Why I Started Publishing an ‘Indigenous Version’ of My Articles

21 January 2019

From The Literary Hub:

Two years ago on Thanksgiving Day, I reported from North Dakota along the muddy banks of Canté Peta Creek on the borderlands of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The Indigenous-led movement to try and stop the Dakota Access Pipeline had drawn a massive crowd.

The demonstrations happening that day had little to do with observing Thanksgiving, a highly problematic holiday for many Native Americans. This aspect, however, was seemingly lost on my editor, a middle-aged white man residing a few states away.

Today, the link to that story is evidence of what happens, journalistically speaking, when editorial decisions are determined by those less familiar with Indigenous-minded points of view.

“Thanksgiving at Standing Rock, Activists Dig In,” reads a segment of the URL linked to that article. The coded language in the address bar is all that remains of my editor’s original headline, one that I requested be changed immediately after the piece went live.

“Natives and Thanksgiving?” I wrote to him.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to explain why Thanksgiving for many Native Americans is historically contentious, or for that matter, why his branding of my article with this holiday was entirely irrelevant to the scope of my reporting (the afternoon protests during the monthslong campaign went on just like it did any other day). Yet as an independent journalist, the exchange was deeply reflective of the kind of delicate diplomacy that is as much a part of my craft as the actual journalism itself—caretaking of my client relations alongside caretaking of the authentic Indigenous narrative.

It’s a sensitive balance.

In a pursuit to expand the Indigenous narrative to wider audiences, I have seen what I consider to be relevant and worthy Indigenous perspective routinely gutted from the articles I write. Rarely do these omissions see the light of day by readers.

. . . .

In October, I began self-publishing an “Indigenous version” or an author’s edition to accompany my commissioned works. It followed one of the more lengthy and arduous edit sessions I’ve endured with a team of non-Indigenous editors. The process, for me, felt more strenuous than the actual field reporting—and the results were underwhelming. Certain lexicon and ideology central to Indigenous preferences were tonally off, I told my client. The photo layout also felt wayward.

The story was about a tent city made up of mostly Native Americans in downtown Minneapolis. It resulted in a 2,500-word feature article, almost double from what was earlier assigned. I was grateful for the extra space that my client allowed and for their brand-name distribution.

The truth is, though, I was also embarrassed to see my byline associated with what went online, particularly with regard to the spelling of the acronym for the American Indian Movement, or AIM. In the published article, it is lower-cased as “Aim.” I quickly emailed my editor to try and change this.

“I respect style guides but Indian Country (my own people) will judge me greatly as if I don’t know anything about this legendary org,” I wrote.

. . . .

Most fascinating to me, in all this editorial banter, was the omission of a line describing the Indigenous people living at the tent city as a demographic “literally homeless on their own homelands.” That this phrase was cut across three rigorous rounds of edit sessions typifies my struggle: I am often met with subtle condescension by decision-makers who seem to see Indigenous perspectives as advocacy-laced or, perhaps in their view, unreasonable.

. . . .

To understand what it means to colonize the Indigenous narrative, one can easily turn to the colonizer itself for further review. The Economist recently published an article about the rise of Native American politicians in the United States which has since been described by some critics as nothing short of insulting, and it is.

Littered throughout the piece is the use of out-of-touch language, points of view, and cringe-worthy art which describe tribal community, at once, as a “picture of wretchedness” while also stirring lingering stereotypes linked to the environment, casinos and what’s known as the Cherokee Grandma Syndrome (a phenomenon of people who claim Cherokee ancestry). At one point, the unidentified author writes how Oklahoma’s first Native American governor-elect, Kevin Stitt, a Cherokee, “does not look Indian at all.”

The article, which features an illustration of the US Capitol topped with a feathered headdress, is maybe the worst display of modern journalism about Indigenous Peoples I’ve seen. But it’s fitting in describing the lazy, discriminatory and damaging writing that comes from the deep roots of colonization in our newsrooms.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG says the experiences of the author of the OP are the reasons that some traditionally-published authors go indie.

