrienne Rich:

I think there’s been a great denial of the kinds of poets and poetries that could speak to a lot more people. Poetry has been kind of hoarded inside the schools, inside the universities. The activity of writing about poems and poetry–the activity of making it available and accessible–became the property of scholars and academics and became dependent on a certain kind of academic training, education, class background.

Here’s an excerpt from “Why Academics Stink at Writing,” by Stephen Pinker, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Together with wearing earth tones, driving Priuses, and having a foreign policy, the most conspicuous trait of the American
professoriate may be the prose style called academese. An editorial cartoon by Tom Toles shows a bearded academic at his desk
offering the following explanation of why SAT verbal scores are at an all-time low: “Incomplete implementation of strategized
programmatics designated to maximize acquisition of awareness and utilization of communications skills pursuant to standardized review and assessment of languaginal development.” In a similar vein, Bill Watterson has the 6-year-old Calvin titling his homework assignment “The Dynamics of Interbeing and Monological Imperatives in Dick and Jane: A Study in Psychic Transrelational Gender Modes,” and exclaiming to Hobbes, his tiger companion, “Academia, here I come!”

. . . .

Why should a profession that trades in words and dedicates itself to the transmission of knowledge so often turn out prose that is turgid, soggy, wooden, bloated, clumsy, obscure, unpleasant to read, and impossible to understand?

The most popular answer outside the academy is the cynical one: Bad writing is a deliberate choice. Scholars in the softer fields spout obscure verbiage to hide the fact that they have nothing to say. They dress up the trivial and obvious with the trappings of scientific sophistication, hoping to bamboozle their audiences with highfalutin gobbledygook.

Though no doubt the bamboozlement theory applies to some academics some of the time, in my experience it does not ring true. I know many scholars who have nothing to hide and no need to impress. They do groundbreaking work on important subjects, reason well about clear ideas, and are honest, down-to-earth people. Still, their writing stinks.

The most popular answer inside the academy is the self-serving one: Difficult writing is unavoidable because of the abstractness and complexity of our subject matter. Every human pastime — music, cooking, sports, art—develops an argot to spare its enthusiasts from having to use a long-winded description every time they refer to a familiar concept in one another’s company. It would be tedious for a biologist to spell out the meaning of the term transcription factor every time she used it, and so we should not expect the téte-a-tete among professionals to be easily understood by amateurs.

But the insider-shorthand theory, too, doesn’t fit my experience. I suffer the daily experience of being baffled by articles in my field, my subfield, even my sub-sub-subfield. The methods section of an experimental paper explains, “Participants read assertions whose veracity was either affirmed or denied by the subsequent presentation of an assessment word. ” After some detective work, I determined that it meant, “Participants read sentences, each followed by the word true or false. ” The original academese was not as concise, accurate, or scientific as the plain English translation. So why did my colleague feel compelled to pile up the polysyllables?

A third explanation shifts the blame to entrenched authority. People often tell me that academics have no choice but to write badly because the gatekeepers of journals and university presses insist on ponderous language as proof of one’s seriousness. This has not been my experience, and it turns out to be a myth. In Stylish Academic Writing (Harvard University Press, 2012), Helen Sword masochistically analyzed the literary style in a sample of 500 scholarly articles and found that a healthy minority in every field were written with grace and verve.

. . . .

Thomas and Turner illustrate the contrast as follows:

“When we open a cookbook, we completely put aside — and expect the author to put aside—the kind of question that leads to the heart of certain philosophic and religious traditions. Is it possible to talk about cooking? Do eggs really exist? Is food something about which knowledge is possible? Can anyone else ever tell us anything true about cooking? … Classic style similarly puts aside as inappropriate philosophical questions about its enterprise. If it took those questions up, it could never get around to treating its subject, and its purpose is exclusively to treat its subject.”

It’s easy to see why academics fall into self-conscious style. Their goal is not so much communication as self-presentation—an overriding defensiveness against any impression that they may be slacker than their peers in hewing to the norms of the guild. Many of the hallmarks of academese are symptoms of this agonizing self-consciousness.

PG suggests that one of the problems of the MFA-as-poet model is that way to advance in MFA World is to write in ways the professors who teach MFA students wrote in order to be hired as a professor. If you’re teaching MFA’s, you must write for a very narrow audience – other MFA professors. Writing for the common man or woman won’t get you anywhere.

In conclusion (PG realizes this should have come earlier), Dickens wrote to sell his books. Shakespeare wrote to goose the attendance at his plays.

In his preface to Lyrical Ballads (first published in 1798), English poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge described their work (PG won’t shorten sentences or break up paragraphs in the original. Period spelling will remain.):

The first volume of these Poems has already been submitted to general perusal. It was published, as an experiment, which, I hoped, might be of some use to ascertain, how far, by fitting to metrical arrangement a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation, that sort of pleasure and that quantity of pleasure may be imparted, which a Poet may rationally endeavour to impart.

I had formed no very inaccurate estimate of the probable effect of those Poems: I flattered myself that they who should be pleased with them would read them with more than common pleasure: and, on the other hand, I was well aware, that by those who should dislike them, they would be read with more than common dislike. The result has differed from my expectation in this only, that a greater number have been pleased than I ventured to hope I should please.

Several of my Friends are anxious for the success of these Poems, from a belief, that, if the views with which they were composed were indeed realized, a class of Poetry would be produced, well adapted to interest mankind permanently, and not unimportant in the quality, and in the multiplicity of its moral relations: and on this account they have advised me to prefix a systematic defence of the theory upon which the Poems were written.

. . . .

The principal object, then, proposed in these Poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible in a selection of language really used by men, and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect; and, further, and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature: chiefly, as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement. Humble and rustic life was generally chosen, because, in that condition, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity, are less under restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language; because in that condition of life our elementary feelings coexist in a state of greater simplicity, and, consequently, may be more accurately contemplated, and more forcibly communicated; because the manners of rural life germinate from those elementary feelings, and, from the necessary character of rural occupations, are more easily comprehended, and are more durable; and, lastly, because in that condition the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature. The language, too, of these men has been adopted (purified indeed from what appear to be its real defects, from all lasting and rational causes of dislike or disgust) because such men hourly communicate with the best objects from which the best part of language is originally derived; and because, from their rank in society and the sameness and narrow circle of their intercourse, being less under the influence of social vanity, they convey their feelings and notions in simple and unelaborated expressions. Accordingly, such a language, arising out of repeated experience and regular feelings, is a more permanent, and a far more philosophical language, than that which is frequently substituted for it by Poets, who think that they are conferring honour upon themselves and their art, in proportion as they separate themselves from the sympathies of men, and indulge in arbitrary and capricious habits of expression, in order to furnish food for fickle tastes, and fickle appetites, of their own creation.

. . . .

For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: and though this be true, Poems to which any value can be attached were never produced on any variety of subjects but by a man who, being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility, had also thought long and deeply. For our continued influxes of feeling are modified and directed by our thoughts, which are indeed the representatives of all our past feelings; and, as by contemplating the relation of these general representatives to each other, we discover what is really important to men, so, by the repetition and continuance of this act, our feelings will be connected with important subjects, till at length, if we be originally possessed of much sensibility, such habits of mind will be produced, that, by obeying blindly and mechanically the impulses of those habits, we shall describe objects, and utter sentiments, of such a nature, and in such connexion with each other, that the understanding of the Reader must necessarily be in some degree enlightened, and his affections strengthened and purified.

It has been said that each of these poems has a purpose. Another circumstance must be mentioned which distinguishes these Poems from the popular Poetry of the day; it is this, that the feeling therein developed gives importance to the action and situation, and not the action and situation to the feeling.

Lyrical Ballads included some of the most famous and lasting poems the the English language. Most of the poems were written by Wordsworth, but one of the Coleridge poems, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, likely his most famous. Wordsworth poems include, Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways, A slumber did my spirit seal.

Lyrical Ballads is considered a central work in the English romantic literary tradition and the archetype for romance literature. As indicated in the introduction above, the poems posited that “good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” a major and lasting change from previous poetry. The book was revolutionary in its time in that it was written in the vernacular language and focused on the feelings and emotions of uneducated country people.

PG doesn’t claim to be an expert on all 21st century poets and writers, but doubts any have written anything like the following excerpts:

I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.

Wordsworth, The Solitary Reaper, 1807

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

Coleridge, Kubla Khan, 1798

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859


Book of the Week: Unloved

20 December 2017

From No Shelf Required:

In an effort to draw attention to quality self-published literature and in agreement with BlueInk Review, NSR highlights reviews published on BIR’s site each week, including a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction. This week’s pick:

UNLOVED: a love story

. . . .

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Katy Regnery started her writing career by enrolling in a short story class in January 2012. One year later, she signed her first contract and Katy’s first novel was published in September 2013. Thirty books later, Katy claims authorship of the multi-titled, New York Times and USA Today Blueberry Lane Series; the six-book, bestselling ~a modern fairytale~ series; and several other standalone novels and novellas. 

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required where you will find a link to the review

Self-publishing allows writers to tell stories on their own terms

19 December 2017

From The New Paper (Singapore):

With trends such as collaborative consumption and digitalisation now a mainstay of everyday life, it has become easier for people to unlock and access opportunities with unprecedented ease.

While bigger industries have already started leveraging these trends, we are increasingly seeing smaller, more niche sectors also looking to harness the opportunities that technology brings – one such industry being self-publishing.

The most recent data reveals that in 2014, there were 9,054 books published in Singapore; a drastic 28 per cent decrease from the 12,608 books published in 2009.

For years, aspiring writers have had to contend with the arduous task of approaching publishing houses in addition to the daunting task of completing a manuscript.

Traditional publishing houses have typically been seen as elite, with only a handful of manuscripts making it to the table of a publisher. This high rejection rate stems from the substantial investment that a publishing house has to put into each book, making the selection process extremely unforgiving.

. . . .

This becomes an even bigger point of contention because many Singaporean authors pursue narratives highlighting the quintessential Singaporean experience, which may ultimately get lost in translation if forced to fit a generic mould.

In recent times, viable alternatives such as self-publishing have been on the rise because of their ability to offer authors greater access and control over the publishing process.

Self-publishing advocates profess that such platforms avoid the pitfalls plaguing the traditional publishing industry by offering aspiring writers the chance to bypass the lengthy waiting times, and high rates of rejection to get their works published almost instantaneously.

. . . .

[M]any authors are often apprehensive about writing a novel without the guidance and fail-safes offered by traditional publishing houses.

. . . .

However for many more, it is the initial costs that ultimately deter writers from pursuing self-publishing.

Where traditional publishing houses do not require an upfront financial input from writers, self-publishing can require substantial investment.

There is also the added risk of authors not being able to recoup their initial costs if their books do not gain much traction among readers.

Nevertheless, self-publishing platforms are increasingly finding ways to innovate and offer the full suite of services available at traditional publishing houses, and more.

Link to the rest at The New Paper

And also, from Bloomberg:

As Inc. pushes into Southeast Asia with a new venture into Singapore, the online retailer is facing some tough hurdles. Shopping in air-conditioned malls is practically a national sport, and e-commerce rivals moved in long ago.

Delivery delays also marred Amazon’s debut in July, when on-the-ground operations began with Prime Now two-hour deliveries. When accounting for orders placed on its main U.S. website, Amazon lags behind local web-store Lazada and its parent, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

For the island country’s consumers, a store or a shopping center is usually just minutes away. In fact there are too many stores, with mall operators scaling back operations after years of over-expansion. While retailers blame a weaker economy and increased web shopping, the country of 5.6 million trails most of the developed world when it comes to e-commerce. Just 4.6 percent of Singapore’s retail sales

took place online last year, compared with 15 percent in the U.K. and 10 percent in the U.S., according to Euromonitor International.

“Singapore is a very small city-state, so shopping is one of the favorite pastimes for all Singaporeans,” said Chan Hock Fai, a fund manager at Amundi Asset Management.

. . . .

In terms of scale, Lazada dwarfs Amazon locally, offering more than 30 million productscompared with tens of thousands via Prime Now. The Asian online retailer, originally founded by Rocket Internet SE in 2011, has more than 6.6 million unique visitors a month and has seen orders triple from 2016.

“There is huge potential for the e-commerce industry in Singapore,” said Alexis Lanternier, Lazada Singapore’s CEO. “Online shopping in this market is certainly gaining traction here with 3 out of 5 people shopping online, and we believe this is the direction forward for the retail industry in Singapore.”

Link to the rest at Bloomberg

PG claims no expertise in Singapore or its residents’ shopping behavior.

However, a little quick research discloses that Singapore covers  277.6 square miles, making it about ten times the physical size of Manhattan and a bit smaller than the five boroughs of New York City (304.6 square miles). Singapore’s population is reported as 5.607 million, smaller than New York’s 8.538 million.

Singapore reports a population density of 7,987 people per square kilometer. Manhattan has 27,826 people per square kilometer and New York City as a whole has a population density of 10,947 per square kilometer.

This isn’t to say that New York and Singapore are not different markets and cultures, but Amazon has had very nice sales growth in a number of large metropolitan areas that already had well-developed physical shopping infrastructures long before Amazon arrived.

Three months ago, Amazon signed a lease for 359,000 square feet of new office space in Manhattan that will house about 2,000 new Amazon employees. This is in addition to the 1,800 Amazon employees already working in Manhattan. The company also owns an option to acquire an additional 470,000 square feet of office space in Manhattan. Additionally, Amazon has announced it will build a 855,000-square-foot Fulfillment Center on Staten Island with 2,250 employees.

Amazon is spending an enormous amount of money to create a dominant physical presence in this single large city.

(PG apologizes for all the numbers, but he went on a arithmetic rampage.)


Macmillan’s Pronoun Self-Publishing Platform Signs Off

7 November 2017

From Publishing Perspectives:

Some eyebrows were raised in the spring of 2016 when Macmillan bought Pronoun. And today (November 6), the trade publisher has announced that it’s closing the self-publishing platform.

“We are proud of the product we built,” the publishing house says in an “Epilogue” posted on the home page of the site, “but even more so, we’re grateful for the community of authors that made it grow. Your feedback shaped Pronoun’s development, and together we changed the way authors connect with readers.”

The statement doesn’t elaborate on how Pronoun is deemed to have “changed the way authors connect with readers.” And its message is sobering: “Unfortunately, Pronoun’s story ends here.”

The statement avoids any clear explanation of why the Pronoun is being shut down.

. . . .

Pronoun was assessed by many in the self-publishing community (as by Doppler in an earlier ALLi review) as a fairly simple interface for ebook creation by comparison to the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) system.

And yet, there was at times a community-wide hesitation around the platform because it charged nothing. Authors retained their rights and 100 percent of a retailer’s net payment–no cut to Pronoun. Doppler wrote in that earlier review that Pronoun’s services were free to authors because the company had $3.5 million in venture capital funding from Avalon Ventures and revenue from “its not-insubstantial legacy business.” Future revenue, he wrote, would come from “voluntary partnerships with high-performing authors. These authors may be invited to publish through Pronoun’s traditional imprints, giving up a share of royalties for enhanced services.”

. . . .

Pronoun spokeswoman Allison Horton was quoted by Doppler last year saying an ambitious thing for a company about to be bought by a Big Five trade publisher: “Pronoun’s goal is to make indie publishing so successful that it becomes the predominant way great books are published.”

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

PG says large and established corporations sometimes purchase tech startups to move into new markets and inject new thinking and dynamism into the parent organization.

It never works.

The employees in the mothership sense an alien presence and organizational antibodies attack. Various and sundry corporate practices are imposed on the acquisition and its people. The startup (now a “division” or “department”) must adopt corporate budgeting processes and conduct quarterly performance reviews for all its employees. Company-wide “best practices” will, of course, be best practices for the new acquisition.

Within a couple of months, the most talented of the startup employees who have not been required to sign employment agreements start thinking about new jobs.

Headhunters swarm to any new source for good tech/internet marketing/programming/etc. talent. People who are valuable to the acquired startup are also valuable to other innovative companies who aren’t under attack from corporate antibodies and where nobody has to sit through mandatory lectures from HR.

The people who have signed employment agreements suffer from constantly declining morale as the most talented members of their team leave for greener pastures. They discover that attracting equivalent talent from outside the mothership is almost impossible and have no choice but to use not-so-talented tech people from elsewhere in the larger organization.

Development of the product slows down, then it slows down some more. Product release schedules are revised. Planned new features are dropped because they’re taking too long to develop. Upper management requires much more frequent updates on progress and hard commitments for new product releases. The new product features list is cut down even further. People start talking about how to get the minimum acceptable product out the door by the scheduled deadline. Nobody even remembers why the new product seemed like a good idea several months ago.

The during his/her regular meetings with the big boss and the quarterly meetings of the board, the CFO of the mothership brings more and more discouraging reports about the acquired company. Nobody can project when it might become profitable.

Managers in other parts of the company that are profitable increase the intensity of their criticisms of the CEO’s formerly pet project.

The OP indicates that it took about 18 months for Pronoun to morph from a sexy investment in Macmillan’s future to an unacceptable boat anchor that was never going to meet revenue and profit standards for the company.

Next Page »