How to Become a Self-Published Author

From Stage32.com:

It was back in 2010 when I was first approached about publishing a novel. I was a lighter shade of Latina actress who had met the frustration of waiting for casting directors and agents to notice me, and see me as Latina enough…so I decided to write my own stage play. It was my autobiographical, coming of age story, that would show people once and for all who I was, instead of waiting for them to see and find a place for me. My one-woman stage play (Brownsville Bred) took the festival circuit by storm and within one year I was performing it Off-Broadway and to critical acclaim.

The book packager, who shall remain nameless, was absolutely wonderful, experienced and best of all she loved my story and believed in me as a writer.

. . . .

My book packager sat me down and told me how it “Usually” worked. It seemed that “usually” they (the packager or publisher) hire a GHOST WRITER–someone who comes in, listens to your story, and reads your work, before diving in to write their version of your story. The ghostwriter never gets credited as the Author, but they are still the person who is actually writing the book.

“Hold up…wait a minute,” I said. “I am a writer!” But it wasn’t that easy. I had to prove that I could write in prose and that I did. One sample chapter later and I proved to her (and to myself) that I was able to write prose just as well as I wrote for the stage. I was handed the STANDARD publishing contract–which is…to put it delicately…HORRIBLE. For the most part, it says you get about twenty-five cents per book, and you give up your rights to the book, TV, and Film.

As a writer/filmmaker, the cents didn’t matter to me nearly as much as the TV and film rights did, and luckily for me, she quickly took it out of our contract. So we had the deal and now it was time to write the book, right? Kind of. I learned the lesson that most book publishers only want a package that would include an intro, an About The Author page, and about three or four sample chapters–this because anyone who picks it up will want a hand on the direction they want it to take.

Long story short, within three months we had a great package, sample chapters, and people willing to bring it into their publishing house pitch meetings. I was never in on those meetings so I can’t tell you exactly how those went. But I can tell you that my packager described these folks as “LOVING” the materials. I even got the words, “No one could love it more than her”…but still, it was rejected by the ultimate decision-makers. That process repeated a few times and before long, my one-year agreement with my packager was up.

. . . .

It was also around the same time that the publishing world was changing. Kindle was managing to do to the book publishing world what Napster had done to the record industry. The world was changing and my story, about a Puerto Rican girl growing up in the welfare projects of Brownsville Brooklyn, proved “too dark” for the YA readers they had in mind for it.

With that, I took the experience and told myself that it had veered my journey away from the on-screen journey that I had hoped for the story. But I am a firm believer in “everything happens for a reason…moreover a GOOD reason and it’s up to us to find that reason.”

Fast forward a few years later, I was in the thick of filmmaking. I had a few episodes of a web series that I’d written, produced, and directed and found filmmaking to be my greatest passion. I knew I wanted to make my stage play into a feature film. It was then that I sought the advice of a great feature film director, Rashaad Ernesto Green, who told me that if I wanted to direct a film I should, “Make short films”.

. . . .

It was while at the Official Latino Film Festival in late 2019 that I received the next big great piece of advice. During a panel of professional writers–people who had all of the experience of being in a pitch room, I asked, “what is the number one thing that gets projects sold?” The answer sent bursts of colors through my brain– “I.P.”–Intellectual Property. Intellectual Property like a book lends any story credibility.

The writer went on to say that he had an idea for an alien series, and so he wrote and self- published a graphic novel to support the idea. When asked where the story came from, he simply took out the book and said, “this graphic novel”.

. . . .

I dug up all of the chapters I’d written and spent the next two days immersed in what I had and figuring out what was missing. I looked to my stage play and then to my new screenplay’s beat sheet. I added some parts that would reinforce the decisions I had made for the screenplay version. Within a week I had my first manuscript.

. . . .

My eyes were strained from reading, and so I uploaded my manuscript into Speechify and listened to it read back to me over and over again as I noted the errors to correct.

I googled everything I could about self-publishing…and it wasn’t the first time I’d done that but 2019 proved to be the year when technology would finally catch up to me, without the demand of financial investment. It took me a few weeks to consume the self-help videos and seminars made available through KDP Amazon. Yes, people, we have to thank Jeff Bezos on this one.

. . . .

After you’ve gotten through the editor’s changes you should get BETA Readers. These can be hired or just ask people who you know are avid readers if they’d give you feedback on the manuscript. I recommend creating a questionnaire specific to your book.

It should have questions like:

  • “What was your favorite part?
  • What confused you?
  • What would you tell someone about this book?
  • Who would you want to read this book?
  • Did you feel that anything was missing?

In my case, I had added a whole end chapter to my book, after a friend who had seen the play, told me that she very much missed the end of the play where I gave a recap of the real people the book was based on and shared where they are today. Now in retrospect, I can report that, at my book-club readings, I am often asked to read that very chapter aloud.

Link to the rest at Stage32.com and thanks to Judith for the tip.

PG will note that, just like literary agents, book packagers are not licensed and are not subject to any effective regulation. A high school dropout on drugs can promote her/himself as a book packager or literary agent.

One difference between the two is that the literary agent typically doesn’t get paid until you receive some money from your book (although there are those agents who charge “reading fees” for scanning your ms.).

Hollywood Park

From The Wall Street Journal:

The story begins in 1979, when (Mikel) Jollett is 5 and living on a farm-like compound in Northern California with other children and a few female caretakers. Every person Mr. Jollett ever sees has been shorn of hair. A woman with a shaved head who cries a lot visits occasionally. “I’ve been told this woman’s name is ‘Mom,’ ” Mr. Jollett writes, in an opening chapter that attempts to capture his childhood perspective. “I know the word is supposed to have some kind of special meaning.”

One night, this woman spirits him and his older brother, Tony, away from the compound. Mr. Jollett later learns that the place is a cult called Synanon, where former alcoholics and drug addicts (including, at one point, Mr. Jollett’s father) came to get clean and to try to create a utopia.

The price is those you love: Parents must give up children; husbands and wives must divorce; and no one can be more important than dear leader, in this case a false prophet with a penchant for violence. Some who leave the cult, the author reports, find their dogs hanging from trees. Others disappear and are presumed murdered. Mr. Jollett reports witnessing an escaped Synanon member being beaten by cult thugs. This would be a horrific scene for anyone to see, let alone a young child. Mom’s solution is to tell Mr. Jollett he never saw it and is thus not entitled to feel fear or anguish. “Do feelings exist if no one sees them?” Mr. Jollett wonders.

The boys are moved to Salem, Ore. They grow up hungry, dirty, cold. Mom has them raise rabbits so they can eat; by age 6, Mr. Jollett is required to defrost the creatures’ water bowls before dawn, and to learn to kill them. He receives guidance from a lover of his mother’s, a gentle alcoholic who teaches him to fish and engenders in him a love of running. One day, with no proof, she tells the boys he’s dead. The boys never see him again, leaving Mr. Jollett racked with sadness.

Meanwhile, Dad has been clean for years and is managing a mechanic shop. He lives in Southern California with a fellow ex-Synanon member—a woman who cared for Mr. Jollett at Synanon, a woman the author loved and still does. By the time he is 7, Mr. Jollett and his brother are spending summers in SoCal—where, Mr. Jollett says, “We fight less. We eat more. We lie with eyes closed in the sun thinking of precisely nothing.” He recalls going to the beach and standing in “the soft waves as they pour over us and Dad, shirtless and tan in the sun, standing still like an anchor in the water.” They go to horse races at Hollywood Park, where, feeling Dad’s hand on his shoulder, Mr. Jollett is overwhelmed by what it is “to be a son, to have a father, to be out at the track, with the men all trying their luck.”

Then it’s back to Oregon, to “moldy bread and four-day-old rabbit”; to Mom telling Mr. Jollett he’s fat and figuratively scratching off whatever healing has occurred when he’s away from her. Teachers tell her that Mr. Jollett, a straight-A student, should skip a grade; Mom won’t have it, and by age 10, Mr. Jollett understands why. “I know it’s my job to take care of Mom and that all boys are supposed to take care of their mothers because that was the reason they were born,” he writes.