He is also reminded of three quotes:

I do one Xanth novel a year, because at the moment that is all that publishers will accept; they don’t want any other type of fiction from me, so Xanth pays my way.

~ Piers Anthony

Performers have the right to say what they want to, and anyone paying money has the right to accept or reject the art and entertainment that’s available.

~ Penn Jillette

He who pays the piper calls the tune.

He Said, She Said: Why Guessing Gender Pronouns Is a Challenge for Tech Companies like Google

21 January 2019

From The Deseret News:

If you’re one of the 1.5 billion people who use Gmail, you might have noticed last year that your emails suddenly started writing themselves. But did you notice that the autocomplete feature never uses gendered pronouns like she/he or him/her?

In May, Google introduced Smart Compose, which helps users finish sentences. Another feature called Smart Reply generates quick, automatic responses to emails, including phrases like “No problem!” and “Unfortunately, I can’t make it.”

In November, Reuters reported that a Google researcher discovered the potential for bias when he typed “I am meeting an investor next week,” and Smart Compose suggested, “Do you want to meet him?” instead of “her,” according to Gmail product manager Paul Lambert.

As a result, Google decided Smart Compose and Smart Reply would not suggest gendered pronouns at all, Reuters reported.

. . . .

According to Nick Haynes, director of data science at Automated Insights, a company that specializes in natural language generation software, gender-pronoun correctness is a priority for tech companies because gender is such a big deal in today’s cultural climate.

“Despite the tremendous recent growth and hype around artificial intelligence (AI) applications, many people are understandably suspicious of AI,” said Haynes. “This makes the process of building trust with users a critical part of deploying an AI system, but misgendering a person can be a glaring mistake that can quickly erode a user’s trust in an entire product or company.”

Haynes said pronouns are tricky because the English language is often ambiguous when it comes to gender. Names like Taylor and Leslie can be unisex, whereas nouns like doctor or secretary often carry gendered connotations even though they’re not explicitly gendered, he said.

“Because AI is built and trained by humans, AI systems inherit the same challenges and biases in the use of language that its human creators and users experience,” said Haynes.

. . . .

Programs like Smart Compose are created with natural language generation, a method by which computers analyze the relationships between words in text written by humans and learn to write sentences of their own.

“The (process) successfully captures analogy relations, such as ‘Man is to king as woman is to queen.’ However, the same (process) also yields ‘Man is to doctor as woman is to nurse’ and ‘Man is to computer programmer as woman is to homemaker,'” said said Londa Schiebinger, professor of History of Science at Stanford University and author of a case study on gender and ethnic bias in machine learning algorithms. “Taking no action means that we may relive the 1950s indefinitely.”

. . . .

Agolo, a New York-based startup, uses artificial intelligence to summarize business documents. It is difficult for the company’s technology to reliably determine what pronoun goes with what name, said chief technology officer, Mohamed AlTantawy. To help with accuracy, company’s program pulls as much context from the document as possible.

“The rule here is if any task is intellectually hard for humans, it’s also hard to solve using AI,” said AlTantawy.

For example, take the sentence: “Andy and Alex met yesterday when she gave him the gift.”

“You have no way of knowing the gender of Andy or Alex,” said AlTantawy. “You would assume that Andy is a female because that name appeared first in the sentence.”

But additional context helps: “Andy and Alex met yesterday when she gave him the gift. Alex is a great mother.”

“Now this changed everything! It turns out that Alex is the female,” AlTantawy explained.

As another layer of fact-checking, Agolo also utilizes a database of known facts about companies that includes the headquarters, products and names and genders of prominent employees, AlTantawy said.

. . . .

Some autocomplete suggestions might not offend people but still have gender-related implications. In its iMessage application, Apple suggests “policemen” to complete “police” and “salesman” for “sales,” for example.

When you type the gender-neutral Korean sentence “Geubun-eun gyosu ibnida” into Google Translate, it gives you “He is a professor” in English. So does Microsoft’s translator app and Alibaba’s Language Service.

In December, Google published a press release that said the company was addressing gender bias by providing feminine and masculine translations for some gender-neutral words.

