The Year in Review Part 3: Bestsellers

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

In my Pocket Reader app, I stored a September article from BBC News as much for the article’s title as its content. That title? “When Is A Bestseller Not Necessarily A Bestseller?”

I think that’s been the burning question in publishing for the past ten years. Bestsellers haven’t entirely lost their meaning, but they’re not relevant the way that they were twenty years ago. Back in the day when traditional publishing controlled 99% of the books that we saw on shelves (before ebooks), a bestseller was the book that sold the best out of the myriad of bookstores.

Even then, those bestseller lists were rigged. I can’t tell you how many times I had colleagues who gamed The New York Times list (the easiest one to buy your way onto, if you had the list of “acceptable” bookstores). It was a relief to have USA Today base its list on actual reported sales across all stores, including the chains. Even those numbers were flawed, though, because they were self-reported by most of the publishers.

Data has never been traditional publishing’s strong suit.

Last week, I examined traditional publishing and the mess that it has become, a mess that has led at least one industry expert to conclude that the services traditional publishers provide are essentially meaningless.

The anecdotal evidence has existed for years. I know several Big Name romance writers who can no longer live off their royalties like they did twenty years ago. Fortunately, a lot of them were good at money management, so they have cash stashed away and their homes are paid for.

Last year, Kat Martin, at 20Booksto50K here in Las Vegas, stated,

I think [the backlist is] a real negative for traditional publishing. Once you sell them your book, they have your book and they own it for years. And they do pay you a nice fat fee up front, so it’s kind of a trade off, but it’s not a long-term, it’s not a retirement thing, because they’re making money off the backlist. You don’t. They give you a percentage, but…the big money, I think, for long term is probably in self-publishing.

. . . .

Because everyone comes to Vegas at one point or another, Dean and I had a lot of opportunities to talk with writer friends who are (or were) traditionally published bestsellers. Dean had lunch with a person whose work would be considered a major (mega) bestseller. That person expressed shock that the backlist, which once earned a tidy income, earned little more than a trickle now.

That person could no longer sell their books to the Big Five, despite the continuing good numbers on the backlist. The small publisher the person went with is going belly-up, and the author was looking at other ways to publish.

I can’t tell you how many conversations we have with writers in a similar position.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

PG started TPV nearly twelve years ago to talk about the book business with an emphasis on self-publishing.

For those with long memories, PG blogged about the 2012 antitrust litigation brought by the US Justice Department and 33 state attorneys general against Apple, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Books, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette Book Group, Inc., alleging that the defendants conspired to fix prices in the sale of e-books, primarily motivated by the challenge presented by Amazon’s price discounting of books to their traditional business model and agreement to keep ebook prices high to support their print book business and their close-to-exclusive access to prime shelf space in traditional bookstores.

Some of the major publishers caved and settled charges against them by paying large fines. Apple Penguin, and Macmillan didn’t settle and ended up losing at the trial level and in the US Circuit Court of Appeals. Apple tried to take its appeal the the US Supreme Court, but that court declined to accept the case, meaning that Apple, Penguin and Macmillan ended up losing and paying large fines to the US and the 33 states that joined in the antitrust suit.

In essence, Apple and Big Publishing tried to crush Amazon’s book business and, especially, its ebook business, an effort that flamed out in spectacular fashion. Amazon kept doing its thing and grew into one of the largest tech companies around, including selling more books than anyone else by a large margin.

Traditional publishers continued their long decline as self-publishing through Amazon kept growing. Unfortunately, Covid shutdowns finished off more than a few bookstores and nobody pays much attention to Barnes & Noble any more.

PG hasn’t seen anything about the physical bookstore business in the UK or Europe recently, but would be surprised if ebooks weren’t steadily increasing their market share in those places as well.

As for himself, PG reads about 98% of his book pages electronically. He has a hard time finishing the occasional physical book that comes into his hands because his Kindle allows him to read while his creaking spinal column is in a far more comfortable position.

Cozy Mystery Book Covers

From The Book Designer:

#1 – Fall For Murder, Kathleen Suzette

With fall comes murder, even for newly marrieds. Allie and Alec are swept into a murder mystery when Allie finds the body of a local businesswoman. To prove her innocence to the police chief, she and her husband find the real murderer. A pastel cover including almost every fall color, soft pinks contrast the sharp edges of fall leaves and a background of housing. This design is perfect for a cozy mystery book covers.

#2 – A Very English Murder, Lady Eleanor Swift

This mystery takes place in England, 1920. Protagonist Eleanor Swift is not just a distinguished adventurer or a dog person, but also a detective. Dignified and resourceful all in one, she’s traveled the world and has the stories to prove it. However, her adventures take a sinister turn when she watches a man’s murder. Witty dialogue will carry you to the end of this murder mystery! 

A navy cover offsets the soft pink of design and delicate yellow of Swift’s dress. A pop of red hair adds a spark of color and of course, since Swift is a dog lover they had to include a cute pup on the cover as well. 

#3 – A Spoonful of Murder, J. M. Hall

We often view schoolteachers as hard working, up before dawn to teach and grading after dark. This mindset is often true. However, in this murder mystery, three schoolteachers become involved in a murder.

Grab a cup of tea with a spoonful of sugar, and open this delightful, sky-blue cover to read the mystery for yourself. A red teacup decorates the bottom half, complete with a black cat and the steam of a freshly brewed cup. 

#4 – The Bookshop Murder, Flora Steele

With fall comes murder, even for newly marrieds. Allie and Alec are swept into a murder mystery when Allie finds the body of a local businesswoman. To prove her innocence to the police chief, she and her husband find the real murderer. A pastel cover including almost every fall color, soft pinks contrast the sharp edges of fall leaves and a background of housing. This design is perfect for a cozy mystery book covers.

#5 – The Bullet That Missed, Richard Osman

Even a cold case deserves to be properly closed. The Thursday Murder Club finds themselves involved in a local news legend and a murder. However, there is no body and with no body there are just as many answers. Join this case and journey from a spa to a prison cell, drinking luxury espresso with the protagonist. 

Outlined in green, covered in off white, and jazzed up with touch of bold red, this cover is loud and unashamed. Start reading and see if you can keep up with the Thursday Murder Club on the red hot case.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

Purposeful Thought Work for Ambitious Lawyers

PG Note: This is a description of a podcast episode for lawyers, but PG thought it might be adaptable to authors who don’t write legal documents as well.

In passing, PG notes that a ten-thousand-word legal brief written for a solvent client tends to pay better than a ten-thousand word short story does. But, in five years, no one will remember, let alone read, even a very well-written legal brief.

From LexBlog:

Ever sit at your desk thinking about what ifs?

What if you started your own practice?

What if you expanded your practice?

What if you made partner?

What if you started that blogging or podcast idea that’s been rolling around in the back of your mind?

This episode is for the dreamers.

The ambitious lawyers who have this nagging tug at their heart that they’re meant for more.

This episode is for lawyers who — even though they have this recurring dream — also aren’t taking action OR aren’t taking the action that produces BIG results.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • how to uncover and get awareness of thoughts stopping you from taking action
  • why our brains responds like it does with these thoughts
  • how to dissolve these thoughts by understanding what they really are
  • how to question these thoughts one-by-one, so when they pop up for you, you can counter them with the truth and take action

This last step is essential. It takes consistently showing up for yourself and questioning your thoughts. 

This is the process of rewiring your brain to take action on your dreams.

Link to the rest at LexBlog

More Words You’re Probably Using Wrong

From Writer Unboxed:

I see you, word nerds. I know who you are. You’re the ones who can’t drive by a billboard with a grammar mistake (“In a class of it’s own”) without visibly cringing. Who have memes like this as your screen saver. Who keep Dreyer’s English in your nightstand and regularly reread and analyze passages like it’s the King James Bible.

I see you, and I feel you.

As an editor I may or may not derive an inordinate amount of amusement from malapropisms, dangling modifiers, quotation marks misused for emphasis that call the author’s “authority” into question, and comically clumsily translated signs like these…but I know I am not alone.

A few posts ago I wrote about words you’re probably using wrong, and from the comments it seemed to hit a chord with my fellow word nerds, so here’s another ridiculous helping of word nerdery to delight you, enlighten you, and perhaps let you bask in superiority, chortling at those poor benighted fools who violate the vernacular. (Spoiler, though—judging from my 15 years at the beginning of my editing career as a Big Six copyeditor, that’s most of us at some time or another.)

Misusing our language commits a cardinal sin of writing, which is to muddy your intentions and the readers’ experience of your story. Knowing how to use the main tool of our business, language, allows you to be a more effective storyteller.

So with that lofty goal in mind…let’s get down and nerdy with it.

Picking Apart Parts of Speech

You don’t “feel badly” for someone, unless you’re trying to have a feeling for them and you just can’t swing it; you simply feel bad for them. (Probably because of their substandard grammar, I’m betting.)

And you don’t cap a list of progressively important things with “most importantly,” unless you’re saying it with the air of a self-satisfied douchebag—it’s just “most important.”

I might wonder hopefully if you already knew that, but I wouldn’t write “Hopefully you knew that” unless I’m referring to the optimistic quality of your knowing.

Something can be “on top of” something else, or “over it,” or even “over-the-top” (as this post, in fact, could be accused of being), but not “overtop” unless you’re using it as a colloquialism in a character’s point of view. “Overtop” is not a preposition, any more than “underbottom” or “throughmiddle” are.

While we’re on the topic, “any more” referring to quantity should be two words, not one, in usages such as the last sentence. “Anymore” is only for time, despite that for some philistines these usages are supposedly interchangeable (but never supposably).

My examples have taken a turn for the worse—which is a worst-case scenario for some readers, if worse comes to worst.

If you haven’t as yet tuned out (never “as of yet”—but you already knew that, didn’t you?), let’s move on to other troubling misusages.

Fallacious phraseology

If you’re offering someone an ARC of your book, it’s an advance copy, not an advanced one (unless you are distinguishing it from a remedial edition you give to your less erudite friends).

If you’re letting it all hang out you’re buck naked, not butt naked (no matter how intuitive the latter may seem, given the fundamental involvement of one’s derriere). And no judgments if you do like to get nakey­ on the regular—that’s perfectly all right (but never alright).

Less refers to amount; fewer to number. For that matter, “number” delineates the numeric quantity of something, and “amount” its volume. By this time, though, maybe you couldn’t care less (not “fewer,” of course)—not “could care less,” because if you can still care even less than you already do, there’s work to be done yet in getting you good and fed up.

If you’re lousy with cash, you may be flush, but you’re flushed only if you’re also feeling embarrassed about it, or overheated from earning it. (Or if the school bully has shoved your head into the toilet to take it from you.)

On that note, you may flush out something from your eye, but if you’re expanding on a topic (such as flushing), then you’re fleshing it out—even though that sounds like the scene of a grisly murder (but not a gristly one, unless the corpse is also quite tough to the tooth). That might land you in dire straits (not straights, unless you’re around a bunch of nihilistic heterosexuals).

I’ve taken a tortuous route to arrive at some of these metaphors…which might be feeling torturous to some of you. So shall we move on to a final lightning round?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Is PG alone in hitting a grammatical speed bump with phraseology?

For PG, the suffix, ology, implies the study of something or a discrete area of knowledge. Archeology, psychology, etc., etc.

If that’s correct, phraseology would be the study of phrasing. Improper Phrasing or Improper Use of Phrases would seem to PG to be a better option for the term as used in the OP.

PG decided to see what Grammarly thought about the OP.

Grammarly found 24 grammatical errors in the OP, written by an experienced New York publishing editor, but Big G expressed no opinion about phraseology.

It appears that PG’s attitude toward phraseology is incorrect, archaic, antiquated and/or superannuated. Apparently, the fog in PG’s brain is a bit thicker than usual today. He blames the aftereffects of the Covid shut-downs.

You Could Spend the Night in Hobbiton

From Book Riot:

If you’re a fan of all things Middle-earth, here’s your opportunity to spend the night in the famous Hobbiton. AirBNB is offering three people the chance to win an overnight at The Shire’s New Zealand filming location in March 2023. Although the site has always been open to visitors, this experience is new in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Hobbit‘s first film.

. . . .

The Shire’s decor was put together by Brian Massey, designer behind Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. If you are one of the lucky winners, you’ll get to spend those nights among a lovely book nook and be within walking distance of Green Dragon Inn, which serves Southfarthing beer and cider.

. . . .

In addition to the stay, the three lucky winners will get first-class Hobbit treatment to include:

  • Private access to a personal Hobbit Hole, set up for relaxing moments of Preciousss™ downtime and afternoon tea.
  • An evening banquet in The Green Dragon Inn with a feast featuring beef and ale stew, whole roast chickens, freshly baked breads and plenty of ale, plus Second Breakfast™ and Elevenses™ served daily.
  • A behind-the-scenes private tour of Hobbiton Movie Set to explore the makings of the trilogies.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Lots of photos at the OP.

