The End of Editing

From Publishers Weekly:

We have so many fantasies of what the writer’s life is like: jotting down notes at a café, time to dream, and a certain ease of getting published. While many of these, particularly the last, quickly fade, either because of early rejections or the need for a steady paycheck, there is one fantasy that I held on to until my first book was published: that of the overly involved, tough-love editor who would take my work to some next level—the Gordon Lish to my Raymond Carver—and care about it as much as I did.

My first book, a story collection, was published by a university press. The peer reviewers each gave a few careful comments. One reviewer wanted one story cut, the other thought it could be reworked. A second story was recommended for “fine-tuning.”

I agreed to address these small issues, and I waited for the editor to whom I had originally submitted the work to give me her edits. They never came. She told me to make the changes the reviewers had suggested, and then I was whisked right on to copy editing. I know she cared about the book. She just wasn’t going to edit it in the way I thought she would.

Rewind a year, to when I found an agent for my debut novel. He and I spent months going back and forth with my revisions, his comments, and more revisions. Here was the editing process I expected: where sentences are debated, scenes deleted, problems large and small addressed. Throughout this process, he kept telling me editors these days like really clean copy, and I started to realize that editors don’t really edit anymore.

“My agent used to be an editor,” says author Keith Lee Morris, whom I contacted after hearing him discuss the editing process at a book event, “and she quit to become an agent so that she could work more closely with authors on their manuscripts.”

My own agent, Madison Smartt Bell, agrees that editing has shifted: “Editors now can expect manuscripts submitted to them to be in an extremely finished state, perfected whether by writers teaching in the academy, or by agents drawing on their past experience as editors, or a combination of those two.”

Morris adds that editors are now expected to promote their books, and I know this was true of my university press editor, who not only acquired the book but was its marketing department, as well.

So, what have we lost with these changes in the industry? Is it just romantic ideals, or has some real care and attention to detail been lost? My debut novel, Strange Children, comes out with an independent press this month, and while the editor was certainly not a line-by-line editor, she did give me several helpful notes and talked me through ideas at length. I appreciated both her insight and her trust in me to take her comments and change the book how I saw fit. I know the time she spent made it a better book.

Morris did eventually seek out an “old-school” editor for one novel, but the experience was challenging: as writers, we may not be used to hands-on editing anymore, either. However, he admits, “There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that, ultimately, he made it a much better book. He pushed me beyond my comfort zone in a couple of crucial scenes, for which I’ll always be  grateful, even though it was painful at the time.”

. . . .

When we don’t have that, what’s lost isn’t just the quality or the not-quite-reached potential of a book, but also a sense of collaboration and mentorship. And though teachers, agents, and other writers are stepping up to fill the gap, there’s no guarantee that will always happen. As a writer, I regret not knowing that publication acceptance meant that the more rigorous editing process was behind me, not ahead of me.

The university press that published my book recently asked me to peer review a new book, and when I voted yes on the manuscript, I also handed in several pages of editorial notes, knowing I may be the only reader to do so. The editor and writer both responded with gratitude. And yet there were many small edits I would have suggested if I had been the actual editor, many places I thought a talented writer could be pushed more. As it stands, it doesn’t seem likely that push will happen. And that push, to me, seems like something we should seek out as writers, and make time for as publishers.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

So, if hiring a professional editor is something the author should undertake, what services does a trade publisher provide in exchange for taking the majority of the proceeds generated by sales of a book?

Journey to the Edge of Reason

From The Wall Street Journal:

The genius logician Kurt Gödel gave his name to his famous Incompleteness Theorems, which in the 1930s helped define the limits of both logic and mathematics. It might be thought that the justification for another biography of Gödel is that previous biographies were in some ways incomplete—or, to put it another way, that a new work should add substantially to what we already know.

Does Stephen Budiansky’s “Journey to the Edge of Reason” pass this test? The author, whose most recent works include a biography of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and a history of the National Security Agency, writes vividly, and the book overflows with fascinating detail. Although it mostly steers clear of math and logic, it does a good enough job to convince general readers that they have understood some of the problems with which Gödel grappled. Plus, there is some fresh material to draw upon, including Gödel’s diary, which covers two years before the outbreak of World War II.

. . . .

Born in 1906, Gödel was raised in a German-speaking family in Brünn (now Brno), when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although Gödel was sometimes mistaken for being Jewish by his contemporaries, his family was, in fact, Lutheran. His father worked in the textile business, and the Gödels were comfortably off. Little Kurt was inquisitive and, because he wouldn’t stop asking questions, he acquired the nickname Herr Warum, “Mr. Why.”

Following the collapse of the polyglot Austro-Hungarian Empire and the rise of Czech nationalism, Gödel joined the throng of young, Czech Germans moving to Vienna—he arrived in 1924, becoming a student at the prestigious University of Vienna. Shortly afterward he was invited to attend the Vienna Circle, a discussion group made up of mathematically and scientifically literate philosophers, led by professor Moritz Schlick. For a decade or so, their philosophical approach, logical empiricism, became the most fashionable in the world.

Crudely put, the Circle maintained that for a statement to be meaningful it had to be either testable (“water boils at 100 degrees centigrade”) or true by virtue of the meaning of its terms (“all bachelors are unmarried” or other tautologies). Many statements about God, ethics and aesthetics were therefore meaningless. Math posed a problem for the Circle. Was 2+2=4 an empirical claim? Did we discover its truth by adding two apples to another two apples and counting four apples? This didn’t seem right. We could surely work out that 2+2=4 without the aid of fruit or any other material prop. Inspired in particular by Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Circle argued that we should treat mathematical truths as tautologies.

Gödel was mostly silent during Vienna Circle discussions, but he passionately disagreed. His instincts were Platonist; that is to say, he believed that mathematical truths weren’t invented but existed somewhere “out there,” independent of the human mind, and that it was the task of mathematicians to discover these truths.

Gödel’s reputation and fame rest principally on a proof that received its first public airing in September 1930, at a scientific gathering in Königsberg. Gödel—only 24 years old—demonstrated to the assembled delegates that there were limits to what could be proved in mathematics; that whatever axioms were postulated as the basic blocks of mathematics, there would inevitably be some truths within mathematics that could not be proved.

By all accounts, the delegates at the conference were a bit flummoxed; the significance of this discovery took a few days to sink in. Then news of Gödel’s first Incompleteness Theorem (it would be followed by a second), spread rapidly around the world. “A scientific achievement of the first order” was the rather understated verdict of Gödel’s supervisor, Hans Hahn, when Gödel submitted the proof for his thesis. The work is now widely accepted as a seminal development in the history of logic.

From 1933, Gödel began an on-off-on-off-on association with the recently formed Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, N.J., of which Einstein was a founding member. After Vienna, Gödel found Princeton a little parochial, though he liked the scenery. “All in all the country looks much like a park; only the true Alpine forest is missing.”

Gödel had already started to show signs of mental instability. In 1934 he spent time at a sanatorium outside Vienna. He became obsessed with the stomachaches he suffered and began to develop paranoid delusions about being poisoned by his enemies. Schlick appealed to a Viennese psychiatrist, Otto Pötzl, for help: “If Dr. Gödel does not regain his health, it would be a loss of immeasurable consequence for our university and for science throughout the world.”

. . . .

Gödel had just been invited back to Princeton when German troops marched into Austria. The Viennese were top-division anti-Semites, and the Anschluss unleashed a wave of sickening violence and sadism. Nonetheless, and shockingly, Gödel (along with most of his compatriots) voted in the subsequent plebiscite in favor of his country’s absorption by the German state. He later claimed he had done so only to secure a passport, though according to Mr. Budiansky Gödel became “wracked with guilt.” He was always politically naive. Toward the end of 1938, when he was briefly in the U.S. before returning to Vienna, he met a Jewish-Austrian philosopher for lunch. “And what brings you to America?” Gödel asked.

Gödel faced various fraught struggles with the Nazi authorities before he was able to settle back in Princeton for good. 

. . . .

At Princeton, the serious and shy Gödel developed an unlikely friendship with the more genial and gregarious Albert Einstein. They would walk to and from the institute. “I go to my office just to have the privilege of being able to walk home with Kurt Gödel,” Einstein once joked.

No book on Gödel would be complete without one particular story that reads like something out of a Tom Stoppard play. Once the war was over, Gödel applied for U.S. citizenship and set about preparing for his citizenship test with more zeal than was warranted. He read books and books about U.S. history and laws—and during the course of his study discovered what he thought was an inner contradiction in the U.S. constitution. His two sponsors were Einstein and Morgenstern, and as they drove together to the court in Trenton, N.J., tried to convince him not to bring this up. But at some stage during the proceedings the judge claimed that the constitution in the U.S., unlike in Austria, would never permit a dictatorship. “Oh, yes,” said Gödel, and “I can prove it.” Fortunately, Einstein and the others soon managed to shut him up, and Kurt Gödel became an American. What contradiction he spotted is still a matter of debate.

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

You’ve gotta dance

You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt,
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.

William W. Purkey

Why I am deleting Goodreads and maybe you should, too

From The Guardian:

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed reading a book where my enjoyment wasn’t tied to the euphoric sense of achievement I got from finishing it. This is not because I don’t love reading, or would rather watch television. No, it’s because of a little app on my phone called Goodreads.

Home to about 90 million readers worldwide, Goodreads is a website that lets users track their reading and broadcast their tastes to the world – or, in my case, a few friends and vague acquaintances. At its core, it’s a harmless concept: an online community for bookworms, and an opportunity to discover new books your friends have loved.

It’s also extremely satisfying. Since joining Goodreads a few years ago, the annual roundup I receive tallying up the books I have finished that year has become the clinching point of my reading experience. I get a buzz from increasing my reading goal every 12 months, and from comparing how many pages I’ve turned or hours of audiobooks I’ve listened to with other people’s numbers. I feel a sense of accomplishment every time I update my “progress” with a book.

But that’s exactly what’s wrong with Goodreads: it turns reading into an achievement. Quantifying, dissecting and broadcasting our most-loved hobbies sucks the joy out of them. I find myself glancing towards the corner of the page to see how much I’ve read. I compare the thickness of the read pages I hold in my left hand to the unread ones in my right. Even when absorbed in the climax of a story, one eye is always on my proximity to the end, when I’ll be able to post it all to Goodreads.

. . . .

While some people’s qualms with Goodreads are rooted in its clunky interface, or the fact that it is owned by Amazon, mine lie in its very concept. Reading is something I do to relax, learn and enjoy. It’s not just that I don’t need a pie chart detailing my reading habits, the chart has poisoned the whole experience. Even if I were to switch to another book app without the social aspect, I know that I would remain obsessed with finishing books over enjoying them.

It’s human nature to get a sense of satisfaction from seeing something through to the end. But, without Goodreads, it won’t matter if I give up on a book I’m not bothered about halfway through, because no one will know or care – as if they did anyway. I won’t be self-conscious if I read yet another thriller bought in a supermarket deal, instead of something others would consider as smarter or better.

If Goodreads provides a sense of community, good recommendations and doesn’t make you obsess over what you’re reading or how much, then great. Maybe it’s just a few of us who aren’t compatible with it, and end up developing a toxic relationship that distracts from the magic of getting lost in a book. But right now I am reading my first book Goodreads-free since I installed the app. It feels just like it did when I was a child, with no awareness of what others think about what I’m reading, how quickly I’m reading it, or what I haven’t read. From now on, my reading habits are staying between me and my book.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG doesn’t have a TPV category for First-World Problems, but perhaps he should create one.

Cooking with Sigrid Undset

From The Paris Review:

The most common food in the medieval historical romance Kristin Lavransdatter, written by the Norwegian author Sigrid Undset (1882–1949), is oatmeal porridge, a dish I made elaborate perfection of during my children’s early years. The porridges in Undset’s book are good and nourishing but plain (though in one scene, a young Kristin eats hers with “thick cream” off her father’s spoon). Mine, on the other hand, were ridiculous. I blitzed half the oats in the baby-food blender before cooking. I tried different combinations of milk and water. I made fruit puree swirls. I had a two-year-old daughter, an infant son, and an office job, to which I fled every day in great relief to get a moment to myself and then struggled not to leak breast milk on my work clothes. My husband was unhelpful with the children. Childless people found my travails boring and embarrassing. I’d never thought being a woman mattered much, but suddenly it seemed to. I was miserable, and perfecting the oatmeal made me feel better.

Kristin Lavransdatter, which unfolds over the course of three volumes—The WreathThe Wife, and The Cross—is a woman’s story. It’s also a gripping read and an impressive feat of historical re-creation, which helped Undset win the 1928 Nobel Prize in Literature. The epic’s structural and textual allusions are so numerous that, as the professor Sherrill Harbison dryly remarks in her introduction to The Cross, they “show no signs of being exhausted by scholars.” (She also—correctly, I feel—thinks the book is overlooked.) When writing Kristin Lavransdatter, Undset drew from sagas, ballads, Scandinavian oral tradition, and medieval texts of all types, notably the allegory Le roman de la rose, to tell the tale of a woman in the early fourteenth century, a time when society was changing for women, who takes her newish right to consent to her own marriage a step further and demands her own choice of husband. Not accidentally, Undset was writing in the 1920s, another time of rapid social change.

. . . .

The story follows Kristin, daughter of Lavrans, from childhood to death. Lavrans is a salt-of-the-earth Norwegian, “a strong and courageous man, but a peaceful soul, honest and calm, humble in conduct but courtly in bearing, a remarkably capable farmer and a great hunter.” As the treasured offspring of this strong and good man, Kristin is herself strong and good, and destined to carry on her family’s legacy of virtue. But in the book’s first section, Lavrans takes her up to the mountain pastures with a handful of children and servants to see to some land-management tasks. The group eats lunch outdoors amid the dazzling mountain views—“soft bread and thin lefse, butter and cheese, pork and wind-dried reindeer meat, lard, boiled beef brisket, two large kegs of German ale, and a small jug of mead.” Lavrans gives Kristin “all the ale she could drink, along with frequent sips of mead” and says: “God’s gifts will do you good, not harm, all you who are still growing. The ale will give you sweet red blood and make you sleep well.” The whole party falls asleep in the midday sunshine. Kristin, unaccustomed to drinking, wakes up with a headache and a dry mouth and accidentally wanders off down the wooded slope, where she is first captivated by her reflection in a stream and then sees an apparition, a woman with “a pale face,” “flowing, flaxen hair,” and “full breasts,” which are “covered with brooches and gleaming necklaces.” Kristin flees in terror, but the damage has been done.

The woman is an elf maiden. In Norwegian folklore, Harbison writes, the elf maiden represents “abduction and erotic abandon; her mischief is to lure young girls into the mountain for orgies with the mountain king.” Later, it will be Kristin’s fate to defy the counsel of her wise and good father, the values of her community, and the expectations of her religion, and reject an eminently appropriate betrothed, Simon Darre, for a different man, Erlend Nikulausson, with whom she falls in wild, besotted, sexual love. The reflection in the water is a reference to the myth of Narcissus, an inspiration for Le roman de la rose, which is about a dreamer who falls in love with a beautiful rose at the bottom of a pool but is eventually persuaded to make the more “responsible” choice: to marry a woman and reproduce. Throughout the entirety of Kristin Lavransdatter, the title character struggles with her decision to choose Erlend, herself, and her passion over her community’s values—which are also, with anguish, her own values. The motifs of Narcissus, the elf maiden, and the mountain king continue to appear.

. . . .

Familiarity with the source material invaluably deepens one’s appreciation of the book’s themes, making Harbison’s introduction to The Cross required reading. She explains that even the idea of romantic love the way Kristin experiences it was relatively new in the fourteenth century. Romantic, or courtly, love was “invented by poets in France in the twelfth century” and represented an advance in the status of women, because suddenly they were deemed worthy of inspiring heights of passion. (Prior to this, sex with women was considered a troublesome and low occupation that kept men from their real work.) Courtly love, though, wasn’t quite the same as how we view romance today—it claimed the highest status for doomed, forbidden, secret passions, usually between people who were married, but not to each other. The beautiful, unattainable rose at the bottom of the pool in Le roman de la rose is evocative of this kind of love. In an echo of its symbolism, Kristin and Erlend’s first outing together is in a rose garden.

. . . .

Everywhere there was food in medieval Norway, there was drink, and often many kinds on the same table—wines and meads, ales strong and weak. The ensuing drunkenness is another aspect of the books’ harsh realism and another example of the dual nature of God’s gifts. My spirits consultant, Hank Zona, found me not just meads but a mead trend, which serendipitously reflects both Kristin Lavransdatter’s pagan Catholic spirituality and some of our more modern struggles to live virtuously and situate ourselves in our wider human community. First, I spoke to a home mead maker named Eileen Coles, whom I met through the Norwegian immigrant community in Brooklyn. Coles brews mead as a sacred beverage in the Heathen tradition. (Heathen is a designation for the pre-Christian Scandinavian and Northern European religion.) Coles noted that mead is found worldwide, “wherever one would find beehives, in places as far-flung as India, Ethiopia, and China,” but that it and beer are more prevalent in Northern Europe because of the climate. Since grapes don’t grow well in the cold, “people made do with what was available—grains, herbs, and honey.”

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

A New Brain Implant Translates Thoughts of Writing Into Text

From Wired:

ELON MUSK’S NEURALINK has been making waves on the technology side of neural implants, but it hasn’t yet shown how we might actually use implants. For now, demonstrating the promise of implants remains in the hands of the academic community.

This week, that community provided a rather impressive example of the promise of neural implants. Using an implant, a paralyzed individual managed to type out roughly 90 characters per minute simply by imagining that he was writing those characters out by hand.

Previous attempts at providing typing capabilities to paralyzed people via implants have involved giving subjects a virtual keyboard and letting them maneuver a cursor with their mind. The process is effective but slow, and it requires the user’s full attention, as the subject has to track the progress of the cursor and determine when to perform the equivalent of a key press. It also requires the user to spend the time to learn how to control the system.

But there are other possible routes to getting characters out of the brain and onto the page. Somewhere in our writing thought process, we form the intention of using a specific character, and using an implant to track this intention could potentially work. Unfortunately, the process is not especially well understood.

Downstream of that intention, a decision is transmitted to the motor cortex, where it’s translated into actions. Again, there’s an intent stage, where the motor cortex determines it will form the letter (by typing or writing, for example), which is then translated into the specific muscle motions required to perform the action. These processes are much better understood, and they’re what the research team targeted for their new work.