“Now you’ll get both a feminine and masculine translation for a single word — like ‘surgeon’ — when translating from English into French, Italian, Portuguese or Spanish. You’ll also get both translations when translating phrases and sentences from Turkish to English. For example, if you type ‘O bir doktor’ in Turkish, you’ll now get ‘She is a doctor’ and ‘He is a doctor’ as the gender-specific translations,” the statement reads.

Link to the rest at The Deseret News

The Disastrous Decline in Author Incomes Isn’t Just Amazon’s Fault

20 January 2019

From Electric Lit:

[T]he Authors Guild published its 2018 Author Income Survey.

. . . .

This was the largest survey ever conducted of writing-related earnings by American authors. It tallied the responses of 5,067 authors, including those who are traditionally, hybrid, and self-published, and found that the median income from writing has dropped 42% from 2009, landing at a paltry $6,080. The other findings are similarly bleak: revenue from books has dropped an additional 21%, to $3,100, meaning it’s impossible to make a living from writing books alone.

. . . .

The Authors Guild has a pretty clear idea of what’s behind this disturbing trend, namely the rise of Amazon, which severely cuts publishers’ margins on book sales. Authors ultimately shoulder the cost because publishers offset their losses by giving out smaller author advances and royalties. The platform’s resale market also means that, within months of publication, books are being resold as “like new” or “lightly used,” a scenario in which no new money goes to the actual author of the book. The Authors Guild acknowledges that Amazon isn’t the only place where authors are losing out, but the culprits are of a kind: electronic platforms like Google Books and Open Library claim fair use rights in order to offer classrooms products without paying authors royalties. This is problematic because those royalties, a kind of pay-to-play model of compensation, are how artists have made their money ever since it went out of fashion to have a patron who could support your entire career.

. . . .

This year’s Authors Guild Survey is right to focus on the harm Amazon does to working writers; personally, I’ve made my 2019 resolution to put my money where my mouth is and buy all my books at local, independent bookstores. But the survey results made me wonder if that would be enough—if it’s possible, in the age of the Internet, to reverse the belief that content should mostly be free. By content I do mean to encompass all ends of the artistic spectrum, that ill-defined mass of high and low entertainment and art and news that rubs up against each other on the web in a way that makes it more difficult to separate out, and perhaps less meaningful to do so. Basically, people are insatiable for this panoply of words and images; they want mass input. If you do a Google search for “apple pie recipe,” for example, the top results include both Pillsbury’s website and the personal blog of a home cook. The point isn’t that there is anything wrong with the latter, it’s that discernment has taken a backseat to access; we want all the apple pie recipes, all the videos and photographs and articles and books. We are here now. Entertain us.

. . . .

People have always felt a sort of ownership over art, and that’s actually good. It’s why you keep a book on your shelf and return to it, it’s why you hang a picture on your wall that speaks to you. But when this gets out of hand and you mistake access or a personal connection with your rights, as happens so often in our Internet age, it leads to a dangerous sense of entitlement. That’s why readers feel empowered to complain, directly to the creator, that a book or show doesn’t have absolutely everything they want: the romantic pairing they’d hoped for, the language they find most friendly, the ending they desired. And it’s also why, for instance, the last Harry Potter book leaked on the internet before it was officially published: fans saw the book as something they were owed, not the product of labor that deserved compensation. Not that J.K. Rowling needs more money—but she, and all authors, deserve to have their work recognized as work.

. . . .

Consumers hold a pernicious power, so this trend towards free content won’t reverse itself unless we want it to. This is a sad thing, and we will all be much worse off if we can only hear stories from people who can afford to write. Nicholas Weinstock, a Guild Council member, said: “Reducing the monetary incentive for potential book authors even to enter the field means that there will be less for future generations to read: fewer voices, fewer stories, less representation of the kind of human expression than runs deeper and requires and rewards more brain power than the nearest bingeable series on Netflix or Amazon or GIF on your phone.” Maybe we will all get what we think we’re entitled to — free art — but what kind of art will that be?

