Life As a Book Publisher in Wartime Ukraine

From The Literary Hub:

Vivat, where I work as a publicity manager, is one of the largest publishers in Ukraine. In pre-war times, it published more than 400 new books each year, and the rights to its books were sold to more than 24 countries in the world. The publishing house has 117 employees, who are now scattered across the world. The city of Kharkiv, where Vivat is based, has been under fire from the first day of the war to the present day; its offices are still intact, but the work there has terminated.

The first month of the war passed with all staff in search of safe places, working mainly to survive; the first and most important goal for the publisher was to keep people safe. To date, 95 percent of all the company employees have been evacuated from the city. Some stayed in the country but moved to quieter places; others left the country while hoping to return. City authorities have stated unequivocally: There are no safe areas in the city anymore. Wherever you are, you may be killed by a Russian missile.

At the same time, even in safety, not everyone could continue their work, as some did not have the technical facilities to do so; all the company’s equipment was left behind in Kharkiv. In spite of those difficulties, we were able to establish new work processes, especially thanks to employees who collected and sent equipment away from the city during the first month of the war.

. . . .

In addition to what was left behind at the office, there was another enormous problem for the publishing house: its warehouses are also located in Kharkiv, from which it is not possible to transfer books because of constant shelling. Attempts are still being made to relocate books in small batches to a relatively safe area. However, it is not yet possible to provide the pre-war assortment, delivery frequency, and operation of the online store.

The main income of the publishing house, as it is not difficult to guess, is the sale of books. Given the problems with the warehouse, the company’s financial losses to date amounted to 90 percent, compared to this time last year. The bulk of financial expenses, for the company, is due to the publishing house’s commitment to staff: the main goal is to keep the same members of the team working, even at reduced salaries. That is, no layoffs to save money.

. . . .

Profit recovery is currently taking place on several fronts. One of the main ones is in the sale of rights abroad. Since the beginning of the war, the demand for Ukrainian books has significantly increased. Certainly, such an interest mostly owes to the growth of Ukrainian refugees abroad; people who have been forced to leave their homes want to read books in their native language, and books provide an opportunity to stay in touch with their country and their lives before the war.

Among these refugees there are many mothers with children, so books are also a necessity for them, due to their new language surroundings. However, foreigners themselves have also become much more interested in Ukrainian books. People want to know more about Ukrainian history, everyday life, art, and traditions. Because of this, Vivat is entering more actively the international market and establishing new offices. Soon we will open a new office in Poland to distribute books there.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Supply Squeeze, Changing Consumer Behavior Challenges Publishers

From Publishers Weekly:

A May 4 webinar hosted by Ingram Content Group addressed supply chain challenges, logistic delays, inflation, the role environmental impacts play on consumer shopping preferences, as well as how accessibility is increasing the reach for e-books and audiobooks. Participants included Rob Grindstaff, director of sales operations and product development for Ingram’s Lightning Source; Ruth Jones, director of global sales and digital services at Ingram Content Group UK; and Gina Walpole, the senior services manager for Ingram Content Group UK.

Panelists noted that troubles with the supply chain persist. Problems include a shortage of materials, increased freight prices, and port congestion. All of this is putting a strain on publishers as it becomes more difficult for them to accurately predict demand and, consequently, supply for a given title. It was pointed out that paper mills are operating at full capacity while some are shifting production from producing paper to packaging. Labor shortages persist across the logistics supply chain—and are predicted to carry into 2023. All this is resulting in rising costs.

Customer buying habits are also changing, panelists said, not only as a result of inflation, but because of a growing awareness of the need to support companies whose values align with the customer’s own—be they about ethics, equity, or environment.

One solution the panelists offered to several of these issues was Ingram’s own “print in market” (i.e. print-on-demand) solutions, which had various advantages over offset printing from speed to market to having a lower carbon footprint. The panelists noted that Ingram could serve markets in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and the United Arab Emirates, and are planning to expand operations to South Africa.

Another trend to note is the year-on-year increases in digital sales. This has been aided by several advancements in the industry, from increased discoverability due to better metadata management to the growing awareness that e-books have a far lower environmental impact than print books. Text-to-speech is improving and A.I. narration—Google now offers 35 voices for narration—is expanding the audience for audiobooks by making them more accessible.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

7 Novels About Women Who Refuse to Fit In

From Electric Lit:

I had a friend—we’ll call her Kinsley—who was as close to me as a sister for nearly 20 years. As we grew older, our values began to differ, but we both agreed that no difference was profound enough to break our friendship. Kinsley married a man she met on a religious website, sending me a text after one month of long-distance dating that read, “This is Christian [not his real name]! We have decided we are in love and getting married!” The following year she began expressing frustration over their inability to conceive naturally; she was ethically opposed to IVF. I was casually dating in New York and contemplating freezing my eggs. 

Then, after 17 years of friendship, Kinsley abruptly ghosted me. The experience left me thinking about relationships that break under the strain of womanhood in all its conflicting forms. I have no doubt that for Kinsley and me, the looming pressures surrounding fertility (and our differing perspectives on motherhood, sex, and reproduction) accelerated our falling out. In her eyes, I was misguided (her word)—a black sheep among women. The last time I felt close to Kinsley was roughly seven years ago at a music festival. There was a torrential downpour and we huddled under a tarp, sharing poutine and drinking beer. When we were in line for poutine round two, we playfully debated the morality of birth control (insofar as that conversation can be playful). Even then, the chasm was widening.

. . . .

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Keiko, a woman working at a convenience store in Tokyo, best understands how to function “normally” within the framework of her job at Smile Mart, where social interactions can be learned by studying a manual. Keiko flourishes at the store and achieves a level of contentment she hasn’t experienced elsewhere; but as she approaches middle age, her lack of ambition and marital status (single, uncoupled) become an increasing affront to her meddling family and coworkers. Keiko contorts herself into a desperate emotional pretzel in an effort to appease her loved ones. The resulting decision is comically aligned with her personality—an unusual arrangement that makes her even more of an aberration, at least by the standards of people who care about such things. 

. . . .

Chemistry by Weike Wang

In Chemistry, we meet another woman with a life that is by all accounts rewarding, yet fails to deliver happiness. The novel’s narrator is working toward her PhD in chemistry—a goal foisted on her by her parents—and her perfectly lovely boyfriend has proposed. But she’s mired in ambivalence about her career and relationship and struggles to untangle her own wants from the wants foisted on her. As the story develops, the narrator reveals aspects of her childhood that led to her present state of indecision. This is a moving, character-driven illustration of what happens when the presence of others looms so large that there’s no room left to develop your own identity. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

How Writers Fail (Part One)

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I keep forgetting that working in the arts requires a very specific sort of attitude. It’s an attitude that can be trained, but to do that, an artist must want to change. This is a complex and sometimes difficult thing to do.

First, the attitude itself.

It’s a combination of optimism and pragmatism, with a bit of cynicism mixed in. Yeah, I know, confusing. So let me give you the example that sparked this small series of blog posts.

Moving to Las Vegas four years ago now enabled me to get in touch with dozens of artists in very different fields. I haven’t had that experience on a daily basis since I left Wisconsin mumble-mumble years ago. When I lived in small-town Oregon, going to conferences and conventions provided some of the contact, and the openness of the internet both helps and hurts, but nothing replaces an in-person experience, particularly with other art besides writing.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been taking a series of classes. Some of them are in disciplines that I wasn’t able to practice due to that West Coast move, although I kept my hand in through online study. Some I simply needed to do in person for me, to get the feedback that comes from an audience and/or from an onsite instructor.

. . . .

But, about a week ago as I write this, I sat in the first class of a discipline that has changed a lot in the past forty years, due to the internet and the connectivity of the world. I’m being deliberately vague about the discipline for a variety of reasons, not the least is that I don’t want a bunch of people (on Facebook or here on the blog) asking me why I’m abandoning writing.

I’m not. I’m just reviving some other parts of myself.

. . . .

What type of class we’re dealing with isn’t exactly relevant to the story. I was sitting next to another person who desperately wants a career in the arts. That person had confessed as much to me.

We sat through the same presentation. We learned a whole bunch of really cool stuff. By the end of it, my internal optimist saw so many opportunities that had I not already chosen a writing career, I’d have been jumping on all of those opportunities. As it is, I’m looking at how to use what I learned just in the first class in my own writing career. (You’ll see posts about this scattered throughout what I’m doing the next few months, as I learn more.)

I was so excited. I’m still excited. The entire class made me realize I had felt this way when the indie publishing movement started—the whole popcorn kittens feeling. That feeling is essentially so many cool ideas that it’s almost impossible to corral all of them.

. . . .

So many opportunities! So much choice! How can I best use all of this to the advantage of my various businesses? How can I add more without losing something that I want to do?

After the class was over, I turned to the person beside me.

“Wow, this is incredible,” I said. “I hadn’t realized there were so many possibilities.”

The person made a sour face. “I don’t believe any of it,” the person said. “They’re going to have to prove to me that these opportunities exist.”

Prove? Heck, it was obvious to anyone who looked. It was obvious through just by going through daily life. And the class itself was obvious: It was being offered by people who worked in that discipline. If there weren’t opportunities, there would be no class.

Instead, if the opportunities did not exist, those who had the expertise would jealously guard that expertise so no one else could even attempt to participate. That’s how doors close, particularly in the arts. You have to break them down or sneak in sideways or be even better than anyone already practicing that art.

That was how traditional publishing was back when I first broke in. It took work, perseverance, and a willingness to ignore the word no over and over and over again.

. . . .

So, I said, in response to this person, “Prove it? What do you mean? It’s obvious.” (And sometimes I’m oblivious.)

The person said, “[this particular discipline] has never been open, not when I first tried it years ago. I doubt it’s open now.”

We’d just sat through a long presentation about all of the opportunities, and the instructor even talked about the way this discipline was once the most difficult to break into in the country and is no longer.

I opened my mouth, closed it, and finally got a clue. This person did not want to hear that they had just walked into a place with a lot of opportunity.

I said something polite (God knows what) and turned away to talk to another person who wanted to reinvent themselves because they’d lost their job in the pandemic. That person was very excited, as was an artist in another discipline who joined the conversation. That artist was trying to figure out—as I was—how to blend what we had just learned with what we were already doing.

We didn’t see dollar signs: we saw opportunity.

The first person? Opportunity had just given them an hours-long presentation, and that person turned their back on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if that person does not show up to any future classes.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

What Makes a Great, or Terrible, Audiobook Performance?

From Vulture:

During the first days of the 2019 impeachment hearings, the headline of an essay by the Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse floated the question “What does female authority sound like?” One of the earliest witnesses had been the acting ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., a rather ordinary, if genial, middle-aged man. Afterward, Hesse noticed the name Walter Cronkite trending on Twitter. The following day, testimony from Taylor’s equally if not more impressive predecessor, Marie Yovanovitch, prompted a standing ovation in the committee room. Yet, Hesse noted, no “adoring comparisons to any deceased icons” had followed. “Her voice, after all, did not sound like Walter Cronkite’s.”

The issue wasn’t how she sounded. It was how she sounded to us, a listening public without the aural reference library to assess female authority, trustworthiness, and power.

I have thought about that column and headline many times since the fall of 2019. I thought about it a lot when Joan Didion died late last year, and I thought about it even more trying to listen to a recording of Diane Keaton reading from Didion’s work around that time. Rereading Didion’s essays and reporting after her death, I had thought, That right there is what female authority sounds like — by which I meant the dry, detached, unsentimental, sly but muted, deadpan voice that characterizes not only Didion’s literary style but those of Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, and Mary McCarthy before her as well as the voices of such contemporaries of Didion’s as Renata Adler and Janet Malcolm.

But listening to the five-minute Audible sample of Keaton reading from the first essay in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, I had to admit, “Whatever female authority sounds like, it isn’t that.”

. . . .

I had gone online to see whether there were any decent recordings of Didion’s work. I like to keep tabs on this sort of thing, probably because I grew up listening to written-word recordings. As a child, I had trouble falling asleep after we moved to an apartment where I no longer shared a room with my sister, and letting me drift off listening to spoken-arts records was my mother’s solution. So from time to time, I check up on how some author or piece of writing has fared at the hands of the audiobook industry. I do it when a writer who has meant something to me dies. I do it when I run across prose that makes me want to hear it beautifully read. I do it when something I’m reading on the page moves me for reasons I can’t explain.

This happened to me once with a Jonathan Franzen novel. His narrative voice tends to be so mordant, so unforgiving toward his characters, that I couldn’t fathom how something toward the end of his novel Freedom had me sobbing. Flipping back to the beginning pages, I saw how the irony in Franzen’s description of his protagonist mingles caustic knowingness with compassion.

. . . .

Tall, ponytailed, absurdly young, pushing a stroller past stripped cars and broken beer bottles and barfed-upon old snow, she might have been carrying all the hours of her day in the string bags that hung from her stroller. Behind her you could see the baby-encumbered preparations for a morning of baby-encumbered errands; ahead of her, an afternoon of public radio, the Silver Palate Cookbook, cloth diapers, drywall compound, and latex paint; and then Goodnight Moon, then zinfandel. She was already fully the thing that was just starting to happen to the rest of the street.

I wanted to hear what that alchemy sounded like. But when I went to the recording, the actor to whom Macmillan had assigned the book kept telling me with his voice what I was supposed to feel. He seemed to have no understanding of how writing works. Every syllable was an opportunity for a new artistic choice, as though words exist in isolation and sentences have no relation to one another. He wasn’t reading the novel so much as making sure the listener knew it was being read by an Actor. It was impossible to follow the logic, let alone be affected by Franzen’s meticulously calibrated prose.

Link to the rest at Vulture

PG doesn’t believe that he has ever revealed his undergraduate major on TPV.

So here’s the big reveal:

Oral Interpretation

or, if you want more detail,

The Oral Interpretation of Literature.

He understands that many will look at that major and think, “Thank goodness he went to law school. Otherwise, he would have starved to death.”

PG will restrain himself from explaining why Oral Interpretation makes more sense than immediately comes to the mind of an above-average rational person.

The point of this shocking disclosure is to provide some authority to PG’s point related to the OP:

Some people have good speaking voices and habits and others have terrible speaking voices and habits.

It is wonderful if someone has a good speaking voice in her/his genetic makeup, but, absent that blessing, it is possible for anyone to develop a better speaking voice if they feel theirs is not up to snuff.

Motion picture studios hire voice coaches to help actors improve various aspects of their voices.

One of the most common changes to improve the sound of your speaking voice is to lower it a bit.

If you lower it a lot, you’ll sound stupid, but most people have developed a habitual speaking voice that is higher-pitched than is optimum for their physical pipes (a technical term Oral Interpreters learn in their classes). Men or women, just lower your voice just a bit and you’ll sound better.

Ingrid Bergman had one of the great voices for an actress during the middle of the Twentieth Century. Note that it is lower than the voices of many women.

Here’s another clip of a young Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, each with a very good voice.

Here is a collection of very good female voices:

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Change

From Writers Helping Writers:

Debilitating fears are a problem for everyone, an unfortunate part of the human experience. Whether they’re a result of learned behavior as a child, are related to a mental health condition, or stem from a past wounding event, these fears influence a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality traits. The compulsion to avoid what they fear will drive characters away from certain people, events, and situations and hold them back in life. 

In your story, this primary fear (or group of fears) will constantly challenge the goal the character is pursuing, tempting them to retreat, settle, and give up on what they want most. Because this fear must be addressed for them to achieve success, balance, and fulfillment, it plays a pivotal part in both character arc and the overall story.

This thesaurus explores the various fears that might be plaguing your character. Use it to understand and utilize fears to fully develop your characters and steer them through their story arc. Please note that this isn’t a self-diagnosis tool. Fears are common in the real world, and while we may at times share similar tendencies as characters, the entry below is for fiction writing purposes only.

Fear of Change

Notes
Most people are averse to change at some level, and a certain amount of unease when it comes to change is normal. It only becomes a problem when a person is so determined to keeping things the same—possibly because they don’t want to give up control or are afraid of the unknown—that their quality of life is impacted, relationships are damaged, and they’re unable to grow and evolve in a healthy manner.