Specifically, the researchers placed two implants in the premotor cortex of a paralyzed person. This area is thought to be involved in forming the intentions to perform movements. Catching these intentions is much more likely to produce a clear signal than catching the movements themselves, which are likely to be complex (any movement involves multiple muscles) and depend on context (where your hand is relative to the page you’re writing on, etc.).

With the implants in the right place, the researchers asked the participant to imagine writing letters on a page and recorded the neural activity as he did so.

Altogether, there were roughly 200 electrodes in the participant’s premotor cortex. Not all of them were informative for letter-writing. But for those that were, the authors performed a principal component analysis, which identified the features of the neural recordings that differed the most when various letters were imagined. Converting these recordings into a two-dimensional plot, it was obvious that the activity seen when writing a single character always clustered together. And physically similar characters—p and b, for example, or h, n, and r—formed clusters near each other.

(The researchers also asked the participant to do punctuation marks such as a comma and question mark and used a > to indicate a space and a tilde for a period.)

Overall, the researchers found they could decipher the appropriate character with an accuracy of a bit over 94 percent, but the system required a relatively slow analysis after the neural data was recorded. To get things working in real time, the researchers trained a recurrent neural network to estimate the probability of a signal corresponding to each letter.

Despite working with a relatively small amount of data (only 242 sentences’ worth of characters), the system worked remarkably well. The lag between the thought and a character appearing on screen was about half a second, and the participant was able to produce about 90 characters per minute, easily topping the previous record for implant-driven typing, which was about 25 characters per minute. The raw error rate was about 5 percent, and applying a system like a typing autocorrect could drop the error rate down to 1 percent.

Link to the rest at Wired

PG didn’t notice any mention of a Grammarly implant in the OP, however.

Hilariously Bad Book Covers: L. M. Montgomery Edition

From the Tea and Ink Society:

Apparently, there’s a plethora of people who try to cash in on the popularity of classic novels–and the fact that these classics are in the public domain–by slapping together their own edition with a cheesy cover.

As I sifted through my findings of awful book covers, I realised I have so many of Anne of Green Gables alone, that today’s post will be dedicated to cringe-worthy Anne of Green Gables book covers. I’ve included some other L. M. Montgomery book covers, too.

Rest assured, I love Montgomery’s novels, and thus these terrible covers are practically a crime. But they’re funny too because they are so far off the mark. See what I mean…

Link to the rest at Tea and Ink Society

Note the spelling of Anne’s name on the following cover.

Unapologetic Characterization

From Writer Unboxed:

“I’m sorry.”

These two words are like a thick blanket someone will toss over whatever unknown coals might be scorching a valued relationship. The words do not acknowledge the harm that was done—they simply allow the wrongdoer to avoid looking at his or her behavior so the relationship can move on unchanged.

Unchanged? Hmm, that doesn’t sound like good story, does it.

Even so, a character’s blanket apology is a dialogue default I’ve noticed repeatedly over my years of reading client manuscripts. I’ve been thinking about it more since bingeing on 13 seasons of Heartland last December. For me, the Canadian accent (“I’m SOH-ree”) drew attention to how many times per episode it was used. (This is the one and only thing I will criticize about this show, so don’t start with me, because I’ll fight back and I will not apologize!).

If the longest-running one-hour drama in Canadian history can get away with blanket apology, why do the words “I’m sorry” bother me as a reader—especially when I’m a fan of their lavish use in everyday life?  It’s because in many cases, they gloss over the real, relatable, and often gritty conflicts the author has strived to build into their story. Yes, we humans must still get along even after hurting one another, or when differing goals or ideologies create chasms between us. But if your characters truly believe they are doing the right thing, should we yank the rug from beneath their empowerment by having them apologize for what they said or did? If they really meant to take the action but feel bad that the other person had to suffer for it, are they really sorry for this?

Let’s say your character is frustrated as to why her children are suffering an ongoing illness of unknown origin. Meanwhile, she discovers that the factory where she works has been covering up flagrant EPA violations. She turns in her findings. She is certainly sorry it has come to this, as it will impact not only her work environment, which is about to turn hostile, but has personally impacted her next-door neighbor, the plant manager who mentored her and who refuses to answer her questions about his children’s health. In the resulting financial restructuring, he’s been laid off, requiring him to sell his home and move his kids to a less desirable school district. Is she really sorry that he has to pay a steep personal price for turning a blind eye toward his company’s practices for so long, if the pollutants have been making her own children sick—and perhaps his as well?

There are consequences for inaction and there are consequences for action—these are your story’s stakes, that you’ve foreshadowed since the beginning of the novel—and in this example, it seems the whistleblower’s “I’m sorry” would feel like back-pedaling. Your character must engage with the stakes or the energy of your story will drain away.

Her inner conflict might be better shown by having her standing in her driveway, hugging her kids to her as they wave goodbye to their friends, as the father—her mentor—averts his eyes. A tear rolling down her face might say more about the situation’s emotional complexity, which will feel more powerful and true than any apology. (One might even argue that he’s the one whose actions beg an apology, but if you’ve written the story right, he’s had good reasons for doing what he’s done.)

Skipping the apology can be hard for some of us women to pull off. A dad might chastise his son for fighting in school while turning away to hide a proud smile—but when his daughter is caught in a dustup, he’ll demand she apologize because girls shouldn’t act that way. In her May 3 newsletter, Whole30 co-founder Melissa Urban wrote:

It’s been ingrained in women, especially in moms, that we have to apologize for everything. Saying no at work, not taking on every extra household or child-related task, even just existing makes us feel like we need to apologize.

Urban’s words brought to mind a visual from an essay I’d read long ago in O, The Oprah Magazine, written by a woman who was taking Tae Kwon Do for self-defense. She described herself in an aggressive stance, wearing her stiff white uniform, yelling “kee-yahp” as she practiced the kinds of punches that could disable an attacker. Afterwards, the instructor said to her, “You know you don’t have to smile while you’re throwing punches.”

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Dinted dimpled wimpled

Dinted dimpled wimpled-his mind wandered down echoing corridors of assonance and alliteration ever further and further from the point. He was enamoured with the beauty of words.

Aldous Huxley

The Power of Quirky-Smirky Assonance and Alluring Alliteration

From Writers in the Storm:

The rhyming vowel sounds of assonance aren’t always quirky-smirky. But I wanted to grab your attention. It must have worked. You’re here!

Assonance:

Rhyming vowel sounds are as cool as a school of dolphins.

As smart as a cart full of bestselling authors.

As right as your brightest writing.

I’m having fun with you all. Hope this style made you smile.

Assonance and alliteration can carry a subtle power or an in-your-face power. We’ll do a deep dive into both.

Alliteration and Assonance:

You all may know alliteration and assonance, but do you choose to use, or do those rhetorical devices fall on the page on their own?

Alliteration and assonance support the soundtrack for our words. They can be serious or silly, whimsical or witty.

Hmm… Notice the last six words and where they’re placed in that sentence.

…serious or silly

…whimsical or witty

Deep Edit Analysis: 

           Structural parallelism

          The number of beats matches – 3, 1, 2, and 3, 1, 2

Double Alliteration – s, s, w, w

          Assonance – silly, witty

The first sentence has double alliteration too — a, a, s, s.

And the paragraph sounds cool. Right?

Wrong. Almost right.

Read it out loud:

Alliteration and assonance support the soundtrack for our words. They can be serious or silly, whimsical or witty.

I hear the beats in a missing third sentence.

How about:

Alliteration and assonance support the soundtrack for our words. They can be serious or silly, whimsical or witty. But only if you write them well.

Just a little teachy-preachy. 

Ha! I could become an assonance addict. But that sentence carried a truth.

Which segues into two important teaching points.

Alliteration and assonance are cool writing tools, but beware:

1. You could overuse, but I’m betting you wouldn’t. I’ve never seen them overused.

2. The words you choose must be the right fit. They need to fit the scene, fit the character, fit the style.

Did you notice I just used the rhetorical devices anaphora (Triple Beginnings) and asyndeton (The No And)?

Why use rhetorical devices like alliteration and assonance and others?

  • Add power.
  • Set the mood.
  • Enhance your voice.
  • Provide a stylistic boost.
  • Treat the reader, provide an uplift.
  • Help you stand out in a talented way.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

(Writing) Each Book Is A Different Story

From Women Writers Women’s Books:

I have written three novels over twelve years: one which got me an agent (as yet unpublished); my debut Paris Mon Amour (2016) and my new novel, Scent.  Each has been a unique experience and part of a learning curve which will never end. I now work with other writers on their manuscripts and in a world where ‘writing tips’ abound (often more anxiety-inducing than constructive), the only thing that matters is what works for you.

For most writers, that’s an ongoing process which develops with each project, just as our real lives do in the background (don’t get me started on that). An open mind and willingness to try new things are traits you’d hope for in a creative writer and they’re as important to process as any other aspect of storytelling.

It’s a weird and wonderful thought that some people are reading Paris Mon Amour and Scent almost back-to-back when they were published five years apart (PMA has just been reissued). Both are set in France and occupy my home territory of midlife and female sexuality but the way the two novels emerged was different.  Some of that was inevitable, some deliberate, as I experimented with new ways to deliver my vision for Scent and (less pretentiously) to make my job easier. 

Long story short: some of my old habits didn’t need changing after all.  Some of my new approaches worked, some didn’t.  These were the biggest revelations:  

First draft – words mount up whether you count them or not

I enjoy every phase of writing novels apart from first drafts. I love having something to work with, develop and improve but generating it in the first place is a real challenge especially as I’m not a fast or wordy writer. With PMA, I set myself a weekly target of 3,500 words to produce a first draft in six months. Many writers do find wordcount goals motivating but for me it made the whole thing feel like a chore. Sure, it’s nice to see the numbers creeping up, but as I discovered when I took a different tack with Scent, that happens anyway if you keep showing up.  Instead of setting myself word count targets, I sat down to write for two hours at a time. Things progressed at the same rate but I enjoyed it so much more.

To edit or not to edit as you go

With my debut I felt I wasted a lot of time re-reading and polishing the text even in the early stages – we all know how much a manuscript changes from first to final draft. But when I stopped doing this, I lost my connection with the characters and the belief that Scent would ever amount to something worth reading. Far from being a pointless waste of time, I realised that editing as I go along is an integral part of my writing process.  Trying new methods and deciding the old ones actually serve you is also a valuable outcome. 

Re-type draft

My most dramatic experiment, both in terms of results and the horror and disbelief it inspired in other people!  I got the idea at a workshop led by Andrew Wille just after receiving constructive and helpful feedback on the first draft of Scent from my agent and closest writing partner. The latter’s observation that the novel wasn’t, as I’d been thinking, about a failing marriage but a love story between two women instantly made me see it in a different light.  Retyping the entire 90K word draft (from scratch not from memory) to capture this new slant was the most exciting and transformative thing I’ve done as a writer. Now I can’t imagine writing a novel without this step – my post about it is one of the most viewed on my Literary Sofa blog.

Link to the rest at Women Writers Women’s Books

University staff urge probe into e-book pricing ‘scandal’

From BBC News:

More than 2,500 UK university staff have called for an investigation into the “scandal” of excessive pricing of academic e-books.

“Price rises are common, sudden and appear arbitrary” with some digital books increasing by 200%, they say in a letter to Education Committee MPs.

Organiser Johanna Anderson said some e-texts can cost 10 times print copies, with taxpayers and students the losers.

Publishers say the costs are due to the different formats and shared-use.

But Ms Anderson said the situation had become so financially serious for university libraries that it was time for MPs and competition authorities to hold publishers to account.

She cited the example of an economics book that costs £44 for a print copy but is £423 for a single e-book user and £500 for three users. An employment law book costs £50 for a hard copy, but is £1,600 for three users of the digital version.

In another case, a book on working in childcare is listed at £30 for a hard copy but online costs £1,045 for unlimited access for a year. “There are many, many more examples,” Ms Anderson said.

‘Learning suffers’

Prices have been rising for some time, but the University of Gloucestershire librarian said there were reports of increases during lockdown, when access to libraries and bookshops was restricted and getting course material difficult.

“It’s a scandal. It’s public money,” she said. “Students are shocked when I tell them just how much it costs to get them their texts.

“People just assume we can get books for the prices they see on Amazon and Kindle. It just doesn’t work like that for universities.

“The academic publishing business model is broken, and as you can see from the number of people who have signed the letter we think it is time for an investigation,” she said.

Lectures are increasingly having to be designed around what texts are available and affordable, not what is best for learning, Ms Anderson said.

Buying multiple copies of print books is not the answer and simply not practical in the digital age when so much is moving online, she added.

. . . .

Licensing, copyright, book-buying “middlemen” and a trend for publishers to “bundle up” access to books into one expensive package all play a role in what texts are available and at what cost. “In some cases, it’s like having to buy the whole of Waterstones to get access to a couple of books,” Ms Anderson said.

Librarians, lecturers, researchers and other representatives from almost every university in the UK have attached their names to the letter. It says:

  • A monopoly created by copyright law is the root cause of “these huge pricing differentials” and there is no justification for it
  • Earlier this year at least two well-known academic publishers raised the cost for a single-user e-book by 200% with no warning
  • Licences of e-books are often confusing and frequently restrictive
  • Publishers can withdraw e-book licences previously purchased by universities and enforce new ones.

Link to the rest at BBC News

PG notes The Bookseller had a similar story about librarians being upset at ebook pricing, but it was behind a paywall.

PG suggests that, especially for introductory classes, it’s foolish for colleges and their professors to have students purchase textbooks. A professor or group of professors can get together and select a set of materials that are either not subject to copyright or for which the author can provide permission to copy for academic purposes, have the campus bookstore or a local copy shop create copies and bind them at a low price. Student employees could handle the entire process.

Is Introduction to American Literature going to change from year to year? How about Biology 101? Introduction to Sociology? As PG has mentioned before, once he learned how little these books changed from year to year, he switched to used textbooks on an almost exclusive basis.

It’s a waste of money to have students purchase books from a commercial publisher which adds no or little value to the basics of the course.

At annual meetings of various groups of college professors, a general exchange of materials in digital form could take place. Or whatever association to which everyone belongs could host materials on a website available to its members for download.

Within a year or two, with professors fact-checking and correcting such publications, the academic publishers would withdraw with a huff or two.

Is Academic Research Too Hard To Read? The Academics Say Yes

From Publishing Perspectives:

It’s hard to think of a time in recent memory when so many have questioned so much scientific research. Almost any guidance from public health scientists today triggers questions and challenges from citizens exhausted by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. People who don’t know an mRNA vaccine from a shot of vodka are in researchers’ faces, while government health services are continually assailed for changing the protocols and contradicting their own precautions.

So it’s an interesting time, then, for the United Kingdom’s Emerald Publishing—a scholarly publisher working in health care and other fields—to have issued today (May 11) the results of a survey looking at researchers’ views of how academic research is currently presented and what it might take to boost its usability.

A total 1,500 academics in an international pool drawn from more than 100 countries were queried for this study, which is of importance to both researchers themselves, of course, and to consumers of research literature.

The researchers, needless to say, want their work to be accessible as well as discoverable.
Users—as those COVID-weary mask-wearers demonstrate—want science to produce its best work in an intelligible way.
“Overall,” according to Emerald’s spokespeople today in their media messaging on the topic, “the key insight from this research is that there’s a strong desire from the academic community to change the way research is presented to make it more useable in a post-COVID world.”

Does this mean, then, that the scientific community is now better at perceiving how their often critical work can be missed or misunderstood (or even purposefully mangled by political operatives) in time of crisis?

Sally Wilson, who heads up publishing at Emerald, says, “The pandemic has clearly accelerated the desire for research to make a difference and solve big, real world problems,” she says, “and has highlighted once again that academia’s culture and incentive structures need re-imagining.

“As publishers, we have a clear role to play working with other scholarly stakeholders, including funders, member organizations and higher education institutions, to highlight the barriers created by academia’s current incentive structures.”

Those incentives, she says, “value the publication of the traditional research article in ‘impact factor’ journals over the research output and content formats that move us beyond the article.

“While other content formats are not new and have been used by researchers to complement the journal article or book chapter, it’s still not as common in the less well-funded social sciences. We need to do our part in re-imagining content forms that appeal to the next generation of learners as well as those outside of academia.”

. . . .

  • Three in five academics say they believe research is difficult to use outside of academia
  • Some 45 percent of academics questioned say they agree that research papers are too long and 57 percent say they feel that research summaries could help to more effectively present findings to decision-makers outside of academia
  • An impressive 64 percent of academics surveyed say they believe there needs to be greater focus on real world experiences and “bringing the outside world in” more to improve the learning experience from academic research
  • An equally impressive 64 percent of academics asked say they believe that content forms such as videos, podcasts, and infographics could help when presenting research

. . . .

It turns out that only 30 percent of students generally read a full research article, the new study tells us, and 32 percent of those students say they’d like to see some videos, podcasts, and/or infographics used in presenting research to them.

. . . .

When looked at by geographical region, researchers in North America seem to have been the most put out with how research is currently presented, 33 percent saying it’s “very difficult” and 47 percent saying it’s “difficult” to use outside of  academia. But nowhere was anyone very happy with how research is put forward, with fewer than one in five respondents saying they think that presentation of research material is “easy” or “very easy” to be used outside the academy.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes that what can be said about academic publishing in general also applies to academic publishing by legal scholars.

He doubts that traditional academic or scientific publishers are likely candidates to lead any sort of accessibility revolution. The reason is very simple – academic publishing is a very profitable business if you do it properly.

Large academic publishing conglomerates, Routledge, Springer, Elsevier, etc., etc. make very large sums of money from a wide range of obscure-sounding titles.

Here’s a list of some of Elsevier’s big-sellers:

  1. The Lancet
  2. The Cell
  3. Journal of the American College of Cardiology
  4. Biomaterials
  5. Neuroimage

The Lancet publishes dozens of journals, including:

  • The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology
  • The Lancet Digital Health
  • The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology
  • The Lancet Global Health
  • The Lancet Haematology
  • The Lancet Healthy Longevity
  • The Lancet HIV
  • The Lancet Infectious Diseases
  • The Lancet Microbe
  • The Lancet Healthy Longevity
  • The Lancet Neurology
  • The Lancet Oncology
  • The Lancet Planetary Health
  • The Lancet Psychiatry
  • The Lancet Public Health
  • The Lancet Respiratory Medicine

An annual subscription to The Lancet costs £181.00 GBP + applicable taxes.

An annual subscription to one of the sub-journals, The Lancet Infectious Diseases, costs £150.00 GBP + applicable taxes.