The Eighth Element

From Writer Unboxed:

[PG note: The OP is written by a long-time literary agent.)

As you can imagine, I’ve read a lot of manuscripts.  How many?  Many thousands, certainly.  Generally, they are good, just not ready.  Why not?  There are eight common lacks but the last one is the hardest to pin down.  It’s not so much a craft technique as it is a quality.

The missing quality is one that falls somewhere between insouciance and recklessness.  It has aspects of courage and authority.  It’s easier to say what it’s not.  It’s not safe.  It’s not careful.  Few writers believe themselves to be writing timidly but like I say, I’ve read a lot of manuscripts.  Most are quite readable or, looked at another way, unobjectionable.  Not that a novel should offend readers, but neither should it make few ripples in readers’ minds.

In writing fiction, the learning curve is long and the bar to leap over to print publication is high.  It’s understandable that over time many writers bend toward getting their fiction “right”.  Maybe not a slavish fit for a given market sector but at least one that will smoothly please finicky gatekeepers.  Not without art, no-no, and definitely with an original premise and solid craft but, in the reading, a product that dutifully shows high respect for everything from characters’ sensitivities to marketability.

It’s paradoxical, but the very values that would seem to make a manuscript acceptable can be the same values that produce a novel that isn’t particularly memorable.  The quality of being memorable or—let’s be ambitious—timeless, doesn’t come about by writing safe.  I don’t mean breaking rules, although there’s a lot to be said for that.  What I mean is writing without regard to “don’t”.

Timeless stories are written with high authority.  It’s authors who don’t apologize or wonder if they are worthy.  They assume that they are and not only that, they have been appointed to tell us who’s who, what’s what, and to do that in their own quirky way and if you don’t like it then go jump in a lake.  It’s as if those authors don’t care a damn who approves their novels but care like hell about the ache and joy of the human condition.

Proust, Woolf, Faulkner and Vonnegut did not write timidly.  Tolkein did not think small.  Bridget Jones, let’s be honest, is a drunk.  Neil Gaiman doesn’t give a damn if you think he’s borrowing heavily from myth or fairy tale.  Neither J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins care if you find their novels of derivative of others’ stuff.  Angie Thomas tells it like it is, so take that.  Mary Gaitskill, by no means alone, has no problem making you blush.  And then there’s that fattest of middle fingers to middle brow literature, Lolita, a jaw dropper first published in 1955.

I’m talking about fearlessness, being recklessly independent of all expectations and at the same time utterly bonded to all of us.  A lot of things get in the way of that, not just the intimidating standards of publishing—whatever those are—but authors’ inhibitions and influences.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

National anthems have fallen behind the times

From The Economist:

National anthems can be tricky. The funeral of Elizabeth II moved with military surefootedness in every aspect except one: the singing of the anthem. A nation that had dutifully sung the same words for 70 years hesitated. “God save our gracious queen” seemed wrong (clearly, it was a bit late for that). But “God save our gracious king” felt inappropriate, too: she was still lying there, after all. In Westminster Abbey, the congregation compromised. “Long live our noble keen,” they droned; “God save the quing.”

Britain’s anthem offers other thorny problems. When sung in full, it includes a second verse in which God is called upon to “scatter his enemies” and frustrate their “knavish tricks”. When the anthem was first sung in 1745, its sentiments were considered so splendidly sensible that they were greeted by “repeated Huzzas”, encores and “universal Applause”, according to the Daily Advertiser, a newspaper. In the more sensitive atmosphere of 2022, however, and in front of an international audience, such lyrics seemed rather less splendid. That verse was judiciously edited out.

The coronation of King Charles III, which will take place in May 2023, is a perfect opportunity for further updates. And Britain’s is not the only anthem that could do with a little editing. Many were written in the 19th century; few champion equality and diversity as modern minds might wish; and an improbably large number drip with blood. This variously streams generously (Algeria); spills purely (Belgium); dyes the flag red (Vietnam) or waters the furrows impurely (France).

Indeed, few nations present their best selves in their anthems. Consider the anthem of the contested region of Western Sahara. With its bright F-major key and jolly marching rhythm, it encourages patriots to “Cut off the head of the invader!”—and not just once, but twice, which is surely the very definition of overkill. Meanwhile the Vietnamese anthem also assures its people that “the path to glory is paved with the corpses of our enemies”; while the Algerian one opts for musical metaphor to explain (fortissimo) that the Algerians have taken “the sound of machineguns as our melody”. Simon and Garfunkel it ain’t.

Link to the rest at The Economist

The Forever Witness

From The Wall Street Journal:

In November 1987, a scavenger searching for bottles found the body of a half-naked woman near a rural road north of Seattle. Days later, beneath a bridge 60 miles away, a hunter found a dead man, bludgeoned with rocks and asphyxiated by a pack of cigarettes shoved down his throat. Police identified the bodies as Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, and her boyfriend Jay Cook, 20.

A week earlier, the couple had driven down from Canada on an errand and vanished. The police had zero witnesses and little physical evidence they could tie to a suspect. They did have one clue: semen on Tanya’s pants, which yielded a DNA sequence. By itself, however, that sequence meant little: Because the killer’s DNA didn’t appear in any crime databases, the police couldn’t match it to anyone. The case quickly went cold, leaving not only local law enforcement but the FBI, the Mounties and Interpol all stumped.

That’s the backdrop to Edward Humes’s thought-provoking true-crime thriller, “The Forever Witness,” which details how the police finally nabbed the alleged killer. More important, the book explores why the tool that broke the case open, genetic genealogy, has proven so controversial in detective work—and why the rest of us should (maybe) fear it as well.

. . . .

However well told, though, the story probably wouldn’t merit book-level treatment if not for how the police snared Talbott. As originally conceived, DNA forensics required police officers to match a specific genetic sequence from a piece of evidence to a specific person in a database. If the search came up empty, the case went cold. But genetic genealogy casts a wider net: Open public databases like GEDmatch, where people upload DNA for genealogical purposes, allow cold-case detectives and genealogists to find people with merely similar DNA—relatives. Based on the percentage of DNA overlap, you can tell whether the person who pops up is the killer’s sibling or uncle or third cousin. From there, you use traditional genealogy (obituaries, census records, birth certificates) to piece together a family tree and find the likely killer’s name.

This method of drawing a web around a killer first made headlines in the Golden State Killer case in April 2018. Strikingly, though, at the time the police portrayed the Golden State case as a “moonshot”—the product of months of painstaking work undertaken only out of desperation. Such an effort might never be duplicated, the thinking went.

As Mr. Humes notes, the Cook-Van Cuylenborg case exploded that idea. In May 2018, the cold-case detective working the murders in Washington state, Jim Scharf, chatted with a genetics company about finding the unknown killer’s relatives. The CEO said they’d try to have a suspect in four days. Mr. Scharf chuckled. After 31 years, he didn’t expect a quick fix. As it turned it, naming a suspect didn’t take four days. A woman sitting on her couch in sweatpants found Talbott in two hours.

That woman was CeCe Moore, a onetime TV-commercial actress who became obsessed with genealogy after constructing a family tree for her niece; she eventually quit acting to pursue genealogy full time. Ms. Moore was not involved with the Golden State case, but more than anyone else she realized the potential power of genetic genealogy not only for identifying criminals but for identifying nameless victims. After fingering Talbott, Ms. Moore solved four more cold cases in five weeks, cases police had spent 126 collective years working. By September 2021, she’d identified 175 criminal suspects and John and Jane Does.

These were staggering results, which helped dozens of victims’ families heal. So how did the genetic-genealogy community react to Ms. Moore’s sleuthing? Many were outraged.

The protests sprang from a commitment to absolute privacy. It’s a knotty problem: Ms. Moore and the police conducted the genealogy searches without warrants or court orders. In short, they were trawling through people’s DNA—perhaps the single most private thing about them—without permission, using the DNA in ways the people it came from hadn’t consented to. That’s discomfiting—especially because such genetic information can also expose affairs, secret adoptions, and other dark secrets. This is all the more fraught because the police officers using the information often have no scientific training and have easily jumped to wrong conclusions in some cases.

Then again, opposing genetic detective work means, in effect, putting up hurdles to solving violent crimes—and not only in cold cases. Mr. Humes details the story of a man who raped a 79-year-old Utah woman in 2018. Police feared he’d strike again and begged Ms. Moore to find him. The case proved tougher to crack than Talbott’s: Ms. Moore spent three 18-hour days on her laptop. But she hunted him down and got the guy off the street. In cases like this, should absolute genetic privacy, even for millions of people, outweigh clear and present danger?

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG says the genie is out of the bottle on DNA testing.

If one of your parents or one of your siblings or one of your children takes a commercial DNA test (which, in PG’s opinion, they are completely free to do), their DNA can be used to determine that you are related to them if a court orders you to provide a DNA sample for comparison.

PG has had his DNA analyzed under a program sponsored by Ancestry.com. He just checked on Ancestry’s DNA website and discovered that he is related to 44,935 other people who have also taken an Ancestry.com DNA test. He recognizes several of the names as belonging to his known relatives, but is confident that the names and identities of over 44,000 of the people are completely unknown to him.

And Ancestry.com and several other competitors are happy to help people locate additional information about their ancestors. PG just checked and, for the first time, found the gravestone of his great-grandmother and great-grandfather.

PG’s Ancestry DNA analysis discloses lots of Swedish, English, Scottish and Irish forbearers, which he would have expected, but also shows he has distant ancestors who lived in Mali and on Sardinia.

Does one of PG’s Sardinian tenth cousins six times removed have a gripe about PG’s DNA test results being used to link the two of them together?

PG says that if someone who is closely related to him commits a murder, PG has no problem with his own DNA results being used to point a finger at the malefactor.

PG has practiced law for long enough to see the counsel from adoption agencies for adoptive parents evolve from not telling their adopted child about the fact of adoption to being frank with the adopted child, when she/he reaches an appropriate age, about the adoption to minimize trauma in the event the adopted child later learns about the lack of a genetic connections with her/his parents.

PG believes he is entitled to keep facts disclosed by his own DNA private, but he doesn’t have the right to tell his sister she can’t publicly disclose what her DNA shows or to prevent his children from learning whatever DNA analysis tells them about their ancestors. After all, PG received his DNA from others in the first place.

(Disclosure: PG was a vice-president of Ancestry.com almost twenty years ago, but sold his stock not long after moving on and has no continuing relationship with the company today other than taking the Ancestry.com DNA list and having the ability to access Ancestry.com genealogy data online.)

Build Your Writing Self-Efficacy

From Jane Friedman:

Last year, Albert Bandura, a renowned psychologist and giant in the field of education, passed away in his 90s. Bandura is best known for his pioneering work around the idea of self-efficacy—a concept that impacts you everyday and has powerful potential for your writing life as well.

Whether you realize it or not, your self-efficacy guides nearly everything you do. It’s why you feel completely confident as you stroll to the washing machine to do a load of laundry: because you’ve done it before, you know how it works, and you have total faith in your own ability to get the job done well. It’s what causes you to shy away from attempting some of the Olympic gymnasts’ routines in your backyard: because you (most likely!) don’t have the years of experience, the skills, and the proof from past success that you can accomplish them.

So what is self-efficacy?

Self-efficacy is the degree to which you believe you can execute actions to control certain outcomes. In my laundry example above, you likely feel high self-efficacy because someone taught you and you’ve done it successfully many times. You believe in your own ability to successfully perform the actions needed to attain the desired result: a clean load of laundry. And on the other hand, as with the gymnastics, having low self-efficacy stops us from trying something we’re uncomfortable with, or even might expect negative results from (like a broken neck!). Bandura writes, “If people believe they have no power to produce results, they will not attempt to make things happen.”

Self-efficacy has a tremendous impact on our motivation to try something new. Even if you’ve never written a book, you might still have high self-efficacy around doing it if you have the right preparation, and you won’t encounter as much resistance to making it happen. It’s the essence of the perhaps cliché idea: “If you think you can, you can!”

Perhaps you’ve felt overwhelmed when asked to do something new at work, and you dithered a bit trying to figure out where to get started. Maybe you’ve felt stymied by your lack of knowledge about how to write a book proposal, and it’s stopped you from even trying. Contrast that to how you feel when asked to do something similar to what you’ve done successfully before. Trying a new bread recipe, when you’ve been baking sourdough for the last 18 months. Writing a limerick when you’ve been writing haiku. You’re likely not too deterred by the fact you’ve never done it before; you know you’ve got the basic skills and can figure it out.

Does self-efficacy really work?

The short answer is yes—increasing your self-efficacy can really help you learn and successfully accomplish more. In a summary of 8 meta-analyses on self-efficacy, education researcher Dr. John Hattie found that self-efficacy has a .71 effect size of students’ learning. If .4 is the average effect you would get just from living, then .71 means your learning is increased quite a bit when you add self-efficacy to the mix.

