The (Copyright) Trouble with NFTs

From Jane Friedman:

We have an original oil painting hanging over our fireplace in the basement. We commissioned it many years ago from a young local artist whose work we enjoyed. The painting is probably worth less today than when we bought it in the late 90s.

On the back of the painting is an envelope, taped there by the artist. Inside is a handwritten “certificate of authenticity” signed by the artist indicating that he in fact did paint the picture, a whimsical scene of a stylized living room that was meant to be hung, well, in a living room. That certificate is the only proof of provenance we have should that artist suddenly become famous.

If instead of actually committing oil to canvas, however, the artist had created the work purely and only in a digital form, he could not have attached his physical certificate of authenticity to the work. Thus, when he emailed me the JPEG or PNG of the image for me to presumably print, frame, and hang over my fireplace, all I would have to prove provenance is his email indicating that the attached was his original work of authorship. And I might not even have such an email!

So, what to do to establish provenance of wholly digital works of art? NFTs! These digital certificates of authenticity, minted and recorded in the blockchain, certainly have their utility in terms of establishing provenance, but as a copyright lawyer, I frankly stand all amazed at the hoopla surrounding non-fungible tokens.

Why? Well, whence does a work of art derive value? Provenance, yes, but more accurately, scarcity. It’s Econ 101 all over again. If there’s only one The Starry Night, never to be re-created again by Van Gogh, and the provenance is not in question, that work of art is worth tens of millions of dollars. If there were fifty or a hundred The Starry Nights, however, all identical to the original and all painted by Van Gogh, the value of that masterpiece would certainly decrease.

So now consider a wholly digital work of art, a work that may be infinitely and easily copied and re-created by everyone who sees it on the internet simply by right-clicking on the image and selecting “Save As.” Or “Print.” Or “Email.” Or “Publish to Facebook.” Again, and again and again. There is thus no inherent scarcity to wholly digital works of art.

And this is true even if the artist has minted an NFT to go along with it because all an NFT is is a digital form of provenance. Admittedly the unique, immutable non-fungible token itself may have value as a novelty and because there is only one, but I worry about the general public’s perception that the NFT somehow establishes the value and creates scarcity of the underlying work of art.

And so now enters our old friend copyright law. With or without an NFT, the only way an artist can stop the unlawful reproduction of a digital work of art is by using copyright law, as is true for any work authored in, say, the last 100 years. For today, U.S. copyright law does not recognize an NFT as that “thing” that will get you admission to federal court to sue for copyright infringement. Unless a digital artist has registered her copyrights in her portfolio with the United States Copyright Office, she has no legal remedies against illegal copying of her digital works, NFTs notwithstanding, and this means she has no real effective mechanism to create scarcity of her work by controlling the supply.

So until Congress rewrites 17 USC Section 411(a) or the U.S. Supreme Court revisits its recent Fourth Estate decision (holding that the plaintiff must have a copyright registration certificate in hand to maintain an infringement action in federal court), an NFT is not equivalent to a copyright registration certificate issued by the Copyright Office. Thus, cutting-edge digital artists are left with a legal remedy hundreds of years old to create the requisite scarcity to drive value in their digital works, even if the artist has minted an NFT for the work.

. . . .

Think of it this way: an investor paid $69 million for the NFT minted in connection with Beeple’s digital work of art Everyday: The First 5,000 Days, but unless and until Beeple obtains a copyright registration certificate on that work, someone could, for example, print 1,000 T-shirts with exact copies of 5,000 Days on them and sell them on Etsy with relative impunity. 

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

From The Verge:

There’s nothing like an explosion of blockchain news to leave you thinking, “Um… what’s going on here?” That’s the feeling I’ve experienced while reading about Grimes getting millions of dollars for NFTs or about Nyan Cat being sold as one. And by the time we all thought we sort of knew what the deal was, the founder of Twitter put an autographed tweet up for sale as an NFT.

You might be wondering: what is an NFT, anyhow?

After literal hours of reading, I think I know. I also think I’m going to cry.

Okay, let’s start with the basics:

What Is an NFT? What Does NFT Stand For?

Non-fungible token.

That doesn’t make it any clearer.

Right, sorry. “Non-fungible” more or less means that it’s unique and can’t be replaced with something else. For example, a bitcoin is fungible — trade one for another bitcoin, and you’ll have exactly the same thing. A one-of-a-kind trading card, however, is non-fungible. If you traded it for a different card, you’d have something completely different. You gave up a Squirtle, and got a 1909 T206 Honus Wagner, which StadiumTalk calls “the Mona Lisa of baseball cards.” (I’ll take their word for it.)

How do NFTs work?

At a very high level, most NFTs are part of the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum is a cryptocurrency, like bitcoin or dogecoin, but its blockchain also supports these NFTs, which store extra information that makes them work differently from, say, an ETH coin. It is worth noting that other blockchains can implement their own versions of NFTs. (Some already have.)

What’s worth picking up at the NFT supermarket?

NFTs can really be anything digital (such as drawings, music, your brain downloaded and turned into an AI), but a lot of the current excitement is around using the tech to sell digital art.

. . . .

A lot of the conversation is about NFTs as an evolution of fine art collecting, only with digital art.

Do people really think this will become like art collecting?

I’m sure some people really hope so — like whoever paid almost $390,000 for a 50-second video by Grimes or the person who paid $6.6 million for a video by Beeple. Actually, one of Beeple’s pieces was auctioned at Christie’s, the famou—

Sorry, I was busy right-clicking on that Beeple video and downloading the same file the person paid millions of dollars for.

Wow, rude. But yeah, that’s where it gets a bit awkward. You can copy a digital file as many times as you want, including the art that’s included with an NFT.

But NFTs are designed to give you something that can’t be copied: ownership of the work (though the artist can still retain the copyright and reproduction rights, just like with physical artwork). To put it in terms of physical art collecting: anyone can buy a Monet print. But only one person can own the original.

No shade to Beeple, but the video isn’t really a Monet.

What do you think of the $3,600 Gucci Ghost? Also, you didn’t let me finish earlier. That image that Beeple was auctioning off at Christie’s ended up selling for $69 million, which, by the way, is $15 million more than Monet’s painting Nymphéas sold for in 2014.

Link to the rest at The Verge

From Investopedia:

Greater Fool Theory

The greater fool theory argues that prices go up because people are able to sell overpriced securities to a “greater fool,” whether or not they are overvalued. That is, of course, until there are no greater fools left.

Investing, according to the greater fool theory, means ignoring valuations, earnings reports, and all the other data. Ignoring the fundamentals is, of course, risky; and so people subscribing to the greater fool theory could be left holding the bag after a correction.

. . . .

Understanding the Greater Fool Theory

If acting in accordance with the greater fool theory, an investor will purchase questionably priced securities without any regard to their quality. If the theory holds, the investor will still be able to quickly sell them off to another “greater fool,” who could also be hoping to flip them quickly.

Unfortunately, speculative bubbles burst eventually, leading to a rapid depreciation in share prices. The greater fool theory breaks down in other circumstances, as well, including during economic recessions and depressions. In 2008, when investors purchased faulty mortgage-backed securities (MBS), it was difficult to find buyers when the market collapsed.

By 2004, U.S. homeownership had peaked at just under 70%. Then, in late 2005, home prices started to fall, leading to a 40% decline in the U.S. Home Construction Index in 2006. Many subprime borrowers were no longer able to withstand high interest rates and began to default on their loans. Financial firms and hedge funds that owned in excess of $1 trillion in securities backed by these failing subprime mortgages also began to move into distress.

Example of the Greater Fool Theory

Bitcoin’s price is often cited as an example of the greater fool theory. The cryptocurrency doesn’t appear to have intrinsic value (although this is an area of debate), consumes massive amounts of energy, and consists simply of lines of code stored in a computer network. Despite these concerns, the price of bitcoin has skyrocketed over the years.

At the end of 2017, it touched a peak of $20,000 before retreating. Attracted to the lure of profiting from its price appreciation, traders and investors rapidly bought and sold the cryptocurrency, with many market observers positing that they were buying simply because they hoped to resell at a higher price to someone else later. The greater fool theory helped the price of bitcoin zoom upwards in a short period of time as demand outstripped supply of the cryptocurrency.3

The years 2020-21 saw Bitcoin rise to new highs, topping $60,000 and hovering above $50,000 for weeks. This time, however, large institutional investors and corporations such as Tesla and PayPal have been involved in the buying—and it is debatable whether or not they can be considered fools. So, perhaps Bitcoin is not an example of the greater fool theory, after all.

Link to the rest at Investopedia

From Wikiquote:

Unattributed Variants to Murphy’s Law

  • It is impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.
  • Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently capable fool.
  • Make something idiot-proof, and they will build a better idiot.

Link to the rest at Wikiquote

PG suggests that copyright is only one of a great many problems with a collector’s market for Non-fungible tokens.

A great many things that are rare are not valuable. PG cites originals of his third-grade homework as examples.

Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket: Amazon Edition

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’m putting up this post in the middle of the fear sequence as it appears on my website, not because the post fits in the fear cycle, but because I don’t want to monitor the news for weeks to see what, if anything, has changed.

On June 9, here in the States, Democrats in the House of Representatives introduced a package of five bills which theoretically have bipartisan support. In a nutshell, the bills are aimed at stopping anti-competitive practices among the tech giants. Some of the provisions could even force companies like Amazon to break apart into smaller units.

Now, realize, that here in the U.S., just because a bill gets introduced doesn’t mean it will pass. It needs to pass both houses of Congress, and then the President must sign the bill into law. If the President refuses, Congress can override his veto…with enough votes.

In other words, there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip.

. . . .

For a decade now, I’ve been railing against writers who go exclusively to Amazon. I’ve been say, as clearly as I can, that as a business person, you should never, ever, ever put all your eggs in one basket.

Back in the early days of the new world of publishing, indies from the Kindle Boards would screech over to my website (usually on a Saturday) to call me stupid and ignorant, especially when I “attacked” Amazon.

Amazon is too big to fail, they said. Amazon will be around forever, they said.

And it didn’t matter how many examples I gave them of too-big-to-fail companies that did, indeed, disappear, they didn’t listen.

Those indies are mostly gone now, not because Amazon failed, but because they burned out or didn’t understand what kind of success they actually had and therefore gave up.

But for every screamer who left, another took their place. Usually quieter, and often just as dismissive. They’ve now moved to other places to share information because they know I’m inhospitable to exclusivity and Kindle-only. They’re stuck in Amazon’s algorithms, believing their writing careers are safe.

When these writers “go wide” as they call it, selling their books on sites other than Amazon, and lose Amazon’s exclusivity and “page reads” and deals, their income goes way down. Because these writers don’t understand that they need to build a new audience on each platform.

Building audiences takes time, but it protects against the eggs-in-one-basket problem.

. . . .

When a company gets hit with antitrust violations, there are a lot of remedies. Breaking up the company is one. Forcing the company to divest itself of parts of its business that help it create a monopoly is another. And there are so many more.

. . . .

“For Amazon,” [Michael Cader at Publisher’s Marketplace] writes, “that would likely mean divesting most arms of their publishing octopus, including much if not all of Audible, plus Brilliance, Amazon Publishing, Kindle Direct Publishing, and probably CreateSpace. It might apply to divesting AbeBooks as well.”

Sit with that for a moment. Amazon might have to get rid of everything that makes their indie publishing arm possible. Amazon could do a few things with it. They might sell the pieces. If those arms aren’t making a lot of money (in corporate terms), they might simply shut them down.

That’s not a big deal for people who are wide. They’ll still be able to publish.

But indies whose entire career is based on Amazon’s ecosystem? Those indies will go through a year or more of turmoil—if Amazon sells those pieces. If Amazon shuts those pieces down, the indies will lose their careers overnight.

. . . .

I’m just going to use Cader’s pull quotes here, since he really does very little editorializing, except at the end. (Although the choice of quotes is instructive.)

Here’s how he describes that Act:

The Act “prohibits discriminatory conduct by dominant platforms, including a ban on self-preferencing and picking winners and losers online.” In particular, it prohibits conduct that “advantages the covered platform operator’s own products, services, or lines of business over those of another business user.”

Significantly, covered companies may not “interfere or restrict a business user’s pricing of its goods or services.”

It blocks the use of “non-public data obtained from or generated on the platform by the activities of a business user or its customers that is generated through an interaction with the business user’s products or services to offer or support the offering of the covered platform operator’s own products or services.”

And it would keep Amazon from putting its thumb on the scale of their various promotional levers, blocking, “in connection with any user interfaces, including search or ranking functionality offered by the covered platform, treat the covered platform operator’s own products, services, or lines of business more favorably than another business user.”

There’s so much to unpack here. Note that this act covers pricing and promotion and, once again, competition. Instead of the Amazon ecosystem favoring Amazon, it would have to level the playing field in all areas.

That would mean, indies, there’s no competitive advantage to being Amazon-only.

. . . .

Amazon itself would survive. If the American Innovation and Choice Online Act is the only one that passes, then all those publishing services would remain intact, but the promotional deals that favor only Amazon products—and yes, your exclusive book is an Amazon product—would disappear.

All the advantages you have at Amazon would disappear if either of these two Acts pass in the current form.

They won’t. They’ll be different, if they ever make it out of committee. They’ll be significantly different after random House members get to put their imprint on the bills. They’ll be even more different after the Senate messes with it.

. . . .

Eventually, the U.S. government will take apart Amazon and the other tech giants. In the 1920s, the U.S. government took apart the tech giants of the late 19th century. When the tech giants’ power rivals the U.S. government and/or trumps the government (pun intended), the U.S. government—in a bipartisan way—will defang a tech giant. It sometimes takes years. But it will happen.

What do I recommend for those of you who are Amazon exclusive? I recommend that you watch this legislation for one thing. For another, I would start—slowly—divesting yourself of the exclusivity at Amazon.

I’d take my lowest performing works and pull them out of the exclusive ecosystem, going wide with them. I’d focus on promotions outside of Amazon for those particular products. I’d learn how to be a business person without Amazon, so when the Amazon ecosystem changes—and it will—you will be prepared.

. . . .

I have watched countless writers go under when the book publisher goes bankrupt. I  have watched non-publishing businesses go down because they have, essentially, one client and either that client stops paying or that client goes out of business.

See this as the shot across the bow that it is. The changes might not happen in 2021 (most certainly they won’t). They might not happen in 2022. But by mid-decade? Maybe.

. . . .

The system Amazon built that has—as a sideline—benefitted some exclusive indie writers will change in the next five years. I can guarantee that.

It might change sooner.

The indies who act now to slowly go wide will survive.

Those who cling to the old ways of doing things—exclusive, through Amazon—will lose their entire business, maybe sooner rather than later.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

PG shares some of Kris’s concerns but doesn’t think some of her concerns, while legitimate, are as serious as she does.

PG also thinks other factors Kris doesn’t mention may impact Amazon’s future.

When a strong personality steers a large company, there are upsides and downsides.

Even though the company becomes very large, the strong personality can make the ship turn more rapidly than a similar company under more conventional corporate governance could. Bezos and Amazon have demonstrated the benefits of this agility and willingness to take risks on more than one occasion. Steve Jobs and Apple are another example.

Sometimes, when there’s a strong personality at the top of an organization, the organization develops responsively to their leadership style. A new leader with a different style can lead to organizational stumbles. Organizations governed by several strong leaders acting in various roles may transition to new leadership more easily than single-leader organizations.

Another potential drawback of strong personality leadership is that subordinates with similar talents and personalities will go elsewhere instead of remaining in the organization. Would a clone of Jeff Bezos go to work at Amazon today? Suppose a clone of Jeff Bezos was an Amazon vice-president. Would they stick around to see how the CEO-successor game played out or jump to a leadership role in a different company when a head-hunter called with a good opportunity elsewhere?

The problem of a Big Tree CEO stunting the growth of smaller trees in the lower ranks is a real possibility. Some CEOs deal with that problem better than other CEOs do.

Amazon today is two large businesses – The Everything Store, where zillions of people go to buy stuff, and Amazon Web Services.

Of the two, Amazon Web Services earns the most money and is the most valuable. At root, The Everything Store is a retailer, and retailers, large and small, almost always operate on tight margins. AWS is a money machine.

Perhaps he has missed it, but he hasn’t seen anything that suggests that AWS is the focus of any serious antitrust scrutiny. Most of the public heat is focused on The Everything Store because it competes effectively with all sorts of retailers and touches on the distribution and sales operations of a whole bunch of manufacturers and suppliers of goods.

The Everything Store also competes with lots and lots of other retailers. Its enormous success in this sphere has gained the company a lot of enemies, including dedicated Amazon-haters. Most of traditional publishing falls into this segment. So do the many culturally influential individuals who are hopelessly in love with the idea of the little bookshop on the corner.

PG opines that most middle-class people in the US have no beef with Amazon and are happy to continue buying all sorts of things from the company.

For politicians, all the potential glory lies in attacking The Everything Store.

That’s the background as PG sees it.

What’s the future of legal attacks on Amazon?

PG thinks the timeline of any antitrust litigation against Amazon is very long.

He’ll summarize the timeline of the Microsoft antitrust of the last century:

  • Serious investigations began in the early 1990’s
  • Suit was filed by the Justice Department in 1998 after Netscape lost the browser wars to Internet Explorer
  • In mid-2000, the trial judge handed down his verdict. Microsoft appealed.
  • In mid-2001, The Court of Appeals acted rather quickly, reversed the trial court’s decision, and sent the case back down for a brand-new trial with a different judge.
  • At this point, the US Department of Justice got serious about settling the case instead of going through the trial-and-appeal process again. Microsoft exited the antitrust litigation in November, 2001, almost unscathed.

So, Microsoft’s antitrust litigation problems lasted over ten years from the beginning of serious investigations until the case was resolved. Today, Microsoft is the second most valuable company in the US by market capitalization.

In 1969, following a comprehensive investigation, the Justice Department filed an antitrust suit against IBM for monopolizing the personal computer market. That case lasted 13 years and IBM survived, remaining in the top ten of the Fortune 500 until 2006.

So, PG’s bottom line on Amazon is that, unless the company does something truly stupid, antitrust problems are, at most, a distant cloud on the horizon.

As far as harmful new legislation impacting Amazon, there is less predictability, but Amazon is #2 on Fortune Magazines list of the World’s Most Admired Companies.

Amazon is a very popular company with a great many American voters. Amazon has an estimated 147 Prime members in the United States. PG speculates that a letter to its customers asking them to contact their congressional representatives to head off anti-Amazon legislation might be quite effective.

PG is not aware of any law that would prevent Amazon from sending an email to each of its Prime members (or each of its customers) in the United States (or anywhere else) asking them to send a letter or email to their Congressional Representative and each of their two Senators.

Typically, Amazon’s customers provide a physical address to which purchases of non-digital goods should be sent, so the company has a very good idea of which state and congressional district in which a customer lives and/or does business. With that information, Amazon could provide relevant names, offices and email addresses, etc., for the relevant representative/senator.

Amazon’s letter or email to its customers could encourage customers to contact their representatives to tell them not to do anything that would harm Zon, including voting for any legislation that would force Amazon to change its business or stop selling popular products to individuals.

There would be a huge uproar by the anti-Zon press and other of the usual suspects, but PG thinks congressional representatives would get the message that their constituents like Amazon just the way it is and don’t want anybody voting for laws that would prevent them from buying whatever they want from Amazon.

Moving Forward or Onward or Whatever

From The Mad Genius Club:

By now, you’re probably tired of reading about my journey away from being Amazon-exclusive. In some ways, I am as well. It’s been an interesting voyage. Not because of the move away from Amazon but because of things it’s made me consider, things I’d been taking for granted or had let slip for much too long. In other words, I’d gotten too comfortable and that is a bad thing for writers, especially right now when we don’t know what is going to happen with Amazon’s KDP program or its publishing arm.