Academics and scientists provide their work to The Lancet at no charge. Indeed, there is quite a competition to be published in this and other publications because of the publish or perish mandate common to a great many institutions of higher learning and some learned professions.

The Lancet’s publications are, to the best of PG’s knowledge, all peer-reviewed which means that the most costly expert content review and resultant editing is, effectively free to the publisher.

PG suspects that The Lancet has some sort of computer cite-checking program to make certain that this element of its publications is without error. (Cite-checking/cite-correction programs have been common in the legal world for a very long time.)

All academic/scientific libraries will have to subscribe to Lancet publications almost regardless of price. Ditto for teaching hospitals.

PG suggests that publishing an academic/scientific journal is a very enjoyable and profitable venture once a publication is established (The first issue of The Lancet appearaed in 1823).

And The Lancet is hardly alone. There are dozens and dozens of similar publications.

Colombia’s pandemic-driven online book sales boom

From The New Publishing Standard:

Chile-based online bookstore Buscalibre saw a 196% increase in sales in 2020, rising from 270,000 to over 800,000 units shifted, as lockdown closed bricks & mortar bookstores.

Three months after the pandemic began, reported La Republica,

Penguin Random House registered an increase in the sales of the book El amor en los tiempo del cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez, in physical and digital version, growing 183% in Spanish and 621% in English.

Of course that does not mean the English-language version outsold the Spanish version by three to one (percentages in the book trade are never that straight forward), but it is indicative of the boom in online sales experienced by the twelve year old company, now also operating in Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Spain and the USA. Juan José Daza, Buscalibre country manager for Colombia, Mexico and Peru, told La Republica that sales in Colombia are expected to be up 20%, from 100,000 to 120,000 units per month.

While the Colombian Book Chamber reported an overall fall of 30% in book sales last year as regular book channels were locked down, 15 regional book fairs that normally pull in large in-person crowds went virtual.

Colombia’s flagship Fil Bogota event was the first major pandemic-induced book fair cancellation of 2020 in Latin America, as early as March. In 2019 Fil Bogota, or FilBo, attracted over 600,000 visitors.

But between July and November the Colombia book trade got its act together and the virtual book fairs pulled in a total of 2.1 million visitors.

No word on how many sales that may have driven, but the shift to online consumer engagement with books is clear, leaving the big question how much that might be reversed as the pandemic’s impact subsides.

Some are optimistic. Take Esteban Restrepo, Natalia Osorio and Alejandro Rubiano, co-founders of the “new” (2019) Colombian online bookstore Bukz, which from a user base of currently 8,000 expects to shift 50,000 books before the end of this year, and is targeting annual sales of 250,000 valued at US$2.7 million by 2025.

. . . .

Digital books have also shown growth, of course, but estimates are they still represent only around 5% of the Colombia book market right now.

Does that mean print is still king? Of course, but what really matters is how consumers will respond as more and more digital options become available and the print and digital choices are comparable. Those 2.1 million online book fair visitors, and the boom in online sales of print books, make clear Colombians are comfortable shopping online.

All it needs now is a serious digital books player to enter the market, but right now there’s no Kindle store here, Apple and Kobo are only notionally present, and local players struggle to find adequate content at appropriate prices.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Why Bookshop.org is not the saviour the book world needs

From NewStatesman:

When Bookshop.org arrived in the UK on 2 November [2020], the announcement was met by a huge amount of public enthusiasm from bookshops, publishers, authors, literary critics and readers alike. “This is revolutionary”, read a Guardian headline, while authors including Margaret Atwood, Richard Osman and Caitlin Moran directed their Twitter followers to purchase their latest books from the site. For many, it was a welcome initiative – finally, it seemed, here was an efficient, competitively priced platform dedicated to supporting independent bookshops.

But a number of high street booksellers and independent publishers are increasingly sceptical of Bookshop.org. “What sticks in the throat is that it seems not remotely to be what it purports to be,” said James Daunt, founder of the independent book chain Daunt Books and managing director of high street bookseller Waterstones. “But they do just enough for it to appear credible and it’s a really nice story: who doesn’t love an anti-Amazon story?”

Tamsin Rosewell, a bookseller at Kenilworth Books, Warwickshire, said Bookshop.org “crashed in like a juggernaut, and seems to be attempting to homogenise all indie bookshops into one online presence”. Its launch, she said, was “arrogant and clumsy”.

Bookshop.org, which launched in the US in early 2020, is “an online bookshop with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops”, its website states.

. . . .

Bookshop.org works by enabling independent bookshops to create their own virtual shopfronts on their site. Bookshops receive 30 per cent of a book’s cover price for each sale made through their shopfront. If a customer buys a book without going through a specific shop, 10 per cent of that book’s cover price is put into a central pot split among all participating shops. The books are sourced and shipped by Gardners, the UK’s largest book wholesaler. Titles are offered at a small discount – 7 per cent, typically still more expensive than Amazon – and are delivered within two to three days.

. . . .

But Bookshop.org’s arrival has caused great unease in parts of the book trade. After a difficult year for the industry, with many small presses and independent shops at risk of closure due to the pressures of the pandemic, many told me Bookshop.org is far from the saviour they need. Bookshops earn less through sales on Bookshop.org than they would from selling their books direct to customers, and booksellers fear the site, rather than competing with Amazon, is diverting shoppers away from the high street.

. . . .

First, the finances. One independent bookseller, who asked not to be named, told me: “We’re losing out substantially.” For every book sold via Bookshop.org, they explained, their shop makes 13-20 per cent less than if the customer had bought the same book, at the same cover price directly from the shop. “Bookshops would usually take between 43 and 50 per cent on a book,” they said. The 30 per cent an independent shop receives from each Bookshop.org sale has been described widely as a “full profit margin”. This, the website’s CEO, Andy Hunter, explained, is the money left after the 7 per cent customer discount, payments to the publisher, wholesaler and payment processor, and the 4 per cent Bookshop.org takes. But the anonymous bookseller claimed the phrase is “misleading”.

Jules Button, owner of Woodbridge Emporium bookshop in Suffolk, agrees. She said customers had ordered books from Bookshop.org thinking they were buying direct from her, unknowingly leaving Woodbridge Emporium to miss out on 13-20 per cent of the takings. “The general public genuinely think they are helping independent bookshops,” said Button. “I don’t think a lot of them realise it’s just another big warehouse and it’s a fulfilment service.”

The numbers don’t work in favour of publishers either. The publishing director of a small independent press, who asked to remain anonymous, told me that when Bookshop.org launched, they felt under pressure from the wider industry to open a page on the site because it seemed every other shop and publisher was – they didn’t want to be left behind. Amazon buys the publisher’s books at 40 per cent of the cover price. But to sell books via Bookshop.org the publisher must go via wholesaler Gardners, with which it already has an agreement of a 55 per cent discount, alongside extra costs like commissions to sales representatives and distribution fees. The director said that, with all these costs included, they sell books to Bookshop.org at around 35 per cent of the cover price: for every book sold on Bookshop.org, they earn 5 per cent less than if they had sold that book on Amazon, the very company Bookshop.org claims to be “fairer” than.

These concerns are keenly felt in a letter sent by a bookseller, drawing on “messages from fellow booksellers”, to industry trade group the Booksellers Association (BA). The letter, seen by the New Statesman, calls Bookshop.org’s launch marketing “aggressive”, describes the “discontent” among booksellers and publishers as growing “increasingly bitter”, and outlines a list of queries about the running of Bookshop.org, questioning the BA’s “very fast” and “forceful” endorsement of the site.

The biggest fear among those I spoke to is that Bookshop.org is not denting Amazon’s sales, but that it is instead attracting customers who usually shop on the high street – whether at a chain such as Waterstones, Blackwells or Foyles, or at an independent.

“My feeling is they’re preaching to the converted,” said author and artist Karin Celestine. She said that when she posted news of her latest book on social media, encouraging potential readers to buy it via their local bookshop, she was met with a flurry of support instead for Bookshop.org – from “people who were already shopping at their local bookshops”.

“To be comfortable about what Bookshop.org is doing,” Tamsin Rosewell said, “and the way it is marketing itself as an ethical alternative to Amazon, I’d like to see detailed, unambiguous data that shows it creating a movement of sales away from Amazon. If it can’t show that data, then in effect all it is doing is driving online many of the sales that would have come to the high street, to indies and to Waterstones, at a time when the high street economy most needs that trade.”

Link to the rest at NewStatesman

PG notes that Bookshop.org, despite the non-profit .org extension, is effectively a front for Ingram in the United States, where Bookshop.org started.

Ingram is a huge printer/book fulfillment organization that is very dedicated to earning a lot of money for its owners. The address to which patrons of Bookshop.org return any books for a refund (at least in the US) is Bookshop LLC, Ingram Customer Returns Center, 1210 Ingram Drive, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

Ingram is a large privately-held corporation (no public disclosures about the business are required) whose announced managers tend to be named Ingram and regularly show up on lists of US billionaires. The company has two major lines of business, Ingram Content, which is the book side of the business, and Ingram Marine, which operates 5,000 barges and 150 towboats on America’s inland waterways.

PG tends to think of Ingram as Barges and Books.

Linking up with Gardners, the UK’s largest book wholesaler, would be natural for Ingram because the two companies already know each other well.

The entire business plan of Bookshop.org is to be the anti-Amazon. The marketing messages position Bookshop.org as the online face of your charming local bookshop owner. However, as the OP discloses, Bookshop.org is more about Ingram and Gardners than about anyone’s local bookstore.

Bookshop.org urges industry to back indies with links in Independent Bookshop Week

From The Bookseller:

Online indie retailer Bookshop.org is calling for publishers and authors to link to independent bookshops and its own site for the duration of Independent Bookshop Week (IBW).

Running from 19th to 26th June and sponsored by Hachette UK, IBW is an annual celebration of independent bookshops run by the Booksellers Association. It seeks to highlight and support the bookselling community and is part of the Books are My Bag Campaign.

Bookshop.org provides booksellers on the platform with two revenue streams, including 30% commission earned on sales that come through the store’s links, book lists or shop page, and a 10% cut on all other sales on the platform. The company is planning to increase this second shared pool, which is divided equally among all participating bookshops, to 20% for the duration of IBW.

The platform hopes this will encourage non-bookshop affiliates of all types to take the pledge and add at least one link to all their social media posts including Bookshop.org or indie bookshops directly.

Jasper Sutcliffe, publisher and affiliate manager at Bookshop UK, said: “During Independent Bookshop Week, we are keen to show our support for indies even more. Not only will our initiative allow independent booksellers to increase their revenue during the week, but we’re also hoping to raise awareness on the issue of book links. When a publisher or an author connects a reader to Bookshop.org, Blackwell’s or another independent bookshop, a link becomes more than a link. It supports the cultural ecosystem and ensures online purchases support independent bookshops. Our hope is that the publishing industry will pledge to link to indies and Bookshop.org for the whole of IBW, and beyond.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Bookstagrammers Demand Publishers Pay Up

From Book and Film Globe:

Last month, The New York Times published a glowing story about BookTok, TikTok’s book community, and its impact on the publishing industry. If you’re not familiar, picture 10-second book trailers, and videos of women crying as they throw a copy of a tragic romance across the room. And it works—the Times piece reported that sales for one such tragic romance, Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, is currently selling about 10,000 copies per week, a nine-time increase from its best sales in 2012, when the novel won the Orange Prize.

“Many Barnes & Noble locations around the United States have set up BookTok tables displaying titles like ‘They Both Die at the End,’ ‘The Cruel Prince,’ ‘A Little Life’ and others that have gone viral,” wrote Elizabeth A. Harris. “There is no corresponding Instagram or Twitter table, however, because no other social media platform seems to move copies the way TikTok does.”

Bibliophiles on other social media platforms had a thorny response to that last bit. Bookstagrammers, which is what people who run book-focused Instagram accounts call themselves, spoke out the loudest.  “Don’t erase bookstagrammers and BIPOC literary creators because we’ve been here doing the work,” said one of my favorite bookstagrammers, @booksteahenny, in an Instagram story.

. . . .

Last month, The New York Times published a glowing story about BookTok, TikTok’s book community, and its impact on the publishing industry. If you’re not familiar, picture 10-second book trailers, and videos of women crying as they throw a copy of a tragic romance across the room. And it works—the Times piece reported that sales for one such tragic romance, Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, is currently selling about 10,000 copies per week, a nine-time increase from its best sales in 2012, when the novel won the Orange Prize.

“Many Barnes & Noble locations around the United States have set up BookTok tables displaying titles like ‘They Both Die at the End,’ ‘The Cruel Prince,’ ‘A Little Life’ and others that have gone viral,” wrote Elizabeth A. Harris. “There is no corresponding Instagram or Twitter table, however, because no other social media platform seems to move copies the way TikTok does.”

Bibliophiles on other social media platforms had a thorny response to that last bit. Bookstagrammers, which is what people who run book-focused Instagram accounts call themselves, spoke out the loudest.  “Don’t erase bookstagrammers and BIPOC literary creators because we’ve been here doing the work,” said one of my favorite bookstagrammers, @booksteahenny, in an Instagram story.

Link to the rest at Book and Film Globe

PG notes that you no longer need to be a traditionally-published author for publishers to profit by your work without paying you much.

What Does Book Publishing Stand For?

From The New Republic:

Seven years ago, when Amazon was in the midst of a contentious pricing battle with one of the country’s largest publishers, a group of famous authors banded together to make the case that publishing was a crucial industry for the nation’s cultural and intellectual life.

“Publishers provide venture capital for ideas,” the authors wrote. “They advance money to authors, giving them the time and freedom to write their books.… Thousands of times every year, publishers take a chance on unknown authors and advance them money solely on the basis of an idea. By assuming the risk, publishers expect—and receive—a financial return.” The letter was signed by a who’s who of American writers: Stephen King, Michael Chabon, Donna Tartt, Lee Child, Ron Chernow, Ann Patchett, and Robert Caro, among many others.

This is more or less the story that publishers have told about themselves for decades. Publishers take chances, they nurture talent, they’re constantly on the hunt not just for marketable books, but for ideas. The industry is, by extension, one of the most important protectors of speech in the country. It doesn’t matter what the idea is or who it comes from, as long as it’s bold and original.

Speaking to PEN America in 2018, then, Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy made the connection explicit, saying, “It is all the more important to reassert our core belief that free speech, the actual discussion and debate of ideas is … the right of every citizen in our society.… When it comes to the right of unfettered discourse we should not, we cannot, accept dissent-quashing tyranny from any side of the political spectrum.”

But even as Reidy was speaking those words, this story was already fraying. In the background was the backlash that followed Simon & Schuster’s brief, disastrous dalliance with Milo Yiannapoulos. In 2021, with staff revolts in response to Simon & Schuster’s signing of Mike Pence and Kellyanne Conway to multimillion-dollar deals—and general angst about publishing former Trump administration officials—the story has collapsed altogether. Publishers have lost their grand narrative, and it’s not clear what will replace it.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the defense proffered by Simon & Schuster’s current CEO, Jonathan Karp. “As a publisher in this polarized era, we have experienced outrage from both sides of the political divide and from different constituencies and groups,” Karp wrote in an email responding to an open letter signed by about 15 percent of the publisher’s staff protesting the Pence deal. “But we come to work each day to publish, not cancel, which is the most extreme decision a publisher can make, and one that runs counter to the very core of our mission to publish a diversity of voices and perspectives. We will, therefore, proceed in our publishing agreement with Vice President Mike Pence.”

It’s worth dwelling on the heart of Karp’s defense: “We come to publish, not to cancel.” Karp is using the word literally—many of his staffers and authors were calling on the publisher to cancel Pence’s book deal, which covers two books. But he is also shouting out a larger culture war driven by right-wingers who have no interest in protecting debate or speech. They are, moreover, actively attempting to limit it in many instances.

The use of “cancel” here is notable in that these types of culture-war defenses are the last refuge of those without a substantive case to be made. And, to be clear, there really isn’t one to be made in defense of either the Pence deal or the Conway one, which came to light earlier this week. In the case of Pence, Simon & Schuster has paid $4 million for two books that will likely be the usual dreck of presidential aspirants, while the author cravenly glosses over the fact that his former boss incited a riot that nearly killed him.

. . . .

What you have now is a confused situation in which all kinds of books are deemed not worthy of publication or circulation—often for very good reasons—but without much consistency or clarity. At the same time, publishers are desperately clinging to anything they can to justify continuing to do whatever they think is in their best interest financially. They are on increasingly shaky ground, however, as Karp’s “canceling” email suggests. The old lines about free speech don’t quite make sense anymore. New ones haven’t been concocted. So they are left with empty rhetoric that only shows that these publishers have long since abandoned their roots as plucky free-speech warriors championing Ulysses.

What is fascinating about this dynamic is that, morally speaking, the corporations have been outflanked by their employees. The moral vision laid out in the open letter to Simon & Schuster, for instance, is much clearer than the one provided by Karp, whether you agree with it or not. “By choosing to publish Mike Pence, Simon & Schuster is generating wealth for a central figure of a presidency that unequivocally advocated for racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Blackness, xenophobia, misogyny, ableism, islamophobia, antisemitism, and violence,” the letter reads. “This is not a difference of opinions; this is legitimizing bigotry.”

On one side, you have employees making the kind of value-based argument that publishers have been making for decades; on the other, you have an executive making dubious “cancel culture” arguments in service of the profit motive. This conflict only underscores the artificial nature of book publishing’s marketplace of ideas. As The Washington Post’s Ron Charles wrote earlier this week, “publishers have always made highly selective judgments about who they print and who they don’t,” a calculus that has historically heavily favored white men.

The disconnect between publishing’s rank and file and its leadership is cavernous at the moment. What you hear again and again, talking to staffers at Simon & Schuster and Norton, is the same thing you hear when talking to media professionals: They feel they are not being listened to and want more of a voice in decision-making. That may be more likely at W.W. Norton, which is employee-owned, than at Simon & Schuster, which is in the midst of a merger with Penguin Random House. In largely nonunionized publishing, winning that kind of influence will be difficult unless the wave of organizing we have seen in journalism spreads to book publishing.

Link to the rest at The New Republic

Stanzas Written in Dejection, Near Naples

The sun is warm, the sky is clear,
The waves are dancing fast and bright,
Blue isles and snowy mountains wear
The purple noon’s transparent might,
The breath of the moist earth is light,
Around its unexpanded buds;
Like many a voice of one delight,
The winds, the birds, the ocean floods,
The City’s voice itself, is soft like Solitude’s.

