How to Use a Long-Form Synopsis to Plan Your Novel

From Jane Friedman:

Years ago, author Jen Malone mentioned in an #mglitchat discussion that she sends out a rough-form synopsis to critique partners during planning stages with the expectation not that they’d heavily critique it, but that they could ask 10–12 “what if” brainstorming questions to get her creative juices flowing. I thought it was a fabulous idea, so my critique group tried it. The results were amazing—this tool is now a permanent part of my toolbox and it can be part of yours too. Here’s how.

Draft your long-form synopsis

Unlike the 500–1000 word synopsis that often goes out to agents or editors with pitch packages, this one is meant to be messy. There’s no set format, length, number of named characters, or any of the things that tend to strike fear in the hearts of writers when creating that other type of synopsis. Instead, think of this type of synopsis as a brainstorming document. It’s a dumping ground for all the things you’d like to work into your new story based on the prewriting you’ve already done on your concept and characters. It covers all the major characters, the main plot and character arcs, but also the subplots, the twists, the unexpected turns.

Step One: Put whatever you know about the story down on paper, but make sure you at least have the following:

  • Age category (MG, YA, adult)
  • Genre
  • Your “what if?” big-picture idea
  • Protagonist’s story goal
  • Antagonist’s story goal
  • Protagonist’s change arc

Step Two: Now it’s time to start to fill in the gaps and shape this into something with some story logic in it. I use the Tent Pole Scenes Outline to start my brainstorming on potential story structure. It’s based on classic fairytale structure (with a dash of Aristotle) for this. Not because I only tell fairytales, or because I think Aristotle’s three-act structure is the only way to tell a story, but because this familiar format helps me tease out my plot from all the various threads floating around in my mind.

  1. Once Upon a Time (ordinary world)
  2. But then…moment everything changed (story problem)
  3. It was awful until (confrontation)…
  4. Then the hero figured it out (climax)…
  5. And they all lived happily ever after (resolution)

Step Three: The first draft is likely to be a total mess. And that’s OK. The point here is to capture everything you know. Now read through what you’ve written and make a list of questions you need to answer before you’re ready to send this to your writing pals for their round of “what if?” questions. Answering those questions might involve looping back to look at craft resources you have on hand around character, plot, world-building, genre and age category. That’s normal—take the time you need to really feel good about this step. Keep taking passes through the document until you’ve addressed everything from steps one and two above.

Your resulting document should be somewhere in the range of 3–7 pages. If you’ve written 20, that’s too long to share with your critique partners. Go back through and pull out extra details and store them elsewhere. You want something high-level enough that you can read it aloud during a critique group without everyone getting lost or starting to scroll Twitter.

Note: It can be tempting to send this to your pals even if you know there are plot holes. Don’t do that! Take care of all the low-hanging fruit on your own so that they can really focus on deepening the work you’ve already done.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Are Entry-Level Jobs Disappearing in Publishing?

From The Independent Publishing Magazine:

You’re a recent literature graduate or someone pivoting in their career who wants to acquire an entry level publishing position. However, entry level publishing position requirements far exceed entry-level. You continuously encounter entry-level positions, with meagre pay, that require or implicitly request previous experience. Phrases like ‘3-5 years of publishing experience required’ or ‘contracts experience is not necessary but highly valued’ are a familiar advert.

Unfortunately, this job advertising strategy is commonplace in both the US and UK, and indicates that despite its low pay and entry level categorization, genuine entry-level is rapidly disappearing within publishing. A recent analysis of over 95,000 job postings found that 61 percent of all full-time jobs seeking entry-level employees required at least three years or more of experience. Even in 2014, economic studies showed that employers were raising experience requirements for entry-level positions within the US in response to the Great Recession that made entry-level positions scarce. Today, the acceleration of this employment tactic is apparent in many advertised publishing positions, requiring not just a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, but equivalent experience to boot.

Many struggle to enter the publishing industry as ‘organizations transfer the competitiveness of the industry into the selection and hiring process of entry-level talent, which can be seen as unrealistic and limiting,’ says Lọ́lá Béjidé, an early careers strategist and founder of the Soluman Consultancy. Interindustry competitiveness produces a Catch-22 scenario; people struggling to enter the publishing sector must do so by obtaining work experience, but cannot gain work experience as they are unable to enter the industry without it.

. . . .

Internships are one avenue through which many try to obtain publishing work experience. But publishing internships are scarce, many unpaid, impeding lower socio-economic people from obtaining work experience to enter the industry. A 2021 Publisher’s Association report indicated the socio-economic demographic within publishing remained largely middle-class and continued ‘to represent major barriers to inclusion’. 74 percent of respondents had a ‘middle class’ determinant, compared to only 55 percent in the UK population. The persistence of unpaid internships or poverty wages within publishing not only exploits its workers, but bars ‘graduates from poorer backgrounds, whose parents [could not] afford to subsidize their experience’. Consequently, the publishing landscape is manufactured to produce an inequitable playing field that prohibits, as Béjidé describes, ‘individuals from ethnically diverse communities as well as those from social economically challenging environments’ from entering the industry at all, despite publisher’s woefully insufficient diversity schemes.

One could argue that if the industry allowed only paid work experience, it would decrease the amount of work experience aspiring publishers could obtain. It is a pervasive industry myth that while many publishers cannot afford to pay interns, the experience interns gain is sufficient enough to get their foot in the door. However, this assessment does not consider that unpaid labour does not increase the likelihood of work experience for the average person looking to enter publishing, but rather produces a socio-economic stratification. Publishers reliance upon unpaid labour under the guise of creating a proliferation of industry ‘opportunities’ is more exploitative than it is altruistic as companies can save money by using interns to do that work without having to pay junior employees…the more interns a company has, the fewer entry-level jobs it’s likely to open’. When asked if they had ever felt overwhelmed by the workload of their unpaid internship, a Scottish interviewee, 23, replied:

Yeah 100%. Because they didn’t give us set working days or hard deadlines it was difficult to balance the many tasks we had to do. They told me I’d have to commit to 12 hours a week but it wasn’t set days. And also they gave us multiple tasks so some weeks two would be like expected of you so there’d be weeks I spent more time or less time at the internship and that overwhelmed me, it would’ve been easier to go into an office two days a week to do as much work as possible in your 6-hour shifts then come home and that was it, done with till the next week.

The interviewee knew their tasks were beyond the scope of internship work, stating that they were involved in multiple lead roles such as lead editor for a book, proofreader for two novels, representative for two authors as well as their events coordinator and a stage reporter for multiple books. A 20 hour job, dissertation and extracurriculars precluded marketing duties.

Even in contexts in which interns are paid, many have reported feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work demanded of them. An American interviewee, who has been struggling to break into publishing beyond entry-level work for three years, described how their initial internship was more than they knew they were getting into, especially for the pay provided. They were offered a full-time position, however, a previous employee of the company discouraged them from taking it due to the exploitative nature of the press.

I didn’t end up taking the position with [publisher] but even as an intern…I didn’t think minimum wage was enough; after the person I was reporting to left I was basically the only editor that was working full-time. There was another intern working with me but she only worked full-time two days a week. I was doing the work of an intern and of the editor and most of the time it was completely overwhelming; I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I were to have taken the position.

Link to the rest at The Independent Publishing Magazine

Desperate Writer Query Template

From Electric Lit:

Esteemed Agent,

I’m seeking representation for my [300,000-word rhyming memoir novel-in-grocery-coupons famous literary graves calendar**] which is a cross between [Maid and Green Eggs and Ham / a bag of Halloween candy and that novel-in-texts you just sold / an apple watch and a mortuary pamphlet]. I was referred to you by [my cousin, who babysits your three incorr—admirably independent children / a writer you represented until you discovered his historical novel was actually The Diary of Anais Nin / Stephen King, if by referred you mean escorted off his property by security]. I thought of you for said [memoir / novel / calendar] because [I once saw someone who looked like you reading Angela’s Ashes in the Strand / you represent authors? / given the direction of publishing, I figured you’d get excited about something featuring famous authors, even dead ones]. 

Slogging away in this hair shirt they call a profession for fifteen years, I’ve racked up some impressive publishing credentials: [My work has appeared in the literary magazines Wish We Could Pay You and About To Fold and are forthcoming (I think) in Didn’t We Ghost You? and on my memaw’s PC / Last time I was querying, my prose poem “Shoot Me Now” went viral on TikTok / My Writer Affirmation Calendar sold out after Christo used the entire run to wrap a bookstore in an installation titled, “Despair”].

(Describe your memoir’s arc here. If it has no arc, use lyrics to an Adele song.) / (Describe your novel’s plot here. If it has no plot—wait, your MFA cost more than the Hope Diamond, and your novel has no plot?) / (Describe calendar images here. There’s no way you’ll be able to license those photos, but first things first.)

I look forward to hearing from you [in a few years when technology changes have rendered my manuscript file inaccessible / after I’ve given up and painstakingly published the book in a series of sand paintings / Is tomorrow good for you? I’ve canceled all my appointments and await your call].

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

This artist is dominating AI-generated art. And he’s not happy about it.

From MIT Technology Review:

Those cool AI-generated images you’ve seen across the internet? There’s a good chance they are based on the works of Greg Rutkowski.

Rutkowski is a Polish digital artist who uses classical painting styles to create dreamy fantasy landscapes. He has made illustrations for games such as Sony’s Horizon Forbidden West, Ubisoft’s Anno, Dungeons & Dragons, and Magic: The Gathering. And he’s become a sudden hit in the new world of text-to-image AI generation.

His distinctive style is now one of the most commonly used prompts in the new open-source AI art generator Stable Diffusion, which was launched late last month. The tool, along with other popular image-generation AI models, allows anyone to create impressive images based on text prompts.

For example, type in “Wizard with sword and a glowing orb of magic fire fights a fierce dragon Greg Rutkowski,” and the system will produce something that looks not a million miles away from works in Rutkowski’s style.

But these open-source programs are built by scraping images from the internet, often without permission and proper attribution to artists. As a result, they are raising tricky questions about ethics and copyright. And artists like Rutkowski have had enough.

According to the website Lexica, which tracks over 10 million images and prompts generated by Stable Diffusion, Rutkowski’s name has been used as a prompt around 93,000 times. Some of the world’s most famous artists, such as Michelangelo, Pablo Picasso, and Leonardo da Vinci, brought up around 2,000 prompts each or less. Rutkowski’s name also features as a prompt thousands of times in the Discord of another text-to-image generator, Midjourney.

Rutkowski was initially surprised but thought it might be a good way to reach new audiences. Then he tried searching for his name to see if a piece he had worked on had been published. The online search brought back work that had his name attached to it but wasn’t his.

“It’s been just a month. What about in a year? I probably won’t be able to find my work out there because [the internet] will be flooded with AI art,” Rutkowski says. “That’s concerning.”

Stability.AI, the company that built Stable Diffusion, trained the model on the LAION-5B data set, which was compiled by the German nonprofit LAION. LAION put the data set together and narrowed it down by filtering out watermarked images and those that were not aesthetic, such as images of logos, says Andy Baio, a technologist and writer who downloaded and analyzed some of Stable Diffusion’s data. Baio analyzed 12 million of the 600 million images used to train the model and found that a large chunk of them come from third-party websites such as Pinterest and art shopping sites such as Fine Art America.

Many of Rutkowski’s artworks have been scraped from ArtStation, a website where lots of artists upload their online portfolios. His popularity as an AI prompt stems from a number of reasons.

First, his fantastical and ethereal style looks very cool. He is also prolific, and many of his illustrations are available online in high enough quality, so there are plenty of examples to choose from. An early text-to-image generator called Disco Diffusion offered Rutkowski as an example prompt.

Rutkowski has also added alt text in English when uploading his work online. These descriptions of the images are useful for people with visual impairments who use screen reader software, and they help search engines rank the images as well. This also makes them easy to scrape, and the AI model knows which images are relevant to prompts.

. . . .

Other artists besides Rutkowski have been surprised by the apparent popularity of their work in text-to-image generators—and some are now fighting back. Karla Ortiz, an illustrator based in San Francisco who found her work in Stable Diffusion’s data set, has been raising awareness about the issues around AI art and copyright.

Artists say they risk losing income as people start using AI-generated images based on copyrighted material for commercial purposes. But it’s also a lot more personal, Ortiz says, arguing that because art is so closely linked to a person, it could raise data protection and privacy problems.

“There is a coalition growing within artist industries to figure out how to tackle or mitigate this,” says Ortiz. The group is in its early days of mobilization, which could involve pushing for new policies or regulation.

Link to the rest at MIT Technology Review and thanks to R. for the tip in the comments.

PG predicts there will be more than one copyright infringement suit filed against various individuals, institutions and companies providing AI services in which an artist’s copyrighted work was used to seed the AI.

In the United States, such suits will almost certainly be filed in the federal court system since copyright is governed by federal law. Some states have laws that would seem to give exclusive rights to publish state documents to the state or those to whom the state has given permission to make and sell copies of state documents, but trying to protect a creative work from republication under anything other than pursuant to federal copyright laws and decisions is generally regarded as a fool’s errand.

One thing that judges do when faced with a novel question is to draw from similar situations that have occurred previously.

As one crude example, if an individual uses a computer and a software program created by third parties to make an exact copy of of the text of a copyright-protected book, the manufacturer of the computer or the company that created and sold the word processing program used to make a copy of the book will not be liable for copyright infringement because they only provided tools and the author used the tools in the manner the author chose.

AI art programs require a prompt to create anything images. The OP mentions the use of an artists name in an AI prompt as one way of generating an image.

However, that decision is not made by the creators/owners of the AI program, but rather by the user. The creators of the AI program ran a huge number of images by an an enormous number of artists through the program’s processor. Is it a violation of copyright law to link an artist’s name to a painting the artist created? PG doesn’t think so.

As a matter of fact, using Mr. Rutkowski’s work without attribution would also be an offense against the creator.

PG doesn’t see the creation of works “inspired by” an artist constituting copyright infringement when they aren’t copies of what the artist created or closely resembling what an artist created. PG doesn’t believe that an artistic style is protected by copyright.

If PG’s understanding of the way AI art programs work is to deconstruct the original copy of the image into its component parts and assign some sort of marker to the parts such that a prompt for a large building in the style of the British Museum won’t generate an image dominated by a dragon.

PG just created a prompt, “Windsor Castle sailing on the ocean” and ran it through an AI art generator. Here’s what he got.

Next, PG modified his prompt to read “Windsor Castle sailing on the ocean Greg Rutkowski” and this is what he got:

For one last experiment PG created another prompt with a different artist, “Windsor Castle sailing on the ocean Andy Warhol” and here’s what showed up.

PG is not an art expert, but he doesn’t think any of his AI illustrations will put either Mr. Rutkowski or Mr. Warhol out of business.

In Written Opinion, Judge Florence Pan Delivers Knockout Blow to PRH, S&S Merger

From Publisher’s Weekly:

On November 7, Judge Florence Pan released her memorandum opinion blocking Penguin Random House from acquiring rival Big Five publisher Simon & Schuster—and in the final analysis, after a year of legal wrangling and a three-week trial that captivated the publishing industry, it wasn’t a close case for her at all. In an economical 80-page decision, Pan found the U.S. Department of Justice showed the proposed merger would likely “lessen competition” in the market for book rights in violation of Section 7 of the Clayton Act.

“The government has presented a compelling case that predicts substantial harm to competition as a result of the proposed merger of PRH and S&S,” Pan concluded. DoJ attorneys properly defined a relevant market—“anticipated top selling books” with advances over $250,000—which, she noted, accounts for 70% of the advance monies paid to authors. The post-merger entity would have had a “concerningly high” 49% market share, more than twice that of its closest competitor in an already concentrated market in which “the two top competitors would hold 74% of the market and the top four market participants would control 91%.” And, citing the publishers’ previous actions a decade ago in the Apple price-fixing case, Pan found “strong evidence” of “likely unilateral and coordinated” effects that would further harm competition.

At the same time, Pan shredded each of PRH/S&S’s defenses. In a key blow, she swiftly dispatched with the defense’s central argument that the government’s focus on books with advances over $250,000 was incorrect on both the facts and the law. She was “unpersuaded” by PRH/S&S arguments that new and existing competitors (including smaller indie publishers and upstarts like Zando and Astra) would preserve competition. She rejected the idea that literary agents would keep the merged firm in check. And she dismissed the argument that “internal competition” among PRH and S&S editors would keep competition robust, finding that PRH CEO’s Markus Dohle’s “extraordinary pledge” to allow internal bidding reflected his “awareness of how threatening the combined entity would be to authors and agents.”

The full opinion comes a week after Pan released her final order blocking the merger, delaying the release of the opinion to allow for a few minor redactions of confidential information.