As he gets older, Mr. Jollett tries to thrash his way out. He ditches school and crashes a Honda XR80 motorcycle. He becomes obsessed with David Bowie, picks up a broken guitar and beats on it. He takes up track in high school and earns a full-ride scholarship to Stanford, where he wins Pac-10 honors and runs the third fastest 10,000-meter time in the nation. It should be sunshine from here on out, but the damage inflicted by Mom has Mr. Jollett pushing women he loves away and occasionally wondering whether he should stick around this world at all.

It can sound airy to say, “Music saved my life.” In Mr. Jollett’s case, it seems also to be true. In his early 20s, living in L.A. and writing for a music magazine, he finds himself interviewing his hero Bowie. He gets up the gumption to ask, how does Bowie write songs? Mr. Jollett confesses that he’s written a few hundred; that his “deepest wish” is to perform for an audience. But the interviewer admits to the rock star: “So many things I thought were good, including parts of myself, turned out to be more complicated, more broken. And I can barely remember having a thought where love is just love, where there is peace and I feel like I deserve it, before all this contradiction in me came about.”

“Write about the contradiction then,” Bowie says.

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

How The Publishing World Is Staying Afloat During The Pandemic

From HuffPost:

As social distancing reportedly provides the perfect opportunity to, depending on one’s authorial aspirations, either write or finally read “King Lear,” book publishing may seem like the rare industry well-suited to a world altered by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ve had friends and family who are completely outside of the publishing industry be like, ‘This must be a great time for book sales!’” Stephanie Wrobel, whose debut novel “Darling Rose Gold” came out on March 5, said wryly. “I have to be the one to burst the bubble.”

In practice, nothing is quite so simple — and the publishing industry, like nearly every other, is struggling. Last month, not long after scooping up Woody Allen’s controversial memoir, Skyhorse Publishing laid off 30% of its staff. Macmillan Publishers shut down an imprint, instituted salary reductions and laid off a number of employees. Indie bookstores like Powell’s in Portland, Oregon, and McNally Jackson in New York City have also laid off staff, though Powell’s later rehired salespeople to ship online orders.

The inexpert among us are getting a crash course right now in supply chains and revenue streams. Despite the current demand for hospital resources and news media, for example, both industries are facing a financial crunch thanks to lost elective procedures and ad revenue, respectively. And though a book may begin and end as a solitary experience, from a writer’s mind to a reader’s hands, the publishing industry is an ecosystem vulnerable to the pandemic just like so many others, one threaded together by bookstores, festivals, warehouses, delivery trucks and, of course, customers with money to spend.

. . . .

For other authors, with release dates falling amid lockdowns, none of the in-person parties and readings are coming to fruition. Travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders have brought tours, parties and festival appearances to an abrupt halt, leaving authors, particularly less-established ones, scrambling to sell their books.

Link to the rest at HuffPost

But wait!

PG thought one of the jobs of publishers was to sell the books they publish.

If it’s up to authors to scramble to sell their books, what value exactly do the publishers add to the mix?

When Amazon is by far the largest bookseller in the parts of the world PG knows anything about?

Well, publishers arrange book-signings . . . at physical bookstores that sell a smaller and smaller percentage of total books sold. (Cue ominous Amazon music)

Well, publishers get reviewers to provide book reviews, which appear in newspapers (declining circulation) and magazines (ditto), and reviews drive readers to buy books (on Amazon, where there are zillions of reviews written by actual fans of romance or science fiction)

But printed books! The sensuous feeling when your delicate fingers lightly slide over the pages and feel the price tag on the back!

PG is not very imaginative today, but has no trouble thinking of dozens of things which are not books for his delicate fingers to slide over if he’s in that sort of mood.

PG recently made the mistake of purchasing an excellent physical book by one of PG’s most favorite authors.

It’s a history. Of World War II. With lots of details and comparisons between battles in World War II and the Athenians vs. the Spartans, the Second Punic and Jugurthine Wars, Yorktown, Napoleon, etc., etc. Plus it has 122 pages of end matter.

It’s a great book and, like a lot of PG’s favorite books, about one brick thick (in paperback).

However, it’s just not that fun to hold and, should PG absent-mindedly put it down without inserting a bookmark, it will take him several minutes to relocate his place. (PG realizes that this is a first-world problem, but that’s where he lives.)

PG’s Kindle Paperwhite, which is his favorite reading device (much lighter than an iPad and without incoming text messages, plus it just sips on its battery), is a device designed for one purpose, reading books.

Reading a 1200-page book on the Paperwhite feels just the same as reading a 150-page book. Absent the intervention of one of PG’s younger offspring, the Paperwhite always lights up where PG stopped reading. It won’t fit in a pants pocket, but does slide nicely into the pockets of most of PG’s coats if he wants to read somewhere else.

The only downside to the Paperwhite that PG can think of offhand is that, unlike a collection of books, a Paperwhite doesn’t make a good backdrop during a Zoom videoconference.

Twisted Siblings and the New Era of Psychological Thrillers

From Crime Reads:

Ah, sibling rivalry…something anyone with a brother or sister is likely to understand. The arguments, the jealousy, and in my case at least, the hastily scribbled not-so-nice notes shoved under my older sister’s bedroom door when I was eight. While many of us thankfully grow closer to our siblings as we get older and wiser, it’s no surprise past experiences are fuel for the writer’s imagination, allowing us to tread the darker paths (hopefully) never taken. Mysteries and psychological thrillers are perfect for creating and exploring these twisted relationships. After all, a character’s deeply rooted animosity can fester for decades before exploding and unleashing all kinds of evil wrath on their unsuspecting family members. Here’s a list of ten older, more recent and new sibling stories to take you on a wild ride.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (September 1962)

Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood is eighteen and lives in a big house on large grounds with her older sister Constance, and their wheelchair-bound Uncle Julian. Six years prior, Merricat’s parents, aunt and younger brother died after they were poisoned, and young Constance was suspected of killing them. But did she do it? And how do the surviving family members cope with the increasingly hostile villagers who’d rather see them all burn? This was Jackson’s final work before she died in 1965, age 48.

. . . .

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Doubleday, November 2018)

The title alone of this book had me clambering for a copy. Korede’s sister, Ayoola, has a habit of, uh, “dispatching” boyfriends, and alleging self-defense. Korede knows it’s anything but. Now Korede’s expected to help clear up another of her sister’s messes instead of going straight to the police, and she helps Ayoola because she loves her… But what will happen when Ayoola starts dating the doctor Korede’s been in love with for quite some time? What will Korede do and who will she choose to save? Wholly original and utterly surprising.

Link to the rest at Crime Reads

Japan Doesn’t Want to Become Another Casualty of English

From Foreign Policy:

In a 2019 survey, Japan dropped to 53rd in global English proficiency, squarely in the “low proficiency” band. Japan ranks near the bottom of Asian and developed countries alike despite constant reshuffling and refinement of the English educational curriculum in schools and the frequent assertions, acknowledged by Japan’s Ministry of Education, that English-language skills are needed to compete in the modern economy.

The failure to adopt English is particularly unexpected given that the English language—and the whiteness associated with it—signifies privilege in Japan. Countless advertisements flaunt white foreigners on TV and use English aptitude as the basis for selling products. Top companies such as Rakuten, an e-commerce website and the Japanese competitor to Amazon, place immense weight on English proficiency, whether or not English is needed for an employee’s role. Eikaiwa (English conversation) programs run daily on TV, and accounts featuring videos of Japanese American children speaking English cultivate tens of thousands of Instagram followers.

. . . .

At the same time, essays and books about the supposed uniqueness of Japanese language, culture, and identity—a genre known as nihonjinron—are in every bookstore, next to shelves of English-learning books. They overflow with complaints about young people’s poor Japanese and instructions on how to speak polite and beautiful Japanese.

Today, Japanese are caught between a belief in the importance of Japanese language and culture and the need to exist in a globalized world in which English carries economic privileges and status associations. A plummeting population and an inevitable future influx of foreign workers collide with a proud national identity, structural and cultural obstacles to English learning, and enough economic independence to resist what might otherwise seem an inevitable future: an English-speaking Japan.

For years, multinational companies have been mandating English as the common corporate language. “In East Asia, many parents, professionals, and students themselves see English as a prerequisite for attaining the best jobs on the market,” said Minh Tran, the executive director of academic affairs at Education First, a Swiss language-education company that offers classes in Japan.

Yet the spread of English has left behind a “trail of dead”: mangled languages, literatures, and identities. As countries around the world scramble for widespread English, there’s a fear of losing their own traditions, cultures, and even names.