I see the Deep’s untrampled floor
With green and purple seaweeds strown;
I see the waves upon the shore,
Like light dissolved in star-showers, thrown:
I sit upon the sands alone,—
The lightning of the noontide ocean
Is flashing round me, and a tone
Arises from its measured motion,
How sweet! did any heart now share in my emotion.

Alas! I have nor hope nor health,
Nor peace within nor calm around,
Nor that content surpassing wealth
The sage in meditation found,
And walked with inward glory crowned—
Nor fame, nor power, nor love, nor leisure.
Others I see whom these surround—
Smiling they live, and call life pleasure;
To me that cup has been dealt in another measure.

Yet now despair itself is mild,
Even as the winds and waters are;
I could lie down like a tired child,
And weep away the life of care
Which I have borne and yet must bear,
Till death like sleep might steal on me,
And I might feel in the warm air
My cheek grow cold, and hear the sea
Breathe o’er my dying brain its last monotony.

Some might lament that I were cold,
As I, when this sweet day is gone,
Which my lost heart, too soon grown old,
Insults with this untimely moan;
They might lament—for I am one
Whom men love not,—and yet regret,
Unlike this day, which, when the sun
Shall on its stainless glory set,
Will linger, though enjoyed, like joy in memory yet.

 Percy Bysshe Shelley
Ponte de Tappia, Naples, About 1900, public domain, Wikimedia Commons
Basketmakers, Naples, 1906, Picryl, Public Domain
Picryl, Public Domain
Children in Naples, Italy. A group of little Italian boys pose. Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives, public domain

Mstyslav Chernov, 2008, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

An Epic Mother-Son Reunion in Italy

From Electric Lit:

There you were on my ancient doorstep, late, or early, unannounced, 
 in the thick black coat I bought you for Christmas. Of course, 
 you were on your way, but when would you arrive? As always, 
  
 no phone. Me, no extra-key or place to hide it, only two days into 
 my teaching abroad, Florence sodden, dark, full of shadows 
 and confusion. But you convinced the smoking college students 
  
 on the cobblestone street—who knew me as professor mom—
 to let you through the first two doors, and then you were at mine, 
 a one, two knock. Bearded, cold, smiling. It was February, and you’d 
  
 landed at Heathrow, taken a bus to the City of London airport. 
 Then the flight and travel path went something like Frankfurt 
 to Macedonia. Macedonia! You huddled on a frozen hill in the coat 
  
 and in a down sleeping bag. Then to a rickety communist era train 
 to Thessaloniki and on to Athens. Next a port town I can’t remember, 
 maybe Patras, and a night ferry to Ancona and another train 
  
 to Bologna and back to Florence until you found my building 
 with directions jotted on a ragged scrap of ferry napkin. Long ago, 
 you and I were alone together in the small house, your father student 
  
 teaching in another town, coming home on weekends. It was you 
 and me, day after day, me too young to mother properly, me 
 in charge of you, already smarter with a wicked baby smile. 
  
 But there we were in the dark mornings, the slog of the day. 
 We went to every free Wednesday at the merry-go-round, every 
 park. You and me together in the nighttime with fevers. Here, 
  
 in Florence, in the medieval building, in the odd apartment, you 
 and me again, planning meals of roasted eggplant and 
 brocolo romanesco, walking to the store pulling the cart 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

News Corp completes Houghton Mifflin Harcourt consumer division deal

From The Bookseller:

HarperCollins owner News Corp has completed its $349m (£252m) acquisition of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s consumer division.

The deal, first announced in March, sees the HMH Books & media business operated by HarperCollins in the US.

HMH Books & Media has a backlist of more than 7,000 titles and a significant frontlist in the lifestyle and children’s segments. Popular HMH Books & Media titles include 1984 and Animal Farm, Curious George, The Polar Express, Little Blue Truck and The Little Prince. The acquisition gives HarperCollins US rights to J R R Tolkien’s works, meaning the publisher now has global English language rights to titles like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Brian Murray, president and c.e.o. of HarperCollins, said: “We are happy to welcome HMH Books & Media employees, authors, and illustrators to the HarperCollins family. Uniting two publishing companies, each with more than 200 years of literary history, will be the focus of our combined teams. We look forward to new and exciting opportunities as we chart a stronger future together.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt issued a press release concerning the dumping of its commercial book business. An excerpt:

“This divestiture enables us to focus singularly on serving the large and growing K­­­–12 education market and simultaneously extend our impact on student achievement,” said Jack Lynch, President and CEO, HMH. “With a highly differentiated end-to-end technology platform underpinning our solutions, we are uniquely positioned to meet the need for purposeful digital learning and to enhance the value we provide to our customers—which include 90 percent of the nation’s schools—and create for our shareholders. Importantly, the transaction also enables us to transform our capital structure and create flexibility, as a result of our ability to pay down a significant portion of our debt.”

The sub-head of the press release read:

Establishes HMH as a pure-play K­­­–12 learning technology company

Link to the rest at HMH

PG suggests the subtext of the subhead would read something like, “Please, please, please give is a decent stock-market valuation now that we’ve dumped our boat anchor traditional trade-publishing business on someone else!”

School Libraries Are the Bedrocks of Freedom

From Publishers Weekly:

Do you remember getting your first library card and borrowing your first book? For many of us, it was a rite of passage guided by a human search engine—a librarian.

In school, that librarian did more than shush the loudmouths, straighten the stacks, and stamp our books. The school librarian helped with homework, taught us kids how to “look it up,” and opened pathways to critical thinking. Librarians fulfilled the vision of 25-year-old Benjamin Franklin, who established the Library Company, America’s first lending library, in Philadelphia in 1731. Initially a subscription library in which members paid a fee, the Library Company was “crowdsourced”—the first members pooled their own books to share with one another.

Franklin believed in keeping the membership fee low so that working people could afford to join. The idea caught on and spread through the colonies, making this cultural institution widely available. It became the forerunner of the public library, and when Philadelphia was the nation’s capital, the Library Company served as the Library of Congress.

Convinced that libraries cultivated the spirit of democracy, Franklin later noted, “These Libraries have improved the general Conversation of Americans, made the common Tradesmen and Farmers as intelligent as most Gentlemen from other Countries.” But he also believed that every school should have a dedicated library, because a democracy can only survive with educated citizens. According to the American Library Association, Franklin recommended in 1740 that the ideal academy should include a school library.

Today, however, public school libraries across the country are in crisis, as a Forbes article by Adam Rowe reported in 2018. According to Rowe, federal data shows that the U.S. “can’t afford librarians,” and that the ranks of librarians at school libraries have fallen sharply since 2000.

The pandemic has only worsened the crisis, even as the demand for information technology and remote learning has exploded. This has become an acute problem in the nation’s largest school system in New York City. Under state rules, every New York school is supposed to have a library and a librarian; they are not “extras.”

. . . .

But guess what? There are schools with no libraries. Others have “book rooms,” sometimes staffed by untrained teachers or parent volunteers. And in the pandemic crisis, school libraries will typically be first on the chopping block.

This is not about simply lending books. Librarians are highly trained information specialists who teach students about media literacy and primary sources. “School libraries are a nucleus of learning, and school librarians build a foundation for all learners,” writes Melissa Jacobs, director of Library Services for the New York City Department of Education/New York City School Library System.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG has nothing against librarians. Indeed, he worked as a low-grade librarian on a part-time basis to help put himself through college. [Low-grade = he found books in the bowels of a large library and re-boweled books that had been read (or partially read or copied from) and returned to the library.]

However, he wonders what Benjamin Franklin would have to say about at least some of today’s librarians (to the best of PG’s knowledge, Ben only spoke about libraries, not librarians).

How to Find Compelling Comps for Your Book

From Jane Friedman:

When you start querying agents about your book, very quickly you’ll discover their guidelines ask for “comps.” Comps stands for “comparable titles”: books that might be considered comparable to your own.

For many writers, coming up with comps is a daunting enterprise, but the important thing to remember is their key purpose: to show where your book would be shelved in a store or who your most likely readers are. Everyone from agents to publishing sales people to booksellers will have an easier time understanding what your book is like or who it’s for if a comparison can be made. “If you liked X, then you’ll like Y.” It also shows that you know something about the current marketplace and how your book fits in it.

On my quest to write the perfect query letter, I got stuck on what comps to use. I channeled my frustration into research. Here is what I learned from the experts.

Per Jane Friedman

  • If you can’t find any, you are probably looking for too similar of a comp. Look at aspects of a work that relate to yours: style/voice, themes, plot, or character quality/journey.
  • Focus your search on the last few years. You can go back up to ten years if absolutely necessary but if you do, pair the older comp with something more contemporary.
  • Try to find a comp that will show where you’re positioned in today’s literary landscape. If you were on a panel with other authors at a book festival, who would be seated next to you?

. . . .

Per Janet Reid (aka Query Shark)

  • Comps are a shorthand for where the book belongs on the shelf and/or what kind of reader will like the book.
  • What books, published in the last two years, appealed to readers who will like your book? “[TITLE] will appeal to readers of _______”
  • What books, published in the last two years, are similar in plot or tone to yours? “[TITLE] evokes the story of ______”
  • Describe what aspect of the book is comparable to yours: the tone, the multiple points of view, the style, et cetera.
  • Once there’s a movie, assume the book is not a good comp. Also assume this if the author has 20+ bestsellers. Ask: Is it a success or a phenomenon? If it’s a success, comp it!

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman.

Irregular Posting

PG will be a bit irregular in his postings for the next couple of days.

All is well, but other activities and obligations will make it difficult to post as normal.

(This post was scheduled to appear last Friday, late in the afternoon. When PG pulled up TPV early on Saturday morning, he saw (or thought he saw) that this post had appeared. Today, he discovered he was wrong. He apologies to one and all for his unintentionally unannounced absence. All is well with Mrs. PG and her less-apt husband.)

What’s in a Bookstore?

From Public Books:

When brick-and-mortar publishers and bookstores close, today as in the past, the unsold stock sometimes ends up in an indecorous heap. It’s one thing to know that about one-third of the books published in Europe before 1700 survive only in a single copy; it’s quite another thing to confront waterlogged books languishing on the sidewalk. Without the public funding or institutional backing enjoyed by many libraries, bookstores these days tend to have a hard time making ends meet, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified these pressures. Should a bookstore have to close, we lament the disappearance of its social and intellectual ecosystem, even more than the loss of the books themselves.

Especially for antiquarian and other independent booksellers, there exists a tension between sharing knowledge and running a business. Bookstores sell books and book-adjacent items, of course. But they also may serve as editorial offices, publishing houses, classrooms, and lecture halls, not to mention cafés, play spaces, and reading rooms. Sites of collaboration and exchange, bookstores, like libraries, can help hold a community together.

A number of recent works warn against reducing bookstores to the financial bottom line. Kaouther Adimi’s novel Our Riches, translated from the French in 2020 by Chris Andrews, reconstructs a history of the bookstore that French-Algerian intellectual Edmond Charlot founded in Algiers in 1935. In Bookshops: A Reader’s History, translated in 2017 from the Spanish by Peter Bush, Barcelona-based critic Jorge Carrión weaves together notes from his bookstore pilgrimages around the world with anecdotes culled from books about books and reading. And D. W. Young’s The Booksellers, an earnest 2019 documentary film about the antiquarian book trade, follows a cast of collectors, archivists, librarians, and booksellers as they try to reinvent and diversify their craft, while selling what appears to be a trifling number of books. There’s no wide-eyed optimism in these three works. Their affectionate depictions of bookstores and booksellers instead ask us to consider what we’re in danger of losing.

Can lessons from the past help guide independent booksellers and their patrons as they navigate a book world in flux? Histories of the early modern book market, when both books and the global economy were new, do not provide a definite blueprint for how to deal with the changing technologies of the book or the effects of online bookselling. They do, however, reveal a pliable sense of what books were in the first place. Literary scholars José María Pérez Fernández and Edward Wilson-Lee’s Hernando Colón’s New World of Books: Toward a Cartography of Knowledge and historians Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen’s The Bookshop of the World: Making and Trading Books in the Dutch Golden Age show that books, and the book world, have never not been in flux.

This knowledge may offer some measure of reassurance to 21st-century bibliophiles uneasy about the future of reading. It turns out that book buyers have always sought to temper desire with circumspection, while booksellers have aimed to balance parsimony with intellectual largesse. For more than five centuries, equilibrium has remained elusive to both parties.

. . . .

Hernando Colón—aka Ferdinand Columbus, Christopher’s son—built in Seville one of the largest private libraries of the 16th century, but he distrusted booksellers. Making a show of defending his family’s name, Colón refuted rumors that his father had been a bookseller in Genoa before his rather more famous transatlantic endeavors. When Colón’s last librarian described the cross-referenced author, title, and subject catalogues, the transcribed snippets, and the book summaries used to organize this collection, he emphasized the usefulness of these tools for sniffing out bookseller fraud.

Compiled in the nearly two-thousand-page Libro de los epítomes manuscript rediscovered in the University of Copenhagen’s Arnamagnæan Institute, in 2019, the book summaries, in particular, made it possible for Colón’s collaborators to spot titles that had little or nothing to do with the works they adorned and to recognize attempts to hawk old publications as new. Early modern book buyers had reason to be wary of unscrupulous publishers and shady booksellers.

Wealthy booksellers were worthy of particular suspicion. In his will, Colón instructed heirs charged with the conservation and expansion of his collection—which consisted of about 15,000 volumes at the time of his death, in 1539—to avoid merchants who dealt principally in large and expensive books, like those that characterized the disciplines of law and theology. Colón faulted such booksellers with overestimating the comprehensiveness of their stock and remaining uncurious about the inexpensive, small-format works of popular poetry and current events that he coveted.

. . . .

Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen’s wide-ranging coauthored work, The Bookshop of the World, demonstrates that the economics of books is best understood by thinking about print culture as broadly as possible. Building on Pettegree’s previous research on books in the early Renaissance and on the “invention of news,” this new book examines 17th-century Dutch publishing dynasties like the Elzeviers, in Leiden, and the Blaeu and Janssonius families, in Amsterdam. These family firms produced costly and significant books. Joan Blaeu’s Atlas Maior, a richly illustrated collection of maps, and the Elzeviers’ publications of works by Galileo and Descartes stand out. Dutch traders also bought books in bulk from publishers elsewhere in Europe, often paying in cash, and then resold them at a markup at home and abroad. Adept entrepreneurs with an eye for the shifting tastes of readers in both Protestant and Catholic regions, they speculated.

Meanwhile, large and small firms alike jostled for the predictable income and low risk associated with smaller printing jobs. The highly literate and politically engaged Dutch were avid readers: newspapers, advertisements, funeral orations, dissertations, political and wedding pamphlets, posted announcements, and the like—obrezillas and paperwork, one could say. Drawing on publisher and notarial archives, Pettegree and Der Weduwen plot this iceberg of lost printed matter.

Successful Dutch publishers transformed the book market beyond the Dutch Republic, too. They squeezed out local competitors in Copenhagen. They dictated preferential terms at the critical Frankfurt book fair. They were strident players in the production and trade of English bibles. And their success in Paris aroused protectionist reactions. Amsterdam became the metaphorical bookshop of the world, but at a cost.

. . . .

Although the buying and selling of books for profit has always been an aim of booksellers, bookstore archives reveal the myriad other activities taking place amid the commerce. Blurring the lines among the different sorts of intimacy and creativity realized in rooms full of books, Paris-based author Kaouther Adimi’s Our Riches fictionalizes the story of Edmond Charlot and Les Vraies Richesses, the bookstore that Charlot founded in Algiers in 1935.

Charlot was an editor and publisher as well as a bookseller. The works of Albert Camus, André Gide, and a host of other prominent authors appeared in the book list he deftly curated. The inventive Charlot—in Our Riches, at least—is bursting with ideas for collaboration, resulting in an “éditions Charlot” book frontispiece painted by René-Jean Clot and an exhibition at the bookstore of Sauveur Galliéro’s sculptures. Adimi depicts Les Vraies Richesses as a ferment.

The bookstore lent books in addition to selling and producing them. In Adimi’s telling, a young man named Riyad is sent from Paris in 2017 by the building’s new owners to clear out the remaining books and prepare the space for a beignet shop. Since the 1990s, when the Algerian government acquired the bookstore from the founder’s sister-in-law, the space had served as a branch of the Algerian National Library—though locals persisted in calling it Les Vraies Richesses. Abdallah, who from 1997 onward had managed the lending library while sleeping on its mezzanine, was known fondly in the neighborhood as “the bookseller.” Evoking the slipperiness of the French word librairie, which now denotes “bookstore” but in centuries past more often meant “library,” Adimi questions whether book lovers must conserve their books and booksellers must sell them.

. . . .

If they’re canny and patient, booksellers specializing in rare books also sometimes step into literary history, though they usually arrive late, sometimes by a few centuries. D. W. Young’s film The Booksellers illustrates that the reputations and livelihoods of antiquarian booksellers are more often tied to the books themselves than to the comings-and-goings of poets and novelists.

Yet as once difficult-to-find books appear for sale online at clearinghouse sites, what counts as a rare book is changing. For one, the bar to qualify as rare is higher: annotations or ownership by some noteworthy figure—a book “run over by the right truck,” as one merchant puts it in The Booksellers—add value. What’s more, the boundaries of the book are now more porous even than they were in the first decades of print. This porousness is manifest in, among other things, the variety of the antiquarian bookseller’s merchandise. The familiar hardback is today but one artifact among a surfeit of manuscript notes, corrected drafts, published zines, audio recordings, video outtakes, fancy gloves, curious writing implements, and all manner of literary historical tchotchkes.

To reimagine the bookstore’s stock is to grow the community of collectors and transform the image of the bookseller. Amplifying the feminist legacies of New York dealers like Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern, for instance, booksellers Heather O’Donnell and Rebecca Romney founded the Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize for an outstanding book collection by a young woman. Collector and filmmaker Syreeta Gates built an archive of early hip-hop because such an archive did not exist, and she needed one for her activist work. The long-term payoff on these investments will not simply be solvency for antiquarian bookstores. As these sorts of nascent collections multiply and, over time, migrate to libraries, the authoritative histories of much more than the book will look different.

Link to the rest at Public Books

PG suggests the variety of business strategies described in the OP illustrates his proposition that the physical bookstore is, first and foremost, a business model.

Like all other business models for a wide range of commercial endeavors, the physical bookstore has strengths and weaknesses. PG acknowledges that physical bookstores carrying a wide variety of inventory have been a successful business model for a very long time.

However, while a long record of past commercial success may indicate a high probability of the physical bookstore continuing into the future, it certainly doesn’t guarantee that will be the case.