But does that mean we should go around believing we can do absolutely anything? No. I’m not recommending that you try out those gymnastic routines with the addition of a positive attitude. Self-efficacy isn’t blind belief; like I hinted above, it’s a belief born out of evidence, training, observation, and disposition.

How to increase your writing self-efficacy

Bandura’s work is so powerful because he showed that self-efficacy can be taught and developed. He wrote that there are four primary ways to increase your self-efficacy around a skill.

1. Finding small wins (mastery experiences)

The most powerful way to start building your confidence is to experience small writing wins—or mastery experiences. These small wins might look like meeting your word count goal, posting a blog, getting positive feedback on a writing sample, finishing a chapter or article, or perhaps even writing your manuscript. Each small win builds on the last, so that as you gain confidence and momentum, your wins get bigger and bigger.

2. Seeing others like you succeed (vicarious experiences)

If you’ve never written a book before, it doesn’t make sense to compare yourself to John Green or J.K. Rowling or Glennon Doyle. Instead, you should look for models who are in a similar situation as you—they have a similar platform (even if it’s none!), similar writing experience, and a similar drive to write, and they’re having some success. Seeing these people who are just like us succeed sends the message that if they can do it, we can do it, too.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

10 of History’s Most Successful Pirates (and What They Teach Us About Work)

From Lifehacker:

Pirate ships were the start-ups of their day. During the “golden age of piracy” (approximately 1650-1720), countless thousands of sailors and underground entrepreneurs tried their luck at high-seas robbery, launching criminal operations with very little capital and a massive potential for profit, just like that app you want to make. But like modern start-ups, buccaneering was risky—most pirates failed, and failure as a pirate didn’t mean going back to grad school; it meant a noose around your neck and a short drop. The few who found some success in this difficult, competitive field can teach us all something about how to run a better business or best the scurvy scalawags on your company’s Slack. Read on to learn from these real-life successful pirates.

Any list of pirate lessons has to start with the negative example of Stede Bonnet, the most ridiculous (but kind of amazing) pirate in history. Most “golden age” pirates got into their line of work because they didn’t have many other options, but not Stede Bonnet. The Gentleman Pirate was from a rich family, and lived the settled, comfortable life of a family man in Jamaica. But one day around 1716, for reasons lost to history, Bonnet left it all behind for the dangerous, violent life of piracy. He bought a ship, named it The Revenge, hired 70 experienced men to run it, and set out to sea.

It did not go well.

After a few small victories mostly thanks to his experienced crew, Bonnet was severely injured after attacking a Spanish Man-o-War. He then entered into a “partnership” with Edward “Blackbeard” Teach, a terrifying actual pirate. The team-up ended with Teach double-crossing Bonnet and stealing The Revenge and all the sweet, sweet booty they’d stolen together. Rather than returning home to lick his wounds, Bonnet vowed revenge against his former friend, got a new ship, and started doing more pirating. He seemed to be getting the hang of it too, until he was captured by pirate hunters, tried, convicted, and executed in 1718.

What we can learn: Your work friends aren’t really your friends.

If nothing else, Calico Jack was a progressive pirate. He’s not known for his huge hauls—Jack was a bit of a small-timer—but he’s remembered for two of his crew members: his lover Anne Bonny and her lover, Mary Read. Bonny joined Captain Jack’s crew after fleeing from her husband. Read was a pirate already, who disguised herself as a man in order to sail. Everything was pirate-y cool until 1720, when pirate-hunter Jonathan Barnet surprised the crew of Captain Jack’s sloop in Bry Harbour Bay in Jamaica. Rackham’s pirates were mostly drunk, but those who were sober enough to fight were led by Bonny and Read. They all got captured anyway. Calico Jack was tried and hanged, but Bonny and Read each pleaded “pregnancy” and were spared the noose. When asked about Rackham, Bonny famously replied: “If he had fought like a Man, he need not have been hang’d like a Dog.” Cold-blooded.

What we can learn: There’s a reason HR says managers can’t date their employees.

Link to the rest at Lifehacker

NPD Books: US Market Underperforming in the Holidays

From Publishing Perspectives:

Following Monday’s report (December 5) on the Association of American Publishers‘ (AAP) September 2022 StatShot report, we look today at the new report on the United States’ market conditions in November from NPD Books‘ Kristen McLean.

As you’ll remember, the NPD BookScan track runs much closer to date than StatShot, and McLean is looking this time at the month of November. What she sees prompts her to write, “It’s now clear” that the 2022 holiday book sales season “is underperforming 2021—and not just due to a later start.

“In the latest retail numbers from our macroeconomic team, the 2022 Black Friday week underperformed compared to the past three years, only exceeding the sales revenue results during the same week in 2020, during the first year of the pandemic. While increases in foot traffic were reported widely in the press, that didn’t necessarily translate into more sales on either a revenue or a unit basis.”

. . . .

“Black Friday week marked the sixth consecutive week of in-store sales revenue declines for US discretionary general merchandise.”

. . . .

Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief retail industry advisor, a colleague of McLean’s, writes, “Black Friday appears to have brought more shoppers out to the stores, but that traffic clearly didn’t amount to more spending. Retailers and manufacturers need to find new ways to engage the consumer in making purchases, converting consumers from social browsers to active buyers.”

. . . .

Turning back to books, McLean writes in her report to the news media, “The book market was right in line with these trends. At the top line, the United States’ book market finished November at 6 percent below 2021, on a monthly volume of 61.8 million units. That’s 8.5 million units higher than October, but 10.4 million units under November 2021.

“In the book market, the overall numbers are still within historic norms, but key categories like adult nonfiction and juvenile fiction are definitely underperforming so far this season. Nothing seems to be breaking out this year compared to what we’ve been seeing in adult fiction.”

. . . .

“As I said in last month’s update, I believe the lower level of spending this year is fundamentally about consumer economics and sentiment. I also still believe the most likely scenario for the total market finish is exactly where we are now: 6 percent below 2021.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The Elizabethan era is not yet at an end

From The Economist:

The death certificate is clear. The form gives all the usual information about the deceased. In one box it gives her marital state (widowed); in another her home postcode (sl4 1nj). In another, beneath the brisk “When died”, it offers: “2022 September Eighth, 1510 hours”. And in another still, with slightly excitable capitalisation, her occupation: “Her Majesty The Queen”.

The queen’s death certificate is right, and it is also wrong. Queen Elizabeth II did die at 3.10pm. But for the world, she continued to live. For over three hours, she was merely “extremely unwell” or “comfortable and at Balmoral”. Her death, for most people, only happened later, at a few minutes past 6.30pm, when a footman walked from Buckingham Palace holding a black-edged sign; when the bbc went black; when the national anthem played. A queen has two birthdays; she also has many deaths.

According to the law she has none: “the King never dies”, as the legal maxim has it. A monarch’s heart might stop; the monarch’s heart does not. The king is dead; long live the king. But the law is not life and a king is more than a man in a crown. Britain did not abruptly change from being Victorian to Edwardian on January 22nd 1901; Charles III did not instantly feel like Britain’s new king at 6.30pm on that Thursday, but like a man playing a part. Kingship comes not in a moment but by the slow accumulation of kingly things.

This has begun. The nation’s pronouns have already changed. Her Majesty’s Government is now His; criminals are now detained in His Majesty’s prisons, not Hers. In Qatar, God is called upon by English footballers to save their gracious king, not their queen. On military buttons and police badges and the breasts of Beefeaters, CIIIR will gradually start to replace EIIR. Shoals of coins bearing the words “Charles III Rex” started to fall from the Royal Mint in October. A king is being made into a coin; a man is being made into a monarch.

The corollary of this is that a queen is being undone. Elizabeth’s “E” will be unpicked from the embroidered tunics of the Beefeaters and replaced with Charles’s “C”; her crest will cease to appear on ketchup bottles as the royal warrants that signify suppliers to the royal household expire; worn banknotes bearing her face will be gathered and shredded on a rolling basis. In the Inns of Court in London, the signs for Queen’s Counsel barristers have been repainted, a fresh coat of cream covering the old qcs. In a constitutional monarchy queens do not so much die as erode.

History, the novelist Hilary Mantel once said, “is not the past…It’s what’s left in the sieve when the centuries have run through it”.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Is Mick Herron the Best Spy Novelist of His Generation?

From The New Yorker:

Mick Herron is a broad-shouldered Englishman with close-cropped black hair, lightly salted, and fine and long-fingered hands, like a pianist’s or a safecracker’s. He wears wire-rimmed glasses, and he is shy and flushes easily, pink as a peony. He does not drive a car and he does not own a smartphone, and, in the softly carpeted apartment in Oxford where, wearing woollen slippers, he writes spy novels—the best in a generation, by some estimations, and irrefutably the funniest—he does not have Wi-Fi. He used to be a copy editor. He has never been a secret agent, except insofar as all writers are spies and maybe, lately, so is everyone else.

Spy fiction got good and going in the years before the First World War, and took flight afterward. In 1927, W. Somerset Maugham wrote “Ashenden: or, The British Agent,” about a writer who is recruited into British intelligence by a handler called R. During the war, Maugham had been a spook; he was recruited after “Of Human Bondage” came out. Writers make good joes (as Herron might say): they’re keen observers, and they tend to know languages. (Maugham had French and German.) “If you do well you’ll get no thanks,” R. tells Ashenden, “and if you get into trouble you’ll get no help.” Editors say the same thing to writers.

Maugham’s best-known successors—Graham Greene, Ian Fleming, and John le Carré—were spies, too. Greene worked for M.I.6, Britain’s foreign-intelligence service; Fleming for Naval Intelligence; and le Carré for both M.I.6 and M.I.5, Britain’s security service. Like le Carré, whose wordcraft about spycraft included “mole,” “spook,” and “Moscow rules,” Herron’s got his own lingo, about “the hub” and “dogs” and “tiger teams” and “milkmen.” But Herron, as he himself might put it, has never been to joe country and lives nowhere near Spook Street.

For the longest stretch of Herron’s professional life, he worked in London in the legal department of an employment-issues research firm, copy-editing journal articles, handbooks, and case reports about employment discrimination and wrongful termination. Nights, he wrote detective fiction, and even got some published, but no one bought it. Then he had a breakthrough. “People say write what you know,” Herron says. “So I wrote about people who are failures.” Bob Cratchitting away at job-discrimination case reports, Herron came up with the idea of Slough House, a place where M.I.5 puts bad spies out to pasture. “Sack the useless, and they took you to tribunal for discriminating against useless people,” one character explains. “So the Service bunged the useless into some godforsaken annex and threw paperwork at them, an administrative harassment intended to make them hand in their cards. They called them slow horses. The screw-ups. The losers.” James Bond they are not.

The Slough House novels have been adapted as an Apple TV+ series called, like the first of those novels, “Slow Horses.” It’s slick and sleek and as star-studded as a summer sky. The first season came out last spring, and the second begins this month. Mick Jagger, a Mick Herron fan, recorded its bluesy theme song, “Strange Game.” Kristin Scott Thomas stars as Diana Taverner, Second Desk at M.I.5, with Jonathan Pryce as her long-retired predecessor, David Cartwright, whose grandson River Cartwright, played by the Scottish actor Jack Lowden, is a slow horse trying to kick over the traces. The cast is headed by the inimitable Gary Oldman, as Jackson Lamb. Lamb is an old joe who’s straight out of Dickens, if Dickens had ever invented a character who used the word “twat” all the time.

Even before John le Carré died, nearly two years ago, people had started calling Mick Herron his heir, which is, as publicists say, very selling, but also something of a burden. Herron suspects that le Carré would find his work facetious. Still, that’s not to say there aren’t similarities. A decade ago, Oldman was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of le Carré’s George Smiley in an adaptation of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” Oldman says Jackson Lamb is Smiley if everything had gone wrong, although, arguably, everything has.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

The Word of the Year goes Goblin Mode

From Book Browse:

A year ago, the lexicographic grandees at Oxford Languages dutifully stuck out their arms and chose “vax” as the 2021 Word of the Year.

But this year, the venerable publisher behind the Oxford English Dictionary has — like the rest of us, apparently — gone full goblin mode.

“Goblin mode” — a slang term referring to “a type of behavior which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations” — has been named Oxford’s 2022 Word of the Year.

Link to the rest at Book Browse

3 Action-Reaction Misfires That Flatten Your Writing

From Writers Helping Writers:

Cause and effect. Stimulus and response. Action and reaction. Everything in a story depends on what the characters do about whatever the story pushes them up against.

Stiff, disconnected, or missing character reactions snap the chain of cause and effect that constitutes your story. When readers can no longer see how and why the characters are doing what they’re doing, they lose the thread.