English became a tool of the Japanese elite throughout Meiji era Japan’s relentless race to catch up technologically with the West. And while Japan was never a colony of a Western country, the U.S. occupation after World War II lasted for seven years—enough time for the U.S. military to implement widespread political and economic changes throughout the country. In the Cold War, Japan came under the U.S. nuclear umbrella of protection from the Soviet Union, further cementing America’s image as a symbolic protector.

This presence of American soldiers at this time exposed the general Japanese public to spoken English. “America [was] idealized in Japan at the time as a symbol of freedom and democracy, partly as a result of the success of the American occupation,” writes Takako Yoshida, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Lleida. English accordingly became associated with freedom, power, and status.

Link to the rest at Foreign Policy

During the occupation, Japan was governed (or ruled) by General Douglas MacArthur. At the end of the war, about 450,000 US military personnel together with other Allied soldiers were stationed in the country. Those members of the military who had fought in the war were mustered out as quickly as feasible and replaced with occupation troops from America, Britain, Australia, India and New Zealand.

Whatever his shortcomings, no one ever accused MacArthur of being indecisive. (Well, General George S. Patton did on at least one occasion, but Patton always had to be the most decisive military commander who had ever lived.) One biographer dubbed MacArthur as the American Caesar. (PG’s favorite bio of MacArthur)

The General effectively ordered Hirohito to remain as the emperor of Japan, staving off a potential suicide, which would have caused a great deal of societal disruption. Acting by fiat, MacArthur established a parliamentary democracy and, under his direction (although he was a politically-conservative Republican), the Japanese government introduced sweeping social reforms and implemented economic reforms similar to those of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s.

Major land reforms resulted in millions of acres of farmland (nearly 40% of Japan’s arable land) being purchased from landlords by the Japanese government, then resold at very low prices, to the tenant-farmers. Under these reforms, about three million peasants became owners of the land they had worked, sometimes for generations.

The Occupation ended in 1951 and Japan became a fully-sovereign nation in 1952.

According to Cultures of War,

Discipline, moral legitimacy, well-defined and well-articulated objectives, a clear chain of command, tolerance and flexibility in policy formulation and implementation, confidence in the ability of the state to act constructively, the ability to operate abroad free of partisan politics back home, and the existence of a stable, resilient, sophisticated civil society on the receiving end of occupation policies – these political and civic virtues helped make it possible to move decisively during the brief window of a few years when defeated Japan itself was in flux and most receptive to radical change.

How the Black Death Gave Rise to British Pub Culture

From Atlas Obscura:

“I’ll buy you a beer when this is all over,” declares Christo Tofalli, the landlord of Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, which lays claim to the contentious title of Britain’s oldest pub and is no stranger to pandemics. While closed, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, in the historic city of Saint Albans, has become a Community Supply Point, providing much-needed groceries and offering free delivery to the elderly. They are even delivering Sunday Roast dinners to residents in lockdown. The threat posed by coronavirus may feel unprecedented, but Tofalli, who manages the pub, says he has been looking to the past for inspiration.

In the summer of 1348, which was some hard-to-specify number of centuries after Ye Olde Fighting Cocks served its first beer, the Black Death appeared on the southern shores of England. By the end of 1349, millions lay dead, victims of what medieval historian Norman Cantor describes unflinchingly in In the Wake of Plague as “the greatest biomedical disaster in European and possibly in world history.”

Medieval society could muster little response, Cantor writes, except to “Pray very hard, quarantine the sick, run away, or find a scapegoat to blame for the terror.” Nobility and wealth was no defense: Princess Joan of England was struck down on her way to marry in Spain, while the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury perished shortly after being ordained by the Pope. The plague even halted (temporarily) the perpetual conflict between the French and English.

This pestilence returned repeatedly too; Cantor writes that “there were at least three waves of the Black Death falling upon England over the century following 1350.”

According to historian Robert Tombs, author of The English and Their History, one of the many repercussions was especially pertinent to establishments like Ye Olde Fighting Cocks: the rise of pub culture in England.

. . . .

When the plague arrived in 1348, drinking beer was already a fundamental component of Englishness. In his tome, Tombs writes that the English fighting the Norman invaders at Hastings in 1066 were suffering from hangovers. Drinking was even enshrined into the Magna Carta of 1215, which “called for uniform measures of ale.”

Drinking pre-Black Death, though, was comparably amateurish. In Man Walks Into a Pub: A Sociable History of Beer, beer journalist Pete Brown writes that “Society revolved around popular celebrations known as ‘ales’: bride-ales, church-ales … were gatherings where plenty of alcohol was drunk, and they frequently degenerated into mayhem.” Anyone could brew up a batch of ale in their home, and standards and strengths varied wildly. Homebrewed ale was advertised with “an ale stake,” Brown adds, which consisted of “a pole covered with some kind of foliage above the door.”

By the 1370s, though, the Black Death had caused a critical labor shortage, the stark consequence of some 50 percent of the population perishing in the plague. Eventually, this proved a boon for the peasantry of England, who could command higher wages for their work and achieve higher standards of living. As a result, the alehouses that were simply households selling or giving away leftover ale were replaced by more commercialized, permanent establishments set up by the best brewers and offering better food.

. . . .

“The survivors [of the Black Death] prioritized expenditure on foodstuffs, clothing, fuel, and domestic utensils,” writes Professor Mark Bailey of the University of East Anglia, who also credits the plague for the rise of pub culture, over email. “They drank more and better quality ale; ate more and better quality bread; and consumed more meat and dairy produce. Alongside this increased disposable income, they also had more leisure time.”

. . . .

In spirit, though, the pub was there. Peasants had the time and money for better food, drink, and leisure. “More ale was drunk, and beer (with hops) was introduced from the Low Countries. Brewing became more commercialized, with taverns and alehouses for drinking and playing games,” writes Tombs. “The English pub was born.”

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura

Amazon Literary Partnership Names More Than $1 Million in New Grants

From Publishing Perspectives:

Following its deadline of January 15 for applications, the Amazon Literary Partnership has this morning (May 27) announced $1 million in grants to 66 organizations in the United States. And as the country approaches the terrible milestone of 100,000 deaths to the coronavirus COVID-19, the funds being issued by the program may look better than ever.

In fact, Amazon already has provided COVID-19 emergency relief donations to Artist Relief and PEN America’s Writers’ Emergency Fund, the latter of which is also supported by the Lannan Foundation, and The Haven Foundation.

Publishing Perspectives readers are familiar with Amazon’s program, both for its more than $13 million in funding since Jon Fine directed the establishment of the program in 2009, and for its focus on supporting nonprofit efforts that serve writers, with a traditional emphasis on “overlooked and marginalized writers,” as Neal Thompson, another director of the program, has put it.

Today, Alexandra Woodworth guides the program, which has touched the work of more than 150 organizations.

. . . .

  • The theme is the author—with an emphasis on underrepresented voices—and supporting that writer’s needs
  • The variations or genres are represented by the wide variety of organizations and services funded

This translates into direct support for nonprofit writing centers, residencies, fellowships, after-school classes, literary magazines, national organizations supporting storytelling and free speech, and internationally acclaimed publishers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

On today’s announcement, Woodworth says, “The Amazon Literary Partnership champions organizations that support writers, poets, translators, and diverse voices at every stage in their career. Given the impact that COVID-19 has had on the literary community, we’re proud to continue to fund these remarkable organizations sustaining literary culture in our communities now and for the future.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG must have missed the announcements of Random House, Simon & Schuster, etc., about their donations to worthy nonprofits supporting diverse voices.

Coronavirus Worklife: Kalem Agency’s Şafak Tahmaz in Turkey

From Publishing Perspectives:

Ask anyone in world publishing who’d like to be at this year’s canceled spring trade shows, and they’ll tell you that Nermin Mollaoğlu of Turkey’s Kalem Agency is someone they miss most. Her bustling 10-person team—and the exuberant spirit they maintain in one of the world’s most challenging regimes—are favorites in international rights centers.

. . . .

Kalem by 2017 had created more than 2,100 contracts representing Turkish literary rights in at least 53 languages. The agency also produces the annual Istanbul International Literature Festival and works as a sub-agent for agencies and publishers in a huge range of markets. The company is coming up on its 14th anniversary.

As the contagion closed in, Tahmaz says, “Nermin made up her mind very, very fast, which we all appreciated and decided to close our office down on March 11, just after it was declared that the first coronavirus case had been detected in Turkey. We got our laptops, necessary files, backups, and started to work at home the next week.

. . . .

[H]ere’s some news from one of the most aggressive agencies in Europe and the Mediterranean for the international publishing industry to consider: “It’s a funny fact that last month,” Tahmaz says, “our fiction titles doubled. And our nonfiction titles broke their own record. Children’s titles are also doing well.”

. . . .

“Publishers in Turkey haven’t given up on new titles and they haven’t lost their excitement for books. But because of the crisis, the exchange rate started to fluctuate again. Revenue streams decreased when bookstores were shut down. But in audiobooks and ebook sales, the publishers in Turkey finally have comprehended the value of digital publishing and a great many publishers have demanded ebook and audio rights for both old titles and the new deals.

“It’s like a silver lining of these dark days. Especially for me, as I feel really comfortable reading in Kindle and listening to books, as well!”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

All the Lonely People

From The Wall Street Journal:

In recent years, surveys have shown that a large percentage of Americans feel lonely or socially isolated. (One such survey, published in January, put the figure at 61%.) The restrictions prompted by Covid-19 have surely triggered even more such feelings. At a time when technology supposedly fosters new levels of interpersonal connectivity, how did we get to this place? What are the broader effects? What should we do?

Those are some of the questions that Vivek Murthy, a doctor of internal medicine and a former surgeon general (2014-17), addresses in “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.” Though written before “coronavirus” entered our lexicon, the book is a timely and well-reported meditation on a critical aspect of the American mind.

Dr. Murthy begins by highlighting research showing that isolation is not our natural state: We evolved as social beings. “Humans have survived as a species,” he writes, “not because we have physical advantages like size, strength, or speed, but because of our ability to connect in social groups. We exchange ideas. We coordinate goals. We share information and emotions.”

It follows that when we’re not routinely socializing, we feel that something is amiss. Researchers have found three “dimensions” of loneliness, Dr. Murthy reports: “intimate” (wanting a spouse or confidant), “relational” (seeking close friendships) and “collective” (desiring a community with common interests). To thrive, we need to find the right approach to each of them, and loneliness can result if even one is left unfulfilled.

Dr. Murthy draws a distinction between loneliness and solitude. While solitude “is a state of peaceful aloneness or voluntary isolation,” loneliness is “burdened with shame.” He describes his own battle with loneliness as a child, saying that he didn’t want to tell his parents about it because doing so would have conveyed more than an absence of friends: “It would feel like admitting I wasn’t likable or worthy of being loved.”

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

The English towers and landmarks that inspired Tolkien’s hobbit sagas

From The Guardian:

Readers of The Lord of the Rings must surely imagine lifting their eyes in terror before Saruman’s dark tower, known as Orthanc. Over the years, many admirers of the Middle-earth sagas have guessed at the inspiration for this and other striking features of the landscape created by JRR Tolkien.

Now an extensive new study of the author’s work is to reveal the likely sources of key scenes. The idea for Saruman’s nightmarish tower, argues leading Tolkien expert John Garth, was prompted by Faringdon Folly in Berkshire.

“I have concentrated on the places that inspired Tolkien and though that may seem a trivial subject, I hope I have brought some rigour to it,” said Garth this weekend. “I have a fascination for the workings of the creative process and in finding those moments of creative epiphany for a genius like Tolkien.”

A close study of the author’s life, his travels and his teaching papers has led Garth to a fresh understanding of an allegory that Tolkien regularly called upon while giving lectures in Old English poetry at Oxford in the 1930s.

Comparing mysteries of bygone poetry to an ancient tower, the don would talk of the impossibility of understanding exactly why something was once built. “I have found an interesting connection in his work with the folly in Berkshire, a nonsensical tower that caused a big planning row,” Garth explains. While researching his book he realised the controversy raging outside the university city over the building would have been familiar to Tolkien.

Tolkien began to work this story into his developing Middle-earth fiction, finally planting rival edifices on the Tower Hills on the west of his imaginary “Shire” and also drawing on memories of other real towers that stand in the Cotswolds and above Bath. “Faringdon Folly isn’t a complete physical model for Orthanc,” said Garth. “It’s the controversy surrounding its building that filtered into Tolkien’s writings and can be traced all the way to echoes in the scene where Gandalf is held captive in Saruman’s tower.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Canada’s publishers face deluge of returns as bookstores re-open after eight weeks lockdown and a 63% drop in sales

From The New Publishing Standard:

Canada’s book publishing trade association Booknet is warning that as bookstores open their doors there will be even more books than usual being sent back unsold and unwanted.

While some bookstores have managed to maintain curbside sales, overall bricks & mortar sales are down about 63% and bookstores are sitting on case after case of unsold books that there is unlikely to be sufficient demand for as high street trade gradually resumes.

Canada’s The Star quotes Booknet Canada’s Noah Genner as saying:

If we just look at physical bookstores, so not online retailers, but mostly physical bookstores, they’re down almost 63 per cent year over year for the period. So 63 per cent in unit sales. That is hugely significant.

. . . .

The returns model, introduced last century to give bookstores flexibility to stock more books than they needed at no risk, is not just a Canadian problem but a model used around the world, and in normal circumstances the expectation of returns is factored into the production costs, so would not be a heavy drain on publisher profits.

But now publishers face not only the loss of sales for the lockdown duration (and however long it takes for some degree of normal trading to resume) but also an exceptional excess of unsold titles that will end up being pulped or more likely sold off to remaindered operations for re-sale.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG says that the book returns system is a twist on vendor financing, which, outside of the book business, typically happens when the retailer can’t qualify for conventional financing in order to pay for its purchases from a bank or other financial institution.

In the reality-based business world, vendor financing is often regarded as an indication that the customer isn’t in very good financial shape and doesn’t have enough working capital to operate its business. It can also be regarded as an indication that the vendor has a hard time selling its inventory unless it becomes what is, in effect, a bank or finance company for its customers.

Vendors often offer a price discount if the purchaser pays within X time period. This may be structured as follows: The Seller offers a 2% discount on an invoice due in 30 days if the buyer pays within the first 10 days of receiving the invoice. This usually doesn’t carry the same taint as vendor financing over a much longer period of time.

5 Ways to Improve the Action in your Story

From author Megan Ward via Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

Page-turners aren’t the only books that employ action. In every story the characters’ actions drive the narrative forward. Without action, a book would be a series of scenes full of dialogue and description, a literary Dinner with Andre that would put the reader straight to sleep.

. . . .

1) Evocative Verbs Improve the Action

The easiest way to improve the action in your story is through verb selection. Forget is and does and seems and feels. How about rattles and shakes and leaps and destroys? Forget was and did and appears and smells. How about hobbles and shimmers and carouses and spins?

You can even make verbs up, like “He drawered the manuscript,” “Her hair waterfalled across her face,” and “I watched the sand delta by the shore.”

We all know that active verbs are better than passive verbs, so try replacing “The book was passed down the row” with something like “The book jumped down the row from hand to hand.” Replace “The package was delivered to her house” with “The delivery man jettisoned her package from the truck before careening back down the street.”

Start by making a list of your favorite verbs. Think jitterspewfesterswagger, glimmer, squawk…if you run out of ideas try your thesaurus.

. . . .

3) Engage the Senses

Don’t confuse static “sensing verbs” (I feel sad, It smells good, You sound angry, She looks tired) with their dynamic counterparts (I feel the scalding water on my feet, I smell the loamy earth, The siren sounded throughout the town). And don’t confuse the use of sensing verbs with the use of sensory details in your writing. You should always aim to engage the senses in your writing.

Note how Sonali Deraniyagala uses dynamic verbs like hissed and rustled to engage the sense of sound in this passage from her memoir Wave:

“I moved on to make sinister noises when the phone was answered. I hissed, I rustled, I made ghostly sounds. The Dutch man spoke with more urgency now. ‘What is it you want?’ he said time and again. ‘Tell me, please. What is it you want?’”

Here’s a line from an LA Times article by Philip Caputo that engages the sense of smell. Note the use of the dynamic verbs overwhelmed and burned to convey the putrid odor of war:

“Their putrefying flesh overwhelmed the odors of smoke and diesel fuel and burned tanks, trucks and armored personnel carriers.”