To take an obvious example, the use of horses for powering various types of transportation systems had an exceptionally long and successful history through the beginning of the 20th Century. PG suggests this business model for transportation had a much longer history of success than the physical bookstore does today.

The invention of the internal combustion engine put horse-powered transportation systems out of business very quickly. Today, nations that utilize horses as a key part of their means of transporting people and things are uniformly regarded as quite primitive.

For thousands of years of success demonstrating the efficacy of horses powering transport, it’s no long a viable business model.

Just as the invention of the internal combustion engine and vehicles powered by that means did not instantly result in commercial actors putting all their horses out to pasture (or worse), the handwriting was on the wall and the evolution of commercial land transportation was inevitable.

PG suggests that electronic books and digital commerce in physical books (for people who still want them) is inherently superior to the business model of the physical bookstore.

Just as the wealthy still ride horses for pleasure and some US ranchers use them for managing cattle and other livestock in remote and rugged areas, PG is not suggesting that the future will mean absolutely no physical bookstores will exist. He does suggest that physical bookstores will become a smaller and smaller and, essentially, quaint and quirky niche of the far larger world of commercial distribution of written information.

Band of Sisters

Female inmates in rows of five.
PHOTO: YAD VASHEM, THE WORLD HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE CENTER

From The Wall Street Journal:

Gwen Strauss writes movingly in her book “The Nine” about the courage and luck that enabled nine young women to escape German imprisonment during World War II and return to their homes in France and Holland. Offering incisive images of life inside concentration camps and on death marches, Ms. Strauss relies, as any skilled researcher would, on archives and interviews, but as an accomplished poet and short-story writer, she also calls on her vibrant imagination to portray the emotional and physical traumas visited upon these young women. It is this poetic sensitivity, conveyed through a transparent style, that offers readers a nuanced perspective on what took place more than 75 years ago.

These nine young women—six French, two Dutch and one Spanish; one with a Jewish father, another from a Jewish family—were captured by the Gestapo, then sent to Ravensbrück, Germany’s primary concentration camp for women. Soon they were “loaned out” as laborers to a munitions plant owned by one of Germany’s largest arms manufacturers. It was there that the nine met. In the early spring of 1945, as the Allied fronts closed in from the east and west, Nazi authorities ordered the labor camps emptied, and so began the death marches across Germany. Taking bold chances, the nine women escaped from a casually monitored march and made their way into the fields and woods of Saxony.

Ms. Strauss’s narrative takes place during perhaps the most violent phase of the war in Europe—its final six months—but her book transcends that period and speaks to the humanity of all who are oppressed. “The Nine” is defined by examples of solidarity, empathy and perseverance. As they searched for color in a barren landscape, the women held fast to the belief that goodness had not disappeared.

Ms. Strauss is careful to identify geographical markers so that, with the help of a good map, a reader can trace the women’s long trek home. And the author is astute in keeping us mindful of the weather that a rude spring visited upon them. Her meticulous descriptions of the social and surveillance conditions in the horrific camps—gender and racial hierarchies, the treatment of ill and pregnant women, the murderous use of the dreaded daily roll call where dozens would faint or fall and be immediately executed—form the foreground of this narrative of unfathomable courage.

All nine women had been arrested for acts of resistance or for nonviolent political activities while still in their 20s. In fact, it was their youth and good health that allowed them to survive the devastating abuse their bodies would endure before and during their escape. The fugitives traversed a no-woman’s-land of a battered nation, filled with suspicious and resentful inhabitants. Once free of the camp, the greatest threats of their odyssey were hunger and men. Finding potatoes, raw or—less frequently—cooked, is a recurrent theme that encapsulates the anthropology of concentration camps and forced marches. Hunger hung persistently over the lives of the group. They never knew, when they knocked on a farmer’s door, whether they would be chased away or given a good meal. Men are generally depicted as at best indifferent to these women’s plights or, at worst, brutally abusive. The constant fear of being raped, beaten or murdered weakened them as much as their physical distress.

. . . .

From the beginning, Ms. Strauss tells her readers, “I am not a historian. I was trained as a poet.” And though she avails herself of archival evidence, much of her narrative finds her imagining (a word she uses frequently) what it must have been like for nine women to escape annihilation together. Her notes reveal how carefully she intertwines interviews with survivors and their descendants and how she was deeply influenced by two remarkable books: Lise London’s “La Mégère de la rue Daguerre” (“The Shrew of Daguerre Street”) and Suzanne Maudet’s “Neuf filles jeunes qui ne voulaient pas mourir” (“Nine Young Girls Who Did Not Want to Die”). Maudet was one of the nine escapees.

. . . .

Ms. Strauss, an American who has lived in France for more than 20 years, comments several times about the hesitancy that interrupted her writing. “I felt I was breaking a taboo. The voices in my head told me it was not my business; I should be ashamed of myself for exploiting [this] story.” More important, “How do we hold on to the past’s truths without letting the past hold us back from living in the present?”

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

PG doesn’t usually give this big a blurb for a given book, but his current reading concerning World War I and his extensive prior reading concerning World War II makes him believe that the stories of the incredible suffering and bravery of so many who were caught up in the World Wars of the 20th Century need to be remembered.

In an era in which many Woke Warriors and Political Correctness Enforcers explode with angry emotions and bitter denunciations at the slightest deviation from whatever standards are current at the moment, PG thinks it’s important to remember and reflect on truly monstrous behavior causing real and often deadly harm and the incredibly brave responses on the part of those whose lives and the lives of their families and friends, not just their feelings, were actually on the line.

Part of PG’s concern is that some of the tactics the Woke direct at their enemies are straight out of communist/fascist playbooks and he believes we need to remember what consequences resulted from similar runaway extreme behaviors and strategies in the past.

For the Nazis, the best-known enemy was the Jews and anyone who associated with or supported them, but Romani, blacks, those of mixed races, Slavs, other members of “the masses from the East” and all manner of other untermenschen, including those of any ethnic group who were regarded as physically or mentally disabled, were also put through horrors we find difficult to imagine today.

“Serbia must die!”

The term “under man” was first used by American author and Ku Klux Klan member Lothrop Stoddard in the title of his 1922 book The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under-man.

“Untermensch is usually translated into English as “sub-human”. The leading Nazi attributing the concept of the East-European “under man” to Stoddard is Alfred Rosenberg who, referring to Russian communists, wrote in his Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts (1930) that “this is the kind of human being that Lothrop Stoddard has called the ‘under man.'” [“…den Lothrop Stoddard als ‘Untermenschen’ bezeichnete.”]Quoting Stoddard: “The Under-Man – the man who measures under the standards of capacity and adaptability imposed by the social order in which he lives”.”

. . . .

Nazis repeatedly used the term Untermensch in writings and speeches directed against the Jews, the most notorious example being a 1942 SS publication with the title Der Untermensch, which contains an antisemitic tirade sometimes considered to be an extract from a speech by Heinrich Himmler. In the pamphlet “The SS as an Anti-Bolshevist Fighting Organization”, published in 1936, Himmler wrote:

We shall take care that never again in Germany, the heart of Europe, will the Jewish-Bolshevik revolution of subhumans be able to be kindled either from within or through emissaries from without.

In his speech “Weltgefahr des Bolschewismus” (“World danger of Bolshevism”) in 1936, Joseph Goebbels said that “subhumans exist in every people as a leavening agent”. At the 1935 Nazi party congress rally at Nuremberg, Goebbels also declared that “Bolshevism is the declaration of war by Jewish-led international subhumans against culture itself.”

This poster (from around 1938) reads: “60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People’s community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen, that is your money too. Read ‘[A] New People’, the monthly magazine of the Bureau for Race Politics of the NSDAP.”

During the Warsaw Uprising, Himmler ordered the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto because according to him it allowed the “living space” of 500,000 subhumans.

Italicized paragraphs and poster above from Untermensch on Wikipedia

The Aryan certificate (German: Ariernachweis) was a document which certified that a person was a member of the presumed Aryan race. Beginning in April 1933, it was required from all employees and officials in the public sector, including education, according to the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service. It was also a primary requirement to become a Reich citizen for those who were of German or related blood (Aryan) and wanted to become Reich citizens after the Nuremberg Laws were passed in 1935. A “Swede or an Englishman, a Frenchman or Czech, a Pole or Italian” was considered to be related, that is, “Aryan”. Iranians were also considered to be Aryans after an 1936 decree from the Hitler Cabinet which declared Iranians to be “pure-blooded Aryans”.

14 Ways Authors Express Gratitude

From BookBub:

Authors often say that engaging with readers is one of the most gratifying aspects of their career. And while authors provide readers with entertainment, information, or an escape from reality, readers provide authors with an audience (and revenue), word-of-mouth exposure, or support. Since readers fuel an author’s expression and success, how can a writer thank fans for supporting their work?

A little bit of recognition can go a long way to foster a relationship with fans and maintain a dedicated readership. From sharing fan art to running giveaways to sharing discounts, there are many ways authors can show readers appreciation. To help you brainstorm ideas on how to communicate gratitude, we’ve compiled a list of methods authors use to applaud, reward, and connect with their readers. We hope these examples provide inspiration for your own approach to engaging with readers!

1. Show off fan art

Leigh Bardugo reposted fan art of two of her book’s characters, expressing gratitude for how this wonderful depiction by @sartagos “revived” her spirit during a tough week.

. . . .

2. Run book giveaways

Jillian Dodd frequently runs giveaways for her readers. In this one example, Jillian kept the entry method simple; fans could enter to win an angsty paperback stack by following Jillian on Instagram and BookBub and tagging a friend in the comments of this post.

. . . .

5. Give away fun items and gift cards

Sarah Nicolas chose three lucky winners to receive a gift card to an Etsy shop selling masks and embroidered bookmarks.

Link to the rest at BookBub

Tech Firms Tweak Work Tools to Grapple with ‘Digital Exhaustion’

From The Wall Street Journal:

Big tech companies— Microsoft Corp. , Adobe Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google among them—are adding new twists to their work tools to fight Zoom fatigue and general burnout as working from home stretches into a second year for millions of people.

Microsoft, for example, has introduced a setting in its Outlook email and calendar to prevent back-to-back video meetings by automatically carving out breaks in between. The downtime can be programmed for 5, 10 or 15 minutes, for example, and can be set by an individual or organization.

A prototype tool in the Adobe Workfront platform uses artificial intelligence to help reorganize users’ days based on priorities they have set and any last-minute changes to their personal and business schedules.

. . . .

And in March, Google announced updates to its Workspace tools to demarcate working hours and create recurring “away” notifications to lessen digital interruptions.

Tweaks like these aim to address concerns on work-life balance from both employees and employers as remote work continues. With employees never leaving the “office,” work has seeped into all hours of the day, plus weekends; the lack of in-person time with colleagues has resulted in a glut of video meetings.

Employers have taken some steps on their own. Citigroup Inc., for instance, is experimenting with new policies like banning video meetings on Fridays. And software firm BetterCloud Inc. is using a bot on Slack to ask attendees of some virtual meetings whether the gatherings were worthwhile.

. . . .

“The acceleration that happened during Covid, where suddenly the only way to connect with others was through technology, it was clear that we needed to be better at using it and defining our own boundaries,” said Nellie Hayat, head of workplace transformation at VergeSense Inc., a workplace analytics platform. As well, that effort would have to be “synchronized with others,” she added.

Outlook’s new break setting dovetails with the virtual commute feature Microsoft added to its Teams tools to delineate the start and finish of employees’ workdays.

“This joins that set of things that’s meant to help them kind of develop the practices that we need to have to manage this digital exhaustion that they feel,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president of Microsoft 365, which houses Outlook and Teams.

. . . .

In its March announcement, Google included a new calendar entry called Focus Time, which decreases the notifications it shows users during stretches designated for uninterrupted work and changes their status in chat to “Do not disturb.” The feature will be out this year.

Some of the new features seem more geared to what an organization wants for its employees than what employees might choose for themselves, user experience designers said.

Stopping all notifications from every workplace tool during a break, for example, would be more beneficial than creating rest moments between meetings, said Emma Greenwood, strategy director at I&CO Group LLC, a strategy and invention firm.

. . . .

Fewer video meetings and more breaks can help, but they don’t address the burnout and isolation of at-home workers in the pandemic.

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

PG suspects the consequences of extended periods of social isolation in its various garbs under a variety of shut-down, shelter-in-place, social-distancing, etc., etc., etc., have resulted in lower energy levels and decreased concentration, lower productivity, etc., to a greater extent than the increased pressure of remote work (which is a subset of the social isolation problem) has by itself.

See Languishing for more information.

Full-time authors may have suffered less disruption of their work routines than office workers, but the languishing effect of social isolation is, PG suspects, impacting the work of authors as well.

Spatial Abolition and Disability Justice

From Public Books:

In her new book, What Can a Body Do? How We Meet the Built World, the artist and design researcher Sara Hendren describes an assignment her engineering students undertook to redesign a lectern. Hendren introduces us to Amanda Cachia, a curator with a form of dwarfism, who challenges the students to think beyond the simple engineering specifications of an imaginary ideal form and to design specifically for her needs. One can imagine the range of solutions that eager engineering students might have offered up: a robotic lectern, or one outfitted with a lift. Usually, Hendren writes, Cachia has to undergo the ritual of “bringing her body to the dimensions of a room at odds with her physicality,” typically involving a pedestal that she stands on to reach the height of an existing lectern.

Instead, Cachia wanted a lectern scaled to her dimensions, one that she could easily transport to her speaking engagements. Hendren’s students responded to this call; now, each time Cachia speaks at this new lectern, the audience must adapt to her. Changing that relationship—between speaker, stage, and audience—changes the possibilities of the room itself. The lectern no longer sits above the heads of those seated in a room. As a result of this spatial shift, an audience member would likely become very aware of all the other sensory details: how the seating is arranged, the height of doorknobs and tables, the various ambient sounds. This newly oriented space highlights how disability is not a lack, but a space of possibility for other ways of being and noticing. “Ability and disability may be in part about the physical state of the body,” Hendren writes, “but they are also produced by the relative flexibility or rigidity of the built world.”

The most famous political achievement of the disability justice movement in the United States has been the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a landmark civil rights law that prohibited discrimination based on disability. It is, arguably, one of the most influential policy forces on the shape and form of the urban built environment, mandating things we now take for granted, such as curb cuts and pedestrian signals. According to the ADA framework, an adequate solution to Cachia’s predicament might have been to require the lecture hall to have a platform ready at all times, one that could be adjusted to enable speakers, regardless of their physical dimensions, to reach the microphone.

Yet, as scholars such as Aimi Hamraie and Jos Boys have shown, stories of curb cuts, ramps, and other design innovations are incomplete, and have spun into a popular narrative of universal or inclusive design. This narrative risks turning the politics of disability into simple matters of logistics and compliance. It erases real class, gendered, and racial differences in terms of access to space, and it ignores the different types of “physical, sensory, and mental access needs of different disabled users.” There are deep flaws in an accessibility framework; as the disability and transformative-justice scholar Mia Mingus says, “We don’t want to simply join the ranks of the privileged; we want to dismantle those ranks and the systems that maintain them.”

These are key themes that underpin Sara Hendren’s What Can a Body Do?, which explores and expands on the relationships between the built world, design, and disabilities. If Hendren is reframing design and how we approach the designed and built environment through the lens of disability justice, Liat Ben-Moshe extends that lens to our geographies—focusing more fully on spatial relationships—in her new book, Decarcerating Disability: Deinstitutionalization and Prison Abolition. A critical geographer and prison abolitionist, Ben-Moshe provides a groundbreaking connection between disability justice and prison abolition.

Disabled people—nuanced and complex individuals who are forced to both adapt to the world and make the world adapt to them—have a rich history of influencing the designed and built world. Yet there is a lack of nuance and complexity to how disability is understood and conceptualized in both academic and popular portrayals. Revealing the multiple histories of disability justice—as Hendren and Ben-Moshe do—can expand how we think of and design the places we build beyond the simple concepts of access and inclusion, to encompass questions of care, vulnerability, agency, maintenance, and difference.

The Social Model of Disability

As the noted disability studies theorist Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, author of Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature (1997), has said, “I want to move disability from the realm of medicine into that of political minorities, to recast it from a form of pathology to a form of ethnicity.” Disability, as a human condition, is salient almost everywhere once you learn how to notice it.

. . . .

By analyzing case studies such as that of Amanda Cachia’s new lectern, Hendren illustrates a powerful idea that holds potential for the fields of urbanism, architecture, and design: the social model of disability, which holds that being disabled is not simply a medical diagnosis, but a social phenomenon. For some, this can be a radical perspective, one that has many implications—notably, that disability is a “misfitting” of bodies and minds to the world one encounters and confronts. When that world is inflexible to people’s diverse needs, Hendren says, this misfitting limits certain individuals’ abilities to do things. In order to ground us in the concept of misfitting and the social model of disability, Hendren must first explain the history of “normalcy,” as it relates to the body.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Let’s see, if disabled individuals are to be though of as a different ethnic group than those who are not disabled, how does that make things better?

For one thing, we know that different ethnic groups always respect the values and rights of each other. We know that places where those of different ethnicity live in close proximity with one another have always been models of comity and good will.

Serbs and Croatians? Best buddies whenever they encounter each other.

Turks and Armenians? – One big happy family.

Hutu and Tutsi? – Always behaving in accordance with the inherent sisterhood and brotherhood that exists among all Africans

The Austro-Hungarian Empire – 15 major languages plus an unknown number of minor languages and dialects – would still be the world’s leading multi-ethnic power if it hadn’t collapsed into chaos in 1918.

World War I – no ethnic groups fighting there

World War II – ditto

Suffice to say, PG is not impressed with the benefits of defining disability as an ethnicity or any remotely similar solution to the problems of the disabled or the problems the larger society imposes on the disabled.

An old saying from Abraham Maslow, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” applies to some (not all) people with a facility for language. Basically, such folk love to solve problems linguistically by doing things like creating ethnic groups and constructing solutions from concepts that work perfectly in word and logic form, but not necessarily in real life. More than a few academics fall into such groups.

PG readily confesses that, as an attorney, he is a member of a group known for its facility with language. Laws are created by legislatures as written documents. Attorneys argue on behalf of their clients using spoken and written words. When a judge makes an order, she/he often says what the order is and then reduces the order to a written document.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this sort of structure of information and mandates so long as one realizes that it may not always work as anticipated in real life.

Those who commit crimes are punished in large part to deter them and others who may be similarly inclined from violating the law in the future. A felon may be incarcerated until, presumably she/he understands the wrongness of the crime committed and the fact that such actions will be punished severely. Once they’ve finished their punishment as specified by the law and court order(s), they’re ready to return into society as a free person.