Let’s talk about the three most common action–reaction misfires I see in manuscripts.

1. Missing or insufficient reactions
2. Jumbled responses
3. Purposely obscured stimuli

Missing or Insufficient Reactions

When characters fail to react to what’s happening around them, it’s as if nothing is happening at all. A snappy line of dialogue goes nowhere if it doesn’t get under someone’s skin. The first glimpse of a long-sought clue builds no excitement if nobody notices it. A punch in the nose might as well not have landed if it doesn’t start or end a disagreement.

When characters don’t react to the conversations and events around them, readers will assume they don’t care. If the characters don’t care, why should readers?

Keeping your characters engaged in the story keeps readers engaged with it too. When writing viewpoint characters, you have access to both internal and external responses. For other characters, you’re limited to whatever visible manifestations of those responses that the viewpoint character or narrator can perceive.

Internal Responses

All but the last type of internal response, thought, are involuntary reactions.

1. Involuntary sensations—These include physical sensations such as feeling a lump in the throat or a stomach full of butterflies.

2. Reflex reactions—These are the so-called knee-jerk reactions, such as jerking away from the source of pain.

3. Emotions—Before you can reveal emotions using any of these reaction modes, you as the writer must know what the emotion or blend of emotions actually is.

4. Thoughts—What’s the uncensored commentary running in the privacy of the character’s mind?

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Homeland Security Theater

From Public Books:

Thwarting the social instabilities and political divisions created by bots and other manipulators of information requires creative countermeasures, including aesthetic ones. This belief describes the game plan of the Department of Homeland Security, which is betting that aesthetics can help safeguard a democracy that has come to seem increasingly fragile.

“The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency produced this graphic novel to highlight tactics used by foreign government-backed disinformation campaigns that seek to disrupt American life and the infrastructure that underlies it.” So opens every graphic novel of the Resilience Series produced by CISA, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security.

Real Fake, the first installment in the series, was released to coincide with the 2020 US election. It starts with a gamer, Rachel, getting ticked off when she encounters doctored videos designed to manipulate voters; it ends with “the takedown of those international troll farms.” Along the way, Rachel teams up with a clandestine organization “defending the truth and democracy online” to ensnare malefactors, including one hapless West African man who is left to languish in a dark jail despite having no awareness of how his computer skills were being used for a disinformation campaign.

COVID-19 supplies the exigency for the next title in the series, Bug Bytes, which follows a different set of “digital patriots.” This team are battling conspiracy theorists who are torching cellphone towers in the paranoid belief that 5G technology is spreading the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Graduate student Ava Williams deploys her combination of coding and investigative journalism skills to expose that bots, not real people, are behind the spread of disinformation.

CISA’s pivot to fiction is not an entirely novel move. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Army Cyber Institute have used comics about the zombie apocalypse and renegade hackers to educate soldiers, as well as citizens, about contemporary threats to the social fabric. Of course, a more candid and honest concern for the security of US infrastructure would register things like schools in disrepair, outdated power grids, and crumbling bridges.1 The Resilience Series’s focus on “foreign government-backed disinformation campaigns” as a key threat to American life belies the fact that ensuring infrastructural security requires regularly overlooking the insecurities (precarity, depressed wages, increasing debt, et cetera) that are structurally necessary to capitalism. In designing these graphic novels as civic primers in an age of insecurity, CISA and, by extension, the Department of Homeland Security have missed the mark.

The problem is not that panels about African troll farms (Real Fake) or homegrown antivaxxers (Bug Bytes) might make readers feel insecure—it’s that they don’t make readers feel insecure enough. Or, more precisely, these comics might be judged aesthetic failures because—due to their proximity to propaganda—they leave little space for the vulnerabilities inherent in the act of reading. So, while readers learn that meddling by foreign powers “is scary, especially in an election year,” the graphic fictions commissioned by US cybersecurity assume reading itself to be a process whereby information (as opposed to disinformation) is obtained, questions are answered, and doubts are resolved. According to this narrow understanding, reading operates as a form of securitization, which is to say that it is evacuated of its role in framing a critical orientation.

Put another way: the graphic novels discussed here seek to transmit “good” information so as to counteract the “bad” information their readership might encounter elsewhere. But the effort to combat propaganda with propaganda is beset by contradiction and irony—just the sort of ambiguity that reading purely (and narrowly) for information cannot adequately address.

CISA wants to train citizens to be critical readers of the information they consume—with an exception built in for its own content and forms. An admiring Forbes article on the collaboration between CISA and the publisher of the Resilience Series stressed that “anyone who consumes content online needs to be ready to question what they see, but most of us are ill-equipped to do so.” This initiative may indeed encourage us to question some of what we see—but it rests on the assumption that we will not question what we read from official sources.

. . . .

Who knew that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists publishes book reviews? This bimonthly journal has, since 1945—when the devastating potential of nuclear weapons was unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—been covering global security risks as part of its mission “to reduce man-made threats to our existence.” The organization also operates the Doomsday Clock, currently set at 100 seconds to midnight, to visually convey the imminence of the threat of human extinction from nuclear war.

Recently the Bulletin tackled a wholly different concern: aesthetics. We shouldn’t be surprised by the humanist sensibilities of atomic scientists or the relevance of artistic capabilities to national security. (Perhaps most famously, in this regard, J. Robert Oppenheimer showed an interest in French and English literature at Harvard before pursuing the course of study in physics that led him to Los Alamos.) After CISA subcontracted and disseminated its Resilience Series on the elevated threats disinformation posed to democracy, the Bulletin decided to assess how effectively an aesthetic strategy such as this might raise security awareness.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Is PG the only one who perceives those in charge of the The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists are vastly over-thinking their publications?

And expanding their scope by worrying about whether the less sophisticated and cosmopolitan masses will pay any attention to a couple of not-read-very-often non-profit/government publications will actually pay attention if they incorporate better aesthetics or cartoons into those publications?

The About Us section of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists says, among other things:

The Bulletin focuses on three main areas: nuclear risk, climate change, and disruptive technologies. What connects these topics is a driving belief that because humans created them, we can control them.

Perhaps PG woke up on the cynical side of the bed this morning, but he perceives more than a little mission creep in the OP. Are atomic scientists spending time at work solving the challenges of climate change or disruptive technologies? If so, who’s minding the reactor?

Why Book Blogs Still Matter in an Age of Booktok

From Book Riot:

I’ve been on the bookish internet for more than 15 years, and in that time, I’ve watched platforms rise and fall. I remember talking about books on Livejournal, for Sappho’s sake. I started a book blog called the Lesbrary in 2011, because I couldn’t find an LGBTQ book blog that wasn’t 90% M/M books. Of course, I started an accompanying Tumblr for it at about the same time, because I spent most of my time there. Years later, I’d join BookTube, and years after that, I even gave BookTok a try for a bit before slowly backing away.

Over that time, I saw the bookish internet grow and evolve, allowing for more niche spaces (like a sapphic book blog, for instance), for different formats, for new personalities. I loved the passionate debates happening on Tumblr around representation, separating the art from the artist, and more prickly fandom disagreements…and then I loved those conversations significantly less when they popped up again and again, on Twitter and Tumblr and YouTube and TikTok, with absolutely no progress made over time.

All through these moments of dipping in and out of different bookish spaces online, though, I kept the Lesbrary. It began to seem more and more outdated. Who follows book blogs anymore? Who reads their online content anymore, instead of watching videos? (Hello, reader!) More significantly, I began to doubt whether there was a need for a sapphic book blog like mine anymore. More sapphic books are being published now than ever before, and more people are reading and promoting them. BookTok has a lively sapphic books section. I feel like I, in some small part, contributed to this environment, which I take pride in: if I can make the Lesbrary completely obsolete, I’ll be happy.

I haven’t packed up my blog and shuttered the windows, though. Because as I watched the same conversations play out over and over again on different platforms, I really started to understand how ephemeral most of them are. BookTube and BookTok are great for browsing and following, but they’re not easy to search. You might be able to find general topics (like queer books), but looking for something specific is trickier. The platforms just aren’t designed for that. TikTok especially is not meant to be a repository of knowledge, an archive of opinion. It’s a firehouse of content, and you’re meant to be keeping up with what’s new, not exploring what came before.

The newest platform is also usually populated with young voices, especially teenagers and people in their early 20s. Most of them have not lived through the Livejournal days, and they’re not digging into the WayBackMachine to see what was happening in their corner of the internet before they got there — I certainly never did. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does have some pitfalls, like repeating the exact same mistakes as the platform that came before, with the same arguments and schisms emerging.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

The Human Feeling of Being Free

From The Wall Street Journal:

While the power of the physical sciences to explain the operations of the world mechanistically is an irresistible force, the human feeling of being free remains an immovable object. It seems that only one can prevail, but neither looks as if it is about to yield.

More than a few scientists have blithely sauntered across this metaphysical minefield as though it were safe terrain. They claim that science has proved that free will is an illusion and say that’s all there is to it. Psychologist Kennon M. Sheldon is a different kind of trespasser on philosophers’ turf, arguing that free will is real after all. Yet his metaphysical claim, which occupies the early chapters of “Freely Determined,” is treated perfunctorily and is in any case irrelevant to what the rest of this fascinating book has to say.

Mr. Sheldon’s interest in free will is rooted in his work in Self-Determination Theory, which he calls “the world’s most comprehensive and best-supported theory of human motivation.” A core tenet of SDT is that “people need to experience themselves as the causal source and origin of their own behavior rather than feeling controlled and determined by external forces.” When people feel autonomous, they are more content and successful. When they feel they have no control, they become morally cynical. After all, if we’re not in control of what we do, how can we be blamed for wrongdoing?

Most of Mr. Sheldon’s 10 chapters constitute a compelling and clear introduction to what SDT teaches us about nurturing a sense of autonomy. The theory gives us a rich and powerful understanding of motivation—how to harness it and avoid undermining it. Most notably, the theory points to the importance of intrinsic motivation: the desire to do something for its own reward, not for any instrumental benefit.

There are always some things we just have to do, like washing the dishes or filling out a tax form. But our lives tend to go better if, seeing ourselves as autonomous, we shape our actions around whatever appears to us to have intrinsic value. “The correlation between autonomous work motivation and subjective well-being,” Mr. Sheldon notes, “is much stronger than the correlation between income and subjective well-being.”

Intrinsic motivation, however, is under constant threat. Mr. Sheldon gives the hypothetical example of a law student initially motivated to fight for justice. But at law school she learns that people expect her to give priority to working for a prestigious firm and earning a high salary. She might well internalize this “status motivation,” incorporating it into her sense of self. Or she might simply feel that she ought to be motivated by the same things that motivate her peers. In either case, the fight for justice, which she intrinsically values, has lost its force.

Mr. Sheldon’s research into Self-Determination Theory helps him make a strong case for the importance of seeing our actions as the freely chosen result of our deepest motivations. Still, he should have resisted the tired self-help trope of over-egging the promise, saying “we can steer our ship of self into uncharted new waters, where joy and fulfillment await.”

When it comes to the metaphysical realm, Mr. Sheldon’s mistake is to think that SDT and the philosophical denial of ultimate free will are incompatible. That is only true of the most popular, if simplistic, threat to his model of human freedom: the extreme reductionism claiming that reality can be completely described in the language of physics; that consciousness is just the humming of the neural machine; and that everything is strictly predetermined.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG was sorely tempted to comment, but resisted (not a first, but unusual nonetheless).

The Last Real American Dictionary

From Slate:

In the mid-’70s, top players in an emerging tournament Scrabble scene persuaded the game’s corporate owner to adopt a universal lexicon for competition. Players manually scraped five standard college dictionaries, recording every unique two- through eight-letter word (plus inflections) that met the game’s rules. When the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary was published, in 1978, players rejoiced. “You can retire the boxing gloves and put up your swords,” the Scrabble Players Newspaper wrote. “You now have an arbiter to settle all arguments.”

In the 44 years since, the OSPD has been revised six times, adding thousands of new words. A seventh edition was released earlier this month. It includes headline-grabbers like COVID, VAX, and DOX (and VAXX and DOXX), and a lowercase variant of JEDI. Also in: GUAC, INSPO, ZOODLE, and SKEEZY. “You’ve got some fun new words,” said Peter Sokolowski, editor at large of Merriam-Webster Inc., which has published the OSPD since its inception.

Hidden by the buzz over the latest lingo, though, is an underlying truth about chronicling our ever-evolving language: The American dictionary business is slowly dying. Of the publishers of the OSPD’s five original source books, Merriam-Webster is the last with a staff of full-time lexicographers producing regular, robust updates, all of it now online. The others are either defunct or ghost works updated rarely and modestly by freelance lexicographers, and have either no web presence or a stagnant one; a recent print edition of one of them boasted “dozens” of new words and senses, which is not a lot of new words and senses. (Merriam does issue new printings of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, the primary Scrabble sourcebook and the basis for its free online dictionary, with some of its new words, but the last full overhaul in print was an 11th edition, published in 2003.)

