Don’t Do Business with Incompetents

Over many years of practicing law at a very retail level (unlike what he does today), PG developed a couple of aphorisms for his own law business and has since concluded they apply on a broader scale:

  1. Don’t do business with crazy people.
  2. Don’t do business with crooks (unless you practice criminal law and get paid in full up front).

In a small-town law practice, all sorts of people walk in through the door. PG always hired the smartest secretaries/paralegals he could find and paid the good ones more than they could earn anywhere else in the local economy so they would stick around. These wonderful women spared PG a great many encounters with crazy people. (PG wasn’t biased against men, but none ever applied.)

Once in awhile, a crazy person would slip by PG’s sharp watchdogs, however. (A lawyer friend once told him, “The problem with fools is that they can be so ingenious.” Ditto for crazy people.)

On a couple of occasions, a crazy person who slipped by the support staff also eluded PG’s crazy person screen. On a couple of other occasions, the Legal Aid office asked PG to help a poor unfortunate crazy person and PG agreed, sight unseen.

(Legal Aid is a generic name for a variety of organizations in the United States that help provide legal assistance for those who need it and can’t afford an attorney. In many cases, Legal Aid staff attorneys are able to provide the needed help. For other cases, staff attorneys don’t have the necessary expertise or aren’t able to solve the problem for other reasons and practicing attorneys are asked to help, either for no fee or for a fee that Legal Aid pays that is much lower than the attorney would ordinarily charge. Legal Aid organizations generally limit their services to civil matters while Public Defenders, paid by the local, state or federal government, represent criminal defendants who are indigent and unable to afford private counsel.)

While crazy clients make for some colorful war stories that lawyers swap at bar association dinners, they are apt to consume an enormous amount of time and effort on the part of counsel and staff and generally disrupt what is already a very busy business environment. (One crazy client of PG decided she would occupy PG’s waiting room until he agreed to speak with her at length for the thousandth time about what a terrible person her estranged husband was, a topic that wasn’t relevant to the division of marital property under state law. After efforts to persuade her to depart failed, the local police were called and the client screamed, “Rape!” over and over again as she was forcibly removed from PG’s office.)

This long, long prelude to PG’s equivalent advice to authors is over.

For authors:

  1. Don’t do business with a crooked publisher.
  2. Don’t sign long-term publishing agreements with a small-time publisher, regardless of how pleasant he or she is, that will tie up your books for a long, long time unless you don’t really care much about your book or receiving many royalties from its sales.
  3. Don’t do business with an incompetent publisher, regardless of how well-meaning the publisher may seem.

PG will speak briefly [correction – not very briefly at all] about incompetent publishers, based upon a recent encounter about which he cannot divulge details because of obligations of confidentiality to a client.

To the best of PG’s knowledge, there is no law or regulation in the United States that places any limitation on whoever can call themselves a publisher. An individual who has spent her entire adult life as a plumber can retire from plumbing one day and open Plumber’s Publishing the next morning.

There are a surprising number of people who do something like PG’s plumbing hypothetical in the United States. Sometimes a printer or someone who has been in the printing business will decide to become a publisher. Sometimes, the owner of a successful bookstore expands into publishing. Both these people know may be an expert on an aspect of the book business, but that doesn’t make them knowledgeable enough to become a reliable publisher.

While PG takes religion in general and his personal religious beliefs in particular seriously, he doesn’t hesitate to say that more than a few religious publishers fall into this don’t-know-much-about-publishing basket.

One of the common practices of incompetent publishers is to take a copy of a publishing agreement from another incompetent publisher, change the name of the publisher to Plumber’s Publishing, and call it their own.

Then, just like the incompetent publisher before them, Plumber’s Publishing starts rewriting this and adding that.

In the end, an unwitting author is presented with the 15th generation of a publishing agreement that may not have been particularly well-written by the original creator, lawyer or not, and certainly has not been improved by the tweaks and the tweaks-of-tweaks that it has undergone since then.

An unwitting author may believe that a legal document with Plumber’s Publishing Publishing Contract at the top is an official and reliable publishing agreement, especially when Jane Plumber says, “This is our standard publishing contract.”

What reasonable person would question a “Standard Contract” fresh off a cheap inkjet printer?

If an author is smart enough to organize and write a decent book, that author likely possesses a higher level of general intelligence than Jane Plumber does.

PG has seen enough publishing contracts to assure one and all that there is no “Standard Publishing Contract.”

A Random House imprint has a Standard Contract that is regularly modified by savvy lawyers or agents working with an author.

A Simon & Schuster imprint has a Standard Contract that is not the same as a Random House Standard Contract. Simon & Schuster’s Standard Contracts are regularly modified by savvy lawyers or agents working with an author.

As PG has said on more than one previous occasion, if you sign a bad rental contract for an apartment, it may cost you some money, but it won’t last forever. If you sign a bad purchase agreement to buy an automobile, it may cost you some money, but it won’t last forever.

Most unfortunately, a bad publishing contract and 99% of “Standard Publishing Contracts” will last forever, absent expensive legal interventions after the contract is signed.

This is because, in dull legalese, most book publishing contracts give the publisher the exclusive right to publish the book “for the full term of the copyright” or something similar.

Under current US copyright law, “the full term of the copyright” is the rest of the author’s life plus 70 additional years. Copyrights last for similar periods of time in other major Western nations.

Everyone currently working for the publisher will almost certainly be dead long before the “Standard Publishing Contract” expires. The current owners of the publisher will almost certainly be dead before the contract expires.

Anyone working for the publisher can quit and go to work somewhere else, taking their accumulated talents and abilities with them.

But the author can’t “quit” the “Standard Publishing Contract”.

The best book the author has ever written or will ever write will always be published by Plumbers Publishing unless someone persuades whoever owns Plumbers Publishing to give up its rights to the author or the author’s heirs. This persuasion will almost certainly involve money paid to Plumbers Publishing or to expensive lawyers who sue Plumbers Publishing on behalf of the author or the author’s heirs.

What We Aren’t Seeing

THE UNICORN RESTS IN THE GARDEN, FROM THE HUNT FOR THE UNICORN TAPESTRIES, 1495–1505

From The Paris Review:

How appropriate that a museum show devoted to the unicorn—a mythical animal whose name has come to mean something so rare and elusive that it might or might not exist—should have failed to materialize. “A Blessing of Unicorns” was slated to bring the fifteenth-century unicorn tapestries from the Musée de Cluny in Paris together with their counterparts in the Cloisters at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, as part of a celebration honoring the Met’s one-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary. Scheduled for 2020, the show was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. An exhibit of medieval art fell victim to plague, that most medieval of dangers.

The Met’s beautifully illustrated Summer 2020 bulletin, A Blessing of Unicorns: The Paris and Cloisters Tapestries, not only shows us what we missed but may make us rethink our view of unicorns—a subject that, to be honest, hadn’t crossed my mind in years. I used to think about unicorns a lot. In fact I lived with one, you could say: a reproduction of The Unicorn Rests in a Garden hung in my childhood bedroom. I used to stare at the dark fields so thickly covered with impossibly perfect flowers, and at the unicorn in its small round enclosure, so sweet, so melancholy, so lonely—so like the spirit of a preteen girl infused into the body of a white horse with a single corkscrew horn.

It came as something of a shock to see it again, as I looked through the Met minicatalogue and read the lucid informative essay by Barbara Drake Boehm, the senior curator at the Cloisters. And as I read, I saw something in the image I had never seen before. How could I not have noticed that the unicorn’s hide is streaked with blood, that thin rivulets of crimson trickle down the smooth white flesh as it rests so patiently in its circular enclosure? Some scholars have argued that the red streaks are pomegranate juice, the symbol of fertility, but it looks like blood to me, and it seems unlikely that the dog nibbling the unicorn’s back in The Unicorn Surrenders to a Maiden is dribbling red fruit nectar.

What would I have thought, as a child, if I’d known that this delicate, graceful creature was an animal to be hunted, like one of the endangered-species safari trophies.

. . . .

And what would I have concluded if I’d been told that this slaughter could not be accomplished without the willing assistance of an agreeable virgin?

Apparently, the unicorn was not only swift but strong, capable of killing an elephant with its horn. The hunters could not get near it on their own. That was why you needed the virgin. The unicorn liked to lay its head in a virgin’s lap, and, while it was distracted, the hunters closed in. The virgin was bait. In case the implications escape us and we miss the ramifications—the preciousness of female purity and the relative contamination of female sexuality—here is Richard de Fournival, the thirteenth-century chancellor of the Cathedral of Amiens and author of The Bestiary of Love:

I was captured also by smell … like the Unicorn which falls asleep in the sweet smell of maidenhood … no one dares to attack or ambush it except a young virgin. For when the unicorn senses a virgin by her smell, it kneels in front of her and gently humbles itself to be of service. Consequently, the clever hunters who know its nature place a maiden in its path, and it falls asleep in her lap. And then, when it is asleep the hunters, who have not the courage to pursue it while awake, come out and kill it.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Not much to do with books and writing, but PG had not considered unicorns for some time and the parts of the OP that weren’t political were satisfying to him.

Liu Cixin Writes Science Fiction Epics That Transcend the Moment

From The Wall Street Journal:

Science fiction can be hard to disentangle from the real world. Futuristic tales about advanced technology and clashing alien civilizations often read like allegories of present-day problems. It is tempting, then, to find some kind of political message in the novels of Liu Cixin, 57, China’s most famous science fiction writer, whose speculative and often apocalyptic work has earned the praise of Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg. The historian Niall Ferguson recently said that reading Mr. Liu’s fiction is essential for understanding “how China views America and the world today.”

But Mr. Liu insists that this is “the biggest misinterpretation of my work.” Speaking through an interpreter over Skype from his home in Shanxi Province, he says that his books, which have been translated into more than 20 languages, shouldn’t be read as commentaries on China’s history or aspirations. In his books, he maintains, “aliens are aliens, space is space.” Although he has acknowledged, in an author’s note to one of his books, that “every era puts invisible shackles on those who have lived through it,” he says that he writes science fiction because he enjoys imagining a world beyond the “narrow” one we live in. “For me, the essence of science fiction is using my imagination to fill in the gaps of my dreams,” says Mr. Liu.

In China, science fiction has often been inseparable from ideology. A century ago, early efforts in the genre were conspicuously nationalistic: “Elites used it as a way of expressing their hopes for a stronger China,” says Mr. Liu. But the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution banned science fiction as subversive, and critics in the 1980s argued that it promoted capitalist ideas. “After that, science fiction was discouraged,” Mr. Liu remembers.

In recent years, however, the genre has been making a comeback. This is partly because China’s breakneck pace of modernization “makes people more future-oriented,” Mr. Liu says. But the country’s science fiction revival also has quite a lot to do with Mr. Liu himself.

In 2015, he became the first Asian writer to win the Hugo Award, the most prestigious international science fiction prize. A 2019 adaptation of his short story “The Wandering Earth” became China’s third-highest-grossing film of all time, and a movie version of his bestselling novel “The Three-Body Problem” is in the works. His new book, “To Hold Up the Sky,” a collection of stories, will be published in the U.S. in October. (His American books render his name as Cixin Liu, with the family name last, but Chinese convention is to put the family name first.)

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

Macmillan: Don Weisberg To Succeed John Sargent as CEO

From Publishing Perspectives:

Many in world publishing are surprised this morning (September 17) as a series of top roles at Big Five publisher Macmillan undergo fast change.

Holtzbrinck in Stuttgart has announced “with great regret” that John Sargent will depart both Macmillan and the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group as of January 1.

The reason for Sargent’s departure is described by the German corporation’s statement as “disagreements regarding the direction of Macmillan.”

Don Weisberg, who currently is president of Macmillan US trade, has been named to succeed Sargent. And Susan Winslow, until now the company’s general manager, becomes president of Macmillan Learning, effective immediately.

In a prepared statement, Holtzbrinck Publishing Group CEO Stefan von Holtzbrinck says, “The family shareholders, the supervisory board, my colleagues and I thank John Sargent deeply for making Macmillan a strong and highly successful publishing house and for his most helpful advice.

“John’s principles and exemplary leadership have always been grounded in worthy, essential causes, be it freedom of  speech, the environment, or support for the most vulnerable. Since Holtzbrinck shares these ideals, they will live on.”

. . . .

To many following issues of diversity and equity in publishing, Susan Winslow’s promotion to president of Macmillan Learning is of special interest. The new role makes her one of only a small number of women who lead educational publishing and ed-tech companies.

She has been general manager of the division for three years and has more than three decades of experience in educational publishing across the business.

. . . .

It’s impossible to know from the Holtzbrinck announcement today what “disagreements regarding the direction of Macmillan” means. It’s not clear that that line or Sargent’s impending departure can be seen as related to that quite radical management-model adjustment of the summer.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG does not (of course) have any insights into the inner workings of Macmillan or any other large US traditional publisher. To be fair, PG has not attempted to penetrate the cone of silence that surrounds most of what happens in large publishers, but expects he would be firmly rebuffed should he ever attempt to do so.