What It Looks Like

  • Dismissing new ideas without considering them
  • Humoring people; giving the appearance of considering something new but always rejecting the opportunity
  • Avoiding making decisions that require change (so the status quo can be protected)
  • Reacting emotionally rather than logically
  • Using outdated sources or ineffective arguments to make a point
  • Becoming emotionally activated when new ideas are being considered
  • Clinging tightly to “old school” methods: resisting technology, ignoring scientific advances, rejecting tools that deviate from what they’re used to, etc.
  • Sentimentality
  • Loyalty (to people, a job, a community, etc.)
  • Inflexibility
  • Repairing and fixing material objects rather than replacing them
  • Living in the same house even when it’s falling apart or the property value has skyrocketed
  • Sticking close to home; not traveling far or taking long trips
  • Frequent strife with family members who want to make changes the character is resistant to
  • Resenting others for moving on and leaving the character behind
  • Going to extremes to avoid change (manipulating others, lying, being mean or lashing out at someone who is suggesting a change, etc.)
  • Being more interested in the past than the future

Common Internal Struggles

  • Disliking being left alone/behind but being unable to embrace the changes required to keep up with others
  • Feeling obsolete
  • Feeling selfish for being so unbending but not knowing how to be more flexible
  • Wanting to go back in time to when things were happier or simpler
  • Struggling with anxiety or depression
  • Feeling stuck in a situation but being unwilling to make changes

Flaws That May Emerge
Confrontational, Controlling, Cynical, Defensive, Evasive, Hostile, Ignorant, Inflexible, Irrational, Judgmental, Nervous, Obsessive, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Possessive, Resentful, Stubborn, Uncooperative

Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life

  • Staying in a situation that makes the character unhappy or is unhealthy because it’s preferable to facing the unknown
  • Difficulty making even small changes to a daily routine
  • Missing out on meaningful activities with others (a trip with friends, a family reunion, dinner at a friend’s house, etc.)
  • Becoming isolated from others
  • Difficulty utilizing modern advances that most people enjoy because the learning curve is too great
  • Always having to make excuses for turning down an opportunity
  • Avoiding people who are likely to suggest activities or changes that threaten the character
  • Always needing to do things their own way; resisting new methods or ideas that would make their life easier

Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear

  • New technology or processes at work that must be learned and used
  • A scenario requiring the character to move (the house being condemned, no longer being able to pay rent, etc.)
  • A spouse having to move into a retirement home, leaving the character on their own
  • Grown children moving across the country and asking the character to come with them
  • The culture shifting to embrace ideas the character disagrees with
  • Being given a new phone, a computer, or some other tool the character isn’t comfortable with but must learn to integrate into their life
  • The character’s children wanting to deviate from a long-held tradition

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Wanna Be a Paperback Writer? The Scoop on Writing Series Books

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

Why am I writing a series? It’s dead simple. Because my agent wants me to.

Why does she want me to?  Here goes:

WHY WRITE SERIES BOOKS?

First and foremost:  Money.  Publishers love to market a good series because (hopefully) there is an audience built in from the first book.  The branding is established.  People who bought the first book will buy the second (assuming they liked the first.)  And in years to come, people who buy the new release at a festival or launch will hopefully go back and pick up the backlist. (I made a lot of my income from readers picking up my backlist.)

Readers get attached to the characters and want to be with them again for another adventure.  And writers?  Well, I adore revisiting the characters I came to love in the first book.  Sometimes, it’s like they’ve become my friends, welcoming me back to their worlds with open arms.  At times, I can’t believe they aren’t real. 

. . . .

You’ve heard writers declare that characters will sometimes take over a book and tell their own story.  True, some characters are the bane of my existence, ungrateful whiny creatures who permeate my brain and insist that I tell their stories rather than move on to new projects.  So before you decide to write series, make sure you like your characters enough to live another twelve round with them.

BUT SOMETIMES YOU CAN’T

Let me put it this way.  Some genres lend themselves to series better than others.  Literary does not tend to be a genre for series books, for instance.  (Note my point on character arc below.) Where we do tend to find series books is in Mystery, Romance and Fantasy/Sci-fi.

Let’s look at those genres specifically.

SERIES BOOKS IN MYSTERY AND ROMANCE

Series in Mystery and Romance are different from series in Fantasy Sci-fi, because of the rules of the genres.

In Romance, there must be a HEA (happy ever after.)  The book must end with the story of the couple getting together romantically.  However, you can write a story about their friends…secondary characters who come forward to have their own stories.  (This is common in Paranormal Romance.  A vampire series may feature a clan of vampires, each of whom finds their own love in successive books.)

In Mystery, the crime must be wrapped up at the end of the book.  BUT, you can have the amateur detective or PI or same group of cops go on to solve more crimes in future books.

Example: Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple.  Sherlock Holmes.

Big plus in Mystery:  Series books lend themselves to television series! (Especially in Britain, the lucky ducks.) And you don’t need me to tell you that’s where the money is.

That takes care of Mystery.  But what about Thrillers?

For that, we need to go back to the differences between Mysteries and Thrillers.  Here’s a definition commonly used:

Mystery fiction is a puzzle story

It starts with a murder (or crime) and emphasizes the solving of the crime. The protagonist’s job is to discover who committed the crime and why.  The reader and the detective both receive the same information at the same time (anything else is not playing fair.)

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

Empires and emperors are things of the past—in theory

From The Economist

From the decorative sovereigns of Europe to the more potent ones of the Gulf, monarchs still abound in the 21st century. But none of them is a real emperor. That is to say, there is no modern ruler who wields personal authority over a huge, diverse range of polities, thanks to a distinctive, mysterious swirl of dynastic and spiritual credentials.

That is the observation, delivered with a near-audible sigh of regret, of a historian who has devoted a professional lifetime to one empire in particular, that of Russia under the Romanovs, and to imperial regimes in general. Dominic Lieven brings to his latest work a striking, informed empathy for the dilemmas of mighty sovereigns, from Britain’s Queen-Empress Victoria to galloping lords of the steppes.

As his narrative whirls through the realms of Rome, India, the various Islamic caliphates (including the Ottoman one), the tsarist autocracy and colonial systems commanded from western Europe, he demonstrates an unmistakable soft spot not only for most of the empires of the past, but for their masters and mistresses too. Few readers will share that sentiment, but most will enjoy the journey.

Mr Lieven offers especially vivid portraits of some great empresses, from China’s Wu Zetian (who ruled from 690 to 705ad) to Russia’s Catherine the Great (1762-96), both of whom made shrewd use of their status as outsiders in male-dominated worlds. With verve, he describes the good-cop/bad-cop games played by imperial strategists: that mixture of light-touch suzerainty through local proxies, and occasional ruthlessness, which often let a handful of individuals hold sway over vast and scattered populations.

He presents empires as systems in which disparate cultures and technologies could co-exist creatively. He sees ethno-nationalism—the emergence of small and sharply defined states that slip the imperial bonds—as a destructive force. He is disarmingly frank about the personal history that colours this approach. His academic home is in Britain but he descends from Baltic-German nobles who served Russia; he grew up among Anglo-Irish folk in the twilight of British domination, and spends many months with his in-laws in Japan.

The title promises a focus on imperial claims to divinely ordained legitimacy, or to the plain divinity asserted by the rulers of ancient Rome and nearly modern Japan. And Mr Lieven does say a lot about the unifying and legitimising role played by religion in various empires, from Buddhism and Confucianism in China to Russian Orthodoxy. He writes well about the stark, compelling simplicity of Islam, which galvanised a previously unremarkable group of middle Arabians to overwhelm more sophisticated places.

But religion is only one of his themes. He is no less fascinated by the disproportionate role in history played by the fighting horsemen who, as he recounts, held sway over the north Eurasian grasslands for about 2,500 years—until well into the second Christian millennium. As Mr Lieven notes, the dynastic realms that once extended from modern China can be divided into those dominated by the Han Chinese (the Song and Ming), and the much larger territories governed by the Mongol, Qing and Tang dynasties, whose origins can be traced to “the nomadic warrior world of the Eurasian steppe”.

Both the Ottomans and (less obviously) the Russians, especially those of Moscow, could claim similar roots. Russians are taught at school that in 1480 their forebears threw off the yoke of their so-called Tatar-Mongol masters. This falsely conflates two peoples; it also understates the deep symbiotic link between the Slavic rulers of the Muscovy region and their overlords.

Having said that real empires are a thing of the past, Mr Lieven rather shyly makes the case that understanding them is still important. As he puts it, “most large countries in Asia remain more like empires than the European model of the ethno-national polity.” If the continent “catches the disease of European ethno-nationalism the planet might well not survive the resulting chaos.”

Modern India, he writes provocatively, is the product of the Mughal and British empires, which used divide-and-rule tactics, along with pomp and ceremony, to knit the subcontinent together. Having lost its anti-colonial legitimacy, Mr Lieven says, the Indian state is now succumbing to the plague of ethno-nationalism, and seems to be locked in an ever-more dangerous stand-off with Pakistan.

That analysis will be controversial in India. In any case, the argument for studying empires can be made more simply. Recall that since 2017 American strategy has avowedly been based on great-power competition, which means vying with Russia and China. Officially, neither is now an empire in the sense of being ruled by a sovereign. Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are depicted as emperors in cartoons, but both emerged from an ideology that in theory abhorred inherited privilege.

What matters most, though, is not what they are, but what they think they are.

Link to the rest at The Economist

They are frightened

And then it occurs to me. They are frightened. In me, they see their own daughters, just as ignorant, just as unmindful of all the truths and hopes they have brought to America. They see daughters who grow impatient when their mothers talk in Chinese, who think they are stupid when they explain things in fractured English. They see that joy and luck do not mean the same to their daughters, that to these closed American-born minds “joy luck” is not a word, it does not exist. They see daughters who will bear grandchildren born without any connecting hope passed from generation to generation.

Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club

The Subplot

From The Wall Street Journal:

As democracies around the globe wrestle over where to draw the line between free speech and unlawful lies and what—if any—rules should govern social-media platforms, we might assume that under nondemocratic governments such matters are cut and dried. Not so. Anyone who has ever lived in a communist country knows that the rules are often vaguely worded and the system enforcing them capricious. A book the authorities ignore today might trigger their anger tomorrow. In China, writes Megan Walsh in “The Subplot: What China Is Reading and Why It Matters,” some call this the “anaconda in the chandelier” with the onus being on “publishers and writers to second-guess what might cause the snake to strike from above.”

Outside China, many assume that anything that gets past the censors must be, at best, without artistic merit or, at worst, propaganda. After all, Xi Jinping made it clear in 2014 that art and literature should “take patriotism as its muse, guiding the people to establish and adhere to correct views of history, the nation, the country, and culture.” Yet to consider banned books the only ones worth reading, Ms. Walsh argues, is still a political litmus test. “It would benefit us as foreign readers wanting to understand Chinese society—as well as our own—to seek out fictional worlds, rather than the broad-brush political and economic narratives of the public domain.”

Ms. Walsh began exploring the world of China’s writers and artists in 2004 while she was living in Beijing. In “The Subplot,” the London-based arts writer compiles a kaleidoscopic picture of fiction written and published in mainland China over the past 10 to 20 years. Despite a proliferation of trendy bookstores, most fiction reaches its audience online in what Ms. Walsh describes as “the largest self-generating industry of unregulated, free-market fiction in the world.”

The confluence of technology, economic growth, periods of relative creative freedom and the persistence of writers has produced an unprecedented diversity of voices. Some who lived through the Cultural Revolution, for example, only to see it—and their own past—erased from the “correct views of history,” publish haunting stories of alienation. In Mo Yan’s “Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out,” the narrator is reincarnated as one animal after another, never coming back as a human and therefore incapable of affecting or participating in China’s often violent transition from feudalism to socialism to capitalism. Among ethnic minorities, Ms. Walsh shows how Tsering Woeser and Pema Tseden expose the murky, painful realities of being “happy Tibetans”; and how the Uyghur author who goes by the pen name Tarim writes love poems in his native tongue but uses Chinese for political verses. In a poem translated by Ms. Walsh, he asks: “Friends say / Chinese poetry needs metaphor / I ask / Is that the same as a bat liking the dark?”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Should be a free link, but, if not, sorry.)

Stand By Our Teachers and Librarians

From Publishers Weekly:

I had a bit of a situation recently after I featured my newest nonfiction picture book in a presentation to a Texas audience of engrossed fourth graders and their unnerved teachers. By “a bit of a situation,” I mean it was a Very 2022 Mess that threatened to spill over into my scheduled visits to several other elementary schools in the same district.

The book in question was Moving Forward: From Space-Age Rides to Civil Rights Sit-ins with Airman Alton Yates, illustrated by Steffi Walthall and published by Simon & Schuster’s Beach Lane Books. At the heart of things was a request—soon followed by multiple requests—that I instead present a different, not-civil-rights-related book to other local students. And behind that initial request? Fear.

The details are convoluted and not terribly important. But there are two takeaways:

1) Through a lot of private dialogue with the librarians hosting me in the district, we worked things out, and my presentations at the other schools I visited did indeed focus on Moving Forward—a story of courage, sacrifice, teamwork, progress, and public service—in its entirety.

2) You and I can help prevent situations like this from occurring in the first place.

I assume it’ll come as no surprise to you to hear that there’s an anti-democratic mob attacking this country’s schools, libraries, educators, and librarians—unless you yourself are part of the anti-democratic mob, in which case that might not be how you’d characterize yourself. (You’d be wrong.)

This mob is deliberately whipping up a climate of politicized fear as it strives to cast books, public education, diversity, and the freedom to read as threats to be repelled by them rather than as resources and gifts to be treasured by us all. I don’t believe that this noisy, unruly element represents the majority of us. What this element lacks in numbers, however, it makes up for in commitment to making itself heard and getting its way. But for those of us in the majority—those of us who, among other things, oppose using intimidation to suppress ideas we don’t like—what we boast in sheer numbers, we seem to lack in commitment to putting our strengths and values to work.

Specifically, I see far too little demonstrated support for the people who keep our schools and libraries going. I don’t mean support only when a particular institution is under assault; I’m talking about routine, proactive, never-taking-them-for-granted support. And if teachers, librarians, and the people who work with them—including administrators and public officials—don’t get a sense of that support from the broader population, what exactly is going to reinforce their resolve to do the democracy-minded thing when they’re under pressure from the aggressive and all-too-visible reactionary fringe?

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG notes that it’s a natural human reaction to disagreements about values for each side of the disagreement to defend their own personal values.

Unfortunately, there’s also a natural human reaction during such disagreements to denigrate people who disagree with your opinions. Such reactions, at least these days in the United States, quickly move to reliance on Ad Hoc arguments, sometimes called Ad Hoc fallacies.

Here’s a definition:

Ad hoc fallacy is a fallacious rhetorical strategy in which a person presents a new explanation – that is unjustified or simply unreasonable – of why their original belief or hypothesis is correct after evidence that contradicts the previous explanation has emerged.

As such, it’s an attempt to protect one’s claim from any potential refutations and thus preserve their existing beliefs. Furthermore, the explanation is specifically constructed to be used in a particular case and is created hastily at the moment rather than being the result of deliberate, fact-based reasoning.

Link to more at Fallacy In Logic

A second element PG has seen in disputes like that described in the OP is the fallacy of Appeal to Authority.

Here’s a definition:

Appeal to authority is a common type of fallacy, or an argument based on unsound logic.

When writers or speakers use appeal to authority, they are claiming that something must be true because it is believed by someone who said to be an “authority” on the subject. Whether the person is actually an authority or not, the logic is unsound. Instead of presenting actual evidence, the argument just relies on the credibility of the “authority.”

Link to more at SoftSchools

Gatekeepers and Creativity

From Writer Unboxed:

I signed my book deal with Red Hen Press over two years ago, before COVID times if you can even remember those days! It comes out on June 7th and I’m in the freak-out-and-get-ready phase right now. The process of working with this indie press has been very positive and I’d be happy to chat about it sometime. (Do I recommend Red Hen Press for other authors? Yes!)

But the funny thing is that, while having this good experience with a small press, I’ve also been thinking a lot about the gatekeepers involved in getting a thing out there into the world. I’m using the term “gatekeepers” loosely because in some cases these gatekeepers are more in my head than in real life. But there are quite a few folks involved in the process of getting my book out the door. There is my agent, there is my publisher, there’s a publicity person, a media person, and the list goes on. I’m honored to work with these people, but it’s a lot of voices (on top of the voices in my head). There’s another element of the process around anticipating reviews from the big reviewers like Kirkus Reviews or Publisher’s Weekly. What if they love it? What if they hate it? (So far the news is good, but…) There are just a lot of steps and a lot of rules between finishing the book and sharing the book with the world.

All this to say that it takes a lot of mental space for me to manage this process and I continually re-assess whether I’m going through each step because I believe in it, or because others want me to do it. I think I’m going down a road that I believe in, but some days it feels… complicated. I have a tendency to want to please people and I have to keep that people-pleaser voice in check.

And that’s why I’m particularly giddy about how many avenues we creative people have at our disposal to get stuff out there on our own terms without any gatekeepers stopping us or assessing us. We can self-publish stories and essays and books, we can pump out YouTube videos, we can make a podcast, or TikTok our way to fame, or blog about all the bloggy things we’ve ever dreamed of blogging about.

There are many difficult aspects about what we’re facing right now as I sit here in the middle of 2022, worrying about the many things to worry about. But one amazing aspect about right now is how many ways we can share our cool creations with an audience.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

The Vital Difference Between Plot and Story—and Why You Need Both

From Jane Friedman:

Writers buy plotting books by the dozen and do their best to create the plottiest plot that the world has ever seen. They stuff their novels with action-packed sword fights, explosions, fist fights, and screaming matches. Plot points, pinch points, and grandiose climaxes abound.

But the problem is this: in the world of great novels, Plot and Story are very different entities, and every great novel needs both.

Plot refers to all the external events that happen in a novel. The plot encompasses things like sword fights and explosions. It also encompasses the logical flow of the narrative as a series of cause-and-effect events. (Plot even encompasses your Inciting Incident—you know, that oh-so-important event that catapults your reluctant protagonist into the action in the first place!) Think of Plot as the external and highly visual part of your novel.