If the words of the law and the courts worked as intended, no criminal would commit another crime. The punishment would fit the crime and the punishment would effectively prevent such a crime from occurring again because one and all would understand that the nature of the punishment far outweighed any sort of benefit a wrong-doer might gain from violating the law.

This all works great on paper. The words are carefully crafted by legislators elected to do what the public wants them to do – prevent crimes from happening.

However, in a phrase used by semanticists, “The word is not the thing.”

What’s the solution to Ms. Cachia’s problem with standard podiums if she’s not to be classified as a member of a new ethnic group or protected by a better version or stricter enforcement of The Americans with Disabilities Act?

A bit of research by PG disclosed an actual solution to Ms. Cachia’s issues. He doesn’t think any of the word-spinners in the OP were involved in creating the solution.

The solution was not words, but rather a thing – a portable lectern made from apparently inexpensive materials that Ms. Cachia could bring with her to her speaking opportunities. The lecturn provides a platform of an appropriate height so she could speak and present comfortably while referring to notes or other materials she might wish to consult during her presentations.

From an appearance standpoint, the lectern would complement Ms. Cachia’s physical appearance in the same manner as a conventional lectern would complement an individual of more commonly-found dimensions.

To the best of PG’s knowledge, no new ethnic groups, laws or regulations were created during the design and construction of Ms. Cachia’s new lectern.

Here are a couple of images of her lectern and Ms. Cachia using it:

How to Make Aliens and Robots Fight Better

From SWFA:

Human martial arts styles are biased: they’re specifically designed to fight other humans. Of course, watching Neo trade Kung Fu blows with Agent Smith is awesome, but perhaps our focus on human fighting systems in sci-fi affects our imagining of alien/robot bodies. Put simply, it makes composing fight scenes easier. By designing human-shaped Chitauri, we can then storyboard the stupendous Battle of New York with relative ease: a human Avenger like Black Widow can use the same techniques against a Chitauri that she’d use against the average street thug.

The prevalence of human-to-humanlike alien combat in sci-fi has even been lampooned in Star Trek: Lower Decks, where First Officer Jack Ransom needs only his barrel roll and double-handed swinging-fist to throw down–good-natured pokes at the limited repertoire Captain Kirk demonstrates when fighting an anthropomorphic Gorn (TOS, “Arena”) Yet people in the speculative fiction galaxy aren’t cookie-cutter humanoid, and their fighting styles shouldn’t be either.

Enter: Spec-Fic-Fu—the art of using martial philosophy to create enhanced sci-fi battles.

Primary Targets

First, consider an attacker’s primary targets. What must be protected? What should be attacked? Do your alien characters have the equivalent of Kung Fu paralysis points? Is your robot’s CPU located in its abdomen, making that a primary area to attack?

Breaking a human’s nose makes the eyes water, compromising vision and fighting effectiveness. Breaking a person’s xiphoid process could cause internal bleeding—death. 

Imagine a Klingon dueling a Starship Troopers arachnid. The bug bashes the Klingon’s nose! But the Klingon doesn’t cry—they don’t have tear ducts. The Klingon severs an insectoid leg with his bat’leth! Yet as stated in the film’s “Know Your Foe” PSA, a bug’s still “86% combat effective” with a missing leg. Instead, we should “aim for the nerve stem” to “put it down for good.”

Video game boss fights are actually master classes in attacking primary targets. Consider Samus Aran vs. Ridley. The player-as-Samus utilizes a fight sequence to expose Ridley’s critical areas. This sequence of movements is a technique—like those human martial artists drill in ordered rows. Techniques are algorithms for exposing an opponent’s primary targets. A jab-cross might dislodge the opponent’s guards, so a swinging roundhouse can strike the cartilaginous temple. 

What techniques do your alien or robot protagonists use to exploit an enemy’s vulnerabilities–especially enemies of differing physical morphologies?

Physicality:

Differing bodies mean differing fighting behaviors. In The Mandalorian, IG-11 rotates torso and arms to shoot in all directions. He doesn’t block or dodge gunfire. General Grievous uses four arms to wield gyrating lightsabers until Obi Wan severs two hands, forcing Grievous to adapt. 

Consider bodily modalities. The Decepticon Starscream charges the enemy in jet-form, then transforms into a robot, letting forward momentum add to his attack. Conversely, he leaps away in jet-mode, blasting opponents with his backdraft.

Also consider what’s expendable. An alien with one heart and three lungs might, on being forced onto a spike, try to fall so a lung is punctured yet the heart is spared. An octopus-alien with regenerating limbs might charge a lightsaber with abandon, regrowing whatever’s lopped off. If your robot warrior is T-1000-like—i.e., modular—it might form separate fighting components. 

Even animalistic beings like Godzilla or Mothra fight according to physicality. Earth bulls lock horns; pythons entwine and squeeze. 

Link to the rest at SWFA

The Candidate from Yale

“O your college paper, I suppose?”

“No, I never wrote even a letter to the editor.”

“Took prizes for essays?”

“No, I never wrote if I could help it.”

“But you like to write?”

“I’d like to learn to write.”

“You say you are two months out of college–what college?”

“Yale.”

“Hum–I thought Yale men went into something commercial; law or banking or
railroads. ‘Leave hope of fortune behind, ye who enter here’ is over the
door of this profession.”

“I haven’t the money-making instinct.”

“We pay fifteen dollars a week at the start.”

“Couldn’t you make it twenty?”

The Managing Editor of the News-Record turned slowly in his chair
until his broad chest was full-front toward the young candidate for the
staff. He lowered his florid face slowly until his double chin swelled out
over his low “stick-up” collar. Then he gradually raised his eyelids until
his amused blue eyes were looking over the tops of his glasses, straight
into Howard’s eyes.

“Why?” he asked. “Why should we?”

Howard’s grey eyes showed embarrassment and he flushed to the line of his
black hair which was so smoothly parted in the middle. “Well–you see–the
fact is–I need twenty a week. My expenses are arranged on that scale. I’m
not clever at money matters. I’m afraid I’d get in a mess with only
fifteen.”

“My dear young man,” said Mr. King, “I started here at fifteen dollars a
week. And I had a wife; and the first baby was coming.”

“Yes, but your wife was an energetic woman. She stood right beside you and
worked too. Now I have only myself.”

Mr. King raised his eyebrows and became a rosier red. He was evidently
preparing to rebuke this audacious intrusion into his private affairs by a
stranger whose card had been handed to him not ten minutes before. But
Howard’s tone and manner were simple and sincere. And they happened to
bring into Mr. King’s mind a rush of memories of his youth and his wife.
She had married him on faith. They had come to New York fifteen years
before, he to get a place as reporter on the News-Record, she to
start a boarding-house; he doubting and trembling, she with courage and
confidence for two. He leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes and opened
the book of memory at the place where the leaves most easily fell apart:

He is coming home at one in the morning, worn out, sick at heart from the
day’s buffetings. As he puts his key into the latch, the door opens. There
stands a handsome girl; her face is flushed; her eyes are bright; her lips
are held up for him to kiss; she shows no trace of a day that began hours
before his and has been a succession of exasperations and humiliations
against which her sensitive nature, trained in the home of her father, a
distinguished up-the-state Judge, gives her no protection, “Victory,” she
whispers, her arms about his neck and her head upon his coat collar.
“Victory! We are seventy-two cents ahead on the week, and everything paid
up!”

Mr. King opened his eyes–they had been closed less than five seconds.
“Well, let it be twenty–though just why I’m sure I don’t know. And we’ll
give you a four weeks’ trial. When will you begin?”

“Now,” answered the young man, glancing about the room. “And I shall try to
show that I appreciate your consideration, whether I deserve it or not.”

It was a large bare room, low of ceiling. Across one end were five windows
overlooking from a great height the tempest that rages about the City Hall
day and night with few lulls and no pauses. Mr. King’s roll-top desk was at
the first window. Under each of the other windows was a broad flat table
desk–for copy-readers. At the farthest of these sat the City Editor–thin,
precise-looking, with yellow skin, hollow cheeks, ragged grey-brown
moustache, ragged scant grey-brown hair and dark brown eyes. He looked
nervously tired and, because brown was his prevailing shade, dusty. He rose
as Mr. King came with young Howard.

“Here, Mr. Bowring, is a young man from Yale. He wishes you to teach him
how to write. Mr. Howard, Mr. Bowring. I hope you gentlemen will get on
comfortably together.”

Mr. King went back to his desk. Mr. Bowring and Howard looked each at the
other. Mr. Bowring smiled, with good-humour, without cordiality. “Let me
see, where shall we put you?” And his glance wandered along the rows of
sloping table-desks–those nearer the windows lighted by daylight; those
farther away, by electric lamps. Even on that cool, breezy August afternoon
the sunlight and fresh air did not penetrate far into the room.

“Do you see the young man with the beautiful fair moustache,” said Mr.
Bowring, “toiling away in his shirt-sleeves–there?”

“Near the railing at the entrance?”

“Precisely. I think I will put you next him.” Mr. Bowring touched a button
on his desk and presently an office boy–a mop of auburn curls, a pert face
and gangling legs in knickerbockers–hurried up with a “Yes, Sir?”

“Please tell Mr. Kittredge that I would like to speak to him and–please
scrape your feet along the floor as little as possible.”

The boy smiled, walking away less as if he were trying to terrorize park
pedestrians by a rush on roller skates. Kittredge and Howard were made
acquainted and went toward their desks together. “A few moments–if you
will excuse me–and I’m done,” said Kittredge motioning Howard into the
adjoining chair as he sat and at once bent over his work.

Howard watched him with interest, admiration and envy. The reporter was
perhaps twenty-five years old–fair of hair, fair of skin, goodlooking in a
pretty way. His expression was keen and experienced yet too self-complacent
to be highly intelligent. He was rapidly covering sheet after sheet of soft
white paper with bold, loose hand-writing. Howard noticed that at the end
of each sentence he made a little cross with a circle about it, and that he
began each paragraph with a paragraph sign. Presently he scrawled a big
double cross in the centre of the sheet under the last line of writing and
gathered up his sheets in the numbered order. “Done, thank God,” he said.
“And I hope they won’t butcher it.”

“Do you send it to be put in type?” asked Howard.

“No,” Kittredge answered with a faint smile. “I hand it in to Mr.
Bowring–the City Editor, you know. And when the copyreaders come at six,
it will be turned over to one of them. He reads it, cuts it down if
necessary, and writes headlines for it. Then it goes upstairs to the
composing room–see the box, the little dumb-waiter, over there in the
wall?–well, it goes up by that to the floor above where they set the type
and make up the forms.”

“I’m a complete ignoramus,” said Howard, “I hope you’ll not mind my trying
to find out things. I hope I shall not bore you.”

“Glad to help you, I’m sure. I had to go through this two years ago when I
came here from Princeton.”

Kittredge “turned in” his copy and returned to his seat beside Howard.

“What were you writing about, if I may ask?” inquired Howard.

“About some snakes that came this morning in a ‘tramp’ from South America.
One of them, a boa constrictor, got loose and coiled around a windlass. The
cook was passing and it caught him. He fainted with fright and the beast
squeezed him to death. It’s a fine story–lots of amusing and dramatic
details. I wrote it for a column and I think they won’t cut it. I hope not,
anyhow. I need the money.”

“You are paid by the column?”

“Yes. I’m on space–what they call a space writer. If a man is of any
account here they gradually raise him to twenty-five dollars a week and
then put him on space. That means that he will make anywhere from forty to
a hundred a week, or perhaps more at times. The average for the best is
about eighty.”

“Eighty dollars a week,” thought Howard. “Fifty-two times eighty is
forty-one hundred and sixty. Four thousand a year, counting out two weeks
for vacation.” To Howard it seemed wealth at the limit of imagination. If
he could make so much as that!–he who had grave doubts whether, no matter
how hard he worked, he would ever wrench a living from the world.

Just then a seedy young man with red hair and a red beard came through the
gate in the railing, nodded to Kittredge and went to a desk well up toward
the daylight end of the room.

“That’s the best of ’em all,” said Kittredge in a low tone. “His name is
Sewell. He’s a Harvard man–Harvard and Heidelberg. But drink! Ye gods, how
he does drink! His wife died last Christmas–practically starvation. Sewell
disappeared–frightful bust. A month afterward they found him under an
assumed name over on Blackwell’s Island, doing three months for disorderly
conduct. He wrote a Christmas carol while his wife was dying. It began
“Merrily over the Snow” and went on about light hearts and youth and joy
and all that–you know, the usual thing. When he got the money, she didn’t
need it or anything else in her nice quiet grave over in Long Island City.
So he ‘blew in’ the money on a wake.”

Sewell was coming toward them. Kittredge called out: “Was it a good story,
Sam?”

“Simply great! You ought to have seen the room. Only the bed and the
cook-stove and a few dishes on a shelf–everything else gone to the
pawnshop. The man must have killed the children first. They lay side by
side on the bed, each with its hands folded on its chest–suppose the
mother did that; and each little throat was cut from ear to ear–suppose
the father did that. Then he dipped his paint brush in the blood and daubed
on the wall in big scrawling letters: ‘There is no God!’ Then he took his
wife in his arms, stabbed her to the heart and cut his own throat. And
there they lay, his arms about her, his cheek against hers, dead. It was
murder as a fine art. Gad, I wish I could write.”

Kittredge introduced Howard–“a Yale man–just came on the paper.”

“Entering the profession? Well, they say of the other professions that
there is always room at the top. Journalism is just the reverse. The room
is all at the bottom–easy to enter, hard to achieve, impossible to leave.
It is all bottom, no top.” Sewell nodded, smiled attractively in spite of
his swollen face and his unsightly teeth, and went back to his work.

“He’s sober,” said Kittredge when he was out of hearing, “so his story is
pretty sure to be the talk of Park Row tomorrow.”

Howard was astonished at the cheerful, businesslike point of view of these
two educated and apparently civilised young men as to the tragedies of
life. He had shuddered at Kittredge’s story of the man squeezed to death by
the snake. Sewell’s story, so graphically outlined, filled him with horror,
made it a struggle for him to conceal his feelings.

“I suppose you must see a lot of frightful things,” he suggested.

“That’s our business. You soon get used to it, just as a doctor does. You
learn to look at life from the purely professional standpoint. Of course
you must feel in order to write. But you must not feel so keenly that you
can’t write. You have to remember always that you’re not there to cheer or
sympathise or have emotions, but only to report, to record. You tell what
your eyes see. You’ll soon get so that you can and will make good stories
out of your own calamaties.”

“Is that a portrait of the editor?” asked Howard, pointing to a grimed
oil-painting, the only relief to the stretch of cracked and streaked white
wall except a few ragged maps.

“That–oh, that is old man Stone–the ‘great condenser.’ He’s there for a
double purpose, as an example of what a journalist should be and as a
warning of what a journalist comes to. After twenty years of fine work at
crowding more news in good English into one column than any other editor
could get in bad English into four columns, he was discharged for
drunkenness. Soon afterwards he walked off the end of a dock one night in a
fog. At least it was said that there was a fog and that he was drunk. I
have my doubts.”

“Cheerful! I have not been in the profession an hour but I have already
learned something very valuable.”

“What’s that?” asked Kittredge, “that it’s a good profession to get out
of?”

“No. But that bad habits will not help a man to a career in journalism any
more than in any other profession.”

Link to the rest at The Great God Success (1901) by John Graham (David Graham Phillips)

In part, the author of The Great God Success, intended his book to be a critical treatment of the crass and shallow world of newspaper publishing in New York City (and elsewhere) and its two great competing publishers, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.

Phillips spent his career in this business. There was no pretense of objectivity or printing anything like both sides of political disagreements in that era’s newspapers. Papers owned by Pulitzer and Hearst (and papers owned by many others) were blatantly biased in their coverage of political issues and personalities.

From Wikipedia:

[David Graham] Phillips worked as a newspaper reporter in Cincinnati, Ohio, before moving on to New York City where he was employed as a reporter for The Sun from 1890 to 1893, then columnist and editor with the New York World until 1902. In his spare time, he wrote a novel, The Great God Success, that was published in 1901. The royalty income enabled him to work as a freelance journalist while continuing to write fiction. Writing articles for various prominent magazines, he began to develop a reputation as a competent investigative journalist. Phillips’ novels often commented on social issues of the day and frequently chronicled events based on his real-life journalistic experiences. He was considered a Progressive and for exposing corruption in the Senate he was labelled a muckraker.

Phillips wrote an article in Cosmopolitan in March 1906, called “The Treason of the Senate,” exposing campaign contributors being rewarded by certain members of the U. S. Senate. The story launched a scathing attack on Rhode Island senator Nelson W. Aldrich, and brought Phillips a great deal of national exposure. This and other similar articles helped lead to the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, initiating popular instead of state-legislature election of U. S. senators.

David Graham Phillips is known for producing one of the most important investigations exposing details of the corruption by big businesses of the Senate, in particular, by the Standard Oil Company. He was among a few other writers during that time that helped prompt President Theodore Roosevelt to use the term “Muckrakers”.

The article inspired journalist Charles Edward Russell to insist to his boss William Randolph Hearst, who had just recently purchased the Cosmopolitan magazine, that he push his journalists to explore the Senate corruption as well. Philips was offered the position to explore more information about the corruption and bring it into the public’s eye. Philips’ brother Harrison and Gustavus Myers were hired as research assistants for Philips. Hearst commented to his readers about Philips starting a series that would reveal the Senate corruption so much, that most Senators would resign. This held true for some of the Senators, such as New York Senators Chauncey M. Depew and Thomas Collier Platt. Philips exposed Depew as receiving more than $50,000 from several companies. He also helped educate the public on how the senators were selected and that it was held in the hands of a few bosses in a tight circle, helping increase the corruption level. As a result of these articles, only four of the twenty-one senators that Philips wrote about were still in office. Philips also had some of the greatest success as a muckraker, because he helped change the U.S. Constitution, with the passage of the 17th Amendment, creating popular election for senators.

His talent for writing was not the only thing that helped him stand out in the newsroom. Philips was known to dress in a white suit with a large chrysanthemum in his lapel.