However, it is not unusual for respected and competent leaders of organizations owned by large international media conglomerates like Holtzbrinck for not making their numbers (that is, the revenue and profit numbers demanded by the real bosses). With these folks, it’s all about the Benjamins (einhundert Euro or eine Million Euro). Achieve your targets and, absent criminal charges, you’re gold. Miss and you’re geschichte.

Nur die Harten kommen in den Garten.

Samuel L. Jackson – celebrity voice for Alexa

Not really to do with books, but definitely related to Amazon.

From Amazon:

We heard you loud and clear! Samuel L. Jackson celebrity voice just got easier to use. Now you can simply say “Hey Samuel” to ask for jokes, weather, and more. To get started, just say, “Alexa, introduce me to Samuel L. Jackson” and choose the “Hey Samuel” wake word. You will still be able to use Alexa’s default voice just as you do now. Check below to see if your device works with “Hey Samuel”.

Already have Samuel L. Jackson celebrity voice? You can set up “Hey Samuel” by saying “Alexa, enable ‘Hey Samuel’”.

GET STARTED WITH SAMUEL – Samuel L. Jackson is here to add extra personality to your Alexa experience. Just ask and Samuel will set a timer, tell you a story, and more.

KEEP IT CLEAN, OR DON’T – Choose whether you’d like Samuel to use explicit language or not. If you change your mind later, simply go to the settings menu of the Alexa app to turn explicit content on or off.

ASK AWAY – After purchasing, try saying:

“Hey Samuel, what’s the weather?”
“Hey Samuel, tell me a joke.”
“Hey Samuel, set an alarm for 7am.”
“Hey Samuel, tell me a story.”
“Hey Samuel, what can you do?”
“Alexa, ask Samuel to give me advice.”
“Alexa, ask Samuel what he thinks of snakes.”

Link to the rest at Amazon

The Off-Kilter History of British Cuisine

Nothing to do with books, but PG had never heard of Fanny Cradock before.

From The Paris Review:

On the evening of November 11, 1976, the BBC broadcast the third episode of The Big Time, which followed members of the public as they tested themselves in high-pressure situations. It was what we’d term today a reality TV-style show, and that week was the turn of Mrs. Gwen Troake, a middle-aged woman from rural Devon in southwest England, who was being given the chance to design and cook a special banquet at the world-famous Dorchester Hotel in London. Troake, an amiable, soft-spoken lady any audience would root for, was assigned the most demanding mentor the production team could muster: Fanny Cradock, an extraordinary character who was the face and voice of cooking on British television  from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, and was once described by one national newspaper as “a preposterous character, the foodie you loved to loathe.”

Cradock built an entertainment brand on her putative brilliance in the kitchen, but also her superciliousness, hectoring her husband, mistreating her colleagues, and patronizing her audience, the great British public, whom she regarded to be gastronomic philistines. Evidently, this included Gwen Troake, the amateur cook on The Big Time. As Troake ran through what she was planning to serve at the banquet—a seafood cocktail, followed by duck, and rounded off with a rum and coffee cream pudding—Cradock rolled her eyes, gulped, and grimaced in a pantomime of disgust and disbelief at the overbearing richness of the menu, at one point blowing her cheeks out as though she were about to be physically sick. When Troake revealed that the duck would be served with a blackberry jam, Cradock could stomach no more and unleashed what she thought was the ultimate insult. “All these jams,” she said, “they are so English.”  Despite being stereotypically English in so many ways, in her mind the only really good English—or, indeed, British—food was really just French food by a different name. “The English have never had a cuisine. There’s nothing English. Yorkshire pudding came from Burgundy.”

She was probably wrong about Yorkshire pudding, but she definitely had a point, both about the heaviness of Troake’s menu, and the sorry state of her nation’s cuisine. In the postwar decades of Cradock’s great success, amidst heated debates about what it meant to be British in a post-imperial world, British food was an international laughingstockIt was fitting, then, that Cradock herself seemed to be in a perpetual identity crisis. Her personality was as peculiar as many of her famous recipes, and nobody was quite sure which of the stories she told about herself were true, and whether, despite her constant talk of refined French food, she was half as accomplished in the kitchen as she claimed to be. In the words of somebody who knew her well, “She wasn’t real … she didn’t know who she was. She made herself up as she went along.”

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Why Your Book Matters

From Writers in the Storm:

When we publish a book, we want it to be read. Obviously. But what else do we want?

At the most obvious level, we want our book to be bought, liked, shared, and reviewed. We want to see it on lists; we want lots of reviews (and stars) on Goodreads and Amazon. But we want something else, too—that connection with specific human beings who have been touched and changed by what we wrote.

When I published Queen of the Owls, I wanted all of those things—and I got a lot of them. The book earned awards, made it onto several “best of” lists. And yet, the most important results are things I never could have foreseen.

I’d like to share two of these “results” with you today. One has to do with a wonderful and unexpected connection with a photographer whose work took the experience of my fictitious protagonist to a whole new level. The other has to do with how Queen of the Owls saved someone’s life. Literally.

The first experience came from photographer Angelika Buettner, who saw my article in Ms. Magazine entitled Naked: Being Seen is Terrifying but Liberating .  In the article, I personalized a central theme of the novel, which is about the power of “choosing to be seen”— the deep longing to reveal and embrace one’s whole self. 

The article attracted Angelika’s attention because she had recently published a book called I Am: Celebrating the Perfect Imperfect

Through a gallery of 121 nude photos and testimonials that reveal the “inner and outer beauty” of women ages 40 to 99, Angelika’s goal is to empower women (and girls) by portraying the “aging and ageless” beauty of our perfectly-imperfect selves. As she told me in our first conversation: “I invited women to wear nothing but what they are feeling inside. Those women stepped out of their comfort zone and gave me the permission to portray their naked souls. I photographed a feeling they had lost—of loving oneself.”

When Angelika saw the article in Ms. Magazine, she immediately reached out to me, and from there to my novel. She read Queen of the Owls nonstop because, to her, it was exactly what she had been trying to convey in her portraits. “The protagonist is expressing the feeling my ladies have, and she finds why it so important to be seen, the real me, by myself. In the end those images are for ourselves.” We discovered that we were offering the same message—for me, through story; for her, through photographs.

From there, a collaboration began. We’ve been meeting on Zoom to talk about ways to work together, joined by a third woman, Lilianne Milgrom, a painter-turned-novelist whose work also addresses the theme of female embodiment. Our dream is a cross-disciplinary presentation about the female body in painting, photography, and story. A shared message, delivered more powerfully through complementary channels.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

A reminder that PG doesn’t necessarily agree with everything he posts on TPV.

While he is generally tolerant of a wide variety of human behaviors, PG can’t envision himself as a photographic subject unless he is fully-clothed, the more fully, the better.

His personal opinion is that, particularly at his current stage in life and having added a Covid bulge in the last several months, PG wouldn’t feel the least liberated by photos of his aging and ageless, perfect-imperfect self existing, much less circulating among the general population or any subset thereof.

But PG understands that others may disagree (not about PG’s body in particular – there can be no rational disagreement about that – but naked bodies in general).

Who let the dons out?

From The Critic:

Contrary to what you sometimes read in the newspapers, the media don has been going strong for upwards of 120 years. When English Literature started professionalising itself at the end of the nineteenth century and universities needed to fill their newly-created English departments, they tended to recruit from journalism.

That first wave of English professors consequently deposited such all-round pundits as John Churton Collins (Birmingham) and George Saintsbury (Edinburgh) on the lecture-room podium — all erstwhile hacks who, whatever the glamour of their academic gigs, could never quite abandon the trade that had brought them preferment.

Come the 1960s, as both universities and media doubled in volume, this wave turned into a torrent. Malcolm Bradbury (UEA), David Lodge (Birmingham again), the sociologist Laurie Taylor (often thought to be the original of Howard Kirk in Bradbury’s The History Man) each contrived to build a highly lucrative bridge between academe, the public prints, and the Today programme.

All of a sudden, the don could have it both ways — file that learned 5,000 words for Essays in Criticism and review for the Observer, publish a book with a title such as Foucault and the Structuralist Hegemony and judge the Booker Prize. Bliss it was to be alive in that cross-cultural dawn.

Half-a-century later, alas, the laudable aim of encouraging brainy specialists to share their knowledge with the world at large has turned into a complete disaster. Why is the presence of an academic on a book prize judging panel, fronting a BBC Four arts documentary or even reviewing for a national newspaper generally such an embarrassment? One reason, alas, is that fatal assumption of omnicompetence — the idea that talent translates from discipline to discipline which finds the titans of academe being employed to carry out tasks for which they may not actually be qualified. Mary Beard is a Classics professor. Why should she end up on poetry symposia or presenting arts docs about painting?

Another reason is the sheer inability of most academics to step down from the Parnassus of their specialist subject and engage with non-specialist hoi-polloi. This failing is particularly evident in the bread-and-butter world of book reviewing.

. . . .

As for mother Carey’s chickens, all avidly disporting themselves in the Times Literary Supplement, the Literary Review, the London Review of Books and countless other organs, their main limitation is that they possess all the book reviewer’s traditional faults, only more so. Item one on a pretty considerable list is score-settling (see Terry Eagleton’s decades-long spat with A.C. Grayling, or the multiple vendettas annually conducted by Craig Raine).

Item two, as immemorially practised in the LRB, is simply to use that new volume of essays about Harold Wilson as an excuse to drone on about your own opinion of the postwar Labour Party while barely mentioning the book that started you off.

Readers often complain about book-page glad-handing. No one, it might be said, glad-hands like an academic.

Link to the rest at The Critic and thanks to C. for the tip

Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins Announce Diversity Roles

From Publishing Perspectives:

Within an hour of each other today (September 15), two Big Five publishers in New York City have announced newly created diversity-focused directorial positions.

At Simon & Schuster, president and CEO Jonathan Karp has issued a memo to the workforce, introducing Amanda Armstrong-Frank in the role of director of workplace culture and diversity initiatives.

And at HarperCollins, senior vice-president in human resources Diane Bailey has named Gisselda Nuñez to the role of vice-president for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Both companies, of course, carry major influence on the international stage.

And both appointments are being made amid intensifying international focus on how publishing’s output–and its companies’ employees and leadership–can better reflect the complex and deeply multicultural nature of contemporary society and the consumer base.

. . . .

In her new role, Karp writes to Simon & Schuster’s staff, Armstrong-Frank is to report both to him and to Marva Smalls, the executive vice-president and global head of inclusion for S&S’ parent corporation ViacomCBS.

Armstrong-Frank, he writes, “will have the benefit of direct access to the many resources of the office of global inclusion under Marva, bringing to Simon & Schuster a wealth of perspective and expertise to combine with her own deep understanding of Simon & Schuster’s employees, our culture, and challenges particular to the publishing industry.

“Amanda will be an agent for change,” Karp writes, “who will advise, advocate, and act to improve workplace culture, including diverse representation at all levels. She will partner with me in helping to facilitate conversations and access to senior management, building targeted development programming and expanding management participation in our extensive recruitment outreach to pools of BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] talent.”

Armstrong-Frank’s brief includes developing with human resources “much-anticipated diversity and inclusion training” for “all Simon & Schuster employees annually,” Karp writes, “and as part of new-hire onboarding to support a culture of awareness, inclusion, and psychological safety from Day One.

“Of course,” he writes, Armstrong-Frank “will ensure that our very active diversity council continues to play an important role in the life of the company by encouraging the engagement of BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other employees from diverse backgrounds, and by drawing the attention of senior management to critical issues of concern.”

Armstrong-Frank’s background includes service on the publisher’s diversity council since 2005, management of the company’s “associates program,” which Karp calls “an important pipeline of diverse talent, and mentoring. She has been with the company since joining sales in 1994 and has worked in managerial roles in business operations, customer programs, and advertising.

“She has long been a reliable sounding board,” Karp writes, “and in recent months has generously shared her insights and wise counsel, helping us gain valuable perspective and envision a better way forward for Simon & Schuster, with a workplace culture befitting our place as an industry leader.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG wonders if S&S included an adequate number of buzzwords in its announcement or whether Ms. Armstrong-Frank should have been consulted to make certain there were enough.

Perhaps he missed it, but PG didn’t notice anything in the OP that suggested these changes were going to provide copious benefits to authors.

Can Tech Ever be Good?

From Public Books:

Having thrown privacy and consumer protection overboard long ago, Google, in 2018, officially removed its best-loved maxim, “Don’t be evil,” from its code of conduct. Arguably, the company could no longer ignore the contradiction between self-declared ethics and the relentless pursuit of profit. (In only the final quarter of 2019, Google booked $46 billion in advertising dollars and third-party sales of user data.) And Google is not alone.

Recently, Slate published a list of the 30 most “evil” tech companies. Noting that these companies produced “ills that outweigh conveniences,” Slate’s list flayed the tech giants. This article—alongside recent books like Rana Foroohar’s Don’t Be Evil and Lucie Greene’s Silicon States—illustrates that the very existence of companies like Uber, 23andMe, and Airbnb relies on the exploitation of users and workers. And then there’s the rampant sexism and racism across what Emily Chang calls tech’s “brotopia.” Goodbye, tech exceptionalism; hello, “techlash.”

Skewering Google with its own maxim, Foroohar points out in Don’t Be Evil that Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google (the FAANGs), as well as Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent (the BATs), don’t even innovate anymore, nor do they generate new jobs. Such justifications might have lent their profit seeking and mistreatment some social value. Instead, the BATs and FAANGs of Big Tech mostly focus on keeping people online as much as possible and monetizing their attention.

Perhaps more importantly, as Lucie Greene shows in Silicon States, the amount of money funneling between San Francisco and Washington has correspondingly increased. The top three Big Tech companies each spent around $15 million on lobbying in 2019 (to compare: Boeing spent only $13 million). No wonder a countermovement—the tech backlash—seems to grow bigger and bigger.

Tech—even though its pace of innovation and job creation has rapidly slowed down, even as it exploits people and grabs attention—is very much in power. So, clearly, tech cannot purely be seen as a force for good. At least, not anymore. But could tech still be bent toward better purposes? And if so, how?

Tech’s profits are not purely based on selling its often world-changing products and services; they are also a result of the industry’s lax morality and its political might. Like Google’s abandoned motto, this, too, is a contradiction: Big Tech leans on libertarianism, even as it built monopolies and spends immense sums on lobbying politicians and administrators. Since the Obama administrations, Silicon Valley and Capitol Hill have spun the revolving door at a furious clip.

Critics like Foroohar and Greene, along with labor and social activists and academics, have disrupted tech’s status quo—the “don’t be evil” persona, the exchange between tech companies and lawmakers—by forcing tech abuses into the national conversation. This criticism has focused on Big Tech and its involvement in politics; what hasn’t yet been discussed in depth is the role of venture-capital investors.

Link to the rest at Public Books

PG was about to go on a rant, but, uncharacteristically, he is going to restrain himself.

Three comments:

  • Anything that “labor and social activists and academics” don’t like can’t be all bad.
  • Amazon just announced it would be hiring 100,000 new workers.
  • Unlike labor unions, together with local, state and federal governments, anyone can choose not to be involved with Facebook, Google or Amazon.

Even Your Memoir Is Not All About You

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

Refrain from the use of “I.”

That writing advice may seem hypocritical coming from the author of two memoirs and a new book of personal essays, but even in the most intimate episodes of baring your soul in your writing, readers do not need the constant reminder that it is you writing about yourself.

They are actually trying to be sure it is about themselves.

Because you are writing about your life with your byline, readers assume that you are the narrator, conjuring up each scene, section of dialogue and description. So literally writing, “I saw,” “she said to me,” “I said,” or “I remembered,” becomes as tedious a reminder of your presence as the person who has cornered you with their opinions about what is wrong with the media.

Your presence is implied. Of course, you have to write “I” every now and then for clarity, but repeatedly starting sentences or paragraphs with your pronoun declaration is unnecessary.

. . . .

Writing first person commentary, memoirs and essays for love and money, my work pays the mortgage and the gas bill, occasional trips to Whole Foods for the blackened chicken salad that is about $30 for a container, and shoes on sale at DSW. In four decades of writing I have learned a few things about why my work matters not just to me, but to others.

You may think your writing personal stories it is all about you, but it is about the reader as well. That is why there is a tired cliché, “The personal is universal.”

Zora Neale Hurston said, “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.”

So many of us are living confined lives of working from home, sheltering in place, eliminating trips to museums, coffee shops, bars, favorite restaurants, beaches, even family parties and trips with friends. Our worlds have shrunk and save the mandatory zoom calls for work conferences and webinars, there may be a station wagon full of people you encounter in real life. But our words are larger than our lives.

. . . .

Make sure what you are writing is not simply a chronological regurgitation of events. Brushing your teeth is not so interesting a topic. Unless from that prompt, you begin writing about the woodsy smell of bourbon on your uncle’s breath, or the first grade teacher whose teeth were the color of sand. Begin with your memory and expand into a kaleidoscope of imagery and memories tied back to the simple task of brushing your teeth as a metaphor for much more.

A desire to profoundly articulate a meaningful experience, applying the techniques of literature to a life moment or phase, that is what readers connect to. Even when the specifics are not what they know firsthand, the feelings and emotions you conjure certainly are.  

Write in a tone, voice and style that allows your personality to venture onto the page. Write the way you speak. We all know when we receive a card or email that is insincere.. Try to avoid that kind of insincerity in your writing. 

Your genius is in the details but also in the connections you make. Highly creative people have the ability to take completely disparate ideas and events, find the commonality and connect them. 

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

Users Being Locked Out

PG has received a couple of emails in the past few days from long-time visitors to The Passive Voice which say they haven’t been able to log in using their regular ID/PW.

If you are having a similar problem, get in touch with me via the Contact link on the top menu bar. PG’s temporary fix is signing you up for a new Subscriber account.

PG doesn’t think he’s made any recent changes to the blog that might have triggered this glitch, but, who knows what he’s done while in one of his too-much-Covid hazes.

If any WordPress experts know about what might be causing this problem, PG would appreciate a tip, explanation, fix, etc., via the Contact link.

FYI, he has over 70,000 people who have signed up as subscribers. An unknown portion of those are undoubtedly would-be comment spammers.

Amazon to Hire 100,000 in U.S. and Canada

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc. plans to hire 100,000 additional employees in the U.S. and Canada, continuing a rapid expansion that began as the coronavirus pandemic forced many people to stay home and shop online for work and other necessities.

Amazon’s seemingly relentless hiring this year has come even as the wider economic picture has darkened, with companies across a range of industries slashing workers and filing for bankruptcy. Robust online spending during the crisis has fueled Amazon’s growth and created a need for more workers.

Not including temporary employees the company describes as seasonal, its total world-wide workforce will be roughly one million after accounting for the 100,000 new warehouse positions and 33,000 positions Amazon is hiring for in its corporate divisions. Once those positions are filled, it will have more than 700,000 employees in the U.S.

. . . .

New jobs will be added at dozens of Amazon locations paying at least $15 an hour and including benefits and signing bonuses of as much as $1,000 in some cities. Hiring for the jobs has already begun. The positions are all nonseasonal, Amazon said.

The company also said it would open 100 operational buildings this month alone, including fulfillment centers, delivery stations, sorting centers and other sites. That will add to more than 75 others already opened this year in Canada and the U.S., it said. Amazon has more than 600 facilities in the U.S., according to logistics consultant MWPVL International.

. . . .

Amazon, which accounts for more than a third of online U.S. sales, has recorded record profits during the pandemic. The company posted a record $88.9 billion in sales during its second quarter, and profit doubled year-over-year to $5.2 billion.

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

Trainwreck Fall Edition

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

I adore a good gothic and a somewhat creepy novel (but not too creepy, mind you), so in June, when a reliable friend recommended Simone St. James’s The Sun Down Motel, I ordered a copy immediately, and read it the moment it arrived. Loved it. It’s in my recommended reading list for July.

As soon as I finished, I ordered a copy for my sister, who also likes this type of book. Immediately, a notice flashed on my screen: she wouldn’t get the book until September. I was stunned. I looked at the publisher, thinking I was dealing with a specialty press, but no. I wasn’t. How odd.

That was my entire reaction: How odd. The book had released in February, so I should have been able to get my hands on a copy quickly. But I couldn’t.

That same thing had happened with a couple of other books I had ordered for my sister back in May. They were backlist for an author I knew my sister hadn’t tried, but would love. It took six weeks for her to get the books, with the shipment getting delayed more than once.

Because so many other things were going on, I hadn’t put my experiences together with something I wrote about at the end of April. Traditional publishing was headed for a trainwreck, and I was worried about it.

Part of the trainwreck was—and is—the closed bookstores. Many are still closed. But a lot of that trainwreck had to do with publisher panic, old systems, supply chains, and more.

When the pandemic hit, everyone thought we would get through the damn thing in a few months. We’d club that virus into submission, and return to normal life—or close to normal—by summer.

. . . .

Some industries aren’t very nimble. They can’t just shuffle one thing to accommodate something else. Traditional publishing is like that.

(This is where a handful of my indie-writer readers usually check out. I suggest you don’t, because I’ll be talking to you below. We’re part of an industry and a large part of the industry is mismanaging a crisis, which will have an impact on you. So, breathe, and dive back in.)

With the bookstores closed, some companies moved their biggest spring and summer releases to the fall, hoping that all would be better by then. There was some wiggle room, because traditional publishers had tried to avoid publishing anything important in November since it is a presidential election year. So there were some empty weeks.

But not enough of them. The schedule got shuffled, then reshuffled, then shuffled again. I know some books got canceled entirely, but many have just been moved to the next available slot on the schedule.

That is, they got moved to an available slot on the schedule, if the book is expected to do well. If it was a standard midlist book, it got shoved somewhere random, so that it can be printed, shipped, and sent to bookstores—who ordered their copies pre-pandemic.

Yeah, even if the book doesn’t come out now until fall of 2021, many of those orders remain exactly as they were. Even if the bookstore isn’t selling as many copies in its brick-and-mortar store. Or if the bookstore has shuttered its brick-and-mortar store—or closed entirely.

Here’s what a lot of readers don’t know—consciously anyway. Traditional publishing is built on velocity—that is, how many books sell in a short period of time.

The system that traditional publishing is using was designed post-World War II (or as I said to a friend yesterday, after the World War II generation survived its once-in-a-lifetime crisis). Back then, there were very few bookstores, and those that existed had limited space. Most books were sold in other retail venues—drug stores, department stores, magazine stands, and the like—which again, had limited space. In other words, there was only so much room for books in those places. Rather than keep old inventory on the shelf, retailers who sold books churned them—getting rid of those that were still on the racks after a month or two, and replacing them with new inventory.

This was easy to do, because in the Great Depression, the publishing companies subsidized anyone who sold a book by removing cost of excess inventory. Retailers could return books for full credit within a specific window. Which meant that retailers could make bad decision after bad decision, and not lose a heck of a lot of money.

They could also churn at no cost to them, replacing the old inventory with the new.

That practice created the idea that books were like bananas; they spoiled if they didn’t sell within a few weeks. And, indeed, there are horrid photos from the 1990s of Dumpsters filled with books behind shopping malls, because many publishers allowed retailers to strip the cover off books (and toss the rest of the book away) and still get full credit. Saves shipping costs, doncha know.

Even though it’s a stupid 75-year-old business model, traditional publishing still banks on velocity. And traditional publishing is fairly stupid about velocity. If an author’s sales numbers go down, no matter what the reason (y’know, like closed bookstores and a pandemic), that author will be offered a smaller advance next time—or will be cut loose. It’s brutal and unrealistic, and it’s on the horizon for so many writers.

. . . .

In addition to the messing up of the schedule, there were supply chain problems and the bankruptcy and auction of the two remaining major web press printers here in the States.

. . . .

The best way to sell books (as demonstrated by study after study) is word of mouth. My sister is at the end of a recommendation chain that went from my friend to me to my sister. My sister hasn’t even had a chance to read and recommend yet. By the time I wanted to give a copy to my sister, the book was out of print. The reason for the nearly three-month delay was because there were no copies of the hardcover in the warehouse—and no printing scheduled until September.

That September printing was probably ordered in May, which meant that the May numbers might not reflect the actual interest. The Times noted that one of the hot political books of August, which I had actually forgotten about (because so many hot political books have followed) had a similar problem:

The CNN anchor Brian Stelter’s new book “Hoax,” about the relationship between Donald Trump and Fox, was out of stock on Amazon this week shortly after its August 25 publication date, and showed a ship time of one to two months. Mr. Stelter’s publisher, One Signal, a Simon & Schuster imprint, which initially printed 50,000 copies, has ordered another 100,000 copies.

Two-month delay from August 25 on a political book places that 100,000 copy rerelease at the end of October, a week from the November election. 

. . . .

Ah, I hear you all now. What about the ebooks?

This is where traditional publishers have—pardon my crudity—fucked themselves blue. Stelter’s ebook costs $14.99. The ebook for the St. James that I mentioned above is $13.99.

Ridiculous, right? But it’s part of traditional publishing think. They want readers to buy the hardcovers, so they’ve priced ebooks unbelievably high, which is causing another problem. From that same New York Times article:

Some worry that the current crunch could reverse the yearlong trend of stable and sometimes rising print sales, sending readers back to digital books, which are less lucrative for publishers and authors, and especially brick and mortar retailers.Sa

Less lucrative for authors? On what planet? Oh, yeah, right. The traditional publishing planet. I’ve seen article after article that talks about how ebooks are a bust, that they don’t make money, and that sales of ebooks are “depressed.”

Yeah, if you overcharge for them.

. . . .

So, if the reader can’t get the novel that caught their attention this week by ordering it online, and if the reader won’t pay over $10 for an ebook, and if the reader can’t get the book from their library, what does the reader do?

The reader moves on to a different writer, another book, something new and different. Sales—and fans—aren’t allowed to build.

At all.

. . . .

As The Guardian noted, the blockbusters will make it into the retail stores. But those midlisters won’t. There just isn’t room. And with overpriced ebooks and no library access, there’s no way to discover these writers.

So many writers have gone to traditional publishing because those writers believe traditional is better at getting books into stores (really?) and is better at promotion. Let’s ignore the first part, shall we, and assume that some poor traditionally published writer was actually slated to get promotion on their book.