“The decline of the dictionary in the U.S., the lack of competition, means less of everything,” Michael Adams, an English professor at Indiana University who studies lexicography, told me. “When dictionary programs try to include more words and respond to the needs of niche markets, we all benefit. But when there’s no competition, no one needs to think about serving the Scrabble community or any other community.”

Chronicling the evolution of American English is undeniably culturally significant—the words we use are who we are—but the nitty-gritty of word histories, etymologies, and pronunciations might seem academic or esoteric. After all, Google fulfills almost any quotidian lookup need. But the words in Google’s dictionary are licensed from Oxford Languages, publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary. That’s a British source, which matters in terms of focus. In the United States, the only active dictionary-maker besides Merriam is Dictionary.com, which was founded in 1995 and bought in 2018 by the mortgage loan provider now known as Rocket Companies Inc. Merriam, which dates to Noah Webster’s first dictionary in 1806, has been owned since 1996 by privately held Encyclopædia Brittanica Inc. Both dictionaries were acquired because of a rich guy’s quirky personal interest. Their business futures are anything but guaranteed.

Link to the rest at Slate

In Praise of the Worker-Owned Company (OR: What to Do About Simon and Schuster)

From The Literary Hub:

Well, Simon & Schuster is not going to be sold, for now. A federal judge ruled in October that Penguin Random House couldn’t buy the publisher, and since then, Simon & Schuster’s parent company has decided against mounting an appeal. That said, the future of America’s third-largest publisher still remains uncertain. Simon & Schuster’s owner seems intent on selling, with potential buyers reportedly including HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, or—gulp—an unnamed private equity firm. As a new author with Atria Books (a Simon & Schuster imprint) none of these options seem especially great. What will happen to Atria? To my wonderful editor? My first book?

Following mergers between major publishing houses in the past, corporate executives have cut jobs, folded imprints, and canceled author contracts. My novel is scheduled to debut next August. My wonderful editor assures me that things will be fine, and I trust him. He is, after all, wonderful. Unfortunately, these kinds of things aren’t up to him. Even the most wonderful editors get no say when it comes to major decisions regarding the future of the “Big Five” publishing houses.

In publishing, as with far too many industries, democracy is all but absent in the workplace. The people who do the day-to-day work of running Simon & Schuster—the editors, marketers, publicists, cover artists, copyeditors, accountants, and so on—don’t get a vote on whether their company should be sold, or to whom. We tend to think of this structure as the natural capitalist order—employees do the work, corporate executives and investors call the shots—but it doesn’t need to be this way.

Our nation’s third-largest publisher doesn’t have to be owned by a mass media conglomerate or a private equity firm. There exists another option, one that would bring much-needed democracy to publishing by putting decision-making power into the hands of the very people who know books best: let the employees of Simon & Schuster purchase Simon & Schuster. They do the work, after all. Let them own their company. Let them call the damn shots.

Worker-owned cooperatives are so rare in America that it’s difficult for us to imagine the sense of pride and ownership that comes when we work for ourselves, participating actively in major company decisions, sharing equally in profits and losses.

But the idea of employees buying and running their own company—even here in America, even in publishing—isn’t as utopian as it sounds: the workforce of WW Norton has successfully owned and managed the venerable publishing house since shortly after World War II, when Mary Norton sold her stock to the company’s editors and managers. They drew up a Joint Stockholders Agreement that still remains in effect, allowing active Norton employees to elect leadership, participate in decisions affecting the company’s future, and share profits. Anyone who leaves Norton must sell back their shares, ensuring that no outside market exists for ownership of the company. There is no risk of a hostile takeover, no fear of an unexpected sale. The employees are free and independent to do what they have done so well for decades: publish kickass books, from classics like the Feminine Mystique and Clockwork Orange to newly released knockouts like The Immortal King Rao and Activities of Daily Living.

By comparison, four of the Big Five publishing houses are subsidiaries of global media conglomerates which are, in turn, majority-owned by four billionaire families from Germany, Australia, and the United States. (Hachette Books, the outlier, is a subsidiary of a global media conglomerate that is minority-owned by a billionaire family). Simon & Schuster is owned by Paramount Global, which is operated and owned by a private “mass media holding company” called National Amusements, which is based in Massachusetts and owned by the billionaire Redstone family. Paramount Global, in an official 2020 press release, gave three reasons for selling the “non-core asset” that we writers and readers refer to as Simon & Schuster:

  1. to fund Paramount’s new streaming services
  2. to pay down debt
  3. to “fund the dividend”

It would be inconceivable for the owners of WW Norton to make such a decision, or even to face such a dilemma, precisely because Norton is owned by its employees. Presumably they would choose not to cannibalize themselves to make wealthy stockholders a little wealthier. Presumably they would not refer to themselves as a “non-core asset.”

But Simon & Schuster, with approximately 1,500 employees, is a far larger company than WW Norton. Could America’s third-largest publisher seriously operate as a cooperative? For inspiration, let’s zip across the Atlantic; the Mondragon Corporation, founded in Spain in the 1950s, is a federation of over 200 cooperatives and organizations that together employ over 80,000 people who collectively own and manage every aspect of their many businesses.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Color PG skeptical about this proposal.

The reason that Simon & Schuster is for sale is that its owner, Paramount Global, wants a big check. Paramount Global wants a big check because, after going through a hierarchy of companies, the wealthy family that ultimately owns and controls S&S wants a big check. In this case, the wealthy family is the Redstones.

PG doubts that the employees of Simon & Schuster collectively, have enough money to satisfy the Redstones. After all, traditional publishing is noted for not paying its employees very well. PG doubts the Redstones would agree to set up a payment plan with the employees. If the Redstones want to sell, PG suspects it’s because they want a big check.

Would a bank or another rich family want to buy Simon & Schuster? PG has his doubts because the traditional publishing business doesn’t earn much money any more. S&S is worth something, but likely not enough to induce anyone responsible to loan the employees the money to pay the Redstones. But, as usual, PG could be wrong.

On Writing Blurb Your Enthusiasm: An A-Z of Literary Persuasion

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

How do you sum up a whole book in a few words?

Your book is nearly ready to enter the world. You’ve got a title, a cover, even some endorsements. Then, something you’d almost forgotten rears its head: the jacket copy (or, as we call it in Britain, the blurb). It’s often an afterthought in the publishing process; the dowdy cousin to the dazzle of a cover design. But those few words can make a world of difference to a book’s fortunes. 

So how do you encapsulate your work in a way that is enticing? That creates instant appeal, a sense of place and character, mystery and intrigue, and makes anyone who picks it up think ‘I must have this book in my life, now’? (No pressure then). 

I have been a copywriter in publishing for over twenty-five years, and I know how hard it can be to find the right words. I began my career at Penguin Books, where there used to be an entire department dedicated to writing blurbs. There, in a quiet room lined with shelf upon shelf of books, we read, yes actually read at work, and learned how to distil thousands of words into just a few. Times have changed since those halcyon days, and we are folded into various marketing departments at what is now Penguin Random House. But is still our job to make every word count. 

. . . .

A professional copywriter is always thinking of their audience. At many publishing houses, blurbs are written by authors or editors or both. However, someone like me can bring a fresh eye to things. It’s hard to see the wood for the trees when a book has been part of your life for months, maybe years – some authors even say that writing the blurb is harder than writing the book. Here are some things I’ve learned: 

  1. Don’t leave your blurb until the last minute. Terry Pratchett recommended writing it as soon as possible because ‘getting the heart and soul of a book into fewer than 100 words helps you focus.’ I wrote one alongside my proposal. It forced me to think hard about the point of my book. 
  2. Identifying the core of your work can be an anchor for the rest of the blurb. The novelist Elizabeth Buchan, who used to write copy at Penguin, described it as ‘The backbone. In one sentence, what is it that makes that book that book? I wrote Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman. Its backbone was: “living well is the best revenge”.’ Buchan’s line snaps with the tension of opposing forces. Where does that fizz lie in your book? 

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

To a Wreath of Snow

by Emily Brontë

O transient voyager of heaven!
O silent sign of winter skies!
What adverse wind thy sail has driven
To dungeons where a prisoner lies?

Methinks the hands that shut the sun
So sternly from this morning’s brow
Might still their rebel task have done
And checked a thing so frail as thou.

They would have done it had they known
The talisman that dwelt in thee,
For all the suns that ever shone
Have never been so kind to me!

For many a week, and many a day
My heart was weighed with sinking gloom
When morning rose in mourning grey
And faintly lit my prison room

But angel like, when I awoke,
Thy silvery form so soft and fair
Shining through darkness, sweetly spoke
Of cloudy skies and mountains bare;

The dearest to a mountaineer
Who, all life long has loved the snow
That crowned her native summits drear,
Better, than greenest plains below.

And voiceless, soulless, messenger
Thy presence waked a thrilling tone
That comforts me while thou art here
And will sustain when thou art gone

James Gillray

From The Wall Street Journal:

‘The Apples and the Horse-Turds; or, Buonaparte Among the Golden Pippins’ (1808) by James Gillray.

In 1779, Napoleon Bonaparte, having seized power in France, appealed to George III for an end to the eight years of war that had followed the French Revolution. Britain’s foreign secretary, Lord Grenville, replied that France, if it really wanted peace, should restore its legitimate monarchy. Samuel Whitbread, an opposition MP, argued for talks with Napoleon, saying that power, however attained, must be respected.

The episode sparked an especially caustic illustration—what we would call a political cartoon—from the British satirist James Gillray (1756-1815). It showed Napoleon in a peculiar landscape setting. He seems to have rolled down from a dunghill mushroomed with French notables (Voltaire among them) and into a stream where “royal pippins”—a kind of apple here signifying real legitimacy—float alongside him. “We apples,” Napoleon says, though we can see that he doesn’t belong in their number. He is a foul intruder.

Napoleon was the butt of other Gillray drawings. As Tim Clayton shows us in “James Gillray: A Revolution in Satire,” the French emperor—and menace to peace—was depicted as a tinpot tyrant. In a Gillray illustration playing off “Gulliver’s Travels,” a puzzled George III peers through a telescope at a tiny Napoleon standing in an angry pose on the king’s outstretched hand. The French generally come in for rough Gillray treatment. In another drawing, Parisian revolutionaries appear as cannibals.

These works capture Gillray’s style, juxtaposing vulgarity with literary allusion and extravagant caricature with sharp draftsmanship. Mr. Clayton’s well-researched and lavishly illustrated study makes a strong case for Gillray as the creator of a genre of graphic art—and as a forceful commentator. The artist’s caricatures shaped how the public saw politicians and royal figures, not to mention socialites and literary celebrities. Today’s political cartoonists quite properly credit Gillray as a major forerunner.

. . . .

Avoiding grotesque invention, Gillray went beyond simple reality with (in the words of the 20th-century cartoonist David Low) “a discriminating exaggeration of truth.” Thus, in “The Lover’s Dream,” we see the Prince of Wales (in the 1790s) sweetly sleeping on a luxurious royal bed and dreaming of the queen swooping down, like an angel in a Renaissance painting, to pay his enormous debts. Mr. Clayton’s selection takes readers on a journey through Georgian politics and society with a guide who spared no one.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Comment Spam

PG has been receiving quite a lot of comment spam attempts lately. His back-end collects most, but more than a few have been getting through and have to be manually moderated by PG in the past several weeks.

PG tweaked his comment spam blocker earlier today, but may have made it too difficult according to one visitor. After reading the visitor’s concerns, PG just dialed the settings back a bit.

If anyone has comments on PG’s comment spam blocker (Akismet), please feel free to leave them in the comments or send PG a private message via the Contact PG link at the top of the blog.

Forbidden Notebooks: A Woman’s Right to Write

From The Paris Review:

Forbidden evokes, to my English-speaking ear, the biblical fruit whose consumption leads to shame and expulsion from Paradise. Eve’s story is not irrelevant to a novel like Alba de Céspedes’s Forbidden Notebook, in which a woman succumbs to a temptation: to record her thoughts and observations. Valeria Cossati’s impulse to keep a diary leads not so much to the knowledge of good and evil as it does to the self-knowledge advocated by Socrates and serving as a cornerstone of philosophical inquiry ever since. In Valeria’s case, it also leads to solitude, alienation, guilt, and painful lucidity.

The Italian title of Forbidden Notebook is Quaderno proibito—literally translated, “prohibited notebook.” Forbidden and prohibited may be interchangeable in English, but the latter lacks the romance that might soften the former (as in “forbidden love”), and connotes instead legal restrictions, interdictions, and punishment. The word prohibited comes from the Latin verb prohibere (its roots mean, essentially, “to hold away”), which was fundamental to legal terminology in Ancient Rome. It is the word de Céspedes chooses to describe Valeria’s notebook, and to interrogate, more broadly, a woman’s right, in postwar Italy, to express herself in writing, to have a voice, and to hold opinions and secrets that distinguish herself from her family.