Phillips’ reputation cost him his life in January 1911, when he was shot outside the Princeton Club at Gramercy Park in New York City. The killer was a Harvard-educated musician named Fitzhugh Coyle Goldsborough, a violinist in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra who came from a prominent Maryland family. Goldsborough believed that Phillips’s novel The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig had cast literary aspersions on his family. To be more precise, Phillips was shot and killed by a paranoid who levied the false accusation that Phillips had used the paranoid’s sister “as a model for the complaisant heroine” of the novel. When confronting Phillips, Goldsborough yelled, “Here you go!” After Phillips collapsed, he yelled something akin to “And here I go!”, shooting himself in the head. He died as a result of his injuries. Admitted to Bellevue Hospital, Phillips died a day later. A 1992 novel by Daniel D. Victor, The Seventh Bullet, imagines a Sherlock Holmes investigation into Phillips’s murder.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

The difference between children’s and adult books

From Nathan Bransford:

Authors often get into trouble when they’re writing books for children or adults and end up blending the two in an awkward way. I’m here to clear up confusion around the differences between children’s books and adult books.

Particularly when authors write “coming of age” novels or fictionalized versions of their childhood, they sometimes end up writing novels that feel like they’re not quite for adults and not quite for children. Others set out to write crossover novels that appeal to both adults and children that wind up feeling like strange mishmashes.

While some children’s novels do indeed become popular with adults and become crossover successes like The Hunger Games and The Hate U Give, novels need to have a base readership. There aren’t really crossover publishers, just adult publishers and children’s publishers, with some “new adult” sprinkled in. And even if you’re self- or hybrid publishing, it’s very helpful to know your genre.

If you twist yourself into knots trying to make your novel appeal to everyone it might end up appealing to no one. If you’re writing for adults, write for adults. If you’re writing for children, write for children. If it crosses over, that’s great.

So what’s the difference between a children’s novel and an adult novel, and how do you avoid writing a novel that’s not quite for adults and not quite for children? How do you figure out what kind of a novel you’re really writing if you’re currently straddling these lines? What do you do if parts of your novel are from a child’s POV but it’s adult on the whole?

I’m here to help.

It’s not about the protagonist’s age

A common misconception about what makes a novel an adult or children’s book is that it’s ultimately about the age of the protagonist. Not the case!

There are plenty of novels featuring young protagonists that really feel more like adult novels, whether that’s Catcher in the Rye, Carrie, or the opening of Where the Crawdads Sing. Just because you have a child at the center of the events doesn’t necessarily mean you have written a children’s novel.

This can also happen in reverse, particularly in novels that start adult but then flash back to a character’s childhood. A novel that started off feeling like an adult novel can quickly start feeling like it veers into being a children’s book and might confuse a reader about what exactly they’re reading.

So set aside the age of the protagonist. Here’s what matters.

What’s the lens?

The first element to consider is the “lens.” Is the overall voice of the novel a child’s voice experiencing childhood in the moment or is it an adult looking back on childhood from a more mature distance?

Even authors who are explicitly setting out to write a children’s novel sometimes get tripped up on this. They end up inserting accidental adult viewpoints along the lines of “I would learn much later just how important this was.” Think of this as the “Wonder Years” effect, where it’s an adult narrating a child’s experiences.

Other authors might write their child characters the way they see children from their now-adult vantage point rather than writing for the way children see themselves.

So again, set aside the protagonist’s age and think about the lens. If it feels like an adult’s viewpoint it will feel like an adult novel, even/especially if it’s an adult looking back on childhood, and if it feels like a child’s vantage point it will feel more like a children’s novel.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Why IQ Determines Everything in Your Life (the Sad Truth)

From Medium:

“People who boast about their IQ are losers.” — Stephen Hawking

Hawking has a point — nobody likes a sore winner. That being said, the intelligent quotient (IQ) test is one of the most valid and reliable psychometrics ever created.

According to the mental health website verywell Mind, “An IQ test is an assessment that measures a range of cognitive abilities and provides a score that is intended to serve as a measure of an individual’s intellectual abilities and potential.”

. . . .

High IQ = Better Life

Research has shown that high IQ leads to more money, increased success, and longer, healthier life in general. One historic study detailed the benefits of high IQ:

  • The average income of Terman’s subjects in 1955 was an impressive $33,000 compared to a national average of $5,000.
  • Two-thirds had earned college degrees, while a large number had gone on to attain post-graduate and professional degrees. Many of these had become doctors, lawyers, business executives, and scientists.

In case you were wondering, the average IQ score is 100. And anything above 140 is considered a high or genius-level IQ. Einstein’s IQ was 160. Jacob Barnett’s IQ is 170. Barnett was a child prodigy who graduated college at age 10.

He’s now an astrophysicist at age 22.

. . . .

The Truth About IQ

Studies show that most of our intelligence is genetic. However, IQ can be increased and there seems to be one surefire way to do it —

“Just do it.” — Nike

Yes, no jokes, nothing up my sleeves, this is the foolproof method to hacking your IQ — “just doing it.” Ok, more specifically, doing activities such as playing music, exercising, reading, learning, adventuring, exploring — all of it, JUST DO IT!

Exercise, for instance, boosts neuroplasticity, which is the process of your brain making connections and creating new neurons.

Want to learn a new language? Why not exercise. A 2017 study conducted by the University of Zurich in Switzerland revealed the process of learning a new language is expedited by physical exercise.

The study looked at college-aged Chinese men and women who were trying to learn English. Those who rode exercise bikes at a gentle pace outperformed those in vocabulary tests who did no exercise at all.

Musicians Also Have Higher IQs.

Vanderbilt University psychologists Crystal Gibson, Bradley Folley, and Sohee Park found that professionally trained musicians use both the left and the right sides of their frontal cortex more heavily than the average person.

“We studied musicians because creative thinking is part of their daily experience, said Folley in regards to the study. We found that there were qualitative differences in the types of answers they gave to problems and in their associated brain activity.”

Even your taste in music affects IQ.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG notes that the OP appears to suffer from more than a few correlation = causation issues.

If IQ is a characteristic that you are born with, how can what you do affect your IQ?

If a high IQ is, in fact, a reflection of your ability to score well on IQ and other standardized tests rather than something you were born with, is it an acquired ability.

Assume, as a thought experiment than someone born with an extremely high intelligence never received any sort of education and was not exposed to anyone who came from a background different than his/her own, would that person perform well on an IQ test? Would listening to classical music without doing anything else result in that person performing better on an IQ test?

PG has also known more than a few very bright idiots. One of the most intelligent people he ever worked with, a person who had developed patented technology that was regarded as a brilliant breakthrough in his well-compensated field of expertise, suffered from terrible business judgement and, despite his diligent efforts towards increasing his wealth, his financial circumstances reflected his stupid business decisions.

Related to his prior comment, PG also suggests that there is a difference between intelligence and aptitude for a wide variety of pursuits.

Plus, everybody knows an idiot who graduated with honors from a highly-prestigious university.

Lest anyone mistake PG’s attitude for envy or something similar, PG will reveal that he possesses a high IQ.

He was intrigued by the subject when he was in elementary and high school, but the standard belief of people who may have known his IQ at the time was that it was a bad idea for someone, at least someone of PG’s age and (lack of) maturity to know what their IQ was.

After he graduated from college and was working in Chicago, PG learned that he could pay a nominal sum, take an IQ test and learn what his IQ was. He did that very thing, then accepted the offer of the person who administered the test to join a group of people whose sole common trait was a high IQ.

PG never attended any meetings because he heard they were full of weird and boring people from others who had attended such meetings.

PG has known several people who he and others regarded as geniuses in particular fields – painting, musical performance, acting, film-making, public speaking, litigation and electronics – are examples.

There is no doubt that each of these people were/are intelligent in a conventional sense, but they also have a talent they have worked to develop and which allows them to surpass equally intelligent or more intelligent individuals who either lack that talent or have not put in the work necessary to magnify that talent to a high level.

For PG, the individuals he regards as geniuses in particular fields deserve the title far more than those he has known who simply possess a high IQ score.

The Synergy Between Bookselling and Writing

From Publishers Weekly:

There was a time when I viewed working in a bookstore as just a good side job. I started working in a bookstore at the now-defunct BookCourt in Brooklyn. It had its perks: it was within walking distance from my apartment, there was a Starbucks next door, and it was the sort of work that made me feel smart. I was in my mid-20s, often drifting around to different jobs. Bookseller was a job right out of a 1990s rom-com: smart, hip, discerning.

But it wasn’t long before I realized that there is a lot more soul to bookselling than there is to your standard retail gig. People approached me with deep longings, casual impulses, a need for a particular distraction, and then they would seek counsel: “I’m going to the beach with a bunch of lit snobs, can you find me something that’s fun but also well written?”; “I’m travelling to Turkey, do you have any novels set in Istanbul?”; “I just broke up with my partner, and I need a good cry.”

And so on. I felt less like a retail worker and more like a bartender, or perhaps a fortune-teller. The store regularly held reading events that included free wine handed out in little plastic cocktail cups, so sometimes I even played actual bartender.

Maybe it was the wood shelves, or the old, lumpy couches inviting people to sit and sample the wares. Maybe it was all that paper absorbing the noise, maximizing coziness. Maybe it was the free wine. But as time wore on, those four walls felt less like a store and more like a warm communal hall. As an employee, I gave customers my time, attention, and advice—but astoundingly, I found they also gave the same back to me.

Julia, an author who ran the local Sackett Street Writers Workshop and hosted readings at our store, gave me discounts on classes and later blurbed my novel. Emma, once a coworker and now a bestselling author with her own wonderful store, Books Are Magic, gave me writing tips and recommendation letters. Tim, a local environmental lawyer and fixture at all the store’s reading events, personally helped my husband and I move into our first apartment together in Queens.

Now we live in Long Island, and I work at Sag Harbor Books. Covid is in full swing; we’re not allowed to gather for readings like we used to, but the feeling of community is still strong. People still approach, now in masks, and ask for counsel, their questions similar to, and different from, what they were before: “I haven’t been able to read much since the pandemic started, do you have something that will soothe me?”; “I know it makes no sense, but I can’t get enough of apocalypse stories. What can you recommend?”; “My kids are bouncing off the walls from being stuck inside, do you have anything that will hold their attention?”

And then there are the people who walk into the store with no questions, just hushed awe. They look around with tears brimming in their eyes and say, “It’s been so long since I’ve been in a bookstore.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Light in the Palazzo

From The New York Review of Books:

In 1968 the Roman aristocrat Alessandro Torlonia, Prince of Fucino, applied for a permit to repair the roof of his family’s private museum, a nineteenth-century industrial building just outside the ancient Porta Settimiana in Trastevere that had been transformed by his great-grandfather, another Alessandro, into a sprawling seventy-seven-room venue for the family’s vast collection of ancient sculpture. Decked out in neoclassical splendor, the Torlonia Museum opened in 1876, but only to visitors inscribed in the Golden Book of Italian Nobility, a manuscript in the Central State Archive in Rome that provided the definitive list of Italian peerage. In 1947 Rome’s superintendent of antiquities, Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli, made his way into the sanctum by dressing as a janitor. The disguise played a superbly Tuscan practical joke on his unwitting hosts. Bianchi Bandinelli was a Sienese count who could trace his lineage back to a twelfth-century pope. He could have entered the Torlonia Museum as a nobleman, but the Italian Constitution of 1948 had stripped aristocratic titles of any legal significance and rendered the Golden Book of Italian Nobility a relic of the past.

As superintendent, moreover, Bianchi Bandinelli, a fervent Communist, represented this new, egalitarian Republic of Italy. And the republic, in turn, had its eye on the Torlonia collection: 620 statues, 619 of marble and one of bronze, an assemblage second only to the Vatican Museums in size and quality, and jealously hidden from public view. The humble disguise, by making the superintendent invisible to class-conscious eyes, allowed him to take inventory as he never could have done in his official capacity.

Twenty-one years later, armed with his permit to repair the roof, Prince Alessandro threw an opaque construction fence around the Torlonia Museum and turned its galleries into ninety-three mini-apartments (some of them adapted in recent years to provide classrooms for John Cabot University). He crammed the displaced antiquities into three storerooms; in an anguished open letter to UNESCO in 1979, the journalist Antonio Cederna described them as “stacked on top of each other like junk.” By February 1977, with the backing of a new young superintendent of antiquities, Adriano La Regina, the Roman magistrate Alberto Albamonte had charged Prince Alessandro with illegal construction and damaging cultural heritage (the transport from galleries to storage had been anything but careful), charges that gave the Italian state leverage to sequester first the building and then the collection.

In timeless Roman fashion, the statute of limitations for the charge of illegal construction expired, and an amnesty restored the palazzo and collection to its princely owner, but the charge of damage to Italy’s cultural heritage went all the way to the country’s Supreme Court, which ruled in 1979 that “the transfer [to storage] inflicted material and immaterial damage to the collection,” and that the statues were kept “in cramped, inadequate, dangerous quarters…unbelievably crowded together side by side without any historical relationship or principle of consistency,” “condemned from a cultural standpoint to certain death.” Prince Alessandro responded by letting the Torlonia Marbles continue to languish under a growing layer of filthy Roman dust, shrouded in plastic and malign neglect.

In 2015 the decades-long standoff finally began to show signs of shifting, accelerating after Prince Alessandro’s death in 2017 at the age of ninety-two. In October 2020, after years of negotiation, ninety-one Torlonia Marbles (and the bronze), newly restored and carefully analyzed, emerged from their decades of captivity to inaugurate a newly refurbished wing of Rome’s Capitoline Museums, the Palazzo Caffarelli, built over the site of the colossal ancient temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. “The Torlonia Marbles: Collecting Masterpieces,” an exhibition curated by two eminent classicists, Salvatore Settis and Carlo Gasparri, and designed by the English architect David Chipperfield, opened several months late because of the coronavirus pandemic. Before it closed because of Covid-19 restrictions, a limited number of visitors were admitted into the galleries, but once admitted, they could linger as long as they liked. Wandering among the intimately scaled displays, in that storied setting, with a comfortable number of people rather than a horde, provided as close to a perfect experience as anyone could want. The catalog, in keeping with the momentous occasion, is stylish, dense, and complete in every respect but one: Prince Alessandro has been given the benefit of the ancient Roman rule de mortuis nihil nisi bonum. But at least two of the contributors to the catalog have provided a fuller account of his treatment of the collection to the press.

Link to the rest at The New York Review of Books

The following are from the collection:

Artgate Fondazione Cariplo, CC BY-SA 3.0
Steven Zucker CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Sailko, CC BY 3.0

For the first time ever

For the first time ever I was taking the family on the road. We stayed with my in-laws, which on life’s list of experiences ranks right below sitting in a tub full of scissors.

Jeff Foxworthy

Relationship Thesaurus Entry: In-laws

From Writers Helping Writers:

Description: an in-law relationship occurs when a marriage or like-union occurs, bringing two families together. The partners in the relationship join the family of their other half and a bond of respect, tolerance, and (hopefully) love comes about. But while the partners choose one another, their family members “come with the package” so to speak, meaning personality or ideological clashes can often cause friction.

Relationship Dynamics:
Below are a wide range of dynamics that may accompany this relationship. Use the ideas that suit your story and work best for your characters to bring about and/or resolve the necessary conflict.

Showing genuine interest in the other’s passions, likes, beliefs, etc.

Engaging in polite conversation

Complimenting the other (on house improvements, a garden, a choice of car, etc.)

Asking about the other’s family members, job, vacations, activities

Pitching in to help when asked (childcare, helping with a move or repair)

Avoiding contentious topics to keep the peace

Offering advice, encouragement, and praise

Asking the other for their opinion or to weigh in with experience

Offering help without expectation or strings

Sharing stories about the loved one in common

Gentle information-gathering about possible changes, or areas of concern

Telling jokes or sharing funny stories

Discussing current events, politics, popular movies, books, or pop culture

Celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and other family events together

Sharing meals or enjoying an outing together

Talking about kids (if there are any)

Prying into the other’s business

Offering unsolicited or unwelcome advice

Being judged by the in laws and feeling that one doesn’t measure up

Suspecting the other is holding back information (or lying) due to a grudge

Believing the other is trying to drive a wedge between the character and the loved one in common (a husband and wife, a mother and daughter, etc.)

Guilt trips: You never come to visit, Sarah’s other grandparents always get her for Christmas and we never do; Why do you always stay at Bill’s house and never ours when you come to town; If you loved me, you’d invite me along on the trip, etc.

Reminding the other of their mistakes or bringing up a past embarrassment

Snide remarks, haughtiness, talking down to the other, arguments

Pushing or shaming the other to adopt beliefs about religion, politics, or ideology

Forcing other relatives to take sides

Asking for something that’s inappropriate (money, to lie for them, etc.)

Going behind the other’s back and then lying about it

Interfering with how the character raises their kids

Thinking the other’s rules are stupid and so refusing to respect them

Making the other feel small (only begrudgingly offering aid or financial support, etc.)

Making demands and ultimatums: If you want to see your grandchildren ever again…

Ignoring the other’s boundaries

Voicing disappointments to make the other feel bad

Sharing gossip about the other to purposely lower their esteem and cause rifts

Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship

A parent who doesn’t like their child’s spouse seeding discord in hopes they break up
Believing the other is a threat, which leads to constant friction

Control issues (over how children are raised, how the other lives, choices that affect family members in common)

The in laws wanting to have a say in everything and the character wishing for autonomy

Disagreements over where to settle down (in laws wanting the couple close when the couple doesn’t share this desire)

Clashing Personality Trait Combinations: Controlling and Independent, judgmental and oversensitive, stingy and generous, proper and rebellious, inflexible and spontaneous, nosy and private, gullible and intelligent

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

The Seven Habits of Successful Writers

From Writer Unboxed:

  1. Write every day. The more you write, the better you’ll get.
  2. Go to a prestigious creative writing program. These programs are competitive and costly, but you’ll get to hone your craft and make connections that will benefit you your life long.
  3. Get rich and famous before you start writing. Having the finances and social capital to quit your job will free up so much of your mental energy. Having the financial freedom to take exotic vacations and party like it’s 1999 will give you so many stories to tell.
  4. Cultivate a love of reading when you’re still a child. This one will be more difficult for those of us who are already adults, but some of the best writing advice I’ve ever gotten was that if something is important to you, you’ll figure out a way to make it happen. If you first fell in love with the written word when you were ten, see if you can make it happen by age nine.
  5. Have at least one parent who is a successful author. Our parents are our first mentors, teaching us life lessons and passing on the benefits of their wisdom without the pain of their mistakes. If your parents are famous authors themselves, that will give you a huge advantage in your own career. Talk to your folks about their literary aspirations and see if they’d consider changing careers from motel manager or retiree to having been a literary darling since age twenty-six.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

The OP is a little snotty, but it’s definitely not conventional advice.