Story, on the other hand, refers to the internal transformation that your protagonist must make throughout the course of the novel in order (usually) to become a less flawed version of themselves by the end. Story tracks the character arc of the protagonist, showing us exactly how they get from point A (maybe selfish or cowardly) to point Z (maybe unselfish or brave). Story is largely internal, and it follows the emotions and thoughts of the protagonist as they try to make sense of (and adjust to) their ever-changing world. It is here in the Story where we see the protagonist slowly transformed by the events of the Plot.

Think of Plot as what’s happening to your protagonist and Story as what’s happening within your protagonist. And certain events force them to wrestle with their internal demons, fears, misconceptions, and prejudices until (finally) they come out the other side of your Plot as a changed person. (Or, possibly in a tragedy, not changed.) When that happens, the Story is done!

Novels that have an interesting Plot but not a deep Story are dramatic sequences of somewhat related external events that would rival any Hollywood action flick. But…those action-packed events don’t seem to have a throughline, and there is no emotional continuity for the reader to grasp hold of. Plot without Story is unrewarding for readers. In fact, neurologist Paul Zak found that both plot and story must be present for test subjects to pay attention to a narrative and feel empathy for the characters involved.

Here are seven ways to infuse your Plot with Story.

1. Design a clear character arc for your protagonist. Your protagonist is an imperfect person, because they would be totally boring if they already had everything figured out from the beginning. Decide which aspect of their imperfection your story will focus on. This will be their basic character arc. Here are some common (simple) arcs, but there are many more that vary in complexity.

  • Selfish to selfless
  • Cowardly to brave
  • Mistrusting to trusting
  • Deceitful to truthful
  • Lacking self-confidence to having self-confidence
  • Afraid to unafraid

2. Create a compelling backstory that makes your protagonist’s character arc make sense. If your protagonist is selfish, have a specific and concrete backstory that supports this flaw. The backstory you create will be sprinkled throughout the narrative like seasoning, helping the reader understand your protagonist and begin to empathize with them.

3. Make that character arc clear from the beginning of the novel. The opening scenes and chapters are the perfect place for your protagonist to show off their imperfection. If their character arc is cowardly to brave, the reader should see them acting cowardly (and what effect that has on their life and happiness) early in the novel.

4. Test each plot point (narrative event) to see if it relates back to the Story. The events in your novel aren’t just there to be flashy and dramatic. They should pressure your protagonist to change in a very specific way. In essence, plot points exist to make your protagonist walk the trajectory of the character arc you have designed. So, if your protagonist’s character arc is cowardly to brave, then each plot point should relate back to that idea.

Sometimes these events will cause them to be less cowardly and sometimes more cowardly. Their character arc is a two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back sort of thing. But, overall, there should be forward momentum and the reader should feel it.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Patton’s Payback

From The Wall Street Journal:

Like any good soldier, Maj. Gen. George Patton wrote regularly to his wife, though perhaps not as tenderly as she would have liked: “I wish I could get out and kill someone,” he told her in the winter of 1942-43.

November had started out in pleasing fashion, with Patton commanding 35,000 soldiers and 250 tanks in Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa that marked the first time that Americans had faced German and Italian troops in World War II. But within a few weeks he was stuck in Casablanca. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower had him moving supplies and men to the front, while the rest of the Anglo-American army marched through Morocco and Algeria and into Tunisia. This wasn’t his idea of warfare. When it came to the enemy—in the words of his son-in-law, then-Col. John K. Waters—Patton expected “to hold them by the nose and kick them in the ass.”

That job had unfortunately been entrusted to a more timid two-star, Maj. Gen. Lloyd Fredendall, who preferred to stay well away from the fighting. Even with roughly 90 miles between him and the Axis forces, as Stephen L. Moore tells us in “Patton’s Payback: The Battle of El Guettar and General Patton’s Rise to Glory,” Fredendall ordered his engineers to dig “subway-like tunnels and underground complexes” to protect his headquarters in Tunisia from German bombers.

. . . .

Not until spring 1943 was Fredendall kicked upstairs, promoted and sent home to train young Americans for future combat—thus delaying Patton’s return to a front-line command. The hiatus doesn’t trouble Mr. Moore, who isn’t writing a campaign history. Instead, like a latter-day Ernie Pyle, he wants to tell the story of men at the tip of the spear. Letters home, diaries and postwar interviews are the grist for Mr. Moore’s mill, and he has a gift for melding them into a coherent narrative.

Thus we learn the story of the invasion and the subsequent march across North Africa through the eyes of the men who fought it. We read about the gallant Col. Bill Darby of the Ranger battalion and about enlisted soldiers like Pfc. Harley Reynolds, who in his first hour under fire notices that his platoon’s machine-gunner has frozen up. “Reynolds grabbed the gunner’s feet and yanked him away,” writes Mr. Moore, and another brave lad flops down beside him to feed the ammunition. At one point, we see troops just ahead of combat, as viewed by a lieutenant who is gauging their mental state: “Some chatted excitedly while heating C rations over their little stoves, while others enjoyed a few hours of sleep ‘after rereading by candlelight for the hundredth time a crumpled and smudged letter from home.’ ”

Such details are so absorbing that one scarcely notices that it is not until halfway through the book—and halfway across North Africa—that Patton takes charge. He shows up for breakfast at Fredendall’s bunker-like headquarters at 0700 hours (7 a.m.) on March 7, 1943. Only one other officer is present. “Patton immediately passed orders to the cooks that the mess hall would be closed at 0730 on this day and every day forward,” Mr. Moore tells us. Nor is that his only dictate. “Every man old enough will shave every day,” he decrees. “Officers will wear ties into combat. And anyone wearing a wool knit cap without a steel helmet will be shot.” Appearances are important to Patton, and he is seldom photographed without a tie, steel helmet, knee boots, flared cavalry breeches and an ivory-handled pistol on each hip.

He immediately gathers Fredendall’s scattered American forces—now 88,000 men in three infantry divisions, an armored division, a field artillery brigade and seven battalions of “tank destroyers” (basically heavy trucks, each with a cannon firing over the driver’s head)—into a unified command. His headquarters is never far from the fighting. More than once, the troops plead with him to get back, perhaps for fear that his three stars (he’s now a lieutenant general) will attract sniper fire.

. . . .

Since November 1942, as Mr. Moore reminds us, the Operation Torch troops (British, American and French) have taken a 1,000-mile swath of land, from Casablanca to central Tunisia, while another British army has pushed the enemy out of Egypt and across Libya to the Tunisian coast. Against orders, Patton tells his troops to drive for the coast

. . . .

[O]n April 14, Patton is called to Eisenhower’s headquarters and told to start planning Operation Husky, the forthcoming invasion of Sicily that will mark the Allies’ return to the European continent. “In a mere five weeks of command,” concludes Mr. Moore, “Patton had turned the tide. . . . He had charted a course for victory, and had whipped an ill-prepared army into shape.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Should be a free link, but PG apologizes if you hit a paywall.)

On Watery Artworks and Writing-Retreat Novels

From The Paris Review:

“Empire of Water,” on view until May 30 at The Church in Sag Harbor, New York, is well worth a wander out east. The exhibition, cocurated by the Church cofounder and artist Eric Fischl and the chief curator, Sara Cochran, features watery works from forty-two artists including Warhol, Ofili, Lichtenstein, Longo, and Kiefer, and an Aitken that delights. But the cake stealer is hiding in the back corner of the first floor: Topographic Wave II, by Jim Campbell. Tucked behind a partial gallery wall are 2,400 custom-built LEDs of various lengths mounted on a roughly four-by-six-inch black panel and arranged neatly in a tight grid, like a Lite-Brite for grown-ups or a work of Pointillism by robots with OCD. From a small distance, images appear as shimmering figures swimming through Pixelvision water. Walk closer and the picture dissolves into fragmented dots blinking some unrecognizable pattern. For a short time I paced in front of it, goofily leaning in close then stepping back. Distantly, I recalled an instruction to squint when viewing Seurat, so I did that, too.

. . . .

This past week I’ve been reading Shola von Reinhold’s debut, Lote, a heady novel that explores, in multiple genres and forms—comedy of errors, writing-retreat novel, book within a book—the erasure of Black art from gallery walls, history books, and archives. The novel’s narrator, Mathilda Adamarola, is fascinated by the London-based artists and socialites of the twenties known as the Bright Young Things. She’s itinerant, in thrall to decadence, possessed of multiple names, a researcher dilettante. With a little deception and luck, she is admitted to a writing residency honoring the work of John Garreaux, a fictional theorist whose work emphasizes a kind of aesthetic rigidity and blankness our hero despises. She revolts against the residency’s conspicuous rules, but falls prey to some of its subtler machinations, and Von Reinhold’s sensual sentences unfurl like ethereal greenery as you read.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Writers: Pantser, Plotter … Roadster?

From Writers in the Storm

I have known a lot of professional, much-published writers over the years and the pantser/plotter descriptions fit everybody to some degree. The pantser, of course, writes with minimal advance plotting by the seat of the proverbial pants and the plotter prefers to have a detailed outline while writing. I started out as a pantser and became more of a plotter.

I don’t recommend any particular approach—whatever works for someone makes sense to me, including combinations of the two approaches. I’m merely looking back at my own evolution along this line. If others shared this experience, we’re not alone. I hope I’m not completely alone, as that is a weird thought.

Starting Without a Map

When I was first writing with the goal of becoming professionally published (I had written stories from the time I was very young), I chose to begin with short stories. I liked reading them and had found a number of them meaningful to me over the years. So that’s how I started, with the intention of writing novels later.

I worked out story ideas many different ways. Sometimes I had a premise and then worked up the protagonist. Other times I had a character in mind first and sometimes, less often, a setting came to me first. I was totally writing by the seat of my pants, as the metaphor goes. One result was that I wrote a lot of fragments, attempts for which I got stuck and never figured out how to go forward. I did write some complete short stories this way. One was accepted by a regional magazine, which folded soon after my story appeared—and before they paid me the fifty dollars that had been promised. The ones I sent to major magazines and anthologies were all rejected.

At this time, I was writing fantasy and science fiction stories, which I continued to write, and also short crime fiction. Back then, I got nowhere with the latter.

Less than a year after I set out in this endeavor, I was able to take part in the Clarion Writers Workshop. At Michigan State University then, it focused on writing science fiction and fantasy. I had a great experience. Immediately afterward, I was unable to put into words what I had learned—I tried, talking to other writers as well as nonwriters. Over time, I processed a great deal of the experience to my benefit. This did not, however, influence the process I was using.

One Note, Two Notes, Three Notes… and More

While I was pantsing on a story, however, sometimes I thought of something to add farther into the story. That something might be a character, a plot device, maybe some dialogue. To avoid forgetting it, I wrote a note to myself.

That was the first step toward becoming a plotter. Yes, it took a long time, and my first two professional sales (the sale to the regional magazine was not considered professional by the Science Fiction Writers of America) were written mostly by pantsing, though I came up with the ending for the second one pretty early while I was working on it.

So, as I kept writing, I also wrote down notes for later—more and more, over time. I needed to note when in the story I planned something and began putting the notes in the order I would use them. Okay, you can see where this is going. Still while pantsing, I would sometimes take enough notes that they represented events all the way to the end. That constituted an outline—not detailed at first, but an outline.

During this time, I also came to the concept that a story is about its ending. In casual conversation, we might say a story is about a plot premise or a protagonist as “someone who does something or other.” How the protagonist resolves the conflict of the story, or fails to do so, is what the story is really about.  

Over time, without any particular decision-making, I found myself writing up notes until they began to take shape as an outline every time I worked on a story. In particular, I was still writing down anything I didn’t want to forget.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Graphic Tools for Indie Authors – Part 1

From Forseng Fiction:

This post is the first of a multi-part series on graphic tools for Indie Author activities — blogging, newsletters, marketing, book trailers and the like. The series will cover some applications I have blogged about before, such as PowerPoint and Lumen5, but will also address others such as PhotoFunia, and Adobe Spark.

The purpose of the series is give Indie Authors of the tools available, some idea of the purposes to which they can be put, and an indication the required skill, time, and cost to be invested in the use tools.

This post begins a definition of “general assets” and “novel-specific” assets used as the “aw materials for creating visual content.

After the definitions I review and issue that plagues a lot of Indie Authors — they are not artists, so where can they obtain the necessary graphic “raw materials” — usually images — which they can then use for their own purposes?

Finally, the post covers PowerPoint — the “poor man’s” graphic editor.

Resources

A significant stumbling block for any indie author who wants to make use of visuals — stills, videos, GIFs, etc — is the lack of images with which to work. The days of pulling photos off the web are long gone, and I’ve read online that authors lament that while they want to make use of various visual tools, they have little “raw” material with which to work.

Fortunately, visual resources have become available over the last several years. I tend to class visuals into two categories: general assets (think stock photos) that can be used in visual content, and novel specific — those assets tied directly to an author’s book.

General Assets

General assets can be had from a wide variety of websites — both pay and free. Rather than trying to provide a comprehensive list, I’ve merely provided links to a few resource compilations:

23 Tools and Resources to Create Images for Social Media — despite the title, almost everything in this article can be applied to Indie Authors

The Best Royalty-Free Stock Image Sites for Your Book Cover — although focused on book covers, there are links to different image resources

27 Superb Sites with Royalty Free Stock Images for Commercial Use — the name says it all

There other possibilities as well. Indie authors who post their own images to Instagram may be able to “re-purpose” some them for other uses, for example. As always, when sourcing images, it pays to read the licensing terms to avoid copyright trouble.

Novel Specific Assets

These types of visual assets are directly tied to an Indie Author’s novel or series. Book covers represent the bulk of the assets which fall into this category, but it also includes images, illustrations, drawings, maps, and diagrams used in book trailers, blog posts, and promotional efforts.

To some extent, novel specific assets may be available from general asset sources. This is likely most true for genres such as romance, crime, and adventure and the like. For authors who write fantasy or science fiction, general sources may not offer much help.

In those situations, it may be necessary to spend some money have have something custom developed for the book or series. Typically these are done by commissioning amateur or professional artists. How much this will cost depends upon several things:

  • What is to be depicted (one character or multiple characters, full figure or partial, abstract or realistic background, etc)
  • The use to which the image will be put (book cover, blog post, book trailer, etc)
  • Whether the image is to be painted, drawn, modeled, sketched, coloured or black and white, etc
  • How quickly the image is required

Artists which may be commissioned can be found on Craigslist, DeviantArt, Fiverr, and other sites. Careful research is key, and the temptation to rush into a commission should be avoided. More information on working with commission-able artists can be found [elsewhere, see links on OP]

PowerPoint

PowerPoint is the poor man’s graphics tool and with a little imagination can be used to produce some graphic assets which can be used in blog posts, animations, and book trailers.

Most people who use Microsoft products are familiar to some degree with PowerPoint, so the learning curve is not steep.

Primary Uses

Primary graphics uses for PowerPoint include:

  • Simple graphics, primarily text-based
  • Limited animated sequences exported to MP4 format

Advantages

There are three main advantages to using PowerPoint:

  • Low cost — if Microsoft Office is installed, PowerPoint is immediately available for not additional cost. Moreover, everything an Indie Author creates with PowerPoint belongs to them (provided they do not use any 3rd party photo, graphic, or video assets).
  • Ease of use — the toolbars, functions, and capabilities are fairly easy to grasp, especially if the Indie Author has used PowerPoint for other purposes (e.g. in a job) in the past.
  • Export to movie option — export consecutive slides (a slideshow) as a movie using PowerPoint’s native capabilities.

Disadvantages

PowerPoint disadvantages are tied to its feature limitations.

  • Limited graphic capabilities — PowerPoint is not designed to be graphics creation tool, though many people use it that way. To achieve the desired effect with limited graphics features will take some experimentation and time
  • Limited animation control — PowerPoint lacks the fine timing controls and other video editing features available in even the simplest dedicated video editor

This is not to say that some incredible images and animations cannot be made with only PowerPoint. To do so, however, would require a significant investment in time. Most Indie Authors would like prefer to put such time to writing.

Link to the rest at Forseng Fiction

Although PG has created and presented with about ten billion PowerPoint talks/exhortations/shows, he has never thought of PowerPoint as a graphics tool.

You can find a gazillion PowerPoint presentation templates online, but the program would be pretty clumsy to use for a cover design.

With respect to picking up a template online or reusing a PowerPoint presentation you find online, it is theoretically possible to copyright a PowerPoint template and/or presentation, but, unless someone uses all or close to all of your template/presentation without a lot of changes, you may be looking at a difficult case to prove.

Note the distinction between claiming a copyright on a PowerPoint presentation and claiming a copyright to a photo or piece of art that is included in a relatively intact form in a PowerPoint presentation.

Theoretically, a variation on a copyright-protected presentation could be termed a derivative work which could give rise to a copyright claim, but the distinction between a new work and a derivative work could be difficult to perceive for a judge. PG thinks he could locate a zillion PowerPoints online that had a highly similar look as any original he’s seen.

The most common uses of other people’s PowerPoint presentation is for the general design and not the words and images included in the original.

If you started out with someone else’s template in the public domain or otherwise, but modified the look, colors, etc., again there is a problem of proof for the person trying to enforce a copyright if he/she was not the sole creator of the work.

Additionally, regarding damages, if the original presentation was not registered with the Copyright Office and/or didn’t include some notice that the creator intended to assert a copyright interest, that could also cause problems.