The act of purchasing the eponymous notebook, along with the ongoing dilemma of how to conceal it, drives the tension as the novel opens. Having purchased it illegally and smuggled it home, Valeria hides it in various locations—in a sack of rags, an old trunk, an empty biscuit tin. But she always runs the risk of it being discovered by her husband and grown children, all of whom laugh at the mere idea that she might want to keep a diary.

As soon as she buys the notebook, Valeria is anxious and afraid, but she is also armed—for although acquiring a diary throws her into crisis, the quaderno is both an object and a place, both a literary practice and a room of one’s own. In lieu of walls and a door, pen and paper suffice to allow Valeria, albeit furtively, to speak her mind. Thematically, I would call this book a direct descendant of Virginia Woolf’s groundbreaking treatise and Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. It’s just that Valeria does not consider herself an author but rather a traditional homemaker. Her writing is surreptitious, and she must lie to tell the truth.

De Céspedes was herself a writer and a diarist; Forbidden Notebook fuses these forms and disciplines. The diary was for her (as it is for so many writers) preparatory ground not only for her artistry in general but for a series of searing first-person female protagonists who are at once invented and real. Melania Mazzucco quotes from de Céspedes’s diaries in her introduction to the 2021 reissue of Dalla parte di lei (From her side). Already in that novel published in 1949—which is also concerned with women’s rights and roles—de Céspedes is experimenting (as the title clearly suggests) with an intimate first-person female narrative. Three years later, in Quaderno proibito, the diary commands center stage.

The private becoming public, the individual subject dividing, and the writer becoming her own reader and vice versa—the diary, an elusive, elastic container, straddles all this and more. Diary writing may be the most private of forms, but when placed within the context of a novel or when it serves, as it does here, as the structure of the novel itself, this form of confession—dating back, at least in the Western tradition, to Augustine—contradicts its very nature.

From Petrarch to Gramsci to Woolf to Lessing, all diaries and notebooks, whether intended for publication or not, whether invented by their authors or not, whether framed as (or within) novels or not, are dialogues with the self. They are instances of self-doubling and self-fashioning. They are declarations of autonomy, counternarratives that contrast with and contradict reality. The form of the fictionalized diary has always been especially appealing in that we get to know the character not only as a person but also as a writer. This additional authorial persona is especially provocative in light of the fact that female consciousness has struggled to find its place in history and in the literary tradition.

In her diary de Céspedes confides, “I will never be a great writer.” Here I take her to task for not knowing something about herself—for she was a great writer, a subversive writer, a writer censored by fascists, a writer who refused to take part in literary prizes, a writer ahead of her time. In my view, she is one of Italy’s most cosmopolitan, incendiary, insightful, and overlooked.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

On the Gift of Longhand

From The Millions:

My 99-year-old great-aunt Nina gave me her husband’s fountain pen when I was visiting her in Greece this summer. A widow for 20 years, and despairing with what feels to her like a punishing longevity, she is divesting herself of important keepsakes, as if to expedite her reunion with her dead husband Kostakis. Nina wanted to give Kostakis’s pen to me because I am, as she puts it, the only Lazaridis left.

I told Nina that, beyond the honor of being entrusted with the pen, I would take pride in using it in my work. What mattered most to her was that I accept it as an emblem. Together with his pocket watch, which she also gave me, it was my uncle’s trademark, as much symbols for him as the orb and scepter of a monarch.

I’m a longtime longhand writer. I’m old enough to remember writing by hand when it was the only choice. Then I fell to the seductions of these newfangled things called laptops, like so many others. I was delighted by the convenience and by the final-draft look of even the messiest prose. But I switched back to longhand several years ago, and now it’s the only way I write my drafts. When I returned to pen and paper, I did so with the zeal of a convert. Not content to have just one or two good pens, I’ve amassed a small collection of mostly fountain pens. I’m catholic in my tastes, and cherish my Paper Mate Ink Joy, Pilot G-1, and Pilot Varsity, along with two ‘40s-era Parker 51s, one of which belonged to my father. But it’s the fountain pens I really prefer to use when writing first drafts.

Writing with a fountain pen is longhand taken to the next level. You can’t just pluck off the cap and go. Before you can write even the first letter, you have to unscrew the top of your ink bottle, unscrew the end of the barrel on the pen, fiddle with each pen’s particular filling mechanism, blot the ink on the blotting paper. And once you actually begin to write, you have to pay attention to the wet ink—especially if you’re a lefty like me—and take note of its gradually fading color as a signal that you are about to run completely dry and need to start the filling process all over again.

When you write with a fountain pen, you experience writing as a truly physical activity, one that affects all your senses. There’s the sort of chalky, silty smell of the ink; the scratch of the pen dragging across the page; the feel of the barrel and the cap you screw on at every pause in writing lest the ink dry faster; the glint of the wet ink that goes to matte while you examine your words. The only sense you don’t experience with a fountain pen is taste—at least I’d hope not. Having to attend to all these sensations, I think you can come close to the sort of improved mental processing neurologists ascribe to walking. And you can do it without even leaving your desk.

The pen Nina gave me is a Sheaffer Snorkel pen. Kostakis kept it on his desk in its original case, which announces it as “Sheaffer’s new Snorkel pen.” New in 1952. I’m used to the various filling mechanisms of a range of fountain pens, from eyedropper to squeeze chamber to disposable cartridge. But I’d never seen anything like the Snorkel, whose mechanism works like a miniature version of its name that pushes out from beneath the nib as you turn the knob built into the pen’s back end. You dip only the snorkel into the ink, let it suck up the liquid for a few seconds, and then retract it. The theory is that the nib itself stays dry and your fingers never risk the ink stains that I, for one, regularly accumulate during a day of longhand writing. Apparently, when the pens were first introduced, school children discovered how to use the Snorkel in reverse and shoot jets of ink out at each other. The mechanism was quickly redesigned. I know from the graffiti carved into door jambs of my family’s ancestral home that my uncle Kostakis was unruly as a child. But I’m pretty sure he didn’t try to shoot ink from his pen in 1952 as a 40-year-old man.

Link to the rest at The Millions

PG has found that he is increasingly more clumsy writing with any sort of pen in longhand.

He’ll take the random note now and then, but he had to hand-write a check a couple of weeks ago, a task he wanted to do correctly, and it was a real chore. The result looked like it had been written by a ten-year-old.

Generally, he deposits any checks he receives electronically and pays all his bills the same way.

PG thinks he has mentioned this before, but one of the wisest things his mother did when he was in what would today be called middle school was to make him take a typing class. For reasons unknown, he took to typing right away and was the fastest typist in his (small) class.

Thereafter, when everyone else was turning in hand-written assignments, PG’s were typewritten. This fact alone probably improved his grades.

Of course in the prehistoric age of typewriters, if you made a mistake, it was a pain to correct it. For those youthful visitors to TPV, PG will describe the process.

  1. Ideally, you would catch your mistake pretty quickly, which wasn’t that difficult if your eyes were on the paper you were typing because your fingers already knew where every key was. (Hunting and pecking has always been low-tech.)
  2. In that case, when you made an error, you stopped typing, rolled the paper up a bit in the typewriter, then painted over the mistake with a long-forgotten liquid called White-Out, blow on the liquid until it dried out, then rolled your paper down to the line you had erred on, used the backspace key so the typewriter carriage was in the proper position for you to type the correction, then went on your merry typing way.
  3. Yes, anyone reading the paper could see the White-Out, but teachers wouldn’t reduce your grade for the project because a typed paper was a zillion times easier to read than a handwritten one, even if the girl who had the best handwriting in the class had written it. (In PG’s youthful world, girls always had better handwriting than boys. Sexism had not yet been invented.)

The next step forward with typewriters was the IBM Selectric with which you couldn’t jam up the keys like was easy to do with all previous typewriters, manual or electric. The Selectric was nice, but you still had to do the White-Out thing if you made a typo.

Then came the Correcting Selectric. This sped up the correction process substantially because you didn’t have to wait for White-Out to dry. The Correcting Selectric had two ribbons instead of one. The first ribbon was the black one which had always done the typing since dinosaurs roamed the earth. The second ribbon was a white one which you could use to correct a typo.

The way the white ribbon worked is that you would back up to the place where you had made the typo, then you pressed a key that engaged the white ribbon and retyped your typo. The result was that you had a white-colored typo instead of a black typo. Then, you backed up to the beginning of your covered-up typo and typed over the error with your correction. No White-Out or blowing the White-Out dry was necessary.

One final digression.

Legal secretaries were one or more steps above all sorts of other secretaries. (Secretaries did the typing, except for PG who often did his own typing for anything more than an easy-to-dictate letter.)

The reason that legal secretaries were super-human was because most attorneys would not allow any corrections on a will and, sometimes, on other sorts of documents as well. If a secretary was typing a will and made an error in the last paragraph on a page, the entire page would need to be re-typed.

The reason for this ancient imperative was that a typed correction to a will might give rise to a question in the mind of one or more of the heirs that someone with evil intent had changed Uncle Harry’s will after he signed it, most likely after the old bachelor had died.

As the result of such this evil act, Uncle Harry’s twenty-acre parcel of land, filled with rocks and copperheads and unlikely every to grow anything useful was bequeathed to evil cousin Lukas instead of virtuous cousin Lucille.

Hence, the no-corrections-of-wills rule was applied in a great many law offices.

One day, a dedicated word processor appeared, followed a couple of years later by a personal computer and the market for White-Out shrank into a faint shadow of its former self (although you can still purchase it on Amazon.)

What is crowdworking & crowdsourcing?

From CrowdWorker.com

2005 [was] the year that the term crowdsourcing was used for the first time. The editors Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson created the word as a combination from outsourcing and crowd when they were writing an article for Wired Magazine.

Although the term is rather new, the idea behind it isn’t. As early as in the 18th century an unknown amount of people has been used to solve a problem: In 1714 the British government wanted to find a way to measure a ship’s longitude. They used the easiest way to raise public interest: They offered money for the best solution from the crowd.

The wisdom of the crowd

Nowadays crowdsourcing is an accepted way to reach economical goals, but the methods have changed since the rise of the internet. The most famous example for crowdsourcing is Wikipedia. The platform is fed by the work of writers and editors who collect, update, and care for the articles that are available on the knowledge platform.

The principle is easy: More minds know more than a single one. So a mass of people combines their wisdom and experience to boost a project. It doesn’t matter if you are an individual, a public institution, a non-profit organisation, or a company – everyone can benefit from the crowd.

The benefits of crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing can help you with a lot of different work. You are looking for a new logo? Start a contest. You want to have software tested? Set up the conditions the crowd has to apply to and you can start. That’s the idea behind it.

If you draw a line from left to right that represents the crowdsourcing process, the requester or crowdsourcer is on the left side. The contributor or crowdsourcee is on the right side. He represents the crowd that takes over the request.

Crowdsourcing goes together with crowdworking

The Internet made collaborative work very easy. A lot of platforms showed up where crowdsourcer and crowdsourcee can meet. At this point the term crowdworking is often used to name all the people who work as crowdsourcees. People who contribute to certain crowdsourcing projects are called crowdworkers to specify the type of tasks they are executing.

Crowdsourcing can be started and executed everywhere, next to you or in another country or on the other side of the globe. Crowdworkers have in common that they use their free time to complete your work. Therefore crowdsourcing and crowdworking are two terms that go together very often when describing such a process.

Motivation for Crowdworking

The motivation to start crowdworking depends on a lot of different reasons: Some people do it for money, some out of altruism or fun, others want to gain reputation or attention. And some of them want to have insider information about new ideas, products and learn something new when working on the crowdsourcing tasks.

It is beyond dispute that crowdsourcing has started to change our working environment. It’s biggest benefit is the possibility to increase quality because you reach more different people than with traditional working methods. Be aware of the fact that detailed preparations have to be made. Crowdworking is only going to be a success if clear instructions to all participants are given. If there aren’t any, the quality of the work can’t be judged properly.

Link to the rest at CrowdWorker.com

A bot that watched 70,000 hours of Minecraft could unlock AI’s next big thing

From MIT Technology Review:

OpenAI has built the best Minecraft-playing bot yet by making it watch 70,000 hours of video of people playing the popular computer game. It showcases a powerful new technique that could be used to train machines to carry out a wide range of tasks by binging on sites like YouTube, a vast and untapped source of training data.

The Minecraft AI learned to perform complicated sequences of keyboard and mouse clicks to complete tasks in the game, such as chopping down trees and crafting tools. It’s the first bot that can craft so-called diamond tools, a task that typically takes good human players 20 minutes of high-speed clicking—or around 24,000 actions.