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

While we will never know for certain, PG suggests that the rise of Amazon has increased the number of books sold in the United States (and maybe elsewhere) by a substantial margin. Absent Amazon, fewer people would be reading books today.

Not everyone enjoyed the trips to the bookstore in pre-Amazonian days. If a reader’s interests were much out of the mainstream, there weren’t many books available. If finances were a little tight, a shopper might not be in the mood to pay.

PG just checked the Top 10 Hardcover Fiction Bestsellers at Barnes & Noble. The average suggested retail price for the Top 10 was $25.59.

For some visitors to TPV, paying almost $26.00 for a novel would seem reasonable. For others, it might not.

Let’s assume we have an avid reader of fiction who reads four books per week. Even PG can do the math in his head.

Over $100 per month for books. Almost $6,000 per year for books.

Who knows more about pricing anything to maximize sales, the CEO of a New York publisher or Amazon?

Who knows more about pricing anything to maximize profits, the CEO of a New York publisher or Amazon?

Traditional publishers try to cultivate a particular image of books as a unique product, unlike any other. (Corinthian leather!)

Like it or not, books are a mass-market product that competes for consumer dollars. Books don’t just compete with other books. Books compete with every other product a consumer might be thinking about purchasing.

If you want to price for the carriage trade, open an art gallery. The New York book business doesn’t work without lots of titles that sell in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands. That’s a mass market.

PG suggests that “Amazon is causing the sky to fall on the book business” is erroneous. If the traditional book business is to be saved from its own management over the next ten years, Amazon will do the saving. A book business that sells an electronic version of its principal product for $3.00-7.00 has a better future than one which appears to prefer selling a physical copy of its principal product for $28.00.


100% Diy: Interview with Cellist Zoë Keating

20 January 2019

From Indie Digital Media:

Zoë Keating is a cellist and composer whose music has appeared in tv shows like Breaking Bad and the Sherlock Holmes drama Elementary. She’s released several albums and EPs of her original music, and has recorded with artists such as Amanda Palmer.

All of this Keating does with a “100% DIY” approach, as she wrote in an LA Times op-ed in 2013. She owns the rights to her music and controls the distribution, by putting it up herself on iTunes and other platforms like Bandcamp.

Even better, this DIY approach has been successful. In the following interview with her, you’ll see a detailed breakdown of how much money she made from her music in 2018. In summary, she earned $20,828 from streaming and $42,229 from digital downloads and physical albums. That’s not counting revenue from concerts, licensing fees from tv and movie soundtracks, and other income.

. . . .

In her end-of-year Tumblr post, Keating outlined her streaming royalties for 2018. She had earned $12,231 from Spotify, from 2,252,293 streams. That equates to about half a cent per stream. She estimated $3,900 from Apple Music and $2,800 from Pandora, and from everything else it was two or three figure sums (including $71 from Napster, the once popular file sharing service that didn’t pay artists a penny in its prime). All up, she earned a bit over $20,000 from all streaming sources in 2018.

I asked Keating how her revenue from digital downloads and physical media (CDs and LPs) compared with the streaming royalties?

“In 2018 there were 5,024 downloads and 4,093 physical albums sold on Bandcamp,” she replied, “which after packaging, shipping, and tax netted me $28,729.”

She made a further $13,500 from 6,610 iTunes downloads (albums and songs combined) in 2018, down 11% from the previous year. This, said Keating, parallels the industry decline in digital downloads.

“iTunes download revenue has been gradually going down for me over the years,” she said.

Streaming services are of course to blame, since they’re making the act of downloading less and less common.

. . . .

This trend is also reflected in Bandcamp, the leading platform for indie musicians to sell their music online.

“Bandcamp sales are not as large as you’d think,” Keating told me. “Bandcamp does not market or advertise or receive any kind of press, unlike the major music services. When I mention Bandcamp, many listeners say ‘oh what is that?’ So my sales are from the listeners who take the trouble to visit my website, are comfortable with the concept [of buying from her site] and purchase the music directly. But people tend to use their service of choice and only a fraction buy from me directly.”

. . . .

In a recent Facebook post, Keating wrote that “the hardest problem I have as an artist these days is reaching the people who already love my music.” Considering she has 52,000 Facebook followers and 989,000 Twitter followers, this shows how hard it is for even popular indie creators to get attention on social media platforms.

Link to the rest at Indie Digital Media


20 January 2019

From The New Yorker:

Most people know John Frankenheimer’s movie “The Manchurian Candidate,” which stars Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and Angela Lansbury in the story of an American soldier who is captured in Korea and programmed by Chinese Communists to kill on command. And most people probably think of the movie as a classic of Cold War culture, like “On the Beach” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”—a popular work articulating the anxieties of an era. In fact, “The Manchurian Candidate” was a flop. It was released in the fall of 1962, failed to recover its costs, and was pulled from distribution two years later, after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It turned up a few times on television, but it was not shown in a movie theatre again until 1987, which—nearly the end of the Cold War—is the year its popularity dates from. The true artifact of Cold War culture is the novel, by Richard Condon, that the movie was based on.

Condon’s book came out in 1959 and was a best-seller. It was praised in the Times (“a wild, vigorous, curiously readable melange”) and The New Yorker (“a wild and exhilarating satire”); Time named it one of the Ten Best Bad Novels—which, from a publisher’s point of view, is far from the worst thing that might be said about a book. The novel’s success made Condon rich; he spent most of the rest of his life abroad, producing many more works in the genre that Time had identified, including “Winter Kills,” in 1974, and, in 1982, “Prizzi’s Honor.” His adaptation of that novel for the John Huston movie received an Academy Award nomination in 1986. He died in 1996.

. . . .

Before he was a novelist, Condon was a movie publicist. He began, in 1936, at Walt Disney Productions, where he promoted “Fantasia” and “Dumbo,” among other animated masterpieces, and moved on to a succession of studios, finishing up at United Artists, which he left in 1957. He didn’t know what he wanted to do next; he just wanted out. “The only thing I knew how to do was spell,” he later explained, so he did the logical thing and became a writer. Condon claimed that his work in Hollywood had given him three ulcers. He also claimed that he had seen, during his years there, ten thousand movies, an experience that he believed gave him (his words) “an unconscious grounding in storytelling.”

. . . .

The film historian David Thomson describes it as “a book written so that an idiot could film it.” No doubt Condon wrote “The Manchurian Candidate” with a movie deal in mind. It was his second novel; his first, called “The Oldest Confession,” was also made into a movie—“The Happy Thieves,” starring Rex Harrison (a flop that stayed a flop). But the claim that Condon’s “Manchurian Candidate” is not much more than a draft for the screenplay (which was written by George Axelrod, the author of “The Seven Year Itch”) is peculiar. Michael Crichton writes books that any idiot can film; he practically supplies camera angles. But Condon’s is not an easy book to film, in part because its tone is not readily imitated cinematically, and in part because much of it is, or was in 1962, virtually unfilmable. Strange as the movie is—a thriller teetering on the edge of camp—the book is stranger.

Time, a magazine whose editors, after all, have daily experience with overcooked prose, was not wrong in seeing something splendid in the badness of Condon’s book. “The Manchurian Candidate” may be pulp, but it is very tony pulp. It is a man in a tartan tuxedo, chicken à la king with shaved truffles, a signed LeRoy Neiman. It’s Mickey Spillane with an M.F.A., and a kind of summa of the styles of paperback fiction circa 1959. The writing is sometimes hardboiled:

The slightest touchy thing he said to her could knock the old cat over sideways with an off-key moan. But what could he do? He had elected himself Head Chump when he stepped down from Valhalla and telephoned this sweaty little advantage-taker.

Sometimes it adopts a police-blotter, “degree-zero” mode:

“Thank you, Major. Dismiss,” the general said. Marco left the office at four twenty-one in the afternoon. General Jorgenson shot himself to death at four fifty-five.