PG thinks that there are potentially a lot of fair use defenses for a claim based on an infringing presentation that used only bits and pieces of the original.

PG did some quick and dirty online research to see if he could find any information regarding someone filing suit for copyright infringement of a PowerPoint slide deck and couldn’t locate anything. If any visitors to TPV know of such a case, feel free to include it into a comment to this post or forward it to PG by using the Contact PG link at the top of the blog.

5 Ways to Use Fiverr to Publish Your Book

From Self Publishing with Dale:

When I first decided that I wanted to write a novel I have to admit I was a bit naïve going into the process. I was fumbling my way through and asking questions to authors that I knew on a regular basis.

. . . .

As soon as I hit my word target I realized there was a lot more work to go just to get it to a point where I could consider publishing it. This is when I took to Fiverr and other freelance sites to find experts that can assist me with the post-writing work of creating a book.

The results were a mixed bag, but on the whole I highly recommend at a minimum getting ideas from sellers on Fiverr if you are writing a book.

. . . .

1. Finding an editor

I created a job on multiple sites (mainly focused though on Fiverr and Upwork) to try and find an editor that could take my rough draft and help me get it closer and closer to a finished product. I received a lot of responses from both sites and I quickly realized I needed to be asking more questions to help weed out all of the people responding to my gig.

I asked questions like: How many YA books have you edited? How many books have focused on fan fiction or Norse myths? I would recommend that you think about these things prior to listing your jobs so you can more efficiently get through what will be quite a large volume of people submitting bids or applying to your job.

I ended up paying $350 for the first round of edits on a 53,000-word novel (as an aside, the novel finished around 61,000 words). I got incredibly lucky or did a decent job of vetting the editors because the person I found was amazing, efficient, and literally made all the difference in the world to my book.

Most of the online services would have cost triple the amount of money and would not have turned the book around in three working days. This was an incredible value and I am extremely happy with the choice I made to list this job.

2. Creating a Book Cover

My next gig that I listed was to have a graphic designer help me create a proper book cover for my eBook. I decided to focus on just an eBook release so I only needed a front cover. The volume of responses that I got from this job was a bit overwhelming and there was a very wide range of prices.

I tried a couple of sellers for this and provided them with the information they requested to take a crack at the book cover. The results of this job varied wildly from really terrible designs to ones that were okay but unusable. I ended up creating my own book cover using Canva and some ideas that I picked up from the various Fiverr designs that came my way.

I ended up spending around $150 for these services in total and ultimately didn’t use the results other than to influence the final book cover design. In the grand scheme of things this is a small price to pay to get some creative ideas and I do think that you can get usable book covers this way although I think I would encourage paying on the higher end of the bids as this was definitely an area where I got what I paid for with each design.

3. Copy for my Amazon listing

As soon as I got through a few rounds of edits (each round cost me the same as I used the same seller). I was ready to publish my book. In order to do that you have to do things like prepare the copy for the Amazon listing which is almost an art in itself.

Ultimately, I ended up using the same seller that did the editing for my book to help write (really edit) the copy that would go up in all of the online bookstores (Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc.).

This was a modest cost of $50 and it made a huge difference in what I released. They expertly guided me through how to entice people to read the book by making it less of a short summary and more of a comparison piece to other similar books and shows that the reader might also like. I would not have thought of doing that without their assistance, but it makes complete sense.

Link to the rest at Self Publishing with Dale

PG would be interested in any experiences visitors have had, good or not-so-good, hiring help with writing/publishing from Fiverr, Upwork or other similar online service marketplaces.

The Author’s Guide to Fiverr

From Indies Unlimited:

If you’re a self-published author, there are chances that someone has suggested you get a cover or some editing on Fiverr. Upon learning the site Fiverr got its name because you could pay people five bucks for an assignment, you quickly dismiss whoever gave you that advice. You’re certain you can’t get anything good for that price. Well, don’t dismiss Fiverr so quickly. Just like a book shouldn’t be judged by its cover, Fiverr is more nuanced than its name suggests.

What is Fiverr?

Fiverr is a marketplace where you can either buy or sell service. The name comes from the fact that services start at $5. Now, there may be some great services that you can get for $5, but I haven’t found many. The real benefit of Fiverr is as a marketplace. You can see people selling things you want–such as covers, artwork, and editing. When you log on to purchase an item, the product or service sold is called a gig.

What Do Authors Buy on Fiverr?

Authors can buy pretty much anything, even other authors to write their books (I’m not kidding, ghostwriting gigs are there). Generally, authors want to write their own books, so, on a practical level, authors tend to purchase editing, covers, artwork (for ads or extras), copy writing/blurb writing, and logos.

If It’s not $5, How Much Is It?

The prices vary, and a lot of the deals will look like they’re five dollars, but they’re not — in practical terms — that cheap. For example, the ghostwriting gig I linked to above is $5, and for that fee, the author will deliver up to 200 words. At that rate, a 60,000-word novel would run you $1,500. Editing is similar. A good editing gig may charge $5 to edit 500 words. For an 80,000-word book, that will come out to $800. However, the good thing about all gigs is there’s the option to ask for a custom quote. When you do that, you tell the person how long your book is, what the genre is, and ask them for a quote. They may tell you they’ll charge you $700 (a $100 discount on what you would pay if you tried to order 160 of the $5 gigs). Not all gigs start at $5. The better cover designers start their gigs at a minimum of $15, but usually run at least $35. You need to look at what you get with a gig. Most gigs come with three options: bare bones, middle ground, and the luxury package. For a cover, the barebones gigs tend to only allow you one cover image. It’s hard to get a good cover with a single image; usually it requires at least a background image and another one. Authors wanting a cover that follows traditional cover guidelines will want to pay more for a gig that allows at least a couple of images.

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

The Moncada Barracks Attack

On the ninth anniversary celebration of the Moncada Barracks Attack, Castro gave a speech in Santiago stating that the only thing Cuba had to fear was a direct attack by the United States. At the same time, the Russians were off-loading men and equipment from ships at the small, hardly-noticed port of Mariel. They transported their equipment, mostly at night, into a thickly wooded area in the mountains near San Cristóbal, which was 26 miles away from the port and approximately 50 miles from Havana. The CIA received a report that a twenty-six foot missile had been seen being transported on Cuban Highway A 1.
This was twice the size of a SAM missile and the CIA deemed it highly unlikely that the Soviet Union would send offensive weapons of this size to Cuba. However, with the cold war in high gear, Khrushchev thought that he could change the balance of power between the United States and the Soviet Union by placing missiles on Cuban soil. This operation was conducted in strict secrecy, with Castro reluctantly agreeing to it. Castro still felt that Cuba’s alliance with the Soviet’s was risky and that this was a negative compromise undermining Cuban autonomy. Their secret however became confirmed by an Air Force U 2 surveillance aircraft, sent on a reconnaissance mission, dispatched over the western part of the island.
The United States and the Soviet Union agreed on a deal. In return for pulling the Russian missiles out of Cuba the U.S. agreed to pull its missiles out of Turkey.”

Captain Hank Bracker

“Navalny”, “Tango with Putin” and the editor in the Kremlin

From The Economist:

“LET’S MAKE a thriller,” Alexei Navalny tells Daniel Roher, and the Canadian film-maker tries to oblige. “Navalny” has many of the genre’s key elements—a hero, villains, skulduggery—but runs into an obstacle. “Tango with Putin”, a documentary by Vera Krichevskaya about Dozhd (also known as TV Rain), a gutsy Russian news channel, faces the same problem. It lies not in the directors’ craft, still less in the merits of their subjects, but something deeper: the throttling of narrative in a dictatorship.

His eyes are a reproach. Piercingly blue, they peer from the screen as Mr Navalny exhorts his compatriots not to give up. Mr Roher filmed the Russian opposition leader as he recovered from a poisoning in Siberia in 2020 (old footage shows Yulia, his indomitable wife, struggling to get into his hospital room, lest his assailants finish the job). Recuperating in Germany, the patient links up with Christo Grozev, whom he describes as a “very kind Bulgarian nerd”; the investigator uses data from the dark web to track down the failed assassins.

Mr Navalny is a social-media maestro—barred from campaigning in other ways, he has had to be—and some viewers may already know of the phone calls he made to the goons who allegedly tried to kill him. The sequence is still gripping. One falls for his impersonation of a Kremlin official and spills the details of the botched hit, including the smearing of Novichok in Mr Navalny’s underwear. “He’s a dead man,” the team pityingly conclude of the unwitting informant.

If “Navalny” elucidates the workings, and incompetence, of Vladimir Putin’s death squad, the source of its subject’s amazing courage remains something of a mystery. By contrast, “Tango with Putin” (also called “F@ck This Job”) shows how bravery can be nurtured by circumstance.

When Natalia Sindeeva launched Dozhd in 2010, she envisaged an upbeat lifestyle channel, not a crusading news outlet. By her own account, she previously had more interest in partying than in politics: the news imbued her with principles, rather than the other way round, beginning with a bombing at a Moscow airport in 2011. A four-way split screen—a repeated device in Ms Krichevskaya’s film—contrasts Dozhd’s coverage of the aftermath with the tranquillising pap being aired by state-controlled channels.

Another motif is Dozhd’s journalists calling in from the back of police vans. As the repression worsens, reporting becomes riskier, from the rigged Russian elections and protests of 2011-12, to the crisis in Ukraine and eruption of war in the Donbas region in 2013-14. The channel becomes a beacon of integrity less by design than by observing elementary journalistic principles. To be good, in this telling, is simply to obey your conscience. (Mr Navalny turns up in this film, too, giving advice on lighting for an interview.)

Link to the rest at The Economist

Percy Jackson Author Speaks Out Against Racist Complaints Over Casting

From Book Riot:

Author Rick Riordan has spoken out against fans upset about casting choices for the upcoming Disney+ adaptation of his series Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

The series follows Percy, a neurodivergent teen who finds out his father is the Greek god Poseidon, making him a demigod. As he contends with his new powers, he’s accused by the god Zeus of stealing his lightning bolt. Percy journeys with his friends Annabeth and Grover to restore order to the heavens.

On Thursday, the cast for two of the main characters of the show were revealed. Even though Riordan has said the response to the casting has been overwhelmingly positive, there are some who have responded negatively to Annabeth Chase being played by 12-year-old Black actress Leah Jeffries.

. . . .

The author posted a response to the criticism on his website, saying “If you have a problem with this casting, however, take it up with me. You have no one else to blame. We should be able to agree that bullying and harassing a child online is inexcusably wrong.”

“You are judging her appropriateness for this role solely and exclusively on how she looks. She is a Black girl playing someone who was described in the books as white.” He continued, “Friends, that is racism.”

The author also touched on how racism goes against the core message of the Percy Jackson series, adding ” The core message of Percy Jackson has always been that difference is strength. There is power in plurality. The things that distinguish us from one another are often our marks of individual greatness. You should never judge someone by how well they fit your preconceived notionsThat neurodivergent kid who has failed out of six schools, for instance, may well be the son of Poseidon. Anyone can be a hero.”

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG had a general idea of what neurodivergent meant, but decided to find out more.

What is neurodiversity?

From Harvard Health Publishing:

Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.

The word neurodiversity refers to the diversity of all people, but it is often used in the context of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as other neurological or developmental conditions such as ADHD or learning disabilities. The neurodiversity movement emerged during the 1990s, aiming to increase acceptance and inclusion of all people while embracing neurological differences. Through online platforms, more and more autistic people were able to connect and form a self-advocacy movement. At the same time, Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist, coined the term neurodiversity to promote equality and inclusion of “neurological minorities.” While it is primarily a social justice movement, neurodiversity research and education is increasingly important in how clinicians view and address certain disabilities and neurological conditions.

. . . .

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is associated with differences in communication, learning, and behavior, though it can look different from person to person. People with ASD may have a wide range of strengths, abilities, needs, and challenges. For example, some autistic people are able to communicate verbally, have a normal or above average IQ, and live independently. Others might not be able to communicate their needs or feelings, may struggle with impairing and harmful behaviors that impact their safety and well-being, and may be dependent on support in all areas of their life. Additionally, for some people with autism, differences may not cause any suffering to the person themself. Instead, the suffering may result from the barriers imposed by societal norms, causing social exclusion and inequity.

Medical evaluation and treatment is important for individuals with ASD. For example, establishing a formal diagnosis may enable access to social and medical services if needed. A diagnostic explanation may help the individual or their family understand their differences better and enable community connections. Additionally, neurodevelopmental conditions may also be associated with other health issues that require extra monitoring or treatment. It is important that people who need and desire behavioral supports or interventions to promote communication, social, academic, and daily living skills have access to those services in order to maximize their quality of life and developmental potential. However, approaches to interventions cannot be one-size-fits-all, as all individuals will have different goals, desires, and needs.

Link to the rest at Harvard Health Publishing

Sixty-Two Percent of NY Freelance Workers Report Never Being Paid for Work Performed, Says New Survey

From The Authors Guild:

Survey also found that nearly 40 percent of freelancers have had difficulty paying rent or other bills due to nonpayment for services rendered

A survey by the Authors Guild, Freelancers Union, Graphic Artist Guild, American Society of Media Photographers, National Press Photographers Association, American Photographic Artists, and National Writers Union found that 62 percent of freelance workers based in New York had lost wages at least once in their career over an employer’s refusal to pay them. It also found that 51 percent of those who had lost income to nonpayment reported losing more than $1,000, and 22 percent reported losing more than $5,000.

The advocacy organizations conducted the survey as part of their efforts to persuade the New York State Assembly to pass the Freelance Isn’t Free Act (FIFA) (S8369/A9368) this session.

. . . .

If the bill passes, New York will become the first state in the nation to provide legal protections to freelance workers who live and work in New York state, as well as out-of-state freelancers who work for New York-based companies. Freelancers currently account for approximately 35 percent of the U.S. labor force and yet have none of the protections that employees have long had—even when doing the exact same job as an employee.

“In the five years since we helped secure the passage of New York City’s version of Freelance Isn’t Free, the law has helped freelancers recover $2,144,198 in owed compensation for their work. But freelancers don’t only work in New York City. From Buffalo to Albany, Montauk to Plattsburgh, companies use freelance workers for everything from manufacturing, construction, and warehouse work to website developers, writers and graphic designers, and they deserve the same legal protections as their NYC colleagues,” said Rafael Espinal, Executive Director of the Freelancers Union.

Additionally, the survey found that:

  • 91% of survey respondents reported experiencing late or overdue wages at least once in their career, with 54% reporting experiencing delays of 3 months or longer.
  • 79% of respondents attempted to recoup lost wages through their own demands (i.e. emails or phone calls). A majority of respondents claimed they had to communicate their demand to a client on multiple occasions (three times or more), with 76% of respondents reporting that they spent 1-2 hours a week trying to recoup payment. Less than one percent of respondents went through the legal system.
  • 39% of respondents said non or overdue payment affected their ability to pay bills or rent

. . . .

“Freelance journalism was hit especially hard during the pandemic. Loss of freelance journalism jobs was consistently cited as the first or second main reason for the decline in income by respondents to the Authors Guild’s COVID-19 Surveys,” said Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild. “Forcing freelance writers to spend weeks or months chasing down earned wages further cuts into their wages because it takes time away from other paying work, and often forces them to accrue debt. It pushes people that are already struggling to earn a sustainable living to the brink and is deeply unfair. Publications that refuse to make payments on time should be held to account. And thanks to FIFA they will.”

. . . .

“Freelance journalists and business writers rarely make enough money to afford a lawyer, so it didn’t surprise me to see that less than one percent of respondents sought a legal remedy,” said Larry Goldbetter, President of the National Writers Union. “This reinforces FIFA’s need. Very few freelancers know what legal remedies are available or understand how small claims court works. If FIFA passes, the state will assume some responsibility for helping to make sure the freelancer gets paid, or can fine repeat offenders until they get the message.”

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

  1. Don’t do business with jerks.
  2. If you’re getting bad vibes about the person/organization who wants your services, just say no. You’re too busy to take on more work right now (meaning that you’re always too busy to do business with jerks).
  3. If you’re on the receiving end of a request for work, there’s nothing wrong with politely asking how the person found you.
  4. Before you agree to do anything, spend at least ten minutes online searching for any negative information about the person who wants to work with you. If you have friends in the same business you are in, ask around about the person/organization who wants you to help them.
  5. Get a big deposit up front. You’re a pro and that’s how professionals operate.
  6. Have a written contract that specifies, among other things, that any disputes arising under the contract, including failure to pay any fees when due, will be litigated in the county and state where you reside and that the counterparty consents to jurisdiction and venue in that location.
  7. The winner of any lawsuit arising under the contract is entitled to reasonable attorneys fees in an amount no less than $1,000 together with any court costs.

PG doesn’t write contracts any more, so this is not legal advice.

You’ll need to hire an attorney where you live to write a real contract for you.

TPV Comments

Some visitors to TPVx have reported having problems with comments and subscriptions to comments.

PG has just gone through the settings on the WordPress plugin that manages comments and subscription to comments and tweaked them.

Feel free to let him know if you’re still having any problems.

To Nail Your Memoir’s Beginning, Stop Looking in the Wrong Direction

From Jane Friedman:

You’ve been told the first fifty pages of your memoir can make or break your publishing dreams. . . . So, you’ve active-verbed the hell out of your sentences, sharpened your imagery, and made sure every period is correctly placed.