The result is a breakthrough for a technique known as imitation learning, in which neural networks are trained how to perform tasks by watching humans do them. Imitation learning can be used to train AI to control robot arms, drive cars or navigate webpages.  

There is a vast amount of video online showing people doing different tasks. By tapping into this resource, the researchers hope to do for imitation learning what GPT-3 did for large language models. “In the last few years we’ve seen the rise of this GPT-3 paradigm where we see amazing capabilities come from big models trained on enormous swathes of the internet,” says Bowen Baker at OpenAI, one of the team behind the new Minecraft bot. “A large part of that is because we’re modeling what humans do when they go online.”

The problem with existing approaches to imitation learning is that video demonstrations need to be labeled at each step: doing this action makes this happen, doing that action makes that happen, and so on. Annotating by hand in this way is a lot of work, and so such datasets tend to be small. Baker and his colleagues wanted to find a way to turn the millions of videos that are available online into a new dataset.

The team’s approach, called Video Pre-Training (VPT), gets around the bottleneck in imitation learning by training another neural network to label videos automatically. They first hired crowdworkers to play Minecraft, and recorded their keyboard and mouse clicks alongside the video from their screens. This gave the researchers 2000 hours of annotated Minecraft play, which they used to train a model to match actions to onscreen outcome. Clicking a mouse button in a certain situation makes the character swing its axe, for example.  

The next step was to use this model to generate action labels for 70,000 hours of unlabelled video taken from the internet and then train the Minecraft bot on this larger dataset.

“Video is a training resource with a lot of potential,” says Peter Stone, executive director of Sony AI America, who has previously worked on imitation learning. 

Imitation learning is an alternative to reinforcement learning, in which a neural network learns to perform a task from scratch via trial and error. This is the technique behind many of the biggest AI breakthroughs in the last few years. It has been used to train models that can beat humans at games, control a fusion reactor, and discover a faster way to do fundamental math.
The problem is that reinforcement learning works best for tasks that have a clear goal, where random actions can lead to accidental success. Reinforcement learning algorithms reward those accidental successes to make them more likely to happen again.

But Minecraft is a game with no clear goal. Players are free to do what they like, wandering a computer-generated world, mining different materials and combining them to make different objects.
Minecraft’s open-endedness makes it a good environment for training AI. Baker was one of the researchers behind Hide & Seek, a project in which bots were let loose in a virtual playground where they used reinforcement learning to figure out how to cooperate and use tools to win simple games. But the bots soon outgrew their surroundings. “The agents kind of took over the universe, there was nothing else for them to do” says Baker. “We wanted to expand it and we thought Minecraft was a great domain to work in.”

Link to the rest at MIT Technology Review

PG hopes he is not alienating too many visitors with his occasional forays into artificial intelligence. It’s a topic that he finds fascinating.

As far as relevance to TPV, PG has mentioned AI writing programs, which he expects to become more and more sophisticated over time. While PG will not predict the demise of authors who are human beings, he expects AI to continue to improve and expand its writing capabilities.

Who knows, perhaps someone will take the vast sea of written wisdom PG has produced and create an AI version of PG. Such an AI would have to possess a high tolerance for randomness, however. Much of the time, there is no recognizable logic happening in PG’s brain, so there might be insufficient scaffolding to support the development of any sort of intelligent program.

The Lawyers Know Too Much

The Lawyers Know Too Much, by Carl Sandburg:

The lawyers, Bob, know too much.
They are chums of the books of the old John Marshall.
They know it all, what a dead hand wrote,
A stiff dead hand and its knuckles crumbling,
The bones of the fingers a thin white ash.
       The lawyers know
       a dead man’s thoughts too well.

In the heels of the higgling lawyers, Bob,
Too many slippery ifs and buts and howevers,
Too much hereinbefore provided whereas,
Too many doors to go in and out of.

       When the lawyers are through
       What is there left, Bob?
       Can a mouse nibble at it
       And find enough to fasten a tooth in?

Link to the rest at Poets.org

Carver wins Moth Nature Writing Prize for ‘deeply funny’ work combining science and poetry

FromThe Bookseller:

Genevieve Carver has won The Moth’s Nature Writing Prize for “Postcards from a Fulmar”, a “deeply funny” hybrid of science writing and poetry.

The prize, run by the Moth magazine, is in its third year, and was judged by author Max Porter. It awards writing of the highest quality that reflects the writer’s relationship with the natural world.

Commenting on Carver’s work, Porter said: “It’s such an interesting and surprising hybrid, which manages to be deeply funny and very sad at the same time, an unusual feat in both science writing and poetry, even more unusual when the two are blended. The ironic and the tender are perfectly fused, and formal innovations are cleverly tethered to meaning. Both the birds and the language were thrillingly – and in unexpected ways – alive in this piece.”

Carver, whose poetry has been published in journals such as Mslexia, the White Review and the North, is currently Poet in Residence with the University of Aberdeen’s School of Biological Sciences, where she’s observing and writing in response to their work studying bottlenose dolphin, porpoise and harbour seals in the Moray Firth, as well as the fulmar colony on the uninhabited island of Eynhallow in Orkney.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG didn’t know Schools of Biological Sciences had poets in residence. Let it be known that PG is available to be a poet in residence at a law school.

Are tattoos protected by copyright?

From Copyright Alliance:

Yes, tattoos can be protected by copyright.

Copyright can protect pictorial and graphic works so long as they are fixed in a physical object and display originality. Since tattoos are, by definition, fixed—Merriam Webster defines a tattoo as “an indelible mark or figure fixed upon the body by insertion of pigment under the skin or by production of scars“—the threshold question in determining if a particular tattoo is protected by copyright is whether the tattoo is sufficiently original. In the context of copyright, originality doesn’t necessarily mean “novel.” Instead, it requires that the expression be original to the author (i.e. it cannot be copied from someone else), and it must possess at least a minimal amount of creativity.

This issue becomes complicated in the context of video game depictions of tattoos. In 2012, Christopher Escobedo, a tattoo artist based in Arizona, sued THQ, Inc., the makers of the video game UFC Undisputed 2010, for its depiction of a tattoo that Escobedo designed and tattooed on the torso of Carlos Condit—who was at the time the “interim Ultimate Fighting Championship (“UFC”) Welterweight Champion.” The case was ultimately settled out of court.

In 2016, tattoo company Solid Oak Sketches sued Take-Two Interactive for copyright infringement based on the company’s depiction of Lebron James’ tattoos in the game and cover art for the game. In March 2020, a federal judge ruled that Take-Two Interactive could not be sued for copyright infringement over the use of Lebron James’ and other players’ tattoos in its NBA 2K video game. The court reasoned that because tattoo artists know that the tattoos of famous athletes are likely to be displayed in public, they necessarily granted the players a non-exclusive license to use the tattoo as part of their likeness. In addition, the court found the use to be de minimis and transformative fair use.

Link to the rest at Copyright Alliance

9 British slang words you need to know

PG notes that the OP is dated in mid-2021, so he cannot judge the current state of British slang.

From EF.com:

If there’s one essential thing you need to get a firmer grasp on UK culture, it’s knowledge of the slang words Brits can’t stop using. Just imagine one day arriving in London and looking super strange because you can’t communicate with the locals. IMAGINE! Luckily, I’m here to teach you six common British terms you can’t live without.

1. Bagsy

The equivalent to shotgun in US English, this is what you say when you’re claiming something before everyone else, like the front seat of the car or the last scone (if you don’t know what a scone is, Google it and then sit in shame for a while. Then find a recipe for scones and make some).

. . . .

7. Uni

Want to study at a university in the UK? Make sure you’re calling it by the right name. In Britain, college means something totally different to what it means in the US, where it’s another word for university. UK colleges are for students aged between 16 and 18, who graduate from there to go to university, which is shortened to just uni. If you don’t get it right, you might end up studying in the wrong place and with people 2 years younger than you. How embarrassing!

8. Gutted

Didn’t get into the uni you wanted to go to? You’re probably really disappointed and upset – otherwise known as gutted. Where this comes from is anyone’s guess, but it probably has something to do with the sad feeling you get in your gut when you’re upset.

Link to the rest at EF.com

PG notes that “Gutted” in the US has a somewhat different meaning and there’s little doubt in PG’s mind of the source of the term outside a major metropolitan area in the United States.

After you finish fishing in rural Missouri or Minnesota (and many other places), nobody “cleans” the fish they caught. They “gut” them. Ditto for the deer you just shot. (No, it’s not Bambi’s mother.)

Without going into excruciating detail, gutting a fish involves making a long cut on the bottom of the fish, then removing the fishy parts that are not, at least in the United States, regarded as edible.

Fish shouldn’t require a gut hook. Field dressing the deer you just shot is a little bigger job. Again, without going into detail, some hunters prefer a knife with a “gut hook” blade to speed things along.

To be clear, American English includes other meanings for gut that are a bit closer to the apparent British English usage. “That took guts.” or “That was a gutsy thing for her to do.” are a couple of examples of the use of the term referring to humans, not dead creatures.

10 English slang terms you need to know in 2022

From EF.com:

Only just getting the hang of last year’s slang? Well too late, forget it. A whole new host of (somewhat nonsensical) terms have landed and it’s time to add them to your linguistic arsenal.

With TikTok’s continued reign over our society, the app has begun to dictate a lot of the slang that ends up in our daily rotation. Although not all these terms and phrases are brand new, they’re certainly popping up everywhere – and will likely continue to do so in the year ahead. I’ve (once again) taken it upon myself to compile this new lingo into a handy list for your reading (and learning) pleasure.

1. Cheugy

This word (pronounced choo-gee) has swooped in to replace old fan-favorite “basic”. It refers to the painfully mainstream or, along the same vein, someone hanging onto things that were cool years ago but would now be deemed basic or “cheugy”.

2. Rent free

Can’t stop thinking about someone? Sounds like they’re living rent free in your mind. This is most often used when you can’t get something out of your brain – whether it’s a song, video, experience or person. They’re stuck in there and they’re not even paying rent for the space they’re occupying.

3. Vibe check

Is someone acting shady or negative? Sounds like they didn’t pass the vibe check. This describes when you check in on someone’s vibe and assess what it’s giving. Good vibes? You’ve passed the vibe check.

. . . .

5. Caught in 4k

Caught someone red-handed and have the receipts to prove it? You’ve caught them in 4k with solid, digital evidence. Another popular phrase on TikTok, it can often be accompanied by the camera emoji to really bring home the fact that you’ve been exposed.

. . . .

9. Ate that

This essentially refers to someone doing a great job. For example if someone is performing a very impressive dance, when they’re done, you might turn to your friend and say “they ate that”. It can also be abbreviated to “they ate” or even “left no crumbs” (since, as we established, they ate it all).

Link to the rest at EF.com

And don’t start sentences with a conjunction.

PG posted an item yesterday titled, “Coordinating vs. Subordinating Conjunctions,” which triggered some comments that he appreciated, including one that asserted, “English punctuation is a mess.”

So PG was moved to hunt a bit in search of some excellent quotes about conjunctions for inclusion in today’s crop of blog posts.

His favorite conjunction quote is this one, which, as a bonus, also counsels the avoidance of “trendy locutions that sound flaky.”

Do not put statements in the negative form. And don’t start sentences with a conjunction. If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do. Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all. De-accession euphemisms. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky. Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.

William Safire

PG is certain that visitors to The Passive Voice will warn him if he strays into unqualified superlatives and trendy locutions or fails to de-accesion euphisms and choose diminutive words in the future.

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year is ‘gaslighting’

From CNN:

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year – and this you can believe – is “gaslighting.”

The online dictionary chose “gaslighting,” which it defines as “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage,” as its top word of 2022 because it has become the “favored word for the perception of deception.”

Gaslighting is usually more complex than an off-the-cuff lie and more nefarious, too: Gaslighting someone into believing they’re wrong is often part of a “larger plan,” said Merriam-Webster.

The term “gaslighting” encapsulates some of the other common terms we associate with misinformation – “deepfakes” and “fake news” among them, per Merriam-Webster.

. . . .

We owe the term “gaslighting” to the 1938 play and 1944 film “Gaslight” (itself a remake of a film from 1940). In both, a nefarious man attempts to trick his new wife into thinking she’s losing her mind, in part by telling her that the gaslights in their home, which dim when he’s in the attic doing dastardly deeds, are not fading at all.

Both the play and film were wildly popular, with a renamed version of the play running for more than 1,000 performances on Broadway, and the 1944 film earning a best picture nomination and an Oscar for Ingrid Bergman. Partly due to the film’s popularity, the noun “gaslight” became a verb, too.

In the context of the film, “gaslighting” refers to the “psychological manipulation of a person over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question” their reality, according to Merriam-Webster.

. . . .