First, as The Guardian notes, there’s not enough room in the literary press to cover all 600 books that were released on September 3. There isn’t enough room to cover the books that will be released after September 3.

And if you were lucky enough to get a rave review from a reputable publication? Well, you better hope your publication date remained the same. Because review copies were mailed months in advance, and the review was written months in advance and published to time with your original release.

The Times quotes Sasha Issenberg whose book The Engagement: America’s Quarter-Century Struggle Over Same-Sex Marriage was slated to release in June for Pride Month. He got a stellar review in Publisher’s Weekly. Only his book got pushed to early September, then late September, and now won’t come out until June of 2021.

Will the bookstores that ordered the book even open the boxes when it arrives? Remember the order at all? Will the bookstore even be in existence when the book arrives? Will readers remember that they wanted the book in June of 2020? Will the publishing company redo their promotional efforts for the book?

Oh, wait. I can answer that last one. No, they won’t. They’ll expect Issenberg to do it, and maybe he might be able to finagle some interviews and additional reviews on his own, the way an indie writer would do things. But his book is going to tank, unless someone does an intervention. And believe me, there will be a lot of other things that will have grabbed our attention by Pride Month 2021, and none of them will be his book.

. . . .

[N]ewly published traditional writers? They’re screwed. They really are.

A handful of them will be resilient enough—and smart enough—to learn how to indie publish their next books. But most of these traditional writers won’t be that resilient. Their dreams are going to die a horrid, horrid death.

I empathize…up to a point. If they want to learn how to publish books, point them to our Publishing 101 class, and then stay out of their way. They’ve had years of warning to stay away from traditional publishing, and they didn’t listen. They’re probably not going to listen now. You know the rules about drowning victims, right? Send them a lifeline. Don’t get close enough to let them grab you and pull you down.

After I published the first Trainwreck piece, I heard from indie writers who panicked. They asked if they should stay away from the crowded fall schedule. I said no.

Because the real business model for publishing in the 21st century is this: readers will discover books over years, not weeks. Put your book out there. Yeah, maybe some reader won’t find it until 2022. That’s okay. Then they get to read your entire backlist.

Indie writers aren’t dependent on velocity. To have a successful career, we need widespread availability. We need to be in all the possible markets we can. We want our readers to find reasonably priced ebooks from all the major vendors

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

This is a first-class Kris Rusch analysis of traditional publishing and PG strongly suggests reading the entire OP (which is substantially longer than this excerpt).

PG will add only a bit of reinforcement for the main point Kris makes in the OP: Traditional publishing is a very poorly-run business. It might be compared to that great restaurant you used to enjoy, but don’t think about much any more because the prices are steep and the last time you went, the kitchen wasn’t doing the job it used to.

The other factor PG has mentioned before is that even if the New York top brass was inclined to really innovate and make aggressive changes, the companies that own the large New York publishers – large European media conglomerates plus CBS (Simon & Schuster) are not going to be receptive to innovative changes, particularly if such changes might possibly result in lower short-term profits.

The CEOs of the major New York trade publishers are really middle-management in their business organizations. From PG’s prior personal experience with large European media conglomerates, he is 99.99% confident that cutting ebook prices to potentially goose sales numbers is a non-starter. The people who own the NYC publishers are just as locked into traditional strategies and practices as the NYC underlings Kris describes.

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.

If you want to make a contribution directly to Kris for her insights, here’s a link to her Patreon page.

Publishers Are Taking the Internet to Court

From The Nation:

hen Covid-19 struck, hundreds of millions of students were suddenly stranded at home without access to teachers or libraries. UNESCO reported that in April, 90 percent of the world’s enrolled students had been adversely affected by the pandemic. In response, the Internet Archive’s Open Library announced the National Emergency Library, a temporary program suspending limits on the number of patrons who could borrow its digital books simultaneously. The Open Library lends at no charge about 4 million digital books, 2.5 million of which are in the public domain, and 1.4 million of which may be under copyright and subject to lending restrictions. (This is roughly equivalent to a medium-sized city library; the New York Public Library, by comparison, holds 21.9 million books and printed materials and 1.78 million e-books, according to 2016 figures from the American Library Association.) But the National Emergency Library wound up creating an emergency of its own—for the future of libraries.

Brewster Kahle, the Internet Archive’s founder and digital librarian, wrote in March that the National Emergency Library would ensure “that students will have access to assigned readings and library materials…for the remainder of the US academic calendar.” He acknowledged that authors and publishers would also be harmed by the pandemic, urged those in a position to buy books to do so, and offered authors a form for removing their own books from the program, if they chose.

More than 100 libraries, archives, and other institutions signed on to a statement of support for the program, including MIT, Penn State, Emory University, the Boston Public Library, Middlebury College, Amherst College, George Washington University, the Claremont Colleges Library, and the Greater Western Library Alliance. Writing in The New Yorker, Harvard history professor and author Jill Lepore joined many media observers in praising the National Emergency Library as “a gift to readers everywhere.”

A number of other authors, however, took to Twitter to complain.

“Guys. Not helpful,” tweeted novelist Neil Gaiman.

“They scan books illegally and put them online. It’s not a library,” novelist Colson Whitehead tweeted in March. (I wrote last week to ask Whitehead what laws he thought were being broken, or whether he’d since altered his views on this matter, and he declined to comment.)

On June 1, Whitehead’s publisher, Penguin Random House, together with fellow megapublishers Hachette, HarperCollins, and Wiley, filed a lawsuit against the Internet Archive alleging “mass copyright infringement.” The Internet Archive closed the National Emergency Library on June 16, citing the lawsuit and calling for the publishers to stand down. But the plaintiffs are continuing to press their claims, and are now seeking to close the whole Open Library permanently.

The trial is set for next year in federal court, with initial disclosures for discovery scheduled to take place next week. The publishers’ “prayer for relief” seeks to destroy the Open Library’s existing books, and to soak the Internet Archive for a lot of money; in their response, the Archive is looking to have its opponents’ claims denied in full, its legal costs paid, and “such other and further relief as the Court deems just and equitable.” But what’s really at stake in this lawsuit is the idea of ownership itself—what it means not only for a library but for anyone to own a book.

The Internet Archive is far more than the Open Library; it’s a nonprofit institution that has become a cornerstone of archival activity throughout the world. Brewster Kahle is an Internet pioneer who was writing about the importance of preserving the digital commons in 1996. He built the Wayback Machine, without which an incalculable amount of the early Web would have been lost for good. The Internet Archive has performed pioneering work in developing public search tools for its own vast collections, such as the television news archive, which researchers and journalists like me use on an almost daily basis in order to contextualize and interpret political reporting. These resources are unique and irreplaceable.

The Internet Archive is a tech partner to hundreds of libraries, including the Library of Congress, for whom it develops techniques for the stewardship of digital content. It helps them build their own Web-based collections with tools such as Archive-It, which is currently used by more than 600 organizations including universities, museums, and government agencies, as well as libraries, to create their own searchable public archives. The Internet Archive repairs broken links on Wikipedia—by the million. It has collected thousands of early computer games, and developed online emulators so they can be played on modern computers. It hosts collections of live music performances, 78s and cylinder recordings, radio shows, films and video. I am leaving a lot out about its groundbreaking work in making scholarly materials more accessible, its projects to expand books to the print-disabled—too many undertakings and achievements to count.

For-profit publishers like HarperCollins or Hachette don’t perform the kind of work required to preserve a cultural posterity. Publishers are not archivists. They obey the dictates of the market. They keep books in print based on market considerations, not cultural ones. Archiving is not in the purview or even the interests of big publishers, who indeed have an incentive to encourage the continuing need to buy.

. . . .

But in a healthy society, the need for authors and artists to be compensated fairly is balanced against the need to preserve a rich and robust public commons for the benefit of the culture as a whole. Publishers are stewards of the right of authors to make a fair living; librarians are stewards of cultural posterity. Brewster Kahle, and the Internet Archive, are librarians, and the Internet Archive is a new kind of library.

. . . .

“I’m a librarian!” [Kahle] told me, back then. “Libraries have had a long history of dealing with authoritarian organizations demanding reader records—just, who’s read what—and this has led to people being rounded up and killed.”

Now Kahle finds himself on the other side of a lawsuit. The key issue in this one is the as-yet-untested legal theory of Controlled Digital Lending (CDL), which the Internet Archive and partner libraries have been working out over the last few years, in order to deal fairly with the new question of lending digitized books within the parameters of existing copyright law. CDL was designed to mirror the age-old library practice of (1) buying or otherwise acquiring a physical book, and (2) loaning it out to one patron at a time.

Like a traditional library, the Internet Archive buys or accepts donations of physical books. The archive scans its physical books, making one digital copy available for each physical book it owns. The digitized copies are then loaned out for a limited period, like a traditional library loan. The physical books from which the scans were made are stored and do not circulate, a practice known as “own-to-loan.”

Harvard copyright scholar and lawyer Kyle Courtney has explained this reasoning very clearly. “Libraries do not need permission or a license to loan those books that they have purchased or acquired,” he said at a recent conference. “Copyright law covers those exact issues.… Congress actually placed all of these specialized copyright exemptions for libraries in the Copyright Act itself.”

The for-profit publishers in the lawsuit, however, do not care for this idea. What they allege in the complaint is this: “Without any license or any payment to authors or publishers, IA [the Internet Archive] scans print books, uploads these illegally scanned books to its servers, and distributes verbatim digital copies of the books in whole via public-facing websites.”

What this ominous description fails to acknowledge is that all libraries that lend e-books “distribute verbatim digital copies of the books in whole via public-facing websites.” Yet the publishers claim later in the same document that they have no beef with regular libraries. They love libraries, they say (“Publishers have long supported public libraries, recognizing the significant benefits to the public of ready access to books and other publications”), and are “in partnership” with them: “This partnership turns upon a well-developed and longstanding library market, through which public libraries buy print books and license ebooks (or agree to terms of sale for ebooks) from publishers.”

The real issue emerges here: The words “license ebooks” are the most important ones in the whole lawsuit.

Publishers approve of libraries paying for e-book licenses because they’re temporary, just like your right to watch a movie on Netflix is temporary and can evaporate at any moment. In the same way, publishers would like to see libraries obliged to license, not to own, books—that is, continue to pay for the same book again and again. That’s what this lawsuit is really about. It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that publishers took advantage of the pandemic to achieve what they had not been able to achieve previously: to turn the library system into a “reading as a service” operation from which they can squeeze profits forever.

Their argument also hinges on the notion that it’s illegal to scan a book that you own. Note that this is what’s being claimed in the complaint: that the books are “illegally scanned,” as Whitehead tweeted back in March. It’s not just the distribution of “pirated” copies they’re trying to prevent. It’s doing as you wish with your own property.

This runs deeper than the question of digital format. NYU law professor Jason Schultz, co-author of The End of Ownership, explained it in an e-mail: “The key here is that our law and cultures have always distinguished between owning something and temporarily purchasing access to something. Most people know the difference between owning a home and renting one, or owning a tuxedo or renting one. We also know this with most media, for example the difference between buying a copy of a film on DVD and going to see it in the theater.”

. . . .

As Schultz elaborated: “For each physical book that a library owns, it can lend it out to whomever it chooses for as long as it wants and the copyright owner has no say in how such lending happens. But here, because digital technology is involved, the publishers are asserting that they can control how/when/where/why libraries lend out digital copies.… In other words, they want to change the rules in their favor and take away one of the most cherished and valuable contributions that libraries make to society—allowing members of the public to read for free from the library’s collection.”

. . . .

“Libraries buy, preserve, and lend,” he said. “That’s been the model forever. [Libraries] actually supply about 20 percent of the revenue to the publishing industry. But if they cannot buy, preserve, and lend—if all they become is a redistributor, a Netflix for books—my God, we have a society that can get really out of control. Because if a publisher maintains control over every reading event, who’s allowed to read it, when are they allowed to read it, if they’re allowed to read it, and be able to prevent anybody, or particular regions, from being able to see something, we are in George Orwell world.

“What libraries do, is they buy, preserve, and lend. What this lawsuit is about—they’re saying the libraries cannot buy, they cannot preserve, and they cannot lend.”

Link to the rest at The Nation

Is artistic nepotism an evil – or a necessity?

From The Critic:

T he other day, I discovered that a talented young writer was publishing her first novel. She seemed to have a good, if not unusual back story; she had been working as a bookseller in the estimable Mr B’s Emporium in Bath and had published her debut collection of short stories earlier this year. And then I caught sight of her name, Naomi Ishiguro. My first reaction was to wonder whether it was merely a coincidence that she shared a surname with the Nobel Prize-winning Anglo-Japanese author Sir Kazuo Ishiguro, but it was not. She was interviewed in The Guardian earlier this year about her writing and was nonchalant about her famous father, saying of his Nobel Prize that “I could barely get to speak to him on the phone because there were all these journalists outside the house”. She also remarked that having a writer as a father made a writing career “feel possible; it doesn’t feel completely mystical” and that “You think: ‘I can make this happen if I want to, it’s just that I’ve got to work hard.’”

There are few issues that lead to such widespread feelings of anger and frustration as the idea of nepotism, especially in an artistic or literary context. For many would-be writers or actors, in particular, the suspicion remains that both industries operate as essentially a closed shop, and entry can only be obtained to the glamorous and well-remunerated professions through having a famous name or similarly high-profile connections.

I still remember the unfortunate saga of the young would-be journalist Max Gogarty, who was commissioned by the Guardian to write a series of blogs about his travels on his gap year. The then-19 year old Gogarty was initially torn to shreds because of the slightly guileless and parodically middle-class way that he presented himself – “working in a restaurant with a bunch of lovely, funny people; writing a play; writing bits for Skins; spending any sort of money I earn on food and skinny jeans, and drinking my way to a financially blighted two-month trip to India and Thailand”, but then it transpired that his father was a freelance travel journalist and occasional contributor to the paper, and all hell broke loose. Had Twitter existed back then, his name would have trended for days.

. . . .

Laurie Nunn is unapologetic about using her privileged status and well-known family name to further her career. As she said in the interview, “Having family in the arts made me feel, from a very young age, like that was an option for me. I’ve got friends who are in the arts whose family aren’t, and it feels like more of a scary prospect. They definitely encouraged me to follow my passions.” It undoubtedly helps to get noticed if your father is the former head of the National Theatre and the RSC, but it is equally true that her programme is a truly outstanding piece of work. The famous surname may have led to the doors being opened and meetings being obtained, but her own talent is what ensured the success of her career.

Questions of nepotism have been central to writing for generations. While most pre-twentieth century legendary English writers – Dickens, Shakespeare, Austen and the like – did not come from literary backgrounds, the profession was then far more reliant on talented individuals being given opportunities on their own merits, rather than attempting to follow in well-known parents’ footsteps. Perhaps the most notable example of this in twentieth century literature is Martin Amis, whose first novel The Rachel Papers was published in 1973, when Amis was 24.

He has made various comments about how his becoming a writer was nothing more than “entering the family business”, as if literature was a trade like being a butcher or a funeral director, and remarked that it was inevitable that any publisher would want to invest in the second generation of a writing dynasty. His father Kingsley was one of Britain’s best-known men of letters in the early Seventies and continued to be one of the country’s major writers until his death in 1995, so it was widely felt that his fame had smoothed his son’s path into creativity. Not for nothing was the winning entry in a 1980 New Statesman competition for the least likely title for a book “Martin Amis: My Struggle”.

Link to the rest at The Critic

A reminder that PG doesn’t agree with everything he posts about.

The author of the OP strikes PG as someone behaving as if he/she feels personally offended because the world is unfair or, at least, unfair in a way that upsets the author.

Is it strange, unexpected or disturbing when the daughter of an auto mechanic becomes an auto mechanic herself? Ditto for a plumber or teacher.

Lawyers and doctors are well-know for having children who go into the family business. A law firm called “Johnson and Johnson” is quite likely to involve a parent and child or, somewhat less frequently, a husband and wife (although PG notes in recent years, in his admittedly limited experience, it has become more common for a female professional to retain her maiden name).

Is “maiden name” sexist these days? Should PG have used the term, “former name” or “birth name” or “surname from the family of origin”?

What if a man takes his wife’s name because it’s fancier or better-known than his own surname? It doesn’t seem that his former name could be correctly termed a “maiden name.” Perhaps “bachelor name” or “unmarried name” or “known to his college drinking buddies as” might work.

Grammar and Our Changing Society

From The Book Designer:

Since 2010 I have written and published ten grammar books. Since 2014 I have written a grammar blog, posting every week. I have taught English, copyedited, and written technical manuals. Suffice it to say that grammar is near and dear to my heart.

. . . .

What exactly is grammar? Grammar consists of words (morphology) and how we put them into sentences (syntax). Most people also put punctuation into the grammar category.

There are two schools of grammar thought:

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

  • Prescriptivism – If you are a prescriptivist, you believe that the rules are the rules and that is pretty much it. Occasionally, with a good reason, you will break a rule. Note, however, that we have many different style guides that sometimes disagree. And, English is the only major language that does not have an association that presides over the language and makes the rules.
  • Descriptivism – If you are a descriptivist, you believe that language is alive and ever changing – and that the way people speak and write actually creates the rules.

. . . .

Think about how grammar has changed, let’s say, since the days of Shakespeare. Has it really? What changes most is actually vocabulary. Obviously, language has changed a great deal since Shakespeare wrote his plays. Technology and society change our vocabulary constantly. Thousands of new words are added to the dictionary every year. In fact, the dictionary is updated on a regular basis. Words are added, and some are taken out. Who heard of “mansplaining” a few years ago?

However, syntax has not really changed. Nor has punctuation. We still put our sentences together with same way as always. Verbs have subjects and objects, prepositional phrases perform the same functions they always have, tenses haven’t changed, and commas go in the same places they went a century ago. And the war over the Oxford comma still rages on.

It is societal change that prompts much of the evolution of our language, and copyeditors are now the guardians of making sure correct (and politically correct) language is used.

. . . .

In 2019 the Merriam Webster people said that the singular they is acceptable. The singular they is the “other” controversy (in addition to the Oxford comma, pro or con). What is the singular they?

They is obviously a plural pronoun. It refers to more than one person. It is the third-person plural personal pronoun. Its singular form is heshe, or itHe is male, she is female, and it is a thing (or animal, unless of course, it is your pet.)

So, what is the problem? The problem is that there is no gender-nonspecific pronoun in the English language. But there are people who don’t identify with either he or she.

Everyone needs to bring ______ passport to the airport.

Everyone (everybody, someone, somebody, etc.) might sound plural, but it is singular. But we might not know if the group is entirely male, entirely female, or mixed. Obviously, there are easy workarounds to avoid the issue:

Everyone needs to bring a passport to the airport.
Or
All travelers need to bring their passports to the airport.

But let’s say you were in a situation where you wanted to use the singular pronoun. The old ways were:

Everyone needs to bring his or her passport to the airport.
Or
Everyone needs to bring his/her passport to the airport.
Or
Everyone needs to bring his passport to the airport. (His covering also for her– no longer acceptable)
Or
The awful compromise of alternating between the two in a passage of writing.

Many people have always used the singular they because they didn’t know the difference:

Everyone needs to bring their passport to the airport.

Many prescriptivists still don’t like this. I don’t love it, but I will use it. Well, I will generally just rewrite to avoid it. And of course there have been many attempts at birthing a new word that covers all genders and is singular, but I have seen nothing final on that one yet.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

People think of the inventor

People think of the inventor as a screwball, but no one ever asks the inventor what he thinks of other people.

Charles Kettering

For those unfamiliar with Charles Kettering, he invented the electric cash register in 1906, two years after graduating from Ohio State University. In 1909, he was a founder of Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, or Delco. In 1911, he invented the electric starter and the first 12,000 appeared in the 1912 Cadillac.

In 1914, Kettering built a house in Kettering, a suburb of Dayton, Ohio. It was the first house in the United States with electric air conditioning using freon, another Kettering design.

In 1945, at the request of Alfred P. Sloan, then Chairman of General Motors, Kettering personally agreed to oversee the organization of a cancer research program in New York City which is today called The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

It’s Not All About Pub Date

From Publishers Weekly:

I have come to realize that some books arrive into the world like fireworks. They shout from the skies, “Here I am!” But some books take time. They land softly, gently singing, “Here I am.” These voices may be quiet, but they still are strong and steady. Books by disabled and chronically ill authors who may be struggling with serious medical issues at the time of their book releases may fall into this second category. In an industry eager to include more diverse writers, including disabled writers, it is important to give these books space to land and to grow. For this to happen, we must create a writing community in which disabled writers can safely voice their needs, struggles, and victories without fear of judgment or shame—a community in which their books have room to grow even if they have quieter releases.

Chronically ill writers face many challenges beyond physical pain. They struggle to be believed not only by strangers, but by their own doctors, family, and friends. They may face blame for their illnesses and may fear that publishing professionals will view them as too much trouble to work with. They often are forced to tackle their most difficult times alone, either shut out by their world or too fearful to open up about the reality of their situations. They may at times feel completely silenced.

. . . .

It wasn’t until three months after the release of my book that I would be diagnosed with a rare but serious adrenal disease and that life-saving treatment could be started. That day in August, though, I did not celebrate Serendipity. I sent out an obligatory tweet announcing the release, and then I went to sleep.

The people I thought loved me most were not supportive. I felt no love, no sense of pride. I believed I was a disappointment to my publisher, to my agent, to my readers, and that none of them could ever understand, because at the time I didn’t even understand what was happening to me. All I knew was that I was sick, but I worried that, if I opened up to anyone about what was happening, my sickness would be seen as too burdensome for the fast-paced publishing world. I felt like a failure as an author and as a person. Worst of all, I felt like my voice didn’t matter.

I know now that my voice does matter. For chronically ill writers, our voices are ones of steady strength, of vulnerability, perseverance, and agency. Our voices set us free, and, when we write, we strive to set our readers free, too, because we know what it is to be cornered into silence. We know what it is to fight for a voice. If we as an industry are to be champions of diverse books, we must give breathing room for books that land more quietly. We never know what a writer is going through at the time of a release. Stories are about what it means to be human. Let writers be human, too, and let the voices of chronically ill and disabled writers be heard—even if it takes a little longer for their books to take off.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Pen Pals – Five Ways Authors Can Show the Love

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

Publishing is a highly competitive industry, with more than 60,000 books expected to be published this fall season alone. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when your book is on the verge of a breakthrough but your efforts to promote it are threatening to break you as well.

Whether traditionally or self-published, we’ve all been there, with experts telling us what to do at every turn. Build your platform on social media, drive readers to your website (why can’t they take a cab?), become a subject matter expert in a world where SME’s are a dime a dozen. So what’s an author to do?

I’d say start with acknowledging that it’s more blessed to give than to receive. With so many authors in the same boat, why not synchronize our rowing? Here are five ways to put this concept to work:

  1. Rachet up the Reviews—If you’ve recently signed with a publisher, contact a few authors with whom you are going to share a catalogue and suggest you exchange reviews, either in advance or after publication. Above all, we are writers – so why not harness our skills in the service of each others’ work? If you are -self-published, you can reach out to authors in your genre on GoodReads and do the same.
  2. Power in Numbers—Form or join an author’s group that meets online bi-monthly. Not only is this a morale booster, it is also a great way to brainstorm ideas. Authors whose books are similar can join forces and offer a presentation to a book club. Someone who needs help with their book cover or wants to explore audio-book recording options can ask for advice.

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

Name Generator

From Name-Generator:

Are you about to create the best character ever? Have you already created one? Now, they need an epic name.

Our name generator allows you to create a name with up to five components, so a name can be short and sweet or double-barrelled and swanky.

With over 220,000 names in our database, you can also specify language, nationality and other factors to give your character the perfect name.

Link to the rest at Name-Generator

PG asked the Name Generator to provide names for females | born in 1812 | evil | Cornish / English / Irish / Scottish / Welsh

Here are some of the results:

Lady Rhodes Yates

WHY?
Rhodes: tagged as English, begins with R, ends in S
Yates: tagged as serial killer, tagged as English, in use in United Kingdom, in use in United Kingdom

Lady Regan Dennis

WHY?
Regan: tagged as serial killer, tagged as English, begins with R
Dennis: tagged as serial killer, tagged as English, in use in United Kingdom, in use in United Kingdom

Character Names Create Great Stories

From Nameberry:

I may be the world’s only novelist who’s also a name expert, which makes it doubly ironic that I was compelled to change my own character names.

But when Darren Star, creator of Sex & the City, made a television show based on my novel Younger, he changed the name of my heroine Alice to Liza and that of her young colleague Lindsay to Kelsey. Alice’s daughter’s name Diana was given to Alice’s boss, whereupon the daughter became the generationally-appropriate Caitlin.

My new novel Older, the sequel to Younger published today, uses the character names from the TV show rather than from my original book. At this point, it would be confusing any other way.

. . . .

I originally named the heroine of Younger Alice because of her Alice in Wonderland experience of living in the upside-down world of the younger generation. But Alice is an overused name both in literature and on the screen. There were notable characters with the name both in the movie Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and its TV adaptation Alice, and Alice Kramden was Ralph’s wisecracking wife in the classic Jackie Gleason Show.

The name Liza, on the other hand, is free of other strong character associations. It’s generationally ambiguous, reaching its apex in the mid-1970s, around the time my heroine would have been born. All in all, I have to confess, Liza is a more original and better character name than Alice.

Kelsey and Lindsay, meanwhile, are basically the same name. As a name for Hilary Duff’s character, Kelsey has the advantage, though, in peaking a bit later than Lindsay, in the early 1990s, perfect for someone who’s supposed to be in her late 20s. And Lindsay is perhaps too reminiscent of the actress Lindsay Lohan.

The best character names in realistic, contemporary works of fiction support the character’s background and personality rather than dominate it. If you’re writing a broader work – a fantasy book or period piece or graphic novel – you can have a lot more fun with character names. Albus Dumbledore and Daenerys Targaryen, Ebenezer Scrooge and Lyra Silvertongue are amazing character names created by J.K. Rowling and George R. R. Martin, Charles Dickens and Philip Pullman. Those names raise the bar even higher for authors looking to compete with Harry Potter or Game of Thrones.

. . . .

When you begin a novel, it’s a good idea to create a timeline that shows when your characters were born, graduated, hit certain milestone ages compared with notable world and cultural events over the same time period. What names were most popular the year your character was born, what names were used more quietly, which might have been associated with major figures of the day, and which weren’t used at all?

. . . .

Names like Jennifer, Michael, John, and Sarah convey an Everyman or Girl Next Door feeling. If that’s what you’re going for, fine, but that puts more pressure on the characters to prove themselves individuals deserving of our attention.

Link to the rest at Nameberry

PC Font

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Polite Type has been developed in close collaboration with a diverse team with wide-ranging backgrounds in anti-racism work, gender research and D&I consulting. Additionally, the initial vocabulary for the font have been co-created with high-school-aged teenagers and youth from diverse backgrounds in Finland, together with The Children and Youth Foundation. . . . The font is an OpenType font file (OTF) that recognises a number of either discriminative and/or offensive English-language words. After typing the word, the font substitutes it with a more neutral, inoffensive word. . . .

The blur is an integrated part of the design for the words that have no literal translation, or their meaning is too broad to replace with just one word or their purpose is only that of hurting someone. Blurring is commonly used as a way to censor or to hide something offensive, but it has never before been used as a symbol in a font. . . .

The library of words deemed hurtful has been put together in collaboration with people from different origins, religions, world views and sexual orientations. Naturally, the library is always changing with the language itself.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

George R.R. Martin Can’t Build Castle Library In New Mexico

From Huff Post:

“Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin won’t be able to build a seven-sided, castle-style library at his compound in Santa Fe that drew objections from neighbors.

The city’s Historic Districts Review Board on Tuesday denied a request to allow Martin to exceed the building height limit in the historic district where he lives, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. The project included a roof deck and an elevator tower.

“It is a medieval castle, and I don’t understand how we could possibly approve it in this style,” board member Frank Katz said.

Mark Graham lives south of the property and said residents couldn’t “support having a castle in the neighborhood.”

“With the notoriety of Mr. Martin and ‘Game of Thrones,’ we absolutely fear that our neighborhood will become the next treasure hunt, that his fans will be looking to find the castle that’s in the middle of Santa Fe,” Graham said.

. . . .

Alexander Dzurec with the architecture firm Autotroph Inc. filed the application for the height exemption and said Tuesday that the library was intended to house “a very sizable collection” of literature and “other collectibles.”

Link to the rest at Huff Post

Relying strictly on a brief online search, PG came up a couple of images for George R.R. Martin’s house in Santa Fe. It looks pretty much like a lot of other buildings in Santa Fe – reminiscent of Santa Fe’s early history. Here are a couple of links – House 1 and House 2 – PG doesn’t know if either depicts a residence which Mr. Martin owns or not.

Anyone who has spent more than 30 minutes in downtown Santa Fe should reasonably understand that the city is both very proud and very protective of its quite ancient (particularly by US standards) architectural history.

Here are a handful of Stanta Fe photos.

San Miguel Chapel, built about 1610
By Shiny Things – originally posted to Flickr as San Miguel Chapel, CC BY 2.0,  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Palace of the Governors – Built about 1610-1618
Asaavedra32 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Shopping area just off the Plaza, Santa Fe
Asaavedra32 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi of Santa Fe, New Mexico, built in 1869 –
MichaelEBM – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Fiction Favorites of the Espionage Pros

From Writers in the Storm:

Writing espionage is a balancing act between being authentic and being so accurate that we embarrass political leaders, get people killed, and/or end up with some angry FBI Special Agents on our doorstep. As a general rule, while the non-violent embarrassment of political leaders who are asking for it can be rewarding, writers, like all smart and decent people, want to avoid harming any of our own people or having uncomfortable conversations with the FBI. My writing partner, “Jay Holmes,” is a 45-year veteran of intelligence field operations, and we are committed to helping writers walk that line of authenticity.

. . . .

Which movies most accurately represent the CIA? Which are less accurate?

Since Holmes and I are not familiar with all of the shows and movies out there, I threw this to the Intelligence Community (“IC”) on Twitter for a broader response. Many of the shows recommended are not specifically American, but so many things cut across the entire profession, such as bureaucratic interactions, tradecraft, and the challenges personnel face, that Holmes and I did not limit ourselves to American shows in our answers.

As for accurate representation of the CIA, the CIA has an extensive and diligent review board that is very careful to make sure that no movies made by employees or former employees accurately represent it, so with the help of the IC on Twitter, I pulled in movies from other services, as well.

It was a joy to see the response from the Intelligence Community on Twitter. It stirred a rousing conversation that lasted two days, producing answers we never would have thought of on our own.

TV SHOWS

THE AMERICANS is accurate in much of its tradecraft and the realities of the Cold War. Three things are distinctly fiction about it, though. First, no country would use deep cover agents for such mundane things as thefts, honeypots, or assassinations. Second, there is no fast, fake facial hair that is good enough to stand up to a marriage. Disguises that detailed take more time and effort. Third, not even the Soviets would have recruited Paige like that. The children of real Soviet sleeper agents most likely do not know to this day that their parents were not born Americans.

LIBERTY CROSSING, one of my personal favorites, is a comedy about the National Counterterrorism Center (“NCTC”). It is pure genius for showing the personalities and inter-agency dynamics. Pay particular attention to the gap between the reality of what is actually happening, what is reported by the media, and the impact of the media on politics and, therefore, the NCTC assignments. Spot. On.

. . . .

Holmes and I are fans of the Israeli show FAUDA, which was developed by two former members of the Israeli Defense Forces and based on their personal experiences. Heavy on smart field action, it is also rich in social and cultural depth. Fast-paced and violent. Find it on Netflix, where it is available in Arabic and Hebrew with subtitles.

. . . .

MOVIES

John le Carré was a former member of the British intelligence services, and it’s generally agreed that his works are among the most accurate, with A MAN MOST WANTED, THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL (the movie), and THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD topping the list.

. . . .

CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR is a favorite of Holmes’s and an excellent movie about Texas congressman Charlie Wilson’s involvement in obtaining US support for Afghanistan against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. However, it is not an accurate portrayal of Milt Bearden, the man who ran the Afghan efforts. Milt Bearden is not a hard-drinking individual or in any way slobbish. He is a calm, level-headed, high-respected intelligence professional.

THE LIVES OF OTHERS is a German film about Stasi surveillance of citizens of East Berlin during the Cold War.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

It’s Not Easy Being a BookTuber

From Wired:

Daniel Greene makes a full-time living off his YouTube channel, discussing fantasy authors such as Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, and Jim Butcher. Talking about your favorite books all day might sound like a dream come true, but Greene says that building a successful channel is harder than people think.

“For a few years I was doing a video every day of the week, seven days a week, which was insane, while also being a software engineer,” Greene says in Episode 431 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I’m a workaholic.”

In addition to dealing with sponsors and reading hundreds of pages a day, Greene also spends hours editing his videos to look as polished as possible. He notes that when late night talk show hosts were forced to broadcast from home due to Covid-19, their initial efforts were lackluster. “Those are professionals, those are people who have been doing this for so long, and they couldn’t figure it out really quick,” he says. “It just shows that YouTubers do put time and effort in to make their content quality.”

The biggest challenge with YouTube is adapting to the site’s mysterious and ever-shifting algorithm. Greene is careful to balance less popular content with familiar standbys that he knows will bring in traffic.

“I get 20-30 self-published authors reaching out to me a week, trying to get me to read their books,” he says. “I would love to read their books, I would love to promote them to my audience, but if I did even a fraction of those, it would take up a huge percentage of my videos, and YouTube would see ‘OK, he had five videos this week, three of them were about these self-published books that barely got 10K views, we’re going to demote him.’ And eventually I wouldn’t be able to do this job anymore.”

Link to the rest at Wired

You Probably Still Need the Soothing Embrace of Cottagecore

From Electric Lit:

Cottagecore—the escapist aesthetic that romanticizes a simple, pastoral lifestyle—has been the internet trend of 2020. As Rebecca Jennings notes in Vox, cottagecore has become a way to make this national quarantine romantic by aestheticizing the joys of crafts and rural life. It’s also deeply rooted in previous pastoral movements, inspired by Romanticism (think: nature poems by Coledridge and Wordsworth) and pre-Raphaelite painters (like John William Waterhouse and William Morris). But as set in stone as the aesthetic seems to be, cottagecore is also a fluid movement filled with contradictions. On the one hand, it embraces returning to nature; on the other, it is an entirely virtual (and thus technology-dependent) phenomenon. Similarly, while cottagecore is coated with nostalgia for a simpler past—it’s been criticized for valorizing colonialism—it is also associated with progressive politics and LGBTQ+ subcultures. Accordingly, the books below showcase the long tradition of pastoral novels, as well as contemporary meditations on nature and cottage life. They offer a variety of takes on what could be called “cottagecore literature,” extending beyond Beatrix Potter and L. M. Montgomery—while still relating to the cottagecore aesthetic in some way.

. . . .

The Way Through the Woods: On Mushrooms and Mourning

A memoir about mycology and mourning, The Way Through the Woods explores the author’s foray into mushroom foraging after her husband’s sudden death. Woon acutely describes the feelings of bleak grief after losing her partner of 32 years, and how mushrooming offered a way to connect with nature, re-vitalizing her life. Woon also offers educational insight into the fascinating forms of fungi all around us, from Norwegian forests to Central Park. After reading her vivid descriptions, you may find yourself taking a second look at the fungal growth on your week-old leftovers—or embarking on a mushroom forest adventure of your own.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG didn’t see anything particularly cottagey in the book covers in the OP, so, he located a couple of genuine cottage photos of an English and a French cottage.

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
Cottage in Kerascoët

Virus-Responsive Design

From American Libraries:

Libraries have always been spaces for discovery. But in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been tasked with transforming themselves into places that allow users to physically distance while being more digitally connected than ever. As some institutions emerge from months of shutdowns, design and architecture experts seek to meet current health and safety challenges as well as safeguard these community spaces against an uncertain future.

Traci Engel Lesneski, CEO and principal at Minneapolis-based national architecture firm MSR Design, which has worked with hundreds of libraries across the country, says libraries are ideal spaces for innovative design solutions. “It’s not a stretch to think about the ways that libraries have modeled what’s next in the world,” she says. “Libraries can talk to the public about how important these things are and advocate [for them]. They can provide hands-on learning and access to certain technologies that people don’t have access to in their everyday lives.”

Yet libraries have had to find new ways to provide that access. “[COVID-19] is aggravating the digital divide,” says Susan Nemitz, director of Santa Cruz (Calif.) Public Libraries (SCPL). “There are a number of people who don’t have access to the internet and computers, because we haven’t opened up yet.” She says that effective design solutions will have to bridge not just physical and digital distance, but socioeconomic distance as well.

“We find that, more and more, our community is isolated,” she says. “And we’ve been moving away from being a warehouse of books to being a social connector.” Nemitz, whose library system passed a $67 million bond issue to replace and remodel all 10 of its buildings before the pandemic hit, says she’s had to reimagine her library’s mission. “The COVID crisis has thrown a wrench into who we are and what we believe,” she says. “Do we build our buildings for the situation we’re in now, or the situation in the long run?”

. . . .

Libraries that were in the process of renovating before COVID- 19 almost immediately pivoted, repurposing certain design features to address the new normal. “There have been some fortunate coincidences that were not intended to be in reaction to a pandemic but that we can use,” says Markovic. “For instance, at Baldwin Borough Public Library [in Pittsburgh], we put casters on the stacks to make them easy to move around. We can now use them to create little pods. And at Carnegie Library [of Pittsburgh], we’re implementing cleanable surfaces and discussing an HVAC system that allows for increased ventilation.”

. . . .

Libraries that have been unable to provide public access during the pandemic may have an unusual opportunity to upgrade. “One of our libraries that was renovated had its entire collection digitized when it was removed for the renovation,” says Thomas M. Hotaling, architect and principal at Ann Beha Architects, a Boston-based design firm that works with education and cultural clients. “I’m wondering if this might be a good time for [other] libraries to digitize their collections. If the funding is available, this is an ideal time to think about that.”

Link to the rest at American Libraries

A New Moment for Black Bookstores

From Publishers Weekly:

The publishing world has had to adapt to a business landscape that is rapidly changing as a result of the pandemic and the response to continuing police violence against unarmed Black people. The 130 Black-owned bookstores in the U.S. have had to deal with these broader challenges, as well as with cultural and economic forces that uniquely affect them.

Marcus Books, one of the country’s best-known and oldest Black bookstores, was cofounded in 1960 in San Francisco by two African American doctors, husband-and-wife team Julian and Raye Richardson. Rising rents forced Marcus Books to close its San Francisco store six years ago, but it moved to Oakland.

The pandemic hit a few weeks after Raye’s death, at age 99, on February 11. “We closed briefly due to the death of our mother,” said Blanche Richardson, Julian and Raye’s daughter, who now runs Marcus Books. “Then the Covid-19 rules came down and we had to cancel plans for her memorial as well as our 60th anniversary celebrations and events. We stayed ‘open’ to receive book deliveries and take phone and mail orders. Later, we instituted curbside pick up, then allowed customers to come into the store as long as they followed the Covid safety guidelines.”

Richardson had taken down the store’s website in early February in order to make upgrades. “We did create a temporary method for online purchases but were overwhelmed with 200–300 orders a day,” she said. “We shut it down in order to fulfill all of the orders.” The new site is expected to be up in September; in the meantime, Richardson is taking orders over the phone.

In Goose Creek, S.C., VaLinda Miller, a co-owner of Turning Pages Bookshop, the only Black-owned bookstore in the state, faced her own challenges. A former resident of Washington, D.C., she opened the store last year. “We were shut down for about six weeks, from April until the middle of May,” she said. “But I’m one of the blessed ones. I saw the writing on the wall. So when we shut down, I knew we could cover the expenses of the business. I knew we weren’t making any sales, but I could still pay my one employee, because my other employee got unemployment compensation from another job. So we were okay.” Turning Pages also upgraded its website when the pandemic hit and reopened gradually.

. . . .

When Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements began to attract widespread attention, people were ordering only anti-racist titles, Mullen at Semicolon said. “But we made a point to introduce Black fiction to our readers,” she added. “We made it a point to do that every time someone ordered an anti-racist title.”

Among the books recommended at Semicolon are titles by Octavia Butler, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and N.K. Jemison, as well as Kiley Reeves’s Such a Fun Age and Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half (which Mullen said did very well), plus “any Afro-futuristic writer.” She added, “Fiction is easier to understand, and something you can build empathy from, as opposed to statistics and numbers. Anti-racism is rooted in empathy—you have to understand the plight before you can support it.”

As Richardson of Marcus Books sees it, “Following the murder of Mr. Floyd and the resultant worldwide protests against police brutality, our inventory was basically the same, but with the inclusion of more titles dealing with the various issues surrounding race, diversity, police brutality, and institutional racism. Since Black had become the flavor of the month, books in all categories sold very well—including fiction, children’s books, cookbooks, biography, and even spirituality.”

With the chaos of Covid-19 and the growth of Black Lives Matter, what does the future hold for Black bookstores? “As a culture, and as a society, we are now starting to realize the importance and the beauty that Black people and Black businesses bring to the community,” said Black Garnet’s Sims. “And for white people, this is a time for them to be thoughtful and intentional about where they are putting their money and where their dollars are going. And even in places where people are not ready to make space for Black businesses—or Black bookstores specifically—we are at a point where we will carve out a place for ourselves. That’s what I’m doing here.”

Richardson believes Black booksellers need to keep their focus amid the tumult. “Black bookstores should do well as long as they serve their communities and provide the information and knowledge that the community seeks,” she said. “We frequently hear from new customers—mostly white and Asian—that they are patronizing us because they want to support a Black business. How long that will last is yet to be seen, so Black bookstores should concentrate on being true to their basic target population.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Cynicism and The Function of Cynicism at the Present Time

From The Wall Street Journal:

The law of supply and demand, like the law of gravity, applies to just about everything. These days, for example, cynicism abounds—“We are all cynics now,” Ansgar Allen reports—and we value this oversupply accordingly, which is to say not at all.

In ancient Greece, however, true Cynics were few. Hard-bitten dissidents, they lived an aggressive, contrarian philosophy opposed to convention, keen on what is “natural,” and enabled by near-fanatical independence. Diogenes the Cynic, perhaps the best known of their number, scandalized Athenians by flaunting his bodily functions. But these enemies of propriety had a certain usefulness, much like short sellers in today’s financial markets. When human values seem built on thin air, count on a Cynic—or if necessary, a mere cynic—to realign them with reality by sneering at their emptiness.

Neither Mr. Allen’s “Cynicism” nor Helen Small’s “The Function of Cynicism at the Present Time” celebrates cynicism, but both make a kind of case for it. They also concern themselves as well with how we went from the paradoxically idealistic social criticism of the ancient Cynics to the nihilistic cynicism of our own times. The short answer is: Friedrich Nietzsche.

. . . .

Ancient Cynics, in a kind of perverse altruism, embraced extreme poverty, the better to credibly assail the complacent with their radical social critique. The self-interested cynicism of our own times, which sees every motive as ulterior, “prefers to express itself in private, as a grievance,” says Mr. Allen, a lecturer in education at Britain’s University of Sheffield. His book is in part a plea on behalf of “the obscene, confrontational force of Cynicism,” which he values as a mode of revolt suitable to “the predicament of those who look about them and find everything wanting.” One fears he is among them.

Ms. Small, in “The Function of Cynicism at the Present Time,” is also bracingly cynical about cynicism. The cynic’s caustic approach, she observes, means that he “arrogates power to himself over his listener,” and his radical self-sufficiency is a sham, for “despite appearances, the cynic is always on the make for recognition by others.” Yet Ms. Small sees cynical thinking “not as the isolated posturing of a radical or psychologically damaged few” but as a commonplace and useful check on the credibility of people promoting moral ideals.

. . . .

There was benevolent cynicism, the author suggests, in Bertrand Russell’s “Marriage and Morals,” a takedown of outdated sexual mores and regulations that, in 1940, prompted a New York judge to vacate the philosopher’s appointment to teach at City College. (John Dewey defended Russell in the Nation.) Russell’s provocative book exemplified cynicism’s utility by demanding that we justify conventions, taboos and legal restrictions and reminding us of our animal nature.

Cynicism’s bracing challenge comes at a cost. Diogenes, one version of the story goes, was exiled from his hometown of Sinope when his father was jailed for debasing the currency he was in charge of issuing. This history is also a metaphor, since cynicism can undermine confidence in the social coinage of tradition, ritual, civility—all the evolved practices that keep violence at bay and make life tolerable.

But has cynicism really become more pervasive these days? America has always had cynics, but we’ve had Cynics as well. Henry David Thoreau, a figure associated with nature, asceticism, self-reliance and social criticism, must have reminded someone in his day of Diogenes. We can see a family resemblance in Mark Twain, Thorstein Veblen and the Beat poets, too.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

Before reading the OP, PG might have characterized himself as a cynic, but afterwards, he thinks he’s more of a practitioner of targeted skepticism.

While PG believes in the essential goodness of many a human being and in the potential goodness of many more, he also is cynical about certain types and classes of people.

It will come as no surprise to regular visitors to TPV that PG is both cynical and skeptical of a great many people associated with the world of traditional publishing, for example. He is also both cynical and skeptical about nearly all communists and socialists. (This isn’t a political blog. PG was just doing a bit more public self-examination than is probably wise.)

That said, PG is very much convinced that individual human beings and groups of human beings can be improved and even perfected, given enough persistence and some outside help at appropriate times.

Human beings are, of course, intensely social creatures and the influence of those around them can be very powerful. Hence, PG’s problems with the mores and habits of traditional publishing in general. (He readily acknowledges many more than one exception to this generalization.)

In the long run, however, PG believes that working on the bright side is a more successful strategy in business and in life, although there is no doubting the efficacy of dark-side strategies at certain times and in certain places in business, history and society.

PG has run out of philosophizing juice (to the great relief of more than one visitor to TPV).

Lessons Learned From 9 Years As An Author Entrepreneur

From The Creative Penn:

Nine years ago, in Sept 2011, I left my day job to become a full-time author-entrepreneur. Every year since I have reflected on the journey and what I learn along the way.

. . . .

(1) The global, digital, scalable, location-independent business model is incredibly resilient — especially in pandemic times

When I decided to build an online business back in 2008, I always intended it to be global, digital, scalable, and location-independent. Just to be clear on what that means:

Global — I focus on reaching people internationally instead of locally. I’ve sold books in 155 countries (and my books are available in 190 countries) but not in my local high street bookstore. 

. . . .

Digital — I create for the digital world first. I do have physical products — print books — but I use print-on-demand, so I don’t have to manage inventory or pay upfront for printing.

Scalable — I create once, then sell over and over again. Once I have written a book, I can license it innumerable times and make money from it for the life of copyright (if I manage it well). I prefer to create products that can be sold an unlimited number of times e.g. books, online courses, digital audio, although I would like to do some limited edition print products at some point.

Location-independent — I do not need to be in a particular physical location. I run my business from my laptop and have worked all over the world since 2008.

This business model has always been good to me, but in 2020, the global pandemic meant it really demonstrated its value. I have had no disruption to the business because there is nothing physical to disrupt. If anything, people have bought more books and courses online.

. . . .

(2) Goals change over time — and that’s okay!

When I started writing way back in 2006, my first goal was to leave my day job and make a full-time living online. Writing books was only one part of that picture because I couldn’t see past that first book. I started earning money with speaking as well as blogging and affiliate income, plus I kept my day job.

By the time I left my job in Sept 2011, I was making money from multiple streams of income. I had a few books by then but only one novel, so fiction was a small part of that. My next goal was to get back to a six-figure income because I had left a six-figure job for writing.

I also had a goal to enable my husband, Jonathan, to leave his job. I thought that running our business together would be the next logical step and that it would give us both freedom. He was also stressed and traveling a lot at the time and we wanted to move out of London so the timing was right for a change.

In 2015, Jonathan left his job to join the company and we moved to Bath. He helped the business by scaling operations and putting appropriate systems in place which actually ended up freeing more time for both of us.

And then we lived happily ever after … 🙂

. . . .

My goals have also changed.

I don’t want to grow the business to 7-figures in a way that involves moving into publishing others or author services which is the way that many companies scale in this industry. I don’t want employees — and now it’s just me again (although of course, I still work with creative freelancers).

I still want to be a 7-figure author as I discussed with Emily Kimelman in this week’s podcast, but through scaling my creativity and producing a body of work that I’m proud of, that creates income streams for the long-term, not just for short-term cash-flow. That means creating and licensing my intellectual property — which, let’s face it, is the fun part anyway!

I often talk about the author journey — but it’s also a life journey, and our goals change as individuals and as partnerships and families. I’m still figuring out what this next step looks like but I’m certainly excited for the next year ahead!

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn

Who Is a ‘Crossover’ Book For?

From Publishers Weekly:

It’s been a while since I set a book in high school. By the time I finished my fifth young adult novel, I could feel my interest in that particular place waning. When I started my sixth, I made the protagonist a dropout (like me), gave her the keys to a car, and let her drive herself into a vicious unknown: her little sister was dead. She was going to kill the man responsible. A few months later, she’s gone missing and a radio host starts a podcast dedicated to finding out what happened to her. That book is Sadie, released in paperback last month.

Sadie is a relentless, brutal, and gritty testament to a sister’s love that takes its protagonist to the darkest corners humanity has to offer without flinching. With Sadie, my work has become less clearly prescriptive—if it ever was—making it even more at odds with that strange expectation a certain type of reader holds: that YA novels should take on the responsibilities of an authority figure and deal in hopeful, aspirational endings while being devoid of all delicious and interesting four-letter words.

Because of this, some readers feel Sadie should be categorized as an adult novel. Others can’t envision it in any section but YA. Most have settled on calling it a “crossover.” That didn’t feel like a bad thing then—and it doesn’t now—though, at the time, I didn’t realize this designation that easily serves as a point of entry for two audiences can just as easily be used as a tool, by some gatekeepers, to deny its primary target. If a book is seemingly too much of one thing or not enough of the other, who, ultimately, is it for? This response has fascinated me, having spent more than 10 years working in YA fiction, and freely and proudly identifying myself as an author of such. I suspect my February 2021 release, The Project, about an aspiring teen journalist who forgoes the high school experience to investigate a cult, has the potential to yield a similar response.

. . . .

I don’t think the high school setting is a prerequisite in a YA novel, by the way—I’m more versed in my industry than that. But I often think of the cues and tropes we use to define the category when asked. According to Wikipedia, “The subject matter and genres of YA correlate with the age and experience of the protagonist,” and, for many of us, the metal-tinged scent of locker-lined halls is one of the first things that calls to mind. It’s the blush of first love. It’s that specific kind of friendship drama you desperately hope won’t follow you into your 40s. It’s a sense of immediacy, a pace—fast. Or any number of first times. These are the hallmarks of many YA novels, and there’s nothing wrong with them. Teens are growing up in that world, and they deserve to see it reflected.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Duke Russell

PG hasn’t read a John Grisham novel for at least several years. However, he started a new Grisham book, The Guardians, and immediately came upon a lovely first sentence:

Duke Russell is not guilty of the unspeakable crimes for which he was convicted; nonetheless, he is scheduled to be executed for them in one hour and forty-four minutes.

John Grisham

No Story Conflict? Explore Your Options

From Writers Helping Writers:

[A]s a Resident Writing Coach here, I’ve previously talked about how to make our story’s conflict stronger.

The most common advice is to add more conflict to our stories, to add more external or internal obstacles that force our characters to struggle while attempting to make progress on their goals. After all, without conflict, our characters would reach their goals immediately: The characters want X and then they get it. In other words, we’ve learned that conflict is what turns a goal into a story.

But what if that’s not the kind of story we’re trying to tell? What if adding conflict doesn’t feel right for our story? Are we stuck?

. . . .

If we grew up in Western culture, chances are that we learned from our time in elementary school that stories are about solving a story problem. In turn, a story problem implies goals, stakes, and conflict, as the characters try to solve the problem.

However, that dramatic-arc narrative style doesn’t apply to every story, especially those in non-Western cultures. More importantly for today’s topic, stories with different narrative structures often don’t rely on conflict the way we’ve learned. This lack of conflict doesn’t mean they don’t “count” as stories, but it does make them different – and that means we can learn from them.

Narrative Structures with No/Low Conflict

Examples of narrative structures that take a different approach to conflict (often ignoring it completely) include:

  • Kishōtenketsu: 4-act story structure found in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese storytelling, from centuries-old stories to modern manga and Nintendo video games
  • Robleto: style of traditional Nicaraguan storytelling, which includes a “line of repetition” tying a character’s many journeys within the story together
  • Daisy-Chain Plot: story follows single object or idea with no central character
  • Fanfiction “Fluff”: zero-conflict/angst stories focusing on character interactions
  • Oral Storytelling: often emphases a moral message and not conflict
  • Rashomon-Style Plot: repeating events from different perspectives

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Hold On, eBooks Cost HOW Much? The Inconvenient Truth About Library eCollections

From Smart Bitches, Trashy Books:

As we continue to stay home as much as possible, even the most die-hard “give me paper or give me death” readers have been dipping their toe into the ebook waters. And they’re discovering what long-time users have known forever.

Good news! You can get ebooks from your library!

But (bad news) only if you’re willing to wait for-EVER for the most popular titles.

Even for some of the less popular titles, wait times are much longer for ebooks than their print versions, and it’s just gotten worse as ebook popularity has dramatically increased this spring and summer.

Which leads to the following questions:

Why do you have to wait for an ebook at all?!
Why doesn’t my library just buy more copies?!
And the conclusion I’ve come to for both questions is: I think most publishers hate libraries.

I wish I were kidding.

When libraries and publishers entered the ebook landscape, they went with a model they knew and understood: they licensed library ebooks with a one copy/one user. While some other models have come out since then (such as cost-per-circ, where the library pays every time someone checks a book out, which you see with services like Hoopla) one copy/one user remains the most common way ebooks are sold for lending. However many licenses a library buys is how many people can read a book at a time.

So why doesn’t the library just buy more copies?

Because ebooks for libraries are really, really, really expensive.

Really expensive.

And then we don’t even get to keep them. Librarians pay wholesale for print books that can remain in circulation for literal decades, but ebooks are very different in terms of access and in terms of cost.

. . . .

So I started a project where every week I shared what was on the best seller list and how much those books cost. I shared specifically how much the library would spend to buy those titles in a paper book or an ebook and how much those same books (paper and ebook) would cost for a regular person. 

. . . .

First, let’s look at averages for print, digital book, and digital audio.

On average, the Suggested Retail Price for a print book (aka the price that’s printed on the cover) was $24.78.

On average again, Amazon would sell you (a reading consumer) a paper copy of that print book for $16.77.

Your library could buy a print copy from their vendors for $14.14.

Looking for digital?

You could buy that same book on average for $12.77 on your Kindle.

The library had to pay an average of $45.75.

YES WE HAD TO PAY THAT MUCH. 3.5 TIMES MORE THAN YOU DID.

On average, this means that we (libraries) can buy 3 print copies for every single ebook license, and still have some money left over.

$14.14 + $14.14 + $14.14 = $42.42 for 3 print books in circulation
vs.
$45.75 for a single license of an ebook.

And then there’s audio.

If you’re curious, the average price to buy the book on Audible was $27.28, but for libraries to get it in digital audio? $69.76.

. . . .

Of the popular titles included in this dataset:

  • 44.3% of digital library books were between $50.00 and $59.99.
  • 19.4% of digital library books were between $60.00 and $69.99.
  • 18.2% of digital library books were between $20.00 and $29.99.

In other words:

64% of ebooks cost over $50 for libraries, but none of the titles included in this data set are that much for anyone else.

99% of Kindle books cost $19.99 or less, but only about 13% of library ebooks do.

. . . .

Pour yourself another drink, because it gets worse when the usable lifespan of these purchases is examined against the price per item.

. . . .

86% of the ebooks from that list have to be repurchased on a regular basis, most commonly after 24 months, even if the book is never checked out.

This is why libraries can be reluctant to take an ebook chance on an unknown author.

When libraries buy the ebook, the terms of purchase are actually a lease. The publisher will take the book back after 24 months. If libraries want to still have that ebook available for checkout, they need to buy it again.

Publishers do this because, once again, they’re working off the print model, and print books don’t last forever. They get eaten by the dog or dropped in the tub or coffee gets spilled on them or after it’s been checked out a million times, it just wears out. And if people still want it, we’ll buy another copy.

But…(and this is a big but)

Remember how much libraries pay for print? ($14.14 on average, see above?)

How they pay even less than the average Amazon price?

The average price of an ebook that has to be repurchased is $49.48.

Wait, isn’t that higher than the average price of library ebooks?

YES IT IS.

The more expensive a book is, the more likely we have to rebuy it on a regular basis.

Only 1% of the books that cost over $50 don’t have to be regularly repurchased.

I know it doesn’t make sense.

Prices and terms for digital books are set by the publisher, and most publishers have broad rules that apply to all of their books.

And some very large publishers *cough* Penguin Random House, Macmillan, and Hachette *cough* have set high prices for books that expire quickly.

Why would they do this? Because they can. If libraries want to provide what our users want, we’ll pay their prices on their terms, no matter how ludicrous, because what choice do we have?

. . . .

Some publishers refuse to sell digital formats to libraries.

Major side-eye to every single Amazon imprint and company, which includes Lake Union, Audible, and more. All of those wonderful Audible exclusive audio books? Are Audible exclusive, which means libraries cannot acquire them.

Some self-published authors don’t make their stuff available on OverDrive, and if they’re part of Kindle Unlimited, they’re not allowed to.

How big of a problem is this?

Libraries were unable to buy 1.5% of this year’s bestsellers in ebook.

It’s worse for audio–libraries were unable to buy 15% of this year’s bestsellers in eaudio.

. . . .

If libraries have to pay that much money for an ebook and can only keep it for 24 months, they’re going to concentrate purchasing power on titles they know will circulate heavily, to get the most bang for the limited buck. Which means lots of blockbuster sure-bets, and less midlist or new authors.

For romance readers, fans of Avon and Harlequin are in luck, because they’re both HarperCollins imprints. HarperCollins charges Suggested Retail Price and libraries can keep the ebook for 26 checkouts. As with most romance publishers in mass market paperback, most of their ebook titles are $7.99 and libraries can keep them until they use up all 26 checkouts. While it’s still not as good as print (which libraries would pay less money for and which usually last far longer than 26 checkouts) it’s still the best pricing offered by any of the major traditional publishers.

But St. Martins is Macmillan, and Macmillan charges $60 for new ebooks (regardless of Suggested Retail Price) and their ebooks expire after 24 months, even if no one checked it out. Berkley is Penguin Random House, and they charge $55 for new ebooks that libraries can only keep for 24 months.

That can be really hard math to justify! With our vendor discount, libraries usually pay $4.95 for a mass market paperback with a Suggested Retail Price of $7.99, so they can buy a full dozen print copies for the same price of a single ebook (and that ebook expires after 24 months)

Link to the rest at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and thanks to DM for the tip.

PG will note that the digital vendor his library uses is perfectly capable of proving any publisher with anonymized data reporting how many people checked out an ebook, how many people returned the ebook without reading it, how many people read part of the ebook (and how many pages they read) but returned the ebook without finishing it and how many people read the entire ebook.

PG is disappointed that Amazon won’t provide a simple path for indie authors to make their ebooks available to libraries at a price set by the author. Just like perma-free, ebooks in libraries can be a superb way for readers to discover new authors and books, helping authors and Amazon sell more.

PG will note that the digital vendor his library uses sends him to Amazon to download a library ebook which, on the book’s regular Amazon product page where the Add to Cart button is replaced by a Borrow button which he clicks to send the ebook to his selected reading device. So it would appear that much, if not most, of the plumbing is in place for indie authors to make their ebooks available to libraries.

Visitors to TPV can feel free to harass KDP and anyone else at Amazon to urge them to allow library purchase of KDP ebooks for lending by the libraries. Amazon could even require a minimum license price for library loans of indie ebooks if it felt library borrowing would eat into Amazon’s revenue stream from ebooks in some way.

If PG were in command of Amazon’s indie library sales initiative, he would be inclined to redesign the landing page where a library patron came to borrow an ebook to show other books by the same author, perhaps some Also-boughts or Also-borrows and an opportunity for the borrower to voluntarily link her/his Amazon account so Amazon could understand even more about the borrower’s interests.

Book Tours – Analyzed

The post that appeared immediately prior to this one included a video in which the author was performing a video substitute for a physical book tour. When PG posted the video from YouTube, it had received 2,594 views.

PG is of the gigantically, perennially and irrefutably humble opinion that traditional book tours where a publisher sends an author out to visit a number of bookstores for an event in the bookstore to which anyone who learns about the event can attend.

Typically, the bookstore staff sets up some chairs for the audience, has several stacks of the book being promoted spread around the store and provides the author a table and a chair.

Thereafter, the author makes a short speech about her/his book designed (almost always by the author) to induce members of the audience to buy a copy of the author’s book. After completing the pitch, the author sits at the table and autographs books that members of the audience have purchased, often with a trite phrase, “I hope you enjoy my book!” or something the purchaser requests, “For Lurlene from her loving granddaughter, MaryJoJean.”

After chatting with strangers and signing all the books that are purchased, the author packs up, thanks the bookstore staff (perhaps leaving them some candy) and exits the store to travel to the next bookstore on the tour schedule. On a large tour across the US, airplane travel and hotels are involved.

For a really, really, really bestselling author, the publisher might send a minder to help schlep the author around from place to place.

To PG, this sounds like a mid-Twentieth-Century marketing strategy. (“Housewives! Have we got something new to brighten your humdrum day! The latest scientific innovation in kitchen cleaners!”)

Let’s break the thinking behind what passes for the marketing strategy behind a book tour.

  1. The author’s time costs the publisher nothing.
  2. We will send one of our authors to a physical bookstore. We’ll have the bookstore create some sort of poster announcing a book signing by Arthur Author for his latest book.
  3. If the publisher is feeling really generous, it might pay to have some cheap promotional brochures printed and shipped to the bookstore so the store will have something for an employee to sprinkle around for most of its customers to ignore. If it’s colorful, children might pick up a brochure to leave in the back seat of the car when they get home.
  4. The bookstore will have its employees set up chairs and a signing table, unpack a couple of boxes of books, place a few books around the store and stack a bunch on the signing table.
  5. In advance of the designated time, the author will leave an inexpensive hotel room, drive a rental car to the store after cruising around a strange city for awhile, walk into the store and start meeting total strangers.
  6. The introverted author who hates speaking to groups of people will thereafter speak to a crowd of strangers which will always be smaller than the author expected to show up.
  7. After trying to be interesting and entertaining for 15-20 minutes, the introverted author will then have to talk to a stream of strangers for about 60 seconds each, try to appear to be enjoying the process of acting like a homecoming queen, and write something trite in each copy of the book.
  8. Emotionally exhausted, after the last customer has left, the author will then effusively thank the book store manager and staff for their efforts, glance at the large stack of unsold books, and stumble out to their means of transportation and try to remember where the next book-signing is scheduled and when she’s supposed to be there.
  9. If the author is sufficiently depressed, she may estimate how many copies of her book were sold at the book-signing, calculate the royalties she will receive from those sales and realize that each of the store employees earned more on a per-hour basis than the author did for the time she put into preparation, travel, getting dressed up, undergoing the introvert’s torture of talking to a bunch of strange people (including some who were stranger than others) in the store, then more travel.

Perhaps PG is missing some giant financial or psychological benefit that accrues to a typical author as a result of a traditional book-signing or series of book-signings, but he doesn’t think so.

Then, let’s consider that Amazon sells more books than any bookstore or chain of bookstores in the world.

And, the author earns a higher royalty when Amazon sells an ebook than when Joe’s Books and Bait Shop sells a paperback.

But, as always, PG could be wrong.

Authors Get Real About Going on a Book Tour…From Their Living Rooms

From The Oprah Magazine:

Novelist Laura Hankin found out that the launch event for her second book was cancelled through a Facebook notification from the bookstore. “I cried very hard. But then I also was like, how dare you cry over a canceled book event? That doesn’t matter,” Hankin tells OprahMag.com. “It was just another bit of uncertainty amidst a whole world of uncertainty.”

Hankin’s novel, Happy and You Know It, was released May 19, about two months after the coronavirus forced much of the United States to shelter in place and work from home—a time when bookstores were cancelling events left and right and authors were forced to call off their promotional tours.

Now, Hankin is one of many authors, publicists, and booksellers who are figuring out the publishing world’s “new normal,” which has meant participating in Instagram Live events, answering questions on moderated Zoom chats, or—like Hankin did—making music videos.

Hankin decided to process her own mixed feelings in a song called “Indoor Book Tour.” Using cheeky lyrics about being stuck on the couch and having the in-person audience of a single cat, “Indoor Book Tour” highlights the solitude of what had once been the active, social act of book publicity.

Link to the rest at The Oprah Magazine and thanks to DM for the tip.