But when the queries aren’t answered, or they’re answered with an unhelpful “thank you for submitting, but it’s not right for me,” you wonder what’s missing from your manuscript.

The beginning of every memoir must hook the reader, establish the setting, and reveal the situation and stakes. Most writers work tirelessly to develop these elements. But spending all your time at the beginning of act one might mean you’re looking in the wrong direction. Instead, try studying the end of your manuscript. Your closing pages shouldn’t just reflect all you’ve learned, or the triumph you feel—they must reveal your story’s resolution.

Once you know what you’re resolving, you can establish a clear path for getting there. This is essential because most openings are revised to death in an exhaustive line-by-line edit. The tedium of this process can cause you to rush through the rest of your manuscript, resulting in a middle that sags and an ending that flags.

Even if your opening pages light up an agent’s enthusiasm, that fervor will quickly wane if the writing that follows seem like it’s not going anywhere specific. Sadly, beautiful sentences can’t hide this issue. That’s why you must know your destination, no matter how your memoir is structured.

In artfully rendered manuscripts, the opening and closing pages give the story a sense of symmetry. Screenwriter Blake Snyder . . . says, “[The opening image] sets the tone, mood, and style … and shows us a before snapshot of him or her.” The before snapshot is the narrator in full problem mode, well before they’ve figured things out. “The final image is the opposite of the opening image. It is your proof that change has occurred and that it’s real.”

. . . .

In The Glass Castle opening, Jeannette Walls avoids the homeless, dysfunctional parents she ran away from at eighteen. By the end, the entire family eats Thanksgiving together, showing that her shame has morphed into acceptance.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Or, you could format your well-written and polished memoir, hire a freelance cover designer to make a terrific cover and publish it on KDP and never worry about trying to impress a name-dropping New York agent.

And keep all the money.

One More for the Road

From Washington City Paper:

By my count, I’ve had a hand in producing roughly 450 print issues of Washington City Paper since I joined its staff as the City Lights editor in the fall of 2012. Several stand out for reasons good and bad—massive Best of D.C. books that had us working around the clock, stories we knew we’d beaten our competitors to, an issue sent to the printer so late that we feared it might not come out. The rest ebbed back into the ocean after cresting on Wednesday nights.

From a technical standpoint, my generation of City People has a significantly easier time producing print issues than our predecessors did, assembling our issues with trackpads and keyboard commands while they used knives and paste. In the paper’s nascent days, when it was still produced in Baltimore, the staff sent pages and materials back and forth on a massive fax machine. That was an improvement, former publisher Amy Austin says, over the previous method: On Monday nights, she used to deliver the necessary files to the Greyhound bus station, where they would be ferried north.

Print issues were commodities. Readers grabbed them from delivery drivers before they could even drop off a stack at a business or a street box. The need for news, for criticism, for event listings, for classified ads, or a good story was immediate, and the internet has only expanded that pleasure center.

In my time at City Paper, the issues shrunk. Advertisers moved online and found ways to reach the specific audiences they were looking for. Competitors arrived on the scene, offering their own irreverent takes on life in the District. Still we pushed forward, filing dispatches on abandoned car parts, shameless developers, and the characters entering and exiting the Wilson Building. Newer annual issues, such as the Answers Issue and the People Issue, still demanded a place on a coffee table or in your hand at a coffee shop. 

And then came a novel coronavirus, the enemy of almost everything but especially independent arts venues. We muddled through what we hoped was the worst of it, but eventually had to face a harsh reality: Our advertisers and many of our readers are elsewhere. We meet readers in their email inboxes more frequently than we meet them on the street. A bar that hosts live music is most focused on paying its staff right now.

So this is the last regular print edition of Washington City Paper you will see. In the weeks leading up to this issue, I found myself thinking about those departed characters whose shadows hang over the institution. Of Jim Graham, the AIDS advocate and former Ward 1 councilmember who would register his complaints every week without fail but still stop by a holiday party. Of Marion Barry, the main character of D.C.’s home rule era and of countless City Paper stories, who transformed the District in so many ways. Of Michael Mariotte, the punk-rock drummer who decided to kick this whole thing off. Of David Carr, the tough but transformational leader whose wisdom on craft and reporting are still being passed down to generation after generation of aspiring writers. What would they say? (Carr, I’m guessing, would tell us to keep working.)

. . . .

Washington City Paper will still be around, albeit in digital formats and with a smaller staff. And we will still do our damnedest to get it right.

Link to the rest at Washington City Paper

PG hadn’t heard of this particular newspaper in Washington, DC, before and is always a bit sad when he hears of any enterprise that people worked hard at starting and continuing is going out of business or cutting back substantially.

When PG started working a long time ago, he was in Chicago and the city had five newspapers, two that published in the morning, two in the afternoon and one daily paper that catered to the large African-American community.

When he entered the station, morning and evening, he would automatically buy a newspaper, read it while he rode on the train and deposit the paper in a trash can when he got off the train.

Chicago had a lot of good newspaper columnists during that era. PG’s favorite was Mike Royko, who had a unique, sarcastic and jaded take on a lot of things in Chicago.

Here’s an old Royko column, written in 1972, on the day Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play for a major league baseball team, died.

Jackie’s Debut a Unique Day

All that Saturday, the wise men of the neighborhood, who sat in chairs on the sidewalk outside the tavern, had talked about what it would do to baseball.

 I hung around and listened because baseball was about the most important thing in the world, and if anything was going to ruin it, I was worried.

 Most of the things they said, I didn’t understand, although it all sounded terrible. But could one man bring such ruin?

 They said he could and would. And the next day he was going to be in Wrigley Field for the first time, on the same diamond as Hack, Nicholson, Cavarretta, Schmitz, Pafko, and all my other idols.

 I had to see Jackie Robinson, the man who was going to somehow wreck everything. So the next day, another kid and I started walking to the ballpark early.

 We always walked to save the streetcar fare. It was five or six miles, but I felt about baseball the way Abe Lincoln felt about education.

 Usually, we could get there just at noon, find a seat in the grandstand, and watch some batting practice. But not that Sunday, May 18, 1947.

 By noon, Wrigley Field was almost filled. The crowd outside spilled off the sidewalk and into the streets. Scalpers were asking top dollar for box seats and getting it.

 I had never seen anything like it. Not just the size, although it was a new record, more than 47,000. But this was twenty-five years ago, and in 1947 few blacks were seen in the Loop, much less up on the white North Side at a Cub game.

 That day, they came by the thousands, pouring off the northbound Ls and out of their cars.

 They didn’t wear baseball-game clothes. They had on church clothes and funeral clothes·suits, white shirts, ties, gleaming shoes, and straw hats. I’ve never seen so many straw hats.

 As big as it was, the crowd was orderly. Almost unnaturally so. People didn’t jostle each other.

 The whites tried to look as if nothing unusual was happening, while the blacks tried to look casual and dignified. So everybody looked slightly ill at ease.

 For most, it was probably the first time they had been that close to each other in such great numbers.

 We managed to get in, scramble up a ramp, and find a place to stand behind the last row of grandstand seats. Then they shut the gates. No place remained to stand.

 Robinson came up in the first inning. I remember the sound. It wasn’t the shrill, teenage cry you now hear, or an excited gut roar. They applauded, long, rolling applause. A tall, middle-aged black man stood next to me, a smile of almost painful joy on his face, beating his palms together so hard they must have hurt.

 When Robinson stepped into the batter’s box, it was as if someone had flicked a switch. The place went silent.

 He swung at the first pitch and they erupted as if he had knocked it over the wall. But it was only a high foul that dropped into the box seats. I remember thinking it was strange that a foul could make that many people happy. When he struck out, the low moan was genuine.

 I’ve forgotten most of the details of the game, other than that the Dodgers won and Robinson didn’t get a hit or do anything special, although he was cheered on every swing and every routine play.

 But two things happened I’ll never forget. Robinson played first, and early in the game a Cub star hit a grounder and it was a close play.

 Just before the Cub reached first, he swerved to his left. And as he got to the bag, he seemed to slam his foot down hard at Robinson’s foot.

 It was obvious to everyone that he was trying to run into him or spike him. Robinson took the throw and got clear at the last instant.

 I was shocked. That Cub, a hometown boy, was my biggest hero. It was not only an unheroic stunt, but it seemed a rude thing to do in front of people who would cheer for a foul ball. I didn’t understand why he had done it. It wasn’t at all big league.

 I didn’t know that while the white fans were relatively polite, the Cubs and most other teams kept up a steady stream of racial abuse from the dugout. I thought that all they did down there was talk about how good Wheaties are.

 Late in the game, Robinson was up again, and he hit another foul ball. This time it came into the stands low and fast, in our direction. Somebody in the seats grabbed for it, but it caromed off his hand and kept coming. There was a flurry of arms as the ball kept bouncing, and suddenly it was between me and my pal. We both grabbed. I had a baseball.

 The two of us stood there examining it and chortling. A genuine major-league baseball that had actually been gripped and thrown by a Cub pitcher, hit by a Dodger batter. What a possession.

 Then I heard the voice say: “Would you consider selling that?”

 It was the black man who had applauded so fiercely.

 I mumbled something. I didn’t want to sell it.

 “I’ll give you ten dollars for it,” he said.

 Ten dollars. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what ten dollars could buy because I’d never had that much money. But I knew that a lot of men in the neighborhood considered sixty dollars a week to be good pay.

 I handed it to him, and he paid me with ten $1 bills.

 When I left the ball park, with that much money in my pocket, I was sure that Jackie Robinson wasn’t bad for the game.

 Since then, I’ve regretted a few times that I didn’t keep the ball. Or that I hadn’t given it to him free. I didn’t know, then, how hard he probably had to work for that ten dollars.

 But Tuesday I was glad I had sold it to him. And if that man is still around, and has that baseball, I’m sure he thinks it was worth every cent.

Here’s a link to more Royko columns

PG felt a little sad as he read the Royko column because he can’t remember when he last read a physical newspaper.

Capricious Actions That Cross the Line

From Publishing Perspectives:

[A] digital annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) “would hardly be a meeting of publishers,” said AAP president and CEO Maria A. Pallante, “if we didn’t address the First Amendment.

“As we all know, across the country, thousands of books are being questioned with a scrutiny that’s newly chilling,” she said, “from novels to math books. This is not to say that parents and communities don’t have a say in public education, as the law is clear that they do. But that roll has constitutional limits. It does not extend to capricious actions that cross the line and amount to censorship. In fact, the line is important.”

Indeed it is. And the association shines most brightly when it operates with such outspoken clarity in public policy and political channels to protect and promote the place of the book industry and its freedom to publish.

“And so last month, in Missouri,” Pallante said, “we were proud to join with the booksellers, Authors Guild, and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to file a brief in support of the NAACP—a case involving the removal of books from school libraries, including award-winning books addressing race and sexuality, such as The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.

“In our filing, we highlighted the constitutional rights of minors to receive intellectual information as well as the deep flaws in the school district’s assertion that the banned books were obscene and therefore removable.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests that Ms. Pallante needs a bit more understanding about public education and the constitution.

“This is not to say that parents and communities don’t have a say in public education, as the law is clear that they do.”

To PG’s sensitive ears, this statement sounds amazingly condescending. Public education is, by and large, funded by state and local taxes. To the best of PG’s knowledge, public school boards are elected in local elections by “parents and communities.”

Generally speaking, the public schools where most students are educated are determined by what geographical school district where the students reside. PG is aware that at least some states allow students in one school district to attend schools in a different district, usually, one adjoining the district where they reside. PG is not familiar with the state of vouchers across the United States but believes vouchers aren’t available to the large majority of children in public schools.

PG was raised in rural, sometimes very rural areas where getting to public school involved a school bus ride that lasted 20-30 minutes or more in some cases. Attending a more distant school would have required his parents to transport him there because public transportation was not available in any form. The only practical choice for his education was the local public school so even if “school choice” had existed, it would not have been practically exercisable.

Many states provide “educational vouchers” that allow families to fund attendance at private schools. Typically, private schools that accept vouchers (PG doesn’t think all do) receive an amount per student that is roughly equivalent to the money a public school would receive from local and state funds for a student’s education for a year.

Ultimately, educators receiving state and local funds for their salaries select textbooks for children to read in class, spending state and local funds to purchase those books. School principals and district superintendents are also paid from those funds.

PG suggests that parents have a right to pressure public school officials if they believe their tax money is being used to provide access to books they reasonably believe will cause harm to their children. When a large group of parents supports such objections, public school officials should realize that their concerns should be carefully considered and, in virtually every circumstance, be reflected in the school’s libraries and textbooks.

The Association of American Publishers is located in Washington, DC. Virtually all major trade publishers are located in New York City. PG suggests that these two cities, their inhabitants, and their values, priorities, and interests are quite different from the typical American and, in particular, typical American families with children who attend public school.

As PG has written previously, publishers of all sorts are controlled and managed by a group of people who are quite homogenous in their values and experiences and are atypical of American families with children who attend public school. These people ultimately control the content of traditionally-published books, school books, and a wide range of other media. He suggests that their values are also quite different from the typical American and, in particular, typical American families with children who attend public school.

If you would like to read the American Association of Publishers’ brief filed with the Federal District Court, it should be embedded below.

Trade facing industry-wide burnout, Bookseller survey finds

From The Bookseller:

Publishing is facing “industry-wide burnout” according to a survey conducted by The Bookseller, which revealed 89% of staffers responding to the survey had experienced stress during the course of their work over the last year, while 69% reported burnout.  

The survey also found a significant number of employees are working more than their contracted hours each week, with many unhappy at the state of their work-life balance.  

With more than 230 responses, heavily dominated by publishing staffers (87%), the survey found 64% of people working in the industry felt their work had impacted their mental health in the last year. Many attributed this to unsustainable workloads and an “always on” culture, worsened by the pandemic. 

One editor, who has worked in the industry for seven years, said they are required to do “entire strands” of their job outside of contracted hours, to the extent they feel unable to start a family and are “seriously considering” leaving the industry. 

In total 63% of respondents said they worked more than their contracted hours each week, with some saying they worked up to 20 or 30 hours extra. Nearly three quarters (73%) agreed that their workload had increased in the last year, while 37% said they were not satisfied with their work-life balance. 

One senior desk editor who has been in the industry for nine years said working from home during the pandemic had “definitely” promoted a culture of working extra hours. “Work-life balance is a joke! I’ve heard editorial assistants not taking their lunch break and even cancelling training sessions as they felt they had to continue with their work,” they said. “Morale has severely decreased since the pandemic, lots of colleagues have left (either to other publishers or out of the industry) as they did not enjoy their jobs and were not valued as staff or compensated well enough.” 

The survey showed 38% of respondents wanted to leave their job. An assistant editor, who has worked in the industry for four years, said they “love” their job but were working more than two extra hours a day “not to even catch up, but to fall behind less”. They said: “I have had to work weekends. I am constantly stressed about the deadlines I am missing, as they impact my colleagues. This should not be the workload of a junior staff member. And, quite frankly, the workload and the pay do not add up. This is not worth it, and I am making plans to get out of the industry.” 

. . . .

 “Junior members of staff are often doing enough work for two people but are only in rare instances offered external help such as being able to freelance certain tasks out. There is an expectation from senior leadership that the company will continue to buy more and more books, but no corresponding communication re hiring more staff to help with this. People have been stretched beyond their limits over the last two years particularly and that’s why we’re seeing a mass exodus from the industry.” 

A marketing executive, who has worked in publishing for seven years, agreed. “There’s been a huge change in focus over the past two years, driven by the pandemic, to look at backlist titles and perennial sellers as well as more focus on e-books and audio, but the expectation that teams can do that on top of their pre-existing workload is going to lead to workforce-wide burnout.” They added: “My line manager recognises the issue and is understanding but there seems to be limited appetite higher up in the company to take steps to address the issues.” 

Another assistant editor, working in the industry for five years, said they had “not known burnout like it was in November” due to supply chain issues. They said: “We’re all exhausted and we know everyone else is exhausted, as an editor you don’t want to give marketing and publicity more because you know they are overworked too so it’s just this cycle of piling more on your own plate and drowning in it.”

They said their manager also felt the same. “It’s industry-wide burnout and change needs to come from the top, I can’t expect my mid-level manager to be able to solve this.”

A former publishing staffer, who recently switched to agenting, said they experienced “horrific” working conditions as an editor. “My last year as an editor I took only five days of holiday because I didn’t have an assistant and there was no one to cover even the basics of my day-to-day when I was away, so going on holiday meant a month of working through the weekends to make up for it.” 

They said they “love” being an agent now, because it has made them enjoy books again. “I see my friends who still work as editors continuing to struggle while their line managers refuse to give them anything approaching help or support. The bright, hardworking young people who work in publishing because they love books leave to go to better industries—as I nearly did—and nothing changes. M.d.s and c.e.o.s need to have a hard look at the workloads they place on their junior staff and start making real and consequential changes.” 