Few were surprised by the court’s decision last week, given that Pan appeared clearly skeptical of the proposed merger at trial. But before trial, the unfamiliar “monopsony” claims at the heart of the case had left observers unsure of how the case might play out. In the end, however, Pan found the DoJ’s approach to be highly effective, and, in a crucial blow to the defense, found the government’s “use of high advances as a proxy for anticipated book sales” to be “logical and supported by market realities.”

On the other hand, the judge was not persuaded by the publisher defendants’ efforts to portray the $250,000 advance market as an invented, arbitrary “price segment” rather than a legally cognizable submarket. And after displaying a firm grasp of publishing industry practices in the opening 22 pages of the opinion, Pan rejected the publishers’ attempts at trial to “insist that all books are the same in the market” or that it is impossible to predict which books would be “top sellers,” calling those arguments “unsupportable”

“The court has no trouble recognizing that anticipated top-selling books are distinct from the vast majority of books that do not carry the same expectations for success,” Pan wrote. “The fact that the Big Five publish 91% of anticipated top sellers supports a finding that authors of such books have unique needs and preferences. Although smaller publishers can sometimes put out an anticipated top selling book, it is the Big Five who have the backlists and the marketing, publicity, and sales advantages necessary to consistently provide the high advances and unique services that top selling authors need. It is precisely those specialized needs that make the authors of anticipated top selling books vulnerable to targeting for price reductions. Publishers of anticipated top selling books know that such authors are not able to find adequate substitutes for publishing their books because of their unique needs and preferences.”

With the submarket established, Pan easily found a prima facie case existed to block the deal, citing the dominant position of a merged PRH/S&S in an already heavily concentrated publishing industry (as calculated by the government’s expert witness, Dr. Nicholas Hill, and using a prime antitrust metric called the Herfindahl Hirschman Index).

“The 49% share that the post-merger PRH would hold is far above the levels deemed too high in other cases,” Pan held. “Moreover, the high concentration must be considered in the high context of an undeniable trend in consolidation in the publishing industry.”

And in a strong rebuke, Pan, citing the recent history of collusion and price-fixing in the 2012 Apple e-book case, cited the risk of “coordinated effects” should the merger be approved.

“As an initial matter, a history of collusion or attempted collusion is highly probative of likely harm from a merger,” Pan wrote, calling the Apple case “significant” and “a backdrop for trends in the industry that appear to demonstrate that the Big Five are already engaging in tacit collusion or parallel accommodating conduct.”

“Recent years have seen the industry-wide standardization of certain contract terms—involving payment structure, audio rights, and e-book royalties—in ways that favor publishers over authors, suggesting that the top publishers have engaged in coordinated conduct,” Pan wrote, in a particularly blistering section of the opinion. “Advances used to be paid in two installments before publishers uniformly moved to paying them in three installments and then four installments, thereby delaying authors compensation. After audiobooks became a significant source of revenue in the industry, publishers uniformly refused to acquire books without audio rights included thereby limiting authors’ ability to maximize their compensation and preventing authors from diversifying their sources of income.”

Pan cited an “illustrative” example from the evidence, in which S&S refused to bid on a highly sought after book because the agent attempted to withhold audio rights. An S&S editor noted that the other Big Five publishers also had “no audio, no deal” rules, and questioned whether one of the other Big Five houses would join the auction. Ultimately, Pan noted, the agent was forced to restart the auction with audio rights included.

“It is significant that in a market already prone to collusion, where coordinated conduct already appears to be rampant, PRH’s acquisition of S&S would reinforce the market’s oligopsonistic structure,” Pan concluded, “and create a behemoth industry leader that other market participants could easily follow.”

Meanwhile, Pan devoted less than 19 pages to the Defendants’ rebuttal, quickly dispatching with PRH/S&S’s arguments that indie publishers, new entrants, strong literary agents, and “internal” competition would keep competition for book rights robust. And in a final passage, she rejected as “not relevant to the court’s analysis” the idea that (as some industry observers have suggested) PRH would be the best home for S&S vs. a potential private-equity acquisition.

“The focus of the court’s inquiry is harm to competition in the relevant market,” Pan wrote, calling concerns about a private equity acquisition highly speculative. “Other potential buyers in the publishing industry have shown interest in acquiring S&S and it is just as likely that another publishing company will prevail in a future sale. Nor is the court moved by the desire of S&S and its employees to be acquired by PRH. It comes as no surprise that S&S would like to benefit from the extraordinary market power and other advantages that the combined entity would enjoy. The court however must focus on harm to competition in the relevant market.”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Without having read Judge Pan’s entire opinion, PG cannot comment on all her findings, but the excerpts he’s seen at various locations online show her to be a smart jurist who couldn’t be bamboozled by industry drivel to the effect that they’re nurturers of authors or otherwise fragile flowers that must be protected in their lock-step collusion on all sorts of things that harm a great many authors.

Why media investors are saying publishing company VC funding slowdown is a good thing

From DigiDay:

The venture capital market is slowing, but some investors are saying that’s a good thing — for them.

During the pandemic, VC money was getting thrown into the market and competing for opportunities for investment. Now, the VC market is correcting itself: company valuations are down, and less competition means smaller VC firms can be more deliberate with their investments. However, this also means it’ll be more difficult for media companies looking to raise capital to do so.

According to data from capital market research firm PitchBook, U.S. venture capital deal activity in “publishing” companies (defined as providers of print and internet publishing services, such as newspapers, magazines and books), was $25.2 million in Q3 2022, down from $84.4 million in Q3 2021 and $85.4 million in Q3 2020.

However, that’s up slightly from Q3 2019 at $25 million, but down from Q3 2018 at $85.3 million.

As for deal count, that’s also dipped in Q3 2022 to five deals in the quarter. In Q3 2021, there were 16 deals, and in 2020 there were 13 – the same number as in Q3 2019. It was 15 in 2018.

As of Nov. 1, 2022, the total value of VC deals for publishing companies this year was $117.4 million. While it’s not a complete comparison since there’s another quarter to go, total deal value was $484.5 million in 2021; $241.8 million in 2020; $511.6 million in 2019; and $208 million in 2018. Total deal count ranged from 51 in 2018 to 65 in 2021; it’s 35 so far in 2022.

The biggest U.S. VC deal among publishing companies in 2022 was a tie between news aggregator Flipboard’s $25 million Series A funding round led by K2 Global in July and Semafor’s $25 million seed round in June. Crypto publisher Decrypt raised $10 million in a Series A funding round in May. Lava Labs and Grid also raised $10 million this year.

Link to the rest at DigiDay

Critiquing 101: Ten Do’s and Don’ts for Giving Helpful Critiques

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

I often advise new writers to look for a critique group to help them learn the writing ropes and get free feedback as well as the support they need when starting on a writing journey. But critique groups vary widely and some can be dangerous to a writer’s mental health.

. . . .

But now I think it’s time for a checklist for providing a useful critique. It’s a delicate business, and not everybody can critique effectively. If you don’t read much outside your genre, or you never read fiction, you need to learn to open your mind or find a group that’s genre-specific.

No matter your genre, a good critique requires empathy. Learn to empathize with your fellow writers. If they are newbies, critique accordingly. Remember you were a beginner once. Pick one or two areas to work on. Nobody can take in a huge amount of information all at once, and 100% negativity shuts down a person’s ability to listen. It feels like an attack, even to a seasoned writer.

. . . .

Notes for the Critiqued:

  • Tell your group the genre and audience you’re writing for, and let them know where you want readers to focus: pacing, clarity, dialogue, grammar, repetitions, authenticity, etc.
  • Don’t expect 100% praise.
  • Stay silent during an oral critique, except to give a quick answer to a direct question. Once the critiques are finished, you can elaborate.
  • Don’t argue or explain “what you really meant.” One of the major things a critique can do is tell writers how much of what’s in our heads did or didn’t make it onto the page.
  • Give trigger warnings: If you’re going to read a scene of rape, abuse, torture, or extreme violence, let the critique group know beforehand. Some members may prefer to give it a pass and not read or listen to that piece.

Do’s and Don’ts for Critiquing

1. Do Keep in Mind the Purpose of the Critique

Remember everybody was a beginner once, and everybody makes mistakes. It’s your job to help them remedy those mistakes, not send them home in tears.

A manuscript critique is not the same as a book review:

  • A review is for readers — to help them decide whether a book is for them.
  • A critique is for writers — to help them improve the piece they are working on.

Whether you’re exchanging critiques online or in person, reading out loud, or sending around digital copies, as a critiquer, you have ONE job: help writers improve their work.

This is not a time to talk politics, religion, or hold forth on your distain for people who order pineapple on their pizza.

No matter how much you hate Chick Lit, don’t condemn a Chick Lit piece because it’s not angsty prose about middle-aged academics with prostate issues. Your job is to help make it the best Chick Lit it can be.

Avoid culture wars. We live in an era when the simple act of writing is going to offend somebody somewhere, so work on being helpful, not offended.

A critique is also not the place to show off. The writer being critiqued doesn’t care that you’ve read all the works of Proust in the original French, or that you once took a writing workshop with somebody who went to high school with Stephen King.

. . . .

3. Do Use the “Sandwich Method”

The human brain can’t take unrelenting criticism. 100% negativity comes across as an attack, and the only thing gained is the writer’s anger and distrust.

Start with something positive and conclude with another. Even if a beginner has presented 5 pages of embarrassing classic writing mistakes, use your imagination to come up with something positive to say. You’re a creative person, remember?

When I was first learning the ropes as a stage director, a veteran director told me that no matter how dismal an actor’s performance is, you should never give notes that are 100% critical.

Sometimes you have to say, “You remembered your blocking! You didn’t fall down!” before you tell him that playing Hamlet with a hillbilly accent is not working.

Make sure you remember the nice comment at the end too. “You looked good up there!” always worked, and kept the costumers happy.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

Lydia Maria Child Taught Americans to Make Do With Less

From The Wall Street Journal:

In 1829, American women preparing their family’s Thanksgiving feast could turn for guidance to one of the country’s first self-help books: “The Frugal Housewife” by Lydia Maria Child, a beloved novelist and children’s writer. Child later immortalized her Thanksgiving memories by turning them into the poem “Over the River and Through the Wood,” but here she focused on practical advice. Roast the turkey for at least two hours, she directed; stuffing is improved by adding an egg. It was one of many lessons the book offered to readers who, in the pointed words of its subtitle, “are not Ashamed of Economy.”

Child advocated frugality not from necessity but from patriotic principle. After winning success in Boston’s literary circles, she became distressed at the ostentatious luxury and idleness that she found among the rich. The “false and wicked parade” of luxury, she wrote, is “morally wrong, so far as the individual is concerned; and injurious beyond calculation to the interests of our country.” Proud of America’s promise, Child worried about its future. “We never shall be free from embarrassment,” she wrote, “until we cease to be ashamed of industry and economy.”

Along with practical tips, therefore, “The Frugal Housewife” dispensed philosophical advice. “Economy is generally despised as a low virtue, tending to make people ungenerous and selfish,” Child observed, but in fact “the man who is economical, is laying up for himself the permanent power of being useful and generous.” She may have been thinking of her father, who had worked his way out of poverty, becoming a prosperous baker who could afford to be generous. And he was, especially at Thanksgiving, when he invited the woodcutters and berry-pickers he employed to a meal of “chicken-pies, pumpkin-pies…and heaps of donuts.”

Frugality had empowered her father, and she wanted to instill it in her readers. “Look frequently into the pails, to see that nothing is thrown to the pigs, which should be in the grease-pot,” she urged. “Look to the grease-pot, and see nothing is there which might serve to nourish your own family, or a poorer one.” The most economical cut of veal is the shoulder, Child advised, and the neck is the cheapest piece of mutton. Inexpensive coffee can be made from roasted peas, but “after all, the best economy is to go without.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Influential people

Influential people are never satisfied with the status quo. They’re the ones who constantly ask, ‘What if?’ and ‘Why not?’ They’re not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom and they don’t disrupt things for the sake of being disruptive; they do it to make things better.

Travis Bradberry

HarperCollins workers go on strike

From National Public Radio:

Union members at HarperCollins, one of the largest publishers in the country, started an indefinite strike today. Workers and supporters gathered outside the company’s New York City offices this morning to make their demands.

The action comes after a drawn out negotiation process, with workers asking for higher wages, stronger commitments to diversifying staff and better family leave. The approximately 250 unionized workers are represented by UAW 2110, and include people in design, marketing, publicity and sales. These employees have been working without a contract since April.

“What we’re asking for is a fair wage,” said Stephanie Guerdan, associate editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books and shop steward at the HarperCollins Union.

In the months leading up to the strike, the messaging from the workers has centered on meager pay while the company reported record profits in 2021. According to a recent statement, the average salary for HarperCollins employees is $55,000. The minimum salary is $45,000.

“None of that is an amount you can live on in New York City,” said Guerdan who added that the company is insisting that employees should be able to commute into the Manhattan offices at least one day a week.

A spokesperson for HarperCollins, which is owned by News Corp, sent a statement that read “HarperCollins has agreed to a number of proposals that the United Auto Workers Union is seeking to include in a new contract. We are disappointed an agreement has not been reached and will continue to negotiate in good faith.”

The striking workers are asking authors, agents and freelancers to withhold any new business with the company – but to continue to work on any existing agreements or contracts.

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

For those not familiar with News Corp, it’s a very large worldwide media conglomerate run by Rupert Murdoch.

News Corp publications include The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones, Barrons, The Australian, The Times of London, The Sun, The New York Post and a boatload of other Australian media companies.

Suffice to say, dead tree publications have had a rough ride over the past couple of decades, but, at least some News Corp pubs have aggressively moved online.

The example that immediately comes to PG’s mind is the Wall Street Journal, which has an excellent and large online edition. WSJ passed The New York Times as the largest circulation paper in the US several years ago.

We’re Witnessing the End of Social Media

From The Atlantic:

It’s over. Facebook is in decline, Twitter in chaos. Mark Zuckerberg’s empire has lost hundreds of billions of dollars in value and laid off 11,000 people, with its ad business in peril and its metaverse fantasy in irons. Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has caused advertisers to pull spending and power users to shun the platform (or at least to tweet a lot about doing so). It’s never felt more plausible that the age of social media might end—and soon.

Now that we’ve washed up on this unexpected shore, we can look back at the shipwreck that left us here with fresh eyes. Perhaps we can find some relief: Social media was never a natural way to work, play, and socialize, though it did become second nature. The practice evolved via a weird mutation, one so subtle that it was difficult to spot happening in the moment.

The shift began 20 years ago or so, when networked computers became sufficiently ubiquitous that people began using them to build and manage relationships. Social networking had its problems—collecting friends instead of, well, being friendly with them, for example—but they were modest compared with what followed. Slowly and without fanfare, around the end of the aughts, social media took its place. The change was almost invisible, but it had enormous consequences. Instead of facilitating the modest use of existing connections—largely for offline life (to organize a birthday party, say)—social software turned those connections into a latent broadcast channel. All at once, billions of people saw themselves as celebrities, pundits, and tastemakers.

A global broadcast network where anyone can say anything to anyone else as often as possible, and where such people have come to think they deserve such a capacity, or even that withholding it amounts to censorship or suppression—that’s just a terrible idea from the outset. And it’s a terrible idea that is entirely and completely bound up with the concept of social media itself: systems erected and used exclusively to deliver an endless stream of content.

But now, perhaps, it can also end. The possible downfall of Facebook and Twitter (and others) is an opportunity—not to shift to some equivalent platform, but to embrace their ruination, something previously unthinkable.

A long time ago, many social networks walked the Earth. Six Degrees launched in 1997, named after a Pulitzer-nominated play based on a psychological experiment. It shut down soon after the dot-com crash of 2000—the world wasn’t ready yet. Friendster arose from its ashes in 2002, followed by MySpace and LinkedIn the next year, then Hi5 and Facebook in 2004, the latter for students at select colleges and universities. That year also saw the arrival of Orkut, made and operated by Google. Bebo launched in 2005; eventually both AOL and Amazon would own it. Google Buzz and Google+ were born and then killed. You’ve probably never heard of some of these, but before Facebook was everywhere, many of these services were immensely popular.

Content-sharing sites also acted as de facto social networks, allowing people to see material posted mostly by people they knew or knew of, rather than from across the entire world. Flickr, the photo-sharing site, was one; YouTube—once seen as Flickr for video—was another. Blogs (and bloglike services, such as Tumblr) raced alongside them, hosting “musings” seen by few and engaged by fewer. In 2008, the Dutch media theorist Geert Lovink published a book about blogs and social networks whose title summarized their average reach: Zero Comments.

Today, people refer to all of these services and more as “social media,” a name so familiar that it has ceased to bear meaning. But two decades ago, that term didn’t exist. Many of these sites framed themselves as a part of a “web 2.0” revolution in “user-generated content,” offering easy-to-use, easily adopted tools on websites and then mobile apps. They were built for creating and sharing “content,” a term that had previously meant “satisfied” when pronounced differently. But at the time, and for years, these offerings were framed as social networks or, more often, social-network services. So many SNSes proliferated, a joke acronym arose: YASN, or “yet another social network.” These things were everywhere, like dandelions in springtime.

As the original name suggested, social networking involved connecting, not publishing. By connecting your personal network of trusted contacts (or “strong ties,” as sociologists call them) to others’ such networks (via “weak ties”), you could surface a larger network of the trusted contacts of trusted contacts. LinkedIn promised to make job searching and business networking possible by traversing the connections of your connections. Friendster did so for personal relationships, Facebook for college mates, and so on. The whole idea of social networks was networking: building or deepening relationships, mostly with people you knew. How and why that deepening happened was largely left to the users to decide.

That changed when social networking became social media around 2009, between the introduction of the smartphone and the launch of Instagram. Instead of connection—forging latent ties to people and organizations we would mostly ignore—social media offered platforms through which people could publish content as widely as possible, well beyond their networks of immediate contacts. Social media turned you, me, and everyone into broadcasters (if aspirational ones). The results have been disastrous but also highly pleasurable, not to mention massively profitable—a catastrophic combination.

The terms social network and social media are used interchangeably now, but they shouldn’t be. A social network is an idle, inactive system—a Rolodex of contacts, a notebook of sales targets, a yearbook of possible soul mates. But social media is active—hyperactive, really—spewing material across those networks instead of leaving them alone until needed.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic (via MSN)

PG expects social media to continue to evolve and develop, but doesn’t expect it to disappear anytime soon.

Editorium Update

From Editorium:

You can’t do much carpentry with your bare hands, and you can’t do much thinking with your bare brain. —Bo Dahlbom

High school English class. Freshman year. The teacher explained how to:

  1. Come up with a thesis statement.
  2. Create an outline of arguments supporting the thesis statement.
  3. Write a paper based on that outline.

That’s actually a terrible way to write! It requires you to organize your thoughts before you know what those thoughts actually are. But there is a better way.

Brainstorm, Organize, Write

What are your thoughts about a particular subject? In the days before computers, you’d find out like this:

  1. Get a package of index cards, something like these.
  2. On each card, write an idea related to your thesis (the fancy word for whatever it is you want to write about). Do not try to do this in any kind of order; you’re brainstorming here: good ideas, bad ideas, any ideas—they all go down on the cards. When your brain is empty, stop.
  3. On a big desk or table, spread the cards out in front of you. Keep them messy.
  4. Read the cards and stack those on a certain subject together until you have several stacks. Discard (pardon the pun) those that don’t belong anywhere or that now seem irrelevant or stupid.
  5. Put the cards in each stack in some kind of order. Importance? Chronology? You choose.
  6. Put the stacks in some kind of order. Each stack represents a section of your paper.

After you’ve captured and organized your thoughts, write your paper, starting with the first card and ending with the last. Each stack gets a subheading. Each card gets a paragraph. When you’re finished, edit your paper as needed.

Card-Based Writing Programs

But, again, that was in the days before computers. We now have much better ways of doing what I’ve just described, with new card-based writing programs popping up all the time.

. . . .


Milanote is the most expensive of the programs listed here, but it’s also the slickest. Cards can be created and then placed on the screen in any order you like. After you have them all down, organize them into columns. Finally, export the whole thing as a Word document, a Markdown document, or plain text, ready for editing. Milanote is elegant, a pleasure to use.


Speare doesn’t support free-form card placement; each paragraph is a card, and all cards must be arranged in a “board.” After creating and organizing your cards, “compile” them into a document, copy the document, and paste into Word or another word processor.

Link to the rest at Editorium

PG would be interested in hearing from visitors to TPV who use or have used programs like those described in the OP. He’d be interested to understand the pluses and minuses of using something other than a word processor.

5 Great Book Binding Services

From The Book Designer:

When it comes time to put your book into the world, looking into the top book binding services is key for self-publishing authors. The privilege of self-publishing means you have full creative control over what you publish, how you publish it, and when. 

However, how you decide to bind your book will play a large role in how readers view your finished product. A well-designed book that looks professional, is easy to use, and is also aesthetically pleasing will help you succeed. 

A book that lacks aesthetic appeal and is not bound in a way that reinforces your author brand will do you as well as your readers a disservice. In this article, we discuss five book binding services you can consider choosing. 

  • Types Of Book Binding
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Printivity
  • BookBaby
  • 48 Hour Books
  • Printing Center USA

Types Of Book Binding

Before diving into the specifics, it’s important to briefly cover some various types of book binding so you know your options. 

Saddle Stitching: In this type of binding, signatures or sheaves of folded paper are taken and fastened together in the centerfold using a number of staples. When you think of this type of binding, you can include catalogs, handouts with multiple sheets of paper, booklets, etc. 

Perfect Binding: This is widely used for softcover books, large catalogs, and even magazines. Perfect binding uses adhesive to bind pages together and creates a clean, firm look.

Spiral Bound: Remember your wide-ruled school notebooks? These are a classic example of spiral binding. This type of binding allows users to lay the book flat, bend the cover back against the back cover, and easily underline, highlight, or take notes. 

Case Binding: Most people refer to this as “hard cover.” This form of binding is the highest form, durable, and usually takes up more physical space. Because of the care put into the form, the longevity of the book, and the space it demands, these bindings are often regarded as more quality. 

Book Binding Services

Let’s take a look at five different options for book binding services for you to use.

#1 – Barnes & Noble

The Barnes & Noble Press helps you create quality books, both hardcover and paperback, for a variety of readers:

  • Friends
  • Family
  • Fans
  • Prospective readers
  • Reviewers 
  • Yourself 

Minus a few exceptions, you can rely on them to deliver your order to your doorstep within roughly ten days. 

The Barnes & Noble Press makes it their priority to use premium paper stock and offer print in full color or black and white. Users can choose hardcover format, hardcover with dust jacket, hardcover with printed case, or a variety of paperbacks. 

To use this binding service takes just three steps: Choose your format, prepare and upload your files, print and ship.

#2 – Printivity

Printivity says, “Perfect-bound booklets: A premium, professional reading experience. You don’t have to be a famous author for your work to feel like a masterpiece.” Sound like a great option? You’d be right. 

They use their expertise to give you guidance on how to elevate your product through the visuals you use. In fact, they review your uploaded files and create a digital proof before going to print. 

Template downloads include:

  • 8.5″x11″ Templates
  • 5.5″x8.5″ Templates
  • 10″x8″ Landscape Templates
  • 5″x7″ Templates
  • 6.625″x10.25″ Templates
  • 6″x9″ Templates
  • 8″x10″ Templates
  • 8″x8″ Templates
  • 9″x12″ Templates
  • 11″x8.5″ Landscape Templates
  • 8.5″x5.5″ Landscape Templates
  • 7″x5″ Landscape Templates
  • 9″x6″ Landscape Templates
  • 12″x9″ Landscape Templates

If they think another option will work better than your current one, they will explain their thought-process to you, all without delaying your delivery deadline. If this isn’t enough, they even promise that if your final product doesn’t meet your expectations they will reprint it at no charge or refund you in full. 

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

DeviantArt upsets artists with its new AI art generator, DreamUp

From Ars Technica:

On Friday, the online art community DeviantArt announced DreamUp, an AI-powered text-to-image generator service powered by Stable Diffusion. Simultaneously, DeviantArt launched an initiative that ostensibly lets artists opt out of AI image training but also made everyone’s art opt in by default, which angered many members.

DreamUp creates novel AI-generated art based on text prompts. Due to its Stable Diffusion roots, DreamUp learned how to generate images by analyzing hundreds of millions of images scraped off sites like DeviantArt and collected into LAION datasets without artists’ permission, a potential irony that some DeviantArt members find problematic.

As we’ve reported frequently on Ars in the past, Stable Diffusion’s web-scraping nature ignited a huge debate earlier this year among artists that challenge the ethics of AI-generated artwork. Some art communities have taken hard stances against any AI-generated images, banning them completely.

Perhaps anticipating a backlash, DeviantArt is making overtures to pacify artists who might be upset about their work being used to train AI image generators. The site is providing a special “noai” flag that artists can check in their image settings to opt out of third-party image datasets. (Whether third-party image scrapers will honor this flag, however, remains to be seen.)

. . . .

Also, DeviantArt will let artists opt out of letting their images train DreamUp in the future, but each artist must fill out a form that requires human review first. This policy has led to significant pushback among DeviantArt members, some of whom have threatened to delete all of their work and deactivate their accounts.

DeviantArt’s DreamUp information page also takes a defensive tone, stating that DeviantArt did not consent to third-party AI image models (such as Stable Diffusion) that scraped their site to make their models work. And further down the page, the site attempts to debunk common misconceptions about how AI image synthesis works.

Link to the rest at Ars Technica

For those not familiar with DeviantArt, it’s an artists’ social network. It’s also a place for those who might might want to commission an artist to produce something like a cover design for a fantasy or science fiction novel.

PG’s understanding is that a great many artists who create images with computers/tablets+computers, etc., show some of their work in order to attract visitors to their websites. Of course, everything an artist puts up on Deviant Art is a digital image.

Based on the Ars Technica article, it sounds like DeviantArt really screwed up the launch of its AI Art tool.

Of course, standard legal advice is that a creator should read all contracts, terms and conditions, terms of use, terms of service, etc., prior to uploading any creation to a website or other online destination.

One of the things a creator may find in the T’s&C’s is a provision that says the site owner can change the T’s&C’s at any time without notifying the creator in advance.

Here are a few sample provisions from Facebook’s Privacy Policy which is referenced in Facebook’s Terms of Service for your edification and enjoyment:

On our Products, you can send messages, take photos and videos, buy or sell things and much more. We call all of the things you can do on our Products “activity.” We collect your activity across our Products and information you provide, such as:

  • Content you create, like posts, comments or audio
  • Content you provide through our camera feature or your camera roll settings, or through our voice-enabled features. Learn more about what we collect from these features, and how we use information from the camera for masks, filters, avatars and effects.
  • Messages you send and receive, including their content, subject to applicable law. We can’t see the content of end-to-end encrypted messages unless users report them to us for review. Learn more.
  • Metadata about content and messages, subject to applicable law
  • Types of content you view or interact with, and how you interact with it
  • Apps and features you use, and what actions you take in them. See examples.
  • Purchases or other transactions you make, including credit card information. Learn more.
  • Hashtags you use
  • The time, frequency and duration of your activities on our Products

Information with special protections

You might choose to provide information about your religious views, political views, who you are “interested in” (which could reveal your sexual orientation) or your health in your Facebook profile fields or life events. This and other information (such as racial or ethnic origin, philosophical beliefs or trade union membership) could have special protections under the laws of your country.

(PG Note: You have to click to a separate page to continue reading the Terms of Service)

(The Facebook Docs continue.)

Friends, followers and other connections

Information we collect about your friends, followers and other connections

We collect information about friends, followers, groups, accounts, Facebook Pages and other users and communities you’re connected to and interact with. This includes how you interact with them across our Products and which ones you interact with the most.

Information we collect about contacts

We also collect your contacts’ information, such as their name and email address or phone number, if you choose to upload or import it from a device, like by syncing an address book.

If you don’t use Meta Products, or use them without an account, your information might still be collected. Learn more about how Meta uses contact information uploaded by account holders.

App, browser and device information

We collect and receive information from and about the different devices you use and how you use them.

Device information we collect and receive includes:

  • The device and software you’re using, and other device characteristics. See examples.
  • What you’re doing on your device, like whether our app is in the foreground or if your mouse is moving (which can help tell humans from bots)
  • Identifiers that tell your device apart from other users’, including Family Device IDs. See examples.
  • Signals from your device. See examples.
  • Information you’ve shared with us through device settings, like GPS location, camera access, photos and related metadata
  • Information about the network you connect your device to, including your IP address. See more examples.
  • Information about our Products’ performance on your device. Learn more.
  • Information from cookies and similar technologies.

Learn how to upload and delete contacts on Facebook and Messenger, or how to connect your device’s contact list on Instagram.

Information we collect or infer about you based on others’ activity

We collect information about you based on others’ activity. See some examples.

We also infer things about you based on others’ activity. For example:

  • We may suggest a friend to you through Facebook’s People You May Know feature if you both appear on a contact list that someone uploads.
  • We take into account whether your friends belong to a group when we suggest you join it.

Information from Partners, vendors and third parties

What kinds of information do we collect or receive?

We collect and receive information from Partners, measurement vendors and third parties about a variety of your information and activities on and off our Products.

Here are some examples of information we receive about you:

  • Your device information
  • Websites you visit and cookie data, like through Social Plugins or the Meta Pixel
  • Apps you use
  • Games you play
  • Purchases and transactions you make
  • Your demographics, like your education level
  • The ads you see and how you interact with them
  • How you use our Partners’ products and services, online or in person

Partners also share information like your email address, cookies and advertising device ID with us. This helps us match your activities with your account, if you have one.

We receive this information whether or not you’re logged in or have an account on our Products. Learn more about how we connect information from Partners to your account.

Partners also share with us their communications with you if they instruct us to provide services to their business, like helping them manage their communications. To learn how a business processes or shares your information, read their privacy policy or contact them directly.

Off-Facebook activity

How do we collect or receive this information from partners?

Partners use our Business Tools, integrations and Meta Audience Network technologies to share information with us.

These Partners collect your information when you visit their site or app or use their services, or through other businesses or organizations they work with. We require Partners to have the right to collect, use and share your information before giving it to us.

Lawyer PG notes all the links to other places sprinkled through Facebook’s TOS. Each of the links includes yet more information that is part of the TOS. While PG didn’t click and read what was to be found in each of the links in the Mother TOS, PG will note that the links can include information and definitions that changes the meanings Mother TOS substantially.

PG doesn’t know whether Facebook’s Terms of Service as a whole are great, sorta-great, somewhere-in-the-middle, sorta terrible or terrible because he swore off of Facebook a long time ago. He has more than one Facebook account that contains information that has nothing to do with PG-in-the-flesh if he finds out about something Facebook is doing that may be of interest to PG or visitors to TPV.

PG hasn’t read Deviant Arts’ TOU, TOS, etc., but these are some of the concerns that artists who use Deviant Arts as a marketing platform are likely thinking about at the moment.

This reminds PG that he hasn’t taken a look at KDP’s Terms of Use for awhile. He thinks he has copies of such documents from some earlier exploration of them, so he may check out the latest and see what Zon’s lawyers have altered, likely as a result of some disaster, minor or major, that transpired under an earlier TOU.

This will take PG awhile to finish, so don’t hold your breath waiting for it.

In Europe

In Europe, we would congratulate anyone who is successful. But congratulations stop if we find that you start to misuse a dominant position.

Margrethe Vestager

For those unfamiliar with Ms. Vestager, among other roles, she is the Commissioner for Competition in the EU, holding a position similar to the Assistant Attorney General which manages the Antitrust Division in the US Justice Department.


Competition is one of the most important drivers of innovation because you have to stay in the race. You have to think of something new, and if you don’t, well, of course you should leave the market.

Margrethe Vestager

What the ruling against the PRH-S&S merger means for the publishing business

From Mike Shatzkin:

Judge Florence Y. Pan ruled . . . that the acquisition of Simon & Schuster by Penguin Random House could not go forward. The ruling was explicitly to protect the “competition” for the “anticipated top-selling books”. In other words, the big books by big authors for which only the Big Five can compete regularly (with occasional bids coming in from a couple of other next-tier houses) will continue to have five well-funded suitors. The judge ruled that cutting that number from five to four would reduce the spend among that cohort of books, which is almost certainly true. (I comment on the fact of it; I have no idea about the law.)

What this decision says to me is:

  1. None of the Big Five can merge with each other without triggering the same concern Judge Pan cited in making this decision. That will not be good news to Hachette and HarperCollins, both of which opposed the PRH-S&S merger but probably hoped they could pursue S&S if the publisher remained independent.
  2. The five biggest publishers are probably at their high water mark for market share. The only way to expand a publishing house is to have a larger number of active titles. Publishing new titles profitably has become exceedingly difficult. But publishers can increasingly milk sales out of the long tail of backlist, thanks to the new digital marketing world we live in. So the biggest publishers have grown their title base by acquisition. This decision would appear to cut off that avenue, or at least cut publishers off from the biggest potential additions.
  3. The biggest winner with today’s decision is Ingram. The list of titles distributed and managed under their auspices can continue to grow, because Ingram doesn’t buy the companies or own the titles under their umbrella. Instead, they provide services that require scale to publishers without the publisher needing to finance the overhead. They can pay “by the drink”. So Ingram’s steady growth in title count and sales volume can continue.
  4. The expectation here had been that publishing would continue to consolidate until sometime later this decade PRH would be the only one left. Thanks to this decision, that won’t be. The Big Five will continue to operate as shrinking but very profitable entities for a long time. In fact, one would expect over time that they too, one by one, will give up maintaining overheads in favor of using Ingram themselves. So there won’t be One Big Publisher in ten years, but there very well might be One Big Distributor.