Before I head back to going wide, let’s talk about some of the changes coming to Amazon that may impact some of us. Jeff Belle has headed Amazon Publishing since 2009. He’s leaving–may have already left–and Mikyla Bruder is taking over. She’s been with Amazon for 10 years–that’s a good thing because it means she’s familiar with the system and the authors–but she comes from a traditional publishing background. That could be good or bad.

According to Publisher’s Weekly, Bruder doesn’t anticipate any problems in the transition or plan to make any big changes. That’s pretty standard boilerplate for any exec taking over a company or division when there’s no real problems the public is aware of. However, PW is quick to jump on the PC wagon:

Though Bruder does not see a shift in the overall vision for Amazon Publishing, that doesn’t mean there won’t be some changes. Most importantly, she brings a completely different life experience to her job than Belle did. Bruder, who is Asian American, said she has lived as an “other” in the largely homogenous world of trade book publishing and knows how tiring that can be. “I have seen firsthand how difficult it can be to work in that environment,” she added.

What this means beyond the fact PW is being, well, PW is up to interpretation. We’ll have to wait and see if Bruder continues to buy books from authors based on how well she thinks they will sell–and thus make profit for Amazon–or if a political/social agenda takes the forefront. If it is the latter, I don’t expect her to have the lengthy career with the ‘Zon her predecessor enjoyed.

Speaking of Amazon, while other companies are recovering from the limitations put on them by the pandemic–fewer employees, more working from home, etc–it seems Amazon’s KDP support staff is still at a low. I contacted them a week ago about an issue with my Honor & Duty series. For some reason, I can’t edit the series information. So I sent an email–always have a paper trail, even with the ‘Zon–detailing the issue and what I needed done. Usually, I get a response and resolution within a few hours. The longest I’ve waited for anything since trying to go wide has been 18 hours. This time? I was told they’d get to it within a week or so. Color me not happy. But they will be even less happy if I have to contact them again about this.

. . . .

I knew when I started it more would be involved than just uploading my books to the various storefronts or 3rd party aggregator. I hadn’t anticipated having to retrain myself to think in ways I haven’t since going exclusively with Amazon. 

Without going into too much detail, I had to look at how to get my books into the various storefronts, which storefronts I wanted to go with, etc. Initially, I decided to upload direct to BN, Kobo and Apple. I’d use Draft2Digital for the rest. I’ve changed my mind. The time saved alone by using D2D for everything is worth the few pennies per sale I pay to D2D to handle things for me. All I have to do is upload a generic ePub of the book, fill in the blanks and they do the rest. 

There is an added benefit of allowing them to handle it. Draft2Digital has a “sister” site called Books2Read. I’ve mentioned the site before but I am really starting to appreciate how powerful of a tool it can be for a writer. For example, here’s the landing page for Witchfire Burning. It shows the cover, gives the description and below lists other books (showing covers) I’ve written. It’s a much more attractive landing page than the product page at Amazon. If you click on the “get it now” button, it will take you to a new page where you can choose which storefront you want to visit (and I need to update it to pull in the Amazon link). 

The great thing about something like this is you can use it as your landing page for the book on your website. But even better is you can use this universal link in your books and promotional material. Think of it as a one-size-fits-all link you can use pretty much anywhere. That includes in your ebooks.

. . . .

Going wide has also made me look at book covers. Some of my covers were five years or more old. Let’s face it, genre cuing has changed in that time and sub-genres have grown. Because of that, I’ve taken time to redo a number of my covers. Some have been subtle changes: a change in font, the addition of a visual element. Others have been complete redesigns. It takes time but it helps give the books a fresher “image” and it will help draw in new readers.

. . . .

I know going wide isn’t for everyone. But I do urge each of you, whether you are Amazon only or wide or whatever, to take a long, hard look at what you’re doing now. Are there things you could do better? How much time and effort are you putting in on promotion? When’s the last time you updated your website? Do you blog on a regular basis? When you are on social media, are you on it as a private person or in your writer persona and how much time is spent in each?

Yes, going wide has me scared. I know my income will probably take a bit of a hit for the first few months until everything is released across the board and new titles are hitting. But, and this is interesting, as the number of books in KDP Select decrease, it appears that my Amazon sales are actually increasing. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues.

In the meantime, here’s my Books2Read author page. It is a work in progress, partially “thanks” to Amazon and the issue with the way they have the Honor & Duty series listed. But it is a quick and easy landing page to send your readers to, one that certainly looks nicer than your Amazon Author Page. I do wish it listed your website and blog the way the AAP does, but you can’t have everything and it is just one more tool in your author’s toolbox.

Link to the rest at The Mad Genius Club and thanks to T for the tip.

I believe it was Shakespeare

I believe it was Shakespeare, or possibly Howard Cosell, who first observed that marriage is very much like a birthday candle, in that ‘the flames of passion burn brightest when the wick of intimacy is first ignited by the disposable butane lighter of physical attraction, but sooner or later the heat of familiarity causes the wax of boredom to drip all over the vanilla frosting of novelty and the shredded coconut of romance.’ I could not have phrased it better myself.

Dave Barry

Putting the Story Back in Science

From Public Books:

I first met Ainissa Ramirez at an astonishing venue: the Qatar National Convention Center, in Doha. The date was in October 2013. We were both speakers at the World Innovation Summit for Education, a biennial meeting organized by the Qatari royal family to showcase new ideas on educational reform. Dr. Ramirez, then a 44-year-old materials scientist and a former member of the Yale faculty, described herself as a “science evangelist,” and she had strong ideas to promote. The professor said she hoped to encourage a whole generation of young women, especially young women of color, to lend their talents to the scientific endeavor.

“You can do it,” she told some of the young women she met at the conference. “You can change the world through science.”

Not long after returning to the US, Ainissa Ramirez contacted me, inquiring if she might audit my Columbia Master’s in Sustainability Management class, “Writing about Global Science for the International Media.” She’d been thinking about switching her focus from academe to science journalism; she wanted to write more and do her teaching through the mass media. Dr. Ramirez already had one published book to her credit: a popular work she’d coauthored, Newton’s Football: The Science behind America’s Game. I really wanted to include her. But I was constrained by class-size limits, so I reluctantly said no.

Well, Ainissa Ramirez didn’t need my class, not for a nanosecond. She’s a brilliant storyteller, and she possesses an unusual talent for taking science stories and shaping them into a compelling narrative. That’s really the secret of great science writing: finding the story within the technical information, unspooling it, and then retelling it in a form that readers will find exciting. This shouldn’t be an impossible task. After all, science is a human endeavor, and most anything that human beings do is likely to be interesting. And yet, much of what is called science journalism fails to do it.

I have my own theories about why this is. One is that many science writers are themselves frustrated scientists, so they sometimes write with the same dryness they read in academic papers. Dr. Ramirez, however, has already labored as an academic scientist—Bell Laboratories, MIT, Yale—and is secure in her credentials. She knows what the other side of science journalism looks like, and she’s not worried that when she writes simply she might be “talking down.” Moreover, she doesn’t fret about the emotionality of an anecdote. In fact, she uses emotion (and irony) to drive her stories.

And that’s why Ainissa Ramirez is such a jewel. Her first solo book, The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another, published by the MIT Press smack in the middle of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, tells the backstory of scientific inventions that influence our daily lives. Who knew that Christmas rituals were shaped by the growth of American railroads? That the size of modern humans was affected by the invention of the electric light? Ainissa Ramirez knows this and pulls readers into the technical story. The Alchemy of Us is one of those books that almost anyone in any field of endeavor will find interesting. That’s why more than a year after publication the work is still in print and has won much praise and a few prizes. Smithsonian magazine listed it as one of the best science books of 2020.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Wizarding World launches free Harry Potter hub for school summer holidays

From The Bookseller:

Harry Potter online home Wizarding World has launched has launched a free virtual hub for the school summer holidays.

Called Harry Potter Reading Magic, it is billed as “a destination to discover more about the exciting story and themes of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Bloomsbury) and have some fun along the way”.

The initiative sits alongside Bloomsbury’s rescheduled seventh annual Harry Potter Book Night on 24th June, with fans all over the world joining in magical events and activities themed around Diagon Alley.

With the new hub, over five weeks, young audiences will be able to get to know more about the iconic characters of J K Rowling’s books alongside chapter challenges, quizzes, craft activities and weekly themes.

Housing easy to follow tips, the Harry Potter Reading Magic hub will also feature handy and helpful guides for parents, carers and teachers. This content comes from a partnership between all Harry Potter publishers, including Bloomsbury in the UK, Scholastic in the US and Pottermore publishing.

The initiative is set to become an annual fixture. It follows the success of the Harry Potter At Home hub launched by Wizarding World for lockdown during 2020, which attracted more than seven million visitors.

Additionally, the first Harry Potter audiobook is available to stream free on Alexa from Audible beginning on 23rd June and throughout the month of July by saying: “Alexa, read Harry Potter Book One.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

How to Develop a Marketing and Promotion Plan as an Indie Author

From Jane Friedman:

I’m going to be honest, my initial foray into researching self-pub author publication and marketing threw me into a tailspin of information overload. There are so many paths and options to choose—but that’s the whole beauty of self-publishing, isn’t it? The following article was born of several author acquaintances asking me what paths and options I chose to launch my debut historical novel, Discerning Grace.

Before You Begin

Join the Facebook group called Wide for the Win.

No, seriously. Stop reading and go join them. It’s a brilliant free resource.

Even if you hate Facebook or don’t use it that much, you really should hop back on there just for this group. They really are that good! They share a boatload of intimate strategies about self-publishing. Search the Tree of Knowledge first. Readeverything there before you even think about asking questions on the main feed.

If the Tree of Knowledge is too tricky to navigate—it’s huge with zillions of threads and conversations—you can always buy the Wide for the Win ebook. It’s the brain child of Mark Leslie Lefebvre (from Draft2Digital) and Erin Wright (head honcho of Wide for the Win Facebook group). The information is much more structured and easier to navigate.

Setting Goals

I had to decide what I wanted from the first six months of my authoring journey: to be in the best-seller charts, to have thousands of downloads on a freebie, to garner early reviews, to grow my newsletter subscribers, or to roll in money like Scrooge McDuck?

I’ve picked two early goals: garner early reviews and grow newsletter subscribers.

My first-year goals

  1. Publish Discerning Grace (Book 1) in all formats (ebook, paperback, large print, audiobook)
  2. Get as many reviews for Discerning Grace (Book 1) as possible, on all storefronts
  3. Grow my newsletter subscriber list
  4. Publish Grace on the Horizon (Book 2) in all formats (ebook, paperback, large print, audiobook)

See how I don’t even mention $$$ or sales numbers in this first year? That’s not my goal (yet).

My second-year goals

  1. Publish Grace Arising (Book 3) in all formats
  2. Grow my newsletter subscriber list
  3. Run a BookBub 99c promo with Discerning Grace (Book 1) with the idea of achieving sell-through to Book 2 and Book 3
  4. Publish the trilogy box set (all 3 books in one)
  5. Run another BookBub promo on the box set
  6. Test paid advertising on Facebook, Amazon, and BookBub

Only after I’ve achieved these goals am I going to worry about money and sales numbers or paying for advertising. And only then will I work my strategies to grow these numbers into something that makes me a living (that’s a whole different topic for a different article—and for when I’ve crossed that bridge).

Now that I’ve laid out my goals, I’m going to stick to them. Of all the research I’ve read, it seems that most indie author careers only take off after 5 to 7 books. With only my first trilogy planned, I have a loooooong way to go, but having this knowledge also prevents self-flagellation in these early days. I’m running a marathon here, not a sprint.

Important: I Chose to Publish Wide

I am publishing wide, which means I am not prioritizing Amazon as an exclusive publishing platform over any other storefront. It just so happens to be one of my storefronts where my books are available. Here are the distributors I’m using.

  1. Ebooks: distributed through Draft2Digital(which distributes to Amazon Kindle, Apple Books, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, plus loads of other smaller international online storefronts, as well as libraries).
  2. Paperbacks: printed and distributed through IngramSpark (which distributes to Amazon storefronts in many countries, Barnes & Noble, plus smaller international online storefronts, and libraries).
  3. Audiobooks: produced and distributed through Findaway Voices linked to my Draft2Digital account but is a separate company (which distributes to all the same storefronts and libraries as Draft2Digital that also accept audiobooks, plus a few extra)
  4. Google Play: I’m only direct with this storefront because Draft2Digital doesn’t distribute to them

Some may think I’m nuts for not publishing directly to Amazon because Draft2Digital will take an additional 10% of my royalties (as it does from other retailers too), but the way I see it is if I was prepared to let an agent and a traditional publisher do the legwork, I would have been sharing a boatload more in commission. So, I personally don’t have an issue with giving Draft2Digital their dues for uploading to all the storefronts on my behalf.

I chose this route because self-publishing requires learning a lot (no, seriously, A LOT!) of new technology. My brain could only handle learning the dashboards of these four publishing/distribution companies to start with (preserving my time and sanity).

I was also cracking under the pressure of just THINKING about fixing a launch date with so many unknown variables ahead of me. So, I decided on a soft launch to take the pressure off myself. It’s for this same reason that I didn’t set up pre-orders and don’t ever plan on using them. I’ve seen too many tears from authors when it goes wrong. I’m not comfortable adding a potential problem to my plate.

Also, you know the saying, ‘Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket’? Using different publishing platforms ensures that if one company goes belly-up (or even has technical glitches), my books will remain in circulation in the other formats.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

As regular visitors to TPV know, PG is a big fan of Amazon.

He is also a big fan of Draft2Digital (disclosure – he provided D2D with legal services early during the company’s life).

In PG’s transcendentally humble opinion, D2D has a better platform for formatting an ebook than KDP provides. Mrs. PG has some books that are exclusive on Amazon (for the higher royalty rates) and others that are published on Amazon directly and on other platforms via D2D, so he’s familiar with the ebook formatting/publishing and sales reporting systems of both organizations.

With the vast technical resources of Amazon, one might think that Kindle Direct Publishing would have a sophisticated and flexible publishing platform for indie authors.

That ain’t so.

In PG’s observation, very few of the visible parts of the KDP publishing platform have been changed or updated in years and years and years. The publishing interface is clunky and has only become sort-of intuitive because PG has used it so frequently.

The KDP sales reports are also kindergarten stuff. They might have been impressive so some fifteen years ago.

There is a KDP Reports Beta that has been in “Beta” for months and months. KDP Reports Perma-Beta would be PG’s suggestion for a more-accurate title.

The Beta is an improvement, but still pretty pedestrian in its capabilities. Anybody who was reasonably competent in Excel could put together a more useful sales analysis spreadsheet and related graphs in a day or two.

Perhaps PG missed it on KDP, but he didn’t see one of the more common features present on a lot of other reporting websites – Export to Excel. Everybody has a Click to Download to Excel button.

D2D has Click to Download a whole bunch of information about sales:

  • Royalty Statements
  • Ebook Sales Reports
  • Print Sales Reports
  • Tax Form Downloads
  • An Account Ledger which appears to go back to the beginning of time for any author doing business with D2D.

To the best of his knowledge, the only KDP data you can export to Excel is information from the KDP Quality Notifications Dashboard – something of interest to Amazon folks who probably get dinged by their bosses if a single typo exists the appendix of more than three KDP books.

For the record, PG says you should try to avoid typos in your ebooks and fix those which anybody finds, but compared to detailed and timely sales information for indie authors, an Excel spreadsheet with comprehensive sales data is far more important.

And whatever information that allows an indie author to sell more books, to see what promotion strategies do and don’t work to goose downloads, should be of interest to KDP as well because more information lets smart authors figure out how to sell more books.

One additional point – The Kindle Create ebook formatting tool provided by KDP offers only ugly and generic design themes for ebooks. Yes, you can read them, but the resulting ebooks definitely have a generic, computer-generated look.

Draft2Digital has far more sophisticated ebook formatting tools than KDP offers. The resulting ebooks convey quality in the way they look in addition to the words they contain.

Therefore:

Amazon KDP – Wake Up! It’s 2021! If anybody from the Mother Ship notices what you’re doing, they won’t like what they see!

Draft2Digital – Keep on doing a Great Job! You can continue to be smarter and faster than The Zon!

Why Physical Attraction Matters in Romantic Relationships, According to Science

From Medium:

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about your dream partner? Chances are that you talk about their sense of humor, kindness, understanding, and maybe lastly, looks.

But, for some reason, we tend to describe our dream partner in terms of personality traits rather than appearances. My guess is, this is due to our fear of coming across as superficial. I am just as guilty of this since I have always thought that I explicitly chose to focus on meaningful connections with people instead of falling for looks.

Just imagine you meet the sweetest, romantic, intelligent, and wittiest person on the planet, perfect in almost every aspect except a lack of physical attraction. What would you do?

. . . .

For a romantic relationship to flourish, according to experts, physical attractiveness is a must. However, Robert Kurzban and Jason Weeden were able to show that when it comes to dating, observable attributes such as attractiveness, height, and age were more important and not substantially related to harder-to-observe attributes such as religion, education, or the desire to have children in the future.

According to science, there is no difference in how we value attractiveness between online dating and real-life dating. In other words, whether you meet someone online, in a bar, or at a speed dating event, physical attractiveness always plays a key role whether we want to enter into a relationship or not.

. . . .

But why does physical attractiveness take precedence when individuals make real-life dating and mating decisions? Why is it that the most desired relationships are with those who we find attractive? And lastly, is there a difference between men and women when assessing a potential partners’ physical attractiveness?

Research suggests that men seem to be more consciously aware of the importance of physical attractiveness than women. However, both sexes, regardless of sexual orientation, value physical appearance equally. Furthermore, scientific studies and data from online dating and speed dating come to this conclusion. This leads us to question why we are so susceptible to looks.

There are various approaches to this, which have a lot to do with what we perceive as beautiful and interpret certain personality traits. For example, beautiful people are likely to be happier and have more fulfilling life experiences than those who are not. We tend to idealize physically attractive people while expecting less from people we don’t find attractive. Moreover, research showed that there is a cross-cultural tendency to link beauty with good attributes.

But not only what we associate with beauty has an influence. Another perspective on physical attractiveness is that it acts as a gatekeeper to something more significant. For example, physical beauty may work as a gatekeeper, directing people to partners who are healthy, suitable age, and capable of reproducing. This might indicate that we derive underlying attributes that might be vital for a fruitful overall relationship from appearances. So if beauty has an enormous impact on our behavior, it’s worth asking what is considered attractive in the first place.

. . . .

While we all fall for the “beauty-is-good stereotype,” thankfully, who is attractive varies depending on who you ask. There are various factors for this, from how well you can talk and exchange ideas with a person, how often you see someone, to how ambitious a potential partner is. These qualities greatly influence how attractive someone is in our eyes.

Furthermore, people do not necessarily want partners who are extremely attractive, just attractive enough. Interestingly, beautiful people see fewer other people as physically attractive. In contrast, less attractive people may find a wider spectrum of people physically appealing. In any case, finding someone with a comparable level of physical beauty to you can help you have a more successful long-term relationship.

Link to the rest at Medium

TPV Email Problem on Macs

PG just received the following email from a long-time TPV participant:

For some months now, I’ve had a weird problem with my Passive Voice subscription. Most (not quite all) of the emails are truncated in Apple Mail, a fraction of the way down the email. Fairly obvious when I see six item headings but only the first one or two corresponding posts. Truncation often seems to happen after (if not precisely at) a link, or before an illustration. Usually within a post, not between them.

Of course I can look at the website and see the complete set of posts. What’s really odd, though, if I either “Forward” or “Select All & Copy” the contents of the email, I get the entire thing, the whole set of posts including the otherwise invisible portion.

I don’t know if this is general among Macintosh users, but I’d be curious to know; and if it is specific to my current software versions.