The Long Road to Publication

From The Literary Hub:

Author Anjali Enjeti: When I’m doing the first draft of a book-length work, I try to write two pages a day, every single day until that first draft is done, no matter how terrible those pages are. I rarely use any of those pages later, but it feels good to fill up a blank page. And it gets me into the habit of thinking about the story every day, and figuring out who my characters are, and what they’re meant to do.

. . . .

Interviewer Devi S. Laskar: The road to publication is long and twisted—tell me about some of your hairpin turns and about your waiting game. Clearly something converged since you have two books coming out at once!

AE: I submitted multiple books for eleven years, and during that time I had two different agents, neither of whom sold my books. (One tried very hard and we parted on good terms. Another ghosted me a few months after I signed with him.) I have submitted to quite a few small presses over the years, too. I just couldn’t get anything to work out, and about ten years in, I decided to quit spending so much time submitting. So I cut down substantially. Then the following year, the book proposal I submitted earlier to UGA Press yielded a contract for Southbound. Once I had that in hand, I decided to enter the open submission period for Hub City Press with The Parted Earth. The fact that they’re coming out at the same time is merely coincidental. I sold Southbound on proposal so it took me some time to write the book. And it ended up coinciding with the release of The Parted Earth.

DSL: As an older debut author you must have developed communities who have supported you and lifted you up until this moment ? Or have you been a loner, trying to break into the literary scene? What has been the reaction in the Indian community (i.e. are the aunties aware and proud?) I read that your books have already received several mentions in “must read lists”—what does that feel like?

AE: I am very lucky in this regard. When I began taking writing seriously, especially after I moved to the Atlanta area, I was welcomed into a large, warm community of writers. (Shout out to the Atlanta Writers Club!) I could not have survived as a loner in the literary world. Pre-COVID, I was always attending readings or craft talks or book launches or just meeting other writers for meals. Writing communities have fueled me. I would have never lasted this long in the business without them. A subset of this writing community has been the South Asian writing community, and while there are fewer of us here in Atlanta, the greater South Asian writing community, whether in California or New York or Texas or India, has been crucial to my health and development as a writer.

. . . .

DSL: What does literary success look like to you?

AE: What constitutes literary success has evolved for me significantly over the years. For most of my life, it meant publishing a book. But when I couldn’t get a book deal, I knew I needed to reassess what success in this business looked like. And it became writing essays or articles that demand a more humane world. I’ve covered politics, voting, and elections for the past few years, and aside from enjoying this kind of writing, it holds value. I also teach in an MFA program. It’s some of the most rewarding work I do. My students inspire me to push my boundaries as a writer and I’m blown away by their talent.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG will let visitors to TPV discuss whether writing two pages per day is a good method for writing and finishing a book.

PG will comment that the OP certainly makes the lives of the author and interviewer seem hard from an emotional and guilt perspective.

The State of the Crime Novel in 2021: Writing During the Pandemic

From CrimeReads, the Mystery Writers of America nominees for the 75th annual Edgar Awards discuss the state of crime fiction in 2021:

Elsa Hart (nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award – The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne): Fundamentally. Do you know how fantasy novels usually start with a map of the world? If I could represent my writing self as one of these, it would show me wandering around in a completely different zone than I was a year ago. It’s all still me. I’m just exploring different corners of my imagination.

Nev March (nominated for Best First Novel – Murder in Old Bombay): It was so difficult to concentrate! Living in the midst of a real crisis makes any fictional world recede. It felt like living through a war, changed how we shopped, went out, and interacted with people. For two months I stopped writing to sew 460 cloth face masks for home healthcare workers, friends and neighbors. My first bit of writing after that was a comedic article about making masks on an unwilling sewing machine! It normalized the new, bizarre reality and re-energized my writing.

June Hur (nominated for Best Young Adult – The Silence of Bones): As a mom of a toddler, my writing schedule hasn’t changed too much. I write when my daughter naps and when she’s asleep. I suppose, the only difference is, I’m a bit more exhausted at the end of the day since I’m stuck at home with my daughter all day, trying to figure out how to keep her entertained (rather than going out on playdates, etc). So it takes me a bit longer to get into the writing zone.

. . . .

Ivy Pochoda (nominated for Best Novel – These Women): Well it’s certainly made me more efficient and less of a baby about the whole thing. I used to have a large chunk of the day to myself. But now I’m pretty immersed in brushing up on my kindergarten skills—phonics, addition, social and emotional learning. Which leaves me roughly two and a half hours to write in the late afternoon and that has never been a great time for me to get “creative.” But you know what—I’m doing it. I’m writing in those hours—if I can—and I’m being super easy on myself. A great day is 500 words. (Don’t laugh, you book a year people!) And 500 words is enough for now. I’m not putting too much pressure on myself to be super prolific. Just a few words feels major.

Heather Young (nominated for Best Novel – The Distant Dead): Having my husband and son working and studying from home did disrupt my writing process, but the pandemic hasn’t changed my writing. My work in progress is set in 1943, so I don’t have to worry about COViD-19 in my narrative. In fact, it’s been oddly comforting to spend my writing time in an era when the world confronted threats far more existential than the coronavirus.

Mariah Fredericks (nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award – Death of an American Beauty): I don’t know if it’s changed my writing. It has made me very grateful that I have a job that allows me to escape into other people’s heads and a different time altogether. And that I have my own workspace, where I can physically escape. Much as I love my family.

Taryn Souders (nominated for Best Juvenile – Coop Knows The Scoop): In the past, I found myself being very distracted at home with laundry, or kids, or pets, or anything really. I would often go to a coffee shop to write. With the pandemic though, those options were no longer available. It forced me to write at home. My preference is definitely the coffee shops! I haven’t been nearly as productive as I would like but I’m getting there!

Christina Lane (nominated for Best Critical/Biographical – Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock): Well, I don’t write in the public library anymore, which has slowed my roll. The pandemic has opened up more free time and provided time to explore. I began experimenting at turning my latest book into a mystery-based video game, teaching myself the basics of game-writing. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, if only to experiment with directions of storytelling.

. . . .

David Heska Wanbli Weiden (nominated for Best First Novel – Winter Counts): I write in bursts now. I’ve got my five-a.m. shift, before everyone wakes up, then my mid-morning time, and then an evening stint, if I’m not too exhausted. I really, really miss coffee shops, where I used to do most of my writing. Not only the massive infusion of caffeine, but the buzz and hum of customers and the chance to eavesdrop on random conversations. Having said that, I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of writing short stories again, after grappling with a novel for several years. Not sure if the enforced isolation of the pandemic had anything to do with this, but it’s been an interesting change.

Link to the rest at CrimeReads

Writers on Textbroker, Upwork Earning Signficantly Less Than Those Working Outside Content Mills

From Making a Living Writing:

Let’s face it — 2020 was a disaster for most people.

In addition to the tremendous health impact the pandemic had on our country, there was also a significant economic toll. Tens of millions of Americans lost their jobs due to the pandemic, leaving so many people struggling to find work and make ends meet.

But there’s one industry where, at least on the surface, things weren’t disrupted quite so much — freelance writing.

As freelancers, we already work from home. We set our own hours and make our own rates (unless you’re stuck working in a content mill).

Of course, freelancers still require clients who will actually hire them and pay them, and with so many businesses struggling in 2020, it got us wondering:

What was the impact of COVID-19 on freelance writers? Did their income take a hit? Did they have to lower their rates to accommodate clients who may have been struggling to keep their own businesses afloat?

With that in mind, we surveyed over 700 current US freelance writers to get a better understanding of how they fared in 2020. We asked a number of questions about their overall income, their project rates, how they found clients, and more, and the results were pretty interesting.

. . . .

Of those surveyed, about 26% have been freelancing for 3-5 years, 17% for 10+ years, 25% for 1-2 years, 12% for 6-9 years, and 20% for less than a year.

. . . .

Overall, most writers saw their income either increase or at least stay the same in 2020 compared to 2019.

Let’s start with the good news. Only 28% of freelancers said their income decreased in 2020 compared to the prior year. 55% of writers said their income either stayed about the same or increased in 2020. That’s great news! About 16.5% of writers still haven’t run the numbers on their 2020 income totals just yet.

Content mill & gig site writers are about half as likely to earn a six-figure income as those who work with clients outside of those sites

Now let’s get to some of the sadder news, at least for those who are getting their clients from content mills (e.g. Textbroker, Writer Access, etc.) or gig sites (e.g. Upwork, Fiverr, etc.).

2 out of 3 full-time freelancers who get their clients from content mills and/or gig sites make $25,000 a year or less. On the other hand, just 1 out of 3 freelancers who get clients outside of those avenues earn that little.

Furthermore, freelancers who get their own clients or work with marketing/ad agencies are roughly twice as likely (about a 17% chance) to make $100,000 or more than those who write for mills or gig sites (about a 9% chance).

Content mill & gig site writers earn far lower rates for projects on average

We asked writers how much they charge for various projects (blog posts of various lengths, feature articles, sales copywriting, etc.), and there’s one very clear trend — writers on content mills and gig sites get significantly lower rates than other freelancers.

Here are some examples:

  • 23% of freelancers working on content mills or gig sites earn $20 or less on average for a 500-750 word blog post. On the other hand, only about 13% of freelancers who work directly with their own clients or get outsourced work from marketing agencies report making that little. Furthermore, freelancers who work outside of the mills and gig sites are twice as likely to earn over $150 for this kind of work.
  • About 27% of freelancers on mills and gig sites say they earn less than $100 per article for print or high-end digital publications (non blog) on average, while only 8% of freelancers who work directly with their own clients say the may that little.
  • Just 2.5% of freelancers in the mills or gig sites say they earn $75 an hour or more on sales copywriting projects, while over 12% of freelancers working outside of those spots report earning these great rates.

Link to the rest at Making a Living Writing

Taskforce set up to tackle Disney’s attempts to weasel out of paying its genre authors

From SF Crowsnest:

A task force has now been set up to tackle Disney’s attempts to weasel out of paying its genre authors of their promised/contracted royalties.

The organisations behind the #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force include the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the Author’s Guild, the Horror Writers Association, the National Writers Union, Novelists, Inc., the Romance Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime.

The task force includes members such as Neil Gaiman, Tess Gerritsen, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Chuck Wendig.

“Writers must be paid or given missing royalty statements; these contracts must be honoured,” said Mary Robinette Kowal, President, SFWA. “We urge all authors to review their statements to make certain they are in order.”

SFWA has told us that Alan Dean Foster’s novelisation payments have now been resolved. But about a dozen additional authors contacted SFWA with a request for help, including the authors of Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Indiana Jones, and multiple other properties. SFWA has provided Disney with the names of authors who are similarly missing royalty statements and payments going back years.

Fox had licensed the comics rights to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Dark Horse. After Disney purchased Fox, they withdrew those rights from Dark Horse and granted them to Boom! Comics. When one Buffy author contacted Boom! about missing royalties, they were told that “royalties don’t transfer.” Disney is the owner of Boom! Comics.

So, basically, if this is allowed to legally stand, any publisher can just sell their books’ rights internally in a shell game, voiding any further author royalty payments at all.

Disney is now being reactive rather than proactively working with the SFWA to address the significant issue they have brought to their attention. While in talks for Alan Dean Foster’s Alien novels, Disney was told that Alan was also missing statements and royalties for his Star Wars novelisations. They would not begin the process or resume royalty statements until Alan contacted them with a formal claim.

“SFWA wishes to create a cooperative relationship with Disney, but the corporation flatly refuses to work with us,” added Kowal. “They say they are committed to paying the authors, but their actions make it clear that Disney is placing the onus to be paid on the authors, while at the same time attempting to isolate the authors from receiving counsel from their professional author organisation.”

. . . .

There are now many verified reports of missing statements and royalties from LucasFilm (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc.); Boom! Comics, and Dark Horse Comics (Licensed comics including Buffy the Vampire Slayer); 20th Century Fox (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alien, etc.); MGM (Stargate); Marvel WorldWide (SpiderMan, Predator); Disney Worldwide Publishing (Buffy, Angel).

Link to the rest at SF Crowsnest and thanks to Stephen for the tip.

Five Writing Tips We Love to Hate

From Writers in the Storm:

While perusing the Twitterverse recently, I happened upon a question that caught my interest. Author Jeff Richards asked, “What is your LEAST favorite common writing tip?”

We all have that one piece of advice that makes us roll our eyes when someone feels the need to impart that particular kernel of wisdom. Below, I’ve collected some of the most popular responses from Mr. Richards’ query. Everyone has their own interpretation as to the meaning of these gems. Let’s take a deeper look and I’ll give you my opinion (I’m full of them).

Write Every Day

“Write every day” is the one I hear most often and was also high on the Twitter list. The most common complaints about this piece of advice involve finding the time and/or the inspiration. Both can be quite difficult at times. You need to write consistently, but that may not mean every day in your particular life situation. I like to approach this tip more as, “Make time in your schedule for writing and stick to it.”

The truth is life doesn’t always give us a choice, so do your best and don’t kick yourself to hard when you stumble and miss a day or two (or in my case sometimes weeks). There are times you need to give yourself permission to say, “It ain’t happening today…”

. . . .

Don’t Use Prologues

I have to admit “Don’t use prologues” used to be one of my favorite pieces of advice. I always felt the need for a prologue meant you were starting your story in the wrong place. I also found a good number of the prologues I encountered were simply data dumps of back story that could have easily been woven into the fabric of the narrative or eliminated completely.

I’ve flipped my opinion on this one a little. Sometimes a prologue can set the proper mood for a piece or help the reader get anchored in an unfamiliar setting, especially when it comes to fantasy and science fiction. I think the key is to keep it short and don’t overload the reader with details you can work into the story when they are necessary. A lot of back story can be implied by context and world-building done by your character’s interactions with their surroundings.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Antiquities

From The Wall Street Journal:

The narrator of Cynthia Ozick’s seventh novel is neither Jewish nor intellectual—a significant departure from her usual characters. Nor is he worldly, witty, well-read or astute. But Ms. Ozick is of course all of the above, and this slim but by no means slight narrative is as cunning and rich as anything she’s written.

Antiquities” is about an excavation into the past by a man not insightful enough to fully understand what he has unearthed and revealed. Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie is a cultural relic, a stodgy retired lawyer who in 1949 resides, with the six other elderly surviving trustees of the Temple Academy for Boys, in converted apartments in their former Westchester County boarding school, which closed 34 years earlier.

“Antiquities” consists of Petrie’s attempt to write about a salient experience from his school days: his idolatrous relationship with a mysterious classmate, a boy whose foreign name, Ben-Zion Elefantin, strange accent, and skeletal appearance subjected him to ridicule from the other students. Petrie’s association with Elefantin, initially over chess, rendered him an outcast, too.

Petrie’s recollections of his schoolboy infatuation are deeply entangled with memories of his father, who died when he was 10—the same year Elefantin came to the Academy, though he doesn’t mention this confluence explicitly. Petrie discovers that his upstanding father, too, had suffered an infatuation—with “ancient times”—which caused him to briefly abandon his new wife and position at the family law firm for a fling with a different life: work on the excavation of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, run by renowned archaeologist (and historical figure) Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, whom he believed to be a cousin.

Sorting through the rubble of both infatuations is heavy labor for Petrie, even many decades later. He notes in a moment of rare self-awareness that “it is as if I must excavate, as in a desert, what lies far below and has no wish to emerge—to wit, my boyhood emotions.”

Ms. Ozick has created a character who, unlike herself, is unconscious of the reverberations of the words he chooses. The lonely, friendless widower writes of his “racking affections” for Elefantin and what, in a lonely childhood in which physical contact must have been a rarity, he considers their “intimacy.” He repeatedly mentions their bare knees touching on the climactic day when Elefantin mesmerized him with a tale of his family’s ancient origins, part of an outcast Jewish sect whose history on the Nile, he claims, was omitted from the Torah by “falsifying scholars.”

Even as an old man, Petrie doesn’t know what to make of these “frenzied murmurings of two agitated boys prone and under a spell.” Is it, he wonders, “a liar’s screed, an invention? An apparition’s fevered pedantry? And who knows such things, this garble of history and foreign babble? Not I. Nor am I a man of imagination,” he writes.

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

The individual has always had to struggle

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.

Rudyard Kipling

The Secret To This Romance Author’s Success? Breaking All The Rules.

From Amazon Author Insights:

I can safely say that every time I’ve been asked to speak to aspiring writers, afterward, I’ve had not one, but several come up to me and say, “I can’t believe you did what you said you did. I was told never to do that. I was told never to break that rule.” This does not surprise me, but it saddens me. When I started writing, I too had a set of rules for writing romance (my genre) that I was under the impression were unbreakable. And I wrote within the confines of those rules.

It was only when publishing house after publishing house, agent after agent had rejected my submissions, and I’d decided that no one was ever going to read my books, that I threw the rules out the window. I then simply wrote what I wanted to write, wrote how the stories came to me, was true to them and my characters.

Then I published myself … And I’ve sold more than two and a half million books.

What are the rules I broke? First, I didn’t write what I thought people wanted to read. I didn’t research what might be popular — what might sell — and write that. I wrote stories that felt personal to me, that I enjoyed completely from writing to reading. The first book that I did this with was Rock Chick, and with it and the Rock Chick series, I broke all the rules:

I wrote in first person, and at that time, romance novels in first person were available, but not customary.

I wrote my heroine’s thoughts in a stream of consciousness. I had paragraphs — many of them — that were just one word. I put myself, and what would eventually be my readers, in the mind of my heroine, Indy. Not describing what she was thinking, but thinking what she was thinking as she was thinking it. It’s important to note that not everyone could get into that, and that’s understandable, even expected. It’s also important to note that the ones who did, really did.

. . . .

I didn’t censor my characters or their behavior. I didn’t think, “Oh, that might make her unlikeable, I need to switch that up, make her perfect.” I didn’t water down my aggressive, but loving heroes. I let them be them — real, imperfect, sometimes annoying, more times endearing (I hoped). They were great friends and good people, but they could (and often did) do stupid things (like we all do).

And my Rock Chicks were — and still are — hugely successful.

Once I let myself be free, my writing took off — not only in that people were reading it, but that I felt at liberty to create how I needed to create. To be true to what I was doing. It wasn’t about stepping out of bounds for the sake of it. It was about opening a cage and giving myself the freedom to fly.

In other words, I broke the rules for the sake of the stories. And I didn’t play it safe after my books started selling; I had to stay true to that process. I needed to keep spreading my wings, doing this for me, but also to give my readers something new and fresh, a story I was passionate about so they could enjoy it right along with me. 

Link to the rest at Amazon Author Insights