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

Meghan is one of the authors of Writing Action

Can There Be Book Deals Without Meals?

From Publishers Weekly:

It was week four of coronavirus shelter-in-place. Going on 2 p.m.; I’m at my desk at home, answering emails, filtering submissions, contemplating a forthcoming edit. But wait, what’s that sound? Oh, right, it’s my stomach growling. I’m hungry. Must be time for a can of that chicken noodle soup I’ve been hoarding.

What a difference a couple of weeks makes. Before the lockdown orders came down in New York City, no self-respecting publishing person could forget about lunch. We all knew the drill. At 12:30 or 1 p.m.—occasionally as early as 12:15 or as late as 1:15—the office exodus would begin. We’d gather our coats and bags and wits and head out to meet with agents and authors at restaurants where reservations had been scheduled two, three, six, or eight weeks in advance. The mission: start or continue relationships that might lead to new submissions from said agents and authors, which in turn would lead to new acquisitions to be announced at future in-house editorial meetings.

While we might have shared sushi at Nobu, everybody knew lunch wasn’t really about food. No, it was about gossip, shop talk, and bringing brand new projects to fruition. Lunch, in other words, literally meant business.

So it should come as no surprise that among the questions, and there were many, that a lot of us asked when this whole work-from-home thing started was what would happen to the publishing lunch. 

. . . .

We have now had 10 weeks of sheltering in place, and I am happy to report that while I haven’t met anyone in a restaurant for what feels like forever, I, and most of my colleagues, are still making and publishing books and signing up titles for forthcoming seasons. I’m on the phone constantly, checking in with agents and authors about how they’re doing with kids at home and a bunch of new worries—but also about the projects they’re shepherding. I’ve been in a couple of major auctions and have won and lost several books, both fiction and non.

Will those books “work”? Who knows? Determining what the future reading world will embrace… well, that’s been a problem endemic to our industry forever; we’ve asked the question before (most recently during the 2008 recession, and before that after 9/11) and we’ve always survived. Sorry to paraphrase the over-paraphrased Mark Twain, but despite bookstore consolidation, the rise of e-books and audiobooks, and the explosion of interest in streaming TV, publishing’s death has been greatly exaggerated—many times. So what if now we’re talking books over Zoom, or WhatsApp, or maybe just in a plain old-fashioned phone call instead of across a two-top? We’re still publishing.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

While PG believes and ardently hopes there will always be an England, he can’t say the same thing about the traditional publishing business.

There will always be books, albeit in evolving forms, and books require authors (AI is lurking, but PG needs a bit more convincing that AI is capable of creating good fiction.) but printers used to do much of what publishers do today.

Publishers are an example of a classic middleman (or middleperson if you prefer, agents are as well) receiving products created by somebody else and funneling them to the organization or person who will actually sell those books to readers.

PG concedes that editors (whether they are called agents or not) can and do add value to the end product. However, this function can be outsourced to nice people working from their home office in Kansas where (for the benefit of those New Yorkers who have never visited), the costs of a comfortable life are much, much lower than on that skinny island hanging off the eastern part of the United States. The restaurants may be of a different type than Manhattan’s were before the plague, but with all the newly rich indie Kansas authors, Nobu may find greener pastures in Wichita.

If authors and booksellers (online or off) can work without the middlepersons, they both will probably make more money from their respective businesses.

From whatever New York restaurants survive the current disruption, the decline and fall of traditional publishing may cause an occasional tear to be shed, but there will be more-prosperous authors and booksellers who may make up the difference.

What now for authors?

From The Bookseller:

Sanjana Varghese had been working as a freelance journalist in London for around a year when the coronavirus pandemic hit. 

As countries around the world went into lockdown, many organisations froze their commissioning budgets, while others halted business entirely. Several of the pieces Varghese had been working on were cut as a result, having a “huge impact” on both her finances and her level of stress. As both a migrant and someone relatively new to freelancing, she was ineligible for support from the British government. 

“It was really stressful for a while – and it still is,” she says. “I’m increasingly uncertain that freelancing as we know it now will still exist in the same way in a couple of months. That’s something I spiral about when I’m left without something to do for too long.” 

One of the publications Varghese regularly wrote for has already shut down, again leading to increased anxiety about the future: “Basically, I try not to look at my emails too much because I’m anxious I’ll get one with, ‘Sorry, we’re shutting down’ in the subject line.” 

As a freelance writer, she is far from alone. Many currently working across journalism and publishing are facing similar anxieties when it comes to a shared uncertain future. But as a community used to going it alone, it’s a crisis that predates coronavirus. 

In many ways, freelance writers are prepared for periods of isolation. Hours are spent reading, researching or writing alone, while working from home away from the presence of colleagues is an everyday reality. For some it is liberating; for others, the total opposite.

Several of the issues people have faced since being confined to their homes are nothing new to freelancers. Epson research found that a quarter of freelancers had experienced depression, while almost half admitted to finding the experience lonely. On top of this, the publishing and media industries are also deeply unequal: 51 per cent of journalists and 80 per cent of editors are privately educated. For those without newspaper columns, cushy media jobs, family connections or six-figure book deals, lockdown – and its repercussions – have only heightened such disparity.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Regular visitors to TPV know what’s coming now.

As with hundreds of other indie authors, Mrs. PG has been working on her next book every day. The artist who creates her covers has been doing just about the same thing and did another great job on the cover for this next book.

As PG has mentioned in earlier comments, almost every indie author he’s communicated with since the lockdown happened has noticed Amazon sales going through the roof. Mrs. PG is expecting another nice royalty check in a few days and yet another next month.

When you freelance for a person who reports to another person who needs approval from a third person to offer you an advance and you sign a publishing contract promptly and send it back to your contact, time passes before you get anything in the email. How much time depends on a bunch of people who boss around the person with whom you have dealings.

Freelance journalists and photographers are all familiar with receiving messages from the person they’ve been working with saying there won’t be a contract after all. If the publication hasn’t signed the contract (and sometimes even if it has), there won’t even be a kill fee.

Similar Works

Following are excerpts from a website called Similar Works. As the website states, the purpose of this site is to help protect authors from plagiarism of their books.

Beginning of Excerpts:

Protect your book from plagiarism

Similar Works is a web application built to protect authors from having their work exploited and their stories taken from them.

Upload your book to Similar Works and we’ll scan the text against other titles and keep monitoring — and alert you when we find any matches.

. . . .

How It Works

The Similar Works system analyzes ebook files and identifies matching text.

Books are submitted by authors and publishers who wish to protect their copyright, or concerned readers who believe they have found a work containing plagiarized material.

Similar Works reviews all books manually before accepting them into the archive.

Once a book is accepted, the system checks that book against all other titles already added.

If we find text matches that look suspicious, we contact the author or publisher and provide information so that they can take further action to protect their copyright.

We continue to check every time a new book is added to the archive.

Our Book List shows titles that have already been added, as well as a summary of similarities that have been detected called the Similarity Band.

. . . .

The Similarity Band

The Similarity Band is a visual representation of the similarities that our system finds in books.

Each Band is a generated watermark which represents the book’s text, from beginning to end, going from left to right. This is the text as it appears inside the digital file which is uploaded into the Similar Works archive, so it includes things like the copyright notice, the table of contents, disclaimers, back matter, and samples of other books.

When every book is run through the master algorithm, the text is split into logical chunks, usually consisting of no more than a sentence or two. The Band is generated by lining up all the chunks in order, and then recording a color depending on whether a similarity has been detected within that chunk or not.

. . . .

The Band can tell you a lot about how books are related to each other! For example, if a book has a lot of stripes on the far right side of the Band, then there are similarities detected near the end of the text. That probably indicates that the same back matter or samples appear in another book. Stripes on the left indicate similarities detected near the start of the text, and they are probably disclaimers or generic copyright notices.

(We do our best to filter out disclaimers and other generic language used by a lot of authors, so hopefully you won’t see too many of those.)

Unfortunately, the algorithm can only identify similarities. It can’t tell us why the similarity exists.

Common Phrases or Quotations

If you see only one or two stripes, then those are likely common phrases. The sensitivity of the master algorithm is carefully tuned to try to avoid this, but it’s not always successful. These can also be quotations.

Similarity Band for The Best of Relations

Here’s an example of a Similarity Band for The Best of Relations, by Catherine Bilson. You can see that there is a single white stripe indicating a similarity about two-thirds of the way through the book. That similarity was identified as coming from none other than Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen – which is not unusual, as The Best of Relations is based on Pride and Prejudice! In this case, it’s a famous line from Jane Austen’s classic that Catherine Bilson added to her novel.

I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit.

The Best of Relations/Pride and Prejudice

What Does Plagiarism Look Like?

Royal Love, by Cristiane Serruya

This is the Similarity Band for Royal Love, a romance novel by Cristiane Serruya. Royal Love is currently part of an ongoing court case filed by famed romance author Nora Roberts against Cristiane Serruya in April 2019, accusing her of plagiarizing lines from as many as forty other romance authors.

The Similar Works system has identified many similarities in Royal Love, spread throughout the book.

In addition to potentially being a great help to authors, PG thinks this is a fascinating field of analysis.

Here’s a link to Similar Works

A human being

A human being is primarily a bag for putting food into; the other functions and faculties may be more godlike, but in point of time they come afterwards. A man dies and is buried, and all his words and actions are forgotten, but the food he has eaten lives after him in the sound or rotten bones of his children. I think it could be plausibly argued that changes of diet are more important than changes of dynasty or even of religion….Yet it is curious how seldom the all-importance of food is recognized. You see statues everywhere to politicians, poets, bishops, but none to cooks or bacon-curers or market gardeners.

George Orwell

Have We Weaponized Virtue?

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

FOR EVERY ACTION, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Newton’s Third Law deals with physical objects, but does it also have something to teach us about human behavior and the clash of forces in our fraught and turbulent society?

When it comes to the volatile issues of race, sex, identity, privilege, rights, and freedom, well-intentioned actions to redress genuine injuries can conflict with equally important societal values, such as freedom of speech and the open exchange of ideas. Are there unintended and adverse consequences that flow from the energetic vindication of cherished rights in our society? Consequences that have been ignored and deserve serious examination? Is there still any legitimate place for dissent and disagreement on these fundamental issues?

In The Tyranny of Virtue: Identity, the Academy, and the Hunt for Political Heresies, Robert Boyers, professor of English at Skidmore College, author of 10 books, and editor of the literary journal Salmagundi, is alarmed by the “irrationality and anti-intellectuality” on college campuses and in the wider cultural environment that was “unleashed by many of the most vocal proponents of the new fundamentalism” to “silence or intimidate opponents.” He is deeply concerned that

concepts with some genuine merit — like “privilege,” “appropriation,” and even “microaggression” — were very rapidly weaponized, and well-intentional discussions of “identity,” “inequality,” and “disability” became the leading edge of new efforts to label and separate the saved and the damned, the “woke” and the benighted, the victim and the oppressor.

He regrets that “people who are with you on most things — on the obligation to move the world as it is closer to the world as it should be — are increasingly suspicious of dissent.”

Boyers is asking whether in our zeal to address the consequences of racism, misogyny, sexual violence, bigotry, and intolerance in America, are we spreading a new intolerance, undermining cherished values of free and open discussion?

. . . .

As Boyers sees it, tendencies that alarmed him and others on the liberal left 25 or 30 years ago have grown more disturbing.

Intolerance among young people and their academic sponsors in the university is more entrenched than it was before, and both administrators and a large proportion of the liberal professoriate are running scared, fearful that they will be accused of thought crimes if they speak out against even the most obvious abuses and absurdities.

Boyers offers a startling example.

An Ivy League college senior in Boyers’s July 2018 New York State Summer Writers Institute — a young white man — told Boyers he was denounced in a seminar by several other students for writing poems based on his experience as a volunteer in Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. “How dare he write poems about lynching and the travails of oppressed people when it was obvious that he has no legitimate claim to that material?” Boyers sarcastically asks, echoing the all-too-sincere accusations leveled at the student. “Was it not obvious,” Boyers continues, “that a ‘privileged’ white male, who could afford to take off a year of college to work as a volunteer, really had no access to the suffering of the people he hoped to study and evoke?”

Boyers expands this example beyond the college setting by recounting another controversy that unfolded in July 2018, when objections (which Boyers calls “predictably nasty and belligerent”) were lodged against The Nation magazine for publishing a short poem by a young white poet in which he used black vernacular language. Within a few days the poetry editors who had reviewed and approved the poem issued what Nation columnist Katha Pollitt called a “craven apology” that read “like a letter from a re-education camp.” In The Atlantic, the scholar of black English John McWhorter called the language in the poem “true and ordinary black speech” and a “spot-on depiction of the dialect in use.” He also noted the irony that, at a time when whites are encouraged “to understand […] the black experience,” white artists who seek “to empathize […] as artists” are told to cease and desist.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

For PG, freedom of expression qualifies as the premier virtue of a free and civilized society.

With it, the polity has the possibility of fixing things that are broken, righting the wrongs that are, unfortunately, inevitable in any collection of diverse human beings.

Without it, not so much.

Close behind freedom of expression is tolerance for the opinions others with whom we disagree.

PG is reminded of how his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, illustrated Voltaire’s beliefs:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

The Gift of Good Soil

From The Wall Street Journal:

More than anything else during this lockdown, I’ve missed restaurants. What wouldn’t I give right now to be sitting with friends in a cheerful bistro, nursing a glass of wine and looking over the day’s menu? Instead, tucked under the bedcovers, I’m reading about dishes I might have ordered had I been so lucky. You can almost taste the food in Bill Buford’s “Dirt,” an engrossing, beautifully written memoir about his life as a cook in France.

“Dirt” refers to the soil that gives food its taste, the goût du terroir to which the French famously attribute the complexities inherent in wine. The book is a sequel to “Heat” (2006), Mr. Buford’s account of how he quit his job as an editor for the New Yorker to work in Italian restaurant kitchens. He was a man obsessed, determined to prove his worth among professionals, earning the requisite badges of honor: knife cuts, singed hair, burns and blisters. Former editor of the literary magazine Granta and author of “Among the Thugs” (1990), a hair-raising account of British soccer hooliganism, Mr. Buford seeks out extreme experiences. He finds plenty when he gets to Lyon.

The city, about 250 miles south of Paris, is the capital of French gastronomy and has been home to the finest chefs, including Daniel Boulud, who is from there, and the great Paul Bocuse. Mr. Buford intends to stay for three months, but he ends up living in the town for five years.

. . . .

During that time he works for a baker, attends a top cooking school and, finally, toils on the line in one of Lyon’s most famous restaurants.

Mr. Buford brings a novelistic approach to his story; he is both observer and participant. He’s an entertaining, often comical, raconteur. “The women were beautiful, as you would expect—it was France,” he observes upon arrival in Lyon. “It was the men who were unexpected. Their look was almost uniform: blunt, short-cropped hair, unshaven, sometimes a cheek scar, thuggish—ugly: forthrightly so. These were not New York faces. They were not Parisian. They were more English than French, an aging-lad look. I thought: I know these people. They are not fancy or fussy, and they unexpectedly put me at ease.”

. . . .

In his neighborhood bistro, a diner complains to Mr. Buford’s wife: “Do you really need to smile so much?” A taxi driver hits his 3-year-old boy for putting his legs on the seat. “I searched for words, while securing my children on the sidewalk, and put my head back into the car to tell the driver, in my best possible French, that he must never (jamais!), ever touch (toucher) my child (mon fils) or I would rip the eyeballs out of his fat sockets and eat them. Actually I have no idea what I said.” Mr. Buford had yet to master the French language.

. . . .

His descriptions of his new city are vivid and evocative. “In Lyon, the rivers make everything built near them—bridges, quais, pastel-painted sixteenth-century homes, random Roman ruins—into performances of light and darkness and reflection. But Lyon is also a throwback city—wiseguys, corrupt cops, unbathed operators working a chance, the women, mainly Eastern European, working their trade. Friday nights are rough: The after-hours clubs across the Saône from our home open at 11:00 p.m. and close whenever . . . Saturday nights, remarkably, are rougher than Fridays. You wake on Sunday and there is a drunk guy leaning against your door. A vehicle that had been parked in front of the apartment has been torched. Farmers arrive early at the market to hose away vomit.”