However burnout is not limited to publishing staffers. A number of booksellers also reported issues with stress due to working conditions. An archives assistant, who has worked in the industry for 10 years, said: “Rotas would be provided with only a week or two notice at times, trying to secure holidays was always a protracted affair, trying to speak to management about any HR/pay issues was always impossible, trying to view payslips was a convoluted affair, working hours would regularly be unsociable—you were supposed to be on a pattern of lates and earlies but management would just put you in for what suited them, so you would regularly be working weeks of mostly late shifts, you’d be lucky if you got weekends off, and you’d be expected to just accept very last minute changes to your rota.” 

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Age Problems with The Passive Voice

PG has received a few emails concerning various parts of The Passive Voice not working as they did in days gone by.

For example, he just received an email about the Subscribe without Commenting function.

Feel free to let PG know about those types of problems, either in comments to this post or via the Contact PG link at the top of the blog.

Some of the visitors to TPV know more about WordPress, WordPress Plugins and the vagaries thereof than PG does, so feel free to point out likely suspects causing any sort of misbehavior.

5 Expensive Problems with Using Creative Commons for Small Business

From Small Business Trends:

Using a Work with a Creative Commons License Published by Someone Else

Now, let’s imagine that you maintain a blog for your small business. You need to include images with your blog posts because all of the blogging experts and research studies show that blog posts with images perform better than blog posts without images.

You don’t have a budget for images, so you search on Flickr and choose images that have Creative Commons Attribution licenses applied to them that allow commercial use (because your small business blog is a commercial property). You follow the instructions on the Creative Commons website to appropriately attribute the image to its owner and identify the Creative Commons license. You assume you’ve done everything right and that you’ve followed all of the necessary rules so you won’t be accused of copyright infringement in the future.

Sounds good right? Not always.

What happens when you receive the Getty Images Demand Letter like so many other bloggers and small businesses have in the past several years? What happens when the real owner of the work (who is not the person who uploaded it to Flickr and applied a Creative Commons license to it) contacts you and demands compensation?

Again, there are problems that are very likely to arise in the future.

. . . .

Creative Commons Won’t Help You if You Have Problems

The Creative Commons organization absolves itself of any problems you might encounter with one of its licenses in the future within its terms saying, “Creative Commons gives no warranties regarding its licenses … disclaims all liability for damages resulting from their use to the fullest extent possible … is not a party to its public licenses.” If something goes wrong, you’re on your own.

The Creative Commons License on Someone Else’s Work Might Not Be Valid

A big problem with Creative Commons licenses is the fact that anyone can apply them to any work. For example, many of the Creative Commons licensed images on Flickr, Google, and sites that aggregate images weren’t uploaded by the owners of the images. The Creative Commons licenses applied by the people who uploaded the images (but don’t own them) are completely invalid! If you use one of these improperly licensed images, you very well might get caught and find yourself on the losing end of an expensive copyright infringement lawsuit.

Link to the rest at Small Business Trends

PG will add that organizations that own and licenses large numbers of copyrights on images of all sorts can use the same image search techniques you use with Google Images, likely on an automated basis, to sort through the zillions of web sites online, including your author’s website and the product listings of online bookstores to find images that have some degree of similarity to an image for which the organization owns the license (usually assigned by the creator or the owner if the image is a work made for hire).

Images that are no longer protected by copyright are safe to use, but you’ll want to make certain that the image of Big Ben you choose from the many, many other photos is, in fact, the one shot by the photographer whose copyright is expired or the painter of similar vintage.

‘The Wordhord’ Review: Here Be Dragons

From The Wall Street Journal:

The language now known as Old English arrived in Britain in the fifth century, not long after the end of Roman rule, brought by settlers from northern Germany and southern Scandinavia. It was in use for 700 years, but only about 200 manuscripts containing any Old English survive, mainly from the period between 900 and 1100, and they comprise a total of 3.5 million words—fewer than in the current U.S. tax code. Today most people who engage with Old English do so at college and treat it as a dusty relic of a less enlightened age. Those who have not encountered it tend to imagine it’s the stuff of archaic English pub signs. Worse, they assume it’s the name for the language of Geoffrey Chaucer (which is actually Middle English) or Shakespeare (which is technically Early Modern English, despite student protestations to the contrary).

Hana Videen is one of a rare and treasurable breed of enthusiasts who want to remedy such misconceptions. Since the fall of 2013, she has taken to Twitter every day, as @OEWordhord, to post a single example of an Old English word. More than eight years on, the fruit of this slow accumulation is her first book. I doubt that I’m alone in frowning at the proliferation of nonfiction that began life as burblings on social media, and there’s an undelightful subgenre of Twitterature consisting of volumes that merely pile up linguistic trivia. But Ms. Videen is both a passionate medievalist and a relaxed, lucid writer; the pleasure she takes in her subject is infectious.

Some of the vocabulary presented in “The Wordhord” looks very familiar: One needs no help to understand what’s meant by the nouns “butere,” “sumer” and “wulf,” and it’s pretty easy to make sense of “leornung-mann,” a student, or even “ears-endu,” the buttocks. Yet many Old English words have a discouragingly odd appearance, not least because its alphabet boasted three letters that haven’t survived—ash (æ), thorn (þ) and eth (ð). Ms. Videen likens her book to an old photo album; many of the words she cites are “familiar but also strange, like seeing pictures of your parents as children.” And while she revels in showcasing lexical quirks, she has a larger mission: “As I gathered words like gems, I realised that they weren’t just funny, strange and beautiful, but that together they told a story about people’s lives more than a millennium ago.”

Instead of offering a comprehensive guide to Old English, “The Wordhord” leads the reader on a tour of those people’s everyday concerns: food, work, recreation, travel. You may be reassured (or dispirited) to learn that the most frequent topics of discussion in Old English included sickness and the weather—though it’s interesting that the latter was by default regarded as mild and that someone warning of an approaching deluge would refer to “un-weder.” A different kind of age-old preoccupation is evident in the description of Grendel, a vicious marauder in the epic poem “Beowulf,” who’s considered monstrous because he is a “mearc-stapa”—in other words, a “boundary-stepper,” lurking on the fringes of society and threatening the established order.

Yet, unsurprisingly, much about the world evoked in “The Wordhord” feels alien. One could pay one’s tax in fish, perhaps throwing in a few eels for good measure, or in honey, lumber or blankets. A person accused of a crime might be expected to hold an ounce of bread and cheese in his mouth; if he had difficulty swallowing it, he was guilty. The smallest unit of time measurement was the hour. There was no Old English word for “nature”; one simply referred to “sceaft” (creation).

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Should be a free link, but PG apologizes if you hit a paywall.)

What We Can Deduce From a Leaked PDF

From Matthew Butterick:

In 1979, Bob Wood­ward and Scott Armstrong published The Brethren, a chron­icle of the Supreme Court during the tumul­tuous and conse­quen­tial terms from 1969 to 1975. Including, of course, the delib­er­a­tions around Roe v. Wade. I’ve recom­mended the book before—it’s my favorite work of legal jour­nalism.

At the time, The Brethren was contro­ver­sial. Despite the Supreme Court’s long­standing policy of secrecy around internal delib­er­a­tions, it was apparent that sources within the court had spoken to Wood­ward and Armstrong off the record. After the death of Justice Potter Stewart in 1985, Wood­ward confirmed that Stewart had been one of his key sources.

Thus, the bad news for those who contend that the recent leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion is “unthink­able” or, in the words of Chief Justice John Roberts, a “singular and egre­gious breach”—the horse is long out of the barn. Indeed, with so many more ways to securely leak infor­ma­tion these days, the only surprise in recent years is that there haven’t been more.

Much as I enjoy Wood­ward’s writing, his sources are not neces­sarily well concealed. One just needs to ask: “which person in this story takes the fewest hits?” For instance, in Wood­ward’s earlier book about the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, Fear, this line of thinking led inex­orably to former White House economic adviser Gary Cohn.

Cohn publicly ques­tioned the accu­racy of the book. Tellingly, he didn’t specify any partic­ular fact it had gotten wrong. In general, when sources deny jour­nal­istic reporting, I trust the jour­nal­ists, because there are still serious legal conse­quences for news orga­ni­za­tions that publish false­hoods; mean­while, no conse­quences at all for sources who issue blanket denials.

(This dynamic isn’t limited to polit­ical reporting. In 2018, Bloomberg Busi­ness­week published a story called “The Big Hack” that was vigor­ously denied by Apple and Amazon. Based on these denials, certain tech blog­gers became convinced that the story was false. The fact that neither Apple nor Amazon sued Bloomberg for defama­tion—despite being extremely rich, finicky, and liti­gious—made nary a dent.)

To be fair, this exchange of favors is not unique to Wood­ward. Rather, it’s a long­standing feature—or bug, some might say—of Wash­ington polit­ical jour­nalism. Much of the oper­a­tion of govern­ment is committed to the public record. But much more is not. Thus, leaks become currency, traded constantly. Without them, there would be no national polit­ical news.

So when you hear the cater­wauling—“egad, the leakers!”—assume it refers to the leaks that the cater­wauler finds unflat­tering. Although disclosing actual clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion is a crime, much infor­ma­tion about the govern­ment doesn’t fall into that cate­gory. In partic­ular, it doesn’t appear that leaking a draft Supreme Court opinion breaks any law. So the hot-blooded idea that the leaker should be “pros­e­cuted” is misplaced.

Not every leak is published, however. Over time, one of the reci­p­rocal favors that Wash­ington jour­nal­ists have offered is to plug certain leaks rather than publi­cize them. For instance, during his first 10 years on the Supreme Court—including the time depicted in The Brethren—Justice William Rehn­quist became addicted to Placidyl, a powerful seda­tive. Never­the­less, this fact was not mentioned in Wood­ward’s book, nor much other jour­nalism of the time. As best I can tell, the Wash­ington Post didn’t explic­itly connect Rehn­quist to Placidyl until after he had completed a detox program in early 1982. (Current Chief Justice John Roberts clerked for Rehn­quist during the 1980–81 term.)

Bringing us to this week’s leak by Politico of a draft Supreme Court opinion in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Orga­ni­za­tion. I don’t usually comment on current events. But the possi­bil­i­ties for typo­graphic foren­sics were too intriguing to ignore.

Consis­tent with the Wash­ington jour­nal­istic prin­ciple of leaks-for-favors, I infer that whoever leaked this draft must foresee a benefit from the leak—as usual, cui bono?

. . . .

So what can we tell from the docu­ment itself?

For thor­ough­ness, I ran the PDF through some meta­data checkers to see if there were any inter­esting tidbits left behind. There weren’t. Though I didn’t expect to find any, based on the appear­ance of the docu­ment.

How was it created? Let’s go in steps:

  • An orig­inal color PDF was created on a computer using the US Supreme Court’s usual type­set­ting soft­ware. (And what is that? Programmer Faiz Surani noticed (perhaps unin­ten­tional) refer­ences in the Supreme Court Style Guide to a tool called “Opin­ions 2003”, which he spec­u­lated is a custom version of Microsoft Word 2003 used by the clerks for drafting opin­ions. This sounds plau­sible. For the type­set­ting and layout, designer Dan Rhatigan noted that the Supreme Court once used (and likely still uses) an XML-based publishing system made by Miles 33, appar­ently called OASYS. I’ve seen theo­ries else­where that La­TeX is involved—this wouldn’t surprise me either, because to my eye, the line breaking in Supreme Court opin­ions resem­bles that produced by the La­TeX algo­rithm.)
  • It seems that the PDF was created on a modern computer and not with a different device because of the use of Arial in the upper right corner of the first page.
  • It seems that the PDF was created in color because the yellow high­light around “1st Draft” is a rectangle that perfectly fits the text. Thus, the box must’ve been present in the digital file, and not, say, drawn by hand with a high­lighting pen.
  • It seems the PDF was printed and stapled because of the pres­ence of staple holes on the top left corner of each page. The opinion is 98 pages, so that must’ve been a pretty big staple.
  • It seems that the printed PDF was unsta­pled and then rescanned. Why? The reso­lu­tion of the page itself is very coarse and uneven, which is a kind of typo­graphic degra­da­tion char­ac­ter­istic of sheet scan­ners. Further­more, the pages have been scanned at different angles, which indi­cates the use of a low-volume home-office device. A typical office scanner would have an auto­mated sheet feeder that would keep the sheets in a more uniform vertical orien­ta­tion.
  • The text of the PDF is search­able because OCR was run on the PDF after it was created. Perhaps by the leaker, but more likely by the recip­ient, Politico.

It’s possible that Politico received the printed docu­ment and made their own scan. If that were the case, however, I’d expect them to have better quality scan­ning equip­ment and produce a nicer PDF.

But Politico has a strong incen­tive to protect their source. By making their own scan from a paper orig­inal, they wouldn’t open them­selves up to the disclo­sures of confi­den­tial infor­ma­tion that have tripped up others. (That said, printed docu­ments are not neces­sarily free of meta­data, as Reality Winner found out the hard way.)

Is it possible the docu­ment was scanned twice—once by the leaker, once by the publisher? I don’t think so. If it had been, I’d expect to see more pecu­liar pixel-level arti­facts and distor­tions.

So what does the state of the PDF tell us about the iden­tity of the leaker?

  • I conclude it must be someone who only had access to a stapled, printed copy of the draft opinion. (If the person had access to the under­lying digital file, they wouldn’t have printed & stapled it just to unstaple it.)
  • As explained above, I don’t think the leaker was an oppo­nent of the opinion, because there would be no tactical value in doing so. More­over, if the objec­tive of the leak was indeed to recon­sol­i­date support, then the leak didn’t come from someone whose support is wobbling.
  • Further­more, notice also that the docu­ment is completely unmarked, so whoever owned this copy didn’t find anything to disagree with.
  • In sum—I’d suppose it’s a friend, spouse, or family member of a Supreme Court justice who has consis­tently opposed Roe v. Wade, acting with some­thing between autonomy and plau­sible deni­a­bility.

Link to the rest at Matthew Butterick

There are lots of enlargements of various parts of the original leaked document at the link.

The real problem with dangling participles

From The Economist

Reading this sentence, it may occur to you that something is slightly awry with it. Or you may not notice anything wrong at all. The first three words are a “dangling modifier”. This writing fault has been deprecated for over a century. It has made its way into countless usage guides, perhaps because of its catchy and evocative name, as something to be avoided at all costs.

The most common kind of dangling modifier is a dangling participle, as at the beginning of this column. Participles are those verb forms that end in -ing in the present tense, and usually in -ed in the past tense: playing, played. (Some past participles, like born and spoken, are irregular.) Participles are so named because they “participate” in two parts of speech. They are verbs in sentences like She has spoken French for three decades, but act like adjectives in those like French is the most spoken language in Belgium.

Participles can be used to add some contextual or explanatory information to a sentence: Speaking Spanish, he ordered three beers. Spoken in Paraguay, Guaraní is the source of the word “jaguar”. Since participles are a bit like a verb, readers seek an appropriate subject to go with them, typically in the first noun they find. The problem comes when these don’t match up. Writing gurus have often conjured up clumsy examples to highlight the issue: Trembling with fear, the clock struck twelveAfter fighting the flames for hours, the ship was finally abandoned. The clock was not trembling, nor did the ship fight the flames.

By no means do such abominations have to be invented. Take “Pulling off his boxer briefs, his erection springs free. Holy cow!” The quotation, from E.L. James’s “50 Shades of Grey”, has a classic dangling participle, the kind of thing that makes critics mock the style of her erotic novels. (A bit of envy may be mixed in with the condescension: “50 Shades” was the bestselling novel of the 2010s.)

Consider, though, that James Donaldson, who provides this example in his recent doctoral dissertation, also cites 21 dangling modifiers from a rather more critically admired source: Virginia Woolf. “Lunching with Lady Bruton, it came back to her.” “Rubbing the glass of the long looking-glass and leering sideways at her swinging figure a sound issued from her lips.” “Looking up into the sky there was nothing but blackness there too.”

The idea that an introductory phrase must always apply to the subject of the clause that follows is a useful rule, but not a cardinal one. Speakers often introduce a remark with some throat-clearing about their own feelings on the statement to come, as in “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” It is but a short step to saying things like Frankly, he is lying to you—which under a strict rejection of “dangling modifiers” would be incoherent, as the speaker, not the liar, is being frank.

Yet these kinds of things crop up all the time, as when Richard Nixon said “Speaking as an old friend, there has been a disturbing tendency in statements emanating from Peking to question the good faith of President Reagan.” The dangling participle—“Speaking as an old friend”—has nothing to attach itself to. But Speaking as… is also a common introduction, the type that includes ConsideringAssumingLeaving aside and so forth. Only occasionally are these accompanied by an explicit I or we, which are nevertheless so strongly implied that they hardly need spelling out—a reason so many dangling modifiers go unnoticed. Moreover English sentences often have a dummy subject, such as “it” (Considering inflation, it seems plausible…) or “there are” (Given our situation, there are three options…). That makes dangling modifiers all the more likely to slip past editors.

It is best for writers to avoid, and those editors to fix, any danglers that give rise to absurdity, or even just a momentary jolt of confusion. Even if they bother only a few readers, those readers are disproportionately likely to think that the writer does not know how the parts of a sentence are meant to be combined. They are also disproportionately likely to write letters to the editor.

Link to the rest at The Economist

From ThoughtCo:

Dangling participles are modifiers in search of a word to modify. Dangling participles can be unintentionally funny because they make for awkward sentences.

The participle in subordinate clauses should always describe an action performed by the subject of the main part of the sentence.

An example of a dangling participle would be: “Driving like a maniac, the deer was hit and killed.” This makes it seem like the unfortunate deer was driving. Correct the sentence by including the missing proper noun. “Driving like a maniac, Joe hit a deer.” The corrected sentence makes it clear that Joe was driving.

. . . .

Avoid dangling participles because they can make your sentences awkward and give them unintended meanings. The Writing Center at the University of Madison gives several humorous examples:

  1. Oozing slowly across the floor, Marvin watched the salad dressing.
  2. Waiting for the Moonpie, the candy machine began to hum loudly.
  3. Coming out of the market, the bananas fell on the pavement.
  4. She handed out brownies to the children stored in plastic containers.
  5. I smelled the oysters coming down the stairs for dinner.

Link to the rest at ThoughtCo

Thomas Jefferson on Newspapers and its optimum organization, 1807

From MYZ:

“To your request of my opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted so as to be most useful, I should answer ‘by restraining it to true facts & sound principles only.’ Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth that a suppression of the press could not more compleatly deprive the nation of it’s benefits, than is done by it’s abandoned prostitution to falsehood.
Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knolege with the lies of the day.

I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens, who, reading newspapers, live & die in the belief that they have known something of what has been passing in the world in their time: whereas the accounts they have read in newspapers are just as true a history of any other period of the world as of the present, except that the real names of the day are affixed to their fables.

General facts may indeed be collected from them, such as that Europe is now at war, that Bonaparte has been a successful warrior, that he has subjected a great portion of Europe to his will, but no details can be relied on. I will add that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.

Perhaps an editor might begin a reformation in some such way as this. divide his paper into 4. chapters, heading the 1st. Truths. 2d. Probabilities. 3d. Possibilities. 4th. Lies. the 1st. chapter would be very short, as it would contain little more than authentic papers, and information from such sources as the editor would be willing to risk his own reputation for their truth. the 2d. would contain what, from a mature consideration of all circumstances, his judgment should conclude to be probably true. this however should rather contain too little than too much. the 3d. & 4th. should be professedly for those readers who would rather have lies for their money than the blank paper they would occupy.

Such an editor too would have to set his face against the demoralising practice of feeding the public mind habitually on slander, & the depravity of taste which this nauseous aliment induces. defamation is becoming a necessary of life: insomuch that a dish of tea, in the morning or evening, cannot be digested without this stimulant. even those who do not believe these abominations, still read them with complacence to their auditors, and, instead of the abhorrence & indignation which should fill a virtuous mind, betray a secret pleasure in the possibility that some may believe them, tho they do not themselves. it seems to escape them that it is not he who prints, but he who pays for printing a slander, who is it’s real author.

Thomas Jefferson, 1807

Excerpt from letter to John Norvell, 11 June 1807

Link to the rest at MYZ

Link to the entire original HERE

Endings

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

For more than a decade, writers have asked me what they can do to sell their existing books. I always tell them to write the next book. Some writers don’t have time for promotion. Others don’t have the constitution for it.

. . . .

The one thing that will sell your next book is the ending of the current book.

If your book ends well, leaving the reader satisfied, then they’ll want to repeat the experience with your next book. If your ending falls flat, then some readers won’t care about your next book. If your ending is truly awful, the readers will avoid your next book completely.

What made me think of this was a movie that Dean and I watched on Amazon Prime. The movie is called Parallel. We knew nothing about it before we watched it, except for the bit of advertising copy. The movie’s about multiverses, which we both love, and it looked promising.

When we watch something together, we have a rule: either one can veto the movie at any point in the movie. We figured this one would be an early veto. Instead, it was a good way to spend an hour-plus. The script was tight, the characters—though unlikeable—were well drawn. There were some quibbles (no way could those bodies have been disposed of easily), but they were minor.

The movie hummed along. It even had the perfect ending. I was enjoying it…and then some idiot tacked on a scene with a minute and a half left.

That scene ruined the movie. I have since looked at reviews, and everyone calls the ending a jumbled mess. Yeah. It is. But had the movie ended a minute and a half earlier, it would have been just fine.

Here’s what the ending did wrong:

  1. It introduced new information that contradicted the information in the movie.
  2. It threw in a plot twist that literally made no sense.
  3. It was pointless and emotionally flat.
  4. It did not match the tone of the rest of the movie.
  5. It raised questions that could not be answered.

What that last scene was going for was a gotcha! sequence that you often see in horror films. You think everything is fine, and then—nope—there are little plants growing in suburbia (as in Little Shop of Horrors) or a hand rises out of the grave (as in Carrie).

But Parallel, for all its terrifying moments, isn’t a horror film. It’s a science fiction film. It even tells you that midway through by quoting Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein.

The gotcha! ending doesn’t work in a science fiction film. The movie needs to be about the ideas and the characters, which it was, until 90 seconds before the end.

. . . .

Endings are really important. They have to be done right or the reader/viewer is going to be turned off completely.

What does “right” mean?

It means offering an emotionally satisfying ending, one that says “The story is over, and here’s the emotion you’re left with.” Sure, we all know that the couple in a romance will marry, have kids, fight before bedtime, and occasionally storm through the house. But they’ll still be together at the very end. They’ll probably die on the same day around their 100th birthday, hands clasped and declaring their love for each other in whispery voices ravaged by time.

The mystery ending will put order on chaos. Not every mystery ends with the killer behind bars, but at least we know who done it. And we know what the repercussions are.

. . . .

The real key to all fiction is an emotionally satisfying ending, one that ends, and does not leave things hanging. You certainly can’t introduce new ideas in your last chapter that changes or contradicts what has come before.

If you are going to change or contradict what has come before, you must set the seeds for that earlier. Little teeny hints of things not being as they seem.

And if you kill your protagonist, well, we need to know that on page 1, paragraph one, or even in the title.

“On the day that Devon died, he discovered the secret of the universe….”

Usually readers forget that you told them Devon would die, but when they get to it, they go “oh, yeah” and are okay with it. If you have Devon discover the secret of the universe and then hit by a bus without any warning at all, no one will read your next book. It’s that simple.

So the conundrum comes when you’re writing a series or linked stories. Most writers opt for the stupidest and least effective way of handling it.

They just end the action, with nothing resolved.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

France’s ‘Digital Barometer’: 27 Percent Trying Audiobooks

From Publishing Perspectives:

As you may recall, just before the Festival du Livre de Paris at the Grand Palais Ephémère (April 22 to 24), the Syndicat national de l’édition (SNE-France) announced that May would be “Audio Book Month” in France.

There was a promise at the time that the French publishers would release new data from what turns out to be the market’s 12th annual Digital Book Usage Barometer, and today (May 4), we have some numbers from that information. What we have today is focused on digital reading in ebooks and audio formats. The entire report runs to 107 pages, available here in French (PDF).

In many world publishing markets, some of these figures will make it clearer why the publishers’ association has moved to declare this its Mois du Livre Audio: The study conducted again by Médiamétrie, this time at the beginning of this year, studies reading habits of French citizens in 2021, and finds that:

  • Fifteen percent have listened to a “physical audiobook,” meaning on CD or tape, of course
  • Twelve percent report that they have listened to a digital (downloaded or streamed) audiobook

In ebooks, by comparison, 25 percent—these respondents are 15 or older—have read a digital book.

Respondents whose reading habits are on the light side tend to be using fewer digital (ebook or audiobook) products, while those who say they’re generally medium-to-heavy readers are leading the way. Some 22 percent of digital book readers report that in general they’re “avid” readers.

And here’s a bright spot: The association reporting that audiobooks, both physical and digital, “are increasingly attracting male readers.” This trend, seen at times in other markets including the United Kingdom, continues to suggest that audio may be a format that can help publishers draw more men and boys to reading, which is dominated by female consumers in many markets.

. . . .

Among Digital Fans: More Intense Reading

Bulleting out some more points for you from the research:

  • Thirty percent of ebook readers say they read more books than before
  • Twenty 20 percent of physical audiobook listeners say they’re listening more than in the past
  • Twenty-seven percent of digital audiobook users say they’re listening to more titles than before
  • Only 52 percent of physical audiobook listeners say they’ve listened to one fewer title than they did a year ago, and the researchers say they believe that signifies that those respondents are likely moving to downloadable and streaming audiobooks from CDs and tapes

Reading among the study’s respondents is still “very largely considered above all as a pleasure activity,” the report tells us, with more than 80 percent of those asked in all reading media in agreement that they do most of their reading at home

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Chestnut Trees

From The Paris Review:

Everywhere we’ve lived takes on a certain shape in our memory only some time after we leave it. Then it becomes a picture that will remain unchanged. As long as we’re there, with the whole place before our eyes, we see the accidental and the essential emphasized almost equally; only later are secondary matters snuffed out, our memory preserving only what’s worth preserving. If that weren’t true, how could we look back over even a year of our life without vertigo and terror!

Many things make up the picture a place leaves behind for us—waters, rocks, roofs, squares—but for me, it is most of all trees. They are not only beautiful and lovable in their own right, representing the innocence of nature and a contrast to people, who express themselves in buildings and other structures—they are also revealing: we can learn much from them about the age and type of arable land there, the climate, the weather, and the minds of the people. I don’t know how the village where I now live will present itself to my mind’s eye later, but I cannot imagine that it will be without poplars, any more than I can picture Lake Garda without olive trees or Tuscany without cypresses. Other places are unthinkable to me without their lindens, or their nut trees, and two or three are recognizable and remarkable by virtue of having no trees there at all.

Yet a city or landscape with no predominating woods of any kind never entirely becomes a picture in my mind; it always remains somewhat without character, to my feeling. There is one such city I know well—I lived there as a boy for two years—and despite all my memories of the place, my image of it is of somewhere foreign and alien; it has turned into a place as arbitrary and meaningless to me as a train station.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen a real chestnut-tree city—this thought occurs to me whenever I see a single beautiful horse-chestnut tree around here or sadly catch sight of the shabby little horticultural chestnut trees in certain villages. If they only knew how chestnut trees could look! How mightily they can stand there, how luxuriantly they blossom, how deeply they rustle, how luscious and complete the shadows they cast, how they swell with monstrous fullness in the summer and lay down their golden-brown leaves in such thick, soft piles in the fall!

Today I am once again thinking of the city with the beautiful chestnut trees: a town in southwest Germany. In the center is the old castle, a massive sprawling boxy structure, with the whole sprawling building ringed by an amazingly wide moat, long since turned into a dry ditch, and surrounding the ditch in a wider circle is a splendid avenue. On one side of the avenue is nothing but old low houses and little gardens, and on the other, open side, facing the castle, is a mighty garland of large chestnut trees.

On one side hang signs for shops and inns, the joiners hammer away, metalworkers smash menacingly at their sheet metal, cobblers lurk in the twilight of their cavelike workshops, tanneries give off their mysterious stink. On the other side of the wide avenue there is silence and shade, the smell of leaves and the green play of light, the song of honeybees and the flight of butterflies. So the poor devils beating carpets and doing handicrafts have their windows facing an eternal holiday, the never-ending peace of God, and they squint longingly at it all the time, and on warm summer evenings they cannot go out to visit it early enough, or with enough sighs.

I stayed in that little city once, for a week, and although I was actually there on business, I liked to look patronizingly in through the merchants, and craftsmen’s windows and put on a show of strolling—slowly, aristocratically, and often—on the shady, leisurely side of the street and of life. The best thing, though, was that I was staying by the moat, at the Blond Eagle, and had the many blossoming chestnut trees, red and white, outside my window in the evening and through the night. Now, enjoying this visual pleasure was not entirely without a cost, since the seemingly dry moat still had a damp enough moss-green bottom to send up a hundred thousand hungry mosquitoes a day. But a young person traveling doesn’t sleep much on such summer nights anyway, and when the mosquitoes got too rude I rubbed some vinegar on myself and sat by the window with a cigar lit and the light off.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Dancing in the Name of the Lord

From The Cut:

For 40 excruciating minutes, Melanie Wilking, a trained dancer-slash-influencer with more than 3 million TikTok followers, sat in front of a camera, flanked by her weeping parents. It was a dramatic departure from her usual smiling choreographed videos, which for years she’d performed with her older sister, Miranda. Now Melanie claimed that Miranda had been pulled into what she described as a “cult.” “Miranda is a part of a religious group and she’s not allowed to speak to us,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes. Her sister and the other group members are “not in control of their lives,” she continued. “Someone else is controlling their lives, and they’re all victims of this.”

Both Miranda and Melanie had moved to Los Angeles to dance a few years ago, and soon their TikTok videos had made them internet famous. But their paths began to diverge last year when Miranda was signed to 7M Films, a talent-management agency founded by a doctor-turned-preacher with a roster of a dozen young dancers whose stylish, high-production choreographed dance videos you might have seen on TikTok or Instagram.

Melanie’s video on Instagram Live came on Miranda’s 25th birthday in February, the second that had passed since the family said they had been cut off from her, and they were desperate to reconnect. The hope for any professional dancer signing with a talent agency is to book the right sorts of jobs and receive the right sort of coaching that could lead to fame. For Miranda, it seemed to work: She now has 1.3 million Instagram followers and she’s posted hundreds of slick videos produced by 7M creators, danced with Mario Lopez on Access Hollywood, and walked the red carpet at the American Music Awards.

Before all that, Miranda and Melanie had been a package deal. The Wilking Sisters, as they billed themselves, had been dancing together since they were little kids, even starting a dance camp in their own backyard in their Macomb, Michigan, suburb, when they were still in elementary school.

Both attended a performing-arts high school. After graduation, Miranda moved to L.A., landing background-dancer gigs and teaching at the International Dance Academy in Hollywood. Melanie followed a year later, finishing up her senior year remotely. For years, they filmed videos together for Musical.ly and later TikTok; performed together in dance competitions; taught courses in hip-hop, funk, and jazz together at studios across L.A.; and danced at in-person events for the very online like VidCon and TikTok Gala. Though the sisters are two years apart in age — Melanie is 23 and Miranda is 25 — with their long brown hair, matching aquiline noses and toothy smiles, and coordinated outfits, they looked in those days like twins.

By late 2019, Miranda had become involved with a few creators who would go on to be part of 7M, but it wasn’t until January 18, 2021, that she withdrew from her family, Melanie said to the followers watching her Instagram Live. She and Miranda had been scheduled to fly home to Michigan for their grandfather’s funeral, but 30 minutes before their flight, Miranda called their parents and canceled. At first, Melanie said, Miranda claimed she had COVID — Melanie was suspicious since they’d both come down with it just the month prior. “She even admitted that it wasn’t because of COVID, she was just making that up,” Melanie told the Live viewers. Kelly Wilking, the sisters’ mom, added, “And that she was sorry, and that we won’t understand.”

Just before the funeral, Wilking’s parents, Kelly and Dean, flew to California and spoke face-to-face with Miranda. According to the Wilkings, Miranda was withdrawn and defensive, a different daughter than the one they knew. She eventually “stormed out” of the meeting. It would be the last time they saw or talked to Miranda for over a year, they said.

Link to the rest at The Cut

Songwriter’s heirs can’t reclaim rights to Elvis hit, judge rules

From Reuters:

The daughter and grandson of Hugo Peretti, who co-wrote Elvis Presley’s hit song “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” cannot recover rights to the song from Authentic Brands Group LLC under copyright law, a U.S. appeals court said Wednesday.

The rights that Valentina Peretti Acuti and Paul Reitnauer argued they were entitled to did not exist when Peretti and his family sold them, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.

. . . .

It was 1961 when Peretti and two other songwriters wrote the ballad “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” which became a hit for Presley and has since been recorded by hundreds of other musicians.

Peretti, his wife and his daughters agreed in 1983 to transfer their right to renew Peretti’s copyright interest in the song to Julian and Joachim Aberbach, who later transferred it to Authentic Brands. The company manages dozens of brands, including Presley’s.

Acuti and Reitnauer gave Authentic Brands notice that they were terminating the contract in 2014, under a provision of federal copyright law that allows creators to terminate transfers of their copyrights and reclaim them after decades.

The heirs sued in Manhattan federal court in 2020 after Authentic Brands disputed the termination, seeking a ruling that it was effective. The 2nd Circuit agreed Wednesday with the district court’s decision to dismiss the case last year.

The termination right only applies to agreements executed by the author themselves, and the only concrete right Peretti owned at the time of the contract was his “interest in the composition during its original term,” U.S. Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch said.

The rights at issue in the case were not concrete as of 1983 and depended on several hypothetical factors before becoming concrete, like Peretti being alive when the copyright was up for renewal and his wife staying married to him, Lynch said.

Peretti died in 1986, and his widow, daughters, and surviving co-writers renewed the copyright in 1989. The rights at issue came into existence at that time and transferred to the Aberbachs, Lynch said.

Link to the rest at Reuters and thanks to C. for the tip.

PG thinks this isn’t the clearest summary of the case, but hasn’t had the time to read the entire opinion yet. It does appear to raise substantial concerns about heirs of the original creator of a creative work (book, music, painting, photo, etc.) not being able to terminate a license for the work in the same manner as the creator could under §203 of the Copyright Act of 1976.

The Reuters account is a bit jumbled, but PG is going to read the opinion and keep his eyes open for the variety of legal analyses that will be forthcoming in the next several days.

Suffice to say, intellectual property attorneys and their staffs will be burning the midnight oil while reading a lot of contracts their clients have signed that may be impacted by today’s decision. PG also predicts this isn’t the last lawsuit dealing with the issue.

Academic Exile, Two Years On

From Quillette:

Two years ago, I was fired from my job as a professor at a small mid-western college. I was not fired because of poor teacher ratings, student complaints, data fraud, or any other job-related shortcomings. I was fired because I spoke and wrote openly about human psychological variation, and because I maintained that I would continue to speak and write candidly about that subject and about other potentially controversial topics.

At the time, this development left me shocked and bewildered. In retrospect, it was probably inevitable. Today, my overriding feeling is one of profound disappointment that my perception of an academia guided by evidence and argument instead of political ad hominem attacks proved to be illusory. Although I was quite naïve back then, I was never so foolish as to believe that scholarly debates are always cordial affairs between monocled gentleman who decorate their discourse with phrases like “my dear sir” and “I do beg your pardon.” But I did believe that academia encouraged open exploration and argument and discouraged character assassination and scientific censoriousness. I was wrong.

I encountered intimations of the problems that plague modern academia as soon as I began my college career, but I largely dismissed them because I was studying literature, not electrons, atoms, brains, birds, bears, or anything that could be pinned down. Nevertheless, as a sober-minded student, I was surprised by the popularity of implausible but fashionable ideological currents. So, like any curious scholar, I read the work that was celebrated by my professors and other eminent people in the field—Baudrillard, Barthes, Butler, Derrida, Freud, Jung, Kristeva, Foucault, and Lacan. Some of it was sensible and intelligible, but much of it was so obscure, involuted, or risibly unconvincing that I was left perplexed. For a while, I assumed that my brain simply could not apprehend the profundities of postmodern thought.

While wrestling unsuccessfully with poststructuralism, I also read Robert Wright’s The Moral Animal, and Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene, both of which offered excellent overviews of Darwinian approaches to animal behavior. After many more books and articles and lively debates, I became persuaded of the general power and plausibility of evolutionary psychology. I was baffled by the persistence of literary criticism that remains uninformed by Darwinian analysis, and that even defies it (e.g., Freudianism). After all, why should we not use the best intellectual tools at our disposal to understand Shakespeare, Dickens, or Faulkner?

I was even more taken aback by the antipathy my professors (and other scholars) expressed toward evolutionary psychology. I had encountered many tendentious and hyperbolic denunciations of evolutionary psychology in the literature, but I figured these were the exaggerated attacks of sophisticated partisans, not manifestations of a widespread attitude. Yet, when I started to include evolutionary analyses in my papers, my arguments were vehemently attacked. Some professors even compared Darwinism to fascism and Nazism.

. . . .

My love for literature was propelled by a delight in language and a desire to explore the human condition. But many critics and influential professors seemed to be more interested in advancing avant-garde identity politics than in carefully reading texts and discussing the nuances of diction or symbolism. A popular textbook on literary criticism at the time, for example, included sections on Marxist criticism, feminist criticism, deconstruction, postcolonial and multicultural criticism, and eco-criticism. Man is a political animal, so I have no objection to thinking about the political motivations of authors or characters, but I do object to obsessing over these at the expense of other important features of literature. And I especially object to forcing texts onto a procrustean bed of progressive ideological concerns. (A popular critical activity was to search for what was not in the text to illustrate how that revealed the racism or sexism of the author or his society.)  

Link to the rest at Quillette and thanks to C for the tip.

From Educational Data:

The average debt for a 4-year Bachelor’s degree is $28,800.

  • The average 4-year Bachelor’s degree debt from a public college is $27,000.
  • 65% of students seeking  a Bachelor’s degree from a public 4 year college have student loan debt.
  • The average 4-year Bachelor’s degree debt from a private for-profit college is $39,900.
  • For private non-profit colleges, the average Bachelor’s degree debt is $33,700.

. . . .

Roughly 50% of Bachelor degree graduates who went to a private for-profit 4-year school owed over $40,000 in debt.

. . . .

Average 4-year Bachelor’s Degree Debt by State

The majority of the states with the highest levels of debt are located in the northeast. The low debt states are primarily concentrated in the west. In 26 states the average debt was over $30,000 – 5 of them in particular had an average over $35,000.

  • Over the past 17 years, the student debt load has grown by twice the rate of inflation in 18 states.
  • In 5 states, inflation outpaced the student debt load.
  • New Hampshire has the highest average debt for students with a 4-year Bachelor’s degree – $39,410.
  • Utah has the lowest average debt for students with a 4-year Bachelor’s degree – $17,935.
  • At 74%, New Hampshire and South Dakota are tied as the states with the most amount of students in debt.
  • At 40%, Utah is the state with the least amount of students in debt.

Table of Average Bachelor’s Degree Debt per State

StateAverage DebtPercent of Students with Debt
Alabama$29,79150%
Alaska$25,92548%
Arizona$24,71249%
Arkansas$26,67953%
California$21,48547%
Colorado$26,56250%
Connecticut$38,54656%
Delaware$37,44759%
District of Columbia$32,03946%
Florida$24,62948%
Georgia$28,08156%
Hawaii$23,57743%
Idaho$25,94260%
Illinois$29,66661%
Indiana$28,11259%
Iowa$30,25963%
Kansas$26,78860%
Kentucky$28,48258%
Louisiana$25,51248%
Maine$33,59167%
Maryland$30,30353%
Massachusetts$33,25655%
Michigan$30,67759%
Minnesota$31,85666%
Mississippi$31,65155%
Missouri$28,74057%
Montana$27,26557%
Nebraska$26,02657%
Nevada$21,25446%
New Hampshire$39,41074%
New Jersey$33,56664%
New Mexico$20,99145%
New York$31,15558%
North Carolina$26,58355%
North Dakota$32,74564%
Ohio$29,88660%
Oklahoma$25,79347%
Oregon$27,54254%
Pennsylvania$39,02765%
Rhode Island$37,61459%
South Carolina$31,52460%
South Dakota$31,65374%
Tennessee$27,52560%
Texas$26,95148%
Utah$17,93540%
Vermont$30,56660%
Virginia$30,57456%
Washington$24,64550%
West Virginia$29,27267%
Wisconsin$31,55064%
Wyoming$23,44446%

Link to the rest at Educational Data

PG notes that the average debt of graduates from Law School and Medical School are much higher.

According to the American Bar Association:

  • The average law school graduate owes approximately $165,000 in educational debt upon graduating.
  • More than 95 percent of students take out loans to attend law school.
  • More than 55 percent of students surveyed postponed buying a house, and nearly 30 percent postponed or decided not to get married.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 70% of medical degree recipients in 2019 had used student loans to pay for medical school. The median amount of medical education debt for those graduates was $200,000.

US News and World Report

I am always interested in why young people become writers

I am always interested in why young people become writers, and from talking with many I have concluded that most do not want to be writers working eight and ten hours a day and accomplishing little; they want to have been writers, garnering the rewards of having completed a best-seller. They aspire to the rewards of writing but not to the travail.

James A. Michener

8 Notable Attempts to Hack the New York Times Bestseller List

From The Literary Hub (2017):

The bestseller list is a surprisingly complicated creature. A good and thorough explanation is here, but basically, to get on any official list of bestsellers, you have to sell at least 5,000 books in a single week—which seems straightforward, except that it’s really hard to count books sold week-to-week, even harder to count books sold by non-traditional outlets, and also not everyone is looking at all the same numbers. Publisher’s Weekly uses BookScan, but BookScan doesn’t track everything. Other bestseller lists rely on reported data from bookstores (online and off), or a combination. The New York Times list is the most prestigious, of course, because it’s the New York Times, but also, at least in part, because it’s the most opaque. “The Times’s best-seller lists are based on a detailed analysis of book sales from a wide range of retailers who provide us with specific and confidential context of their sales each week,” a New York Times spokesperson told Vox. “These standards are applied consistently, across the board in order to provide Times readers our best assessment of what books are the most broadly popular at that time.” Which doesn’t tell us much, and the Times is notoriously hush-hush about which stores they track and how they interpret and arrange their data.

Despite all the confusion, it’s not super hard to buy 5,000 books in a single week—if you already have the money—which could send your book to the top of the charts, depending on the week in question. This isn’t illegal, but it is gaming the system, or even cheating, if you will, and the New York Times list will sometimes include a dagger next to books they suspect might owe their placement to “strategic bulk purchases.” Worse than that demure little dagger is the fact that you’ll likely be found out and raked over the coals, especially if you’re already a public figure. On the other hand, years after people have forgotten that you scammed your way onto the bestseller list, you’ll still be putting “bestselling author” in front of your name.

Not everyone will forget, though. Considering the recent spate of bestseller-list drama, here are eight notable instances of list-hacking in its various forms, from the very cynical to the very silly.

. . . .

In August, a book very few people had ever heard of shot to the top of the Young Adult Hardcover section of the New York Times bestseller list. The book, Handbook for Mortals, was published by GeekNation, a website launched in 2012, and if that sounds odd, it’s because Sarem’s book (and attendant movie franchise deal) was the geek culture site’s first foray into publishing. It all smells a little pre-packaged, honestly, and the fact that Sarem is JC Chasez’s cousin does not make it smell any fresher.

YA author Phil Stamper brought the oddity to the book world’s attention, tweeting, “I find it . . . strange that a mediocre website can decide it wants to be a publisher, and one month later hit #1 on the NYT Bestsellers list” and “A book that’s out of stock on Amazon and is not currently in any physical B&N in the tri-state area . . . A book that no one has heard of except for the two niche blogs that covered the [GeekNation] press release. Sells ~5,000 in the first week? Ok.” Soon, booksellers began writing to Stamper, reporting that they had been getting mysterious bulk orders of Handbook for Mortals—but only after the caller made sure that their sales were reported to the Times bestseller list. More evidence quickly began to stack up, and by the end of the day, the Times had changed the list. “After investigating the inconsistencies in the most recent reporting cycle, we decided that the sales for Handbook for Mortals did not meet our criteria for inclusion,” a Times spokesperson told NPR in a statement.

In an interview with HuffPost, Sarem said, “OK, I get it. I didn’t play by the normal YA rules. I didn’t […] send out galleys two years in advance, and I didn’t go talk to the people that thought I should come talk to them. I did it a different way. Do you only get to be successful in the YA world if you only do it the way that they think it’s supposed to be done?” Later, she complained, “People keep saying that they’re tired of hearing the same story over and over again. Well, start supporting new stories. Start supporting new artists.”

A couple of weeks later, she wrote an op-ed, also at HuffPost, in which she admitted to buying her own book in bulk to sell it at Comic Con events, but said this was “well within the rules” of the bestseller list. This isn’t really borne out by the evidence, though, which shows many orders and no stock to fill them with—that is, nonexistent books purchased by people who didn’t care if they ever received them.

Fun fact: Blues Traveler, whom Sarem used to manage, tweeted that they “fired her for these kinds of stunts. Her sense of denial is staggering.”

Donald Trump loves to brag about how he’s a great businessman, and how he’s a great bestselling writer, and how he’s a great bestselling writer of a great book about being a great businessman. The Art of the Deal is second only to the Bible, right? But recently in the New Republic, Alex Shephard reported that when it comes to the popularity of The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump may not be as great as all that. Shocker! Shephard reports that ex-Trump executive Jack O’Donnell’s 1991 tell-all Trumped! explains exactly how The Art of the Deal became such a big bestseller: the Trump organization bought “tens of thousands of copies on its own.” Shephard reports:

In his book, O’Donnell recounts buying 1,000 copies of The Art of the Deal to sell in the Plaza’s gift shop—only to be told by fellow executive Steve Hyde that it wasn’t nearly enough. “You’ve got to increase your order,” Hyde told him. “Donald will go nuts if you don’t order more books.” How many more? Four thousand copies, O’Donnell was told.

And it wasn’t just the Plaza Hotel that was buying the book in bulk. According to O’Donnell, Trump executives were instructed to buy thousands of copies for their properties. In typical Trump fashion, the boss pitted his top executives against each other: When Trump’s then-wife, Ivana, ordered 4,000 books for the Trump Castle Casino in Atlantic City, O’Donnell was warned that he needed to match her. “Hey, Jack,” a fellow executive cautioned him, “you better buy as many books as Ivana, or Donald will use it against you.”

To be fair, Shephard says, The Art of the Deal would have wound up a bestseller anyway. But only last year, Trump pulled the same thing with his book Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again (which I have never heard of), buying $55,055 worth of copies at Barnes & Noble. Again, not illegal—unless he gets any royalties from the purchases. “It’s fine for a candidate’s book to be purchased by his committee, but it’s impermissible to receive royalties from the publisher,” a representative of nonpartisan nonprofit Campaign Legal Center told The Daily Beast. “That amounts to an illegal conversion of campaign funds to personal use. There’s a well established precedent from the FEC that funds from the campaign account can’t end up in your own pocket.” Of course, that probably didn’t stop him. It’s Donald Trump, after all.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub (2017)

The convoluted world of best-seller lists, explained

From Vox (2017):

Over the past few weeks, scandal has rocked the august institution of the New York Times best-seller list. And it’s happened not just once but twice.

On August 24, an unknown book by an unknown author from an unknown publisher rocketed its way to first place on the Times’s young adult hardcover best-seller list. But as a scrappy band of investigators who congregated in the YA Twitter community discovered, it wasn’t because a lot of people were reading the book. Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem bought its way onto the list, they concluded, with the publisher and author strategically ordering large numbers of the book from stores that report their sales to the New York Times. Shortly thereafter, the Times removed the book from its rankings.

And on September 4, Regnery Books — the conservative publishing imprint that publishes Ann Coulter and Dinesh D’Souza, among others — denounced the New York Times best-seller list as biased against conservatives. Why, it demanded, was D’Souza’s new book The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left ranked as seventh on the Times’s hardcover nonfiction list when Nielsen BookScan’s data, per Regnery’s interpretation, suggested it should be first? Regnery concluded that the New York Times was actively conspiring against conservative titles, and announced that it would sever all ties with the Times.

To understand how any of this could happen — how different lists can contain different titles, in a different order, how an unknown book could buy its way onto a best-seller list, how a best-seller list could have a political bias — and why any of these things matter, you need to understand how the different best-seller lists work, what makes the New York Times’s best-seller list unique, and the purpose best-seller lists serve within the world of book publishing.

Why is it such a big deal for a book to be named a best-seller?

There are multiple best-seller lists out there, and getting named to any of them is welcome for most authors, but the New York Times best-seller list is widely considered to be the most prestigious, and it’s certainly the most well-known.

Becoming a New York Times best-seller has a measurable effect on a book’s sales, especially for books by debut authors. According to a 2004 study by economics professor Alan Sorensen, appearing on the New York Times’s best-seller list increased debut authors’ sales by 57 percent. On average, it increased sales by 13 or 14 percent.

Besides the list’s effect on sales, it offers prestige. If your book appears on the New York Times list — even just for a week in the last slot of the Advice, How-To & Miscellaneous category — you get to call yourself a New York Times best-seller for the rest of your life. You can put that honor on the cover of all of your other books. If anyone ever insults you, you can say, “Well, have you written a New York Times best-seller?” (Strategy not recommended if the person who insulted you was Danielle Steel.)

And for the rare book that manages to establish enough of a presence on various best-seller lists, a self-sustaining momentum develops. Not everyone who bought a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey expected to like what they read, but Fifty Shades became such a ubiquitous cultural force that lots of people wanted to have an opinion on it anyway. That inspired them to buy it, and that meant the book stayed on the list.

. . . .

At the end of the day, best-seller lists work as shorthand for readers: “Lots of other people liked these books,” they say, “so odds are good that you will too!” 

What does it take to be named a best-seller?

The general consensus is that if you want to make your way onto a best-seller list, any best-seller list, you have to sell at least 5,000 books in a week, or maybe 10,000. Beyond that, things get complicated depending on which list you’re looking to end up on.

That’s because the different lists don’t all use the same data. No one has access to all of the sales made by every single book published in the US in a given week. It takes months for publishers to assemble that data; it’s impossible to get it all in time to publish a weekly best-seller list. “At the end of the day, the publishers will have a hundred percent understanding of what was sold,” says Jim Milliot of Publishers Weekly, “but they won’t have it by the end of the week.”

So all of the different best-seller lists have established their own methodologies to gather sales data — and once they’ve got it, they break it down differently. They put the break between one week and another in different spots (ending on Sunday versus Saturday, for example); they use different categories to sort the lists; they weigh digital and print titles differently. Here’s a breakdown of how the five major lists — Publishers Weekly, USA Today, Indiebound, Amazon, and the New York Times — work.

Publishers Weekly, which Regnery has cited as the “benchmark” it will be following henceforward, pulls its data from the Nielsen service BookScan. BookScan is also the service that most publishers use to track their competitors’ sales, so it’s more or less the industry standard.

BookScan reports that it tracks 80 to 85 percent of the sales of printed books in the US, and although that claim has been contested, it certainly gets data from major sellers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, and Walmart, as well as a number of independent bookstores. (BookScan estimates that it collects data from approximately 16,000 outlets every week.)

Link to the rest at Vox (2017)