MacOS 10.15.7
Apple Mail 13.4

PG is not a Mac guy, but would very much appreciate knowing if anybody else is having problems with the TPV emails that go out each day with the day’s posts included.

Feel free to reply with issues/solutions in the comments.

Intimate Strangers

From The Millions:

On a flight from Tijuana to Mexico City, I sat next to a woman who told me in Spanish that she was scared of flying, and grabbed my hand when the plane leapt. When the plane touched down she hugged me.

On a flight from D.C. to San Diego, I sat next to a college student who noticed that I was feverish. When I returned to my seat after throwing up in the lavatory sink, he handed me a fleece blanket monogrammed with his university logo.

On a flight from Boston to Los Angeles, I sat next to a woman who confessed she was flying home to sell the house she’d lived in for decades. Her husband had just died, and she needed to downsize. They were high school sweethearts; he had been her date to the homecoming dance. She tilted her phone screen toward me to show me a photo: it was them at the dance, him in a white jacket and her in a knee-length dress, rounded like a bell. When I glanced up from her phone, I saw her eyes had grown wet.

Why am I telling you about these interactions? Because lately, I’ve been missing airports and airplanes. I don’t just miss them for the adventure they imply; I also miss the casual proximity to strangers these in-between spaces invite. For more than a year we’ve avoided brushing up against others, holding our breath when it becomes necessary to squeeze by someone at the grocery store, turning our head while reaching over them for tortillas. The pandemic has rendered other people’s bodies not just inconvenient but dangerous, suspect.

. . . .

A few months ago, nostalgic for the days of flying nonchalantly with strangers, I looked up some of my favorite airport essays to re-read. I hoped that they would help me articulate what, exactly, I miss about being crammed up next to the passenger in seat 18B.

I started with Pico Iyer’s 1995 travelogue about the Los Angeles airport, “Where Worlds Collide,” a piece I first read in a college creative writing course. At the time, I was a Californian living in New England, and even Iyer’s dreary descriptions of LAX—“a surprisingly shabby and hollowed-out kind of place”—made me homesick. In order to gather the raw materials for this essay, Iyer haunted LAX for a week, noting its inequalities and inconsistencies, ironies and images. But what interested me most when I returned to the essay was the way he put words to something I hadn’t quite articulated: the heightened attention we experience during travel.

Iyer calls this “an odd kind of twilight zone of consciousness, that weightless limbo of a world in which people are between lives and between selves, almost sleepwalking, not really sure of who or where they are.” This altered consciousness, in my experience, usually takes one of two forms. In the first, we become the sleepwalkers Iyer refers to. We move from security to gate to boarding line to seat in a haze, propelled forward by the surge of other passengers and the loudspeaker’s muffled instructions. Alternatively, this sense of displacement can heighten our attention to our surroundings. In the absence of our daily stimuli—emails on a computer screen, a toddler asking for a snack, a red light at the intersection—our attention is loosed to roam freely.

Travel in general (think of the crowd of tourists pressing toward a sculpture in a museum) and public transportation in particular (think of the subway at rush hour) enforce a proximity to strangers that I don’t experience anywhere else in my life. The displacement of air travel, a “strange statelessness,” means we are confronted with each other in a transparent way. These public spaces afford an anonymous intimacy; I can watch people, press close to them, see them without the scaffolding of job or car or routine. But this noticing has to do with more than just proximity, otherwise I’d miss standing crammed up against other people at the DMV. This state of consciousness also sharpens our awareness of our surroundings. Displaced from our daily environments, our attention zeroes in on novelty. Because of this increased capacity for noticing, we tend to see the bodies around us with more than a passing glance. I remember standing on the Athens metro in late winter and watching a woman’s eyes flick along the passing landscape. The morning light turned her irises gold, the pupils stuttering with the scenery that flashed by in frames through the window.

In the no man’s land of public travel, Iyer writes, “people are at the far edge of themselves in airports, ready to break down or through. You see strangers pouring out their life stories to strangers here, or making new life stories with other strangers.” In other words, the conversations and interactions I’ve shared with seatmates aren’t unusual, because the limbo-like space we share invites us to see each other with a rare kind of attention. Pair that with the intensified emotions we experience while flying (something psychologists chalk up to air pressure, altitude, dehydration, and loss of control), and I begin to understand why airports make us porous to each other.

Link to the rest at The Millions

From: Where Worlds Collide by Pico Iyer

They come out, blinking, into the bleached, forgetful sunshine, in Dodgers caps and Rodeo Drive T-shirts, with the maps their cousins have drawn for them and the images they’ve brought over from Cops and Terminator 2; they come out, dazed, disoriented, heads still partly in the clouds, bodies still several time zones—or centuries—away, and they step into the Promised Land.

In front of them is a Van Stop, a Bus Stop, a Courtesy Tram Stop, and a Shuttle Bus Stop (the shuttles themselves tracing circuits A, B, and C). At the Shuttle Bus Stop, they see the All American Shuttle, the Apollo Shuttle, Celebrity Airport Livery, the Great American Stageline, the Movie Shuttle, the Transport, Ride-4-You, and forty-two other magic buses waiting to whisk them everywhere from Bakersfield to Disneyland.

They see Koreans piling into the Taeguk Airport Shuttle and the Seoul Shuttle, which will take them to Koreatown without their ever feeling they’ve left home; they see newcomers from the Middle East disappearing under the Arabic script of the Sahara Shuttle. They see fast-talking, finger-snapping, palm-slapping jive artists straight from their TV screens shouting incomprehensible slogans about deals, destinations, and drugs. Over there is a block-long white limo, a Lincoln Continental, and, over there, a black Chevy Blazer with Mexican stickers all over its windows, being towed. They have arrived in the Land of Opportunity, and the opportunities are swirling dizzily, promiscuously, around them.

They have already braved the ranks of Asian officials, the criminal-looking security men in jackets that say “Elsinore Airport Services,” the men shaking tins that say “Helping America’s Hopeless.” They have already seen the tilting mugs that say “California: a new slant on life” and the portable fruit machines in the gift shop.

They have already, perhaps, visited the restroom where someone has written, “Yes on Proposition 187. Mexicans go home,” the snack bar where a slice of pizza costs $3.19 (18 quetzals, they think in horror), and the sign that urges them to try the Cockatoo Inn Grand Hotel. The latest arrivals at Los Angeles International Airport are ready now to claim their new lives.

Link to the rest at Where Worlds Collide

The OP and Mr. Iyer’s essay reminded PG of how happy he is not to fly for business all the time any more.

For a period of his earlier work life, he flew about 200,000 miles per year, about 90% on domestic US routes. Certainly, he knew people who flew more miles than he did, but he didn’t envy them.

The airline he used for 99% of his flights treated him very well.

Relatively speaking.

Perhaps PG should say the airline treated him as well as it could because he was definitely a frequent flier and, presumably, they didn’t want PG’s employer to spend all that money with another airline.

Not that another airline would have offered an experience that was any different than the first. (Different logos on identical airplanes and different uniforms on pretty-much identical flight crews don’t count as different. Plus the airport security line never changes, except sometimes they ask if you have a bomb in your suitcase in French. Non.)

As many people know, the main reward airlines provide for their customers who fly a lot is — more flying!

Suffice to say, when he moved on from the last job with a lot of travel, PG was terminally burned out on flying.

In a few weeks, PG and Mrs. PG will get on an airliner for a (thankfully) short flight across part of the United States for personal reasons. PG doesn’t mind taking road trips by car, but flying is the best choice for this trip.

When PG made the reservations, he was surprised that he still had a few antique frequent flier miles in his account in addition to digital spider webs, so he used most of them to upgrade the seating for Mrs. PG and himself from Sardine to SardinePlus class.

One of PG’s offspring is knowledgeable about the ins and outs of flying today, getting through airports, etc., etc., so PG will ask for a briefing to update his knowledge of the ever-changing ways airlines and the federal government Do Things in the Very Best Way.

PG hasn’t even started this round-trip and he’s already disliking it.

He anticipates that it will require the funeral of a first degree relative (there are fewer than there used to be) to get him on another airplane.

What an annoying grump PG is on some days!

He blames COVID, the aftereffects of which are still hanging around like cockroaches in a cheap New York City apartment.

Kindle Vella: Return of the Serial

From Indies Unlimited:

Amazon, never content to rest on its laurels, has announced a new avenue for storytelling: Kindle Vella. Many writers have already discovered the lure of publishing a serial, a short episode or a chapter at a time. Hugh Howey’s Wool, if you remember, started as a short story, then he expanded on the series little by little. It was already wildly popular before he accepted a six-figure deal with Simon & Schuster.

We’ve all seen how some series, either books or movies or both, can garner a large following. If we’ve got a captivating story line with complex characters interacting in interesting and surprising ways, our readers want to know what happens next. And while some of us might go months, even years between books — possibly losing readers during the hiatus — a series of short chapters released relatively quickly can keep those readers engaged and wanting more.

Okay, so how does it work?

First of all, Kindle Vella will only be available to US-based authors writing in the English language; our counterparts in other countries will have to wait to see if it gets expanded. Readers will be able to access it on the Kindle iOS app and on Amazon.com. The program is not operational yet, but should be by mid-July, according to Amazon. Even so, authors can submit their work prior to the launch, and their stories will go live as soon as the program does. If you’d rather wait until the program is fully operational, you can publish your work with a scheduled release date.

Amazon suggests publishing your series as one 600-5,000 word episode at a time, and also recommends publishing the first few episodes quickly so readers can dive right into the story. There will be a Kindle Vella store where your stories are marketed, and readers will pay by buying Tokens that unlock the episodes. The first few episodes of any series will be free, but then the number of Tokens needed to unlock an episode will be determined by word count: one Token per 100 words. Authors will receive 50% royalties on the amount readers spend on Tokens.

In order to keep the Kindle Vella experience unique, authors may not publish the same content as a book. If, at the end of the series, you do decide to format it as a book, you must unpublish it from the Kindle Vella library. Likewise, you cannot break down a previously published book into episodes for Kindle Vella. If your work is a continuation of a previously published book, you may, however, include up to 5,000 words from that prior book in your first episode to set the stage. Content that is freely available in the public domain or online is not eligible for Kindle Vella.

Amazon is also introducing some new features that will allow readers to interact with your story in ways similar to social media. Readers can follow authors and sign up to be notified as soon as new episodes are released, and they can give episodes they particularly like a thumbs up. They will be able to assign a Fave every week to the story they enjoyed the most, and the stories with the most Faves will be featured in the Kindle Vella store. 

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

A Willing Suspension of Disbelief

PG notes that the title of the OP may include a typo, substituting “Belief” for “Disbelief”. That said, “A Willing Suspension of Belief” is an interesting concept to consider, but perhaps, the whole thing is too subtle for PG to understand. UPDATE: PG has been corrected. It is a willing suspension of Disbelief after all. Sometimes his fingers on the keyboard outpace the brain in his head.

From Daily Writing Tips:

The origin of this expression lies in literary criticism. The term represents a contract between reader and writer.

In recent years, however, the phrase has escaped from literary criticism and is used in a variety of contexts that have little to do with the original meaning. A web search brings up numerous examples in which the term seems to serve only as a round-about way of saying that something is unbelievable.

. . . .

The term “willing suspension of disbelief” was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his two-volume autobiographical and critical work, Biographia Literaria (1817). The term originates in his discussion of the poetry collection he published with William Wordsworth in 1798.

The collection, called Lyrical Ballads, is credited with ushering in the Romantic era of English literature. The previous era, the Age of Enlightenment, elevated Reason and Skepticism above unquestioning belief. Religion, the supernatural, sentimentality, and excessive emotion were special targets of intellectual contempt.

Coleridge, with his penchant for high emotion and the supernatural, recognized that in order to draw an “enlightened” reader into his fantastic fictional world, he needed to employ a certain technique. His goal was to create a level of human interest and believability in his characters that would inspire his readers with a “willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.”

One of the poems included in Lyrical Ballads is “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” a poem I learned and loved in high school, but which doesn’t seem to be taught much anymore. Looking it up for this post, I found that it still gives me goosebumps.

Coleridge immediately places the reader in a recognizable situation. A man on his way to a wedding has his arm grabbed by a ragged old man who could be a beggar. The wedding guest, all dressed up for the occasion, is understandably annoyed and shakes him off, but the old man, a sailor, holds him with his “glittering eye” and launches into his eerie tale. Coleridge has hooked his readers and, by interweaving realistic physical descriptions with the supernatural elements, enables us to believe in the reality of the old man’s harrowing tale.

. . . .

Apparently, according to psychologists, when we give ourselves up to a narrative, we turn off the part of our brain that assesses reality in the ordinary way. We react to what we are seeing—on the screen or in our mind’s eye as if it were really happening. We are acting on “poetic faith.”

As long as the writer doesn’t introduce something jarring, something that would wake the brain’s critical thinking systems, readers can ignore the fact that what is happening to provoke our emotions is not really happening at all.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

Inspiration for The Last Bookshop In London

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

Inspiration as an author can come in many forms. It can be an event that once happened or a person you know or have read about, it can even be an experience you yourself have had that manifests itself into a scene for your next book. All it takes is a grain of sand caught in the folds of your brain to work itself into a gleaming pearl.

I had many inspirations when writing my recently released New York Times bestselling historical fiction, The Last Bookshop in London. But then, it’s so easy to draw ideas from history with its powerful impact and incredible stories. 

The event which really began to spin the idea for my story was the bombing of Paternoster Row. This particular area of London is known for its history in the book trade that dates back to the 17th century when the area was wiped out by the Great Fire of London. The book publishing industry rose from the ashes like a literary phoenix and publishers and booksellers continued to flock to Paternoster Row.

During WWII, however, when the Nazis bombed London for seven months straight during the Blitz, Paternoster Row received a direct hit. Countless bombs and incendiaries rained down on the publishing district and reduced it to rubble and ash with a fire that took days to fully extinguish.

This attack resulted in the destruction of over 5 million books. It was a heartbreaking loss made all the more devastating in light of the paper ration which prevented more books from being printed to replace the ones that were lost. As a book lover, this struck me in the heart. But through incredible loss can come the greatest hope and that inspired the bookshop where I had Grace work for Mr. Evans. 

As far as characters go, I received most of my inspiration from the Mass Observation. This was an initiative funded by the men who came up with the concept where hundreds of people were paid to record their daily life in journals and diaries before, during and after the war. It was a truly unique opportunity to have an inside look into the lifestyle of the time as well as how the daily bombings affected the overall mindset.

But in reading those detailed accounts, characters began to take shape in my mind. The naysayer who always had an opinion (like Mr. Pritchard), the woman who unexpectedly finds purpose in her war efforts (like Viv) and then there is Colin’s character who is an especially dear one to me. 

He came to me after one entry I read where a mother lamented over her son who was being conscripted into the military and was scheduled to depart the following day. She observed his gentleness with the family dog (one he had saved, cared for and kept as a boy) and went on to bemoan how tender-souled men are not meant for war. It was a heartbreaking observation and one I wanted to push forefront in my story. I wanted to highlight those men forced into war when their spirits were never meant for battle. 

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

Introverted Authors in Public: 4 Tips For Overcoming Your Fear of Being Seen

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

With COVID-19 slowly becoming less of a pandemic, it looks like it might be safe to start gathering again in large groups. This means that it is time for introverted authors to start brushing off their people skills and get ready to meet readers at book fairs and public events.

After 18 months of mostly meeting people through a screen, putting yourself out there is going to be more stressful than ever. But at the same time, it is also crucially important. You need to step out of your comfort zone and go meet people where they are.

Because waiting for them to come to you will stifle your career.

Can Introverted Authors Have Successful Careers Staying Home?

My greatest mistake as a blogger was that I gave in to my fear of meeting people. I should have been actively pursuing every opportunity for publicity, but instead, I let my self-doubt stop me from getting on conference panels, I quietly ducked interviews, and I even let my dislike of noise keep me going to parties during conferences.

I did have a successful career as a blogger, but I also know I would have been bigger and much better well-known if I had overcome my fears (actually, gut-wrenching panic would be a more accurate description).

On the other hand, I have to admit that one of my best years as a web designer was during the lockdown, when I never met people in person and I didn’t even do that many webinars.

While it is possible to have a successful career while staying home, the truth is we need to go where our customers are. I for one plan to take advantage of every chance I have to meet new people and win them over., and authors should do the same.

Yes, you can have a career even though you are avoiding public events, but it would be a shame to pass up opportunities.

How Introverted Authors Can Overcome Their Fears

You will need to overcome your fears, and here are a few ways you can do that.

  1. Toastmasters

One of the easier ways to talk yourself out of promoting yourself in public is to focus on the fact you don’t know what to say or how to introduce yourself. Toastmasters will get you across that hurdle.

This is an organization dedicated to helping its members learn to become public speakers, and not only will they help you learn the basics, they will also help you overcome stage fright and teach you how to cope with unexpected situations.

There are Toastmaster chapters all over the world, including in your neck of the woods. Visit your local chapter, and see if it is right for you.

  1. Writing Clubs

Your local writing club presents an excellent opportunity for you to get used to meeting strangers and talking about your work. Join a club and commit to attending every meeting, and if you get a chance, stand up and talk about yourself.

The clubs I belong to still meet virtually, but they do give every attendee a chance to introduce themselves and talk briefly about what they are writing. This is your chance to practice what you will need to say when you go out in public again.

And once you are comfortable talking to members of the group, you can take things to the next level by either suggesting new activities or programs for the club or even by running for office.

For example, back in December 2020 I was elected president of the Riverside Writers Club in Fredericksburg. We’re still meeting virtually, but even so holding office has forced me to get used to being the center of attention. I run meetings, interface with other officers and the public, and generally have to talk to a lot more people than I was comfortable with.

If your writing club is like mine then it will always be in need of volunteers to help run things; based on my experiences, the clubs never fill all of the officer positions. Volunteer as a candidate, and you will be voted in easily (actually, I was drafted).

  1. Networking Groups

Another great opportunity for you to get used to meeting strangers would be a local networking group. (Some are meeting in person again, yes.)

Whether it’s Meetup or One Million Cups, these groups exist so business people can make new contacts with other business people, and while authors don’t quite fit the mold of the typical group member, a networking group can still be a great resource for authors.

Regularly attending a group’s meetings will get you comfortable talking to strangers, and it will also give you leads on local service providers including graphic designers, printers, computer techs, swag suppliers, and accountants.

If you want additional motivation, try this: These groups can also be a great place to conduct background research for your next book. For example, talking to local lawyers will help you work out the details of a courtroom drama, and there are a hundred other professions that you might want to use in your next book.

A local networking group will count as its members dozens of experts in diverse fields, and all you have to do is have the guts to introduce yourself and ask them questions.

You can find business networking groups through Meetup, Facebook, your local Chamber of Commerce, or through BNI (a networking group franchise organization).

. . . .

Good News and Bad News for Introverted Authors

I have good news and bad news for you about venturing out into public. The bad news is that you can’t stop promoting yourself because the growth of your career will start to slow down or even stall because you are no longer recruiting a new audience.

On the other hand, the good news is that this isn’t something you have to get right the first time around. Fumbling your intro at one meeting is not the end of the world because there is always another event where you can meet new people.

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

PG had no idea that Toastmasters was still in existence, but Nate has always been a reliable guy so PG expects it must be.

PG has never had a problem with public speaking. Some might think that’s because he’s an attorney, but nothing about the standard law school curriculum in most places does much to teach students how to speak in public. And more than a handful of lawyers don’t do it at all in the course of their practices.

(For lawyers who are reading this, PG hasn’t forgotten moot court, but is not aware that participation is required in most (or any) law schools or that more than a small percentage of law students participate.)

PG will note that a lawyer friend of his once remarked that he could go into any first-grade class in the United States and pick out the kids who would grow up to become lawyers. They were the ones who were talking all the time and would never be quiet. (PG realizes he has shared this story more than once on TPV, but he has also shared it more than once in other venues, most often while speaking to groups of lawyers. It always gets a laugh with lawyers.)

PG does have a suggestion that Nate didn’t mention to overcome your fear of public speaking – Take a class on public speaking.

The first place you might check for a class is with a local community college.

PG did a quick search and found an online course in public speaking here

If PG didn’t know anything about public speaking and was nervous about doing so, he would probably try to get an in-person class where the audience for his speeches would typically be his fellow students.

He’s not sure if an online course would be quite the same without live people sitting and watching/listening to someone speak. Speculating, he wonders if the additional emotional and physical distance involved in making an online speech or presentation online would be as effective at overcoming insecurity as in-person speaking. But he’s happy to be persuaded otherwise.

For PG, who has appeared on local television a handful of times, the experience of appearing/speaking/performing in a TV studio is much different than facing a few faces or a lot of faces.

Videoconferences are not exactly the same as sitting in a TV studio, but there is still the lack of ability to really read faces in the audience and connect in (for PG) a more direct way.

(A very long time ago, Marshall McLuhan wrote, “The medium is the message.” The medium of speaking to a group of people in person is a different medium than speaking to a group of people via video.)

One of the advantages PG sees in taking a course in public speaking vs. trying to get speaking gigs at author’s conferences is that there is a teacher involved who can provide tips and suggestions for improving.

Also, in a classroom, students are seeing other students give speeches and, presumably, hearing the teacher give critiques and suggestions, which also contributes to learning by the audience.

Mikyla Bruder Steps Up at Amazon Publishing

From Publishers Weekly:

Mikyla Bruder doesn’t anticipate any surprises when she takes charge of Amazon Publishing in July, following the departure of Jeff Belle, who has headed the operation since it began in 2009. “We’ve worked together for so long, I expect it to be an easy transition,” she said. June marks her 10th year with Amazon Publishing, and she has been publisher since 2015.

Prior to joining Amazon, Bruder worked at a number of West Coast publishers in several different roles. She was executive editor and publishing director at Chronicle Books and then associate publisher/director of sales and marketing at Workman’s Portland, Ore.–based imprint Timber Press. Like many West Coast publishers, she believes being outside of the New York City metro area has given her a different view of the book world. She said she sees her mission as helping Amazon Publishing, which she described as a midsize publisher, take the next steps forward in its evolution while remaining “an author-centric publishing house.”

Though Bruder does not see a shift in the overall vision for Amazon Publishing, that doesn’t mean there won’t be some changes. Most importantly, she brings a completely different life experience to her job than Belle did. Bruder, who is Asian American, said she has lived as an “other” in the largely homogenous world of trade book publishing and knows how tiring that can be. “I have seen firsthand how difficult it can be to work in that environment,” she added.

Bruder has no doubt that the types of books that are published reflect the sensibilities of the editors who acquire them, making it imperative that publishers, including Amazon, hire people from diverse backgrounds. Her goal, she said, is to release titles that reflect the makeup of American society.

Bruder also hopes to be a role model other people of color can follow as they enter the publishing industry. She sees herself as being a problem solver, and as the leader of Amazon Publishing, she said she will encourage more debate about the best steps forward to make the company and the industry more inclusive. She knows that making some of the necessary changes won’t be easy, but it must be done. “We need to do it together—people need to be willing to be uncomfortable in facing some of these issues,” she said.

Noting that publishing is a business of words, Bruder said the industry has a responsibility to develop a more inclusive vocabulary when discussing diversity issues. “This needs to be an industry-wide conversation,” she added.

. . . .

Amazon Publishing has had its share of commercial hits, and Bruder said she is prepared to make some bets on new books. Mark Sullivan, author of one of Amazon’s bestsellers, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, has just published The Last Green Valley through the Lake Union imprint. In July, the Thomas & Mercer imprint will publish Choose Me by Tess Gerritsen, writing with Gary Braver. On the nonfiction list is Mothertrucker, a true story from college professor and writer Amy Butcher about the connection she forged with Joy “Mothertrucker” Wiebe, an Instagram celebrity and the nation’s only female ice road trucker, over their shared history of spousal abuse. It will be published in November by Little A.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Send me 300 francs

Send me 300 francs; that sum will enable me to go to Paris. There, at least, one can cut a figure and surmount obstacles. Everything tells me I shall succeed. Will you prevent me from doing so for the want of 100 crowns?

Napolean in a letter to his uncle, Joseph Fesch (June 1791)

The General’s Garden

From The Wall Street Journal:

On June 25, 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte arrived at Malmaison, the late Empress Joséphine’s estate 7 miles west of Paris. His dream of holding on to the French throne had just shattered at Waterloo, costing the lives of tens of thousands. Five years earlier, he had divorced Joséphine because she hadn’t given him the heir his dynastic desires required. Now that she was dead, all he could think about was how much he missed her—how she used to walk under the trees she had planted, those cedars, cypresses and Japanese pagodas, how she would examine the flowers in her greenhouse or gather the roses she loved so much. The memory made Napoleon wince. “She was the most graceful woman I ever saw,” he told his stepdaughter Hortense. Too little, too late.

Joséphine, always “surrounded by colour and fragrance,” as the British historian Ruth Scurr’s beautiful new book describes her, was the gardener Napoleon never became. This is, indeed, how she appears in François Gérard’s 1801 portrait of her: languidly sunk into her sofa, a bouquet of freshly picked flowers by her side, her teeming garden behind her. Compared to Joséphine, Napoleon was at best a jardinier intermittent, an intermittent gardener, an epithet bestowed on him by a plaque installed on the small island of Île-d’Aix, where Napoleon is believed to have grafted an ash onto an elm (just as he, the native Corsican, had grafted himself onto native French stock).

It is an adjustment to think of Napoleon as a cultivator rather than as a conqueror, a planter rather than a planner.

. . . .

Napoleon: A Life Told in Gardens and Shadows,” [is] a book so saturated with detail that the reader can hear the gravel crunching under her characters’ feet.

. . . .

 Ms. Scurr [tells] the endlessly fascinating story of his life anew: not as a megalomaniac’s power-hungry ascent to temporary glory but as the constantly frustrated reaching for the plenitude and happiness that Joséphine’s found in her garden.

Napoleon’s botanical career, such as it was, began in military school in Brienne-le-Château, with a small plot he used to create an arbor so he could be by himself. It continued with attempts to salvage his father’s mulberry nursery on Corsica, and, as he cast his menacing shadow over much of Europe, culminated in a variety of designs for formal gardens at home and abroad, including a madcap scheme that would have turned the Roman Forum into a promenade. But even as Napoleon sought to reinvent himself as a modern amalgam of Caesar Augustus, Charlemagne and Alexander the Great, he kept finding himself sent back to islands, his fabulous empire shrunk to gardens of diminishing size and lushness. Napoleon’s last, scraggly garden was on Deadwood, aptly named, a rocky, mist-shrouded plateau on Saint Helena, one of the remotest islands in the South Atlantic.

. . . .

Napoleon never allowed himself to love gardens the way Joséphine did—for the surprises they can yield, the basketfuls of unexpected beauty they can fling one’s way. The gardens Napoleon dreamed up were manifestations of his might, rigid tools of imperial domination. Tolstoy, in “War and Peace” (1869), rightly mocked historians who would attribute the actions of the masses to the will of one man. The French, he wrote, did not nearly lose the Battle of Borodino because Napoleon had a cold that day. Napoleon would have agreed, if for a different reason. He liked to think of himself as an impersonal force, an inexorable vessel for historical necessity. “I am the clock that exists but does not know itself,” he told his secretary Las Cases, a remark meant to show that he did, of course, know himself very well. Trapped in the prison house of his restless intellect, Napoleon demanded of himself that he be a genius, and of the world that it perceive him as such.

Gardens helped Napoleon carry on: Banished to Elba, his island Lilliput, he was never more thrilled than when he saw that his gardener had arranged some heliotropes so that they formed a large “N.” And a garden played a part in his downfall, too: Ms. Scurr reminds us of the walled-in orchard of the Hougoumont estate at Waterloo, which, fiercely defended by Wellington’s troops, evaded Napoleon’s control. Visiting the site more than four decades later, novelist Victor Hugo could still see the bullet holes.

. . . .

Did things change during Napoleon’s final exile on Saint Helena? Ms. Scurr suggests as much in the poignant chapter that wraps up her account. His health deteriorating rapidly, having grown, visitors reported, “enormously fat,” Napoleon heeded his doctor’s advice and grabbed a spade: “I will dig the ground.” Soon his old penchant for control flared up again: He helped construct a turf wall, 2.7 meters high, and a maze of sunken paths meant to shield him from his guards. But on Deadwood little would linger, not the fish in his pond, not the birds in his aviary, not the oaks he had transplanted (one held on). As his garden faltered, so did the botanizing ex-Emperor. 

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Saluting HMH, a Storied Trade Publisher

From Publishers Weekly:

I came to the trade division at Houghton Mifflin in fall 2003 as senior v-p of trade sales, at the tail end of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. The French conglomerate Vivendi had purchased Houghton a few years earlier, taken it private, and had sold it to a consortium of bankers and investors at a huge loss. Vivendi was the first, but it wouldn’t be the last disastrous foreign investor in what had historically been the highly profitable U.S. education business. Meanwhile, the trade division was coming off an outstanding three-year run thanks to Tolkien—perhaps the best in its long and storied history.

The longevity of HM (founded in 1832) isn’t unique among publishing houses, but it was certainly a source of pride inside the division and within the larger corporation. There was a deep respect for the history, close attention to the present, and a vision for the future. In other words, it was a company that knew what it was about: educating and entertaining children and adults. But dark clouds were forming on the horizon.

The education marketplace had been a cash-rich business for decades, with much higher margins than those in the consumer business. Educational spending was slowly but steadily rising in these years, which attracted investor attention. In short, the industry was ripe for takeover and consolidation. Investors began leveraging these cash-rich businesses, taking on what they thought was manageable debt and looking for synergies across their acquisitions.

In December 2006, Riverdeep Holdings purchased Houghton Mifflin. One year later, Riverdeep purchased the educational and consumer publisher Harcourt Education and created Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Both purchases were highly leveraged. In need of cash to service its enormous debt, Riverdeep sold the trade imprint Kingfisher to Macmillan, and shortly after, sold the college division to Thompson Learning (now Cengage).

It was in this environment that I was asked to take over as president of the trade division in fall 2007. A year later, the Great Recession roiled the economy and educational spending plummeted. After a tumultuous and difficult year of painful cost cutting, the trade division was put up for sale in 2009. Offers were made, but a deal was never struck. Through several debt restructurings, and a few turnovers in the corner office, the company went public in 2013.

In 2015 HMH made a cash purchase of Scholastic’s EdTech business, but the financial pressures in the education business continued. In 2018, the standardized testing division, Riverside, was sold. In fall 2020, more than 500 employees were laid off. Once HMH made the decision to transition into a primarily digital company, it was only a matter of time before what was called HMH Books and Media (Trade) was sold to continue paying down the debt.

. . . .

And now, it’s gone. Yes, the HMH logo will appear on the spines and copyright pages of books and audios for a short while, but the proud and feisty trade publisher we all loved and adored is no more, with the brand to be used by the digital technology company. HMH is now part of history, another merger story, among so many in publishing.

During my 40-plus years in the book business, I’ve experienced my share of mergers and acquisitions, but this one especially hurts.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Greater Fool Theory

From Investopedia:

What Is the Greater Fool Theory?

The greater fool theory argues that prices go up because people are able to sell overpriced securities to a “greater fool,” whether or not they are overvalued. That is, of course, until there are no greater fools left.

Investing, according to the greater fool theory, means ignoring valuations, earnings reports, and all the other data. Ignoring the fundamentals is, of course, risky; and so people subscribing to the greater fool theory could be left holding the bag after a correction.

Understanding the Greater Fool Theory

If acting in accordance with the greater fool theory, an investor will purchase questionably priced securities without any regard to their quality. If the theory holds, the investor will still be able to quickly sell them off to another “greater fool,” who could also be hoping to flip them quickly.

Unfortunately, speculative bubbles burst eventually, leading to a rapid depreciation in share prices. The greater fool theory breaks down in other circumstances, as well, including during economic recessions and depressions. In 2008, when investors purchased faulty mortgage-backed securities (MBS), it was difficult to find buyers when the market collapsed.

. . . .

Greater Fool Theory and Intrinsic Valuation

One of the reasons that it was difficult to find buyers for MBS during the 2008 financial crisis was that these securities were built on debt that was of very poor quality. It is important in any situation to conduct thorough due diligence on an investment, including a valuation model in some circumstances, to determine its fundamental worth.

Due diligence is a broad term that encompasses a range of qualitative and quantitative analyses. Some aspects of due diligence can include calculating a company’s capitalization or total value; identifying revenue, profit, and margin trends; researching competitors and industry trends; as well as putting the investment in a broader market context—crunching certain multiples such as price-to-earnings (PE), price-to-sales (P/S), and price/earnings-to-growth (PEG).

Link to the rest at Investopedia

An Imaginary (but not unlikely) Fathers’ Day Conversation with my Daughter

From J.P. Kenna:

SHE: Happy Fathers’ Day! And I see your new book is on a free promotion–for five days. On Kindle.

ME: A chance to save $2.99. People should be beating down Amazon’s door! Here I am, hoping people take the bait, read it, then give it a good review. But, myself, I wouldn’t buy it!

SHE: What do you mean? I liked it! And it got two First in Category awards from Chanticleer Reviews. And a 5-star review from Readers’ Favorite. You know what, Dad? You suck at self-promotion!

ME: Guilty as charged! But…I wouldn’t buy it in Kindle form, because I don’t read e-books. Now if people want to spend $14.99 for the “real book” version, something you can curl up with by a fire on a rainy evening, flip the pages, insert a bookmark…

SHE: I know you don’t read e-books. And you’re a Luddite at heart. You hate Social Media. And smart phones. You refuse to text. Not only that, but…

ME: I know what’s coming. That I don’t even like talking on a regular telephone–an 1870’s invention, at that! But I’m not completely hopeless. I have a flip-phone. And I write on a laptop. Oh, and I use email.

SHE: Dad, e-mail is old hat! But I look forward to yours. They’re more like letters than what people send today.

ME: And that explains why you’re one of the select group of people who actually responds to them. E-mail started out as a good thing. Then came so-called smart phones and free texting. Texting is the ruination of written language! The proliferation of I-phones have destroyed the beauty and benefits of solitude! Shoot, now I’m off on a rant. I know you’ve heard all this before.

SHE: And I’ll hear it again–and more! That smart phones have altered the brains of us Gen Y’s and Millennials. Just as TV did for yours. You told me that!

ME: And I stand by it. Digitalization is sending the written word down the tube, just as TV has ruined spoken conversation–and human interaction in general! That’s why we raised you and your sister without television. And always had lots of books around.

SHE: And raised us on a small farm. And we always had plenty of healthy food. And you had a working team of horses. You once told me that Mom was being Adele Davis and you were aping Wendell Berry.

Link to the rest at J.P. Kenna

‘It has saved countless lives’: readers’ picks of the best books this century

From The Guardian:

After we published our list of the greatest books since 2000, you sent in your own suggestions – from Chinese sci-fi to a history of music.

. . . .

London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd (2000) made me fall in love with London all over again. The blood of the city’s history soaked into the clay. Quiet hidden corners, conspiratorial whispers in coffee houses, the dirty Thames and the Great Stink. Invasions, bridges, fires and fog. It’s a very human tale told with the verve of a novelist, the detail of a diarist and the grace of a poet.” – dylan37

“The one novel I’ve read from the century to date that I am sure will stay with me for the rest of my life, for personal as well as for general reasons, is The Hunger Angel by Herta Müller (translated by Philip Boehm in 2012). It was published in German as Atemschaukel in 2009, just before she (deservedly) won the Nobel prize for literature. It’s an extraordinarily dense and poetic work and one that seems to transcend language – so perfectly written that text and idea are fused, yet still overflowing with humanity.” – nilpferd

. . . .

“Very surprised not to see any of Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy (2008-2015). Historical writing very much for our time, set in the 1830s when drugs, capital, indentured labour and languages themselves were moving across the seas between Britain, India and China. Ghosh juggles the fates of multiple and memorable British, Indian and Chinese characters with some glorious writing, especially about ships and the sea.” – bertilek

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (2003) is one of the most disturbing, unstoppable and unforgettable books I’ve ever read. Incredibly well written and a sucker punch twist at the end.” – MajorJackCelliers

. . . .

“Was waiting and waiting for Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig (2015) to appear. Very intelligently written, beautiful, heartbreaking and life-affirming and SO important – it has saved countless lives. Can’t imagine a more important book.” – gadget

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Imagination

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.

Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.

– Albert Einstein

A Child’s Garden of Metaverse

From The Dubit Group:

When I used to read fairy tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one!

– Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

When you think about it, Wonderland may have been the original ‘metaverse’.

If that’s not a term you know, you’ll hear it a lot soon. The metaverse is a massive, immersive, global, always-on digital space where it’s possible to engage in all sorts of play, entertainment, communication, socializing, creative and commercial activities. There can be familiar and lifelike experiences and others that are entirely whimsical or even bizarre.

It’s a virtual “rabbit hole,” holding wonders and intrigues not unlike Alice’s literary journeys.

Will there be books and reading in the metaverse? Fortunately, what makes the concept unique is that it will be constructed, piece by piece, by its users. As the Cheshire Cat said, every adventure requires a first step, so publishers, authors, bookstores and librarians can ensure that they have presence by themselves conceiving and creating immersive, engaging spaces for literature.

What Is a Metaverse?

If you’ve read Ready Player One or Snowcrash, you may be anxiously envisioning dystopian near-future virtual refuges. That’s not where we’re headed (at least not soon). There is no fully-formed metaverse now; Roblox is nearest.

Roblox isn’t a game but the “YouTube of games,” with over 20 million different titles, most created by fans. Roblox draws 32 million daily users and 3.6 billion hours of monthly engagement. According to Dubit’s Trends survey, over half of US and UK children 9-12 play on Roblox at least weekly, with substantial percentages in other countries worldwide.

. . . .

The metaverse draws on familiar media and publishing concepts: multi-platform, cross-platform and transmedia. Beyond the above-noted role for user-creators, the difference is in the depth of immersion and extent of integration among the various elements. Roblox’ CEO David Baszucki’s eight characteristics of a metaverse align closely with Generations Z and Alpha social and gaming habits. His list includes:

  • Identity – persistent avatars that reflect players’ real or imagined selves;
  • Friends – the ability to socialize and play with real-world friends, and meet others;
  • Immersion – transportation from the day-to-day into a fully-formed alternative world;
  • Ubiquity – the capacity to create and play from anywhere, on all types of devices;
  • Variety – deep and wide content, accommodating all types of user;
  • Low friction – easy onboarding and transitions;
  • Economy – in-world goods and service markets that pay creators for their efforts; and
  • Trust and Civility – a welcoming, equitable, diverse and kind community.

But Is It For Children?

Like any place real or virtual, the metaverse will have kid-safe “neighborhoods” and others that are “adults-only.” The concept, though, will make complete sense to kids. Who could better benefit from a coherent, connected world of play, creation and learning?

This is why children and teens are already “kickstarting” the metaverse in their social play. During the pandemic, especially, “down on the corner” became “up on the server.” From 2019-2020, the percentage of 8-10 year olds who played Minecraft in the previous 24 hours rose 49%, and Fortnite 29%. Young people ‘hacked’ various platforms, many not meant for kids (e.g., Discord and Zoom), to socialize during the pandemic.

Amidst overwhelming options, everything competes with everything, and content is dispersed across many platforms. Today’s kids frequently become frustrated trying to find a new favorite video, game, book, movie or toy. A well-constructed metaverse will bring multiple media under its umbrella, supporting more seamless, intuitive navigation and recommendation.

Link to the rest at The Dubit Group

How Stories Change When They Move From Page to Voice

From LitHub:

To all intents and purposes, a psychoanalyst’s couch is in fact a bed—after all, it lacks a back and armrests. And yet, this item of furniture must be called a couch. Nobody would offload their traumas on a psychoanalyst’s bed unless, that is, they were in a relationship with said psychoanalyst.

In October 2019, I found myself sitting in the Silencio recording studios, headphones over my ears, reading aloud my novel My Friend Natalia, which had been published in Finland six months earlier.

“‘Natalia’ was one of my first clients to lie on her back without prompting,” I read and continued: “When I showed her round my office, which I had rented in an apartment next to my house, I told her about the couch.”

These two consecutive sentences are from the opening chapter of the novel. Reading these sentences aloud irrevocably sprained something in my brain.

When one reads a book aloud as an audiobook, the visual aspects of the text all disappear. Of course, one could read the word couch, which appears in italics, in a slightly different way, perhaps by holding a short, artistic pause before the word. But this is not the same thing. Italics are not the same as a short pause.

The therapist, the book’s narrator, gives the patient the code-name “Natalia.” Under the cover of this anonymity, the therapist then proceeds to divulge intimate details of Natalia’s life to the reader, then at one point removes the inverted commas from Natalia’s name “as I might remove the safety catch from a gun”. When read aloud, this sentence is absurd: the listener cannot hear the inverted commas around Natalia’s name.

*

Let’s be clear: I am very skeptical about the practice of turning works of literature into audio recordings.

If audiobooks become the primary way in which we interact with books, it would be strange if at some point this did not have a direct impact on how people write literary works.

Will writers—either consciously or subconsciously—start writing books so that they sound good when read aloud? The succinct speech between Me (the writer) and You (the reader) works well when spoken aloud, so the current appetite for autofiction is unlikely to dwindle any time soon. A linear narrative, in which we already know (or think we know) something about the end point, is also easy to listen to. For this reason, celebrity autobiographies and so-called true stories make for successful audiobooks.

However, complex narrative structures, shifting perspectives, narrative polyphony, long, meandering sentences and the visual aspects of a text find themselves increasingly under threat from a medium that relies solely on hearing. If linear narrative becomes the only acceptable form of complex literary expression, our thoughts will be the poorer for it. Imaginary worlds and possibilities will shrink because such worlds and possibilities are not “content” that can be detached from “form,” they are not statements, suggestions or questions isolated from their rhetorical devices.

*

That being said, I’m not a militant opponent of audiobooks. To my mind, it is simply important to recognize that there is a significant difference between the printed book and the audiobook. Written material turns into vibration, letters become sound waves. They always come from a concrete source that guides our interpretation, a source that is completely different from the reading process heard through our “inner voice.”

A new element appears between the book and its recipient: a voice that shapes how we receive the text. It is a sound born of a human body in a unique way and that is (generally) readily identifiable as the voice of a man or a woman.

In the audiobook of My Friend Natalia, this unavoidable fact becomes a poetic problem in its own right. Throughout the text, I have scattered conflicting clues as to the sex of the therapist, the novel’s first-person narrator, but I was careful never to define the therapist as either a man or a woman. With certain exceptions, in many languages a writer and a translator can easily disguise or at least avoid the matter of the narrator’s sex. A writer can also play with this ambiguity, as is the case in my novel My Friend Natalia.

. . . .

Some readers have been convinced that the narrator is a man, others have considered the therapist a woman. Several readers have told me that their perception of the matter changed as they were reading. Readers always read a text through the prism of their own experiences, preconceptions and cultural stereotypes.

For this reason, I wanted to read the Finnish audiobook of My Friend Natalia myself. I am a woman, but because I am the book’s author my voice is above all an authorial voice, and in this way I feel I managed to resolve the dilemma described above.

Link to the rest at LitHub

Perhaps PG is a bit cranky today, but this all sounds like mountain/molehill anguish to him.

In the first place, women have done a perfectly good job of performing men in audiobooks (and on stage) for a good long time. Ditto for men performing women.

Strictly speaking, when a person reads a book, the story takes place in the reader’s head regardless of what the author intended while he/she was creating it.

Finally, the word is not the thing. The author uses words to describe things, people, exterior and interior behavior, etc., etc. If the author does a good job, readers will enjoy reading the author’s words and the images, thoughts and emotions that the process of reading those words causes to come into a reader’s mind.

One reason that love in its various manifestations is so popular in stories people write is that a great many readers enjoy the experience and emotions that are engendered by such stories when they are well-written.

That said, the words on the page (or screen) are just words on the page.

An author can have complete control over the words on the page so long as she/he keeps those words for him/herself.

Once the author turns those words loose on the world, it’s foolish and egotistical for the author to feel she can control how others understand her words, how they feel about them and what experiences they have with those words and conclusions they draw concerning the imaginary people who are depicted in the words of the story.

As for PG (and he suspects for other readers as well) unless clear from the words, he doesn’t care whether the characters in the story are one gender or another. In most cases not explicitly involving men and women in the story, he doesn’t think in terms of gender. This is especially the case with a narrator.

With respect to audiobooks, PG finds the idea that a woman cannot effectively perform male figures as well as female figures to be ludicrous. Ditto for men performing female characters.

People have been effectively performing the roles of another gender for centuries. Boys or small men almost always performed the women’s parts in the performance of Shakespeare’s plays while he was alive. In ancient Greek theater, the actors had masks that allowed one actor to effectively play the roles of several characters.

The word “theater” comes from the Greek word theatron, which means “seeing place.” The theater is a place where we see what the actors and author of the script want us to see.

The entire assumption behind plays and movies is that the viewer/reader will willingly suspends disbelief to become involved in the story.

In that respect a theatrical performance is no different than reading a book. We lapse into suspended disbelief the moment we read, “It was a dark and stormy night” on a sunny afternoon.

PG has concluded that he is, in fact, a bit cranky. MS Word has been behaving badly on a client project and that has put PG off his usual jolly stride.

See, there PG goes again, personifying a computer program that has no concept of behaving well or poorly. He hasn’t decide if MS Word is male/female/trans, etc., etc., etc.

On Not Letting Ambition Take Over

From Writer Unboxed:

When I was young, writing didn’t feel mysterious or difficult. I wasn’t curious about other writers’ processes, or searching for the “best” way to develop a story. Writing was just putting pen to paper and seeing what came out. It was a way to pass the time contentedly. It was a way to explore my own mind — what I was curious about, what I remembered, what I longed for.

As I grew older, writing started to feel more Important, both for better and for worse. Writing became a source of pride, because pretty much everyone said I was good at it. But it also became a goal, transforming into a sort of ideal, something farther away and less concrete. Like the difference between the air I had always breathed, and the blue sky way above me, out of reach. Supposedly they were both made of the same stuff, but they felt so distant and different from each other. Suddenly I had to look up and strive.

Put another way: the writing I was doing at the moment didn’t seem to matter as much as the writing I would do in the future, and what that writing could mean. Not mean to me, so much as mean for me. Or mean to other people. Would they like it? Would they think I was talented? Would they pay me for it? Could I build a career? Could I even — dare I say it, dare I dream it — become rich and/or famous?

Ambition can be a powerful motivation, but it can also be a vise, squeezing out passion and creativity. The key, as usual, is to find the right balance for yourself.

So my journey over the past several years has been one of going back in order to better go forward. More and more, I’m trying to return to the girl I once was, sitting in a quiet corner of my parents’ office, scribbling stories for myself. Using the page and my imagination to explore the world around me, as well as the world within.

Because there are the feelings we put in our writing, and then there are the feelings we have when we’re writing. When I was young, I took the latter for granted. I didn’t realize how valuable that inner state was to me, or to the creative process, until it had turned so feeble, so vulnerable. So tortured by all the ambitions I hadn’t managed to fulfill that I could barely appreciate the ones I had.

. . . .

This is part of why I think it’s important to have a good support network. And to check in with yourself periodically. Write a mission statement or a vision statement. Keep a journal. Stick post-it notes on the wall in front of your desk. Set reminders on your phone. Whatever it takes to redirect your energy away from outcomes that you can’t control (such as fame or fortune) and keep you rooted in creativity — in exploration and connection.

Connection in particular has been a strong grounding force for me in recent times. Since becoming a mother, and then living through this pandemic, much of the writing that has been most meaningful to me is the writing I’ve done privately, in service of the bonds between myself and my friends and family. A personal blog to chronicle the ups and downs and all-arounds of my two children’s lives. A note of love and support to a colleague battling cancer. A fun little card to someone I’ve known peripherally for many years but am finally becoming closer to. A heartfelt message to an old friend after the passing of his mother.

Despite the small audience — or perhaps in part because of the intimacy? — the way I feel when writing these things is like a light leading me back to my purest self. 

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

ABA Brings Back #BoxedOut Marketing Campaign

From Publishers Weekly:

Hoping to take advantage of new government scrutiny aimed at Amazon and other high-tech powers, the American Booksellers Association is bringing back its #BoxedOut marketing campaign. The campaign is designed to highlight Amazon’s dominance in bookselling as well as what the ABA says is the danger that it poses to local communities.

The new campaign will be rolled out on June 20 and 21, ahead of Amazon’s June 21 and 22 Prime Day sales event. Last year’s effort featured independent bookstore storefronts covered with cardboard facades in an attempt to reflect the Amazon brown boxes that appeared in growing numbers on porches and in lobbies during the pandemic. The cardboard facades, which included quotes such as “Don’t box out bookstores” and “Books curated by a real person, not a creepy algorithm,” were augmented by a social media campaign conducted by hundreds of indie bookstores. The ABA said new boxes are being sent to stores and new materials will be available online.

In announcing the return of #BoxedOut, the ABA noted that while more than one bookstore a week closed during the pandemic, Amazon’s profits soared. And though the majority of indie bookstores, helped by new innovations and community support, managed to remain in business after last year, they still face a variety of challenges as the pandemic eases, ranging from supply chain disruptions to labor shortages.

The ABA also pointed to “a significant national conversation about antitrust and monopolies” that is already underway, and cited the lawsuit filed by District of Columbia attorney general Karl Racine against Amazon as an example of action that could temper the conduct of the online giant. In addition, the ABA, as well as the AAP, were cheered by the appointment of Lina Khan—a critic of the power held by high tech companies—as chair of the Federal Trade Commission.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Of course, the #BoxedOut Marketing Campaign has had such a devastating effect on Amazon’s book sales in prior years that everybody in Seattle is shaking in their boots.

PG hasn’t seen any third-party data about the number of bookstore closings resulting from the pandemic, so he’s not certain exactly what “the majority of indie bookstores . . . managed to remain in business” means. For those who are detail-oriented, 51% is a “majority.”

Lots of other business groups have placed their hopes on antitrust litigation to save them.

The 1998 antitrust suit against Microsoft certainly captured a lot of attention from MS executives, but didn’t save Netscape’s browser business or the company. (For the record, PG was a big Netscape fan and knew several people who worked there. He probably has an old Netscape t-shirt buried somewhere in his closet.) Microsoft is still the second most-valuable company in the US (after Apple).

PG thinks that physical retail stores aren’t going to disappear as a significant class of retailers, but many, including bookstores, aren’t going to be as numerous as they’ve been in decades past.

If the ABA asked his opinion (they haven’t and aren’t likely to do so), he would suggest a more positive and upbeat campaign about the benefits of local indie bookstores.

However, those bookstores have lots and lots of boxes they usually throw away (just like Zon customers), so #BoxedOut are easy for their underpaid staffs to stack up in front of the store.

Victoria’s Secret Swaps Angels for ‘What Women Want.’ Will They Buy It?

From The New York Times:

The Victoria’s Secret Angels, those avatars of Barbie bodies and playboy reverie, are gone. Their wings, fluttery confections of rhinestones and feathers that could weigh almost 30 pounds, are gathering dust in storage. The “Fantasy Bra,” dangling real diamonds and other gems, is no more.

In their place are seven women famous for their achievements and not their proportions. They include Megan Rapinoe, the 35-year-old pink-haired soccer star and gender equity campaigner; Eileen Gu, a 17-year-old Chinese American freestyle skier and soon-to-be Olympian; the 29-year-old biracial model and inclusivity advocate Paloma Elsesser, who was the rare size 14 woman on the cover of Vogue; and Priyanka Chopra Jonas, a 38-year-old Indian actor and tech investor.

They will be spearheading what may be the most extreme and unabashed attempt at a brand turnaround in recent memory: an effort to redefine the version of “sexy” that Victoria’s Secret represents (and sells) to the masses. For decades, Victoria’s Secret’s scantily clad supermodels with Jessica Rabbit curves epitomized a certain widely accepted stereotype of femininity. Now, with that kind of imagery out of step with the broader culture and Victoria’s Secret facing increased competition and internal turmoil, the company wants to become, its chief executive said, a leading global “advocate” for female empowerment.

Will women buy it? An upcoming spinoff, more than $5 billion in annual sales, and 32,000 jobs in a global retail network that includes roughly 1,400 stores are riding on the answer.

. . . .

“When the world was changing, we were too slow to respond,” said Martin Waters, the former head of Victoria’s Secret’s international business who was appointed chief executive of the brand in February. “We needed to stop being about what men want and to be about what women want.”

. . . .

Founded in 1977 as a store where men could feel comfortable shopping for lingerie, even the name referred to male fantasies of prim Victorian ladies who became naughty in the boudoir. The retail billionaire Leslie H. Wexner bought Victoria’s Secret in 1982 and turned it into a phenomenon that helped shape society’s view of female sexuality and beauty ideals. Central to its ethos were the “Angels” — supermodels like Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks who posed exclusively for the brand, often in G-strings, stilettos and wings. In 1995, it introduced the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, a sort of cross between a runway show and a pole dance that aired on network television for nearly two decades.

It has taken years for Victoria’s Secret to acknowledge that its marketing was dated. In that time, the value of the brand eroded and a slew of competitors grew in part by positioning themselves as the anti-Victoria’s Secret, complete with more typical women’s bodies and a focus on inclusivity and diversity.

. . . .

“In the old days, the Victoria brand had a single lens, which was called ‘sexy,’” Mr. Waters said. While that sold for decades, it also prevented the brand from offering products like maternity or post-mastectomy bras (not considered sexy) and prompted it to sell push-up sports bras (sexy, but not so popular). It also meant, he said, “that the brand never celebrated Mother’s Day.” (Not sexy.)

There are plenty of people who do, in fact, find motherhood seductive, but the myopia of the Victoria’s Secret lens was such that they were never acknowledged, let alone listened to.

. . . .

Victoria’s Secret is betting a chunk of its marketing budget that persuading such unexpected personalities to join its cause will in turn convince consumers, and potential investors, to similarly believe in its shift, giving a new meaning to halo effect.

As Ms. Rapinoe said, “I don’t know if Victoria has a secret anymore.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

For PG, the NYT’s key quote (and one of relevance for the book business and everybody else) is, “When the world was changing, we were too slow to respond.”

For PG, traditional publishing is the epitome of not changing when the world has changed.

He won’t go on a rant to prove his point, but there’s a good rant hanging in the back of closet of his mind if he ever needs one.

How can I miss you?

I’ve talked to your mother and I’ve talked to your dad
They say they’ve tried, but it’s all in vain
I’ve begged and I’ve pleaded
I even got mad
Now we must face it, you give me a pain

How can I miss you when you won’t go away?
Keep telling you day after day
But you won’t listen, you always stay and stay
How can I miss you when you won’t go away?

Dan Hicks, Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks

25 Authors Running Fantastic Book Promotions on Instagram

From BookBub:

Instagram can be a great platform for promoting books or an author’s brand —  it has more than 1 billion monthly active users, and according to Rival IQ, brands have a 13.5x higher median engagement rate on Instagram than on Facebook, and 27x higher than on Twitter.

That being said, not every author will find a relevant audience there — 71% of Instagram users are younger than 35. So some genre authors might have a harder time building a fanbase on Instagram than, for example, a young adult author. Just because a lot of people use a particular social network doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth your time.

If you do think it’s worth testing the platform out, here are some great examples of authors who’ve been able to successfully build an audience and publish content that connects with their readers. We’ve included a variety of authors, both traditionally and independently published, who write in different genres, and encourage you to scroll through their feeds to see the full breadth of content they post. We hope this will help give you inspiration for what to publish on your own Instagram!

1. Elise Bryant – Young Adult

Elise Bryant uses a bright, cheerful aesthetic to give readers a behind-the-scenes look at her author life on Instagram. She also posts stunning pictures of her book with different props and backdrops, including ebookstagrams!

YA Bookstagram 1
YA Bookstagram 2

2. J. Daniels – Romance

Daniels often reposts images from her readers. These posts include everything from creative interpretations of her books’ characters to stunning displays featuring her books. She always makes sure to tag and credit the creator in the caption.

Romance Bookstagram 1
Romance Bookstagram 2

3. Christina C. Jones – Romance

Christina C. Jones brings readers along for the ride as she writes her books. She uses Instagram to post intriguing quotes from her works-in-progress and clips from her YouTube channel where she describes her writing process.

Romance Bookstagram 3
Romance Bookstagram 4

. . . .

10. Kalynn Bayron – Young Adult

Kalynn Bayron gives her followers sneak peeks into the publishing process of her books to drum up excitement surrounding her recent and upcoming releases.

YA Book Sneak Peek
YA Sneak Peek Instagram

.

Link to the rest at BookBub

Selling online is easy. Getting noticed is tough.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Selling things online is easier than ever. Standing out to shoppers is getting harder.

Kevin Stecko has spent more than two decades selling nostalgic apparel emblazoned with He-Man, ThunderCats and more online at 80sTees.com. But lately, he said, some customers seem to have a hard time finding him. In Google searches for terms like “He-Man shirts,” he said, his site appears beneath paid ads from competitors.

His novel solution: a paper catalog mailed to thousands of homes.

“The print cost plus the postage costs should actually do as well or better than it does to acquire customers online,” Mr. Stecko said. The catalog costs about $86,000 to produce, though he is waiting for more sales to come in before judging its success.

The tech ecosystem that powers ecommerce has simplified the way aspiring merchants set up shop, from web design and inventory management to email marketing and sales-tax collection. Shopify Inc., a provider of such services, said 1.75 million merchants used its platform last year, more than double the number two years earlier. But the lower entry barriers and rising cost of online advertising are making it harder for existing and new sellers to cut through the crowd and find more customers.

Sellers and consultants say that in addition to marketing tactics like search-optimizing web pages and targeting users on social media, brands must also take the more elaborate steps of developing community among customers or an identity that consumers deem authentic. Other online sellers are testing out distinctly analog ways of reaching new customers, like printed catalogs or bricks-and-mortar shops.

“There are certain things that have gotten easier and that makes other things hard,” said Rick Watson, chief executive of the ecommerce consulting firm RMW Commerce Consulting Inc. Advertisements aren’t as effective as content—like email newsletters or YouTube videos—created by the brands to entertain or inform, he said.

. . . .

“It’s vastly easier for an individual, without taking a bunch of investor dollars, to build a brand, create a product and sell it to customers,” Mr. Young said. “But the bar has become a lot higher to be unique.”

. . . .

New entrants to online selling face steep odds. “From a consumer vantage point, there’s a lot of clutter,” said Michelle Evans, digital retail analyst at the research firm Euromonitor. “You have to sort through who best to buy from and what to buy.”

Owners of online shops that have built up their businesses for years say they have an advantage in affinity from existing customers and proven methods for finding more.

Randy Owen, founder of ThermoWorks Inc., has been selling kitchen thermometers for two decades, and the handheld staple of chefs’ kitchens has garnered approval from publications like America’s Test Kitchen and food personalities like Alton Brown.

Mr. Owen hasn’t sold on Amazon.com Inc. since 2015, citing lack of access to customer data and the fact that Amazon sold similar-looking thermometers at a lower price. Still, sales have since increased to over $75 million a year, including a jump during the pandemic as more people cooked at home, he said.

ThermoWorks has to work constantly to continue ranking high on relevant search terms on Alphabet Inc.’s Google and also monitors product listings on other platforms to ensure they aren’t using his brand’s name.

Since people can’t buy ThermoWorks on Amazon, the retail giant sells search ads for the thermometer maker’s product names. Mr. Owen said ThermoWorks’ legal options there are limited. An Amazon spokesman said the site is designed to show, through search results and ads, products that customers can buy.https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“If a particular product is not available, we present them with similar products from our vast selection,” the spokesman said.

While ThermoWorks may lose some sales to shoppers buying other thermometers on Amazon, Mr. Owen said, many eventually find his site. “They’ll find a copycat that lasts them a few months before they come to us,” he said.

. . . .

Mr. Stecko of 80sTees.com said that his acquisition costs have actually risen, due in part to rising digital advertising costs. “The saying in digital marketing is, whoever can spend the most wins,” he said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Bipartisan House Bills Aim to Rein in Amazon & Other Big Tech Companies

From Shelf Awareness:

On Friday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives introduced five bills that aim to rein in Big Tech companies–Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple. The moves parallel efforts by the European Union to regulate Big Tech more, and seem to be one of the few areas where Congressional Democrats and Republicans have found common ground. Still, the bills could take a while to pass, especially in the Senate, with some Republicans wary about changing antitrust law, and once passed could take longer to implement.

“The proposals would make it easier to break up businesses that used their dominance in one area to get a stronghold in another, would create new hurdles for acquisitions of nascent rivals and would empower regulators with more funds to police companies,” the New York Times observed.

One of the bills, the Ending Platform Monopolies Act, would make it unlawful for an online platform to own a business that uses “the covered platform for the sale or provision of products or services” or that sells services as a condition for access to the platform, the Wall Street Journal wrote. The platform company also couldn’t own businesses that create conflicts of interest, such as by creating the “incentive and ability” for the platform to advantage its own products over competitors. The act could require Amazon to split into several companies.

The Journal added: “If the Ending Platform Monopolies bill were to be passed, Amazon could have to split its business into two separate websites, one for its third-party marketplace and one for first-party, or divest or shut down the sale of its own products. Amazon’s private-label division has dozens of brands with 158,000 products. It is also a market leader on devices such as Kindle eReaders, Amazon Echos, Fire TV streaming devices and Ring doorbells.”

Another bill bars platforms from giving preference to “the covered platform operator’s own products, services, or lines of business over those of another business user,” or that excludes or disadvantages other businesses. This, too, could deeply affect Amazon.

Another bill seeks to limit mergers, “making it unlawful for a large platform to acquire rivals or potential rivals,” the Journal wrote. Still, “the bill would have prevented only ‘a small percentage of all technology sector deals’ over the past decade, the summary said.”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

PG wonders if any of the relevant lawmakers are thinking about what consumers (AKA voters) would like to have happen to Amazon.

Consumers vote with their dollars and their votes say they love Amazon more than any place else online in the United States (and probably the world).

PG did a quick and dirty online check and found apparently reputable (at least by online standards) sites that placed Amazon as the #1 online shopping site in the UK, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan and India.

Amazon came it at #2 in Mexico and #3 in Brazil. It didn’t make the top-ten in China.

So, because a large number of people love Amazon and a small number of people don’t like Amazon.

Some of the don’t-likes carry grudges against Amazon for one thing or another, mostly about changing things as they were. Of course traditional publishers and those with stakes in physical bookstores lead the way, but lots of other physical retailers do as well.

Nobody counts the millions and millions of people involved with third-party sellers on Amazon who are also very happy. Amazon’s nearly two million third-party sellers worldwide account for well over half of the platform’s total sales — 62% in 2020. Two million third-party sellers are much more than two million individual gals and guys working out of their garage. More than a few are large enterprises that employ dozens or hundreds of people.

PG found a website that lists the top one thousand Amazon third-party sellers world-wide based upon a formula it believes reflect the relative size of their sales volume. Amazon has 17 separate marketplaces, focused on geographical, cultural and/or language markets.

Within the top-ten third-party sellers world-wide, you’ll find:

  • German sellers – 3
  • UK sellers – 3
  • Indian sellers – 1
  • French sellers – 1
  • American sellers – 1
  • Japanese sellers – 1

In short, by attempting to disrupt Amazon’s operations, US politicians and their supporters are potentially harming a great many organizations and people who aren’t Jeff Bezos or Amazon millionaires at all.

And that’s not even talking about the the independent app developers that rely on Apple’s app store and those small businesses who use Google advertising.

PG suggests if you compare those who want to cut Amazon down to size to those who benefit from Amazon’s products and services, the Anti-Zon campaign is a war of the rich and privileged against much more varied and diverse worldwide group of individuals and small businesses for whom Amazon is both a valued source of good quality at reasonable prices and a way of earning a living when other avenues of financial advancement may be restricted and limiting.

And that’s not even talking about the gang of gatekeepers, thieves and con artists hovering around the traditional publishing empire.

But PG could be wrong.

He does feel better now, looking out the window hoping to see a unicorn or warm puppy walking by.

What We Can—and Can’t—Learn About Louisa May Alcott from Her Teenage Fiction

From The Literary Hub:

Last summer, an unfinished and previously unknown work by American writer Louisa May Alcott was published in The Strand Magazine, a small literary quarterly based in Birmingham, Michigan. 

“Aunt Nellie’s Diary” is not a lost tale about the March sisters, Alcott’s best-known creations. In fact, the unfinished story published in The Strand dates from the very beginning of Alcott’s career, before Little Women or any of its sequels. Discovered in Harvard University’s Houghton Library, “Aunt Nellie’s Diary” was handwritten by Alcott in an 1848 journal, when she was just 17 years old. The story comes in at 9400 words, which is quite long compared to the stories published in the magazines Alcott admired like Godey’s Lady’s Book. (Among the poetry, gossip, advice columns, and essays on fashion, one issue I examined contained several short stories, all well under 7000 words). 

But “Aunt Nellie’s Diary” is still an incomplete fragment, not because the ending was lost or damaged, but because Alcott never finished it. She just stopped writing partway through a sentence: “I begged and prayed she would…” 

Did she get stuck? Bored? Distracted? We have no way to know.

What we do know is that at 17, Alcott was already an ambitious writer. According to biographer Katharine Anthony, at this point Louisa “could write melodramatic fiction with extreme fluency and prolificness.” She’d grown up writing plays with her siblings, which were often performed at family events. By the end of the following year, she’d finish her first novel, The Inheritance—though her first publication, in 1852 would come with a poem called “Sunlight” (under pseudonym “Flora Fairfield”) in Peterson’s Magazine, for which Alcott was paid $5. 

Scholars would class “Aunt Nellie’s Diary” as a piece of “juvenilia,” meaning that it comes from a writer’s youthful period, before finding publication or achieving wider recognition. Arguably, these early pieces can shine a light on crucial moments in a writer’s development, showing their interest in certain themes and highlighting supposed talents as well as deficits not yet overcome.

In The Strand’s introduction to the story, Dr. Daniel Shealy, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, claims that “Aunt Nellie’s Diary” has this kind of appeal, showing readers “an emerging talent on the cusp of a promising career.” 

Alcott’s diaries show that she modeled her early work on the stories that dominated popular magazines at the time. She hoped that commercial success would allow her to make an independent living as a writer. So she closely studied the wildly beloved Sketches of Everyday Life written by Fredrika Bremer. Bremer published stories of independent women travelling through Europe and the Americas, and describing the tangled marriage plots of others. Though called “sketches,” these were not insubstantial works at all—Bremer, sometimes called the “Swedish Jane Austen,” is regarded as an early activist for gender equality and radical for her view that fiction should center less on male characters. Alcott thought her stories were important, and in a memorable scene in Little Women, Alcott depicts Mrs. March reading Bremer’s book to her four daughters. 

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG found a book by the “Swedish Jane Austen” on Amazon.

Be warned, however that it’s one of those scanned-to-kindle out-of-copyright books that, in PG’s limited experience, are terrible reading experiences on a tablet or Kindle device.

When You’re Always Going to Be the Second-Most Famous Writer in Your Marriage

From LitHub:

My wife and I are duking it out for places eight to fifteen within Amazon’s “Spiritual Self Help” category. First she’s number twelve, then nine, while I fall from eight to fifteen, and then we reverse again as the list updates once an hour. You need to sell about fifteen books a day on Amazon to make it onto the Spiritual Self Help list, though neither of us is comfortable with that label. We’re old enough to remember Norman Vincent Peale. But who cares? We’re both Top 10, sort of, in something.

Of course, my wife’s book came out twelve weeks before mine, in early March, and spent its first six weeks on the best seller list—not in Spiritual Self Help, but the somewhat broader category of Hardback Non-Fiction. And not as measured by Amazon, but by the LA Times and the Washington Post. (The New York Times annoyingly shoved her onto their separate Advice, Health, and Self Help list—you can’t be on that and General Non-Fiction—but Annie’s beautiful book on revival and courage, Dusk Night Dawn, entered at number four.) Those lists also happen to include sales in the brick-and-mortar bookstores that her adoring fans prefer.

As an unknown about to self-publish my first book, I’m at quite a disadvantage. She’s Anne Lamott! Legions of fans love her work. Selfies in the airports. M&Ms in the green rooms like a rock star. I’m an ordinary guy no one’s heard of (except as Mr. Anne Lamott) hanging along for the ride, and getting my life stuff done in my own shambly way—her term for me, which I learned on reading her latest book. As an ordinary guy I spend my days on Zoom with clients interested in taming their inner critic, and I garden, take walks, and write a little. That’s about it.

People most often focus on the problem of envy in writing couples, but to a know-it-all (another of Annie’s terms of endearment for me), pity is equally destructive. Especially when I’m the target for pity’s arrow. “Oh, [poor thing] you’re self-publishing? My uncle’s best friend [blowhard] self-published a wonderful [unreadable] book about his life in retail [bo-ring]. We had a little party [his family and mine] to celebrate. Will you have a little party?” What they mean is, “I’m so sorry it’s not good enough for a real publisher.” They are always so sweet and affirming, and I want to hurt them. At times like these I have come to admire my oldest who, when she was two, on greeting her brand-new-from-the-hospital sibling, said innocently, “Mommy, I won’t poke his eyes out.”

. . . .

So if those are our two likely pitfalls, envy and pity, how do Annie and I contain them in our free-flowing dance as Covid newlyweds? Are we Astaire and Rogers, sweeping aside the pains of comparative mind with flow and grace? Not exactly. As it happens, envy and pity just don’t show up so much. Annie mostly denies the existence of her fame, and she’s right. It isn’t around us most of the time, especially when we’re clunkily nested in our sofa watching Swedish noirs. And it isn’t lurking, either. When the Annie I know and love is squinting, reaching around and patting cushions trying to find her glasses again she’s not famous in any way. And why would she pity someone like me who pops up in that annoying way all the time, interrupting her to get her to retweet my last bon mot or join me on a walk during her regularly scheduled daily nap time?

. . . .

It’s not that we’re actually good at avoiding this sort of emotional stuff. It still comes our way regularly, like the moles in my garden. We’re just too old to attend to it; we lack the energy it takes to keep after envy and pity. Getting rid of moles demands a lot of discipline and persistence, and we’ve gotten lazy with age. Let the damn things destroy a little grass again. So if you thought this was going to be about how we handle each other’s place in the book-selling pecking order, as if we were tender and caring about hurt feelings, well, sorry to disappoint you. I know suffering is more fun to read about than couples gloating about how well their marriage works. (Annie asked me to add to that last sentence: “except when one of us is a know-it-all.”) As writers, the deprivation of material in our marriage is our cross to bear. But just to show I can dwell with the best in the land of suffering, let me deliver you a sample. Fortunately for me, it’s my wife’s pain, not my own.

Annie describes it as sheet metal competitiveness. She would welcome obscurity—no more selfies in the lobby of the movie theater, please—just about every single week, with one exception. A new book of hers hitting the market. When launch date arrives, it isn’t just her book that’s released, but also her inner Kardashian. For two months or more, she tracks its progress on the New York Times list and others with the determination of a grim FBI agent on the heels of a serial killer. From her fragmented comments muttered into the air I can piece together complete thoughts: “Entered at No. 3, but second week drifted down to No. 8. OK, but four new entries showed up, of which two won’t have staying power. Maybe there’s hope. Where am I on the LA Times list?”

Link to the rest at LitHub

PG will put Annie’s husband’s book on top and Annie’s latest book on the bottom because Solidarity or something.

It’s All in the Angles

From The Nation:

Nancy Reagan once claimed that she couldn’t get fair press coverage from the women sent to write about her. Perhaps, she speculated, these journalists were jealous of her, “a woman who wears size four” and who has “no trouble staying slim.” Her theory was put to the test when The Saturday Evening Post sent Joan Didion to profile her in 1968, the year that Ronald Reagan, then the governor of California, would lose the Republican presidential primary to Richard Nixon. If not a competition of looks or a comparison of waistbands, then what could have accounted for the resulting article? “Pretty Nancy” followed the style that was then becoming distinctive of Didion’s journalistic prose: a blunt, self-assured series of descriptions and observations that lead the reader to believe she was just writing down what she saw. Here is Nancy pretending to pluck a rhododendron blossom. Here is Nancy finding her light. Here is Nancy wearing “the smile of a woman who seems to be playing out some middle-class American woman’s daydream, circa 1948.”

Nancy, of course, did not like Didion’s profile. She found it sardonic and judgmental and accused Didion of having written the piece before they even met. She couldn’t understand it, she said later. She thought they were having a nice time.

What is it about Joan Didion that seduces and then betrays? In her writing she promises little, and in her public life she offers even less. The title of Didion’s new essay collection, Let Me Tell You What I Mean, almost seems like the kind of cruel joke one might find in one of her pieces. Has a writer ever been less likely to say just what she means? Across the 12 works included—which span Didion’s entire career from her column in The Saturday Evening Post in the late 1960s and ’70s to one-off essays and reports for The New Yorker to speeches given at her alma mater, as well as introductions to other people’s books—the impression one gets is that of reading a magazine made up of all ledes and kickers. This is the case with “Pretty Nancy,” too. It contains many of Didion’s trademarks. Her sentences often exist as aphorisms, all the more brutal for being brief; her choice of weapon tends to be the direct quote. These tendencies capture something true about her writing in general: Her essays show a writer who attempts a close reading of the powerful people and strange circumstances she encounters but then, when understanding proves difficult, draws back to look at them from a great, flat distance.

. . . .

In Blue Nights, her 2011 memoir about grief, family, and work, Didion said that when she and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, worked on dialogue for their screenplays, they would mark the time a character spent speaking before coming up with the words themselves: What was said was not as important as the rhythm and length of the speech. Her essays also have this novelistic approach. As Hilton Als notes in his foreword to Let Me Tell You What I Mean, “a peculiar aspect of Joan Didion’s nonfiction is that a significant portion of it reads like fiction.” This appears to be the case, however, not because Didion is too imaginative in her journalistic renderings but rather because of her sense of control over the material and her certainty of its meaning, as though nothing happens without her permission.

One finds echoes of this approach in the way Didion circles around the California governor’s wife, the tension hovering in the sharp point she holds back from making. There are inferences into what kind of person Nancy is, what kind of mother her teenage son might see her as, what kind of sycophantic circle a political family might live within. In many ways, Didion casts Nancy in a film of her own making. The writing could serve as cues for a character in a screenplay rather than as descriptions of a real-life woman in a magazine profile.

Let Me Tell You What I Mean includes a kind of corollary to “Pretty Nancy,” Didion’s 2000 profile of Martha Stewart (or, more to the point, of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia LLC), another story of a woman in the business of promising domestic harmony. “This is getting out of the house with a vengeance, and on your own terms,” Didion writes, “the secret dream of any woman who has ever made a success of a PTA cake sale.” Didion’s sentences have a way of taking a person at face value and seeing the way subtle truths lie under glossy surfaces.

Link to the rest at The Nation

How Authors Can Leverage Facebook Ads to Sell More Books

From Jane Friedman:

When authors want to advertise their books, three advertising platforms spring to mind for most: Facebook ads, Amazon ads, and BookBub ads.

And while each of these platforms can be amazing in their own right and even more so when used holistically together, without a strong foundation (i.e. a great book that has been edited and proofread, a strong book description, right pricing for your category or genre, a professional-looking book cover that fits in your genre, etc.), no amount of advertising can sell a poor quality book.

Once you have a strong foundation, the truthis that advertising takes time to perfect; it takes testing; it takes patience, persistence, and, ultimately, it takes money.

However, let’s brighten things up.

When you get your ads dialed in, they can truly transform your career.

As an example, my wife is an author of fantasy novels. Before we started advertising her debut series of books, we were lucky if they pulled in $40 per month!

Last month, this same series earned $8,550 in royalties, with $5,200 of profit—and that’s with just one series of three books; the fourth book is due out later this year.

And the advertising platform that did the brunt of the leg work was…

Facebook ads.

Let’s dive into it. Here’s what you’ll learn.

  • Why Facebook offers authors an incredible opportunity to position themselves in front of their ideal readers
  • When to use Facebook ads
  • Are Facebook ads worth your time and money?
  • How to create scroll-stopping Facebook ads
  • My top 5 Facebook ads tips for authors

The Facebook ads opportunity

Facebook’s biggest and most valuable asset is data. As an advertiser on Facebook, you can tap into this data and pinpoint the exact people (readers) you want to reach with your ads.

As an example, if you know your readers:

  • Live in New York
  • Are female
  • Aged between 45 and 55
  • Work as an accountant
  • Have been a newlywed for 6 months
  • Recently moved
  • Enjoy French cuisine
  • Own a dog and a fish
  • And do yoga

You could potentially target them! Now, I wouldn’t recommend being this granular with your targeting; this is just an exaggerated example to show you how much Facebook knows about its user base. In fact, I have seen better results by leaving my targeting fairly open. I trust Facebook enough to go out and find the right people to position the books I’m advertising in front of.

So what sort of targeting should you be doing with your Facebook ads?

Targeting is a big topic and what works for one author won’t necessarily work for another. However, myself and many other authors have seen the best results by targeting:

  • Author names
  • Book / series titles
  • TV shows
  • Movies
  • Genres (e.g., romantic fantasy)

As long as your targeting is relevant to the book you’re advertising, it’s worth testing. That’s not to say that every target you test will be a winner, but the more relevant you can be, the higher the chance of your Facebook ads converting into sales and therefore providing you with a positive Return on Ad Spend (ROAS); in other words, profit.

When researching potential targets, I can’t recommend enough that you keep track of all your tests in a spreadsheet. I have built my own Targeting and Tracking spreadsheet which you can use for free; it’s included in my Author Ads Toolkit, which comes with several other valuable resources.

It’s also worth noting that Facebook ads allow you to advertise not just on the Facebook News Feed, although that is where you are likely to see the majority of your traffic coming from, but also on Facebook Stories, Instagram Stories, Instagram Feed, Facebook Messenger and many more.

. . . .

Before we move on, let’s first take a quick look at what a Facebook ad actually looks like.

Sample Facebook ad

This is one of the ads I’ve run for my wife’s series of fantasy novels.

If you’ve spent any length of time scrolling on your Facebook News Feed, I’m sure you recognize the layout and style of this ad. As you can see, Facebook wants their ads to fit in with an organic post (i.e., not an ad) that you might see from one of your Facebook friends.

. . . .

When to use Facebook ads

Facebook ads can be extremely powerful in many scenarios; whether you use them in all these scenarios or just one or two will depend on your ultimate goals and your strategy for building a career as an author.

Here are the 6 scenarios I like to use Facebook ads for:

  1. Book launches
  2. Promotions (e.g., $0.99 sale for 7 days)
  3. Evergreen sales (e.g., continuously advertising Book 1 of a series)
  4. Cross-series Retargeting (e.g. retarget people who have seen Book 1 of your series in a Facebook ad with Book 1 of another of your series in a similar genre)
  5. Same-series retargeting (e.g. if your books can be read in any order, retarget people who have seen one book from your series in a Facebook ad and show them another book from that same series)
  6. Building your mailing list (e.g., giving people a free copy of one of your books in exchange for their email address)

By no means do you need to use Facebook ads for each of these scenarios! Start slow and then build at a pace that works for you once you begin to see results.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Gaming the Publishing Industry

From veteran author and writing coach Dave Farland:

I was at a writing conference last week and noticed that several times I passed groups of writers who were trying to figure out how to “Game the System.”

In case you didn’t know it, every distribution industry tries to set up roadblocks for creators so that they can’t bypass the system. For example, if you were to make a movie and try to go out and distribute it to movie theaters yourself, you’d find that the theaters have contracts with the major distributors that require them to not show your movie. The distributors want to make sure that the huge movies that they’ve invested in advertising are available at all of the usual outlets.

In publishing, we have two different distribution systems. The traditional publishing industry has its editors, and they have contracts with the bookstores and with the book distribution companies that are designed to keep you from selling your books at bookstores—and these contracts are very effective. If you’ve ever tried to start your own publishing company, you’ll see what I mean. Not only will distributors refuse to distribute your books, but I once struggled for days to get some television and radio companies to advertise a book—but they refused to work with anyone who wasn’t already a major publisher.

In traditional publishing, the publisher typically creates a “list” of books that they want to promote. The #1 book on the list gets most of the advertising dollars. This might include things like in-store displays, money for cooperative advertising so that the bookstores will place the book on certain shelves with the covers facing out, promotion on radio or television or in magazines or newspapers, and of course money to send the author out on a book tour. 

If you’re not #1 on your publisher’s list, you might not get any of these things. Instead, your book is simply put out there and left to sink or swim on its own merits. Your editor might not even send it out for reviews from critics.

And the publisher will actively stop you from doing too much. For example, let’s say that you don’t like the cover that your publisher gives you—either the picture or the typeface. What can you do? You can complain, and you might get some upgrades, but it is the job of the artistic director to make sure that the #1 book of the season gets the best cover and that each month when new books are shipped out, the monthly books look good, but not as good as the anticipated season hit. The reason for this is that the publisher doesn’t want to confuse the buyers. They don’t want a mediocre book to have a great cover.

So as an author, you may find yourself trying to figure out how to “game the system,” how to promote the book that your publisher won’t. In doing that, you might advertise on social media, send books out to book bloggers, set up your own book signings, create a “book bomb” in order to generate some excitement for your release, and so on.

All of that is fine, so long as you remember that the best advertisement for a book is to write another book. Your fans are always eager to see what you have next in the pipeline.

Indie publishers are often even more eager to game the system. In recent years, Amazon has been working to create a “system” that will reward good books with good reviews and promotion, but Indie authors always seem to be bent on destroying that system. I’ve seen them buy favorable reviews (spending as much as $10,000 on a package), creating sock-puppets so that they can go online and create their own favorable reviews while deriding their competition, and of course trading positive reviews with other authors. As a result of such activities—all of which are immoral and some of them even illegal, Amazon has purchased review sites and now blocks reviews that they believe are fake.

In fact, I’ve known several authors who find that if their book does too well, defies expectations that Amazon has set, then their books are simply delisted—taken off of the bestseller lists, and even taken off of Amazon’s sales site.

To be frank, we need our distributors to create a fair and honest system that rewards great work. 

How should we as authors handle this problem? I think that we need to promote ourselves in every way that we can, so long as it is honorable and honest. At the same time, put your emphasis where it belongs: On writing powerful works. If you do that, success will come eventually.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

PG seconds Dave’s warnings and advice.

Don’t be a sleazeball and don’t hire sleazeballs to help you with your book sales. Once in awhile a sleazeball scheme might seem to work or actually work . . . for a while.

When the scheme caves, guess who’s reputation is tarnished? It’s the author’s name. An author’s name is her/his brand. If you spent a lot of time building a readership and fans as Jane Writer and Jane Writer gets online or offline negative attention, all of Jane Writer’s books get tarnished.

Why, yes, you could continue with a pen name, but, guess what, nobody ever heard of Jane Author. You’re starting back at ground zero building a readership, getting reviews, etc., etc., etc.

The value of big commercial brands is calculated in billions of dollars.

Statista posted Most valuable brands worldwide in 2021.

Apple was #1. Amazon, Google and Microsoft followed right behind. Per Statista, “Apple” is worth over $250 billion.

In past lives, PG worked for a big advertising agency. During this period of time, he learned that the agency’s largest clients invariably had somebody who was, effectively, The Brand Czar.

The Brand Czar was in charge of making certain that the company’s brand was accurately depicted in everything the company did, said, wrote, published or broadcast.

One Brand Czar famously came into the main lobby of her company’s headquarters and saw a large banner on the lobby wall that Human Resources had put up to promote employee appreciation week or something like that.

The Brand Czar noted that the color of the company’s logo was not the right color (brands can include an associated color). The color wasn’t completely wrong, but it was not the the right shade.

The Czar ordered that a custodian immediately bring an extension ladder to the lobby. The Czar kicked off her high-heels, climbed up the ladder in her tailored suit and personally yanked the banner off the wall, nearly dropping it on the receptionist. The custodian was ordered to burn the banner and report back to the Czar in her office after the destruction was complete.

(PG doesn’t know where you burn a banner in a high-rise office building, but he expects that the custodial staff found a way.)

So, you want to be careful with your author brand. You may not have a militant Brand Czar working for you, but being militant about your personal brand is probably not a bad idea.

Author Complaints at City Limit Publishing

From Writer Beware:

I first heard of City Limits Publishing (CLP) in September 2020, via a question about author-unfriendly guidelines in a contest it was running (simply by entering, writers granted “a worldwide royalty-free perpetual license to publish”). At the time, CLP had published just eight books, all by the same two authors . . . and was calling for submissions. 

To me, CLP looked like a self-publishing endeavor that was trying to expand into traditional publishing. This doesn’t always work out well, since not all self-publishers have a solid knowledge of publishing (or, necessarily, any business experience) and may unintentionally disadvantage writers with nonstandard business practices, or author-unfriendly contracts, or both. And indeed, CLP’s original contract had some problems. It included a transfer of copyright, a major red flag in a non-work-for-hire contract…

…that was directly contradicted by a clause stipulating the printing of copyright notices in the author’s name (not the publisher’s, as would normally be the case with a copyright transfer), as well as an extremely generous termination clause allowing authors to cancel their contracts post-publication at will for any reason. This kind of internal contradiction is something I see not infrequently in small press contracts, and is a red flag all on its own: it suggests that the publisher has a less than perfect understanding of its own contract terms.

CLP appears to have recognized this at some point, because the copyright grab disappeared from its contracts in September or October 2020 (the generous termination provision remains). CLP’s catalog has ballooned to over 40 titles, including those original eight, and it has big ambitions for 2021, with plans to publish more than 50 books in total. That’s a very large list for a small press–something that can (and often does) lead to trouble if staff and resources aren’t adequate to handle the load.

. . . .

UPDATE: Robert Martin, CLP’s owner, contacted me after this post went live to say that CLP has “never moved or delayed a publishing date. Ever.” The dates on the CLP website listings, he explained, are actually “pre-sale” dates [I assume this is the date the book goes live for pre-orders]; the reason they’re labeled “publish” dates is because “[t]he Shopify theme we purchased automatically uses the date we put the product into our online store as the Publish date.” CLP’s web developer is apparently working to change this.

When I asked why, if the books are available for pre-order on the CLP website, they aren’t also available on Amazon and other retailers, he told me “As for why they aren’t all on retail sites yet, we put them up as we are able and as projects come to a close, but I don’t feel like we have to explain ourselves for every little thing we do.”)

Also of concern: the multiple documented complaints I’ve recently received from CLP authors. These include late royalty payments, missed editing and other deadlines, difficulty getting CLP staff to respond to questions and concerns, free author copies and books ordered at author discount not received or received months late, books ordered by readers not received or received months late, formatting and other errors in finished books that authors struggled to get corrected (for instance, the author’s name spelled wrong on the spine), substandard editing and proofing, and copyrights not registered as required in contracts. Some writers reported problems with CLP’s heavily hyped online author portal–confusingly named AuthorCentral–which they said suffers from frequent crashes. I also heard from an audiobook narrator who told me that they weren’t informed when CLP lost the rights to a book the narrator was in the process of recording, posing payment issues for the narrator, who was working on a royalty-share contract.

Authors also highlighted issues of transparency: being told that copyright registrations had been filed and later discovering they had not been, claims that print runs of thousands of copies were being done when in fact CLP uses on-demand technology to produce books in much smaller batches as ordered.

. . . .

I contacted CLP’s founder, Robert Martin, for comment on all of the above. He gave me the following statement, which I have edited to remove mention of an individual author (not by name, but likely recognizable even so). 

When I started City Limits Publishing, I committed to full transparency and I’ve tried to provide that from the very beginning. Through our bi-weekly author newsletter to frequent direct updates and notices from me to all of our authors, I’ve kept them appraised of shipping issues related to COVID, updates to our financial systems, implementation of our new author intranet system that would provide them greater access to information and updates, as well as any challenges we’re facing as an organization. And, being a new, small press, there are many. The authors who have stuck with us have been absolutely amazing and their support is inspiring. Together, we’re building something great here. Many of our authors have emailed me thanking me for the transparency they’re getting and have been so encouraging even when receiving direct, unsolicited messages from a handful of authors on a war path.

We’re aware of the situation and some of the issues a small group of former authors have brought up. First, with regards to late royalty payments, we were delayed in sending out payments as we both moved to a new system and I had a personal matter that required my attention and took me away from work for a bit. The payments were made up in full with tracking and confirmation of receipt, along with my sincerest apologies, and a promise that our next payout, July 20, would be made in full and on time, with the exception of authors who have entered into final accounting after requesting to be released from their agreements. Their final payments are being made this month as agreed during termination discussions. We’re in the process of hiring a Business Manager that will take help ensure we are not late in the future. Our royalty statements were delayed in April as we made the transition to RoyaltyTracker (MetaCommet). Their implementation schedule caused us delays in sending out statements. We made a major investment in this new system so that going forward everything would operate more smoothly. With progress comes growing pains.

With regards to author copies, we have committed to making sure that our authors receive at least half of their author copies in the weeks leading up to their release, and half within 90 days of release. Author copies are a large expense for the company. We’re a small business trying to get started during a global pandemic. As for ordering problems, we admit that during our early months we faced many delays, especially with our original printer and our transition to the IngramIgnite program. Still, all orders were fulfilled, and we’re now shipping out daily with no delays.

With copyright registration, we did drop the ball on some of our earlier titles. Before we brought on a full team, I was working mostly on my own with operations. I’m human and did make mistakes with copyright registration of some of our earlier titles. Now, we have a system in place to make sure registration happens within 90 days of publication, as outlined in the agreement. And, we have made steps to help educate authors on the copyright registration process. It’s not a fast process, so we’ve made sure to provide information to authors on timelines and how that process works.

Other complaints mentioned: Our early editing process was not as refined as it is now. We were just getting started, and we really learned a lot. We’ve even gone back through older titles for extensive checks and proofing to ensure we’re putting out the highest quality of work. Authors complained about books going to print with errors, but we do require all of our authors to initial the bottom corner of every page of their book before it goes to print. So, respectfully, that’s a shared mistake, and one we’ve worked extremely hard to rectify, now having four sets of eyes on all works published. Additionally, we do still have a contract with ACX and with Audiobook Universe. We were temporarily suspended from ACX for a contract mix-up where exclusive rights were selected when non-exclusive was intended. We removed the book from our website (it had not sold any copies) and our contract was reinstated. With regards to our printing, we originally used an up-front printing method, but were approached by Ingram’s IngramIgnite program (a program specifically for small presses) about using their system. We transitioned to their system, but still process upfront orders of copies of books and fulfill them to bookstores in the US and Canada that are ordered directly from us through our marketing efforts. Additionally, we make sure our wholesale pricing is competitive to get our books listed with as many retailers as possible, and we’ve enjoyed great success with the help of our partners at Ingram.

Are we perfect? Absolutely not. Are we learning from our mistakes and putting in place processes to ensure they don’t happen again? Absolutely.(I’m not familiar with IngramIgnite; websearches don’t turn up any information.)

To his credit, Martin admits mistakes. But fostering an us-and-them mentality (hints of this come through in the statement, and it’s clear from my communications with Martin, as well as what CLP authors–both pro and con–have shared with me, that the complaining authors are being badmouthed internally), and blaming writers, if only partially, for mistakes such as poor proofing (authors certainly owe their publisher the duty of checking their proofs, but ultimately it’s the publisher’s responsibility, and not the author’s, to make sure books are error-free), doesn’t seem like the most positive way forward.

. . . .

Good intentions are all very well. But most of the publishers I’ve featured on this blog had good intentions, at least to start. Writers need to keep in mind that good intentions–like responsiveness, enthusiasm, praise, and all the other non-publishing-related things that so often entice writers into questionable situations–aren’t a substitute for knowledge, experience, qualified (and adequate) staff, and working capital–all of which are far more important factors in a publisher’s success. Just as new writers can get into trouble if they set out to get published without taking the time to learn about publishing, inexperienced publishers can run into difficulties if they start up too quickly and attempt to learn on the fly. 

In effect, such publishers are using their writers as subjects in a kind of science experiment. Sometimes the experiment succeeds, against odds and errors. Sometimes it doesn’t. But while unwary writers’ screwups harm only themselves, a publisher’s screwups harm its authors.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

PG noted the following in the publisher’s comments about the problems reported in the OP:

Author copies are a large expense for the company.

For PG (who may be wrong), this statement caused a large flashing sign to appear in his mind’s eye:

Undercapitalized

Once the presses start running for publication of a hardcopy book, a few extra copies are pretty cheap.

Here are Amazon’s published printing costs for KDP books:

Paperback specification: black ink with 110-828 pages
Amazon.com0.85 USD per book0.012 USD per page
Amazon.ca1.11 CAD per book0.016 CAD per page
Amazon.co.uk0.70 GBP per book0.010 GBP per page
Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, Amazon.es0.60 EUR per book0.012 EUR per page
Amazon.com.au2.17 AUD per book0.0215 AUD per page
Amazon.co.jp175 YEN per book2 YEN per page

That works out to $3.85 for a 250-page trade paperback on a print-on-demand basis. Twenty free copies cost $77.

The OP says the publisher’s catalog totals 40 books. That’s a total expanse of a little over $3,000 for all the author copies in the publisher’s catalog at the price Amazon calculates its POD cost is.

If $3,000 is a “large expense” for the publisher, PG wonders how much working capital the publisher has available to pay its employees, rent, advertising and promotion costs, printers bills, etc., etc., etc., and afford all the other things any business has to pay for if it’s going to be successful.

From The Free Dictionary:

handwaving

Actions, words, or ideas that are meant to impress or appear convincing but which are in reality insubstantial or inconsequential.The governor has been doing a lot of political handwaving over the issue of immigration lately, but few suspect that anything will actually be accomplished in the coming year.

. . . .

See also:

  • airy-fairy
  • run on fumes
  • run on empty

Link to the rest at The Free Dictionary

Where Is Our Spotify for Books?

From Slate:

For many families and schools, e-books were a lifeline to keep kids reading during lockdown.
Total numbers of digital books borrowed from libraries hit 289 million in 2020—a 33 percent increase over 2019. That makes the feisty public library the main challenger to Amazon, which almost completely monopolizes private sales of e-books and sold 487,000 in 2020.

But there is a giant problem.

Many e-books have incredibly limited availability or are not available at all at public libraries, and library budgets are strained covering the escalating costs of e-book demand.

Publishers make the costs for e-books prohibitive for libraries. For example, before COVID hit, a typical deal at Macmillan was that public libraries had to pay $60 for any e-book and could lend it out only 52 times or for two years, whichever came first, after which they had to repurchase the e-book. Publishers temporarily lowered some prices and loosened rules on select titles during the pandemic, but the costs overall still severely limit the ability of libraries to offer many books. Some publishers, particularly Amazon, still refuse to let libraries get access to any of the e-books they publish, while publishers like Macmillan have withheld new releases from libraries.

. . . .

The reason publishers can charge higher price is because of a quirk in copyright law, called the “first sale doctrine.” Unlike with physical books, the courts have said libraries have no right to buy an e-book and then lend it to their members. Instead, publishers only “license” e-books and can deny that license to a library or condition the right to lend the e-book on paying that much higher price.

Some state legislators are outraged enough they have proposed legislation to force publishers to license e-books they are currently withholding from libraries, and Maryland enacted such a law this spring. But these will likely be challenged by publishers in court as preempted by federal copyright law.

For university libraries and their student patrons, the restrictions on electronic textbooks are even more severe. By one estimate, publishers refuse to license 85 percent of electronic versions of textbooks to university libraries, forcing students to either buy directly from the publisher or do without. And according to a survey during the pandemic of 82 campuses conducted by US PIRG, a consumer group focused heavily on student concerns, 65 percent of students have skipped at least one textbook purchase because of the costs.

When an e-textbook is made available to universities, it’s often more than 10 times the retail price, and may come with additional conditions and subscriptions that drive the costs even higher. “You have to pay thousands for a package with a few eBooks you need and lots of things you don’t,” complains librarian Joanna Anderson, who co-authored a letter protesting these costs signed by 3,000 librarians, academics and students.

The complicated legal distinction between selling physical books and “licensing” e-books is one reason private attempts at subscription book services for monthly fees have mostly failed or had limited book availability. In the publishing trade, publishers have the right to sell books, but authors often retain the copyrights that would allow licensing to monthly subscription services and have their own demands for fair compensation, so deals for subscription services are often legally impossible or economically untenable. One version, Oyster, shut down a few years ago. Epic! Books has had modest success with a subscription service solely for a subset of kids’ books used mostly by schools. Scribd, the most successful surviving version, still lacks most popular books.

Amazon has created an end-run around this problem by creating an unlimited reading program for subscribers solely with authors who self-publish with Amazon itself and opt into the program. Estimates are that nearly 50 percent of paid e-books downloaded are now self-published, largely due to the popularity of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, making Amazon’s program the most successful model for a monthly unlimited reading service—but for only a limited subset of books.

. . . .

Congress could fix the problem instantly by extending the first sale doctrine to allow school and public libraries to purchase e-books at regular retail prices and keep them in their collections permanently. At a stroke, this would triple to quadruple the number of e-books libraries could purchase with current budgets and, since the books would never expire, increase their e-book holdings by orders of magnitude over time.

The Congressional Research Service in an April 2020 review of the issue noted that Congress considered doing this back in 1998, the last time the federal copyright law was updated, but put off that decision until the market for e-books “has matured sufficiently and in a manner that would warrant further action.” Obviously, with nearly $2 billion in annual sales, e-books have reached that point.

At the same time, authors who often already struggle financially have reasonable fears that reducing library fees to publishers will further reduce their incomes. But instead of depending on strapped local library budgets to supply the income authors need to keep writing, Congress could, at the same time they restore the first sale doctrine, also institute a federal “Public Lending Right,” or PLR, a mechanism used by 35 nations around the world, including almost all of Europe, to offer authors payments for each book, physical or digital, borrowed from a public library.

In fact, the Authors Guild, which promoted a PLR in the U.S. decades ago, relaunched a campaign in 2019 to enact legislation to have the National Endowment for Humanities distribute payments to authors for each book borrowed from a library. “PLR recognizes two fundamental principles,” then-Authors Guild President James Gleick wrote in 2019, “the need for society to provide free access to books, and the right of authors to be remunerated for their work.”

Link to the rest at Slate

PG notes that, contra to the author of the OP, there isn’t a “quirk” in the copyright law.

The First Sale doctrine relates to copyrighted objects like a physical book or painting.

When an author signs a publishing agreement for a physical book, the author is granting a license to the publisher to (among other things) make copies of the author’s creation in the form of physical books and sell them to others.

An ebook is not, of course, physical. It’s a collection of organized electronic charges on a medium that can keep them from vanishing. When someone licenses an ebook, a copy of the collection of electronic charges is made and that invisible electronic packet is sent via other media capable of transmitting those charges in their organized fashion. It’s almost as easy to create and transmit a hundred copies of the ebook as it is to transmit a single copy.

A physical book only exists by itself as a manufacture object. The First Sale doctrine permits someone who purchases a physical book to give or sell her/his copy to someone else. Nobody makes a copy of the physical book during such a transaction.

Making a photocopy of a physical book to give or sell to someone else is a violation of the author’s copyight just like making an electronic copy of an ebook to give or sell to someone else is a violation of the author’s copyright.

Not so difficult after all, is it?

Business Musings: Traditional Writers

From Kristine Kathryn Rusc h:

The other day, I got an email from a writer friend who was about to give advice to one of their friends. Seems that friend had a niche how-to book for parents who are dealing with a certain kind of health issue. My writer friend asked me, Is there any reason for this person to go to traditional publishing?

I looked at the whole thing with an unusual thought for me: Some niche products might do well in traditional. The friend of the writer friend (hereafter known as FoWF) wasn’t in this for the money or even to hold onto rights. FoWF wanted to get information out there, and really, wasn’t trad pub the way to do so?

I started answering my friend by email, and as I did, I realized that publishers know nothing about this niche field because there are no books about it. Which meant that FoWF would have to educate an editor, find places to market the book on their own, do all the social media, and…eventually FoWF would discover that the traditional publisher has no in with the places that could effectively sell this book, like seminars for parents of kids with this issue.

The more I typed, the more I realized that, nope, trad pub wouldn’t help FoWF at all. It might even hurt them, because the book wouldn’t sell well, which meant that it would probably go out of print. And it would be priced too high, so that parents struggling with this issue and day jobs and all the things parents struggle with probably couldn’t afford it. So I wrote:

But as I type this, I realize they can probably do all that on their own.

So, never mind.

No, there’s no advantage to traditional publishing.

Yeah, even I get tripped up once in a while, thinking—hoping—wanting traditional publishing to have some benefit for writers.

There really isn’t any. And anyone who would do a modicum of research about the field they’re trying to enter would learn that pretty darn quick.

In fact, traditional publishing itself tells you that in a myriad of ways—and has since I got into this field forty years ago. The evergreen article just appeared in that company town rag, The New York Times, in April under the title, “What Snoop Dog’s Success Says About The Book Industry.”

The article had this little tidbit: “…about 98 percent of the books that publishers released in 2020 sold fewer than 5,000 copies.”

That would be new releases, not backlist.

But here’s the thing that the company town rag doesn’t tell you: For decades, the majority of new releases from traditional publishers sold fewer than 5,000. For decades.

The new figure in this little equation isn’t the 5,000 copies; it’s the 98 percent. If you combine that with the other statistics that came out about our pandemic year, you’ll see that this is up by maybe about a third. Bookstore sales, which are generally frontlist, were down 30% in 2020.

We don’t have the statistics on how many frontlist books felt the impact of the closed bookstores which is why I think that percentage is higher, but we do know this: trad pub doesn’t know how to market direct to consumer, nor do they know how to market to any place other than a bookstore. Their ebook prices are too high, so a lot of readers migrated to other new-to-them books, which included a lot of backlist.

But the backlist isn’t up as much as trad pub would want you to believe. Backlist sales were 69% of all book sales in 2020. In 2019, backlist sales were 63%. Yes, the pandemic accelerated the rise of the backlist, but not by as much as the trad pub editors are screaming about.

And yet, traditional publishers don’t put any money into their backlist. They make backlist books extremely hard to find. They take the paper books out of print.

In May, I got Nora Roberts’ new book, and in the Books By Nora Roberts section up front, it had this gem: “Ebooks by Nora Roberts.” Those ebooks were the titles she wrote for Harlequin back in the day. Apparently, some not-so-brilliant exec figured that Nora’s fans who hadn’t read those books were undeserving of a paper edition.

Yeah, that’s pretty damn dumb. But I’m not seeing much intelligence from traditional publishing these days.

. . . .

I get emails all the time from writers like her, writers who are happy to have an agent for the book they want to publish through traditional, writers who like telling me that my head is up my ass for not promoting traditional book publishing, and—last week—a writer who asked, sideways, if I would be his agent for traditional publishing because I “clearly know so much about the business.”

What are these writers doing?

Well, not thinking for one.

But there’s more to it than that. They’re terrified of going down a path that they see as mostly untested. Never mind that many writers have been making a living at publishing their own books for a decade now. One of those writers, Lindsay Buroker, mentioned on Twitter last month that she’s been freelance for ten years now and has published roughly 80 books.

In the same amount of time that this other writer wrote one entire novel—and made zero dollars on it.

Examples like Lindsay’s, though, seem to make no difference to writers like the one I mentioned, because that writer is operating out of fear.

The writer wants someone to take care of her, and she’s not alone. She doesn’t want to learn the business. Like that writer who wrote to me, she wants someone else to learn the business so that she can…what? Be famous? Because writing clearly isn’t her passion, or she wouldn’t have wasted all this time on one book.

. . . .

But writers who want to go into traditional publishing feel they need several things. They need a curator—an editor—to tell them what they’re doing right or wrong with their books. They need an agent to “defend them” and do the messy stuff like learning contracts and dealing with money. They need a marketer to buy ads in all those (non-existent) places that advertise books. They need someone to handle sales and bookstores and…

They’re just too scared to do any of it themselves.

And that’s a shame.

The fact that there are vestiges of the 1950s and 1960s versions of publishing, where some of that stuff actually did happen, still around makes it hard for these folks to step out of their comfort zones and learn how the business is actually done these days.

And if these writers manage to sell something to a traditional publisher—a big if, as you can see from that writer above—they will sign away their copyright for a 4-figure advance, and lose their chance to ever have a writing career outside of what has become a small and narrow niche of publishing.

That niche is small and narrow. Bookstat with its narrow little focus on the big players in the bookstore economy found that of the 2.6 million books sold online in 2020, only 268 of them sold more than 100,000 copies that year. (I added that year because remember, traditional only looks at recent sales, not cumulative sales).

One blogger wrote this after she found that statistic:

As an author, this is distressing. If I can spend two to three years writing a novel and my best case scenario is having it sell a couple hundred copies on Amazon, perhaps it’s time to face the music and realize that writing books—like knitting or playing the harp—is nothing more than a hobby. Something I can do for fun on the weekends but should never hope to earn a living from.

Yep. Distressing.

Note all the fear in that paragraph. Two to three years writing one novel. What the hell? What is she doing the rest of the time? Actually playing the harp? Because real writers write. They don’t have people look over their shoulder, go over every word, churn out a paragraph a day, and then have agents ask them to rewrite the book to make it presentable for some editor who is going to lose their job in a year or so anyway.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Senator Klobuchar Advocates Against Amazon, Other Monopolies

From Publishers Weekly:

Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar continued to make the case for stepping up antitrust actions yesterday, appearing in a webinar sponsored by the American Booksellers Association and Small Business Rising, a coalition of independent businesses advocating against monopolies.

Saying that “we can’t use duct tape and band aids anymore” in dealing with monopolies, Klobuchar noted that she and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) had cosponsored a bill, the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act, that will, among other things, provide $100 million to the Federal Trade Commission and the antitrust division of the Department of Justice to hire more lawyers to ensure enforcement of antitrust laws “to get the job done.”

Klobuchar said she hopes the bill will be approved by the full senate soon, since the government needs more tools in its arsenal to take on Amazon and other conglomerates. “This is all about cracking down on unfettered growth and abuse of market power,” she argued, advocating for a “reboot” of the antitrust movement in the U.S. by updating laws so as break the stranglehold of conglomerates upon the economy.

Klobuchar spoke of the negative impact of Amazon on the economy, describing it as “both a monopoly and a monopsony, because the people who sell things to Amazon don’t sell to anyone else and that is the definition of a monopsony.” She noted that “too much consolidation in concentrated markets” has a disproportionate negative impact upon “the minority community and small businesses within the minority community.”

It’s not just Amazon either, she pointed out, it’s also Facebook and Google and other Big Tech companies. Citing an email written by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in which he’d written, “We’d rather buy than compete,” Klobuchar noted, “You buy all your competitors up, you lose that competitive force” in the marketplace.

“We know the stakes are high, the facts are stark, and if we don’t act now, the curse of bigness that Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once warned about will continue to threaten American innovation,” she said. “As Justice Thurgood Marshall once said of our antitrust laws, they are as important to the preservation of our free enterprise system as the Bill of Rights is to the protection of our personal freedom.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG wonders if Sen. Klobuchar cares about what consumers, including those living in Iowa, think about Amazon.

The reason Amazon is so big is that ordinary Americans really, really, really like buying things from Amazon. Do they have a voice in the monopoly/monopsony discussion?

Of course, consumers don’t hire Washington lobbyists and, to the best of PG’s knowledge there is no wealthy Political Action Committee that has been created by consumers that provides large campaign donations to elected officials in Washington or elsewhere.

PG doesn’t like to see any small business have financial problems, but one of the great strengths of the US economy is that it is constantly changing in response to what customers would like to have.

PG has mentioned this before, but he really, really doesn’t want to have to walk into a physical bookstore to buy a book any more. It’s just so much nicer to get what he wants from Amazon. The books are easier to find on Zon and he doesn’t have to worry about whether the store will be open or not.

Additionally, PG won’t say that he is forever swearing off of physical books, but it has been at least a couple of years, probably more, since he has bought or read from a physical book other than a couple of reference works.

PG is very happy to not have to worry about Covid when he walks out of his house these days (unless you live in PG’s neighborhood, your experience might be different), but he has been much more anxious to go to enjoyable restaurants where he and Mrs. PG can have a good conversation than he is to resume shopping trips to any locations other than a couple of grocery stores and Costco (when he needs a pallet-load of Raisin Bran or socket wrenches or some such thing).

Perhaps PG and most others will revert entirely to pre-Covid patterns of behavior, but PG doubts it.

Write What You Know—But Not Exactly

From veteran author and teacher, Dave Farland

Yesterday I got an email from a former writing student who had dazzled me a couple of years ago. He worked as a shepherd in New Zealand, and so had no ability to network with a local writing group, but his writing skills were superb. To me, it seemed he had the sophisticated sensibilities of a Hollywood pro.

Yesterday he mentioned that he had just self-published his first book a few weeks ago. Sales are exploding. He’s got nearly a thousand reviews on Amazon already, and they’re nearly all five stars. His book is doing so well that he has now gone to writing full time. 

like that. I’m excited that he’s making his dream come true. The title of his book is fun:  Oh Great! I was Reincarnated as a Farmer: A LitRPG Adventure : (Unorthodox Farming: Book 1) by Benjamin Kerei. That sounds like him. Benjamin packs a bit of humor in his tales, along with a lot of adventure and a truly wild imagination.

But when you hit your first jackpot as a writer, there are some dangers to avoid. I often tell writers in this position, “You need two income streams.” 

Why? Because writing income can sometimes get blocked.

Let me explain. If you’re publishing traditionally, your writing stream might get blocked by a publisher. An editor may decide that she doesn’t like your next book, or the publisher goes bust. I’ve even seen publishers dawdle on signing new contracts apparently in order to force a writer to take a bad contract. 

Of course, the same kinds of things happen even when you are self-publishing. I’ve seen authors have their books pulled off of Amazon precisely because the book is doing too well! It looks so suspicious that the book police pull the title until they can figure out how the author has gamed their system. In fact, I’ve had books pulled on a couple of occasions. And sometimes, with a writer as good as Benjamin Kerei, it really might look fishy.

So I recommend that the author have a second income stream. This might be outside money—a spouse who works, or an investment portfolio. But it could include a hefty savings account meant to get an author through hard times.

And there often come hard times. Authors can lose time due to medical issues—either his or her own, or a family member’s. I’ve seen authors stop writing for up to three years as they grieve the loss of a loved one. Sometimes a writer can get writer’s block due to stress, depression, anxiety, brain fog, or just because a new novel is harder to write because it breaks some molds.

So a writer needs multiple income streams.

There’s one piece of advice that we hear over and over as writers: “Don’t quit your day job!” 

But day jobs might not pay very much. 

So I often tell writers, if you really want to write full time, get a second stream. For example, dabble with a different genre, perhaps with a whole new identity! (Sometimes, a writers’ name can turn bad, as happened with two writers named Timothy McVeigh. One serial killer can put a stain on your entire literary persona.)

So as a hot new writer, you need to nurture a second income stream, either by making money outside the writing field, by amassing enough in savings so that you can support yourself for a couple of years, by writing under more than one name, or writing in two separate series at the same time. 

That way, if one career path becomes blocked, you can still support yourself and your family!

Link to the rest at David Farland’s Writing Tips

Chasing the Thrill

From The Wall Street Journal:

Begin it where warm waters halt / And take it in the canyon down, / Not far, but too far to walk. / Put in below the home of Brown.

From there it’s no place for the meek, / The end is ever drawing nigh; / There’ll be no paddle up your creek, / Just heavy loads and water high.

Have you ever heard of the Lost Dutchman Mine and the Beale Cipher? How about the Oak Island Money Pit? Or the artist Kit Williams’s “Masquerade” (aka the Quest for the Golden Hare) and the magician David Blaine’s “The Mysterious Stranger” (aka the Search for the Golden Orb)? I hadn’t either. But now I know all about treasure hunts and those who plan them—especially one eccentric denizen of the American Southwest, whose self-published memoir of 2010 contains the near-incomprehensible verse-clues quoted above.

Reading Daniel Barbarisi’s “Chasing the Thrill: Obsession, Death, and Glory in America’s Most Extraordinary Treasure Hunt” might feel a bit like watching a Discovery Channel documentary, but the book is quite a yarn. In fact, it’s an exhaustive account of one of the oddest episodes in the crowded annals of bizarro Americana.

The impresario of “Chasing the Thrill” is Forrest Fenn, a former Vietnam War fighter pilot who made a fortune peddling Native-American artifacts and other works in arty Santa Fe, N.M. As we learn from Mr. Barbarisi, a former Wall Street Journal sportswriter and the author of an earlier book on fantasy-sports gambling, Fenn, at age 80, got the notion to hide a treasure chest in the rough country north of Santa Fe. He then printed a slim autobiography called “The Thrill of the Chase,” whose final chapter released his poetic arrows into the public imagination—verses containing nine gnomic pointers to the whereabouts of the trove of 265 gold coins, dozens of gold nuggets, plastic baggies of gold dust, a block of $1,000 bills, plus rare Mayan relics, Chinese jade and more. The 42-pound cache—secreted in a smallish 12th-century Italian lock box—was valued at up to $2 million.

Word of the Fenn lode predictably set off a gold rush of tens of thousands of ambitious, greedy and often deeply disturbed “clue solvers” who spent the next decade busting their brains and pondering maps, draining their bank accounts and risking their lives. They scoured “The Thrill of the Chase,” followed Fenn’s frequent interviews, watched and re-watched a 2013 “Today” segment he’d done, besieged his Santa Fe compound, corresponded by email, and followed a bunch of Fenn-obsessed blogs and YouTube channels. Then they traipsed through northern New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and southern Montana, certain that the Fenn treasure—like the mythical Land of Prester John in the Middle Ages—was just over the horizon.

The author spent years commuting from his home, job and family in Boston to the Southwest. He immersed himself in the Fenn hunters’ subculture, and pursued a number of failed solves with his wingman, Jay Raynor, a Canadian fantasy-sports wizard and crypto-currency trader. He then cozied up close to the magus, trying to get to the bottom of what motivated Fenn to launch his quest. Was he chasing a kind of pop immortality for himself? Or was he more a sadistic puppet master, savoring the spectacle of addicted hunters abasing themselves to win his favor in hopes of priceless hints to the solution? Or was he, as one cynical solver had it, simply a “media whore” hooked on attention. In any case, he writes, “Fenn had managed to mythologize his own past.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG has spent significant portions of his life living in dry and sparsely-populated parts of the United States. He will say that the open desert can be very beautiful, but will also acknowledge that it can attract some individuals who are a bit off and move farther in the off direction the more time they spend alone in the desert.

Catch Those Repetitious Redundancies and Pleonasms

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

Hello there. How are you today? Are you ready to test out your redundancy eye?

You might ask, “Why should I care about redundancies?”

Before we begin, I’ll answer that question.

Redundancies are superfluous words or phrases also known as pleonasms: the use of more words than are necessary to express an idea.

Pleonasm is an unfamiliar term to some people, which is why I and other writers often refer to unnecessary words as redundancies.

Rather than augment writing, these extra words slow down action scenes and increase word count — without adding helpful details.

Did you notice the strikeouts in the previous paragraphs? Each strikeout represents a redundancy. If I were intentionally bloating this post, I might leave them in. However, they’re just useless padding.

Oh, wait. I guess I did leave them in, and that means they still count as words. Oops, sorry, Anne, I needed them to illustrate my point.

A Few Words About the Quiz

Below you’ll find fourteen sentences that contain redundancies, and fourteen suggested solutions. They’re revised examples from books, news, social media, television shows, and conversations.

Scrutinize the examples and try to find the pleonasms. Will you score 100%?

Welcome to the Promenade of Useless Redundancies

  1. The village was home to a community of people with many diverse talents.
  2. The thick clouds entirely obliterated the sun and darkened the sky.
  3. If the pump doesn’t perform as expected, you’ll be eligible for a full refund of the money that you paid for it.
  4. They couldn’t have been more different. They were total polar opposites.
  5. A hunter picked up the lion’s scent spoor and tracks fortuitously by accident.
  6. The writer tried various different phrases, but none of them seemed to fit the context.
  7. The most quintessential obsession of Pauline’s existence was the consumption of coffee, coffee, COFFEE.
  8. The new scanner reads UPC codes much faster than the old one.
  9. The toddler threw a noisy temper tantrum when his mother took away the toy.
  10. They had reached a critical juncture — which of the options should they choose?
  11. They didn’t have the same resources now that they used to have before.
  12. Just to be on the safe side, Bryan decided to cram a medical kit into his bulging knapsack.
  13. We need more information about exactly what that means.
  14. The both of them knew that they were in for a severe trouncing.

Suggested Edits

Edit #1:

The village was home to a community of people with many diverse talents.

community: a group of people who live in the same place or share particular characteristics

diverse: many different types of people or things

Note how the definitions embrace the meanings of the deleted words.

Alternative edit: The village was home to many people with diverse talents.

Choose the connotation that matches your storyline.

Edit #2:

The thick clouds entirely obliterated the sun and darkened the sky.

obliterate: make invisible by obscuring

If something is invisible, can it be partially invisible? If not, we don’t need to mention that it’s entirely invisible.

When readers visualize the sun obliterated by thick clouds, they’ll imagine a dark sky. We don’t need to mention the darkness.

Other phrases to beware:

  • entirely by chance
  • entirely decimated
  • entirely inappropriate
  • entirely natural
  • entirely surrounded
  • entirely [fill in the blank]

Whenever you encounter entirely or one of its synonyms, question its necessity.

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