The one part of all that which probably requires more explanation is the second point, that publishers can’t reliably publish new titles profitably anymore.

When I (and most of today’s senior executives) were coming up in the business, almost all books sold were sold in bookstores. So only publishers with a selling relationship with the stores and the operations capability to deliver to them could play. There was a moat around their activity that prevented interlopers or amateurs (or “self-publishers”) from being truly competitive. For that reason, for many years, established publishers could reliably push out some thousands of copies of every title they issued and, in fact, achieved positive cash flow on a very high percentage of them. And then some stuck around to become longterm backlist.

In those halcyon days, three decades ago (or shortly before the arrival of Amazon and then ebooks), there were no more than 500,000 individual titles available in English in the world. So each new book from publishers competed against 500,000 existing books and was assured a minimal exposure through bookstores.

Today Ingram has nearly 20 million titles set up for printing on demand, which means they can ship a copy you order today to you tomorrow even if it isn’t printed at the moment. So each new title is competing against 40 times as many competitive titles as one did back then. And there is no assured distribution at all. Bookstores have shrunk in number and in size so that perhaps as little as 20-25 percent (or perhaps as much as 30-35 percent, but no more…) of print book sales are made at actual retail stores. All the rest of it, print and (of course) ebooks, is transacted online. There are advantages to being a big publisher in that context; you have more digital marketers on your staff and more digital tools and information to apply to selling what you have. And anything you have can be sold anytime. No need to get “inventory in place” in order to capitalize on a marketing break.

But the moat is gone. The inherently advantaged position of a title issued by an established publisher is diluted to near meaninglessness.

Link to the rest at Mike Shatzkin

PG hasn’t posted anything by Mike Shatzkin for a long time.

For those who are not familiar with him, Mike is a long-time participant in New York publishing. His father was also in the publishing business, so traditional New York publishing is in Mike’s bones.

During the early years of TPV, Mike’s posts were very helpful to PG’s understanding about the ins and outs, traditions and folkways of the traditional publishing business.

Mike described a time when there were lots of different publishers in New York, small, medium-sized and large. But even the large publishers were small compared to the dinosaurs of today’s publishing world. The publishing world Mike wrote about was innovative and peopled with more than a few characters who went their own way and did things differently.

Mike also told of an era when there were many more printers than Ingram. He tracked the growth of Ingram to pretty much a trade publishing printing and distribution monopoly. Ingram replaced another bevy of small printers, distribution warehouses, etc., who couldn’t compete because they were too small.

When PG first read about the actions of the U.S. Justice Department to stop Penguin Random House from acquiring Simon & Schuster, he wondered whether Justice would take a look at Ingram as another potential for an antitrust action in the book business.

PG found a partial list of Ingram’s publishing clients on their website. Observant visitors to TPV will note the absence of Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House and any of the the other remaining US publishing conglomerates on Ingram’s client list so the list is much longer than the one Ingram published.

When PG first found the list, the thought came across his mind that, if he were Ingram’s corporate counsel, he would advise taking down any list of a whole bunch of Ingram customers so as to not wave a red flag toward antitrust authorities.

Failure’s Gifts

From Public Books:

Phillis Wheatley was a failure. It’s not a polite way to remember the first Black woman to publish a book of poetry in the American colonies in 1773. Still, it’s true: nearly 250 years ago, Boston’s celebrated poet tried to publish a second book of poetry, A Volume of Poems and Letters, On Various Subjects, Dedicated to the Right Honorable Benjamin Franklin, Esq.: One of the Ambassadors of the United States, at the Court of France. And, she never did even though she compiled a list of titles, searched for funding, and advertised her forthcoming work in local newspapers. Despite Wheatley’s best efforts, there is neither a printed book nor an extant manuscript of it. There is only an aspirational proposal and a series of lists of letters and poems.

Wheatley’s failure isn’t what we talk about. It’s certainly not how we remember the “first” enslaved, Black, or woman writer to publish a book of poetry in what would soon be the United States of America. What’s celebrated is what we can read in print, Wheatley’s collection Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. June Jordan remembers Wheatley’s poetry as miraculous, evidence of what today is called “Black excellence.” Her volume of poetry is, without a doubt, a feat worth noting for a formerly enslaved woman who journeyed the Middle Passage as a child and learned to read and write well in English shortly thereafter. And her published occasional poems and elegies are the reason she is memorialized as the beginning of the African American literary tradition. I see why, then, it might not seem worthwhile to think about her failure because it’s not as much fun to talk about as her success.

But what if Wheatley’s failure matters just as much as her excellence and genius? What if there is information in the book that never was, or at least in Wheatley’s desire to publish it? Does her failure to publish it reveal something about how culture or literature is made, imagined, or revised into being? What if the origin story of African American literature is not just a celebration of Wheatley’s success but also an acknowledgment of her failure?

I owe my curiosity about Wheatley’s failure to Elizabeth McHenry, author of To Make Negro Literature (2021). Wheatley is my example, not hers. I’ve learned from McHenry’s newest book to think of an author’s failure as a generative site of inquiry. I didn’t expect to read about achievement’s antonym today, when “Black excellence,” “Black joy,” and “Black girl magic” are celebrated, hashtagged, cited, and memorialized on T-shirts, postcards, and murals. McHenry teaches a kind of reading practice that applies to Wheatley as easily as anyone else. It’s a way of reading that listens closely to what’s said whenever an author is willing to admit (or sometimes, not) their failure. Consider, as McHenry does: W. E. B. DuBois’s printing business is a bust. Mary Church Terrell is never able to publish her fiction. Does Booker T. Washington count as a writer if T. Thomas Fortune writes for him? Or the Library of Congress bibliographer who painstakingly gathers book titles for a comprehensive bibliography of African American writers, but it’s never published.

McHenry teaches how to read the past in order to glean the lessons to be learned from defeat. If we study failure, we can learn about process, creativity, and the makings of literary culture in the US alongside the country’s history of racialized and gendered violence. The lesson of these authors’ failed work is that they organized what counts as African American literature as they reworked and revised their plans, their words, or their pursuits.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Write a Sympathetic Villain Your Readers Will Love to Hate

From Jane Friedman:

When most people think of villains as they are writing a novel, they think of evil, heartless characters who are out to destroy or conquer the world. While these types of villains can, at times, be amusing, they can also be one-dimensional and uninteresting.

A great villain should have complex motivations and evoke sympathy from readers. Here’s how to build one.

Weave an intricate backstory.

For your story’s antagonist to be truly effective, they need to have a well-developed, and perhaps even tragic, backstory.

Just as your story’s protagonist should be more than just a one-dimensional character, your antagonist should be a fully formed individual with their own motivations, fears, and desires.

The best villainous characters have a deep, rich backstory that makes them relatable and ultimately human. Here are some ideas for interesting villain backstories:

  • The villain could be someone who was once a hero, but circumstances (or choices) led them down a dark path. They might be haunted by regrets for their evil actions, and their fall from grace only makes them more dangerous.
  • The villain could be someone who was born into a life of crime. They might have never known anything else, but they’re not necessarily happy with their lot in life. There’s always the possibility of breaking free from their criminal past, but they would need someone to show them the way.
  • Another option is for the villain to be an outsider who doesn’t fit in anywhere. They might be rejected by society and use their powers for evil as a way to get back at those who have wronged them.
  • Finally, the villain could be motivated by something other than money or power. They could be driven by revenge, love, or even a cause they believe in. No matter their motivation, they’re sure to be a force to be reckoned with.

A great example in literature and film is Frankenstein’s Monster, a creature made up of random body parts and shunned by the world as a result. His hatred of humanity is understandable, given his tragic history and desire for little more than sympathy and companionship—both of which are denied to him at every turn.

It begs the question: who is the true villain in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the monster or its creator?

By giving your antagonist an intricate or tragic backstory, you’ll make them more believable and give them greater depth and dimension. Also, by understanding your antagonist’s backstory, you’ll be able to better craft scenes in which they interact with your protagonist.

Give your villain a personality.

As an antagonist, your villain stands in the way of your protagonist’s goals and must be defeated for the hero to triumph. As such, you must give your villain a strong and distinctive personality. Why? Because a well-developed villain makes for a more suspenseful and engaging story.

Think about some of the most memorable villains in fiction: Hannibal Lecter, Darth Vader, Professor Moriarty, and The Wicked Witch of the West. These characters have unique motivations, histories, and quirks. By contrast, a generic and one-dimensional villain is immediately forgettable.

If you want your story to be gripping, make sure to put some thought into making your villain someone who readers will remember.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

The South Asian monsoon, past, present and future

From The Economist:

1. A gamble on the rains

With rheumy eyes and a face wizened by the sun, Narayanappa looks down to the ground and then, slowly, up to the skies. After weeks of harsh heat his land, one and a half hectares (four acres) of peanuts, chillies and mulberry bushes, has turned to dust. At the beginning of June, a dozen families local to Kuppam, a village in the Chittoor district of the south-eastern state of Andhra Pradesh, came together, as they do every year, to sacrifice a goat as a divine downpayment on a good monsoon. By mid-June the monsoon rains should be quenching the parched ground. Yet there is no sign of the livid clouds running up from the south-eastern horizon which serve as its evening harbingers, rising and roiling, filling the sky with their rumbling and the night with veiled lightning. The sky is as blank as the ground is dry. Narayanappa has his sacks of nuts ready to sow. But time is running out.

In his office at the India Meteorological Department in New Delhi, Madhavan Nair Rajeevan, the department’s boss, looks at portents which are dry in a different way—figures and lines on paper and screens. Where once the oncoming monsoon was spotted through telescopes on the veranda of the observatory built by the Maharajah of Travancore on a hill above Thiruvananthapuram (formerly Trivandrum) in Kerala, now the signs of its coming are looked for through tracked radar and satellites. But they are still of intense interest to the country’s rulers, and its people. The monsoon’s arrival in Thiruvananthapuram at the beginning of June marks the official beginning of India’s rainy season. The rains’ subsequent movement is tracked on a daily basis by national television stations, rather like the advance of the spring cherry blossom in Japan but with far greater human consequence.

A century of meteorological progress means that Mr Rajeevan can say with much more confidence than his predecessors how fast the summer monsoon will sweep up the nation and how much rain, overall, it will bring. When the monsoon started late this year he could give a convincing non-goat-related reason; Cyclone Vayu, in the Arabian Sea, upset the flows on which the monsoon depends. But though meteorology has improved, it has a long way to go. On average the monsoon is a regular wave of rain, rising and falling over the months from June to September. In any given year, though, the smooth wave is overwritten by spikes and troughs, bursts of intense precipitation and weeks of odd dryness, variations known as “vagaries” which science still struggles to grasp.

There is a complex structure in space, as well as time. Some places may be almost completely skirted by the rains. Others see deluges violent enough to destroy crops and carry away soil, the water running off the land before it can be caught and stored. The flooding that goes with such rains is expected to become worse and wider-spread as the global climate warms. Agriculture remains the Indian economy’s largest source of jobs, directly accounting for a sixth of its GDP and employing almost half of its working people. A bad monsoon can knock Indian economic growth by a third. The effects in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are on a similar scale. Almost a quarter of the world—1.76bn souls—lives with the South Asian monsoon.

As Guy Fleetwood Wilson, a finance minister, put it in 1909, the “budget of India is a gamble in rain.” Thanks to Mr Rajeevan and his colleagues, the odds of each year’s gamble are now better known. But obvious steps that might lower the stakes being played for are still not taken. Storage systems in cities have fallen into disuse; aquifers under farmland are depleted year by year faster than the monsoons can refill them. In a country where more people will face the risks of climate change in the decades to come than any other, the problems of the current climate are being ducked.

The metamorphosis brought by the burst of the monsoon is profound. Brown landscapes turn green, dusts become muds, cracks turn into mouths through which the earth slakes its thirst. The Ganges and the other great rivers fill then overflow, spreading silt-rich fertility across their floodplains. In the countryside the air takes up the petrichor aroma of fresh earth. In gardens, the scent of frangipani carries on the damp breeze; in cities, that unmistakably Indian blend of ordure, asphalt and spice.

It’s a sea breeze

The people respond. The rains bring a sense of relief and a new sensuality. In “The Cloud Messenger” by Kalidasa, one of the greatest Sanskrit poets of north India, the meeting of earth and clouds is nothing less than a kind of lovemaking. In the Sangam literature of the deep south, the heroine waits for her lover, who is away seeking war, wealth and adventure, to return with the rains. People still tell stories of inhibitions cast aside and new lovers taken. The heart takes on the driving, unpredictable rhythms of the rain.

For all its complexity and importance, on every scale from that of smallholders to empires, at its heart the monsoon is something fairly simple: a season-long version of the sea breezes familiar to all those who live by coasts. Because land absorbs heat faster than water does, on a sunny day the land, and the air above it, warm faster than adjoining seas. The hot air rises; the cooler air from above the sea blows in to take its place.

A monsoon is the same sort of phenomenon on a continental scale. As winter turns to summer, the Indian subcontinent warms faster than the waters around it. Rising hot air means low pressure; moist maritime water is drawn in to fill the partial void. This moist water, too, rises, and as it does, its water vapour condenses, releasing both water, to fall as rain, and energy to drive further convection, pulling up yet more moist air from below.

The heroine waits for her lover, who is away seeking war, wealth and adventure, to return with the monsoon rains

There are other monsoonal circulations around the world—in Mexico and the American south-west and in west Africa, as well as in East Asia, to the circulation of which the South Asian monsoon is conjoined. But geography makes the South Asian monsoon particular in a number of ways. The Indian Ocean, unlike the Pacific and the Atlantic, does not stretch up into the Arctic. This means that water warmed in the tropical regions cannot just flow north, taking its heat with it. It stays in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, lapping at India from the west and the east. And to the subcontinent’s north sits the Tibetan plateau, the highest on the planet. The summer heat there draws the monsoon’s moisture far higher into the atmosphere than it would otherwise be able to go, adding mountains of cloud to the Himalayan peaks.

The monsoon is thus a mixture of necessity and chance. Given the arrangement of sea and land and the flow of heat from equator to pole, such a season has to exist; given the vagaries of weather from year to year, and within the seasons themselves, it springs surprises for good and ill. It is also, and increasingly, a mixture of the natural and the human—as ever more humans depend on it, as humans learn new ways of anticipating it, and as humans face up to the climate change which will reshape it.

2. The winds that made Asia

The rains for which Narayanappa waits are not the whole story. The word “monsoon” blew into English from Portuguese in the late 16th century not because European sailors cared about the rain on alien plains, but because when they followed Vasco da Gama around the tip of Africa they came across a type of wind they had never encountered, and for which they had no name.

The Portuguese monção comes in its turn from the Arabic, mawsim, which means “season”. In the Atlantic Ocean, the only one to which the Portuguese were accustomed, winds in any given place tend to blow in pretty much the same direction throughout the year, though their intensities change with the season and their prevailing direction changes with the latitude. In the Indian Ocean, the prevailing winds flip back and forth.

This is because of the role played in the monsoon by the “intertropical convergence zone” (ITCZ) which encircles the world close to the equator. The ITCZ is a zone of low pressure over the warmest water. In all the oceans, this low pressure draws in steady winds from the south-east known as the southern trade winds.

During the northern hemisphere’s winter, the ITCZ sits south of the equator in the Indian Ocean. As warmth creeps north, so does the ITCZ, becoming a dynamic part of the monsoon. It ends up nestled against the Himalayas, bringing the southern trades with it. But their move from the southern hemisphere to the northern, and the constraining effect of high pressure over Africa, sees them twisted from south-easterlies to south-westerlies. When these south-westerly trades pick up in late spring—wind speeds in the Arabian Sea can double over a few weeks—the rains are on their way to Thiruvananthapuram.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Not about books, but PG was taken by the quality of the writing in the OP.

Want to Crack the Case? These Are The 101 Best Mystery Books of All Time

From Parade:

To craft a list of the 101 best mysteries of all time, the first thing you must do is define “mystery,” a genre we believe puts its emphasis on solving a puzzling event—often a crime or murder but not always. If it’s set in London and there’s fog and a man named Sherlock, you’re on solid ground. Otherwise, the line between the best mystery book and the best thriller, suspense or spy novel is a murky one indeed.

You’ll find classic locked-room mysteries, amateur detectives, cops on the beat and a few curve balls to keep you on your toes. Oh, and we’re sticking to one title per author, so you won’t find five Agatha Christies or Ruth Rendells here—just one legendary book that stands in for their body of work.

To help us narrow down the list to the absolute best mystery novels, we reached out to acclaimed and bestselling authors, bookstores around the country that love murder mystery, critics who review detective novels and the like. We’ve even scoured crowd-sourcing sites like Goodreads to see what you’ve loved the most.

Whether you’re looking for the perfect murder mystery set in your vacation destination, a classic to recommend to a book club or a great spooky series to dive into, it’s all here. Grab your magnifying glass, your library card and a pen and paper—you’ll want to take notes! Leave a comment telling us which books on here you love, which you’re dying to read and which ones you are astonished to find missing.

. . . .

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Of course, the Queen of Crime would top the list. (Not that it’s in any particular order!) But which Christie to choose? On Goodreads, the various rankings of best mystery books feature more of her titles than the body of a gangster-turned-rat has bullet holes. Should we choose The Murder At The Vicarage, her amusing introduction of Miss Marple? Christie’s groundbreaking The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd? Heck, her stand-alone puzzler And Then There Were None is probably the bestselling mystery of all time, with more than 100 million copies sold. But we chose Hercule Poirot’s Murder On The Orient Express. The solution to the crime is so elegant, so simple and so audacious we imagine every other mystery writer alive that read it smacked their foreheads and said, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

When it comes to a series, we gravitate to the first title because, well, if a series is great, that’s where you want to start. No series is greater than the Easy Rawlins books, launched in 1990 about an African-American private investigator and WWII vet. The series has it all: great mysteries, a great and complex hero and—as the books unfold and document decades in L.A.—a great history of life in America as rich and ambitious as the U.S.A. trilogy by John Dos Passos or August Wilson’s Century Cycle. At its core is this mystery: How does a Black man survive in America with his dignity intact?

The Bat by Jo Nesbø

Nordic noir, where have you been all our lives? The flood of marvelous mystery and suspense books from chilly Oslo and its sister cities is one of the great joys for fans of the best mystery books around, whatever their accent. Nesbø’s Harry Hole is the latest in a long line of sleuths who are train wrecks in their personal (and often professional) lives. Ironically, in this first Hole story, the Oslo inspector is consulting in Sydney, Australia. Not to fear: Australia has its fair share of serial killers and deep-dark secrets. Yes, this could just as easily be in thrillers, but watching Hole track down his prey by worrying about every stray clue like a dog with a bone is very satisfying.

The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley

“Possibly the most influential crime novel of the past half-century, and probably the best private eye novel ever written—in a world blessed with Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett,” says Otto Penzler, proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop. The poetry of the prose, he says, transcends the complex plot in which C.W. Sughrue (pronounced ’Shug’ as in sugar, honey, and ‘rue’ as in rue the goddamned day”), is hired to find a missing author but winds up searching for a girl who’s been missing from Haight-Ashbury for a decade. “Best line? There are a dozen, including the best opening line since Rebecca. But my favorite is ‘Nobody lives forever, nobody stays young long enough.’”

Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon

Down below on this list, author Leon offers pithy praise for the legendary Ruth Rendell’s classic Judgement In Stone. She needn’t toot her own horn because so many others will do it for her. Leon’s bestselling Commissario Brunetti books will have you falling in love with the city of Venice and her decent, redoubtable hero. The 31st book came out in 2022, but Leon nailed her cultured, thoughtful and usually successful protagonist right at the start: “His clothing marked him as Italian. The cadence of his speech announced he was Venetian. His eyes were all policeman.” Grab an espresso, sit down and savor.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by John H. Watson M.D. (as edited by Nicholas Meyer)

We could make a list of the 100 best mystery novels about Sherlock Holmes not written by Arthur Conan Doyle and it would be shockingly good. Indeed, you’ll find a few of them on here, including this one, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. It’s the granddaddy of them all. There’s the frank treatment of drug addiction alluded to in the canon and the clever weaving of real-world figures like Sigmund Freud. Pure joy for fans who never imagined they would learn more about the world’s most famous private investigator.

Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell

Do you love TV shows like C.S.I.? You can thank Cornwell and her greatest creation: Medical examiner Kay Scarpetta, who’s a bit like Jack Klugman’s Dr. Quincy of TV fame, just turbocharged with the latest tech. Twenty-five books and counting feature Scarpetta tracking down killers, cutting through office politics and dealing with a cranky but brilliant niece, not always in that order. On the side, Cornwell also spent years researching Jack the Ripper and delivered her own solution to the coldest case of them all. Scarpetta means “little shoe,” but Cornwell is leaving a big imprint on the genre.

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Why not The Maltese Falcon or Red Harvest or a number of other Hammett classics? Because none of his other books spawned a cottage industry quite like the irresistible husband-and-wife team of Nick and Nora Charles. They drink, they banter, they drink, they outwit criminals and the police, they drink some more and when the bottle runs dry, they reluctantly get around to solving the murder. The book led to the classic films starring WilliamPowell and Myrna Loy and that led to everything from the TV shows Hart To Hart and Moonlighting to charming copycat mysteries featuring Mr. and Mrs. North and far too many more to mention.

Link to the rest at Parade

PG notes that the author of the OP was careful to say that she was not attempting to rank the best mysteries from 1 to 101.

5 Unbreakable Rules Of Cozy Mysteries (And How To Bend Them)

From Frolic:

Every genre has its conventions and rules. Romances need a Happy Ever After. Historical fiction has to be accurate to the era. A YA protagonist is a teenager.

And then there are cozies.

Cozy mysteries fall under the larger suspense and mystery umbrella, and what sets them apart are several unbreakable rules that exist to keep cozy mysteries light and accessible. When you pick up a cozy, you know exactly what you’re going to get—a delightful romp, with a side of murder. These are fun books with quirky characters in quaint towns you can share with your mother-in-law.

Cozies appeal to a wide audience, and as that audience grows, some of these hard-and-fast rules are becoming hard-and-fast suggestions. Cozy authors are pushing the boundaries, which opens the doors for writers like me. I write quirky, unconventional, character-driven cozy mysteries. Emphasis on “unconventional.” Because while the rules of cozies are unbreakable, they can be surprisingly flexible.

RULE #1: Although cozies revolve around a murder, all violence—including the central death(s)—has zero blood or gore. For example, in Laurie Cass’s Checking Out Crime, a dead body is barely glimpsed on a dark, lonely road. Cozies shouldn’t subject readers to a gory description of a murder scene, which is ironic considering how many classes on blood splatter patterns, body decomp, and other forensic sciences I took to complete my Criminology degree. But people don’t read cozies for graphic details. In fact, the death in most cozies takes place “off screen”. Here’s the first place I start to bend the rules. Killer Content‘s main character, Odessa Dean, witnesses the murder on an actual screen, a cell phone screen, as the victim’s death is caught in a proposal video gone viral. The death is bloodless, at least from the reader’s point of view, so the rule is bent but not broken.

RULE #2: No “adult” situations—particularly no cursing and NO sex. Cozies can include romance, but it isn’t a central top and there are never explicit romance scenes. To be completely honest, this is one of the many reasons I love writing cozies. I can’t write a kissing scene that isn’t cringeworthy. Over the course of the Brooklyn Murder Mysteries, characters have relationships, but I never describe what goes on behind closed doors. Some recent cozies, including Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo, almost straddle the line between rom-com and cozy while others have no romance at all. None of the characters in my books are going to drop an F-bomb, but they do talk, text, and post in modern language. Traditionally, cozies also steer clear of political or controversial topics, but recently, writers are weaving serious social issues into diverse stories.

RULE #3: In cozies, the main character is not law enforcement, is normally female, and is often in her forties or over. Many cozies start with a life-changing event that causes the heroine to move from a big city to a small town (more on that later!) which can range from needing to take over the family business from an aging parent to starting over after a divorce. Odessa, in comparison is only twenty-three at the beginning of the Brooklyn Murder Mysteries when she moves from a tiny town in Louisiana to New York City. She joins other fantastic millennial cozy sleuths as Mia P. Manansala’s Lila Macapagal in the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery Series and Abby Collette’s Bronwyn Crewse in the Ice Cream Parlor Mysteries.

Link to the rest at Frolic

15 Cozy Books To Get Wrapped up in This Fall

From TheEveryGirl:

In my humble opinion, as soon as the clock strikes midnight on September 1, it’s officially fall. Is it still blazing hot out? Yes. Does fall not technically start until September 22? Yes. But, as someone who waits all year long for fall to roll back around, I could never let mere technicalities delay me from enjoying my favorite season. It’s the season of changing leaves, crisp weather, Halloween, and diving headfirst into cozy books from the comfort of my reading nook. Can you blame me for wanting to kick things off a little early?

While fall is the spookiest season of them all—and the perfect time to indulge in everything that goes bump in the night—sometimes a thriller book or horror movie simply isn’t what we’re looking for. These cozy books will give you all of the fall vibes you know and love—and even a hint of spookiness, minus the nightmares. Heat a cup of your favorite tea, find the comfiest spot in your home, and get lost in one of these cozy low-stakes stories that will give you your fall fix and leave you able to sleep at night.

The House in the Cerulean Sea

Linus Baker finds comfort in his mundane, routine life. He works at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, overseeing the care of children in gover`nment-run orphanages. He goes about his life without much incident, until one day he’s summoned by Extremely Upper Management with an assignment far more exciting and dangerous than any he’s been given before. He’s to travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage to see if the six children residing there, one of whom is the literal Antichrist, will actually bring about the end of the world. Linus accepts the assignment, thinking of it as any other job and not realizing just how special the Marsyas Island Orphanage and its residents are.

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches

Mika Moon is one of the few remaining witches in Britain. In order to keep her identity a secret, she keeps her head down and stays away from other witches so as not to draw attention. She does a pretty good job of this, save for the silly little online account she uses to post videos of herself pretending to be a witch. It’s a harmless joke, right? Wrong. Mika receives a mysterious message asking her to come to the Nowhere House to take over the teaching of three young witches. Despite this being a bad idea and going against the rules she (mostly) followed, Mika decides to go. Once there, Mika begins to view her new charges and the other residents of Nowhere House as a family of sorts, save for the librarian, Jamie, who can’t find it in himself to trust the newcomer.

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy

As an undertaker, there isn’t anyone in Tanria who gets under Mercy’s skin quite like the marshal Hart. The two have exasperating run-in after exasperating run-in, and after one such incident, Hart finds himself writing a letter to no one in particular. When he gets a surprise response, he finds he has a new pen pal and a friendship is born. Unfortunately, the person Hart has been sharing his deepest darkest secrets to is none other than the person he loathes most in the world: Mercy. What will happen to their budding romance when their identities are finally revealed?

Link to the rest at TheEveryGirl

What Makes a Cozy Just That?

From Cozy Mystery List:

Imagine your terror at finding out that Jessica Fletcher was moving from Cabot Cove to your neighborhood! Would you stay up at night just wondering when this unassuming, friendly woman was going to befriend you? Would you wonder which of your friends would be the first, and then second, third, even fourth to die? I have loved watching Jessica solve all the murders in Cabot Cove, and then, when she ran out of neighbors, have to move to New York. If you are reading this article about cozy mystery books, you probably have enjoyed watching Jessica solve her way through one community after the next. She is a prime example of a Cozy Mystery Heroine….

Cozy mysteries have become a booming business. Many cozy mystery readers are intelligent women looking for a “fun read” that engages the mind, as well as provides entertainment… something to “look forward to getting back to.” This is not to say that intelligent men don’t read cozies…they do!

The crime-solver in a cozy mystery is usually a woman who is an amateur sleuth. Almost always, she has a college degree, whether she is using it or not. Her education and life’s experiences have provided her with certain skills that she will utilize in order to solve all the crimes that are “thrown her way.” The cozy mystery heroine is usually a very intuitive, bright woman. The occupations of the amateur sleuths are very diverse: caterer, bed and breakfast owner, quilter, cat fancier/owner, nun, gardener, librarian, book store owner, herbalist, florist, dog trainer, homemaker, teacher, needlepoint store owner, etc. These are just a few examples of what the amateur sleuth does…. When she’s not solving crimes, that is!

The cozy mystery usually takes place in a small town or village. The small size of the setting makes it believable that all the suspects know each other. The amateur sleuth is usually a very likeable person who is able to get the community members to talk freely (i.e. gossip) about each other. There is usually at least one very knowledgeable and nosy (and of course, very reliable!) character in the book who is able to fill in all of the blanks, thus enabling the amateur sleuth to solve the case.

Although the cozy mystery sleuth is usually not a medical examiner, detective, or police officer, a lot of times her best friend, husband, or significant other is. This makes a very convenient way for her to find out things that she would otherwise not have access to… Do you know any caterers or dog trainers who have access to autopsy reports? I don’t! (Unless you count some of my favorite cozy characters…)

At the same time, it is probably safe to say that the local police force doesn’t take the amateur sleuth very seriously. They dismiss her presence, almost as if she doesn’t exist. This of course, makes it convenient for her to “casually overhear” things at the scene of a crime.

More and more, cozy mystery books are being written as parts of a series. The reader becomes emotionally involved and connected with the reoccurring characters. It’s almost as if the reader is “going home” to a familiar place when she reads her next cozy mystery book in a series. (Of course, publishers of these series must enjoy knowing that fans of a series guarantee the success of each book in the series. It’s not uncommon for fans of a cozy mystery series to pre-order a book before it is available at the stores.)

In a series, it is important that the characters are likeable, so that the reader will want to visit them again. The supporting characters are equally important to the reader. It is for his reason that there are so many funny, eccentric, and entertaining secondary characters. Can you imagine wanting to read the second book in a series that has all of its characters as scummy, low-life people, perpetrating evil deeds and being downright mean all of the time?

Link to the rest at Cozy Mystery List

How Cosy Can You Get?

From Writer Unboxed:

In my workshops for aspiring writers, I am often asked how best to categorize a manuscript when submitting it to an agent or publisher. As I’m mainly a writer of fantasy, this question usually comes from fledgling writers of speculative fiction. Where does their work fit into the various sub-genres of fantasy, or is it actually science fiction? If there’s a love story, maybe it’s romantic fantasy, fantasy-romance, paranormal romance? Fantasy comes in many varieties. We have epic/high fantasy (think Tolkien), fairytale fantasy, low fantasy, urban fantasy. Then there are sword and sorcery, grimdark, and magic realism. And don’t forget cosy fantasy, a sub-genre I hadn’t heard of until a couple of weeks ago. I’ll come back to that later. A similar range of variants exists in other kinds of genre fiction, such as romance, crime and mystery.

When this comes up in a workshop, I usually say, forget this for now. First get the manuscript all set for submission. That means not only finished, but polished and edited to the very best standard the writer can achieve. I explain about the value of critique partners or writing groups, the need to seek feedback from someone with the appropriate expertise, the value of beta readers and so on. A writer who reads widely is less likely to ask that question about sub-genre – they will already have a fair idea of where their work fits in. Others may need to think it through, in particular to be clear about the difference between science fiction and fantasy. The generally accepted definitions are that SF contains elements that do not and cannot exist in the world of today, but that might exist in the future, eg human contact with life elsewhere in the universe, where fantasy contains elements that do not and could not exist in our world now or in the future eg magic, supernatural beings (though that definition is crying out to be challenged.) Just to confuse the issue, it is possible for a story to be a blend of science fiction and fantasy. Steampunk, with its combination of magic and technology, has the potential to be both at once. Once the manuscript is as perfect as it can be, the writer does need to decide how they’ll describe it in their cover letter to the agent/publisher. I remind them that if they’re lucky enough to have someone read it, that person will first be looking for outstanding storytelling and originality, whatever the genre or sub-genre.

Genre categories can be misleading. They don’t mean the same thing to everyone. What led me to write this blog post was an invitation to participate in a panel about Cosy Fantasy. I was startled, to say the least. I had never thought of my books as in any way cosy. To me the term suggested the fantasy equivalent of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series, something set in a quaint English village or equivalent, with a cast of (mostly) loveable or amusing characters and a story the reader can breeze through without being too troubled. As it happened, I couldn’t do the panel in question because of time zone problems. I asked why they would put me on a cosy fantasy panel when I don’t write in that sub-genre. The answer was, more than one reader had identified my work as cosy fantasy. I was shocked. I imagined a person unfamiliar with my work trying out one of the books on the recommendation that it was a comfort read and being confronted with characters battling severe mental illness, scenes of fratricide, assault, torture, cruel incarceration, and human sacrifice (not all in the same book, I hasten to say.) So I decided I’d better investigate.

It was true. Bloggers and other readers had recommended my work – very positively – as cosy fantasy. Had those dark plot lines and troubled characters somehow been overlooked because I sometimes included a cast of small, benign uncanny folk? Or was it the fact that most of the books/series include a happily resolved love story? Was I writing cosy books without even knowing it?

Next step: find a definition for cosy fantasy. Google brought me many results. ”A feel-good story with low stakes in a fantasy setting.”  ”It’s light-hearted and fun. The characters are not constantly in peril.” Or this one, from the Cosy Fantasy forum on Reddit: “Cozy Fantasy is a genre of imaginative fiction involving magic and adventure that gives a feeling of comfort, warmth, and relaxation.”  The comments on that forum were enlightening – it seemed like serious themes could be included and stakes could be high, but the dark scenes were in the background rather than shown graphically on the page. I’ve included the link to that discussion, as it makes insightful reading.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

‘Confidence in Research’: Scrutiny Over Understanding

From Publishing Perspectives:

Today (November 8), Elsevier has released its new “Confidence in Research” report, based on a survey of 3,000 researchers from around the world. The survey, announced on July 13, was conducted in collaboration with UK-based Economist Impact. It had to do with the way researchers themselves see their fields, their work, and the deficiencies that might limit trust.

While there’s a lot to be said about the public’s trust and understanding of the research industry in an age of mis- and disinformation, this study’s look at scientific researchers, themselves, indicates that 63 percent of scientific researchers surveyed said they feel the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has increased public attention on research, but only 38 percent said they think that better public understanding of research will be a legacy of the pandemic.

With the input of more than 3,000 scientists, scholars, and researchers, the interest was in how the still-ongoing pandemic has impacted research and its communication in the face of heightened public scrutiny.

As the executive summary says, “The huge quantities of information, increasingly publicized before peer review, poses challenges to identifying information that can be relied upon, even for seasoned researchers.

“This information must be synthesized and shared with the public, media, and policymakers, and researchers are increasingly the messengers.

“But what are the longer-term impacts of this? Are researchers prepared for this public-facing role? Are they equipped to communicate complex, often nuanced findings to lay audiences? And are they confident that the research community is providing them with support and incentive structures that are fit-for-purpose amidst this new landscape?”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the survey found that “being published in a peer-reviewed journal is the most important marker of reliability, according to 74 percent of researchers surveyed.”

The study also indicates that more than half of researchers responding (52 percent) said they feel the pandemic increased the importance of publishing research early, prior to peer review, and many—particularly women, early career researchers, and those in Global South countries—said they feel the pandemic has widened inequalities in, and access to, funding in their fields.

Over-simplification was a concern for 52 percent of the respondents, and 56 percent of them cited politicization of research as a problem “because of increased public attention and social media focus on research and the research process.”

In fact, only 18 percent of the respondents said they feel “highly confident” in communicating their feelings on social media, and 32 percent said they’ve experienced or known a close colleague who experienced abuse after posting research online.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG opines that, in the US at least, cost/benefit analysis of various strategies to limit the spread and damage caused by COVID was deficient in some respects. Some experts seemed to default to recommendations that would shut the economy down without carefully examining the risk/reward and cost/benefit results of their recommendations.

China is, of course, an extreme case in which the presence of one COVID-infected individual would often result in a complete lockdown of a neighborhood or high-rise apartment building. How long it will take the Chinese economy to overcome the great damage caused by strict shutdowns remains to be seen.

At times, it seemed that there was a tension between providing accurate information about risks and fears that the unwashed masses would go crazy if threats were not magnified to the Nth degree and extreme limitations were not enforced.

The reports and photographs various government leaders violating their own lock-down orders certainly reduced compliance of COVID strictures.

How Big of a Problem Is “Head Hopping”?

From Jane Friedman:


I am a professional writer and former journalist, but I’m new to writing fiction. I’m wondering whether I’m guilty of “head hopping,” or of author intrusion, by allowing the reader to peek into the thoughts of minor characters of the story. If this is the case, is it a problem or is it the natural role of an omniscient narrator?

—Ready to Revise

Dear Ready to Revise:

I’m so glad you asked!

It’s natural for those new to writing fiction to revel in their ability to enter the mind of different characters in the story. It feels like a superpower, and it is: No other storytelling mode offers you the ability to enter into the point of view (POV) of the story’s characters in such an intimate and revealing way.

But like so many things with fiction, it’s important to realize that what’s fun for us as writers may not be fun for our readers. And that, like many things we admire in the work of our favorite writers, we may not yet have the chops to do these things well.

Yes, revealing what’s in the minds of minor characters is indeed a privilege of the omniscient POV. But the omniscient POV is an advanced technique, and therefore not something I recommend to those just starting out with fiction.

I’ll explore both of these in more detail, but first, an important distinction: When we talk about “head hopping,” we’re not talking about a story with multiple POVs. Rather, we’re talking about a story that includes multiple POVs within the same scene, without benefit of a line break or chapter break. “Head hopping” is what happens when an inexperienced writer fails to do it well.

Here’s why “head hopping” can be no fun for readers.

It can be jarring. Imagine cruising along in a story at top speed (we read fiction fast, in part because we feel like we’re really in the mind of the POV character, living the story), and then suddenly, it’s not clear whose head we’re in, or even what’s supposed to be happening.

For example, consider the following:

John perused the menu. That burger sounded good, but then again, he was trying to watch his weight—his wife was right, he wasn’t getting any younger, and Dr. Sykes had been warning him for years about his cholesterol. Maybe the salad? But then he’d be ravenous at his four o’clock.

All these finance guys always spent forever looking at the menu but then always ordered the same thing. It would have been funny if it wasn’t so stereotypical. Erik smiled, marshaling his patience. “Would you like me to come back?”

That second paragraph is likely to give your reader whiplash, because it’s not clear whose head we’re in—or even who Erik actually is (the server).

You want readers to read quickly, because that’s part of what creates what John Gardner called the “vivid and continuous dream” of fiction.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

At what age do they take people to Ukraine?

From The Economist:

In late September, soon after Vladimir Putin announced that there would be nationwide conscription in Russia, I overheard my 14-year-old student ask his father about it. “At what age do they take people to Ukraine?” the boy said, anxiously. His father wrapped him in a hug, reassuring him that he was too young. In all the months I’d been the family’s live-in tutor, I’d never seen my boss display so much affection to his children.

The boy used to be a lot more gung-ho. When the “special military operation” in Ukraine first started in February he would sternly repeat the government line to me (Russia was strong and good, Ukraine wasn’t a real country). At school he and his friends would tell patriotic jokes. Recently, though, I’d noticed that the memes he forwarded weren’t all pro-Russian – some had even come from the Ukrainian side. The other day he made me watch a TikTok of Ukrainian soldiers imitating characters from a popular video game, followed by more clips of him and his friends trying to recreate their moves. I asked him if they realised it was Ukrainian soldiers they were emulating. He shrugged.

A more serious message seems to be cutting through the jumble of social-media posts. When we were going through his homework shortly after the hug I witnessed, my student abruptly said: “I think Russia is losing the war.” I asked why he thought that. “That’s just what I heard. I think nobody wants to fight there.” We moved on, but the gravity of what he’d said lingered.

. . . .

This teenager is not the only one whose patriotic certainty has faded since the war’s early days. A giant “Z” – the symbol of support for Putin’s invasion – that someone had painted across the front of a building in the city has now gone. People make snide remarks about Russia’s progress on the battlefield, and they go unchallenged. The draft has changed the atmosphere.

Men are becoming less visible in Russia: hundreds of thousands have been conscripted and many more are fleeing conscription. At a café I recently overheard a table of women gossiping about their boyfriends in Turkey. The army isn’t held in much esteem these days (“Russian soldiers are supposed to be the second-best in the world but I think my husband is only third or fourth,” runs one joke) so little shame is attached to draft-dodging.

Some women I know whose partners have left the country are discovering new reserves of toughness. One friend is doing two jobs so that she can send money to her boyfriend, who is lying low in Turkey without an income. She’s so relieved he’s safe from the draft that she doesn’t even seem to register how tired she is. Another is doing the same for her boyfriend. “He supported me for ten years, now it’s my turn,” she says.

. . . .

Others left behind are distraught. One friend called me in tears to say her half-brother had received his summons and was going to Ukraine at the end of October. “He is terrified. He cried with my father when he got the letter. He is too young,” she said. She is convinced he is going to die.

I don’t know any men who have gone to fight, but my boss’s bodyguard, a fit man in his early 30s, is clearly expecting the summons. In the days following the announcement he kept going off to take phone calls in private. We recently found ourselves alone together and I asked him what he was planning to do. “I am stuck here. We don’t speak English,” he said. “My job here is great. In Turkey, what can I do?” He hopes he will at least have a chance to get his wife pregnant before he’s called up.

Link to the rest at The Economist

As a child

As a child, I felt that books were holy objects, to be caressed, rapturously sniffed, and devotedly provided for. I gave my life to them. I still do. I continue to do what I did as a child; dream of books, make books and collect books.

Maurice Sendak

The school library used to be a sanctuary. Now it’s a battleground

From CNN:

In September 2021, protesters ambushed the board meeting of the New Jersey school district where I have worked as a high school librarian since 2005. The protesters railed against “Gender Queer,” a memoir in graphic novel form by Maia Kobabe, and “Lawn Boy,” a coming-of-age novel by Jonathan Evison. They spewed selected sentences from the Evison book, while brandishing isolated images from Kobabe’s.

Next, they attacked Banned Books Week, an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. The protesters characterized it as a nefarious plot to lure kids to degradation.

But the real sucker punch came when one protester branded me a pedophile, pornographer and groomer of children. After a successful career, with retirement on the horizon, to be cast as a villain was heartbreaking.

Even worse was the response from my employer – crickets. The board sat in silence that night, and for the next five months refused to utter a word in my defense.

For months now, news broadcasts and social media have featured scenes of once-sedate board of education meetings now as action-packed as professional wrestling matches. Parents, faces red with wrath, scream in objection to library books. Often their outrage includes trash talk about librarians and board members.

These smackdowns aren’t isolated incidents. In a coordinated campaign, groups with extreme agendas have attacked libraries nationwide. Between January and August of this year, the American Library Association recorded 681 challenges against 1,651 books, setting a pace to shatter last year’s record 729 challenges.

For me, these aren’t just statistics, but the scorecard for the worst year of my working life.

. . . .

Amid the controversy, some colleagues shunned me. Students who were allied with the protesters hid books about gender and sexuality. Hate mail arrived at my school email address, while trolls attacked me on social media. The protesters even attempted to file criminal charges with local law enforcement.

The library that served as a safe space for students now felt unsafe for me. Yet I continued to plug away, teaching information literacy classes, creating programs, and consulting with students until October of last year, when I experienced what I now know was a stress-induced collapse. When I saw my personal physician the next day, she ordered my removal from the workplace, prescribed anxiety medication and referred me to a therapist.

The first few weeks of therapy were difficult. Despair consumed me to the point that when the therapist asked, “Have you had thoughts about killing yourself?” I tearfully admitted that I went to bed nightly wishing that I wouldn’t wake up.

The suffering was not mine alone. Under normal conditions, our library provides a calming oasis for students. Beyond books and research resources, we offer relaxing activities and a soothing atmosphere that satisfies students’ social and emotional needs. While I was under attack, however, the library program languished. No new books, no displays, no craft projects, no research instruction, no librarian for a friendly chat.

Counselors later reported that students expressed fear for my welfare.

Link to the rest at CNN

PG recalls an old, but now seemingly endangered, truism, “You can disagree without being disagreeable.”

He also remembers the many librarians who enriched his life as a boy and is pained to think of kind souls like them being insulted by anyone.

The Problem With Canon

From Esquire:

It’s the best of times and the worst of times to be a fan. For devotees of mega-franchises like Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s never been a more massive glut of new content. We’re living through a golden age of interconnected storytelling, as sequels and prequels explode across film, television, and literature faster than many of us can keep up. Yet at the same time, these mega-franchises are tormented by their most strident fans, melting down into paroxysms of toxicity through petitions, review bombing, and targeted harassment campaigns, among other odious tactics. Toxic fandom is a complex beast, but at the root of its many convulsions, there’s often one sore spot: the sticky concept of canon.

Canon is scripture; canon is king; canon can do no wrong. Its definition is simple—the term refers to a fictional body of work and its established facts—but that’s where the simplicity ends. In this age of massive cultural production, of sequels and prequels and cinematic universes, where does canon start and stop? Do novelizations, video games, or other ancillaries count—and who gets to decide? When new entries to the canon subvert or “retcon” the established universe, what’s to be done with those unruly fictions? After all, when storytellers dare to expand canon, whether by disrupting the narrative or simply shining a flashlight into its underexplored corners, there can be hell to pay. Increasingly, fans have become canon’s militant enforcers; when those seeking to enlarge canon stray across its perceived guardrails, like J.J. Abrams or Rian Johnson, backlash is swift and vociferous. In one memorable dust-up, Star Wars fans petitioned for Disney to erase The Last Jedi from the franchise’s canon altogether. Somehow, canon is at once a collective orthodoxy and a personal totem, inflected with each viewer’s own biases and desires—even their own bigotry, too.

Canon has a big problem, and the call is coming from inside the house. It’s not hard to see how this obsession with canonical fealty has hamstrung Marvel and Lucasfilm, two franchise juggernauts whose every innovation is punished by a fan meltdown. When storytellers are held hostage by their own audiences, it undermines their ability to do what artists do best: explore, revise, play. This is the problem with storytelling in the age of the mega-franchise—all too often, the impulses of abiding canon conflict with the impulses of making art. As Ron Moore, a longtime Star Trek writer who later rebooted Battlestar Galactica, put it, “It’s frustrating to be in the writers room and tossing out stories, then having to stop yourself and go, ‘Does this work? Does this violate continuity?’ And having to call people and check encyclopedias and look up information. You want to have it all in your head and just play. The Trek universe has got to the point where you can’t play anymore.”

How can storytellers possibly play or progress under the weight of all that baggage—and still please today’s demanding audiences, too? Some mega-franchises have found a solution where canon isn’t a restriction, but rather, a foundation. If fans won’t accept stories where canon makes less sense, then by God, these shows will bring the canon to make more sense.

. . . .

Consider Strange New Worlds, Paramount+’s sensational Star Trek prequel set during the captaincy of Christopher Pike, who preceded Captain Kirk aboard the Enterprise. Fans of The Original Series no doubt remember the landmark two-part episode “The Menagerie,” which shocked viewers when Spock abducted his former commander Captain Pike and stole the Enterprise, risking his life and career to transport a paralyzed Pike to a forbidden planet. It’s a fantastic episode, but it lacks a backstory. Just what sort of bond existed between these two men that drove rule-following Spock to steal Starfleet’s flagship?

Link to the rest at Esquire

Signal is the latest app to roll out a Stories feature

From Tech Crunch:

End-to-end encrypted messaging app Signal is rolling out a new Stories feature to all users on Android and iOS, the company announced on Monday. The official launch comes a few weeks after the company first began beta testing the feature with select users. Signal plans to release its Stories feature on desktop soon.

As with other platforms’ Stories features, Signal Stories allow users to create and share images, videos and texts that automatically disappear after 24 hours. Signal notes that like everything else in its app, Stories are end-to-end encrypted.

Signal users have the option to choose who can see their Stories by navigating to their settings. From there, you can choose to share your Stories with everyone in your phone’s contact list who uses Signal, anyone you’ve had a one-on-one conversation with in Signal or anyone whose message request you’ve accepted. You also have the option to manually hide your Story from specific people. If you would rather choose to share your Stories with a smaller subset of people, you can create a custom Story. In addition, you have the option to share Stories to existing group chats.

Link to the rest at Tech Crunch

Inside the Real-Life Succession Battle at Scholastic

During his internet checking for the post that appeared online just before this one, PG was researching a bit about Scholastic and stumbled onto something he thought would be of interest to visitors to TPV. This story appeared in October, 2021.

From The New York Times:

When her phone buzzed on June 6, Iole Lucchese was still absorbing a shock that had come the day before. Her longtime boss, M. Richard Robinson Jr., the chairman and chief executive of the Scholastic publishing company, had died suddenly while taking a walk with one of his sons and his former wife on Martha’s Vineyard.

Now, Scholastic’s general counsel, Andrew Hedden, was on the phone, delivering a second surprise.

He had called to inform her that Mr. Robinson, 84 — who turned his father’s book and magazine business into the largest publisher and distributor of children’s books in the world, known for thousands of beloved series, including Clifford the Big Red Dog, Hunger Games and Harry Potter — had left Ms. Lucchese 53.8 percent of Scholastic’s Class A stock. The company where she had worked for 30 years, rising from a junior employee in the Canadian market to one of its top executives, was now a company she controlled.

“It was overwhelming,” Ms. Lucchese said in an interview at Scholastic’s headquarters in SoHo, water towers punctuating the cityscape behind her.

Being handed control of the company, which is valued at $1.2 billion, has made Ms. Lucchese, 55, one of the most powerful women in book publishing, and the stock provides her — the daughter of a construction worker and a homemaker — with significant wealth. The gift also shifts the business, which had been passed from father to son, to a person outside the family and puts Scholastic in an extremely unusual position for a public company: adapting to a succession plan many key players did not know was coming.

In his will, Mr. Robinson described Ms. Lucchese (her name is pronounced YO-lay lew-KAY-zee) as “my partner and closest friend.” But an article in The Wall Street Journal described them as “longtime romantic partners.” Six former employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were reluctant to cause further embarrassment to Mr. Robinson’s sons, confirmed to The New York Times that the romantic relationship between Ms. Lucchese and Mr. Robinson had been well known among many Scholastic employees.

“We were great business partners and close friends,” said Ms. Lucchese, a senior executive responsible for strategy and the company’s entertainment division.

She declined to address The Journal’s claim that she and Mr. Robinson had been involved in a relationship, which the employees believe ended a few years before his death.

This was Ms. Lucchese’s first interview with the news media since the death of Mr. Robinson, whom everyone called Dick. She was joined at a round conference table by Peter Warwick, the company’s new chief executive, and flanked by two publicists, one from Scholastic and another from the public relations firm Edelman.

“Dick understood that I shared his passion for Scholastic, and what this company means to the teachers we serve, to the children we serve, to everyone,” Ms. Lucchese said of his decision to leave his Class A shares to her. “He trusted me with that legacy, and I think it’s because we worked together and he knew that we were aligned.”

That bequest bypassed his two sons, John Benham Robinson, 34, known as Ben, and Maurice Robinson, 25, known as Reece. Mr. Robinson’s sons declined to comment for this article.

. . . .

The publisher’s offices are in a warehouse-style building with exposed bricks, subway tiles and a giant sculpture of Captain Underpants busting through the lobby wall. On the day of the interview, the offices sat mostly empty as many employees continued to work from home because of the pandemic. Any silences in the conversation hung heavily in the air.

Sometimes confining herself to one-word answers, Ms. Lucchese discussed her career and the unusual situation of being both a longtime senior executive and now also the chairwoman. A stack of Harry Potter books kept watch from a large wooden bookshelf over Ms. Lucchese’s left shoulder.

“He’s the boss,” she said, motioning to Mr. Warwick, who, as chief executive, in one sense outranks her.

“But I do report to the board,” he answered.

An Envelope in a Safe

“Scholastic announces the untimely death of its chairman and CEO M. Richard (Dick) Robinson, Jr.,” a company news release declared the day after Mr. Robinson died. It emphasized that his passing had been unexpected and sudden, even though he was 84 years old.

About six weeks later, Ms. Lucchese’s new position as chairwoman was made public, with the company including that update midway through a news release titled “Peter Warwick Named Chief Executive Officer of Scholastic Corporation.”

Scholastic did not seek publicity for its new chair, the first woman and the first person outside the Robinson family to hold the position in decades. A few days after the news of the personal complexity around the succession had broken in The Journal, the company, known for its stable of beloved childhood classics, became an object of tabloid interest — “How ‘chameleon’ Iole Lucchese won $1.2B Scholastic empire,” read one New York Post headline.

When a reporter for The New York Times emailed Scholastic in August requesting an interview with Ms. Lucchese, Ira Gorsky, executive vice president at Edelman, the public relations company, called to inquire about whether Ms. Lucchese would be asked about “the alleged affair,” saying, “You can see how this is offensive, how the allegations implied that she has not gotten to her position because of merit.”

Mr. Gorsky said that as “a ground rule for giving an interview,” the Times reporter could not ask Ms. Lucchese about a personal relationship with Mr. Robinson. When the reporter declined to agree to such limitations, Mr. Gorsky responded: “Then we’re done.”

Ms. Lucchese did eventually agree to be interviewed, and no one representing her asked again for restrictions on topics or questions. Aside from an hourlong conversation with Ms. Lucchese and Mr. Warwick, preceded by a tour of the company’s archive led by a librarian, Scholastic declined to make any other employee available.

Her supporters say that as a 30-year veteran and a longtime senior executive of the company, she represents continuity and is qualified to lead it. Any skeptical reaction to Mr. Robinson’s choice of Ms. Lucchese is “laced with sexism,” said Erik Feig, the founder of Picturestart, a media financing and production company that Scholastic invested in and where Ms. Lucchese is a board member.

“She understands every brick of the literal and metaphorical building of the company,” Mr. Feig said.

Wall Street does not know her as well as some players in Hollywood do. Scholastic’s largest investor, after the Robinson family, was not aware of Mr. Robinson’s succession plan. “On a number of occasions, I asked Dick,” said David Wallack, a portfolio manager for T. Rowe Price, the Baltimore-based investment company, which holds more than 18 percent of the company’s common stock.

“He would tell me, ‘When I die, there is a safe, and there is an envelope in the safe, and the board of directors will open the safe and see what my wishes were,’” said Mr. Wallack, who was in regular touch with Mr. Robinson for 20 years. “I thought it was hyperbole.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

(Sorry if you hit a paywall. PG isn’t a subscriber to the NYT digital edition, but somehow managed to slip past the NYT paywall this one time. Sorry, but he doesn’t know what magic formula got him there.)

What Young Readers Need

From Publishing Perspectives:

Among the two days of B2B sessions programmed for the inaugural season of our Publishing Perspectives Forum at Frankfurter Buchmesse, an October 20 discussion called “What Young Readers Need Today: Children’s Publishing CEOs in Conversation” drew a strong audience of trade visitors and exhibitors.

Frankfurt president and CEO Juergen Boos led the wide-ranging conversation with Scholastic president and CEO Peter Warwick and Ravensburger CEO Clemens Maier.

Scholastic, based in the States but with deep international-market penetration, is about a century old and is widely recognized as the largest publisher in the world of its kind. Ravensburger was founded in 1883 and, at 139 years old remains focused on a range of products, not just on books, its first product actually having been a wood chip basket sold in 1884.

“Where I think we’re united and a little bit difference from many publishers,” Ravensburger’s Maier said early in the discussion, “is that [we’ve each] actually built a brand, a company brand, a recognizable brand” which may, in fact, be understood differently according to which consumer you ask about it.

“‘The parents know ‘Ravensburger,’” he pointed out, while youngsters for whom those parents are buying educational content may be more familiar with one of the company’s brands such as ThinkFun or Brio.

Warwick pointed out that there’s a parallel in the brand discussion for major companies like Scholastic and Ravensburger and the author-illustrator relationship.

“In illustrated children’s books,” he said, “it’s always a marriage” between the work of the author and the illustrator,” although he agreed with Boos that by the time a reader may be getting into the YA range of the market, there’s a good chance that she or he will be starting to recognize authors’ names, perhaps as readily as a favorite illustrator.

This creates a kind of shifting market dynamic for young readers’ work, and especially for major houses like Scholastic and Ravensburger.

“We always try to analyze as much as we possibly can,” Warwick said, “to understand exactly who is the customer: is it parents, is it the teachers, is it the child? In different circumstances, it can be it can be all of them.”

This question of market analysis and consumer insight prompted Maier to talk about “huge advances in technology and artificial intelligence that we can use in our industry, I think it’s super-exciting.

“We’re looking at things like text-to-image,” he said, “where through simple sentences, you can create images, it’s quite fascinating.”

While “the human hand is still very, very important, we see technology enabling us in many respects, with all the data analysis” that goes into good marketing by taking into account consumer reaction to products.

“Even a company of our size has to be pretty technologically savvy at this point,” Maier said.

And that, as Warwick had pointed out, is itself complicated in the children’s sector by the fact that the buyer and the reader frequently aren’t the same person. Just how text and image may affect the “consumer” can vary according to who that consumer is.

. . . .

“We do a very significant part of our business actually on the school premises,” he said. “We weren’t able to operate [Scholastic’s] book fairs. And we weren’t able to operate our book clubs. There was nobody around for quite a few months to significantly buy educational books, either. Those, our trade books, and what we sell internationally,” Warwick said, “are the core of our business.

“So the timing of the pandemic was pretty serious,” he told Boos. “What happened was that instead of being able to do commerce, as it were, on the school premises, we did a lot more business with the booksellers and the trade, and a lot more business with direct-to-parents—being able to deliver bookshop choices to parents rather than schools. It’s now reverted back to pretty much where it was before, which is to say 85-percent book fairs,” he said—”and the fairs’ revenue is higher than before the pandemic, so that’s very satisfactory.”

On the other hand, he said, “Our trade sales have cooled a little because those books the parents might have [bought] by going to a bookstore, the kids are now getting through the book fair. So we’ve seen the switch and the switch-back.”

Warwick added that the supply-chain effects had been substantial for Scholastic, as well. Having seen a lot of books come in later than expected a year ago, “We wanted to make sure that [now] we have everything. That’s been a change from last year to this year, a fundamental change in the way our business has been organized.”

. . . .

“With families staying at home,” Maier said, “there was a lot of time to play and a demand for those products, semi-educational products. A good chunk of our business is puzzles.

A lot of people” who might not normally advertise their fondness for puzzles “now started puzzling and were very vocal about it. We found ourselves on the front pages of American newspapers like the Wall Street Journal. I think it was the Australian prime minister who said that puzzles are ‘a product of national need’ and that you were allowed to leave the house for that.

“In that sense, COVID was kind to us. Obviously that’s changing now. Some of that extra time is going away and we do feel supply-chain challenges that many people fear. I get the sense our whole modern global supply chain has been built for 2-, 3-, 4-percent swings, not for the 20-percent swings we’ve been seeing over the last couple of years.”

Warwick concurred with Maier on this: “The whole basis of the supply chain for many years was ‘just in time.’ And it’s now become ‘just out of time,’ really because if you’re working on a just-in-time basis, that will really have to change.”

. . . .

Maier made a aside that in Ravensburger’s GraviTrax interactive construction apps, “Lots of people play it, but what we don’t do—or very rarely do—is try to mix the product experience.

“So when the issue was new, everybody was saying, ‘Wow, that is so cool.’” Some elements of the app’s operation could make it appear that an iPhone was broken, although this was simply a messaging effect built into the media.

“What we all realized, Maier said, “was that joining the experience of digital and physical in-app is not a great idea. Going with the same brand into both worlds we do think is a great idea. And then of course there’s exceptions to that because there’s some things where the screen for learning, as a supplement makes a ton of sense.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Perhaps it’s just PG’s mood today, but none of the participants in this discussion sounded particularly intelligent, insightful or innovative.

Exhibit A: “The whole basis of the supply chain for many years was ‘just in time.’ And it’s now become ‘just out of time,’ really because if you’re working on a just-in-time basis, that will really have to change.”

Duh! Covid shutdowns disrupted manufacturing and shipping for virtually all major industries all over the world, a fact which most intelligent business executives took on board months ago.

Exhibit A is the equivalent of saying, “Trees used for printed books take too long to grow.”

Exhibit B: “In illustrated children’s books,” he said, “it’s always a marriage” between the work of the author and the illustrator.”

Oh, really? It takes an author and an illustrator to created an illustrated book? Who would have thunk that?

Presumably, Publishing Perspectives picked the highlights of the statements of these corporate drones to include in its article summarizing what was likely at least a one-hour session.

There was one key indicator Publishing Perspectives didn’t include in its reporting — How many audience members walked out during the session to look for something that was less tedious and more interesting.

From Book Browser to Published Writer

From Publisher’s Weekly:

For 16 years [my mother] recommended the perfect books to people and shared her love of reading with others, spreading that joy the same way she blessed me with it.

Whenever my mother and I drove through our little downtown in Madison, Ct., we always stopped at our local bookstore, RJ Julia. It was a ritual for us, a bit of magic.

Each visit was special, but I can remember a particular instance so vividly: I step in the door in a Spice Girls T-shirt and cargo pants. At 10 years old, I’m young enough that girls’ clothes still had pockets. My goal is to empty those pockets of hard-saved allowance on what this store has to offer.

There is a buzz of excitement walking into a bookstore that all book lovers know so well: the delicious smell of paper and ink, coffee wafting from the café as people chat about their latest reads.

I make a beeline for the stairs to check out the children’s books section. It’s like stepping into a toy store, only better: in a toy store I wouldn’t be able to buy everything I wanted, but in my family, when it comes to books, there’s no self-control.

That’s because we’re a family of storytellers. Be it through books, movies, songs, jokes, or exaggerated anecdotes, storytelling is our first language. As soon as I realized I could make up my own worlds, I did—constantly. I’d build upon the stories I read and fill crinkled notebooks full of my own fantasies and walking daydreams. It made my own world make more sense.

Sometimes fiction felt more honest than reality—that one story, one scene, better at evoking everything stirring inside me. The stakes inside my 10-year-old brain were more perfectly explained by the epic battles and quests and magic than homework or chores.

Every night I’d fall asleep thinking about the chapter I’d just read and dreaming up new stories. When I finally realized in my early 30s that I was neurodivergent and was eventually diagnosed, a lot of this started to make sense. Stories always flowed through me. On one level, they entertained my overactive mind with fun adventures, and on another level, they spoke to the unnamed emotions within me and helped me understand myself and the world around me.

. . . .

My mother ended up working at RJ Julia when I went off to university. For 16 years she recommended the perfect books to people and shared her love of reading with others, spreading that joy the same way she blessed me with it. All these many years, many jobs, many countries later, and that passion has stayed with me. Life took so many twisty turns to get me here (have I told you about the monkeys in Guatemala?). But here I am, living halfway around the world, and RJ Julia is still there in Madison—but now with my books on its shelves.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

On Hope and Holy Fools

From The Hedgehog Review:

When I was a teenager, I used to believe—fanatically—that the greatest thing you could do with your life was live it as art. I’d read a lot of Oscar Wilde, and I was easily moved by novels and easily seduced by beauty. A life that was not ordinary or domestic, but poetic, felt like the only enchanted way to be. I wanted a life that was a novel, with a clear narrative line—a bildungsroman, probably, not exactly tragic (I had my limits), but at least indulgently melodramatic. I wanted a life with rising actions and satisfying denouements, with outcomes thematically, if not always morally, justified. I could not divorce my inchoate belief in a God of some kind and my belief in life as art. (Hadn’t Oscar Wilde become a Catholic on his deathbed?) Both seemed, then, to spring from the same source. There was ordinary, unexamined life, in which nothing meant everything, and then there was the charged life of the novel: the life in which everything mattered, everything was a kind of poetry.

The irony was that, by my early twenties, my favorite novel—and by far the most formative in my ultimate conversion to Christianity—was wonderfully, vexingly, narratively unsatisfying when it counted. And my favorite scene in that favorite novel was the most unsatisfying of all.

That scene comes in “Pro and Contra,” Book V of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, in a chapter called “The Grand Inquisitor”: a story within a story—often published, rather reductively, as a standalone book—told by the neurotic, intellectually inclined second Karamazov brother, Ivan, to his saintly younger sibling, Alyosha. Ivan has spent most of the chapter trying to explain to Alyosha why he does not, cannot, believe in God.

Ivan’s doubts are twofold. There is the problem that belief in God seems impossible and irrational according to the structures of earthly reality. “If God exists and if He really did create the world,” Ivan ruminates, “He created it according to the geometry of Euclid and the human mind.… Yet [some]…even dare to dream that two parallel lines, which according to Euclid can never meet on earth, may meet somewhere in infinity. I have come to the conclusion that, since I can’t understand even that, I can’t expect to understand about God.” Then, too, there is the problem of human evil. How, Ivan asks Alyosha, can a good God allow the horrors of the world—murder, rape, the abuse of children? Even if Ivan could conceive of the existence of a divine creator, he could not bring himself to morally accept Him. He would have to, in his own words, “return the ticket.”

. . . .

There is a tragic grandeur to so many of these characters’ stories: a grandeur intensified by the sense that Dostoevsky’s characters tend to live life as stories, overwhelmed by the weight of their self-referential self-understanding. Yet the moments of greatest grace in the novel are the moments when these stories collapse in on themselves, when the unexpected and the miraculous deprive us of the pleasure of narrative consummation. The act of love—a kiss in place of a riposte—stops tragedy in its tracks.

Link to the rest at The Hedgehog Review

I Don’t Care! I Really, Really Don’t…

From Dean Wesley Smith:

I constantly get letters from people talking about traditional publishing in one fashion or another, assuming, I suppose, that I still care about the buggy-whip factories of publishing. And sometimes, like a few days ago, I post about something going on in traditional publishing that just makes me laugh.I do posts like that to entertain myself because I had to live in that traditional publishing world for decades. I can make snorting noises at it now if I want.

I do have interest when copyright issues are being hammered out in court by a traditional publisher, or a trademark issues. But past that legal interest, or a watching-the-car-wreck enjoyment, I flat don’t care one bit about traditional publishing.

I do care that so many beginning writers spend their dreams that way, but as the old saying goes, you can lead a writer to knowledge but you can’t get them to think.

So I honestly wish the big five would collapse even faster to save writers from themselves. But past that, I just don’t care.. This is almost 2023 and it is not my issue some writers and a lot of other pundits in publishing want to stay anchored in 1990.

The big industry of publishing has so gone past the old methods of traditional publishers, it is amazing. And so many writers in traditional come to me about not making any money anymore, or not being able to “sell” a book to a publisher, when there are thousands and thousands of writers making fantastic money indie publishing their own work and having total control of it.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

The Naughtiest Word in Writing

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

There’s a word commonly uttered in writing circles, a word that often strikes fear even in the most seasoned of novelists. Revision. Yep, revision. I know it’s scary, but I promise, it’s going to be okay. I can say that now, but when I first learned about the art of revision, I was pretty sure me and my novel were going to be anything but okay. 

I wrote my first manuscript bit by bit, sitting at my kitchen table while my youngest child attended preschool. I’ll never forget the feeling of excitement that coursed through me as I typed the words, “the end,” into the document. It was exhilarating. I had done it. I wrote a book! 

After doing a quick perusal of the manuscript and without missing a beat, I signed up for a writers conference where some literary agents would be in attendance. At the conference, I took a seat at a round table with a small group of other aspiring author hopefuls and held my breath as one by one the agents read a few pages from each of our manuscripts and provided comments. Spoiler alert…the feedback on mine was not good. Sure, they liked the story idea. But they could tell there were plot holes, that the descriptions of setting needed improvement, that my characters felt flat. I scratched my head as I turned their comments over in my mind. What in the world did it all even mean? Plot holes? Flat characters? How am I supposed to fix all of that? I had no idea. 

So, after returning home from the conference and attempting to lick my wounds, I decided my book simply wasn’t good enough. Not only that, I also decided I wasn’t good enough. In that moment, I knew for certain I was not destined to be a writer. With that in mind, I tucked my manuscript away in a file on my computer and vowed to never look at it again. That embarrassing chapter of my life would remain where it belonged, permanently behind me. 

But the tiny whisper of my writing voice refused to keep quiet and with no small amount of courage, I submitted a few pages of that manuscript to a local writing class. Much to my surprise, I was admitted. Hope bubbled within me for a whole second before fear crept in. Sure, I was excited about this class and grateful for the opportunity. But worries and doubts plagued my thoughts. One of the goals for the class was to try to write a complete novel. A novel with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Could I actually do it? Again? Did this story idea even have what it takes to run the distance of an entire novel? Would the novel be riddled with plot holes as deep as the ocean? I couldn’t be sure. But I steadied my breath and decided it was a chance worth taking. 

The class was a trip. I adored my classmates, loved reading and critiquing their work, and devoured learning about writing in general. Our teacher was proud that by the end of the class, each of us had finished our manuscripts. Hooray! We were thrilled. I clung to my printed-out pages and thought maybe this manuscript would be the one. The one literary agents would like. Maybe I got it right this time. No flat characters here, I hoped. 

As the class celebrated with cookies and wine, the teacher began the last lecture. And said the word. Yes, that word. Revision. What? 

“No, no, no,” I thought. My manuscript is done. It’s written. Ready to go. 

My teacher shook her head. Nope. In fact, our work had just begun. 

At the time, this news did not make me happy. But after the final day of class, I vowed to continue to study the craft of writing and eventually received an MFA. Through that process, I learned to embrace revision, to view that naughty word as a decent and obedient one. 

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

Personality and Power

From The Wall Street Journal:

Channeling the romanticism of the mid-19th century, Thomas Carlyle—philosopher and essayist—wrote that all history is, “at bottom,” made and shaped by Great Men. The arc of Germany would have been very different without Bismarck, of France without Napoleon, and of Christianity without Luther. This emphasis on the tectonic clout of individuals has long been a staple of Anglo-American history writing. Running counter to this model is the Marxist emphasis on structural determinants and socio-economic preconditions, said to mold history more powerfully than any single person. The Great Man—by this logic—merely harnesses the currents that swirl around him.

In “Personality and Power,” Ian Kershaw studies the most important “builders and destroyers” in the history of 20th-century Europe. He balks, however, at using the word “greatness,” saying that to define it is “ultimately a futile exercise.” This is wise, as the personalities Mr. Kershaw examines include Hitler and Stalin, “great” only to those whose moral values are offensive.

Starting chronologically with Lenin and ending with Helmut Kohl—the last European titan of the last century—he offers case studies of 11 men and one woman (Margaret Thatcher) of “major significance” not just in their own country but well beyond. Some readers will be grumpy, and rightly, about the omission of Americans. Shouldn’t Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, for instance, star in a head count of the most salient makers of modern Europe? Mr. Kershaw, an eminent British historian and the author of a monumental two-volume biography of Hitler, offers a poor reason for their exclusion. Including “even one non-European leader,” he writes, “would give rise to the obvious objection: why stop there?”

Some of his choices are questionable in other ways. Does Francisco Franco really deserve to be on a shortlist of the 12 most consequential European leaders of the 20th century? I think not, given that his “fascist-style autarky” cut Spain off from Europe. Readers will, nonetheless, delight in the knowledge that Franco’s cabinet meetings, often hours long, never allowed for a toilet break, “much to the distress of some of his ministers.” Mr. Kershaw tells us that the generalísimo had “extraordinary” bladder control and also that his most notable legacy was to ensure that Spain became so averse to political isolation that it is today among the most enthusiastic members of the European Union.

Some may also find odd the inclusion of Josip Broz Tito, the Yugoslavian dictator, but Mr. Kershaw makes a lively case for him. He does, however, acknowledge that it is “difficult to speak in any meaningful way of a lasting legacy.” Tito was “the founder, inspiration, and fulcrum” of the postwar Yugoslav state. How crucial he was to its existence is shown by how the “edifice that he had built was torn apart” by ethnic warring just a few years after his death. Most significantly, says Mr. Kershaw, Tito had been a “pivot” between East and West in the Cold War, much lauded for his ability to thumb his nose at Stalin, who sought to assassinate him on more than one occasion. Mr. Kershaw offers us the delicious information—culled from the biography of Stalin by the historian Robert Service—that the Soviet strongman kept in his desk a note from Tito. It read: “If you don’t stop sending killers, I’ll send one to Moscow, and I won’t have to send a second.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

While reading the OP, PG was reminded of a saying, allegedly Chinese, but evidently without a clear provenance, “May you live in interesting times.”

The Twentieth Century certainly qualified as an interesting time for a great many people around the world. So far, the Twenty-First Century is relatively tame by comparison. PG hopes it continues to be uninteresting compared with the Twentieth.

Social Media Overload/Overlords

Here though, there are no oppressors. No one’s forcing you to do this. You willingly tie yourself to these leashes. And you willingly become utterly socially autistic. You no longer pick up on basic human communication clues. You’re at a table with three humans, all of whom are looking at you and trying to talk to you, and you’re staring at a screen! Searching for strangers in… Dubai!

Dave Eggers, The Circle

Hey Elon: Let Me Help You Speed Run The Content Moderation Learning Curve

From Above the Law:

It’s kind of a rite of passage for any new social media network. They show up, insist that they’re the “platform for free speech” without quite understanding what that actually means, and then they quickly discover a whole bunch of fairly fundamental ideas, institute a bunch of rapid (often sloppy) changes… and in the end, they basically all end up in the same general vicinity, with just a few small differences on the margin. Look, I went through it myself. In the early days I insisted that sites shouldn’t do any moderation at all, including my own. But I learned. As did Parler, Gettr, Truth Social and lots of others.

Anyway, Elon’s in a bit of a different position, because rather than starting something new, he’s taken over a large platform. I recognize that he, his buddies, and a whole lot of other people think that Twitter is especially bad at this, and that he’s got some special ideas for “bringing free speech back,” but the reality is that Twitter was, by far, the most successful platform at taking a “we support free speech” stance for content, and learned over time the many nuances and tradeoffs involved.

And because I do hope that Musk succeeds and Twitter remains viable, I wanted to see if we might help him (and anyone else) speed run the basics of the content moderation learning curve that most newbies run into. The order of the levels and the seriousness of each can change over time, and how it all fits together may be somewhat different, but, in the end, basically every major social media platform ends up in this same place eventually (the place Twitter was already at when Musk insisted he needed to tear things down and start again).

Level One: “We’re the free speech platform! Anything goes!”

Cool. Cool. The bird is free! Everyone rejoice.

“Excuse me, boss, we’re getting reports that there are child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSAM) images and videos on the site.”

. . . .

Level Two: “We’re the free speech platform! But no CSAM!”

Alright, comedy is now legal on the site. Everyone rejoice. Everyone love me.

“Um, boss. We have a huge stack of emails from Hollywood, saying something about DMCA takedowns?”

Oh right. Copyright infringement is bad. Get another intern and have them take that all down.

Level Three: “We’re the free speech platform! But no CSAM and no infringement!”

Power to the people. Freedom is great!

“Right, boss, apparently because you keep talking about freedom, a large group of people are taking it to mean they have ‘freedom’ to harass people with slurs and all sorts of abuse. People are leaving the site because of it, and advertisers are pulling ads.”

That seems bad. Quick, have someone write up some rules against hate speech.

Level Four: “We’re the free speech platform without CSAM, infringement or hate speech!”

Bringing freedom back is hard work, but this is all going great. Do the people love me yet?

“Hey, so, the FBI is here? Something about 18 USC 2258A and how we were supposed to report all of that CSAM to some operation called NCMEC?”

Ah, right. Grab an intern and make sure they pass along those images. We obey all the laws!

Link to the rest at Above the Law

Facebook and the conglomerate curse

From The Economist:

In 1997, in his first letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, wrote that it was still “Day 1” for his firm. Day 2, he later explained, would mean stasis, followed by irrelevance. His rousing call to avoid complacency seems apt today. Silicon Valley’s five big tech giants, Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta and Microsoft, have long been the bedrock of America’s stockmarket and economy, miraculously combining reliable growth and profitability. But after a torrid third quarter their market capitalisations have now collectively dropped by 37% so far this year. About $3.7trn of value has evaporated.

The law of large numbers made it inevitable that the tech giants would mature. Sales growth in the last quarter slowed to 9%—barely above inflation. As they have grown bigger, they have become tied to the economic cycle; a fact which the digital surge during the pandemic only temporarily masked. Penetration rates for smartphones, digital advertising and streaming are plateauing. With slowing core businesses, the giants are venturing onto each other’s turf, increasing competition.

Meanwhile, they are threatened by “conglomeritis”. The symptoms of this disease are bloating and egomania. Consider the recent orgy of spending on hiring, experimental ventures, vanity projects and building data centres. In March the five firms’ combined annual expenses reached $1trn for the first time, and the value of the physical plant of these supposedly asset-light businesses has reached $600bn, over triple the level of five years ago. Swollen costs and balance-sheets mean returns on capital have fallen from over 60% five years ago to 26%. Three of the five do not deign to pay dividends.

It is hardly unprecedented for successful companies to lose their focus, or to fail to control costs. In the 1980s rjr Nabisco’s executives splurged on jets and golf before being ousted by private equity’s barbarians. General Electric sprawled and had to be partially bailed out during the financial crisis of 2008-09. The best safeguards against such indiscipline are active boards and investors. When successful managers start to believe that they always know best, it is the board’s job to rein them in.

But here, the tech firms’ governance rules add a twist. Often they entrust disproportionate power to bosses and founders, some of whom enjoy special voting rights that give them near-absolute control. Such bosses often cultivate an image as visionaries, whose daring bets horrify myopic outsiders but end up lucratively transforming the world.

At the worst end of the spectrum is Meta, the owner of Facebook, run increasingly erratically by Mark Zuckerberg. Its value has dropped by 74% this year. Its core business is wobbly, attracting too much toxicity, too few young people and too little advertising. It has become clear that Mr Zuckerberg is betting the firm on the metaverse, an attempt to diversify away from social media, on which he plans to lavish 20 times what Apple spent to build the first iPhone. Because dual share classes give him 54% of voting rights, Mr Zuckerberg has been able to ignore the pleas of outside investors.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG notes that one-hit wonders are more quickly exposed in the music business than in the tech business.

The Politics of Fiction

From Writer Unboxed:

I’ll start this post with a disclaimer. As a fiction writer, I am drawn to writing stories that work within the realities we exist in. I’ve rarely worked with magic, fantasy, alternate world histories, or creating imaginary worlds.

Primarily, I enjoy stories of humans living in contemporary urban realities. I wanted to expand the way I wrote, but it always seemed like a struggle. Over time I made peace with it and plunged further into the kind of writer I wanted to be. I wondered why I related to books that told stories about our times, struggles, pop culture, gender roles, and other political realities.

My upbringing between two countries (U.S and India) possibly shaped how I read. The sense of displacement and mixed ideas of identity had imprinted a curiosity for people and how they could adapt to very different realities depending on circumstances. The idea that the world we relate to can be so stunningly different for another person in another country or even another city or village in the same world compelled me.

Writing in real life meant a lot of my work started to blend into prominent political stories that pointed to the limitations of colonized worldviews. The most important revelation in my writing was the understanding that all writing (whether you mean to or not) is political.

Our writing points to our worldview; who published what, and what gets published? It demonstrates our cultural imaginations, both in their glory and limitations. When I talk about this, a lot of people get uncomfortable. The idea that one is bringing ‘politics’ into writing is something only some types of writers desire. I think this discomfort exists because the concept of politics has been largely misconstrued. We believe ‘political writing’ takes a particular stance and label. It is motivated by fear that certain writing will offend some people.

To me, politics means growing awareness of how humans experience and construct cyclical systems of oppression. Why are some stories boring to us and others amazing? For example, in a western mainstream imagination of books, main characters living in a country we know little about can be boring or not relatable unless it caters to a sense of exoticness that satisfies the way we imagine alien life to be. Indian diasporic writing was limited to only first-generation struggles for a long time. In contrast, stories set in India were limited to exotic ideas of clothing and food.

Books written from a non-first-world perspective have only a few readers who praise them for their international qualities.

Most of the world has set American pop culture and markers of the ‘good life’ as the gold standard. Most of the world is familiar with American books, movies, and music, and many know more about American politics than their own countries (and in many cases, more than Americans). Globally, there is already a pre-existing bias for us to relate to the features and realities of this culture. This isn’t so much a problem; it is a loss for us to examine the world from perspectives and storytelling styles that might take more adjustment to enjoy. I believe that reading and writing things that might seem unfamiliar to us can broaden the way we understand humanity.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

who published what, and what gets published

PG’s first reaction to this portion of the OP was something like this: “How quaint. The Author trapped in the Twentieth Century.”

PG has mentioned before that he virtually never pays attention to who the publisher is when choosing a book to read. Harper Collins or Uncle Rufus Press makes no difference to PG.

This habit/fault/folly may be related to his absence of interest concerning who wrote a review of a book for a publication. A New York Times book review holds no special meaning to him because it’s been centuries since PG bothered to read The New York Times.

He suspects these personal practices originated from PG’s early adoption of the internet. He was the first lawyer he knew to start using the internet. Because of that, without any intention of doing so, he became an “expert” on using the internet in a law office.

As the one-eyed man in a profession where nobody bothered to learn to use a typewriter, PG became an expert on computers in law offices. Groups of lawyers who get together, swap stories and occasionally learn something about the law, AKA Bar Associations, asked him to come and show them how to use a computer in a law office.

PG was the first lawyer he knew to access the internet. (There were undoubtedly other lawyers who preceded PG, but he has never, to his knowledge, spoken with them.) He remembers utilizing software to sign onto the internet, suck up a lot of information, then automatically sign off to keep long-distance charges lower than they would be if he actually read information on his screen while online.

As long-time visitors to TPV will know, PG was an early unpaid proponent of self-publishing through Amazon when a lot of people didn’t know who or what Amazon was. Later, over the course of several years, PG represented traditionally-published authors who wanted to break out of their contracts with major publishers so they could self-publish. PG’s name was mud in more than one high-rise New York City office.

PG has spent too long explaining the complicated background of why he doesn’t care who published something and what “gets published.”