But early in the morning the enticing smell of bread wafts across the street from a bakery opposite his apartment. He befriends the owner, Bob, a large, jowly man, permanently bedecked with flour. After a month unable to find work in a restaurant, Mr. Buford becomes his apprentice.

The job is a stopgap. He leaves Bob when he is accepted at the prestigious culinary institute named for Paul Bocuse. The course is hard and, as in “Heat,” Mr. Buford is humorously self-deprecating. “My life had been a happy one, not quite knowing what a fricassee was.” At the school he learns, among other things, the three principles of a French plate: colorvolume and texture. Then, at last, he finds a restaurant willing to take him on.

The kitchen in Mathieu Viannay’s Michelin-starred La Mère Brazier was run the old-fashioned French way. It was hierarchical and tense, with 15-hour days. 

. . . .

“The French kitchen was about rules: that there was always one way and only one way (like trimming the gnarly ends off your beans—with your fingertips, never a knife).” There was even a rule about popping peas. Split the pod, drop the peas quickly into boiling water, drain and ice; the pea’s membrane will slide off with a gentle squeeze. He imagines the belly-wobbling laughs this idea would provoke in his Italian colleagues. “In the long history of Italian cuisine, you will not discover a single popped pea.”

But he has another goal besides training in a French kitchen: to investigate the history and origins of that country’s cooking and its links to Italian cuisine. Food historians have debunked the long-held myth that Catherine de’ Medici taught the French how to cook.

. . . .

This attitude towards food prevails even at the local school where Mr. Buford’s twins are enrolled. For lunch, the children are served three-course meals, no menu ever repeated during the year, ending with cheese, fruit, dessert or yogurt.

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

Amazon’s Audible used by almost 20% of the population of France in 2019

From IDBOOX (translation via Google Translate):

Audible has released the figures for its annual study on audio books in France. In 2019, the audio book recorded a good progression, especially in usage.

. . . .

Audible [study results for] 2019 Audiobook [usage show] 18.8% of French people listened to an audio book in 2019. This represents an increase of more than 19% compared to 2018.

Women between the ages of 25 and 34 mostly listen to audio books (48.9%).

We listen more to audio books and audio content in the Paris region (51.6%) and in the Grand Est region (50.4%).

. . . .

According to Audible and Opinéa, 73.5% of French people listen to audio books on smartphones, 38.8% on computers, and 33.4% on tablets. Note that 12.9% of people who listened to audio content in 2019 listened to it on a connected speaker.

We prefer to listen to audio content at home, this is the case for 40.9% of the respondents. 39.6% listen to it before falling asleep, and 30.2% by doing household chores.

. . . .

83.1% of French people listen to audio content alone. A small percentage listens with family or friends (8.4%).

Link to the rest at IDBOOX

Coronavirus Lockdowns Spark Boom in Online Learning for Adults, Too

Not exactly to do with books, but a possible way of making money by sharing knowledge included in a book or series of books through a different medium plus as a marketing tool to sell more books to help sell more books.

From The Wall Street Journal:

From her home in Portland, Ore., Peggy Dean perches her iPhone on a tripod and records five-minute lessons on subjects ranging from modern calligraphy to watercolor. Since the coronavirus struck, demand for her videos has soared, with viewing figures doubling from a year ago.

The business of selling skills online—from art to coding—has been booming during the pandemic. Online educators say adults are making time to learn during lockdown, joining millions of children and college students taking classes at home and adding to the raft of in-home activities gaining in popularity. Teachers say online learning was already growing, and lockdowns have accelerated that, but competition is coming from automated lessons powered by algorithms.

Ms. Dean, a former hair stylist, posts her videos along with roughly 6,000 other teachers to Skillshare Inc., a New York-based website that charges $99 a year for unlimited video classes. Ms. Dean, one of the site’s most-watched teachers, said she makes six figures from teaching online.

Daily viewers and time spent on Skillshare have more than tripled from last year, the company said. Revenue shared by teachers like Ms. Dean rose 12% between March and April, and the company expects it to rise again this month and next as free-trial users start paying up.

Last month, the site’s top teacher made $68,000 with videos about how to use Adobe software, said Skillshare, which has 500,000 paying subscribers. All teachers earn a cut of a royalty pool based on minutes watched, with the top 500 earning about $2,000 a month on average but most other teachers earning far less.

Ms. Dean, 33 years old, said she regularly speaks to other teachers on the site who say they are also getting more viewers. “We’re all seeing those minutes skyrocket,” she said, adding that her numbers have doubled to 475,000 minutes in April from last year.

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

“a life saving growth of 300% in our D2C e-commerce sales during lockdown” – Verso

From The New Publishing Standard:

While many publishers have this past decade continued to rely heavily on bricks & mortar bookstores as a buttress against Amazon’s dominance of the online print and ebook market, UK publisher Verso has long since put its efforts into building a D2C (direct to customer) relationship with its audience.

And that has paid off handsomely, not just with a 25% increase on global sales year on year, but a massive 300% increase in its e-commerce sales in 2020’s first quarter while other publishers were hit by lockdown closing bricks & mortar stores, distributors like Bertrams, Gardners variously operational or closed, and Amazon prioritising non-book goods distribution.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Marketing to kids in difficult times

From The Bookseller:

Many months ago, when we all sat in our meeting rooms, sipping coffee and bouncing campaign ideas around, I don’t think any one of us marketing folk could have predicted just how much our plans would be forced to change. The effects of the national lockdown on marketing campaigns and the publishing industry in general has been monumental, but when it comes to children’s books, there’s a whole extra layer of complexity. 

In the current climate, how can we ask parents to find the money to spend on books? What about those who don’t have time to read their kids a bedtime story? How can we reach kids and their parents in a sensitive, positive way? Many marketeers in publishing houses (or their own houses) will be wondering where to start. Here are some ideas for what seems to be working well right now.

1. Think audio

There are some new opportunities that have presented themselves during lockdown. Individuals are spending more time than ever with digital audio. Fun Kids Radio launched their ‘Stuck at Home’ podcast during the first week of lockdown, and have observed a 44% rise in streaming, with webpage views are up 126%. This is because they are creating useful, entertaining content for children, occupying them and which providing parents with a snippet of free time.

I’d highly advise creating an audio ad and distributing it across a network of interest-based children’s podcasts. Better yet, if you can get your author to record the audio (even on their smart phone) they can capitalise on their author brand, making the ad more sentimental and genuine. By utilising interest focused podcasts, you are sure to speak to your listeners at a time when they’ve chosen to engage. This is a tactical way to maximise on pester power.

Francesca Simon, the author of the wonderful Horrid Henry series, is also featuring on a podcast all about her title character. Her involvement will encapsulate children, those who are familiar with Henry’s adventures will relish in it, and the few that are yet to encounter his mischief will be begging their grown up to buy it for them.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Pamela DuMond v. Diversion Publishing Corporation, Farrah Reilly, Simon & Schuster, Inc., Emma Chase, LLC, Emma Chase and Simon and Schuster, Inc., Case Number: 2:2019cv08922, US District Court for the Central District of California

Note:

Some visitors to TPV have reported difficulties in seeing the embedded PDF documents in this post. PG first observed this problem this morning – Thursday, May 21 – (everything seemed to work as planned for PG yesterday) and managed to get the embedded PDFs to show up after refreshing the screen a couple of times. You may want to try holding down your Shift key when you refresh the screen.

As you can see below, PG has provided an alternate way for you to view the documents if the embeds don’t work/haven’t worked for you. PG apologizes for any aggravation this issue has caused.

Beginning Original Blog Post:

As observant visitors to The Passive Voice have noticed, PG included a post titled Plagiarism 2020 yesterday. Today, we’ll talk a bit more about plagiarism, focusing on filings in an interesting lawsuit pending in the US District Court in the Central District of California.

Here are the principal pleadings to date.

NOTE: If you have difficulty viewing any of these PDF documents in this post, following is a link to a shared Dropbox folder that contains all the documents, numbered in the order in which they were filed with the Court (You don’t need a Dropbox account to access this folder) https://www.dropbox.com/sh/562g9gujbnkapzc/AAAH0VLzlOXC8KS3znDq9kxya?dl=0

First-Amended-Complaint

Motion-to-Dismiss

filed_Opposition_MTD

Reply-Supporting-Defendants-Motion-to-Dismiss

PG will provide a bit of explanation and commentary. (You can page through each document by moving your cursor over any page, which will reveal up and down arrows plus a zoom feature.)

If you are easily bored and want to see the most interesting document PG found during his exploration of the Court’s files (which are public records), you can scroll way, way down to the end of this post to view Exhibit C to one of the documents you will read about if you don’t immediately jump to the end.

Exhibit C appears to be the result (perhaps only part of the results) of a computerized analysis comparing the entire text of each of the two books at issue in this case to determine the ways in which they are similar to one another – the core question in a copyright infringement case that does not involve actual copying of all or a substantial portion of a copyright-protected work.

If this type of analysis proves useful and is accepted by courts, the subjective opinions of various “experts” who compare each of the texts by reading them and creating conclusory lists or summaries of similarities or differences may be replaced by something that is more objective and can provide a basis for a more accurate and predictable standard for where the line is between “inspired by” and “copied from” lies.

The Complaint

The Complaint is filed on behalf of Pamela DuMond, an individual author.

The Complaint names four different defendants:

  • Farrah Reilly a/k/a Emma Chase (for those visitors to TPV from outside of the United States, AKA stands for “Also Known As”. PG assumes Farrah Reilly is a pen name under which Ms. Chase writes.)
  • Emma Chase LLC – It appears that Ms. Chase may operate a limited liability company which may or may not have rights to her book and/or receive proceeds from her book.
  • Diversion Publishing Corporation d/b/a (Doing Business As) Everafter Romance
  • Simon & Schuster, Inc. (a very large American publisher)

Per a later paragraph in the Complaint, Diversion Publishing published a print version of Ms. Reilly’s book and Simon & Schuster published an audio version of the book.

The Complaint is fairly self-explanatory and what PG would expect to see in a case like this.

Rule 8 of The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure describes what a complaint must contain

(a) Claim for Relief. A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain:

  • (1) a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction, unless the court already has jurisdiction and the claim needs no new jurisdictional support;
  • (2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and
  • (3) a demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the alternative or different types of relief.

PG also notes that the Summons (a court notice to Defendants that they have been sued) was issued in late October, 2019. In November, 2019, two attorneys entered an appearance on behalf of all the defendants except Simon & Schuster.

In January, 2020, these two attorneys withdrew and were replaced by the S&S attorneys, so all the defendants are currently represented by the same attorneys, originally hired by S&S.

The Motion to Dismiss

The second document is a Motion to Dismiss filed by the Defendants.

A few things caught PG’s immediate attention.

  • The names of three attorneys appeared on the motion, all from the same firm
  • One attorney was from the California office of the firm – the defendants needed an attorney admitted to practice in California to file the response and provide ongoing information about California civil procedure, etc.
  • Two attorneys are from the New York office of the firm and were permitted to participate in a California court case pro haec vice – for this case only.
  • The defendants’ law firm is one of the 100 largest in the United States, with offices in New York, Anchorage, Bellevue (suburban Seattle), Los Angeles, New York, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle (in addition to the office in Bellevue) and Washington DC.
  • PG concludes that Simon & Schuster is completely running the case via the attorneys they originally hired and who, thereafter, in January, 2020, undertook to represent the rest of the defendants..
  • A large firm like the one representing the defendants would almost certainly have competent IP litigation attorneys in California, likely in both the LA and San Francisco offices. However, they’re using two New York attorneys, Elizabeth A. McNamara, a full partner with more than 30 years of experience, with lots of litigation, in IP and media matters, and Kathleen Farley, an associate focusing on media in addition to an LA IP associate. PG suspects a 20-minute court hearing in California would generate a significant number of billable hours sitting on an airplane for the New York lawyers.

The Motion to Dismiss is a 28-page document. PG doesn’t know what the current large-firm New York City rule-of-thumb per-page cost for a serious litigation document is, but PG suspects we’re looking at a serious five-figure fee just for drafting this document. If the court sets oral arguments on the motion, PG suspects an additional five figures will be spent by Defendants if the New York lawyers show up.

The biggest question on PG’s mind is, “Why is Simon & Schuster spending so much money defending this case?”

PG doesn’t know how many audiobooks S&S sold before the Summons arrived, but the dollars it has received and would generate if the audiobook continued to be sold would seem to be much less than the costs of defense. PG has no inside knowledge about settlement discussions, if any, but PG bets that S&S could get a release from Pamela DuMond, the author/plaintiff for less than it’s spending on its New York and California lawyers.

However, the fact that S&S offered to have its lawyers represent the rest of the defendants as well is an indication for PG that S&S wanted to control the defense of the case and is likely in the battle for the long haul.

Back to the merits of the Motion to Dismiss.

As PG mentioned much earlier, under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a Plaintiff need only provide a “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief;

After reading the Complaint, PG thinks it’s pretty clear what Ms. DuMond thinks the Defendants did wrong. If the Defendants are seriously confused, the process of discovery – depositions, interrogatories, etc., etc., – will offer plenty of opportunity for Defendants to clear up any questions they may have.

The Defendants argue that the Complaint only mentions a few examples of plagiarism/copyright violations. PG thinks these are clearly identified as just some of the similarities, not all of them.

One thing the Motion to Dismiss does demonstrate is that S&S is going to attempt to make litigation expensive for the Plaintiff.

Plaintiff’s Opposition to Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss

For PG, this is where things became more interesting.

The copying and copyright infringement of the Defendants was
most likely the result of digital text spinning followed by a re-write and polish. Text
spinning — also called automatic paraphrasing — is performed by computer software
containing a built-in thesaurus.

While digital text spinning results in the alteration of the original work, it also results in nonsensical phrases, awkwardly constructed sentences, patterns, repetitions, and other anomalies — all of which exist in the Defendants’ Copy. What else could explain why the very unique word “Rome” occurs at exactly 67% of the way through the digital version of the Work and at exactly 65% of the way through the digital version of the Copy; and the very unique word “Beyoncé” occurs at exactly 95% of the way through the digital version of the Work and at exactly 95% of the way through the digital version of the Copy. Defendants will argue that the exact same word placement is a remarkable coincidence or that the word is not a form of protected expression.

As detailed below, the digital versions of the Work and the Copy show similarities
that are so striking as to preclude the possibility that Ms. DuMond and Defendant
independently arrived at the same result. The Appendix is replete with similarities that
are similarly placed in the Work and the Copy. This Court should employ a digital
analysis of the Work and the Copy, rather than the antiquated paper analysis urged by the Defendants.

But the Work and the Copy share more than striking similarities in names, stock characters, or trope – they share hundreds of copyrighted elements including written dialogue, written plot points,written character traits, and written scenes, to name a few.

Element WorkCopy
HeroPrince Nicholas Frederick Timmel  Prince Nicholas Arthur Frederick
Heroine / VillainessHeroine: Lucy “Lucille” TrabbicioVillainess: Lucy “Lucille” Deringer
Nicknames “Lizzie” “Livvy”
Good FriendTo Heroine, Lady EsmeraldaTo Hero, Lady Esmerelda
Royal GuardTomas Tommy 
Handsome ManChristophChristopher
Name of BarThe MadDog BarThe Horny Goat Pub
Penthouse CharacterOwner: David BillingsleyButler: David
Pie ReferenceMarie Callender’sMarie Callender’s
Famous ReferencesKardashian, Beyoncé, Brad Pitt, James BondKardashian, Beyoncé, Brad Pitt, James Bond
Words on one pagepenthouse, hand-painted, crystal, marble floorpenthouse, hand-painted, crystal, marble floors
Chapter 3 PassagePies, shop, open, chocolate, berries, counterPies, shops, opens, chocolate, berry, counter
Linda Blair Reference“swiveled his head toward me like Linda Blair”“Linda Blair Exorcist-head-spinning”

Computer Analysis of Similarities of the Two Works

If you’ve made it this far, PG congratulates you and suggests you may wish to apply to law school.

The following document is the one that interested PG the most. It is attached to the Plaintiff’s Opposition to the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss as Exhibit C and appears to be one of the products of a computer analysis of the two works – Ms. DuMond’s original book and the one she claims violates her copyrights – to determine how similar the two works are.

As with earlier embedded PDF files, if you can’t see this one in your browser, you can access it at the shared Dropbox folder – https://www.dropbox.com/sh/562g9gujbnkapzc/AAAH0VLzlOXC8KS3znDq9kxya?dl=0

Exhibit-C