Occasionally, and usually in an inconvenient place, it drops a mot recherché:

Raymond’s mother came out of her chair, spitting langrel. [“Langrel”: irregular pieces of iron loaded into shell casings for the purpose of ripping the enemy’s sails in naval battles; obsolete.]

. . . .

He clutched the telephone like an osculatorium and did not allow himself to think about what lay beyond that instant. [“Osculatorium”: medieval Latin, for a tablet that is kissed during the Mass. There appears to be no connotation involving clutching.]

It signals feeling by waxing poetic:

Such an instant ago he had paddled their wide canoe across that lake of purple wine toward a pin of light high in the sky which would widen and widen and widen while she slept until it had blanched the blackness.

It signals wisdom by waxing incomprehensible:

There is an immutable phrase at large in the languages of the world that places fabulous ransom on every word in it: The love of a good woman. It means what it says and no matter what the perspective or stains of the person who speaks it, the phrase defies devaluing. The bitter and the kind can chase each other around it, this mulberry bush of truth and consequence, and the kind may convert the bitter and the bitter may emasculate the kind but neither can change its meaning because the love of a good woman does not give way to arbitrage.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

PG is certain most of the visitors to TPV know what mot recherché means, but he didn’t.

“Searched Word”

As opposed to mot de recherche, which means “Search Word” or recherche de mot, which means “Word Search.”

[All English/French/English translations courtesy of Google Translate.]


How We See the World

20 January 2019

Perhaps not directly related to books and writing at first glance, but it may provide some ideas about how different characters view the world and themselves and how they may wish to craft the way others see them.

Per his personal interest in photography, PG will note that apps and programs to enhance and modify photographs have exploded since the advent of cell phone cameras. Not that long ago, Photoshop and Lightroom were pretty much the only games in town, but now modifications that would have taken a long time to get right with those expensive tools are possible in seconds with a $3.00 app.

PG apologizes for the autoplay setting. The video is in a format that didn’t provide an option to permit the viewer to decide whether/when to start the video.


Finland’s Flagship Library Oodi Opens to the Public in Helsinki

20 January 2019

From YLE.fi:

The new Helsinki Central Library Oodi – Finland’s largest and arguably most lavish – opened its doors to the public on Wednesday.

Although it’s technically a library, it goes far beyond merely a place to borrow books. The facility features many spaces for meeting people and socialising, and offers the opportunity for people to participate in activities like readings, workshops and special events.

Apart from books and other reading materials, Oodi is also equipped with 3D printing gear and sewing machines for creators, rehearsal rooms for musicians, a small cinema and spaces that can be reserved for a variety of uses. There’s also a café as well as the possibility to try out virtual reality technology.

. . . .

The significant investment in Oodi represents the central role that public libraries play in Finland. It is also a symbol of how the country has changed from the time the first public library was founded in Vaasa in 1794.

During the 1800s, the number of public libraries increased and the idea was to offer Finns the possibility of learning to read and increase literacy. The libraries of the time were financed and maintained by different foundations and organizations.

”We have had a very strong idea that literacy will take Finland forward. Without libraries our county would not have developed into its current welfare state status,” says Rauha Maarno, Director of the Finnish Library Association.

The period following the First and Second World Wars until the 1980s was the so-called Golden Age of libraries in Finland. Libraries were built at a rapid pace and the number of users grew rapidly.

. . . .

With the addition of Oodi, there are now 730 public libraries in Finland.

Finnish libraries are also well used and book-borrowing is among the world’s highest. In the Nordic countries, Finland is number one in terms of library usage.

Last year nearly one million people attended events at libraries in Finland last year.

Link to the rest at YLE.fi

PG will note that Finland has a total population of about 5.5 million.


Business Musings: Audio

19 January 2019

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Publishing analysts have said for years that if the disruption hadn’t hit with ebooks, the story of publishing in the past decade would have been audio. By that, the analysts mean audio rights. They have become increasingly important and will remain so.

Here in the States, where so many of us commute to our jobs, digital audio created a revolution around 2010 or so. Rather than buy a CD or a tape to use in the car (or rent them), folks with the right kind of vehicle could play their digital audiobooks in through their car’s sound system, often by linking their phone to the system.

That has become more common rather than less. But the revolution continues. Joanna Penn, on the Creative Penn, was the first in my experience to point out that voice-first devices, like Amazon Alexa or Google Home would be able to play digital audiobooks. So someone could go from the car to the house without headphones and pick up on the audiobook exactly where they had left off.

For a while, Amazon enabled this too, by offering an inexpensive audio version of a book if you’d already bought the book in another format. Like so many things Amazon, the cheap early adaption part of this vanished, only after people got hooked, of course.

A lot of books aren’t in audio—it’s expensive to produce a good audiobook—so readers have defaulted to having their dry computer voice (Siri or Alexa) simply read the text. Purists complain about this, but when you’re desperate for audio story, you will listen any way you can.

Audio story is expanding almost daily. Podcasts have moved from a group of people talking or someone interviewing someone else into the storytelling format. Some of those podcasts are nonfiction, but many are fiction, and have become a gateway into reading novels and other fictional products. (As I write this, I just got hit with three different ideas that I want to do if only I have the time.)

. . . .

Audio is expensive to produce and it takes time to earn back the initial investment, without proper set up. I’ll get to that below, but first, let’s look at #voicefirst and Voice SEO.

Voice SEO is search engine optimization for voice-commands. With the growth of things like Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and Apple’s Siri, voice commands are becoming more and more common. They can handle relatively easy commands, but not complicated ones or something said in an accent that the system doesn’t recognize.

. . . .

A lot of people make fun of readers who ask their Google Home or Apple’s Siri to read a book to them. Right now, the voice is flat and often mispronounces words. (My favorite version of Siri, whom we have dubbed “The British Guy,” says Wig-Wham for wigwam, and mispronounces every Spanish word he encounters. Which is tough here in Las Vegas, when he’s the one giving driving directions for the GPS. (Wigwam is a major street.) And don’t get me started on how badly he pronounces Hawaiian words, which are also common here.)

The flatness and mispronunciation won’t be a forever thing, though. The read-aloud feature will probably never be as good as a human performance. (The science fiction writer in me forced me to use the word “probably.”) But more and more people will use the feature as the reading improves.

Because the future of audio is moving so rapidly that I missed significant developments by taking nine months off, it’s more essential than ever for writers to hold onto their audio rights.

However, traditional publishers are snapping up audio rights with every single book contract now, which is rather like snapping up movie rights or TV rights. And writers are letting the publishers do it—usually on the advice of idiot agents.

Audio is the reason that Simon & Schuster’s Carolyn Reidy declared 2018 the best year ever for the company—the growth of audio and backlist sales, which I will get to in a future part of this series. S&S has its own audio division, and it increased its title count in 2018. The company has also started producing original content, just like Audible has.

Reidy expects S&S’s audio division to become even more important. She told Publisher’s Weekly:

With even more audio retailers coming on board, and the further proliferation of smart speakers and other listening devices, audio will remain a growth engine for us.

Audio will be a growth engine for all of us, if we can manage it. In addition to the audio retailers growing almost by the day, ways for indie writers to produce their own audiobooks and get them into the market have grown in 2018 as well.

Findaway Voices, in particular, has become a go-to site for writers who want to produce their own audiobooks.

. . . .

The key here with audio rights—with all of your rights, really—is maintaining control of them. Watch your contracts. If you’re publishing traditionally, reserve your audio rights. Do not sell them as part of a package to your traditional publisher, no matter how big those companies are.

If you’re indie publishing, watch your contracts, particularly if an audiobook publisher comes to you. As I mentioned above in the bit about S&S, they now have an entire audio division and are producing original content. Which means that they might contract for audio first.

The problem with all of the S&S contracts I’ve seen—the problem with most of the Big 5 contracts I’ve seen—is that they won’t accept a license for a single right. They want to license the entire property, even if they don’t exercise all of those rights. Which means that by licensing audio to them, you might lose paperback rights as well. Or the entire copyright, since that seems to be the M.O. for many of these companies.

Be very careful.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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