“Gaslighting” has in the last few years become a ubiquitous term, particularly in the “age of misinformation,” Merriam-Webster said. In 2017, a CNN opinion writer said President Donald Trump was “‘gaslighting’ all of us” after he denied making several statements he’d made in public. CNN’s Chris Cillizza used the word again in 2021 to describe the way Trump downplayed the severity of the January 6 insurrection.

It’s also a legitimate and “extremely effective form of emotional abuse,” according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which has resources for survivors on recognizing gaslighting. The New York Times also this year wrote about “medical gaslighting,” when patients, especially women and people of color, are dismissed by physicians who downplay the severity of their symptoms.

Link to the rest at CNN

Freedom to Read Advocates Warn of Proposed ‘Book Rating’ Bill in Texas, Rising Book Bans in Missouri

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Freedom to Read advocates are voicing concern over a new bill in the Texas state legislature, that, if passed, would require publishers to create an “age appropriate” rating system for books sold to Texas school libraries. But most worrisome, critics say, the bill as written would not only force publishers to develop a rating system, it would appear to give Texas state officials the power to direct publishers to change ratings that state officials disagree with and to bar schools from doing business with publishers that do not acquiesce. The ratings would also have to be “affixed to the cover” of each book.

The bill is still in the early stages. Filed this week by Republican Tom Oliverson on the opening day of the filing period for the upcoming legislative session, the proposed bill, HB 338, will compete with thousands of other proposed bills for legislative action when the Texas legislature begins work in January, 2023. For context, the Texas Tribune reported that Texas legislators filed more than 800 bills in the opening hours of the filing period. While most of these bills will not advance, Tribune reporters note, the first bills of the session can often “shed light on legislators’ priorities and what battles could be shaping up in Austin next year.”

Early stages or not, Oliverson’s proposed bill has freedom to read advocates bracing for a rough 2023 legislative session in Texas, a state where conservative lawmakers—including newly re-elected governor Greg Abbott—have been among the most aggressive supporters of book bans and educational gag orders.

In 2021, Abbott demanded that the state agencies overseeing education and library funding keep “inappropriate” books out of Texas schools, and went so far as to direct agency officials to open criminal investigations over offending titles. Furthermore, Abbott’s directive followed a headline-grabbing inquiry launched in October 2021 by Texas state representative Matt Krause that singled out some 850 books for scrutiny.

In a statement, officials at PEN America called HB 338 a “dangerous escalation” in the movement to censor books in schools and libraries.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG didn’t plan the juxtaposition of this item with the one he posted just before he posted this item, but the combination of the two OP’s struck him as interesting.

Let’s take the author of the Female Fear post and take her back to a time when she was 8-10 years old. PG would speculate that she might well be a sensitive girl at that time, perhaps subject to some anxieties.

How would such a sensitive child, female or male, react to a book featuring LGBTQIA+ material as are some of the books that parents and others find objectionable for an elementary school library? In past lives, PG has known more than a couple of children who would have been extremely upset about discovering this sort of book in the library. Violence isn’t the only thing that may upset a sensitive child.

PG is not suggesting that children’s librarians have to make certain the fears of the most frightened and neurotic child imaginable are not triggered, but PG suggests that they do need to put the welfare of children before any ideas that it’s important for children to learn about potentially upsetting issues during their childhood years.

But, as usual, PG might be wrong.

Female Fear Is a Rational Response to Violence

From Electric Lit:

In her debut collection, Under My Bed and Other Essays, Jody Keisner meticulously unpacks her fears, revealing their complex interiors. Her subject matter is diverse, ranging from 1980s horror films to parenting to adoption to wildfires to reincarnation to autoimmune disease to murder. She weaves research throughout her personal stories, which has the effect of ensuring that readers learn something about themselves and what it means to be human.

The collection is set primarily in Nebraska, but Keisner’s observations move beyond the general sense of the Midwest. She brings us murky man-made lakes as places of refuge and homes made of earth that look like bunkers. The location that most reverberates is that of the family unit. Keisner has many identities—daughter, granddaughter, wife, and mother—and each role requires something different from her; as a mother, she finds that she is best equipped to contend with the question of fear and what to do with it. 

. . . .

Sari Fordham: I loved this book and was so taken by your candor throughout. The collection is about fear, but it takes a lot of bravery to write so honestly about such a disdained topic. Was there a story that you had to talk yourself into writing?

Jody Keisner: I had to talk myself into writing the first chapter, which eventually became the title of the book. I was ashamed of my seemingly irrational fear of intruders and my compulsive nighttime “checking” of locks, behind furniture, under my bed, etc. Before I began writing about my fear and better understood where my bizarre behavior came from, I viewed both as a weakness, a childish preoccupation. I didn’t want to expose this particular weakness to the public, and I also feared that writing about it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as if my essay would manifest as an intruder. (I know. I know.) Of course writing about it helped me to see that my fear and other women’s fears of being alone at night aren’t all that irrational or childlike. While our reasons are as varied and complex as our experiences, they are also largely related to our awareness of the threat of violence from men.

A couple of months ago, I read this tweet asking how people made themselves feel safe at night if they lived alone. About a hundred people replied–mostly women–with answers ranging from knives under beds, chairs barring doors, dogs, guns, alarms, etc. I was surprised there were so many of us. For so long I had been ashamed of my “weakness.” Maybe my fear is more common than I realize.

SF: Oh, absolutely! I read the last chapter alone and in a sketchy Airbnb and I actually turned on a light before going to bed. While I knew driving to the Airbnb was statistically much more dangerous than staying in one alone, the idea of someone coming into the apartment felt much more tangible. You write: “Upward of 80 percent of American women will experience sexual harassment or assault during their lifetime.” How do you think this fact shapes female experiences? 

JK: Statistically speaking, we women are unlikely to be murdered in our homes at night or while out for a solo jog, two examples I explore in my book. But also statistically speaking, we are likely to be sexually harassed and assaulted during our lifetimes. Too many of us will be raped or suffer domestic violence. Women–and especially BIPOC and trans folks–grow up under the ever-looming threat of violence from men. Frankly, our society doesn’t seem as perplexed by this fact as it should be. To put it bluntly: if white boys and men endured as much violence or the threat of violence as girls, women, BIPOC, and trans folk do, would our patriarchal society do as little as they are currently doing to stop it? Women grow up surrounded by images of real and imagined violence against the female body, which can certainly make us feel as if the threat is greater than it actually is. Not that some amount of threat isn’t all too real, especially the threat of sexual assault. I really hope this changes, but right now, I’m teaching my two daughters to be resilient and aware.

. . . .

SF: Something I admired in this memoir is how you were able to place so many different stories in the same book, and how they all clicked together into a cohesive narrative. Could you talk a little bit about your writing process? 

JK: I write about what is on my mind at the time, what I’m obsessing over. Which is to say, in terms of structure and unity, the book was all over the place when I had a first draft. I printed out each chapter and laid them out on the floor and looked for thematic connections. I probably re-ordered the book a dozen times, which also meant I had to revise as much, so that certain narrative threads carried throughout the book. For instance, the Pain-Thing appears in the second chapter, “Recreationally Terrified,” and also appears in a few of the other later chapters. That is the result of revision and my realization that I kept returning to my fear of pain and my fear of my loved ones being in pain. Connecting themes and metaphors helps create a sense of cohesion, and so does making sure important characters – like my Grandma Grace – make appearances in chapters even when they aren’t the central focus. I was also told by an early reader that I had a big hole in my narrative, and eventually filled that hole with “Haunted,” which more thoroughly explored my childhood relationship with my father.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG notes that the book in question, published September 1st, 2022, currently carries an Amazon sales rank of #947,474 in the Kindle Store, despite lots and lots of blurbs in the book description.

He will rely on the female visitors to TPV to comment upon the market for books like the one described. He doubts that it is a guys’ book, but is happy to be corrected there as well.

Coordinating vs. Subordinating Conjunctions

From Daily Writing Tips:

When I received not one, but three emails telling me that I’d punctuated a sentence with because incorrectly, I decided I’d better write a post about adverbial clauses of reason.

Here’s the example that drew the criticism:

Incorrect: The famous author lives in a small town, because she doesn’t like the noise of a big city.

Correct : The famous author lives in a small town because she doesn’t like the noise of a big city.

Here are the objections I received:

1. Number five conflicts with my 11th grade English teacher’s rule. Separate the two halves of a compound sentence with a comma. Was she wrong?

2. I disagree with #5. Two independent clauses should be separated by a comma.”She doesn’t like the noise of the big city.” is an independent clause. Remove the word “because” and you have two sentences that can stand alone.

3. ERROR. “she doesn’t like the noise of a big city” is also an independent clause, and the comma is required. This is a compound sentence with “because” joining two independent clauses.

The readers are perfectly correct about the rule for punctuating a compound sentence. Two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction are separated by a comma:

Polio would have stopped a lesser man, but Franklin was determined to follow his cousin into the White House.

The conjunctions used to join independent clauses in compound sentences are coordinating conjunctions. The most common coordinating conjunctions are: forandnorbutoryet, and so.

A coordinating conjunction used to join clauses has only one function: it joins clauses of equal importance. Removing the conjunction between two independent clauses will leave two simple sentences whose meanings remain unchanged. They can stand alone as complete sentences.

subordinating conjunction, on the other hand, has two functions: it joins, and it shows a relationship between the clauses that it joins. Removing a subordinating conjunction defeats the purpose for which it exists.

The subordinating conjunction because is used to introduce an adverbial clause of cause or reason. The fact that the author doesn’t like the noise of the big city explains why she lives in a small town.

Adverbial clauses of reason are also introduced by the subordinating conjunctions sinceas long asasinasmuch asinsofar as, and due to the fact that.

Reminder: When the adverbial clause comes first in the sentence, it is followed by a comma. When the adverbial clause comes after the independent clause, there is (usually) no need for a comma. For example:

Since you asked nicely, you may go to the library on Saturday.

You may go to the library on Saturday since you asked nicely.

Modern business style tends to reject lengthy conjunctions like inasmuch as and due to the fact thatBecauseas, and since are the least wordy choices. Some speakers object to using since to introduce a clause of reason because since is also used to introduce clauses of time. Ordinary attentiveness to revision ought to be sufficient to avoid ambiguity with since.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

U.S. Booksellers Embrace Books in Spanish

From Publisher’s Weekly:

A range of factors are leading U.S. bookstores to expand their Spanish-language offerings. Driven by language-immersion schools and bilingual families, many stores are now specializing in bilingual books for young readers. Others serve heritage-language customers who want to practice their Spanish, as well as language learners seeking cultural immersion.

Booksellers often flag their Spanish-language selections with bilingual shelftalkers, encourage handselling and promotion on social media, and ask book clubs for buzzworthy bilingual picks. At Cellar Door Books in Riverside, Calif., a Latinx book club plans to read Desideria Mesa’s Bindle Punk Bruja and Tehlor Kay Meija’s We Set the Dark on Fire, and store owner Linda Sherman-Nurick sees potential in Spanish-language editions of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s Not “a Nation of Immigrants”.

“Either because they are more comfortable reading in Spanish, or they want to read books in their original language as the author intended, or they are learning Spanish, people want access to good-quality Spanish-language books,” said Veronica Johnson, who operates Libros Bookmobile in Hutto, Tex. “Many Latinx folks are bilingual, and we want materials in both languages,” yet “even non-native speakers and non-Latinx folks ask for Spanish-language titles.”

While classics from Jorge Amado, Jorge Luis Borges, and Pablo Neruda remain popular, readers are also gravitating toward Isabel Allende, Sandra Cisneros’s new Mujer sin vergüenza, and bestsellers like Erika Sánchez’s Yo no soy tu perfecta hija Mexicana. Several stores, including Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore in Sylmar, Calif., reported strong sales of Los cuatro acuerdos by Don Miguel Ruiz.

At Palabras Bilingual Bookstore in Phoenix, owner Chawa Magaña said readers love well-known authors Laura Esquivel, Elena Poniatowska, and Samanta Schweblin, along with “Latinx authors who consistently translate their work from English to Spanish and make it easily available here in the U.S.,” such as Julia Alvarez, Pat Mora, and Yung Pueblo.

General-interest bookstores are increasing their Spanish-language offerings, too. Claudia Vega of Whose Books in Dallas said she’s “looking to expand our adult section” because bilingual kids’ books do so well. And at Elliott Bay Book Co. in Seattle, general manager John Duvernoy called Spanish-language fiction “our most reliable selling foreign-language section.”

Curious customers may not have an author or a title in mind, yet “they want titles to peruse,” said Susan Post, co-owner of BookWoman in Austin. Post singled out local favorites: Liliana Valenzuela’s bilingual poetry book Codex of Love: Bendita ternura, as well as Honduran Colombian creator Kat Fajardo’s graphic novel Miss Quinces.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly