Charlie Kaufman Says Old Hollywood, Not Netflix, Killed Movies

From The Wall Street Journal:

“My box office has been terrible,” says screenwriter and director Charlie Kaufman, describing the commercial flop that led to his first novel, “Antkind,” a 705-page comedy about a failed film critic and a destroyed movie.

Mr. Kaufman’s playful, mind-bending screenplays for other directors, including “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” are among the most acclaimed of recent decades. But the two films he has directed were critical hits that made no money.

. . . .

The novel’s unreliable narrator, B. Rosenberger Rosenberg, exalts the work of Judd Apatow and considers Charlie Kaufman a hack moviemaker. Mr. Kaufman tweaks his own image here, as he did in his screenplay “Adaptation,” which depicts a fictional Charlie Kaufman as a down-in-the-mouth screenwriter. B. also has a tendency to fall into manholes. He discovers a stop-motion film that is three months long—yes, months—only to see it lost in a fire.

As he tries to reconstruct the film from memory, believing that will bring him the stature he deserves, he moves into imaginary worlds, fictions within fictions that include a slapstick comedy duo and a president called Donald J. Trunk. Throughout, B. reflects on his awareness of sexism, racism and his own white privilege, although his own thoughts suggest he might be more biased than he knows. “Antkind” also overflows with obscure references, some invented and many not, including a real 1914 film, “A Florida Enchantment,” in which a woman swallows a magic seed and becomes a man.

. . . .

Mr. Kaufman talked to the Journal about creating novels and movies. Edited excerpts:

. . . .

Why did you create a main character, B., who is a wrong-headed, self-involved, failed film critic?

I’m not questioning your description, but I want to make clear those are your words, not mine. I have a lot of sympathy for B. I feel like he’s distinctly human in all of his failings. I like the idea of impossible things, like when [the late science fiction writer ] Stanislaw Lem writes book reviews for nonexistent books, so I liked the idea of describing a film that does not exist and probably could not exist. That seemed like it would lend itself to a book about a film critic.

. . . .

Your new film is adapted from a novel. How did that project come to you?

I was looking for something that somebody would let me direct and it’s easier to get something made if it’s based on a book or a comic book or a movie that’s already existed. The producer I work with happened to have a deal with Netflix. I don’t know that Netflix knew going in that I was going to make it into something that was less of a thriller than the book, and I don’t think I knew that either. The book is leading you to a reveal, and I felt like that might be obvious and disappointing in the movie. Things are more mysterious in words than they are in images.

Was it easier to get an original screenplay made earlier in your career?

Definitely. Earlier in my career, I could play around and experiment, but the business has changed enormously, and it all happened around 2008 when studios stopped making movies and started making tentpoles. The reason something like Netflix attracts filmmakers is because there’s nowhere else to make those things. It’s infuriating to me when people say Netflix is ruining movies because—no, movies ruined movies, studios ruined movies, and that’s the truth.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (sorry if you run into a paywall)

PG notes that the upcoming Netflix movie is based on I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Ian Reid.

What Happened to Those Who Signed the Declaration of Independence? Part 1

From The Daily Signal:

Thomas Heyward Jr., Edward Rutledge, and Arthur Middleton

Thomas Heyward Jr. of South Carolina was a signer of both the declaration and the Articles of Confederation. Heyward drew the ire of the British when, as a circuit court judge, he presided over the trial of several loyalists who were found guilty of treason. The prisoners were summarily executed in full view of British troops. In 1779, he joined the South Carolina militia as a captain of artillery.

Heyward’s compatriot in the South Carolina delegation, Edward Rutledge, also served in the state militia. At age 26, Rutledge was the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence. After returning home from attending the Second Continental Congress in 1777, he joined the militia as captain of an artillery battalion.

Both Heyward and Rutledge aided their country in the battle at Port Royal Island, where they helped Gen. Moultrie defeat British Maj. William Gardiner and his troops.

Arthur Middleton, the last of the South Carolina delegation who served in the militia, took up arms against the British during the siege of Charleston in 1780. His fellow signers, Heyward and Rutledge, fought in that battle as well.

Upon the surrender of Charleston, all three men were captured by the British and were sent to a prison in St. Augustine, Florida, which was reserved for people the British thought were particularly dangerous. They were held there for almost a year before being released. On route to Philadelphia for a prisoner exchange in July 1781, Heyward almost drowned. He survived his fall overboard by clinging to the ship’s rudder until he could be rescued.

During the British occupation of Charleston, Commandant Nisbet Balfour ordered the seizure of many estates in Charleston, including those owned by Heyward and Middleton.

During his imprisonment, Heyward’s wife died at home, and his estate and property were heavily damaged. Rutledge’s estate was left intact, but his family had to sell many of their belongings in order to make the trip to Philadelphia to reunite with him after his release. Middleton’s estate was left relatively untouched, but his collection of rare paintings was destroyed during the British occupation of his home.

Thomas Nelson Jr.

Thomas Nelson Jr. of the Commonwealth of Virginia was appointed to the position of brigadier general and commander-in-chief of the Virginia militia by Gov. Patrick Henry in August 1777. At that time it was thought that the British would be making a full scale invasion of the state. Nelson was able to muster only a few hundred men to defend Virginia, but the British instead decided to attack Philadelphia.

Nelson inherited a vast family fortune, much of which he used to support the American effort. He personally paid for the return journey home of 70 troops he had led to meet the British in Philadelphia during the summer of 1778. In the spring of 1780, Nelson signed his name to a loan for $2 million that was needed to purchase provisions for the French fleet that was coming to America’s aid in the war.

As then-governor of Virginia, during the Battle of Yorktown he ordered American troops to fire upon his mansion, which had been commandeered by Gen. Cornwallis and his men.

Richard Stockton

A member of the New Jersey delegation, Richard Stockton, had his estate commandeered by the British for use as a headquarters. As they left, British troops burned all his personal effects—including his library, private papers, furniture, and clothes.

Though Stockton was in hiding at the time, he ultimately did not escape capture; a traitor led the British to his position in November 1776. He was held captive in Amboy, New Jersey, and was then sent to New York City where he was imprisoned in a jail reserved for common criminals. Incensed by his treatment, Congress worked with British Gen. William Howe to obtain his release.

George Walton

Because of his small build and stature, George Walton was thought to be the youngest of the signers of the declaration (he was actually in his mid-30s). He hailed from Georgia and served as colonel in the first regiment of the state militia in 1778. During the siege of Savannah, a cannonball broke Walton’s leg, which led to his being captured. He was held captive for nine months and was released in the early fall of 1779 in a prisoner exchange for a British navy captain.

At the same time Walton was held prisoner, his wife Dorothy was captured by the British. She was imprisoned on an island in the West Indies and was eventually freed after a prisoner exchange. During the Waltons’ confinement, the British ransacked their home.

George Clymer

British troops destroyed the home of George Clymer of Pennsylvania in September 1777 when they captured Philadelphia. Though his home was outside of the city, it was right in the middle of the path of the British march. American loyalists pointed out to the British homes belonging to patriots, which of course included Clymer’s estate.

Clymer also contributed to the war monetarily. He converted his entire fortune into continental currency, a risky move considering the likelihood that the currency would be rendered worthless. He also told wealthy friends to contribute to the American cause.

Robert Morris

A delegate from Pennsylvania, Robert Morris helped insure Washington’s victory at Yorktown by using his own credit to obtain the supplies necessary to defeat the British. He spent more than $1 million (not adjusted for inflation) of his own money to accomplish this.

While serving as superintendent of finance of the United States, Morris regularly used his own financial resources to obtain much needed supplies. Using his own funds, for example, he purchased one thousand barrels of flour for Washington’s men in late spring of 1778.

Lewis Morris

Lewis Morris of New York served as a major general in the state militia. Morris devoted himself to recruiting men to serve in the militia and to help keep supplies up, which was a constant problem. For almost the entire length of the war, the British occupied his home, Morrisania, and used it as their headquarters. This forced Morris to live off of his close friends and associates until the war ended in 1783.

John Hancock

John Hancock of Massachusetts, the man with the largest signature on the declaration, served in the militia as major general in 1778. Hancock was put in command of approximately 6,000 men during the Rhode Island campaign. That campaign was ultimately unsuccessful because the French failed to carry out their end of the bargain.

Caesar Rodney

Caesar Rodney served in the Delaware militia as well, attaining the rank of brigadier general. Rodney famously road on horseback straight from Dover to Philadelphia to cast his vote in favor of declaring independence (the Delaware delegation was split). He was with his men in the field during the brutal winter of 1776, helped quash an uprising in Delaware (there were a large number of loyalists within the state), and helped in George Washington’s effort to defend Philadelphia from being taken by the British.

Carter Braxton

Carter Braxton of the Virginia delegation accumulated massive personal debts helping the American effort in the war. He loaned 10,000 pounds sterling to Congress, which was never repaid. He also spent much of his wealth outfitting American ships so that they could carry more cargo. Due to the British capturing some of his vessels and others being lost out on the high seas, he suffered great financial calamity. These accumulated losses left him bankrupt by war’s end.

Link to the rest at The Daily Signal (a publication of The Heritage Foundation)

Part 2 of this list will be posted tomorrow (July 4)

The Declaration of Independence

In Congress, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


Georgia

Button Gwinnett

Lyman Hall

George Walton

North Carolina

William Hooper

Joseph Hewes

John Penn

South Carolina

Edward Rutledge

Thomas Heyward, Jr.

Thomas Lynch, Jr.

Arthur Middleton

Massachusetts

John Hancock

Maryland

Samuel Chase

William Paca

Thomas Stone

Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia

George Wythe

Richard Henry Lee

Thomas Jefferson

Benjamin Harrison

Thomas Nelson, Jr.

Francis Lightfoot Lee

Carter Braxton

Pennsylvania

Robert Morris

Benjamin Rush

Benjamin Franklin

John Morton

George Clymer

James Smith

George Taylor

James Wilson

George Ross

Delaware

Caesar Rodney

George Read

Thomas McKean

New York

William Floyd

Philip Livingston

Francis Lewis

Lewis Morris

New Jersey

Richard Stockton

John Witherspoon

Francis Hopkinson

John Hart

Abraham Clark

New Hampshire

Josiah Bartlett

William Whipple

Massachusetts

Samuel Adams

John Adams

Robert Treat Paine

Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island

Stephen Hopkins

William Ellery

Connecticut

Roger Sherman

Samuel Huntington

William Williams

Oliver Wolcott

New Hampshire

Matthew Thornton

Light Blogging

Today, July 3, is the start of a three-day Independence Day weekend in the United States.

Between sheltering in place and holiday activities, the publishing industry will be in full hibernation mode until next Monday.

PG will put up a few posts, but the number will be lower than usual.

The Partners Behind Great Writers in Literature

From Electric Lit:

Many writers’ spouses have influenced or made possible the great books we still read today. Some, it’s true, have not been quite so helpful. Below are glimpses of a few relationships, ranging from the indispensable to the disastrous.

. . . .

Count Leo Tolstoy and Countess Sofia Tolstoy (née Behrs), 1862-1910

Determined to be entirely honest, 34-year-old Count Leo Tolstoy gave the 18-year-old Sofia Behrs all his diaries to read in the week between his proposal and their marriage. Sofia was extremely upset by the revelations in these diaries, particularly on reading of Leo’s early exploits with peasant girls. Still, the couple read each other’s diaries for their entire marriage, only stopping in the final year of Leo’s life where he controversially vowed to keep a diary for himself only. Over the course of the marriage, Sofia raised their 13 children, copied out his voluminous works many times over, and despite being married to one of the most famous men in the world, was left nothing when her husband died because he did not believe in property or copyright. In Leo’s diary from 1897, he wrote: “So[fia] has read this diary in my absence and is very distressed that people might afterwards conclude from it that she was a very bad wife.” The year after, one of Sofia’s diary entries reads:

“I was wondering today why there were no women writers, artists or composers of genius. It’s because all the passion and abilities of an energetic woman are consumed by her family, love, her husband – and especially her children. Her other abilities are not developed, they remain embryonic and atrophy. When she has finished bearing and educating her children her artistic needs awaken, but by then it’s too late.”

. . . .

Virginia Woolf (née Stephen) and Leonard Woolf, 1912-1941

Reporting the news of her marriage, the 30-year old Virginia Stephen announced: “I’ve got a confession to make. I’m going to marry Leonard Woolf. He’s a penniless Jew. I’m more happy than anyone ever said was possible.” Of the marriage itself, she wrote that they both wanted “a marriage that is a tremendous living thing, always alive, always hot, not dead and easy in parts as most marriages are. We ask a great deal of life, don’t we?” The marriage was not without obstacles; there were sexual problems from the beginning. The Woolfs wanted to have children but were advised against it because of what was referred to as Virginia’s “mental instability.” Over the course of their marriage, Leonard would help Virginia through multiple bouts of depression and numerous suicide attempts. For some years, Virginia had an affair with Vita Sackville-West with Leonard’s blessing. 

In 1917, the couple set up the Hogarth Press—publishing Virginia’s novels as well as works by T.S. Eliot, Katherine Mansfield, and Sigmund Freud—and Leonard wrote in a letter: “I should never do anything else, you cannot think how exciting, soothing, ennobling and satisfying it is.” A writer, publisher, and former colonial administrator, Leonard appeared content at the end of his life that he would be remembered as Virginia’s husband. Virginia famously wrote in her suicide note in 1941: “What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good . . . I don’t think two people could have been happier.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

How the U.S. and European Union pressured South Africa to delay copyright reform

From Politico:

When South African President Cyril Ramaphosa sent a copyright reform back to the parliament last week, he raised constitutional concerns as a reason to delay the bill.

But in the preceding months, the United States and the European Union — encouraged by the powerful cultural industry — had pressured him to postpone the legislation with threats of tariffs and withdrawing investment.

. . . .

While the U.S. tariff threats were out in the open, the European Commission’s campaign to hold up the legislation has been exposed in dozens of internal Commission documents, obtained by former MEP Julia Reda via access to document requests, and shared with POLITICO.

Documents include letters from Hollywood studios, record labels and publishers urging the EU’s executive branch to intervene with the South African government, as well as communications between the Commission’s directorates general and missives from the EU’s delegation to South Africa asking the government to delay the reform.

“That [kind of unilateral pressure] is not terribly surprising from the current U.S. administration. What is surprising is that the European Commission seems to have joined in,” said Andrew Rens, a copyright expert at Research ICT Africa, adding that “the U.S. has been absolutely explicit about their intentions. The European Commission has been a little more discreet.”

Ramaphosa’s decision not to go forward with the bill highlights the sway of the cultural industry, which has opposed the reform for fear it would set a standard for the rest of the African continent.

. . . .

“[Pressure from the cultural industry has] gone as far as mobilizing the U.S. and EU trade authorities, threatening repercussions against South Africa were the reform to receive presidential assent. Clearly … these threats have proven quite effective,” said the International Federation of Actors’ General Secretary Dominick Luquer, who expressed concerns about the delay of “a long-awaited and much-needed copyright reform.”

. . . .

The reform — made up of the Copyright Amendment Bill and the Performers’ Protection Amendment Bill — introduced the notion of “fair use,” a general exception to copyright for research, teaching and caricature, among others.

The Commission was involved very early on and wrote to the government in 2015, 2017 and 2019 to raise concerns about fair use and compliance with international treaties. A Commission official said the EU’s executive body was not against the introduction of the fair use provision in third countries’ legislation but called for “a balanced approach and legal certainty.”

The concerns revolved around “clear delineation of the scope of exceptions, the application of exceptions to commercial uses and the issue of compensation for uses under exceptions,” the official added.

Championed by tech companies such as Google, fair use is usually opposed by rights holders because it allows others to use content they have created or own for free. Fair use exists in U.S. copyright law, although the reform’s critics argue the South African text is much broader. European copyright rules don’t include a fair use provision.

Other disputed provisions include additional remuneration rights for authors and performers, supported by some local creators but rejected by companies such as movie studios and record labels who argue they interfere with contractual freedom.

The Motion Picture Association (MPA), which represents Hollywood studios and Netflix, welcomed the president’s decision. “The MPA was part of a cross-creative sector group which included publishing, music and author societies (among others), which worked closely with local creators to voice concerns transparently across many engagements with the relevant authorities,” a spokesperson said, referring to an open letter sent to Ramaphosa in August 2019.

. . . .

“I don’t think [the president] had constitutional issues, I think he was scared by the pressure from the Americans,” said Christo de Klerk, who works for Blind SA and backs the reform because it includes a general copyright exception for people with disabilities. Blind SA, an NGO helping visually impaired people find jobs, filed a legal proceeding against Ramaphosa to force him to act upon the bills, which had been waiting on his desk for over 15 months.

Link to the rest at Politico

The Rich

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Amazon’s Revolutionary Retail Strategy? Recycling Old Ideas

From Wired:

I SOMETIMES THINK that if you could look in the safe behind Jeff Bezos’ desk, instead of the sports almanac from Back to the Future you’d find an Encyclopedia of Retail, written in maybe 1985. There would be Post-It notes on every page, and every one of those notes would have been turned into a team and maybe a product.

Amazon is so new, and so dramatic in its speed and scale and aggression, that we can easily forget how many of the things it’s doing are actually very old. And we can forget how many of the slightly dusty incumbent retailers we all grew up with were also once considered radical, daring, piratical new businesses that made people angry with their new ideas.

This goes back to the beginning of mass retail. In Émile Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames, a tremendously entertaining novel about the creation of department stores in 1860s Paris, Octave Mouret builds a small shop into a vast new enterprise, dragging it into existence through force of will, inspiration, and genius. In the process, he creates fixed pricing, discounts, marketing, advertising, merchandising, display, and something called “returns.” He sends out catalogs across the country. His staff is appalled that he wants to sell a new fabric at less than cost. “That’s the whole idea!” he shouts. Loss leaders are nothing new.

Meanwhile, the other half of the story follows the small, traditional shopkeepers in the area, who are driven out of business one by one. Zola sees them as part of the past to be swept away. They’re doomed, and they don’t understand—indeed, they’re both baffled and outraged by Mouret’s new ideas. Here’s the draper Baudu:

The place would soon be really ridiculous in its immensity; the customers would lose themselves in it. Was it not inconceivable? In less than four years they had increased their figures five-fold … They were always swelling and growing; they now had a thousand employees and twenty-eight departments. Those twenty-eight departments enraged him more than anything else. No doubt they had duplicated a few, but others were quite new; for instance a furniture department, and a department for fancy goods. The idea! Fancy goods! Really those people had no pride whatever, they would end by selling fish.

Mouret had a catalog, but it was Sears Roebuck that used catalogs to transform retail again. 

. . . .

Amazon, of course, is the Sears Roebuck of our time, but it’s more than that. Amazon is systematically going through every branch of the idea tree around what retail is, and doing it without any pride. It’s trying everything that anyone has ever tried before, and anything else that it can think of that might make sense, as well. There is no one saying “that’s a good idea, but we’re a website so we wouldn’t do that.”

. . . .

The clearest place to see this is in Amazon’s moves into physical retail. This is the opposite of pride or “principle.” Amazon’s job is “to get you the thing,” not “to be a website,” so what are the best ways to do it? What else might work? The project to make a convenience store with no human checkout process is an obvious experiment, now that machine learning and computer vision offer a route to make it work. 

. . . .

More interesting, though, are the Amazon Four-Star stores, physical retail stores —currently in New York and Berkeley, California—that only sell products rated highly by users on its site. I joked on Twitter that they feel as though they were designed by very clever people who have seen shops in Google Street View but have never actually been inside one. There’s a sense of cognitive dissonance: The selection of products appears to be completely random. There’s a rice cooker, a Harry Potter Lego set, a cushion, a Roomba, a mixing bowl, a book about trees … It makes no sense. (In the words of Zola’s Baudu, “Those people have no pride!”)

Of course, sometimes “it makes no sense” is the right reaction (remember the Fire Phone after all). But when clever people do things that make no sense, it can be worth looking twice. Is this a new discovery model? A different way to change how people think about purchasing? Well, it’s another experiment.

. . . .

Sometimes the experiment is still in progress: Though Amazon has managed to put Alexa into more than 50 million homes, it’s not yet clear what strategic value it will gain. But it’s better to own the experiment and get the option value than to sit on the business you already have and watch someone else try something new.

On the other hand, it’s interesting that Amazon seems to be doing as much experimentation as possible around the logistics model—from stores to drones to warehouse robots of every kind—but much less around the buying experience.

. . . .

This has always been the gap in the Amazon model. It’s ever more efficient at finding what you already know you want and shipping it to you, but bad at suggesting things you don’t already know about, and terrible whenever a product needs something specific—just try finding children’s shoes by size.

Link to the rest at Wired

According to the bio accompanying the OP, the author is:

“a partner at Andreessen Horowitz with a focus on consumer technology, ecosystems, and mobile platform. A long-time mobile analyst, Benedict has been working in the media and technology industries for 15 years.”

Andreessen Horowitz is a Silicon Valley venture capital company.

Whenever PG reads something written by a venture capitalist, he always suspects a hidden motive.

Maybe the VC has an investment in a startup that plans to fill some gap in Amazon’s operations and is trying to prepare the ground so prospective customers realize they have a problem that the startup can solve.

On the other hand, more than a few Sili Valley veterans resent that Amazon started and grew in Seattle, driving a significant number of venture-backed eCommerce companies into bankruptcy (or worse, obscurity), when everyone knows that cool technology companies are supposed to be founded, discovered, financed, grown and monetized within a reasonable drive-time from Stanford.

The simple fact is that Amazon is very, very good at its core businesses.

And it has continued to be very, very good for a long period of time, eternity in internet time, and nobody has so much as put a dent into Amazon’s retail operations.

The Fire phone was an experiment that failed, another tech product, the Kindle Fire has not.

While no venture capitalist would permit one of his/her offspring to use anything other than the latest-model iPad, the Kindle Fire has sold a lot of units to families that don’t want to pay for a new iPad every time junior tries a science experiment with the local tablet.

The Kindle Fire also permits families with multiple children avoid arguments, screaming, crying, etc., over whose turn it is to use the tablet to purchase a Fire for each child when a similar expenditure on individual iPads (plus the replacement of science experiment casualties) would not be feasible.

Plus, Amazon offers a Kindle Fire Kids Edition with a protective case that could double as body armor at a reasonable price and Amazon provides ways of securely locking down the Fire so little Johnnie or little Suzie can’t wander off into nasty places even if little Suzie is a computer genius. The attractive features of the Amazon Fire for families also make the tablets quite attractive to schools, especially public elementary schools.

The Amazon Fire Kids Edition sells for about $75 and, for nearly-instant household peace, a parent can acquire one at the local Best Buy or Staples at the same price (and avoid the insufferable yuppie vibe of an Apple Store).

PG doesn’t know whether the company makes a profit from its various Fire tablets, but nobody who grows up with a Kids Edition is ever going to forget Amazon.

Amazon is more on what works and what its customers and prospective customers AKA pretty much the entire known universe, will use over and over and over and over than it is about the latest cool new thing that will attract the attention of a venture capitalist.

The World

From The Wall Street Journal:

Richard Haass is a prolific author on international affairs, served as a foreign-policy official in the Reagan and both Bush administrations, and is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is, in short, a high-ranking member of American foreign policy’s clerisy. As if to emphasize the point, he relates that the inspiration for his book “The World: A Brief Introduction” began with a day of fishing in Nantucket, where he spoke with a student from Stanford who confessed that he had taken few courses in economics, politics or history. Otherwise educated young people today, Mr. Haass concludes, “are essentially uninformed about the world they are entering.” He hopes to change this state of affairs with “The World.”

What Mr. Haass has written, alas, is a series of dry primers about the world’s regions and their problems. The book is rife with soporific statements with which it would be difficult to disagree: “Economic problems within Europe have been ever more significant. As a result, the Continent has had low rates of growth.” The assumption seems to be that the young have disengaged from the world because they lack access to information. But engagement has fallen even as the internet has made access to information effortless.

Mr. Haass is among the most respected foreign-policy experts in the world and is fully capable of proposing bold ideas that would put American strategy on a more sustainable path. That “The World” offers mostly uncontroversial data points rather than fresh analysis helps to explain why two (and in some respects three) consecutive U.S. administrations have often rejected the dominant views of foreign-policy experts.

The useful parts of the book mostly come in the opening section, which briskly relays the “essential history” of international affairs. The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 established the nation-state as the basic political unit in Europe. Webs of alliances and the rise of nationalism set the stage for World War I—and trade ties were not enough to prevent it. This context is important because contemporary debates about international relations often proceed as if history started with World War II.  

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (sorry if you run into a paywall)

Simon & Schuster’s Mary Trump Book Temporarily Blocked by Restraining Order

From Publishing Perspectives:

Even as John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir continues to roil the American political scene, its publisher, Simon & Schuster, now has seen yet another move against it on the month’s upcoming release, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. by Donald Trump’s niece Mary.

Publishing Perspectives readers will remember that an attempt to block Mary Trump’s book was lodged late in June in the Queens County Surrogate’s Court. The judge quickly rejected the case and the book is set for a release on July 28. You may recall the growing level of interest in the world publishing community in this, as the International Publishers Association issued a statement of support for Simon & Schuster.

On Tuesday afternoon (June 30), however, a new court action temporarily blocked publication of the book.

We’ll walk through the pertinent steps here because, as Simon & Schuster’s attorneys at Davis Wright Tremaine led by Elizabeth McNamara are writing overnight, a successful halt to publication of the Mary Trump book “would be unprecedented in this country,” a violation of what the world publishing community refers to as the “freedom to publish.”

. . . .

As Maggie Haberman and Alan Feuer wrote at The New York Times on Tuesday, “Judge Hal Greenwald of the New York State Supreme Court issued the temporary restraining order until a hearing on July 10 to decide whether [Mary] Trump’s book … violated a confidentiality agreement she signed with other members of the Trump family in connection with a dispute over the estate of Fred Trump Sr., the president’s father.”

Following the news of the court’s action, the publishing house released to various news media a short statement of regret about the temporary restraining order (sometimes called a “TRO”), reading: “We are disappointed that the court has granted this temporary restraining order. We plan to immediately appeal this decision to the appellate division, and look forward to prevailing in this case based on well-established precedents regarding prior restraint.”

Similarly, an attorney for author Mary Trump also filed a statement, objecting to the move as “a prior restraint on core political speech that flatly violates the First Amendment.”

. . . .

In the newly filed opposition to the temporary restraining order—a document called a memorandum of law—Simon & Schuster writes that the action “identifies no misconduct by Simon & Schuster.

“Instead, Mr. Trump”–Robert Trump, the president’s brother who is leading the family’s court action–”believes that simply because he alleges that Ms. [Mary] Trump violated a nondisclosure agreement, one that Simon & Schuster did not know about and was not a party to, he may force Simon & Schuster to stop the presses and throw the brakes on the delivery trucks, halting publication of the book.

“Such an outcome would be unprecedented in this country. Mr. [Robert] Trump has not even attempted to make the requisite showing that the public would be harmed by the publication of the book and, absent that showing, his requested injunctive relief must be denied.”

As the Times’ Haberman has pointed out on CNN’s New Day this morning (July 1), it’s in that statement that we learn that the publishing house was unaware of a nondisclosure agreement relative to Mary Trump.

She has pointed out that the publishers’ filings also reveal that “the book is already in its printing.”

Indeed, the memorandum of law asserts, “Simon & Schuster did not learn anything about Ms. [Mary] Trump signing any agreement concerning her ability to speak about her litigation with her family until shortly after press broke concerning Ms. Trump’s book about two weeks ago, well after the book had been accepted, put into production, and printing had begun.”

The memorandum goes on to say that as of June 30, 75,000 copies already were printed and bound, “and thousands have already shipped to sellers.”

. . . .

Simon & Schuster CEO Karp—a former journalist with the Washington Post, the Miami Herald, and the Providence Journal—recounts in his affidavit, filed overnight with the memorandum of law, that S&S won an auction for Mary Trump’s book. He says he understands that nine or 10 other publishers were in contention for it.

In signing an “individual guarantee” with Simon & Schuster as part of her deal, Karp writes, “Ms. [Mary] Trump warrants and represents, in relevant part, that she has the ‘full power and authority to make this agreement and to grant the rights granted hereunder’ and that she ‘has not previously assigned, transferred or otherwise encumbered [the rights].’ agreement

“The agreement also includes Ms. Trump’s representation that these warranties are ‘true on the date of the execution of this agreement’ and ‘true on the date of the actual publication’ of the book. Further, the agreement provides that the ‘publisher shall be under no obligation to make an independent investigation to determine whether the foregoing warranties and representations are true and correct.’”

Karp goes on to say that nothing has given Simon & Schuster any reason “to doubt the accuracy” of Mary Trump’s warranties and that in a meeting with her about her proposal for the book, “She revealed that she was the primary source for the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times article “Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father.”

Update

An appellate court has reversed a New York trial court’s order stopping the publication of the Trump book, so S&S has told its printers to keep running the presses 24/7 and shipping books as soon as they’re boxed to flood the world copies with before another judge stops it from publishing.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

From various and sundry online publications, it appears that Simon & Schuster won an auction for the book on May 14. In its filing yesterday, six weeks following the end of the auction, Simon & Schuster reported that “75,000 copies already were printed and bound” and “thousands” have been shipped.

Is the publisher’s inventory/shipping system so crude that it doesn’t know how many books it has shipped? That might cause a Simon & Schuster authors to question the accuracy of their royalty reports.

The quoted publishing contract language:

“Ms. [Mary] Trump warrants and represents, in relevant part, that she has the ‘full power and authority to make this agreement and to grant the rights granted hereunder’ and that she ‘has not previously assigned, transferred or otherwise encumbered [the rights].’ agreement”

So, apparently Ms. Trump may have conveniently forgotten about her previously-signed nondisclosure agreement that the Trump heirs claim prohibits her from making some information in the book public.

Simon & Schuster is shouting about the First Amendment, but the only right it has to publish Ms. Trump’s book is because Ms. Trump purportedly gave S&S the right to do so. S&S has no independent right to publish and the magic of publishing doesn’t give it the right to publish something when the author didn’t have the right to publish that same document.

The S&S contract conveniently includes a clause in the Trump contract stating “publisher shall be under no obligation to make an independent investigation to determine whether the foregoing warranties and representations are true and correct.”

In effect the publisher is saying it will rely solely on the author’s representations and warranties in the publishing agreement and won’t look at anything that might seem fishy about whether the author is prohibited from writing the book and giving S&S the right to publish it.

Ms. Trump is certainly bound by what PG will describe as a “willful blindness” clause, but the Trump heirs are not. The fact that Ms. Trump has previously involved in litigation with other heirs would raise a red flag for any attorney representing a publisher who was planning a tell-all book about the Trump family if the publisher were trying to avoid litigation with a notoriously litigious family.

S&S is essentially arguing that it is an innocent bystander that has spent money to publish a book and waving the First Amendment to protect itself.

However, PG contends there are only so many red flags that S&S can ignore and still claim its sanctity under the First Amendment.

PG would argue that the OP description makes S&S appear to be acting much more like a co-conspirator with the author to assist the author in violating the privacy of the Trump family and commit an act that the author apparently promised not to do – open the family secrets to the whole world – and for which the author received a lot of money from family members who wanted privacy and the family secrets kept secret.

PG is far from a fan of President Trump, but confidentiality agreements are quite common in American business and personal contracts.

Should a person desire to work for Apple or Microsoft or CitiBank or Goldman Sachs or General Motors or The United States Army or Simon & Schuster in a position that would permit that individual to access important information about the organization that would benefit competitors of the organization, that person would be expected to sign the sort of confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement that Ms. Trump apparently signed.

If a person violates a confidentiality agreement with the Army, that person could charged with treason. PG doesn’t know if treason still merits a firing squad or not, but whatever the punishment, he expects it would be severe.

To be clear, PG is not suggesting that Ms. Trump or anyone at Simon & Schuster be executed or sent to prison.

However, PG does suggest that the knowing behavior of both of those parties is not the sort of thing The First Amendment should reward with a lot of money or anything else.

A man gets older, he said

via Pexels

A man gets older, he said, he finds they’s lots of things he can do jest as well without and so he don’t have to worry about this and that the way a young feller will. I worked near all my life and never had nothin. Seems like a old man’d be allowed his rest but then he comes to find they’s things you have to do on account of nobody else wants to attend to em… Most ever man loves peace, he said, and none better than a old man.”

Cormac McCarthy, The Orchard Keeper

Old Men with Faces Like Lost Battles

Man’s face in grayscale via PickRepo

Bunker Hill is old town, lost town, shabby town, crook town. Once, very long ago, it was the choice residential district of the city, and there are still standing a few of the jigsaw Gothic mansions with wide porches and walls covered with round-end shingles and full corner bay windows with spindle turrets. They are all rooming houses now, their parquetry floors are scratched and worn through the once glossy finish and the wide sweeping staircases are dark with time and with cheap varnish laid on over generations of dirt. In the tall rooms haggard landladies bicker with shifty tenants. On the wide cool front porches, reaching their cracked shoes into the sun, and staring at nothing, sit the old men with faces like lost battles.

The High Window by Raymond Chandler

I would like to write down what happened

I would like to write down what happened in my grandmother’s house the summer I was eight or nine, but I am not sure if it really did happen. I need to bear witness to an uncertain event. I feel it roaring inside me – this thing that may not have taken place. I don’t even know what name to put on it. I think you might call it a crime of the flesh, but the flesh is long fallen away and I am not sure what hurt may linger in the bones.

First line of The Gathering, by Anne Enright

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

From Writers Helping Writers:

Have you ever felt unqualified for a job even though you have extensive training? Do you ever shy away from giving advice because you believe that what you have to say is wrong or unimportant—even though you know what you’re talking about? 

When I graduated and took on my first clients, I had nightmares about how others would receive me. I questioned myself constantly; Do you know what you’re talking about? Who would trust you to guide their writing? Regardless of the knowledge and experience I had, that little voice in the back of my mind continued to cast doubt, uncertainty, and fear.

I lived with this feeling for years. In fact, I still struggle with it. I figured it was a part of my brain trying to make me better at my craft, so I continued learning and growing. What I didn’t know is that this feeling doesn’t go away, at least not on its own. You have to consciously work to eradicate it.

I didn’t know until recently that this feeling had a name: impostor syndrome. It’s not a diagnosed syndrome, but around 70% of creative minds struggle with this issue. That’s a sizable portion of us. Impostor syndrome is the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite accomplishments. It is the feeling that all of your accomplishments result from luck. It is a psychological phenomenon to which most creatives can relate.

For writers, impostor syndrome attacks your unique “voice”, and it can be the worst feeling in the world. It causes anxiety, stress, fear, low self-confidence, and even shame and depression. If allowed to go unchecked, it can lead to less risk-taking and missed opportunities. 

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Communications in 2020: What Do Authors Value?

From Writer Unboxed:

I decided to ask a few authors and a veteran literary publicist—with many books to their credit—their their thoughts about value. Specifically, how have their marketing communications efforts evolved through the years, and what are some of the big differences between their various book releases.

. . . .

ROBYN HARDING, Internationally Bestselling Author of THE SWAP, out now

I published my first novel in 2004, before social media was widely used (or even created in most cases), so I was at the mercy of my publisher’s in-house publicist to promote my book. She arranged local television, newspaper, and radio interviews for me, and put me in touch with several online book bloggers. (I still remember being asked: What do you consider to be your best feature? I didn’t bat an eye then, but I would now.) My next few novels were promoted the same way. After taking a break to explore screenwriting, I returned to publishing with my first domestic suspense novel, THE PARTY, in 2017. The world of promotions had moved almost completely online, and I had much more opportunity to participate in my own publicity. Now, my in-house publicist gets my book into the hands of print and online publications for inclusion on lists and round-ups, which I share on social media to amplify their reach. (I’ve had my books in big traditional publications like People and Entertainment Weekly, but it didn’t seem to impact sales.) I usually write a few articles that tie into the theme of my book, and my publicist will place them. In 2017, I didn’t have Instagram or Twitter, so I was trying to promote a book and develop a following at the same time. Since then, I have found an amazing book community online, and have developed friendships with many bookstagrammers. When my latest novel, THE SWAP, was published on June 23, I felt such incredible support. I spent the entirety of pub day thanking people on social media. It was pretty great.

. . . .

CHRIS BOHJALIAN, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of THE RED LOTUS (which came out on March 17, 2020 when the world shut down); look for the special 25th anniversary edition of WATER WITCHES on June 30

My 21st book was published on March 17, 2020, so the differences between my most recent release and the twenty that preceded it is like comparing apples and oranges.  It makes more sense to compare (for instance) my 20th novel with my first.  I have been writing since the Mesozoic era, and the big changes between publishing a book in the late 1980s and the present include:

— The dramatic decrease in newspaper and magazine coverage of books;

— The decrease in television coverage of books;

— The rise of the online book sites and the way readers give books one to five stars;

— The rise of thoughtful book bloggers and passionate book blogs;

— The rise of the social networks to sell books;

— The increase in small, dedicated book groups that meet in living rooms across America;

— The increase in national book clubs hosted by smart celebrities who care passionately about good books;

— The way digital audio has fueled monumental growth in audiobooks;

— The way eBooks have rendered book tours less fiscally viable;

— The way streaming networks have adapted books into limited series that really give a book a chance to breathe on the the screen;

— The way that online bookstores have made ‘discoverability’ of a new book more difficult for book browsers, because there are fewer bricks and mortar bookstores and they have smaller inventories.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

8 Anti-Capitalist Sci-Fi and Fantasy Novels

From Electric Lit:

Karl Marx may be famous for his thorough, analytic attack on capitalism (see: all three volumes and the 1000-plus pages of Das Kapital), but let’s be real: it’s not the most exciting to read. What if, just as a thought experiment, our works that reimagined current structures of power also had robots?

Speculative fiction immerses the reader in an alternate universe, hooking us in with a stirring narrative and intricate world-building—or the good stories do, anyways. Along the way, it can also challenge us to take a good look at our own reality, and question with an imaginative, open mind: how can we strive to create social structures that are not focused on white, patriarchal, cisgendered, and capitalist systems of inequity? 

As poet Lucille Clifton says, “We cannot create what we can’t imagine.” Imagination is an integral element to envisioning concrete change, one that goes hand-in-hand with hope. Although certain magical elements like talking griffins and time travel might be out of reach (at least for the present moment), fantasy and sci-fi novels allow us to imagine worlds that we can aspire towards. Whether through a satire that exposes the ridiculousness of banking or a steampunk rewriting of the Congo’s history, the authors below have found ways to critically examine capitalism—and its alternatives—in speculative fiction. 

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

A speculative fantasy set in neo-Victorian times, Shawl’s highly-acclaimed novel imagines “Everfair,” a safe haven in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Shawl’s version of the late 19th-century, the Fabian Socialists—a real-life British group—and African-American missionaries band together to purchase a region of the Congo from King Leopold II (whose statue was recently defaced and removed from Antwerp, as a part of the global protest against racism). This region, Everfair, is set aside for formerly enslaved people and refugees, who are fleeing from King Leopold II’s brutal, exploitative colonization of the Congo. The residents of Everfair band together to try and create an anti-colonial utopia. Told from a wide range of characters and backed up with meticulous research, Shawlcreates a kaleidoscopic, engrossing, and inclusive reimagination of what history could have been. “I had been confronted with the idea that steampunk valorized colonization and empire, and I really wanted to spit in its face for doing that,” Shawl statesthrough her rewritten history of the Congo, Shawl challenges systems of imperialism and capitalism. 

. . . .

Making Money by Terry Pratchett

If you stop to think about it, isn’t the concept of a credit card ridiculous? Pratchett’s characters would certainly agree. Pratchett’s Discworld series, as the Guardian noted, “started out as a very funny fantasy spoof [that] quickly became the finest satirical series running.” This installment follows con-man Moist von Lipwig (who first appeared in Pratchett’s spoof on the postal system, Going Postal), as he gets roped into the world of banking. The Discworld capital, Ankh-Morpork, is just being introduced to—you guessed it—paper money. However, citizens remain distrustful of the new system, opting for stamps as currency rather than use the Royal Mint. Cue the Financial Revolution, with Golem Trust miscommunications, a Chief Cashier that may be a vampire, and banking chaos. In his signature satirical style, Pratchett points out the absurdities of the modern financial system we take for granted.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG has three immediate thoughts.

  1. Just about anything can serve as a theme for a fantasy novel and authors are perfectly free to riff on any topic they may choose.
  2. Das Kapital was a factual and logical mess, but an excellent pseudo-economic basis for gaining and keeping power in the hands of its foremost practitioners. The book was first published in 1867 by Verlag von Otto Meisner, which sounds a bit capitalist (and aristocratic) to PG.
  3. Each of the Anti-Capitalist books is published by a thoroughly-capitalist publisher and PG is almost completely certain that each of the authors received an advance against royalties for the book that would feed an impoverished African village for at least a few months.

There’s Something About Being Quarantined for Too Long

PG has been receiving inquiries from prospective clients about publishing contracts from various organizations with which PG is not familiar.

He won’t name names because he has only seen a couple of the contracts and not done any checking on any (except to confirm that a notorious vanity press is still in operation).

Like (he expects) many of the visitors to TPV, PG has also seen an uptick in spammy email offers.

PG needs to do a content analysis to learn a bit more, but he wonders if there’s a style guide somewhere that is used by many for whom English is a (distant) second language for the purpose of creating fraudulent-sounding emails.

However, short of a more in-depth review, here are a few style elements that show up in PG’s inbox on a regular basis:

  • The author claims to be a ministry-level official in the government of an African nation
  • The Minister is telling me that I have qualified to receive a lot of money from some government fund
  • Sometimes the money is sitting in an Unclaimed Property fund
  • The general style of the email is quite obsequious and archaically formal, “My Dear Kind Sir or Madam”, etc.

PG doesn’t believe that even the most credulous among us deserves to be defrauded of money he/she has rightfully obtained. However, he wonders if someone who is victimized by this sort of approach might not be in need of a court-appointed conservator to manage the individual’s financial affairs to protect the individual from being financially victimized.

Postscript regarding Vanity Presses and Other Occupants of Publishing’s Swamps:

  1. Don’t pay money to a “publisher” or “press” to publish your book
  2. Always do a series of online searches based on the name of any organization or person who solicits you for money to assist you in publishing your book.
    • You might structure some of your searches as follows: “Shady Publisher” fraud, “Shady Publisher” crook, “Shady Publisher” cheat, etc., etc., etc.
    • Look for a website for the Publisher. Don’t necessarily believe what it says, but see if it looks like one for a major publisher. See if the site lists any alternate names, imprints, etc. the Publisher uses and do all the searches described in this list on those alternates.
    • Do a lot of searches about the Publisher, not just a few.
    • If the Publisher has a physical location listed on its website, Google “Better Business Bureau” and the city named in the physical location. Once you find the local Better Business Bureau (it may be in a larger city near the city where the Publisher is located) use its website to search for the name of the Publisher.
    • Go to several websites where authors gather to talk shop and ask whether anyone has heard about the Publisher
  3. Go to Writer Beware© and look for any mentions of the Publisher. Make sure you don’t miss the Thumbs Down Publishers List and look around there.
  4. Go to Amazon’s Books section and search for the Publisher’s name. If you don’t find it, consider its absence to be a giant red flag with spotlights shining on it. If you do find the Publisher’s name, look at the Sales Rank of the books it has published.

Books by black authors have topped bestseller charts in recent weeks. Next we must ask: who profits?

From NewStatesman:

After the recent Black Lives Matter protests, Instagram and Twitter feeds were filled with recommendations for books by black authors. As well as classics by the US writers James Baldwin and Maya Angelou, two contemporary British titles have been at the top of book-stack photos everywhere: Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, which won last year’s Booker Prize, and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race (2017).

Bestseller lists from the first week of June show these posts are not purely performative: Evaristo has become the first woman of colour to top the paperback fiction chart (fellow Booker winner Marlon James is the only other writer of colour to have done so), while Eddo-Lodge is now the first black British writer at No 1 on the paperback non-fiction list (Why I’m No Longer… jumped 155 places from the previous week, according to data from Nielsen BookScan). These positions were maintained for a second week, with Eddo-Lodge now the first black British author to top the overall UK book chart.

. . . .

On 15 June the newly formed Black Writers’ Guild, led by authors Afua Hirsch and Nels Abbey and publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove, issued an open letter to the UK publishing industry. “Publishers have taken advantage of this moment to amplify the marketing of titles by their black authors,” they wrote, but “we are deeply concerned that British publishers are raising awareness of racial inequality without significantly addressing their own.” The UK’s five largest publishers (Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Hachette, Harper Collins and Simon & Schuster) all separately welcomed the demands and said they would address the points in the letter, which include carrying out audits of books by black authors and of black publishing staff.

The disparity in commercial success between white authors and authors of colour starts at the beginning of a writer’s career. Authors have recently used the Twitter hashtag #publishingpaidme to share the advances they received for their books, in an effort to highlight racial disparities. The white British author Matt Haig revealed he received £600,000 for his tenth book. The Noughts and Crosses author and former Children’s Laureate, Malorie Blackman, wrote, “I have never in my life received anything like the sums being posted by some white authors”.

Advances are not indicative of a book’s quality. “What, then, do they indicate?” asked the US novelist NK Jemisin. “Let’s call them an indicator of ‘consumer confidence’. Specifically the publisher’s confidence in consumers.”

As recent bestseller lists demonstrate, there can be no doubt there is a market for literature by black authors. Next we must ask: who profits?

“All of these issues are long-lasting, and therefore one would hope that the books that encourage understanding remain popular and at the forefront of what we sell,” Waterstones’ managing director, James Daunt, told me over the phone. This month Waterstones staff set up a petition calling for the retailer to financially support the Black Lives Matter movement. It now has over 6,000 signatures. The firm has said loss of revenue because of Covid-19 means a charitable donation is not currently possible.

One of the letter’s authors, a Waterstones bookseller, told me they saw the company’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement as “optical allyship”: “All of our social media posts in support of Black Lives Matter include links to buy books from our website. How repulsive is that?” The employee said they learned that on 2 June alone, Waterstones sold 7,943 copies of Why I’m No Longer… online. “And they’re saying that we don’t have money to give to the Black Lives Matter movement? I find it morally reprehensible.” Waterstones has since announced to staff that Why I’m No Longer… will be July’s Book of the Month, and 10 per cent of sales, matched by the book’s publisher, Bloomsbury, will be given to Black Lives Matter organisations.

Eddo-Lodge has asked interested readers to borrow her book from a library or a friend; if they must buy it, she asks that they match its cost with a donation to the Minnesota Freedom Fund. “This book financially transformed my life and I really don’t like the idea of personally profiting every time a video of a black person’s death goes viral”, she wrote. 

. . . .

Tighe said Alex S Vitale’s The End of Policing, which was available for free up until the end of last week, “absolutely exploded online”, having been downloaded more than 210,000 times in recent weeks. “We’ve always had a very informed, politically aware readership,” she said. “But these numbers show that the book has gone beyond our immediate readership. There has been a seismic shift in the mainstream.”

Link to the rest at NewStatesman

PG is confused.

  1. The Noughts and Crosses author and former Children’s Laureate, Malorie Blackman, wrote, “I have never in my life received anything like the sums being posted by some white authors”.
  2. Advances are not indicative of a book’s quality. “What, then, do they indicate?” asked the US novelist NK Jemisin. “Let’s call them an indicator of ‘consumer confidence’. Specifically the publisher’s confidence in consumers.”
  3. So, is it wrong for a publisher to consider whether consumers to purchase a book when deciding on the amount of an advance?
  4. Is consumer confidence evil?
  5. Recent bestseller lists demonstrate there can be no doubt there is a market for literature by black authors. Next we must ask: who profits?
  6. If one assumes that black authors profit from the sale of literature by black authors, is that a good thing or a bad thing? If a black-owned publisher profits, is that OK? Should a conscientious reader investigate the race of the author or the race of the publisher’s owners or the race of the publisher’s top management? If two of these factors show as black and one as white, how should the reader make a decision? Does the ethnic nature of the author’s agent play any role in this decision? If a black author is represented by a white agent, who profits?
  7. This month Waterstones staff set up a petition calling for the retailer to financially support the Black Lives Matter movement. Waterstones bookseller, told me they saw the company’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement as “optical allyship”: “All of our social media posts in support of Black Lives Matter include links to buy books from our website. How repulsive is that?”
  8. So is Waterstones supposed to financially support Black Lives Matter? Can Waterstones employees financially support Black Lives matter if their financial support originates with a salary paid by Waterstones? What does it take to purge the Waterstones’ money from its taint?
  9. So Waterstone’s social media posts supporting Black Lives Matter are repulsive if Waterstones, a bookseller, offers to sell some books to readers who wish to support Black Lives Matter? What if Waterstone’s social media posts supporting Black Lives Matter link to books by black authors? Presumably, Waterstone’s makes money from selling books written by black authors just as it does from selling books written by authors of other ethnic groups. Does mingling the sales revenue from books by white authors with revenues generated from books by black authors cleanse or taint Waterstone’s profits? What about the portion of revenues used to pay employee salaries? Does the conscientious employee refuse to accept any money Waterstone’s generated from selling books from links in its social media supporting Black Lives Matter because it’s repulsive.
  10. Eddo-Lodge has asked interested readers to borrow her book from a library or a friend; if they must buy it, she asks that they match its cost with a donation to the Minnesota Freedom Fund. “This book financially transformed my life and I really don’t like the idea of personally profiting every time a video of a black person’s death goes viral”
  11. It sounds like a committed supporter of Ms. Eddo-Lodge would refuse to purchase any of her books. Perhaps that supporter might organize a consumer boycott of Ms. Eddo-Lodge’s books and any bookstore that sells them. Perhaps organized groups of the right-minded should purchase a single copy of each of Ms. Eddo Lodge’s book and set up their own library to supplement the public library’s lending capabilities. Such groups might conduct social media campaigns urging people not to purchase Ms. Eddo Lodge’s book and, instead, provide links to a wide variety of libraries where people could borrow it.

PG is still uncertain what a sincere and socially-aware reader of NewStatesman is to do to erase any possible doubt of their virtue:

  • Cancel their subscription and borrow NewStatesman from the library?
  • Purchase a book written by a black person or not? Does this decision depend upon whether a black person has recently been wrongfully killed? Wrongful killing, no. Natural death, ok.
  • When a book financially transforms a black author’s life, is the proper response of a NewStatesman reader to boycott the book and put their name on a library’s waiting list for the book?

And, by the way, what is the race of the owner of the NewStatesman? The chief editor? The other editors? The custodial staff?

The front page of this digital issue of the NewStatesman featured a prominent headline titled, “From Our Authors” under which four authors were named and cute drawings accompanied their names. Three of the authors appeared to be female. One appeared to be male. All appeared to be white.

PG performed a quick visual scan of the many photos of people on the NewStatesman‘s digital front page. The overwhelming majority of photos depicted individuals who displayed the typical coloring of an Anglo-Saxon.

An exploration of ‘How Innovation Works’

From The Washington Post:

Innovation, Matt Ridley tells us at the start of his new treatise on the subject, “is the most important fact about the modern world, but one of the least well understood.” Even as it functions as a powerful engine of prosperity — the accelerant of human progress — innovation remains the “great puzzle” that baffles technologists, economists and social scientists alike. In many respects, Ridley is on to something. After decades of careful study, we’re still not entirely sure about innovation’s causes or how it can best be nurtured. Is innovation dependent on a lone genius, or is it more a product of grinding teamwork? Does it occur like a thunderclap, or does it take years or even decades to coalesce? Is it usually situated in cities, or in well-equipped labs in office parks?

We can’t even agree on its definition. Generally speaking, an innovation is more than an idea and more than an invention. Yet beyond that, things get confusing. We live in a moment when we’re barraged by new stuff every day — new phones, new foods, new surgical techniques. In the pandemic, we’re confronted, too, with new medical tests and pharmaceutical treatments. But which of these are true innovations and which are novel variations on old products? And while we’re at this game, is innovation limited to just technology, or might we include new additions to our culture, like a radical work of literature, art or film?

Unfortunately, no one happens to be policing the innovation space to say what it is and is not. Mostly we have to allow for judgment calls and an open mind. As an occasional writer on the subject, I tend to define innovation simply, but also flexibly: a new product or process that has both impact and scale. Usually, too, an innovation is something that helps us do something we already do, but in a way that’s better or cheaper. Artificial light is an excellent case study. Over time we’ve moved from candles, to whale oil and kerosene lamps, to incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, and now to LEDs. Or, as another example, we might look to one of the great accomplishments of the 20th century, the Haber-Bosch process to make synthetic fertilizer, as a leap that changed the potential of agricultural production. On the other hand, we can regard the Juicero press — a recent Silicon Valley-backed idea that promised to “disrupt” the juice market and burned up more than $100 million in the process — as a fake or failed innovation. And still, this leaves us plenty of room for disagreement about what falls between these extremes and why.

Ridley enters into this messy arena with the intent of organizing the intellectual clutter. The first half of his book, “How Innovation Works: And Why It Flourishes in Freedom,” takes us on a tour through some highlights in the history of innovation. We visit with the early developers of the steam engine, witness the events leading to the Wright brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., and hear about the industrialization of the Haber-Bosch fertilizer process. There are likewise forays back to the early days of automobiles and computing, the development of smallpox vaccines and clean drinking water, and stories that trace the origins of the Green Revolution in agriculture, which alleviated famine for more than 1 billion people. For dedicated science readers, Ridley’s lessons may have a glancing and derivative feel. He knits together stories many of us have probably heard before — say, through the renditions of writers like Steven Johnson, Charles Mann or Walter Isaacson — but somehow misses the opportunity to enliven these sketches with a sense of wonder and surprise. More seriously, he skirts the opportunity to footnote his summarizations, leaving only a skeletal guide to sources in his back pages.

What becomes clear, though, is that Ridley is focused less on exploring the pageant of history than on fashioning a new belief system. I don’t necessarily mean this as a critique; in fact, the second half of his book — where he looks closely, chapter by chapter, at the factors that shaped the innovations he’s spent his first 200 pages describing — is more polemical in its approach but often more engaging, even as one might disagree with a narrative direction that arises from what I would characterize as the libertarian right. 

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

May heaven protect the unsuspecting Washington Post reader from any political attitudes not consistent with the paper’s editorial page.

A decontamination approach for SARS-CoV-2 on five library materials

From REALM:

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
and OCLC are working in partnership with Battelle to create and distribute science-based
information designed to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to staff and visitors who
are engaging in the delivery or use of museum, library, and archival services. This REopening
Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) project is studying how long the SARS CoV-2
virus (the virus that causes COVID-19) survives on common materials and methods to mitigate
exposure.

As part of the project’s Phase 1 research, Battelle has conducted a natural attenuation study to
provide information on how long some commonly circulated library materials would need to be
quarantined prior to being put back into public circulation. Testing was conducted by applying
the virulent SARS-CoV-2 virus on five materials held at standard room temperature and
humidity conditions. The materials tested include the following items, which were provided by
Columbus Metropolitan Library:

  1. Hardback book cover (buckram cloth),
  2. Paperback book cover,
  3. Plain paper pages inside a closed book,
  4. Plastic book covering (biaxially oriented polyester film), and
  5. DVD case.

Results show that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was not detectable on the materials after three
days of quarantine. The evaluation demonstrates that standard office temperature and
relative humidity conditions typically achievable by any air-conditioned office space provide an
environment that allows for the natural attenuation of SARS-CoV-2 present on these common
materials after three days of quarantine.

Link to the rest at REALM

Teaching Shakespeare Under Quarantine

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

SHAKESPEARE’S HENRY VIII (also performed under the title All Is True) is not a popular play. Its plot structure might best be described as unfortunate, and it is largely the reason the play gets overlooked. Modeled on the medieval de casibus genre — collections of tales of the downfall of great people — Henry VIII’s characters are a gaggle of would-be protagonists who hardly get an hour to strut and fret before they are ushered away. Yet its disordered and unpredictable plot makes the play perfectly shaped for our present moment.

The Duke of Buckingham, who first takes center stage, opens the play by making a dangerous political enemy in the powerful Cardinal Wolsey; we expect to see Buckingham fall, but not as swiftly as he does. Buckingham is gone by the early part of Act II, and our attention shifts to Wolsey, who is out by the end of Act III; then, we focus on Catherine of Aragon, who falls in Act IV. Death spreads at such an unpredictable and breakneck pace that no catharsis is possible. The tragedy of this play is that no one, including the audience, gets the dignity or meaning a true tragedy would provide.

Although the play ends with the birth of Elizabeth I, the hope for the future that she might provide rings hollow in light of the fact that those celebrating her birth are also doomed. Thomas Cranmer, whose encomium to the infant closes the play, will be executed before he sees her reign, as will her mother, Anne Boleyn. The play concludes less with the promise of a better future than by underscoring the fact that the one thing that is sure about the future is that none of us will get to see most of it.

During the last few weeks of online teaching under quarantine, I have felt some of the strongest moments of solidarity with students that I have experienced as a teacher — a feeling arising from the fact that we have all had to recalibrate how we understand the narrative arc of our lives. We had been operating under the assumption (even if we knew better, in theory) that we moved through a predictable and coherent trajectory, and now we have been forced to confront the fact that meaningful, human-centered plot structures do not govern our lives.

The upper-division students in my “Shakespeare: Later Plays” elective at Boston College, which wrapped up with our reading of Henry VIII, articulated this realization especially well. Their most common sentiment was that they have nothing to look forward to — a view expressed not as an anxious complaint but as a clear-eyed observation. Their college education won’t lead to a job (or even a ceremony to mark the end of a life-stage), their semester of assignments won’t culminate in a feeling of mastery (or even a grade), and many meaningful relationships they have made will be cut off without resolution.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

PG notes that, absent any sort of plague, many meaningful relationships made in college are still cut off without resolution.

He doesn’t remember anyone who did anything formally to continue a relationship or terminate one because of graduation. He said his goodbyes and goodbyes were said to him and everyone wanted to keep in touch.

A handful of people did keep in touch for a while, PG bummed overnight stays in the apartments of friends who lived in New York, but after a few years, absent accidentally bumping into someone at the airport or a restaurant, everybody seems to have moved on to newer relationships. He suspects that the great majority of shared college experiences (not involving marriage, etc.) contain an unwritten expiration date.

In his recollection, the college relationships developed by PG’s parents traversed a similar path (except for the one between his mother and father which resulted in marriage and a cute little baby PG).

The Human Factor

From The Wall Street Journal:

In “The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister” (2006), the journalist John O’Sullivan asserted that the Cold War had been won by Ronald Reagan, John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher. “Without Reagan,” he stated, “no perestroika or glasnost either.” This belief, according to Archie Brown, emeritus politics professor at Oxford University, is nothing less than “specious.” In “The Human Factor,” Mr. Brown gives most of the credit for the Cold War’s end to Mikhail Gorbachev, whom he presents as almost a pacifist who voluntarily wound up the Soviet Union, albeit with a little assistance from Thatcher. So who is right?

The title of Mr. Brown’s last book, “The Myth of the Strong Leader” (2014), suggests that he might have a philosophical problem with the Great Man and Woman theory of history, and he certainly underplays the role of John Paul II during the last decade of the Cold War. The pope’s call for spiritual renewal and for freedom, not least for his native Poland, stirred the hearts of millions, but he rates only five anodyne sentences in 400 pages.

Mr. Brown was awarded a British honor in 2005 “for services to UK-Russian relations.” One Russian in particular—Mr. Gorbachev—gets lauded in the current work for his “bold leadership,” “new ideas,” “formidable powers of persuasion,” “embrace of democratization,” “emphasis on freedom of choice” and so on. At best, Reagan, George Shultz, George H.W. Bush and the others are praised for their “constructive engagement.” At worst, Reagan is criticized for introducing “complications” to an already begun process of Russian collapse.

At no point does Mr. Brown acknowledge that the primary reason that Mr. Gorbachev liberalized the Soviet Union was that Reagan, Thatcher and other Western leaders forced him to, by keeping Western defenses strong and mercilessly exposing the moral bankruptcy—and looming economic bankruptcy too—of what Reagan accurately called Russia’s “evil empire.”

For Mr. Brown, Reagan lacked sophistication, and his style was all wrong for high-minded diplomacy. It was a familiar critique at the time, though one would think that, with the end of the Cold War, it had lost its plausibility. Still, Mr. Brown hopes to revive it. “In his speeches, at every stage of his career,” Mr. Brown complains of Reagan, “he used stories and ‘quotations’ that came from very unreliable sources or from the recesses of his own mind, often drawing on films he had acted in or seen. . . . For Reagan, whether they were actually true or not appeared less important than the part they played in his narrative.”

A president who told unreliable jokes and unverifiable stories! Lincoln fits the description, as do a dozen other U.S. presidents. Showing a folksy informality and raconteur skill is thought to be an asset in politics.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (sorry if you run into a paywall)

PG notes that TPV is a blog focused on the contemporary business of writing, not politics. He will also note that since much of the publishing world, indie and traditional appears to be sheltering in place, he sometimes casts his net a bit wider than he might absent the publishing commentary drought.

(Yes, PG does recognize a sort of mixed metaphor in the “casting his net” and “drought” combination.)

Touching Your Audience Deeply through Viewpoint

From Story Doctor Dave Farland:

Almost every time a book is made into film, you will hear the comment over and over, “The book was better.”

Some time ago I was talking to a friend of Christopher Paolini, whose novel Eragon was made into a movie, and some fans of the books were so disappointed in the film adaptation, that they actually sent death threats to the author. Sorry folks, but in this case, poor Christopher didn’t have any control in making the movie. Maybe there will be a better adaptation in a couple years.

There’s a huge reason why the book is better, or should always be better. The reason is that the book can transport you into the story better. But it only works if you do it right.

When you write a story, for each scene you need to choose your viewpoint character. Often this is the protagonist. Let’s call him Brad. As an author, you use your protagonist as something like a camera. You show the reader the world through Brad’s eyes, just as if he were a camera. You let us hear the world through Brad’s ears, just as if he were a camera.

But Brad is more than a camera. You show us through internal dialog what Brad is thinking. Now, a voiceover can do that on film, but the technique is not often used. You can also let us smell the world and feel the world—two things that cameras can’t do. You can let us know what Brad is feeling—something that the camera might reveal but only if the actor and the director are talented enough to catch it. You can report on Brad’s motions, give information on what it feels like to jump or run—things that cameras can’t do. You can report on variations in temperature or the texture of surfaces.

In fact, if you think about it, a novel allows you to transport Brad in several ways that a camera can’t, and that tends to make your book a better medium for storytelling than a film.

Here’s the thing. Readers subconsciously recognize the lack. Have you ever gone to the dentist and had your mouth numbed with Novocaine, then gone out to eat afterward? Even the best meal doesn’t satisfy your taste buds when they’re out of commission.

A film doesn’t normally convey the sense of smell, taste, touch, kinetic motion, or the character’s thoughts. Film can be poor at revealing a character’s interior emotions and intent. In other words, watching a film is like being anesthetized. The reader is cut off from so many senses, that really, it’s surprising that viewers get much from it at all.

But the thing that I want to point out is that the book as a medium for storytelling only works if you put it to use. For example, I’ve read a lot of stories where the writer won’t even commit to a viewpoint character. The writer won’t show us the character’s thoughts and feelings, their internal hopes and fears.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

New to Working from Home? Here Are Some Tips to Help You Meet Like a Pro

From Zoom Blog:

With many businesses now encouraging or even mandating that employees work from home amid global health concerns over the coronavirus, millions of people can expect to have their daily routines and work styles impacted. But not everyone is accustomed to working from home, and getting into work mode from a space that’s not your regular one can be a huge adjustment.

The bright side of working from home is that you save time on a commute, spend more time with family, and maybe get a few more things done around the house. But the challenges, including loneliness, staying connected, and a heightened penchant for distraction, can have a significant effect on your psyche and productivity. So, we’re here to help!

Whether you’re relegated to working from a spare bedroom, coffee shop, the library, or the lobby of your apartment building, we’ve compiled some tips to help you get set up, limit distractions, maintain confidentiality, and meet like a pro, no matter where you are.

. . . .

Let’s talk about your setup

Your laptop (Mac or PC) will likely have a built-in camera and audio, but it makes a big difference in the experience for you and others in the meeting when you have a quality webcam and a good microphone. 

To be your best self on camera, I recommend getting a Logitech Brio webcam and a set of Airpods (or the Plantronics Focus UC or Logitech Zone wireless headsets) if you can make the investment. Even a pair of wired mic-enabled headphones can go a long way. Check out this test I did. You can see my quick audio and video demo of the different set-ups I commonly see:

Great lighting also is crucial. Try and have your face be lit by a nearby window or get a small webcam light.

Link to the rest at Zoom Blog

PG Agrees and Disagrees with the OP.

Agrees

  1. A good webcam is important
  2. Good lighting is important
  3. PG would add that a professional background (or a blurred background) is also important. Chaos behind a video call participant doesn’t convey a particularly professional image.
  4. PG would add that placing a webcam so others on the call are looking up a speaker’s nostrils with ceiling lights in the background is also not a good look.

Disagrees

Webcams

  1. While the Logitech Brio is an excellent webcam, it’s also an expensive webcam. When PG was writing this post, Amazon’s price was almost $300. Ever since the explosion in web conferencing that accompanied the pandemic lock-down, the prices for Logitech’s high-end video cameras have gone up and stayed up. Plus it may be difficult to find these webcams in stock. The same Logitech Brio webcam was $199.99 at Adorama when PG built the link, so high-end webcams are one product category where Amazon may not be your automatic place to go for best prices.
  2. The Logitech C920 HD Pro Webcam is on a lot of lists of best webcams for videoconferencing. When PG checked, it was out of stock on Amazon, but the link takes you to Adorama where the price was $89.99 when PG built the link. Another option, again out of stock at Amazon but offered by Adorama when PG built the link is the Logitech C922 Pro Full HD 1080p Stream Webcam listed at $114.99.
  3. Amazon lists a boatload of Logitech lookalike webcams, most manufactured in China by companies you may not have heard of before. (PG hasn’t) The products may be great or they may be terrible and it is close to impossible to determine quality by photos and product descriptions. Don’t be fooled by fake ratings that sing their praises. One technique that may help identify someone creating fake ratings (and often being paid directly or indirectly by the manufacturer for doing so) is to click on the icon identifying the reviewer to see how many reviews he/she has created. Quite often, knowledgeable tech types will write a lot of reviews about a variety of electronics products. Paid creators of fake reviews tend not to do so. On some occasions, grammar can be another red flag. If you’re relying on reviews, do a bit of forensic content analysis.
  4. Based upon his photography experience, PG is comfortable in saying that image quality can be a very subjective thing and opinions will vary from person to person. Images produced by webcam A may look great to Bob, but terrible to Phyllis. Remember also that what looks great on your laptop screen or your desktop monitor may (and probably will) look at least somewhat different on someone else’s laptop or monitor.
  5. The best way for borderline OCD personalities to deal with comparisons is to acquire two (or more) different webcams, and plug in one, then plug in the other to see which images you like the best (this technique works even better if you have two identical computer monitors and jump through the hoops to get images from Webcam A on one monitor and images from Webcam B on the other one. (No, PG is not certain about exactly how you would set this up but has been told it can be done.)
  6. PG suspects the person in the OP video was using a webcam her employer purchased for her and that she likely participates in Zoom conferences several times each day. The benefits of an excellent webcam may be different for her than they might be for an indie author who participates in a writing group Zoom session every month and videoconferences with Grandma or Granddaughter every few days.

Lighting

PG thinks good lighting is more important than good webcam quality for a lot of web conferences. The best webcam with fluorescent overhead light fixtures behind the individual will almost certainly result in a bad image.

Light from a window can be very nice if the window is in the right place and the sun is in the optimum position. If not, it won’t be so good.

The OP suggests using this light. PG hasn’t used the particular light recommended, but from the product photo, he’s pretty certain that it is a point light source. All the light comes from a single small point and hits the subject from a single direction. As a general proposition, you need more than one point light source, each positioned correctly, to get the best lighting for a person’s face.

PG suggests that, unless you have room to set up a photo studio, if you’re going to use a single light, a ring light is a much better choice. Here’s what one of those looks like.

There are a zillion different ring lights for sale on Amazon, varying in size and price. The idea is that light comes from all points on the ring, so they reduce or eliminate dark shadows like those that result from a single point light. (A teeny-tiny ring light may well be less-expensive but acts pretty much like a point light. A 10-12 inch diameter ring light will usually work well for a single individual.)

For webcam purposes, the ring light is placed in front of the person on the video call. Positioning the webcam in the middle of the ring light pointing at the subject generally results in nice lighting for a face.

For a videoconference, however, the most common practice is that, when a person is speaking, the other person (or people) is looking at the image of that person on their computer screen. Typically, the person speaking is looking directly at his/her webcam which gives the appearance that the speaker is looking each listener directly in the eye. Per meatspace face-to-face discussions (at least in many western nations) an attentive listener will also look back at the speaker on a fairly consistent basis.

A ringlight with a webcam mounted in the center certainly has the potential for obscuring the computer screen, so the illusion of face-to-face conversation suffers a bit. For this reason, it’s also a good idea to use a ringlight that allows you to vary the intensity of the light so you can adjust lighting for the best look for yourself while also allowing you to look through or near the ringlight at your screen.

PG says that if all this seems like a lot of trouble, he has had videoconferences of acceptable quality using an iPad and decent quality ambient light or a ringlight. For him, an iPhone screen is a bit too small for comfortable views of the face of the person on the other side of the call, but if you’re the principal speaker, that may not be important.

Sound

PG is aware that he has blathered on at great length about videoconferences, so he will be brief.

Almost any sort of corded microphone you can plug into your desktop or laptop will make you sound better than using a laptop’s built-in microphone. Desktops don’t usually include microphones, so an external mike will be necessary.

The woman in the OP recommended wireless headphones that utilized both ears combined with a noise-reduction/cancelling microphone either in the Airpods, which act a little like earplugs or integrated with headphones that covered both ears.

This could be very important in a busy (and noisy) open-space office in which the person might be using the same headset for telephone calls for several hours each day, but for an author sitting by herself in a comfortable writing space with (hopefully) not a lot of loud ambient sounds who may have one or two video conferences/calls per day, such a headphone/microphone set up might be expensive overkill.

Dear black publishers and creatives…

From The Bookseller:

I have been writing children’s books for over 10 years now. I have worked as an editor in children’s publishing houses for 15. For the last 18 months, I have been mentoring writers and illustrators of colour, and doing my best to try and explain how publishing works. How to navigate this industry whilst sharing my experiences of being an author and editor who is black. Thing is, this navigator is on new terrain now!

Publishing as I have always known it is changing. The honest conversations I am having with industry professionals around race and the marginalization of certain voices is unprecedented. Often, these conservations feel raw and personal and even exhausting – but they are all necessary.

The letter from the Black British Writers’ Guild, which I was proud to sign, and the recent Rethinking Diversity in Publishing report are forcing a long-overdue examination around the lack of equality when it comes to the careers of black creatives and publishing professionals.

It is an exhilarating time to be a black creative or publisher right now because we are pushing for parity and it feels like the industry aren’t just listening – they are actually taking action.

It is an uncomfortable time to be a black creative or publisher right now because we are in the spotlight and the focus is intense.

The door to opportunity seems to be wide open. Offers of work and amazing prospects may well be pouring in for you as the industry looks inwards and realizes that they have got to reflect the whole of society. That’s their job.

Do you hover at the threshold of that door? You remember when it was most definitely shut and you were left knocking. You wonder how long it will really remain open. Does it bother you that opportunities that seemed impossible weeks ago are now in your inbox? That they are born of the epiphanies of a mostly white industry? That some opportunities perhaps come from a place of fear and anxiety? That it has taken this long?

I dwell in this place between exhilaration and uncomfortableness. I am eager to champion and showcase the talent from marginalized communities that I work with, but I still fear this industry might let them down. 

I am excited for my future as a creator in a way I have never allowed myself to feel before. Yet, I remember what it felt like to encounter that shut door. To find success in other countries but not my own.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller