The truth is

The truth is, everyone likes to look down on someone. If your favorites are all avant-garde writers who throw in Sanskrit and German, you can look down on everyone. If your favorites are all Oprah Book Club books, you can at least look down on mystery readers. Mystery readers have sci-fi readers. Sci-fi can look down on fantasy. And yes, fantasy readers have their own snobbishness.

I’ll bet this, though: in a hundred years, people will be writing a lot more dissertations on Harry Potter than on John Updike. Look, Charles Dickens wrote popular fiction. Shakespeare wrote popular fiction—until he wrote his sonnets, desperate to show the literati of his day that he was real artist. Edgar Allan Poe tied himself in knots because no one realized he was a genius.

The core of the problem is how we want to define “literature”. The Latin root simply means “letters”. Those letters are either delivered—they connect with an audience—or they don’t. For some, that audience is a few thousand college professors and some critics. For others, its twenty million women desperate for romance in their lives.

Those connections happen because the books successfully communicate something real about the human experience. Sure, there are trashy books that do really well, but that’s because there are trashy facets of humanity. What people value in their books—and thus what they count as literature—really tells you more about them than it does about the book.

Brent Weeks

A Guide to Conquering Your Demons with 5 Mathematical Sci-Fi Books

From Book Riot:

Mathematical science fiction books use mathematics in world-building to advance the plot and build characters. Building on Clarke’s three laws, Mathematical Fiction allows readers to discover the appeal of solvable questions. The right math can solve any problem, outsmart any foe, or conquer any demon. STEM fields that may not interest readers in real life become fascinating in fiction. I’m a math novice at best, but I always love it when mathematics explains impossible feats of heroism in sci-fi. I have compiled an action-packed list filled with suspense, romance, and silliness as well as advanced mathematics.

. . . .

The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole

Welcome readers, to a little romantic locked room mystery novella from the dual perspectives of Trinity Jordan and Li Wei. Trinity is a self-proclaimed homebody recovering from an accident that took away her old life. Meanwhile, in the apartment across the hall, Li Wei is relearning what it means to be an almost-human A.I. unit. He uses statistical analysis and observation to acclimate to his new environment, developing a fascination for his gorgeous neighbor Trinity. With the help of Trinity’s friends, Li’s aunt, and Penny, a particularly capable Home A.I. Personal Assistant, they remember the truth. The feeling of wrongness is always on the tip of your tongue, just waiting for you to taste the rancid foundation Trinity and Li’s safety is built on. This Mathematical Sci-Fi novella is very boy-next-door meets Skynet and I love it.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

As someone who took just enough math to get a respectable SAT Math score, then stopped forever, Mathematical Sci-Fi sounds a bit intimidating, but perhaps PG needs to give it a try.

He can’t rule out the possibility that math has changed since the invention of the decimal point.

French Publishers Appeal to Government: Leave Our Bookstores Open

From Publishing Perspectives:

In an extraordinary appeal to the Emmanuel Macron government today (October 28), France’s publishers’ association, the Syndicat national de l’édition (SNE), has joined with two of its associated organizations in issuing a “solemn, united, and responsible” request that French bookstores be allowed to remain open despite the anticipated announcement of new pandemic lockdown restrictions.

Perhaps the most compelling part of their letter: “We are ready to assume our cultural and health responsibilities.”

. . . .

Emmanuel Macron has been expected to make a televised address to the French people this evening, announcing new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic restrictions that may go as far as a second national lockdown. Lauren Chadwick at EuroNews writes that such a confinement would not be expected to be as stringent as the spring lockdown but Kim Willsher’s write at The Guardian agrees with other press reports that the new constraint could be set to last as long as four weeks.

A curfew already has been imposed for at least eight major urban centers in the country, and the Worldometer tracking regime reflects the soaring numbers of new cases being registered in the French market. 

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Learning to Write vs Becoming a Writer

From Dave Farland:

I know a lot of people who know how to write well but who aren’t writers. For example, a few years ago I met a gentleman who had penned five novels. He’s been a huge mainstream success, hit high on the New York Times Bestseller List, and then gave it all up and went into advertising.

The same happens with people who don’t pursue their dreams. There are skillful authors who choose to wait tables in fancy restaurants, practice law or dentistry, and take any number of other occupations.

As a writing instructor, I find that most of the time when writers teach classes, we focus on teaching people how to write, not how to be a writer.

They’re distinct skill sets. You can know how to write a great chapter and never write one. I know authors who don’t know how to keep themselves motivated. Other authors can’t seem to avoid distraction. Others put things off.

Last year, I was considering this problem. I find that I know a lot of good writers who are “working on a novel” for entirely too long. Does it take a month to write a book, or six months, or six years?

There are a lot of things you need to do to become a writer. Most cases of writer’s block are caused by stupidity. The author sits down to write and doesn’t know what to do next. How do you handle this scene or that character?

The writer might be proficient at a different kind of story, but not know how to handle the one they’re working on. For example, the author might know how to pen a romance but be unsure how to write a mystery.

This problem might be easily fixed if the author read more widely and studied craft for the genre in question. It might be easily solved if the writer could discuss it with someone else with similar interests. Just brainstorming the coming scene with another writer is often the key.

Or what about accountability? Many people who want to write find themselves easily distracted. I’ve known professional writers whose careers were destroyed when they became addicted to videogames, or gardening, or writing to friends on social media.

. . . .

There are rare writers who are solitary creatures who manage to go into their attics and pump out manuscript after manuscript, but those are about as rare as unicorns.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

Here’s a link to Dave Farland’s books. If you like the writing advice Dave provides, you might want to check out his writing.

Neofeudalism: The End of Capitalism?

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:


IN CAPITAL IS DEAD, McKenzie Wark asks: What if we’re not in capitalism anymore but something worse? The question is provocative, sacrilegious, unsettling as it forces anti-capitalists to confront an unacknowledged attachment to capitalism. Communism was supposed to come after capitalism and it’s not here, so doesn’t that mean we are still in capitalism? Left unquestioned, this assumption hinders political analysis. If we’ve rejected strict historical determinism, we should be able to consider the possibility that capitalism has mutated into something qualitatively different. Wark’s question invites a thought experiment: what tendencies in the present indicate that capitalism is transforming itself into something worse?

Over the past decade, “neofeudalism” has emerged to name tendencies associated with extreme inequality, generalized precarity, monopoly power, and changes at the level of the state. Drawing from libertarian economist Tyler Cowen’s emphasis on the permanence of extreme inequality in the global, automated economy, the conservative geographer Joel Kotkin envisions the US future as mass serfdom. A property-less underclass will survive by servicing the needs of high earners as personal assistants, trainers, child-minders, cooks, cleaners, et cetera. The only way to avoid this neofeudal nightmare is by subsidizing and deregulating the high-employment industries that make the American lifestyle of suburban home ownership and the open road possible — construction and real estate; oil, gas, and automobiles; and corporate agribusiness. Unlike the specter of serfdom haunting Friedrich Hayek’s attack on socialism, Kotkin locates the adversary within capitalism. High tech, finance, and globalization are creating “a new social order that in some ways more closely resembles feudal structure — with its often unassailable barriers to mobility — than the chaotic emergence of industrial capitalism.” In this libertarian/conservative imaginary, feudalism occupies the place of the enemy formerly held by communism. The threat of centralization and the threat to private property are the ideological elements that remain the same.

A number of technology commentators share the libertarian/conservative critique of technology’s role in contemporary feudalization even as they don’t embrace fossil fuels and suburbia. Already in 2010, in his influential book, You Are Not a Gadget, tech guru Jaron Lanier observed the emergence of peasants and lords of the internet. This theme has increased in prominence as a handful of tech companies have become ever richer and more extractive, turning their owners into billionaires on the basis of the cheap labor of their workers, the free labor of their users, and the tax breaks bestowed on them by cities desperate to attract jobs. Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and Alphabet (the parent company name for Google) together are worth more than most every country in the world (except the United States, China, Germany, and Japan). The economic scale and impact of these tech super giants, or, overlords, is greater than that of most so-called sovereign states. Evgeny Morozov describes their dominance as a “hyper-modern form of feudalism.”

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

PG will remind one and all that he does not necessarily agree with everything he posts here.

He hopes this is not happening at a lot of other places around the world, but large portions of urban America appear to have fallen into an endless Doom/Gloom cycle, sort of a Doom/Gloom wallow.

PG will note that, when he prepared this post yesterday, the book mentioned in the OP had an Amazon Sales Rank of #143,149 in Kindle Store. The LARB article is dated May 12, 2020, so whatever sales bump the book received from the review apparently didn’t last very long.

Even though the title of the book implies that capitalism is dead, apparently the publisher and author had no problem offering it for sale through an enterprise that is one of the greatest capitalist successes of the last twenty years. Maybe Amazon is on the brink of collapse, but PG wouldn’t bet on that.

(PG was going to put this post in the Non-Fiction category, but decided not to do so.)

How to Respectfully Disagree in Writing

From Grammarly:

It happens all the time—you and someone you know disagree about something more important than who has the best curry in town, and you need to hash it out. Whether it’s a peer, your boss, your landlord, or your kid’s teacher, you want to err on the side of delicacy and professionalism.

So how do you do that in a way that’s respectful—and ultimately productive? You want to make your perspective clear, confident, and compelling without anyone feeling attacked or at cross purposes. Below, we’ll suggest a few handy phrases and strategies to help you disagree respectfully.

. . . .

Is this the place?

Occasionally, the best way to respectfully disagree isn’t in writing at all. A live conversation may be a better way to ask and answer questions, exchange thoughts, and build consensus. Consider this before getting carried away with a long draft enumerating your righteous points.

It may even turn out what seemed like a disagreement was more of a misunderstanding. Phew.

. . . .

Keep it tight; empathize

Suppose your landlord emails to say while they’d hoped to upgrade your kitchen windows next month, it’s now looking more likely the month after. You could detail your displeasure in a three-page tirade, but that sounds exhausting and may make you seem irrational. One or two sentences should suffice:

“Thanks for the update, Daryl. That’s later than we’d hoped, and I don’t imagine having this process drag on is any fun for you, either.”

Note how that last part acknowledges Daryl has feelings and a point of view in this, too. This shows respect and is key to resolving your disagreement—as is this next item.

. . . .

Ask questions; empathize some more

Questions can politely point to what you want without seeming unduly demanding or unkind. Picking up where we left off with your landlord above, you might next ask this:

“Is there any way to expedite the installation? If not, could we negotiate a reduction to our rent or our portion of the heating bill in the meantime, since our kitchen is so drafty?”

Questions also keep the conversation moving forward and show you value the other person’s input. And if you’re worried the many questions you’re asking will become annoying, a concise way to acknowledge as much is, “Not to belabor this, but…” (That said, do try to read the vibe and avoid belaboring anything you don’t have to.)

Link to the rest at at Grammarly

PG completely endorses the approaches Grammarly recommends.

Unless you suspect a dispute may be coming down the road.

PG isn’t talking about a polite disagreement about when the new stove will be installed, but rather what happens if the new stove is never installed or if it’s installed by an idiot and starts a fire.

In other words, if some sort of a legal dispute is foreseeable.

If there’s a fight that ends up in Small Claims Court or if each side lawyers-up, a statement made for the purpose of smoothing ruffled feathers might be subject to a different interpretation.

In social situations, when discussing a past event with friends, PG might be inclined to say something like, “I might be wrong, but I remember that Chipper had too much to drink and took the first swing, but perhaps I’m confused about what happened.”

If PG were later asked about Chipper, his state of mind and what he did in some sort of formal setting, perhaps with a judge nearby, if he said something like, “Chipper was drunk and tried to punch Buzz in the nose,” Chipper’s counsel might ask if PG had admitted he might be confused or wrong on a prior occasion.

Penney Dreadfuls & Murder Broadsides

From I Love Typography:

[A] new kind of serialized fiction . . . first appeared in London in the 1830s. It wasn’t Charles Dickens or Mary Shelley but it was cheap — only a penny — easy to read, entertaining, and extraordinarily popular.

. . . .

The emergence of the penny dreadful in England coincided with improved literacy. Nationwide educational reforms launched in the 1830s aimed to eventually provide universal, free, and compulsory state-funded education. In England, when printing was introduced in the 1470s, literacy was likely under 10%. By the 1830s, literacy rates were about 66% and 50% for men and women, respectively. By 1900 the literacy rate had risen to 97%. What’s more, in the nineteenth century there was sustained and unprecedented population growth. In England, between 1800 and 1850 the population doubled; it then doubled again between 1850 and 1900! That growth was accompanied by a marked demographic shift: already by the 1820s almost half of the UK’s population was under 20! Not only did the period mark an almost exponential increase in mass-produced and cheap print, on scales inconceivable prior to the Industrial Revolution, but it found a global mass market of readers — an increasingly large number of whom were young and literate. It’s in this environment that the penny dreadful made its debut.

. . . .

Before the nineteenth century, there wasn’t much in the way of fun and entertaining reading material for children. In fact, children’s literature as a genre was a pretty late starter, only getting off the ground in the eighteenth century, and even then it was usually didactic, pious, and moralizing — not particularly fun. The first children’s periodical, The Lilliputian Magazine, published by John Newbery, didn’t appear until 1751. By the late 1790s, Churches and religious organizations had begun to publish children’s periodicals and Sunday School magazines, but again they were rather stuffy and conservative, not really the kind of thing that children were excited to read. But that was about to change.

. . . .

In summing up the nineteenth-century ‘reading revolution’, historian Dr Mary Hammond writes: ‘The period 1830–1914 saw some of the greatest changes in readerships and the types and availability of reading material ever experienced in the Western world.’* By the start of that period, serialized fiction was already becoming hugely popular. It’s how Charles Dickens got his start with the serialization of The Pickwick Papers in 1836–37. But most early serialized fiction was intended for adult readers. What’s more, although books were now cheaper than they’d ever been, they were still beyond a working child’s meagre wages; for example, The Pickwick Papers was published in twenty 32-page installments, but at 5 shillings (1 shilling = 12 pennies) per installment, it was far too expensive for most working class adults, let alone children.

. . . .

Enter the penny dreadful, typically eight or sixteen pages, printed on cheap paper, taking its serialized story cues from gothic thrillers of the previous century. Most of the stories are now forgotten, but one notable exception is everyone’s favorite homicidal barber, Sweeney Todd. Before he appeared in the pages of a book, he was butchering his victims and selling their remains as meat pies next door in a penny dreadful serial, ‘The String of Pearls: A Romance’, published in The People’s Periodical in 1846.

Link to the rest at I Love Typography

There are lots of images taken from Penney Dreadfuls at the OP.

Here’s a page from Sweeney Todd from Wikipedia:

via Wikipedia

For reasons of high aesthetic principle

For reasons of high aesthetic principle, I do not write on a computer. Writing on a computer makes saving what’s been written too easy. Pretentious lead sentences are kept, not tossed. Instead of sitting surrounded by crumpled paper, the computerized writer has his mistakes neatly stored in digital memory.

P.J. O’Rourke

The Ministry for the Future

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

IT SEEMS PERVERSELY easier to tell a science fictional story about a world centuries in the future than the one just a few years away. Somehow we have become collectively convinced that massive world-historical changes are something that cannot happen in the short term, even as the last five years alone have seen the coronavirus pandemic; the emergence of CRISPR gene editing; too many droughts, hurricanes, and wildfires to count; the legalization of gay marriage in many countries, including the United States; mass shooting after mass shooting after mass shooting; the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements; the emergence of self-driving cars; Brexit; and the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. We are living through historic times — the most widely tumultuous period of transformation and catastrophe for the planet since the end of World War II, with overlapping political, social, economic, and ecological crises that threaten to turn the coming decades into hell on Earth — but it has not helped us to think historically, or to understand that no matter how hard we vote things are never going to “get back to normal.” Everything is different now.

Everything is always different, yes, fine — but everything is really different now.

The Ministry for the Future is Kim Stanley Robinson’s grimmest book since 2015’s Aurora, and likely the grimmest book he has written to date — but it is also one of his most ambitious, as he seeks to tell the story of how, given what science and history both tell us to be true, the rest of our lives could be anything but an endless nightmare. It is not an easy read, with none of the strategies of spatial or temporal distancing that make Mars or the Moon or the New York of 2140 feel like spaces of optimistic historical possibility; it’s a book that calls on us instead to imagine living through a revolution ourselves, as we are, in the here and now. Robinson, our culture’s last great utopian, hasn’t lost heart exactly — but he’s definitely getting deep down into the muck of things this time.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

PG will note that, given the pace of traditional publishing, the ms. for this book was probably created a year or two ago.

As the Vote Nears: High Season for US Political Books

From Publishing Perspectives:

How can we have published so many books about a man who doesn’t read them? Before you can even begin to sort that out, another such title will land. David Rothkopf’s Traitor: A History of American Betrayal from Benedict Arnold to Donald Trump is being released Tuesday (October 27) by Macmillan’s Thomas Dunne Books, exactly one week to the feverishly awaited November 3 United States general election.

Was there ever a better moment for bicycle mobile libraries like the ones spotted sometimes in Europe? Polling-place regulations and COVID-19 precautions allowing, they could pedal around this week’s long queues of America’s early voters, offering pertinent reading options to these resolute patriots as they wait for hours to vote in their record-smashing numbers.

The Rothkopf book arrives with particularly strong endorsements. David Frum (author of HarperCollins’ Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy from May) commends Rothkopf’s “elegantly controlled fury” and “scorching accusation.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

For those visitors to TPV from outside the United States, PG doesn’t remember a presidential election season which felt like it dragged on for as long as the present one.

PG also suspects that if “None of the Above” were an option on the presidential ballot, it might win.

Regarding the OP, is there anyone in the US who is clamoring for bicycle mobile libraries? Particularly if they are filled with books about current political topics?

More Job Openings at Amazon

From BusinessWire:

Amazon today announced it has promoted more than 35,000 Operations employees in 2020, that 30,000 employees have taken advantage of Amazon’s Career Choice program, and that it’s creating an additional 100,000 seasonal jobs. With more than 12 million Americans out of work according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics1 these new seasonal roles in several locations across the US and Canada will complement its regular full- and part-time positions. Amazon offers jobs for people of all backgrounds and skill levels, and these 100,000 new, seasonal jobs offer opportunities for pay incentives, benefits, and a path to a longer-term career, or can simply provide extra income and flexibility during the holiday season.

Amazon today announced it has promoted more than 35,000 Operations employees in 2020, that 30,000 employees have taken advantage of Amazon’s Career Choice program, and that it’s creating an additional 100,000 seasonal jobs. With more than 12 million Americans out of work according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics these new seasonal roles in several locations across the US and Canada will complement its regular full- and part-time positions. Amazon offers jobs for people of all backgrounds and skill levels, and these 100,000 new, seasonal jobs offer opportunities for pay incentives, benefits, and a path to a longer-term career, or can simply provide extra income and flexibility during the holiday season.

. . . .

Amazon has invested more than $60 million in Career Choice—an innovative program designed to help upskill people who are interested in pursuing a future in a high-demand field. With more than half of participants from underrepresented minority groups, the program offers courses covering 20 different career paths, including computer support specialist, web developer, nurse, aircraft mechanic, commercial trucker, paralegal/legal assistant, IT security assistant, and network technician, among others. Amazon has partnered with more than 85 education partners and community colleges in the U.S. and continues to grow its educator network.

. . . .

Patricia Soto is a former Amazon employee who went through Career Choice and is now a certified clinical medical assistant at Sutter Gould Medical Foundation.

“I had worked in a warehouse setting for years but knew I wanted to help people and had been curious about healthcare. In just nine months, I became a certified clinical medical assistant while working at Amazon in Tracy, California, thanks to Career Choice,” she said. “A career in healthcare would have been difficult to obtain without tuition support from Amazon and an internship opportunity to apply my new skills. For anyone thinking about it, you only have something to gain from participating in the Career Choice program.”

Link to the rest at Business Wire

To be clear, this is an Amazon press release, not a story written by a reporter for an independent news organization.

That said, since Amazon is a public company, the company’s executives face potential lawsuits from individual shareholders if they permit whoever is in charge of creating and issuing a press release like this one to release information that isn’t factually accurate.

In addition to outside fact-checkers employed by news organizations and labor unions who are waiting to pounce on anything the Zon says, there are law firms that spend a lot of time suing corporate officials on behalf of shareholders for making or permitting the issuance of such false or misleading statements and, the larger the company the larger the potential payoff.

In a company the size of Amazon, it is likely that a press release such as the OP goes through several layers of review and fact-checking for accuracy, including by inside counsel, before it is issued.

So, those who believe you can’t trust anything Amazon says are probably not correct about criticisms that this type of press release is just more corporate happy talk and deceit.

For PG, after months of news about business closures and layoffs in the United States, the Amazon release is a breath of fresh air.

PG has mentioned some of the following before, but not recently.

Operations is a part of Amazon that includes its warehouses and fulfillment centers. Northwestern MBA’s are unlikely to apply for a job working at an Amazon warehouse. For most employees, it involves manual labor and hard work.

A lot of people earn their living doing manual labor that is hard work.

PG worked in a production facility and warehouse one summer while he was in college. This warehouse was much, much less automated than Amazon’s warehouses are.

During PG’s shifts, much of the work in the warehouse was powered by PG’s back, arms and legs. It wasn’t terribly dangerous, but PG got cut a few times and could have been more severely injured if he had been careless. Whatever temperature it was outside, it was 5-10 degrees warmer inside. Ventilation consisted of one open door that a delivery truck could back through.

Since PG grew up on ranches and farms, he was quite familiar with heavy manual labor under difficult circumstances. When one is wrestling and stacking hay bales that weigh 35-40 pounds each in an enclosed barn loft with no fan of any sort for 10-12 hours with a couple of short breaks and it’s close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside, one learns something about manual labor.

At the end of such a day, after removing one’s shoes and socks (stacking hay is a shirt-optional job) and leaving them on the back porch, one also enjoys hosing all sorts of dirt, grit, hay flakes and sweat off of oneself from head to toe with ice-cold well water from a garden hose outside before entering an unfinished basement featuring a concrete floor, clothes washer and shower. After disrobing and spending some time in the shower, one then must ask Mom to throw some clean jeans and underwear down the basement stairs and remember to say, “Please” and “Thank you.”

The warehouse job and stacking hay bales in the loft weren’t the hardest jobs PG had.

If PG needed any additional incentive to graduate from college and law school so he could make a lot more money with his fingers on a computer keyboard and his voice speaking with people in person, on the phone or in a courtroom, his experience with many different jobs where he earned his pay with his back and arms and legs provided it.

If PG complained about being tired from doing farm work, his father would sometimes reply, “Go to college!”

To be clear, PG held some hard jobs, but lots of people in the US have harder ones and have had to work at them for a lot longer than PG had to work at his summer and farm jobs. PG is just demonstrating that he has first-hand experience with manual labor, the type of labor Amazon warehouse workers (and a great many other people) do every day to support themselves and their families.

He’s not an effete lawyer snob who had everything given to him on a silver platter. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t remember when he first saw a silver platter. It definitely wasn’t while he was living at home with his parents. If he’s turned into an effete lawyer now, he hasn’t always been that way.

Back to Amazon’s warehouses, the current minimum wage under US law is $7.25 per hour. Some states have laws setting a higher minimum wage. California’s current minimum wage is $12 per hour. In the State of New York, the minimum wage is currently $11.10 per hour. In some states, individual municipalities are permitted to set higher minimum wages.

It is safe to say that, when choosing locations for warehouse or factory sites that will be employing a significant number of unskilled laborers, the minimum wage is an important factor.

Nevada’s minimum wage is currently $8.25 per hour. If you know where to look, you will find quite a lot of large warehouses in Nevada that are close to the California border and also close to major highways that will allow large trucks to pick up goods at a Nevada warehouse and quickly haul them into California where they will be sold.

In the world of warehouse jobs, PG suspects it is very difficult to find very many jobs that pay a starting salary of $15 per hour, the lowest wage Amazon pays anyone working in its warehouses, at least in the US. The job also provide health, dental, and vision insurance, 401K with 50 percent company match on day 1. Again, depending upon state laws, some employers are not required to provide any of those benefits or may offer such benefits, but require employees to pay all or most of the costs of such benefits.

Suffice to say, if you’re a high school graduate or a high school dropout and have the physical ability to work hard in a climate-controlled environment (no 40 pound hay bales at 100 degrees), an Amazon warehouse job is quite likely to offer the best compensation and benefits you can find almost anywhere.

PG isn’t claiming that Amazon is a perfect company. No large company with a zillion employees is.

However, to the best of PG’s knowledge, Amazon does treat authors and warehouse workers better than any other large company does.

Writer’s Block

There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.

Terry Pratchett

The Alignment Problem

From The Wall Street Journal:

In the mid-1990s, a group of software developers applied the latest computer learning to tackle a problem that emergency-room doctors were routinely facing: which of the patients who showed up with pneumonia should be admitted and which could be sent home to recover there? An algorithm analyzed more than 15,000 patients and came up with a series of predictions intended to optimize patient survival. There was, however, an oddity—the computer concluded that asthmatics with pneumonia were low-risk and could be treated as outpatients. The programmers were skeptical.

Their doubts proved correct. As clinicians later explained, when asthmatics show up to an emergency room with pneumonia, they are considered so high-risk that they tend to be triaged immediately to more intensive care. It was this policy that accounted for their lower-than-expected mortality, the outcome that the computer was trying to optimize. The algorithm, in other words, provided the wrong recommendation, but it was doing exactly what it had been programmed to do.

The disconnect between intention and results—between what mathematician Norbert Wiener described as “the purpose put into the machine” and “the purpose we really desire”—defines the essence of “the alignment problem.” Brian Christian, an accomplished technology writer, offers a nuanced and captivating exploration of this white-hot topic, giving us along the way a survey of the state of machine learning and of the challenges it faces.

The alignment problem, Mr. Christian notes, is as old as the earliest attempts to persuade machines to reason, but recent advances in data-capture and computational power have given it a new prominence. To show the limits of even the most sophisticated algorithms, he describes what happened when a vast database of human language was harvested from published books and the internet. It enabled the mathematical analysis of language—facilitating dramatically improved word translations and creating opportunities to express linguistic relationships as simple arithmetical expressions. Type in “King-Man+Woman” and you got “Queen.” But if you tried “Doctor-Man+Woman,” out popped “Nurse.” “Shopkeeper-Man+Woman” produced “Housewife.” Here the math reflected, and risked perpetuating, historical sexism in language use. Another misalignment example: When an algorithm was trained on a data set of millions of labeled images, it was able to sort photos into categories as fine-grained as “Graduation”—yet classified people of color as “Gorillas.” This problem was rooted in deficiencies in the data set on which the model was trained. In both cases, the programmers had failed to recognize, much less seriously consider, the shortcomings of their models.

We are attracted, Mr. Christian observes, to the idea “that society can be made more consistent, more accurate, and more fair by replacing idiosyncratic human judgment with numerical models.” But we may be expecting too much of our software. A computer program intended to guide parole decisions, for example, delivered guidance that distilled and arguably propagated underlying racial inequalities. Is this the algorithm’s fault, or ours?

To answer this question and others, Mr. Christian devotes much of “The Alignment Problem” to the challenges of teaching computers to do what we want them to do. A computer seeking to maximize its score through trial and error, for example, can quickly figure out shoot-’em-up videogames like “Space Invaders” but struggles with Indiana Jones-style adventure games like “Montezuma’s Revenge,” where rewards are sparse and you need to swing across a pit and climb a ladder before you start to score. Human gamers are instinctively driven to explore and figure out what’s behind the next door, but the computer wasn’t—until a “curiosity” incentive was provided.

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

When PG was in high school, The Mother of PG aka Mom, made PG take a typing class. Learning how to type and type quickly might have been the most useful thing PG learned in high school.

PG earned money in college by typing papers for other students who couldn’t type. He charged a high per-page rate and collected it because he specialized in typing for procrastinators. If you finished your rough draft at midnight, PG would show up with his portable typewriter and turn it into something your professor would accept at 8:00 am the next morning.

PG kept typing through law school, typing all his law school exams and whatever parts of the bar exam that could be typed.

When PG was a baby lawyer, he had a client who was also working with a fancy law firm in Los Angeles. He went over to the fancy law firm on occasion to meet with the fancy lawyers who worked there (He rode up the elevator to the law firm’s offices with Marlon Brando one time and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar another time. Kareem looked a lot less dissipated than Marlon.)

The fancy law firm had the first word-processing computers PG had ever seen. The firm had eight of these computers and they were operated by the fastest and most-accurate typists PG has ever seen. The machines and operators were in their own glass-walled room and at least a couple of typists were on duty 24 hours a day. (PG was there at midnight to pick up a rush project and one of them delivered a finished contract to him at midnight.) PG just checked and each of the computerized word processors cost over $180,000 in 2020 dollars.

PG was the first lawyer he knew who bought a personal computer for his law office. Fortunately, personal computers could also be used for playing videogames, so the price had come way, way, way, way down from $180,000.

Because he could still type fast, PG learned how a word processing program worked. Plus a bunch of other programs. He quickly started using his PC for legal work. Why type a document you used for a lot of different clients over and over when you could just type it once for Client A, save a copy, then use the copy as the basis for Clients B-Z?

PC’s were evolving quickly, so when a more powerful PC was released, PG bought one and moved his prior PC to his secretary’s desk and showed her how to use the word processing program.

Since PG always hired the smartest secretaries he could find, within a couple of weeks, she was better with the word processor than PG was.

For a variety of different reasons, PG started doing a lot of divorces for people who didn’t have a lot of money (the local Legal Aid office thought he did a good job and sent a lot of clients his way).

In order to make money doing divorces for people who didn’t have much (Legal Aid never had enough money, so it didn’t pay much for a divorce either), PG built a computer program so he could do the paperwork necessary for a divorce very quickly.

The wife’s name, the husband’s name, the kids names and ages, the year and make of the rusted-out pickup, the TV, sofa, etc., were the same from start to finish, so why not type them into a computer program once, then build standard legal forms that would use the same information for all the various forms the state legislature, in its infinite wisdom, had said were necessary to end a marriage?

PG has meandered for too long, but to conclude quickly, he ended up building a commercial divorce computer program he named “Splitsville” and sold it to about 20% of the attorneys in the state where he was practicing at the time.

(In the United States, the laws governing divorce AKA Dissolution of Marriage vary from state-to-state, so Splitsville couldn’t cross state lines. Even though the fundamental human and property issues are the same any time a marriage is ended, PG suspects there are enough idiots in any state legislature to shout down anyone who says, “Why don’t we just do it the way Alabama does instead of concocting a divorce law of our own?”)

Which means PG doesn’t have enough knowledge to build artificial intelligence programs as described in the OP, but he does have an intuitive grasp of how to persuade computers do things you would like them to accomplish. PG and computers seem to understand each other at a visceral level even though PG is less like a computer than a whole lot of smart people he knows. It’s sort of a Yin/Yang thing.

His liberal-arts assessment of the problem described in the OP is that the computer scientists in the OP haven’t figured out how to ask the ultra-computer for the answers they would like it to provide. A computer can do smart things and dumb things very quickly, but useful output requires understanding what you really want it to do, then figuring out how to explain the job to the computer.

But, undoubtedly, PG is missing something entirely and is totally off-base.

The Alignment Problem may be a good description of both the computer issue described in the book and of PG himself.

How Do Your Characters Love?

From Writers in the Storm:

[The story I’m writing] is about a woman, her children, her faith, her marriage, and a little bit how easy it is for modern women to get lost in the tumult of obligation. It explores how dreams and ambitions can be both independent of a woman’s roles in life, and yet undeniably intertwined with those roles.

There are many kinds of relationships that are tricky ones, but particularly when they are relationships where partners can both love and hate equally, simultaneously, and then defend one another with unwavering conviction.

The complication of relationships, as near as I can tell, comes down to how the characters love and how they feel loved.

As it is now 2020, I’m working on the assumption that most readers have at least heard of The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This 1995 book explored the ways that people demonstrate love and the ways that people feel loved, and I think the ideas presented within are essential for authors writing any kind of love relationship.

Before that, C.S. Lewis wrote The Four Loves, a religious and philosophical exploration of the way people love and why they need to love. (This book is free on Kindle Unlimited.)

. . . .

I’ve got a few forms to consider.

1. The Parent Relationship

I know some people who cannot think of their parents without a feeling of bitterness and betrayal. Others have an unwritten agreement of mutual politeness and still others will keep their parents apprised of the occurrences in their lives on a regular basis.

The question for your character is how does he feel about his parents, and, if applicable, step-parents or guardians? How does he demonstrate those feelings when in proximity of these people? Is it similar to or different from how he expresses their feelings?

This can also be something to consider in the situation that character is the parent, how they feel about their children, how they think their children feel about them.

2. The Sibling Relationship

A great depiction of the sibling relationship can be seen in the way that Jane and Elizabeth Bennet interact with each other in Pride and Prejudice, and the way that Marsha and Jan Brady perceive their relationship in The Brady Bunch. Both of these have times when a sister is frustrated; both have a time when a sister is supportive.

The question for your character is how does she feel about her siblings? If she’s an only child, how does she imagine it might have been to have someone to chat with? When something great happens for a sibling, does your character feel the draw to celebrate or perceive yet another mark on the sibling measuring stick which she will never be able to attain? What kind of an event would launch your siblings from the status of feuding to allied?

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Don’t Hold Out for Publishing to Make You Feel Seen. Here’s Another Goal Instead.

From Susan DeFreitas via Jane Friedman:

Every year, I return to teach creative writing at a summer program offered by the school for the arts where I attended high school (though this year, I had to do so virtually). And every year, at the end of an intense week of workshops with young writers ages 14–18, I do my best to engage in a bit of time travel.

Which is to say, I do my best to tell these talented young people what I wish someone had told me when I was their age.

Walking the tree-lined paths of my old school always brings me back to that time: My awe in discovering poets like Galway Kinnell, Lucille Clifton, and Mary Oliver, and writers like James Joyce, Raymond Carver, and Joyce Carol Oates. The strength of my yearning to write that well, to be that big—big enough that my work would be studied, in time, by kids like me, in schools like this.

And the first step toward that great success was, of course, publication. Like all my other peers, I dreamed of getting my first short story published, of attracting the attention of an agent, and publishing my first book—and at eighteen, I thought I’d accomplish all this before I was twenty.

Instead, it took me until I was thirty to publish my first short story, and until nearly forty to publish my first book. Which meant that I would go on to spend many years of my life fruitlessly pursuing the dream of publication, with what felt like very little to sustain my spirit.

. . . .

The last thing I want to do is to discourage these young writers in their ambitions, but the fact is, publishing is a tough industry, and the apprenticeship period for fiction can often feel interminable. I know from personal experience many of the most talented writers in any class will eventually just give up, because that yearning inside them has begun to sour and, in time, turns into something that feels a lot like grief.

So here’s what I try to tell these kids: Publication may feel like the thing you’re yearning for, but in reality, it’s something deeper.

What you’re yearning for is the sense of being seen.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman.

Here’s a link to Susan Defrietas’ website

Regular visitors to TPV will have anticipated PG’s response:

  1. It is not 1970 or 1990 or 2000 any more. People don’t wear bell-bottoms except in nursing homes. Sha Na Na only performs at AARP conventions. Things change.
  2. If you want to be seen, write a good book, then self-publish your book on Amazon or via one of the many useful services that will help you publish there and everywhere else.
  3. If you work diligently to let people know about your book, you will be seen.
  4. You’ll even receive some reviews by people who see your book, read your book and love your book. You’ll receive some other types of reviews by people who don’t love your book so much, but that’s gonna happen regardless of how and where your book is published.
  5. If you want to be seen some more, write and publish another book, maybe a little better than your prior book.
  6. Just like learning to ride a bicycle, you’ll get better with practice. Will you get good enough to turn pro? The answer depends on talent, but, even more, it depends on how hard you work to get better.
    1. The best weightlifters work out almost every day. Upper body one day, lower body the next. As they get stronger, weightlifters move to heavier weights. If the weights are easy to lift, the weightlifter isn’t going to improve very quickly, if at all. If you visit a serious weightlifting location, you’ll hear lots of loud human/animal noises which often happen when weightlifters try to get better at their sport.
    2. The best ballet dancers practice almost every day. PG doesn’t know if they do more spins and grunt or not, but they work hard to get better at their art as well.

Being “seen” by a traditional publisher is a different thing entirely.

It’s a lot more work and most writers never get seen by anybody but a bored and unpaid/bored and underpaid intern who sees the first paragraph, pulls a reject letter from a stack of them, inserts the letter into your postage-paid return envelope, licks the envelope (without wondering where it’s been before you put it in with your manuscript), drops it into a basket with a lot of other rejection letters for Bob to pick up later in the day to take to the post office on his way home.

If you’re the one out of thousands of authors, you may be seen by someone who works for a publisher and gets paid for for doing so.

If that happens, learn how to wait. And wait. And wait. A couple of additional people who work for a publisher might see your ms., but it doesn’t exist for the world yet.

If you make it through the seers inside the publisher, you might see a publishing contract.

If you want an advance that is large enough to keep you from being evicted while you write another book, don’t quit your day job right now. As a matter of fact, don’t quit your day job ever because you’re probably going to need it regardless.

You’ll be even older if you ever see your book in your local bookstore for a couple of months before it disappears because not enough of your friends bought a copy.

OTOH

If you had kept writing and self-published your books during the time between mailing your ms. to the publisher and seeing it disappear from the bookstore, you might well have three or four books for sale on Amazon and receive a monthly payment from the Zon. The payment might be big or little or in-between, and might not cover the rent, but you’d be receiving money for your work.

That said, PG’s business advice to writers is do what you feel will work best for you.

Do Writers Need A Room of Their Own?

From Writer Unboxed:

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction–Virginia Woolf

As an only child, I always had my own room. There were many, many rooms during the years when my father was a golf course construction supervisor. Some were cramped and generic, others included an adjoining bathroom or even a private balcony. One, at a ski resort, was technically its own rental unit with a separate address from my parents. At nine I had the entire second floor of our condo, which included two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a loft, though I usually hung out in the storage nook halfway down the staircase, which I also claimed. At our house in Maine, half the basement was mine. Not such a prize, as I had orange shag carpeting, no door, and a quarter of my space was taken up by the woodstove, which meant my winter sleeping quarters were five degrees hotter than hell. My dad eventually finished the basement and built me a proper room because he’s awesome like that.

I read, wrote, and drew constantly as a kid.

When I started college, my parents literally lived on the other side of the world—Thailand. Everything I owned had to be hauled to Missouri and stuffed into a shared dorm room. (Apologies to my roommate, who never complained.)

All creativity vanished.

. . . .

When I married, my “room” shrunk to a shared office. Two kids later I downsized to a cramped computer armoire tucked into the corner of a cluttered common room, the TV mere steps away. I responded to e-mail while the Little Einsteins theme song played in the background and took social media “breaks” when the hubby watched The Walking Dead. I wrote during those brief, precious hours when I had the house to myself, with frequent interruptions to let the dogs in, out, and back in again. Damn squirrels!

A single draft took years to accomplish. I feared I’d never have a successful writing career at that pace.

. . . .

Having a dedicated space is a signal to yourself that writing is not an idle hobby that you peck away at between household chores or doom-scrolling Twitter sessions. Ideally, there should be no Twitter allowed in this space. It is a place you go to work.

Having a dedicated space is a signal to everyone else in the household that writing is not an idle hobby you peck away at between household chores or doom-scrolling Twitter sessions. It is your job, regardless of whether it brings in an income, and should be treated with the same respect as any other job. If the door is closed or noise canceling headphones are on, you are working. Boundaries should only be crossed only for emergencies.

Having a dedicated space allows for disengagement from the world. Focus can be in short supply under the best of circumstances. None of us are living that right now. 2020 is an awful year on so many levels between this nightmare election and the disruption of this pandemic. We are all grieving, be it for lost loved ones, lost jobs, lost vacations and canceled milestones. In a world where even the act of going out for coffee with a friend is a calculated risk, there’s a lot of free-floating anxiety in the air. Creative types are generally more sensitive to all that negative energy. We need a buffer.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG finds a room of his own an absolute necessity.

Mrs. PG finds a room of PG’s own an absolute mess.

They compromise by having PG close the door to his own room if visitors come who may wander into the vicinity of PG’s room. Sometimes, Mrs. PG requests that PG lock the door so no accidental traumas occur.

New York’s Strand bookstore appeals for help

From The Guardian:

The Strand Bookstore, a landmark of literary New York, is in serious trouble, appealing for customers to help it stave off closure amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve survived just about everything for 93 years,” proprietor Nancy Bass-Wyden said in a statement, of the store her grandfather founded in 1927. “The Great Depression, two world wars, big box bookstores, ebooks and online behemoths. We are the last of the 48 bookstores still standing from 4th Avenue’s famous Book Row.

“Because of the impact of Covid-19, we cannot survive the huge decline in foot traffic, a near-complete loss of tourism and zero in-store events.”

Bass-Wyden said revenue was down nearly 70% from 2019. Though a government loan and cash reserves saw the store through the first eight months of the pandemic, she said, “we are now at a turning point where our business is unsustainable”.

Earlier this year, thanks to disclosures necessitated by her marriage to Ron Wyden, a Democratic senator from Oregon, Bass-Wyden was revealed to have spent between $115,000 and $250,000 on purchasing stock in Amazon, the “online behemoth” that has done most to damage independent bookstores.

Bass-Wyden said she made the purchase to support the Strand.

“It was necessary for me to diversify my personal portfolio and invest in stocks that are performing,” she said then. “I have to make sure that I have the resources to keep the Strand going.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

But wherever they go

But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.

The House At Pooh Corner, A.A. Milne

Dear Matthew

Dear Matthew-
There’s one more thing I didn’t get to tell you that night in my bedroom. Here it is: I love you. I’m in love with you. I have been for a long time. This might seem like a strange thing for me to say given the fact we aren’t speaking to each other. But I’ve decided that it’s possible to love someone for entirely selfless reasons, for all of their flaws and weaknesses, and still not succeed in having them love you back. It’s sad perhaps, but not tragic, unless you dwell forever in the pursuit of their elusive affections.

― Cammie McGovern, Say What You Will

What book has the most disappointing ending?

From The Washington Post:

The novel I’m reading has a terrible ending. But I’ll never tell you its title.

Such is the necessary restraint of a book reviewer — or at least a courteous one.

I go back and forth about the propriety of burying my appraisal of a book’s conclusion. After all, so much of how we feel about a novel depends on how the novel ends. But there’s really no way to critique a story’s ending without giving it away, which, according to my mail, is the single most irritating thing a reviewer can do. So, week after week, I bite my tongue, withholding whatever I might think about finales.

I know other critics — great critics — don’t share my reticence. This summer, in the Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth Winkler started her review of Maggie O’Farrell’s “Hamnet” by summarizing the final scene, a maneuver so brazen that my eyebrows still rise when I think of it. And James Wood, the Great Spoiler himself, once splayed out the whole conclusion of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” — complete with suspense-squashing quotations.

. . . .

But as much as readers don’t want reviewers commenting on endings, they definitely like to comment on endings themselves. Whenever conversation turns to books, the single most common statement I hear from friends is: “Yeah, but I didn’t like the ending.” I give a pained smile and change the subject.

. . . .

Last month, the online retailer OnBuy.com sifted through reviews on Goodreads to identify the Books With the Most Disappointing Endings. The methodology — searching comments for “ending” and variations of the word “disappointing” — feels a bit dubious, but the list is an irresistible walk down memory lane.

According to OnBuy’s final tally, British writers are particularly disappointing. That hack William Shakespeare wrote the worst finale of all time. In the immortal words of Bart Simpson’s friend Milhouse: “How could this have happened? We started out like Romeo and Juliet, but instead it ended in tragedy.” Booker winner Ian McEwan came in at a shameful No. 2. (For the record, I think “Atonement,” including its mind-blowing conclusion, is brilliant.) And gazillionaire writer J.K. Rowling magically takes two spots.

. . . .

Here’s OnBuy’s list of the Top 12 Most Disappointing Endings:

  1. “Romeo and Juliet,” by William Shakespeare.
  2. “Atonement,” by Ian McEwan.
  3. “Requiem,” by Lauren Oliver.
  4. “The Sweet Far Thing,” by Libba Bray.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

For the record, PG thinks the ending of Romeo and Juliet is excellent — unexpected and heart-rending.

Shakespeare had some clichés in his plays (almost everyone else does, as well), but a happy ending for the star-crossed lovers would have been too pat and predictable.

Library ebook lending surges as UK turns to fiction during lockdown

From The Guardian:

They may have been closed for months during lockdown, but amid long days and many on furlough it has emerged that the nation turned to local libraries for cultural sustenance – with a surge in the lending of ebooks, and crime thrillers in particular.

In total, more than 3.5m additional ebooks were borrowed between the end of March and mid-August, according to the charity Libraries Connected, an increase of 146%. Adding audiobooks and e-comics, there was an increase of 5m digital items borrowed.

Gillian Galbraith’s Blood in the Water, the first of the Alice Rice mysteries featuring the Edinburgh detective, and published in 2007, was the most requested adult ebook. The former first lady Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, was also among the most popular lends. The comedian and TV show judge David Walliams claimed three of the top 10 slots in most-borrowed children and young people’s ebooks.

Library online membership in the UK increased more than six-fold during lockdown, with demand for ebooks and audiobooks one of the main drivers.

“Library membership has surged,” said Nick Poole, the chief executive of the UK library and information association CILIP. “The increase in registration for online membership cards was huge, between 600 and 700%, which is amazing.”

With library buildings closed for up to four months, and people at home, services had to move swiftly online. A survey by Libraries Connected found audiobook checkouts increased, overall, by 113%, magazines by 80%, newspaper by 223% and comics by 497%.

There was growth in digital offerings across many areas including rhyming and reading sessions for young children, instruction sessions to access online services, author-led events, school readiness programmes, and jobs and arts clubs.

More than 75% of libraries delivered online services during lockdown. Some reached more than 20,000 views, according to Libraries Connected. One toddler reading event, which was staged on Facebook, had a 400% increase in views.

While the borrowing of physical books still massively outnumbers that of ebooks, a report by the charity suggests digital borrowing is not just an early lockdown “fad”. After experiencing an initial surge, the higher level of demand has been sustained.

. . . .

As the licensing model for digital services continues to operate restrictively for public libraries, public expectation of availability may outstrip supply

. . . .

“One of the brilliant things that happened was publishers really stepped up,” said Poole. “Ebooks cost a lot of money. Publishers, during the lockdown, said they would either waive or reduce licence fees so they really helped us out in terms of making ebooks available.”

. . . .

“People might think we don’t need the physical places any more, which obviously we really, really do because the library is doing so much more to support the community than just reading,” he said, adding: “Yes, absolutely we have found this new digital audience [but] we also need to continue supporting [the] face-to-face audience.”

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

PG notes that the “Ebooks cost a lot of money” really means, “Traditional publishers charge public libraries extraordinary high fees for a license to lend a copy of an ebook.”

Duplicating the ebook itself and delivering it costs a fraction of a second of computer time and, depending upon the speed of the internet connection at the library on the receiving end, pennies at most to deliver (and more probably, no extra cost at all if the publisher or wholesaler has not been dumb in negotiating the terms of its access to the internet.)

As regular visitors to TPV will immediately understand, library licensing practices of traditional publishers are designed to prop up their sales of dead-tree-to-hell-with-climate-change printed books.

Graphic novels are overlooked by book prizes, but that’s starting to change

From The Conversation:

In the midst of a global pandemic, almost nothing is proceeding as normal. And yet, on a dim October morning, the Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist announcement went brightly, briefly and virtually streaming into homes and revealing the five books that had moved one step further towards winning Canada’s largest and arguably most prestigious literary award.

In some ways, however, this business as usual was a disappointment. After all, the Giller recently changed its submission guidelines to allow graphic novels to be submitted to the prize, and even more recently announced that a graphic novel was, indeed, included on the longlist — Clyde Fans, by highly acclaimed Canadian author and cartoonist Seth.

But after raking in praise and aplomb for featuring a graphic novel on its longlist for the first time, the Giller — like so many other book prizes — just couldn’t bring itself to put Clyde Fans on the shortlist. Business as usual, indeed.

Link to the rest at The Conversation

PG couldn’t find an ebook for Clyde Fans, but did discover some other ebooks written by Seth which included Look Inside feature, but that didn’t work with a WordPress embed block.

Here’s a link to Seth’s books on Amazon

With the world on fire, climate fiction no longer looks like fantasy

From Grist:

The tops of houses poke above the waves. The desert has crept into fields, turning corn dry and brittle. Firestorms ravage entire towns, turning homes into charred, ashy remains.

You don’t have to read a novel to picture what climate change looks like anymore — you only have to read the news. But there’s new evidence that reading fiction about our overheating planet might make it feel more real, sort of like how watching a horror movie makes you scared of the basement for a while.

Authors have been imagining what a warmer world would look like ever since climate scientists first made their concerns about greenhouse gases known. But in recent years, climate fiction, or “cli-fi,” has really exploded. With contributions from celebrated authors like Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, Amitav Ghosh, Cormac McCarthy, and Kim Stanley Robinson, it has left the realm of sci-fi, a reflection of how climate change has moved from speculation to touch every facet of our lives.

. . . .

“I think we’re close to the point where literature that doesn’t include climate change, in some way, shape, or form, just isn’t reflecting the reality that we inhabit,” said Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, an assistant professor of social sciences at Yale-NUS College in Singapore.

A first-of-its-kind experiment published last month found that reading a short story about climate change makes people more worried about the crisis — even if the effect doesn’t last long. The study, led by Schneider-Mayerson, surveyed Americans who were interested in reading fiction and moderately concerned about the climate crisis. In the experiment, participants read short stories online and were then subjected to questions about climate change.

Link to the rest at Grist

During the ongoing months of The Year of Covid, PG wonders what the market is like for books that make readers more worried.

Of course, if you’re vaguely worried about the invasion of earth by space aliens (presidential candidates not included), books about that topic might sell well, but climate change may be something else.

However, as usual, PG could be completely wrong about this category of books.

A Sales Rep With No Regrets

From Publishers Weekly:

The year was 1978. I had just graduated from high school and was eager to begin the next chapter of my life. I was always interested in becoming a police officer, so I began the process. Law enforcement personnel came to my home to meet with me and my parents. It was a great meeting. Unfortunately, the meeting ended with them measuring my height. Apparently there was a height requirement. I failed because I was too short.

My mother suggested I further my education, so I registered for college to get a business degree. Since classes didn’t start until fall, my sister suggested that I apply for a job at the nearby wholesaler Gordon’s Books, which was then based in Denver. She had worked there briefly and loved the owners. Gordon and Blanche Saul were awesome! So, against my parents’ wishes, I decided to get a tuition refund and continue my career with Gordon’s. Within a short time, I was promoted to supervisor of order entry. It was great getting to know different booksellers and helping teachers and librarians with their book budgets.

Gordon’s was sold to Howard Bellowe, who, in 1991, would go on to sell it to Ingram Industries, which hired many Gordon’s employees. In joining Ingram, I became one of the first inside sales reps for the company, working for the famous Art Carson, our v-p of sales. I managed a small sales team in Denver and handled all new business. When Ingram decided it wanted its inside sales reps to be located in its LaVergne, Tenn., headquarters I was laid off. A year later, in 2001, the warehouse was closed. After 21 years working in wholesaling, I was looking for my next adventure.

Shortly after I left Ingram, Bill Preston, who had been my manager at Gordon’s, called me. He was the vice president of sales for Baker & Taylor, which had a sales office in Colorado. He wanted to know if I was interested in coming to work for him. I turned him down because I did not want to go through another layoff. After all, B&T was not based in Colorado. I was in my first week of training at the Rocky Mountain News when Bill called again: “I can’t believe you would give up all these years in the book industry,” he told me. And so began my career with B&T. I was its first inside sales rep.

During my time with B&T, I went on to manage sales teams in various offices. When (as I had feared) B&T closed its Denver office, Bill allowed me to work remotely. I went back to managing a territory, which was a blessing, because I missed working with my wonderful indie bookseller accounts. In 2019 B&T decided to close its retail division and, after more than 19 years with the company, I was once again looking for a new opportunity.

In early June of that year, on the Sunday after BookExpo, I was sitting at my computer working on my résumé when an email popped up from Cindy Raiton, president of sales for Bookazine. Many of my wonderful bookseller accounts had approached her at the show suggesting she talk to me. I flew to Bookazine’s headquarters in New Jersey to meet with Cindy and the owners. I was immediately impressed with their operation, kindness, and dedication to independent booksellers. I was soon hired, but less than a year into the job, Covid hit and I was laid off.

So here I sit today, too young to retire but with no idea of my next journey. I have not had to look for a job since 1978, so I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. Being laid off once is awful, but being laid off three times—well, there are no words.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG has two thoughts:

  1. The treatment the author of the OP has received sounds quite a lot like the publishing industry as PG knows it. Author or employee, the big boss runs the show and a great many people are expendable.
  2. A good sales person is often capable of selling a variety of different things. Convincing a potential customer to choose the product or service you’re able to provide is a skill that requires some knowledge of the market, but is most dependent upon people skills, intelligence, the ability to build lasting relationships based upon trust and understanding the commercial needs of others, expressed or unexpressed.

Some people with excellent sales talents become an Independent Sales Representative, AKA a Manufacturer’s Rep. PG doesn’t know if the book business has any, but, if they don’t, it might be a good idea to consider.

For those unfamiliar with this term, an independent sales representative is almost universally paid on a commission-only basis and usually sells to customers in a specified geographical region. Basically, she/he is part of a company’s sales, marketing and customer service team, but may live anywhere and doesn’t usually have an office of her/his own at the company.

One of the nice things about working as an independent sales rep is that you don’t have to work exclusively for a single company. Skilled independent sales reps typically sell a variety of products that don’t compete with each other. Sometimes, they’ll sell several different products needed by a particular industry, so a sales call can involve taking orders from a single customer for more than one type of product provided by different manufacturers who the sales rep represents. In contrast, an inside sales employee can usually only sell what her/his employer manufactures.

If one company terminates an indie sales rep, he/she still has the other companies’ products to sell to generate an income, so the impact is different than what happens to a full-time inside sales person who is laid off.

One other benefit of taking this path is that, typically, there is no cap on the amount of money the rep can earn. If the commission is 7%, the rep receives 7% of $1,000 or 7% of $1million if that’s what theindie rep sells during a month, quarter, year, etc.

Inside sales jobs involve the situation described in the OP. You’re an employee of a company and have a boss. Typically, you’ll be assigned a sales quota and a territory (a “territory” can be a geographical area or a line of business, e.g. nuts, but not bolts. An inside sales person often receives a base salary and benefits plus a commission on sales she/he makes.

The inside sales person’s boss typically receives a salary plus what is sometimes called an “override commission” based on sales made by the people she/he supervises. If the inside salesperson makes a $1,000 sale, the salesperson may receive a commission of 5% of the sale and the boss may receive an override commission of 2% of the sale.

One of the unwritten rules of a great many inside sales departments is that an inside sales rep shouldn’t earn more than the boss does, a distinct possibility for a really good sales rep who has a lower salary than the boss, but a higher royalty percentage. One of the ways to keep an inside salesperson from earning too much money is to split his/her territory and hiring a new salesperson to sell in the new territory or adding the new territory to the territory of another sales rep who services a less-fertile geographical area.

Over his legal/business career, PG has known some very successful independent reps who have been able to earn a great deal of money from their skills and work. For some standardized products that can be purchased from a number of manufacturers, an independent sales rep can effectively “own” the customer and, should a manufacturer treat the rep badly, she/he can sign up with a competitor and take the customer elsewhere.

While laws in the United States vary from state to state, a manufacturer’s ability to legally limit the activities of an independent sales rep’s activities are almost always more limited than an employer’s ability to limit the activities of an employee or ex-employee, at least for a period of time.

PG knows very little about the details of how books are sold to bookstores and book wholesalers, but if working as an independent sales rep works in this field, the author of the OP might have an alternative means of finding a way of using her connections and sales abilities that might not be subject to periodic layoffs that cut her income to zero.

UPDATE: PG did a bit of online research and discovered the National Association of Publishers Representatives, so, at least for some categories of publishers, apparently an individual can act as an independent sales representative. Here’s a link to the advantages the NAPR says can accrue to a company using an Independent Publisher’s Representative.

An ode to California dreamin’

From Amazon Book Review:

Over on the East Coast, I’ve been thinking a lot about the West Coast—specifically the colorful landscape and people that make California magical. In recent weeks, fires have ravaged and threatened California’s natural environment and many people’s lives and homes. In an homage to California, I thought I’d pull together a collection of novels that celebrate California.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

You can’t have a California booklist without John Steinbeck’s classic East of Eden. Primarily set in the Salinas Valley—”a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains”—East of Eden tells the story of the interwoven lives of two families just before the outbreak of World War I. Steinbeck’s masterpiece is an epic tale of family, humanity, and California.You can’t have a California booklist without John Steinbeck’s classic East of Eden. Primarily set in the Salinas Valley—”a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains”—East of Eden tells the story of the interwoven lives of two families just before the outbreak of World War I. Steinbeck’s masterpiece is an epic tale of family, humanity, and California.

. . . .

Son of Good Fortune by Lysley Tenorio

This is one of my recent favorites, The Son of Good Fortune, about a mother, Maxima, and her son, Excel, who are undocumented Filipino immigrants living in California. They each do their best to make money, blend in, and not get caught by the authorities. But what they do is not what you might expect: Maxima seduces men on the internet, eventually cajoling them to wire her money, while Excel flees to a hippie commune with his girlfriend and begins to wonder if he could make it his home. The Son of Good Fortune is a bighearted novel that disguises poverty, displacement, and disenchantment with hearty laughs and wacky characters. But don’t let that fool you—Tenorio writes with gusto and compassion about the undocumented in California.

Link to the rest at Amazon Book Review

The end of the general trade publishing concept

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

My brilliant friend Joe Esposito has written a piece to explain why Penguin Random House would want to acquire Simon & Schuster. I have also been thinking about why PRH, or any of the other three of the “Big Five”, would want to acquire S&S. In fact, two of the three, Hachette and HarperCollins, have indicated interest. Only Macmillan, which coincidentally or not just saw the resignation of its CEO, John Sargent, among the other four of the Big Five, is not on record as pursuing a purchase.

Here’s a snapshot of my view of the world of big consumer publishers and how it has changed over the past three decades, which informs my explanation of why PRH would want to buy S&S.

Big consumer publishers are called “trade publishers” because they have historically sold the vast preponderance of their units through “the trade”, the network of bookstores and libraries and their wholesalers that has grown up in the US over the past century. As the role and importance of bookstores in the overall distribution world of books has changed, so has the commercial reality for publishers.

In 1990, there were about 500,000 individual book titles to choose from because only what was in “books in print” was really available. There were, at that time, dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of stores in the country that carried 100,000 titles or more. Trade publishers who depended on that bookstore network and worked it regularly with two or three “lists” a year could almost always put out a few thousand copies of any book on their list through that bookstore network. Each new book published was competing with half-a-million others in the market, and the publishers were insulated from competition from any entity that didn’t cover the bookstores regularly the way they did.

The result of this was that most publishers made a little money on most of the books they published, unless they very much overpaid on the author advance or printed many more copies than they distributed. Publisher accounting obscured that fact, because almost all publishers did “title P&Ls” based on “unit cost accounting” which insisted that each unit sold carry its share of the publisher’s overhead, which was deemed to be 22 to 30 percent of the revenue, or even more.

This practice was nearly universal and based on fallacious logic. In fact, a publisher’s rent, warehouse costs, sales force costs, and office overheads did not go up or down with each book sold. They were fixed, or nearly fixed. Each title contributed margin if it brought in more dollars than it cost to originate and print, and all the margin from all the books contributed to retire overhead and then, when it was covered, constituted profit.

The point is that individual titles, let alone individual books sold, did not make profits and losses. Titles either contributed margin or they didn’t. The company made a profit or a loss.

. . . .

We’re in a different world today. The universe of possible titles now is about 18 million unique possibilities, or about 35 to 40 times more titles competing with each new book for attention and sales than existed three decades ago. (And all of those 18 million books, most of which live today as files ready to be printed-on-demand, are available in a day or two from Ingram.) Bookstores today are perhaps 25 percent of sales, so having a strong position with them only commands a fraction of the market. The stores are smaller in number and smaller in footprint; very few stores today carry more than 35-40,000 titles.

So publishers can’t make it on bookstores alone; very few titles, let alone whole lists, can. And for the sales made online, through book channels like Amazon or through specialty subject-specific marketing efforts a publisher might discover or construct, the publishers often don’t have the “insulation” that keeps a lot of competition out.

The net result of this is that publishers no longer are pretty much assured of positive margin on any book they publish. It isn’t just misleading accounting that is making them fearful of the commercial result of publishing speculatively; it is a fact that it is harder and harder to make money publishing a new book.

Big publishers (and Ingram, which is not a publisher but provides the full range of services and a shared infrastructure to 600 distributed publishers, making them collectively as big as most of the Big Five) have long recognized this market shift. They have been building “direct” sales efforts, including creating vertical websites, compiling email lists of book consumers, and “working” the Internet for sales and marketing opportunities, for well over a decade.

. . . .

But the big problem for the publishers is that backlist inexorably “decays” in sales power year by year. Titles, particularly non-fiction, become dated. This was not so noticeable in the days when new title publishing was profitable and added new blood to the backlist every season. But it must be increasingly noticeable in a time when new title production in many houses is being reduced and a smaller percentage of what is launched survives to become backlist.

Meanwhile, the big publishers are building sales capabilities through online channels, often topic- or audience-specific, that are wasted assets unless there is a flow of books new to those audiences to feed them. Penguin Random House has been very aggressive at building their digital marketing capabilities. That means they can sell more copies of many titles than anybody else can; they have more places to push and put them.

And all of that is why Penguin Random House could benefit a great deal from acquiring Simon & Schuster. They would get tens of thousands of commercially viable titles to push through channels they have that S&S did not. 

. . . .

General trade publishing will be soon be recognized as an artifact of a trade that no longer exists. It doesn’t make sense any more for the organizing principle for title acquisition and marketing to be “if it works in bookstores, and we are confident we can convince them it will, we can do it”. That was the general trade that the general trade publisher served. As the trade shrinks, so does the universe of general trade publishers.

Book publishing is not going to stop, or even slow down. Individual authors, purpose-driven publishers, and many organizations (including schools) that see books as useful to their mission, will keep pushing new titles into the marketplace.

. . . .

The books will still be there. All the ones from the past will still be available and there will be a steady flow of new ones every day. What will be different is that most of the books sold won’t go through bookstores, and diminishing shares of the book sales will go to “frontlist” rather than “backlist” or to “commercial publishers” rather than self-publishers, upstarts, or not-publishers doing books anyway. In any case, “general trade” is not a term that is likely to make much sense to anybody ten years from now. That’s a big change.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG wonders who’s going to end up owning the rights to the copyrights of all the traditionally-published books.

The large majority of these copyrights are tied up with the publisher for the full term of the copyright – the rest of the author’s life plus 70 years in the US and similar lengths of time in other countries.

Ownership of these contract rights will be owned by someone. If the publisher disappears as a commercial entity, someone else will own the publishing contracts.

A traditionally-published author might well ask, “Who owns my book now? Will they still pay royalties? Who do I sue if the owner stops? Will the owner be in the United States or elsewhere?”

Tecumseh and the Prophet

From The Wall Street Journal:

In 1808, on the Wabash River—just downstream from where the Tippecanoe River flows into it—a new settlement was being built, in what is now northwestern Indiana. You could hear trees being cut down to construct houses and a 5,000-square-foot meeting house. Women were planting corn, beans and pumpkins. Founded by the Shawnee brothers Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa, this was Prophetstown.

The brothers’ houses were close to each other on Prophetstown’s southwestern edge, from which they could see the wide Wabash flowing through the prairie. And they could see pilgrims coming and going, visiting this place of hope in a dark time. A vast diversity of Native peoples—Wyandots, Ottawas, Lenapes (Delawares), Miamis, Potawatomis, Sauks—would pilgrimage to this multiethnic religious community, some staying and some returning home to spread the brothers’ universal Nativist message. As Tenskwatawa explained: The “Master of Life had taken pity on his red children,” who had been pushed around so long by white men. He “wished to save them from destruction” if they would cast aside “wealth and ornaments,” whisky and other trappings of “evil and unclean” white Americans and band together against those who “have taken your lands, which were not made for them.”

In “Tecumseh and the Prophet: The Shawnee Brothers Who Defied a Nation,” Peter Cozzens tells the intertwined history of the brothers Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa and makes the important argument that, without Tenskwatawa—who was known as “the prophet” for his spiritual visions and prophecies—“there would have been no Tecumseh.”

In most biographies and popular versions of this history, the famous warrior Tecumseh, who led a pan-Native force against the United States in the War of 1812, stands alone—exactly the opposite of his mission in life. As Mr. Cozzens shows, the brothers sought to bring together all Native Americans under Tenskwatawa’s teachings, persuading them to cast aside their political, cultural and religious differences to become one mighty race.

While the Master of Life spoke to the prophet Tenskwatawa, Tecumseh traveled throughout the eastern half of North America to spread the word, from Creek and Choctaw towns in the deep South to the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) nations in the Northeast, and across the Mississippi River to the Quapaws, the powerful Osages and bands of the brothers’ own Shawnee people who had already moved west. Everywhere, Tecumseh preached Tenskwatawa’s prophecies and readied men for battle against the United States.

. . . .

The book’s sharply drawn characters go beyond the central figures of Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa. One of their greatest influences was their older brother Cheeseekau, killed in 1792 fighting against Tennessee settlements alongside Cherokees and Creeks. Their Shawnee opponent, Chief Black Hoof, believed Tenskwatawa’s call for pan-Indian resistance, instead of Shawnee-directed diplomacy, was madness. The great Miami war leader Little Turtle defeated U.S. forces in the 1790s, but by the time of Tenskwatawa’s movement he believed that compromise with the United States was the only path. As governor of the Indiana Territory, William Henry Harrison was impressed by Tecumseh’s rhetorical and martial skills and frightened by his popularity. Harrison later would win the U.S. presidency as “Old Tippecanoe,” famed for defeating Tecumseh.

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

PG has read a bit of American history, but this was completely new to him.

However, he did a bit of quick research and

Tenskwatawa, “The Prophet” painted in 1830 by George Catlin via Wikipedia
Frieze of the Rotunda of the United States Capitol “Death of Tecumseh” – Tecumseh is shown being fatally shot by Colonel Johnson at the Battle of the Thames in Upper Canada during the War of 1812. With Tecumseh’s death, however, the momentum and power of the Indian confederacy was broken. via Wikipedia, public domain, US Government work
Bronze reproduction of the figurehead of the USS Delaware, located at the US Naval Academy. Originally Tamanend, chief of the Delawares, the statue is called now commonly called Tecumseh. It was designed by William Luke (1790-1839).
Photo by Employees of the U.S. Naval Academy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Maximizing Your Amazon Author Central Page

From IndieReader:

When was the last time you gave your Amazon Author Central profile some love? For most indie authors, the answer is “not recently.” And, if you haven’t set it up yet, you aren’t alone, but you’ll want to take the time to do it today. Your Author Central page is possibly Amazon’s best book marketing tool for indie authors. It’s your very own landing page; it represents you as an author, which is really critical, and you should treat it as the important platform it is.

. . . .

Did you know that you can have a custom Author Central URL? You can. And you should take a moment to set this up in your Author Central dashboard. That way you can start using the URL as you’re sending readers to Amazon to preview your books. Does this seem superficial? It’s not. With marketing, you always need to consider what you can do to make it easy for potential buyers to click that Buy Now button. A clean, direct URL on your website, social media, business cards, etc. can play a huge role in making that happen.

You can use your Author Central URL in anything, even your email signature! I often use this URL in the back of my books. It makes it easy for readers to go to my Author Central Page to sign up for author updates, and I always include it if I’m asking them to review the book.

. . . .

One of the first things you should add, after your books, is a bio note. Keep it short! Why? Because while a longer bio might look fine on your book page, it’s a lot harder to read on your Amazon Author Page. It’s tempting to go longer, but most consumers will not take the time to read through to the end – as interesting as the content might be. Save the longer bio for your website and use something short and catchy on your Amazon Author Central Page.

The best bios include a little bit about the author and leave room for your website, social media accounts, even your newsletter sign-up. You can also list upcoming releases, which is a brilliant book marketing technique that proves this is NOT a stagnant promotional strategy. What you really want is to begin your bio with compelling details that leave a browser wanting more, then provide links where they can get it!

Link to the rest at IndieReader

The Most Popular Horror Reads Of The Past Year

From HuffPost:

It’s the spookiest season of all — when we’re all on the lookout for full moons, things that go bump in the night, tricks and treats.

You might be ready to take a trip to the dark side right about now — whether that means taking out your tasteful Halloween home decor, finding Halloween decorations that you don’t have to put away on Oct. 31 or putting your cat in her own Halloween costume.

If you’re looking to take a break from a marathon of creepy flicks or a slew of spooky shows, you could turn to spine-chilling, hair-raising and blood-curdling books for frights that’ll feel oh so real.

That’s why we asked the folks at Goodreads for the top horror books that have been popular with their book-loving members throughout this year.

. . . .

“As we all learned to navigate the uncertainty and loss of normalcy that this year has brought us, we saw readers flock to horror novels, propelling tales of terror to the top of our most popular lists,” said Cybil Wallace, a senior editor at Goodreads. “And the genre was ready for the extra attention, with some very compelling and terrifying reads.”

. . . .

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

After receiving a mysterious letter from her newlywed cousin, debutante Noemí Taboada goes to visit her and her new husband, who might not be who he seems. And the house itself, called High Place, holds lots of secrets about the family her cousin married into.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Set in the ’90s, this book has been described as “‘Steel Magnolias’ meets ‘Dracula.'” It’s centered around Patricia Campbell, who always looks forward to her book club since her family life isn’t as fulfilling as she thought it would be. When a stranger moves next door, Patricia initially likes him but starts to suspect that he might be involved in the disappearance of a few local children.

Link to the rest at HuffPost

HarperNorth in Manchester

From Publishing Perspectives:

Editor’s note: In recent years, a strong pushback against the London-centric structure of publishing and other creative industries has gathered energy in the United Kingdom. That dynamic is, in part, behind the creation of HarperCollins UK’s new HarperNorth division in Manchester–a development that has found itself arriving in a most challenging year for the business.

. . . .

On January 21, HarperCollins UK announced that it was launching a new publishing division in one of Europe’s fastest growing cities, Manchester. The next day, Public Health England raised the coronavirus risk level from very low to low. Two months later, the United Kingdom was in lockdown.

“I’ve always talked about trying to do things differently, but I never imagined just how different it would be,” Genevieve Pegg says with a laugh. She’s the publishing director for HarperNorth and a former editorial director of Orion.

Despite the twin challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown, HarperNorth’s editorial and marketing team was recruited and offices were acquired. The division opened for submissions at the end of June and made its first acquisition a month later, Melissa Reddy’s Believe Us, which is scheduled to be published on November 12. Reddy is a senior football correspondent for The Independent.

“HarperCollins was moving at pace and keen to make it happen,” Pegg says. “I’m all the more grateful for that now, because if we’d been operating at the glacial pace that can happen in parts of this business, we wouldn’t have got over the starting line before lockdown.

. . . .

The question for cynics is how much North is there actually in HarperNorth. When the BBC opened its studios in the city of Salford, near Manchester, so many of its presenters commuted from London rather than live in Manchester that it became something of a joke.

“We’re not slingshotting people from London to a strange and unknown land” at HarperNorth, Pegg says. “It was about finding a bunch of people who feel connected to the place and were either already living here or were in the process of moving anyway.”

Pegg was born in Liverpool and grew up in North Wales. She gave up her job at Orion in London five years ago to move back to the North of England with her family and begin a new stage of her career, this time as a freelance editorial consultant.

“I kept having conversations with people like, ‘Oh, you live up in Cheshire now. One day publishing will catch up.’ It was only at the start of this year that the conversation felt different, like there was a sort of commercial aspiration to it, as well.”

“Publishing in the North has its own traditions,” she says. “There’s already an amazing tradition of the university presses and a bevy of really bold and inventive independents who are blazing a trail. There are also a lot of indie authors who’ve not gone down the traditional publishing route. There’s a lot of artistic energy here.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG recommends Des Moines as New York Publishing’s Manchester. PG has a number of relatives living in Iowa, so he visits from time to time.

He finds many Iowans to be intelligent, well-educated (Iowa has a long tradition of a lot of small colleges, some of which are very innovative, plus a couple of large state universities) plus you can live in a decent house in Des Moines for less than a cheesy apartment with roommates and rats would cost in NYC.

PG hasn’t seen any statistics, but he would bet that Iowans on average have a higher literacy rate than the the citizens of NYC. They certainly commit far fewer crimes and are much friendlier to strangers.

PG understands that an English Lit major from Wellesley might not find Des Moines an attractive location at which to intern with a publisher, but, on the whole, that might not be a bad thing.

A Des Moines publisher would find a lot of graduates of Grinnell, Drake, Coe and Cornell (the real one in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, not the poser in New York) who would work harder, perform just as well and not have that entitlement attitude going on.

‘Rebecca’ Debuts on Netflix This Week. The Book Is Even More Tantalizing.

From The Wall Street Journal:

IF YOU’VE NEVER read Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” you’re in for a surprise. Initially dismissed by critics as women’s romance fiction, this 1938 bestseller delivers plot twists, promiscuity, dark secrets and, best of all, backstabbing servants. But it’s since been celebrated by feminist scholars for its critique of gender roles. On the surface, it tells the story of a mousy young woman—the traveling companion to a nosy American matron—who meets the wealthy and withholding widower Maxim de Winter while he’s on holiday in Monte Carlo, and marries him. When the trembling bride arrives at Manderley, his British estate, she realizes how little she knows about her new husband and his first wife, Rebecca, who died in a boating accident less than a year earlier and is still worshiped by many in the house and the community.

The novel begins in a dream state. “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again,” writes our narrator, the second Mrs. de Winter (we never learn her first name) on awaking at a “dull” hotel hundreds of miles away from the stately manor. Though in her nightmare, the house was overrun with “malevolent ivy,” she recalls that Manderley is “no more” and recounts what happened, setting the plot in motion. In this tale of betrayal, du Maurier echoed the tropes of gothic novels: ruined castles, haunted houses and a damsel very much in distress.

Adaptations, like Alfred Hitchcock’s moody 1940 classic, have mined the book’s atmospheric mix of untamed nature and voyeurism. “Sometimes I wonder,” whispers Mrs. Danvers, the conniving head housekeeper, to the newlywed, “if [Rebecca] comes back here and watches you and Mr. de Winter together.” The newest version, a sparkling Netflix take (premiering Oct. 21), surfaces the novel’s glamour and gloom quotient, with Kristin Scott Thomas giving Mrs. Danvers a twitchy dominatrix vibe opposite Lily James and Armie Hammer as the doomed new couple.

In the early Monte Carlo scenes, du Maurier conveys the elation the young narrator feels on the French Riviera. “I remember opening wide my window and leaning out…the sun had never seemed so bright, nor the day so full of promise.” Her mood turns claustrophobic at Manderley, where she feels hemmed in by encroaching woods and the dark sea. A stark contrast to Monte Carlo, Manderley seems as alive as any character in the novel. Its inspiration was Menabilly, a crumbling 16th-century ancestral estate on the rugged south coast of Cornwall, England (shown), where the writer lived for over two decades. Even Mother Nature seems to mock our narrator: At the front door she recoils from the profusion of monstrous rhododendrons, “their crimson faces…slaughterous red, luscious and fantastic.”

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

Filippo Buonanni’s Harmonic Cabinet

PG says he hasn’t created a category for Piffle on TPV, but perhaps it’s time to do so.

Or, in the alternative, provide a content warning something like:

PG has come down with another case of temporary insanity.

There’s a lot of that going around, often associated with the Trump/Biden presidential campaigns.

The following may reflect PG’s current frame of mind. He’s called his doctor to see if there is a pill he can take, but has received no response.

From the Public Domain Review:

The German polymath and Jesuit priest Athanasius Kircher had a lifelong fascination with sound and devoted two books to the subject: Musurgia Universalis (1650), on the theoretical (and theological) aspects, and Phonurgia Nova (1673), on the science of acoustics and its practical applications. It’s no surprise then to learn that his famed museum at Rome’s Collegio Romano boasted— in addition to “vomiting statues”, ghost-conjuring mirrors, and other curious wonders — a vast and diverse collection of musical instruments.

. . . .

Inspired by the collection of instruments in Kircher’s wunderkammer, and intrigued by the stories behind them, in 1722 Buonanni published his Gabinetto Armonico pieno d’istromenti sonori (or Harmonic cabinet full of sonorous instruments), an attempt to catalogue, for the first time, the musical instruments of the world. While there’s a short and often illuminating text for each instrument it is the 152 engraved plates — executed by Flemish artist and publisher Arnold van Westerhout — which really steal the show. The featured instruments are divided into three sections — wind, string, and percussion — and preceded by thirteen brief discussions of other musical categories, including: military, funeral, used in sacrifices, and, intriguingly, as used at sea: not sirens, but chantying sailors. While some of the instruments gathered in Buonanni’s book are as simple as the bee-keeper banging his tub, or the clacking of shoes against the floor, some are highly crafted, technical machines; the great organ at Palazzo Verospi requires a fold-out page to show it all. We are also treated to what might be considered more incidental instruments, for example, the bell about a bound criminal’s neck and the sound of a soldier’s sword being struck.

. . . .

Link to the rest at The Public Domain Review

8 Epic Journeys in Literature

From Electric Lit:

The journey story, where the hero must venture out into the world for reasons not necessarily entirely of his/her own devising, is likely as old as recorded literature.

Of course the journey story can also be understood as an allegory of the self, or soul, and its evolution in a lifetime, for storytelling is always an act, as Ann Carson says, “of symbolization.” In this sense, the journey story not only narrates the material events of a life, but the interior transformations an individual undergoes.

. . . .

The Epic of Gilgamesh, or He Who Saw Deep

The epic poem, one of oldest works of world literature, was composed in its earliest versions over 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia and written in Babylonian cuneiform on clay tablets. Much of the reason it is lesser known than the younger works of Homer is because the epic itself was not rediscovered until 1853, cuneiform was not deciphered until 1857, and it wasn’t well translated until 1912. Fragments of the story on stone tablets continue to be found in modern-day Turkey, Iraq and Syria.

The basic story follows the King Gilgamesh of Uruk (modern-day Warka, Iraq) and his friendship with the wild man Enkidu. They undergo various battles including fighting and defeating the bull of heaven. Later, upon Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh journeys to the edge of the earth where he goes in search of the secret of eternal life and, not finding it, returns home to Uruk having in some manner, in spite of life’s sorrows and travails, made peace with his own mortality.

“Ever do we build our households, ever do we make our nests, ever do brothers divide their inheritance, ever do feuds arise in the land. Ever the river has risen and brought us the flood, the mayfly floating on the water. On the face of the sun its countenance gazes, then all of sudden nothing is there!”

. . . .

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

When I think of Hurston I recall her description in her essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” of the “cosmic Zora” who would emerge at times as she walked down Seventh Avenue, her hat set at a certain angle, who belonged “to no race nor time. I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads.” In Hurston’s extraordinary novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, the eternal and timeless qualities of imaginative literature are on full display in the very specific groundings of place and time, spoken language and culture. The book opens with Janie Crawford recounting her life story to her friend Pheoby upon her return to the all-Black town of Eatonville, Florida. The book, set in the 1930s, follows Janie’s narration of her early life, her three marriages (the last for love), and the many trials she undergoes including the death of her beloved during her travels, before she finally returns changed, wiser, independent. “You got tuh go there tuh know there…Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

August Bookstore Sales Dropped 30.7%

From Publishers Weekly:

Bookstore sales tumbled 30.7% in August compared to one year ago, according to preliminary estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales fell to $754 million compared to $1.09 billion in August 2019.

The steep August drop put an end to a brief rally during which the rate of decline in bookstore sales had been slowing. In July, bookstore sales fell 24.6% compared to July 2019, an improvement over the 35% decline in June compared to August 2019.

. . . .

Bookstore sales through the first eight months of 2020 were down 31.4% from the comparable period in 2019. Sales were just under $4 billion in the most recent period, down from $5.72 billion in the January-August period in 2019. Sales for all of retail fell 1.7%.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG did some quick research and, at least in the US, the average profit margin of a bookstore was 2-3% prior to Covid.

PG doesn’t like to see any small business go through difficult financial times, but he expects the financial future of a great many small bookstores is bleak unless the owner has access to assets or cash from sources outside of the bookstore business.

Even smaller banks that cater to local small business borrowers might not be willing to provide much help.

C:\ Thinking in an http: World

From Publishing Perspectives:

The “Battle for Attention”—part of the title of Bookwire‘s conference report from Frankfurter Buchmesse—became a lot more vivid for many professionals participating in the digital evocation of the trade show last week.

That’s because the enormous fair, which draws more than 250,000 people annually in its physical setting at Messe Frankfurt, was, for once, almost entirely online.

. . . .

Without those beloved print volumes propped on shelves in stand and after stand, without the gliding moving sidewalks between halls, and without the beeping of catering trucks moving in reverse, the center of international publishing for a week was just a click or two from your Netflix and Amazon Music accounts.

. . . .

[W]hat Videl Bar-Kar, who heads up audio at Bookwire GmbH in Germany, presented Thursday (October 15) was the result of survey work that reached 2,335 people in Germany aged 16 to 65 about their media use. In addition, 1,000 consumers of ebooks, audiobooks, and/or podcasts were surveyed about their usage patterns.

A recording of Bar-Kar’s presentation, like others in the Frankfurter Conference series, has not been posted for review, so as yet we can’t offer you a link to see it. Frankfurt’s organizers say that these recordings of four days of conference programming and other events will be available “soon.”

. . . .

What develops as you look at the report is a question of the wisdom of gauging podcasts along with audiobooks and ebooks. Podcasting is not necessarily in the same vein as audiobooks and ebooks because a podcast (unless someone sits at the mic and reads a book to listeners) is not the delivery of a book. There are variations and content hybrids, of course—and a podcast certainly may make a powerful marketing tool for a book—but the inclusion here of podcasts with audiobooks and ebooks presents something like one apple (podcasting) and two oranges (audiobooks and ebooks).

. . . .

Digital Content Becoming ‘Mainstream’

What Bar-Kar and his research refer to as “mainstream” refers to people using two or three of the digital media in question—ebooks, audiobooks, and podcasts. It’s not clear from this work if it’s possible to know what percentage these formats’ usage comprised of a user’s overall media array. If a user said she’d used an ebook or audiobook in the last six months, how does that compare with how many print books she’d read, how many films or television series she’d viewed, and so on?

  • Of those surveyed, 43 percent said they’d used at least one ebook, audiobook, or podcast within the last six months. Some 48 percent reported using “a number of these in parallel.
  • Twenty-one percent said they use all three formats, and 27 percent said they use two of them.

. . . .

A favorite question, of course, is whether audiobook, ebook, and/or podcast consumption tends to preclude a user’s consumption of other content. The standard response of those who work in audiobooks, ebooks, and/or podcasts is, “Of course not!” And this survey doesn’t disappoint.

“They only cannibalize each other to a minor extent” is the charming lead answer here. Nibbling on each other’s toes, as it were, nothing worse than that.

“Ebooks, audiobooks, and podcasts hardly cannibalize each other at all,” the survey writers say. “A maximum of 14 percent of users said that they use ebooks, audiobooks, or podcasts at the expense of one of the other two media. While ebooks and audiobooks are used for relaxation and entertainment more so than podcasts, podcasts tend to expand knowledge and education and/or are more informative about current issues.”

Well-intended as it may be, this commentary is probably the least reassuring in the report. Unless one has a chart of one’s format usage and thus can tell, “Gosh, a half-hour of my podcast time was eaten up by my e-reading,” it’s quite subjective as to how much a user might feel is going into one mode or another.

And the more important area of inquiry here is about the challenge that other media (including podcasting may present to reading in various formats. Many people today say that with so much beautifully produced storytelling available in television and film formats, their reading in all modes is taking a hit. By contrast, attrition to other forms of reading is less a worry. If publishing “loses” someone from print to ebooks, publishing should feel relieved that they didn’t move to Streamer City and stop reading entirely.

. . . .

The survey does offer this comparatively useful point—still inside the publishing sector, but going beyond the three key formats in question: “Looking at cannibalization effects on traditional media, just under half of ebook users (44 percent) said that they read fewer printed books because of their digital counterpart. This figure was 25 percent among audiobook listeners.”

. . . .

In short, things are still unsettled in terms of where podcasts stand next to books, especially in the audio space.

If you’re fond of podcasts, you may call them complementary. If you’re not, you might call them competition.

. . . .

Perhaps easier to get our publishing heads around, a section of the survey asked “Which are Your Favorite Media”? Here, it looks as if reality has arrived at the door to reading’s future in this particular survey.

By far, the respondents went for video streaming and television as their favorite of several media.

Radio and print books were next, followed by gaming, online news, and newspapers.

Digital audiobooks and podcasts came in behind all of those. Ebooks fared a bit better, beating out online news and newspapers.

Not even those podcasts were competitive to media outside the trio in the survey, except for physical audiobooks, which in most markets have long been on the decline as downloaded audio took over.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Although downplayed, the author of the OP seems to be feeling what came to PG’s mind as he read the OP:

WHAT CENTURY ARE GERMAN (AND MAYBE OTHER NATIONALITIES) PUBLISHERS LIVING IN?

Podcasts vs. print books?

PG is suspect of “cannibalization” studies in general.

The fundamental proposition is that if people start doing more of something, they are doing less of something else.

This assumes that “something” = an activity that makes someone, usually a large commercial organization, money directly or indirectly.

So, for example, if a meaningful portion of the populace starts spending more time in voluntary charitable activities, that activity is not part of the cannibalization equation.

Ditto if someone starts taking Yoga seriously and spends time thinking of Oneness.

Second Ditto if someone who is feeling overly confined due to a life-threatening pandemic goes to a restaurant that observes social-distancing by closing half of its seating, and hangs out while having a good conversation after lunch with someone else. (Coincidentally, this is exactly how PG and Mrs. PG spent a couple of hours this afternoon. The conversation included, but was not limited to, PG’s mostly-useless comments as Mrs. PG read a couple of the most recent chapters from her WIP.)

Podcasts?

PG is not a podcast person, but wonders if people who listen to podcasts do so instead of reading books of either the electronic or let’s-cut-down-another-forest variety.

PG is happy to be instructed/corrected/updated/straightened-out/brought-into-the-21st-Century, etc., by podcast people.

A Voice Actor

When a voice actor shifts their focus on to the listener and off of themselves, their instrument (voice and body) has freedom from their mind to fully express itself.

Rosemary Chase

Before you voice a piece, ask yourself, “What do I bring to this that nobody else does?”

Nancy Wilson

Promoting Your Audiobooks

Mrs. PG has been enjoying very nice sales from her most recently-released audiobook, An Oxford Murder.

This is the first time she has worked with a Voiceover Artist named Lillian Rachel.

Lillian is British-born, but has lived in Washington DC for some time. Mrs. PG has heard from more than one of the purchasers of her audiobook that the voices, accents, etc., that Lillian has provided are both accurate and an excellent accompaniment to the story.

In connection with her services, Lillian sent Mrs. PG a list of audiobook websites that can provide an indie author with lots of marketing, review and advertising opportunities.

With Lillian’s permission, PG includes the list of websites below. The descriptions are Lillian’s:

WEBSITES FOR REVIEWS AND PROMOTION 

The big granddaddy of them all is Audiofile Magazine. They’re the dominant industry trade magazine, and getting your book reviewed there a Really Big Deal. They give Earphones Awards throughout the year to titles they deem worthy.  

http://www.audiofilemagazine.com

For digital audiobook submissions: Please email editor@audiofilemagazine.com with a download link (Dropbox, Hightail, etc.) or a link to your title on Audible.com. Please include the high-res audiobook cover art (300 dpi), ISBN, and distribution information. 

Audiobook Jukebox is an aggregator site. They’ll list your title as available for review, and if a subscriber is interested you get reviewed, usually in a blog and on Audible. 

http://www.audiobookjukebox.com 

Audiobook Reviewer is a curated site – lots of different reviewers submit reviews there. Lots of followers, and big social media presence make this one a good place to offer your title, though. You can also be a “featured” title on their site for a fee. Not sure how that works, or what kind of traction it gets you. They also give awards annually. 

https://audiobookreviewer.com

Love & Lace Inkorporated– (Romance Genre Only) 

This is an online and physical quarterly publication designed for Romance readers!  It is extremely affordable to put an ad in for a spotlight, Audiobook Feature/new release, Character Interview, Author Interview, etc. 

https://www.dragonflyinkpublishing.com

AudiobookObsessionReviewTeam–   

These ladies offer a team of over 200 audiobook reviewers. You simply give them your codes and they get you reviews. They also do Release tours, blitz, IG tour, etc. GREAT resource 

They also do Release tours, Release Blitz and IG tours. The Review tour is probably the best at getting the word out! Many of my authors have done this and have had great success! 

https://www.facebook.com/AudiobookObsession/

WEBSITES TO DISTRIBUTE REVIEW CODES 

(NB: ACX no longer pays for redeemed codes) 

https://audiofreebies.com/

https://audiobookboom.com/

https://freeaudiobookcodes.com/

https://audiobooksunleashed.com/

FACEBOOK GROUPS FOR GIVEAWAYS AND PROMOTION 

AudiobookObsession–  https://www.facebook.com/AudiobookObsession/ 

Audiobooks Rock! – https://www.facebook.com/groups/267216150092617/ 

Promote Your Audiobooks – https://www.facebook.com/groups/Promotefreeaudio/ 

Audiobook Narrator/Book Blogger –https://www.facebook.com/groups/audiobooknarratorsbloggers/ 

Everything Audiobooks –https://www.facebook.com/groups/EverythingAudiobooksE.A.R.S/ 

Audiobook Addicts –https://www.facebook.com/groups/audiobookaddicts/ 

Audio Bookfly– https://www.facebook.com/groups/AudioBookfly/  

Audio Loves– https://www.facebook.com/groups/AudioLoves/  

Aural Fixation– https://www.facebook.com/groups/auralfixationaudio/ 

PG thanks Lillian for her willingness to share. Should you be interested in finding out more about her services you can do so below:

https://www.lillianrachel.com/

You can also hear a sample of Mrs. PG’s audiobook with Lillian’s voice artistry by clicking the link below. If you haven’t listened to an Audible sample before, just click on the arrow you’ll find right below the audiobook cover image.

(Of course, feel free to buy the audiobook if you like the free sample)

https://amzn.to/2FHHQC2

Readings, reinvented

From The Bookseller:

I had been working throughout 2019 on widening out and experimenting with the format of book readings. I took my second novel, Lanny, on the road with two musicians. We did semi-improvised performances, somewhere in between a reading and a gig. Overseas, I re-wrote sections of the book using submitted text from local audiences so the readings became bespoke collaborative one-offs, and the book changed from place to place.

I guess at the root of this is a slight discomfort with the way we put authors on pedestals. I think it’s far more interesting to share the stage. More than that, it’s my basic responsibility. The privilege of having an audience or a readership, the sheer good fortune of that, means one should make every effort to support the work of others and where possible divide any limelight between many voices, many types of work. The old format of author on stage reading from the new book, followed by intelligent questions from a well-prepared chair, followed by audience questions (nine good questions and a mansplain, as the formula goes) can be wonderful, but we have plenty of it. It may be a little tired, and a little limited, as a way of sharing literature. It also perpetuates a fairly simplistic and limited economic model, which can also grate (I love a signing queue as much as the next bookseller) but perhaps not as generative or suitable to our increasingly diversified methods of cultural participation as it needs to be, if we want to keep books and book culture alive and relevant.

To this end we had been planning a project at the Union Chapel called ‘The English Soundwood’. It grew out of a multi-performer project I did when Cheltenham festival kindly invited me to curate events in October 2019. For that first event we had poets, novelists, memoirists and musicians, all performing together. The Union Chapel gig was going to widen it out further to include more musicians, a bigger visual element, audience participation, puppetry, live technological enhancement and so on. And, like everything, this has been postponed.

So this Sunday I will find myself a long way from sharing the stage with others. I will be standing alone in an empty venue, reading not new work, or collaborative work, but old work. In order to support a beloved venue and their extraordinary charity, the Margins Project, I’m reading the whole of my first book, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, as a livestream. The idea being that even if you hated my first book, you could buy a ticket and not watch the livestream, and you would be supporting a great organisation.

Readings are a funny thing, and I don’t know what it will be like to do a whole book in an empty chapel. I’m not an actor, so I don’t even know where to look, if there’s no audience. And will I lose my voice? Not that my book is very long, but still, when was the last time I spoke for over an hour with no break? Also peering over my shoulder like an intimidating crow, is Cillian Murphy, who very much made the book his own when he starred in Enda Walsh’s stage adaptation in 2018. I can hear him in my head. I can literally see him in the text because he drew all over my paperback copy. So I need to banish him, because nobody wants a cod-Cillian, a faux-Murphy.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG would love to see a robust analysis examining the economics of a reading/book signing for an author who isn’t a noted celebrity.

How much time does it take to prepare?

How much time and how expensive is it to travel to a bookstore, then return home afterwards? (PG understands that travel times may vary, depending on many circumstances, but he does know of at least some traditional publishers that expect non-famous authors to be willing to drive for 1-2 hours each way to appear at a book signing.)

How does the author feel after returning from a 2-4 hour book signing? Refreshed and ready to write? Or exhausted in the way some introverts are after being coerced into interacting with a bunch of strangers who have never heard of them or their books?

What’s the author’s hourly income generated by a book signing, considering time spent preparing, traveling back and forth, sitting behind a table for x hours, packing and unpacking whatever the author is taking to the signing, recovering after the signing is over.

PG thinks more than a few book signings take at least an entire day during which an author could be sitting comfortably at home working, researching, editing, etc.

Serious publishers pay a lot of money buying ads, pumping up the sales force, reaching out to bookstore owners, etc. In addition to advertising and promotion costs the publisher pays to third parties, the publisher is also paying its employees while they’re doing promotions, marketing, pitching store owners, etc., etc.

An author who is also a skilled public speaker or pitchperson might command high speaking fees or receive a generous commission for using those talents in a commercial venture other than promoting her/his book.

While sales commissions vary widely from industry to industry, it isn’t unusual for a commission sales person to receive 30-40% of the amount the employer receives from a customer who purchases goods after being pitched and charmed by a good sales rep.

No professional sales person would spend three or four hours to receive a commission equal to what a traditionally-published author receives from a book-signing at which she sells 25 trade paperbacks.

PG wonders if an author going shopping or running errands wearing a sandwich board might earn more than an author sitting in a bookstore signing books.

Wikimedia Commons

Anyone who is interested in exploring this marketing system can buy the materials necessary here.

An Open Letter to Barnes & Noble

From RobEager, Marketing Consultant:

On behalf of all authors, we want to see your company grow and succeed. Amazon needs a legitimate competitor in order to limit their dominance and create a healthier publishing ecosystem. It is important for your bookstores to thrive and expand.

Your organization’s new CEO, James Daunt, made headlines by turning around the Waterstones bookstore chain in England. Now, he wants to apply a similar strategy in America by redecorating every store, reducing the amount of returns, and giving each store manager greater power over their local inventory.

However, I recently visited a Barnes & Noble location near Atlanta, Georgia. What I saw didn’t give me much optimism about the future.

The store layout looked no different than before. The same bestseller displays were in the same place. The green carpet appeared worn and dirty. A skeleton crew was manning the room. There was too much space dedicated to music, movies, toys, and dumb knick-knacks.

In addition, the BN.com website doesn’t look much different than before. It still seems light years behind Amazon’s website experience.

In other words, where is the dramatic transformation that was promised? During the coronavirus shutdown, CEO Daunt reported that the downtime was used to reface the company. I don’t see any improvements, which gives me and other authors concern about your viability.

. . . .

1. Improve your website

B&N.com is at a distinct disadvantage to Amazon primarily due to a lackluster website. More books are purchased online than in stores. So, if you want to grow, you’ve got to capture more online sales.

Frankly, B&N’s website feels like walking into a boring library. Compared to Amazon, there is a tiny fraction of customer reviews to read. Most of a book’s marketing text is hidden or pushed down the page. Worst of all, B&N charges different prices for the same book.

On a recent B&N visit to purchase a business-genre book, the on-shelf price was $7 higher than your website price. That’s a ridiculous disconnect and creates skepticism among savvy consumers. Charge the same price for books, whether purchased online or in-store.

2. Offer marketing partnerships for authors

Want to know a hidden reason why Amazon is crushing B&N? Author favoritism. Every day, authors directly send millions of their fans to Amazon, instead of you. Consider how many authors only mention Amazon on their websites, e-newsletters, blogs, and social media pages. B&N is never mentioned. When you consider the millions of links that authors create for their fans to buy books, it represents millions of dollars in lost sales for B&N.

Why are authors partial to Amazon? For several reasons, such as Amazon offers a robust advertising platform just for authors. Amazon gives self-published authors the best royalty rates and provides extra income for writers who make their e-books exclusive to KDP Select. Amazon even lets authors adjust their book detail page whenever they want for free. B&N doesn’t offer authors any of these features.

Convince authors to stop showing favoritism by developing innovative marketing opportunities. For example, create an affiliate program with generous commission rates and hassle-free technical support. Build an online advertising system that any author can afford. Make it easier for authors to host in-store events that you help promote to the community. Authors will become part of your sales force – if you start meeting our needs.

. . . .

4. Cut the cafe crap and just sell books

Let’s be honest. Please stop trying to add wine bars, coffee shops, or taverns inside your stores. Those ideas failed along with the disastrous Nook e-reader device. All you’re doing is distracting people from your core concept.

Just focus on selling books. Get rid of the music, cafe, and DVD sections. Use that square footage to increase more space for books. It’s hard to call yourself a bookstore when half of the room seems devoted to non-reading activities. People would rather go somewhere else to get coffee, somewhere else to buy music, and somewhere else to drink wine. Become a great bookstore experience that readers cannot resist.

Link to the rest at RobEager, Marketing Consultant

PG didn’t know that Barnes & Noble sells DVDs.

PG doesn’t recall seeing a retail location that offered DVDs for sale for decades, generations, maybe centuries.

Marketing

The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.

Peter Drucker

Listen to your customers, not your competitors.

Joel Spolsky

Book Marketing Services/Agencies/Consultants

PG is interested in knowing whether any visitors to TPV have had good experience with a third-party marketing person/agency with respect to their indie book sales.

If you qualify, if you could explain a bit about what the marketing activities consisted of and what you think the marketing person/service did that you could not have done yourself or did better than you could have done yourself.

PG is not inviting a flood of canned pitches from people who work in the book marketing business, but will welcome an intelligent explanation of what a book marketing expert can deliver that most authors could not or could not do as well.

PG understands that many authors treasure their time and would rather write than market. However, many indies who want to earn a living, earn enough to pay the house payment, etc., don’t have excess funds sitting around to spend on some individual or group that doesn’t deliver real value, so PG is looking about information concerning profitable expenditures on marketing services that clearly earn more than they cost.

PG thinks there’s a good financial case for most indie authors to hire a good cover designer or collect a favor from a friend who knows what she’s doing in cover design. Good covers sell books. They won’t make a bestseller out of a mediocre book, but they can catch the favorable attention of people looking for books on Amazon or elsewhere.

He’d be interested in hearing what type of marketing services, if any, provide a similarly reliable return on investment.

Surviving—and Thriving—In The Brave New World Of Publishing

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

Publishing used to be a leisurely enterprise.  Authors could submit their work directly to the “slush” pile. Editorial assistants would carefully sift through the submissions looking for books that could be turned into solid commercial properties.  Submissions were sent in hard copy, and editors’ offices were piled high with manuscripts.  We had to lug three or four submissions home to read on our spare time. Editing was done in right on the manuscript, usually in red pencil. Time consuming but effective.

In years past, agents would take on projects because they loved them and would work with authors until they were ready for submission to publishers. Editors would often send an editorial letter to authors before they actually acquired their books, making suggestions how to make them acceptable. Publishers supported new writers with publicity, author tours, sometimes even advertising. The rule was that it was only on their third or fourth book that their fortunes would hit their stride.

. . . .

The current state of publishing.

The advent of mega corporate publishing conglomerates, computer sales tracking, and the consolidation of the bookstores and distributors changed everything.  There used to be dozens of publishers, large and small, where an author might find a home. Now there are basically four or five publishers that control the market.

. . . .

Bottom line concerns have all but decimated the publishers’ promotional efforts and have left it up to the authors for the most part. Computer sales tracking  allows publishers, agents and distributors daily performance reports. While it used to take six months to figure out if a book was successful, now it takes less than month.

. . . .

 Since there are fewer bookstores, large and small, to showcase the thousands of new and old titles that are still published each month, it’s tough get an traction with readers. The vast majority of books are bought from online like vendors like Amazon or in big box stores like Walmart or Costco.

As of result all these new market forces, the submission and acquisition process is more competitive than ever.  Physical slush piles are now the email inboxes of agents and editors. The pressure is on to find “big” books that will become bestsellers upon publication. Agents are more selective than ever.

One agent I know reads only the first line of a manuscript. If she doesn’t like it, she rejects it.

Another won’t accept authors who don’t have well established social media platforms.

Editors spend their days at corporate meetings and don’t have as much time to edit or work with an author to strengthen work. The consequence is that both agents and editors require manuscripts to be as close to final as possible before taking them on.

. . . .

Authors need to be prepared to meet these challenges, but they are often subject to the old problem of not being able to see “the forest for the trees.”  Immersed in their craft, they lose perspective, and find it hard to see the larger picture of how their work will be received by agents or editors. In most instances, a new project has one shot at being accepted when it is submitted to an editor. If it rejected by multiple editors, agents will deem it a losing proposition and cease to represent it.  So authors need to make sure their work is as strong as it can be before the submission process begins.  

Hence the need for experienced freelance editors, whose familiarity with the business can give authors an advantage. In this new world of publishing, they have taken the place of the traditional in-house editor or hands-on agent. Qualified freelance editors have become a vital part of the submission process and can make difference between rejection and acceptance.

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

PG is a big fan of quality freelance editors. He thinks they can improve most manuscripts substantially.

However, if, as the OP implies, hiring an experienced freelance editor to help you get an agent who then gets you a publishing contract with a traditional publisher is adding one more person for a traditionally-published author to pay, further reducing the net income the author will receive for a book.

In ancient times, an author could submit a book to one or more publishers directly with some reasonable assurance that a qualified individual who was on the publisher’s payroll and had been for more than three weeks would give it a serious read, at least through several pages, then send the author some meaningful feedback if the publisher’s employee thought the manuscript showed promise.

Today, PG thinks quite a few authors could benefit from a quality freelance editor before self-publishing their book.

There are quality freelance editors in New York City. There are also quality freelance editors in places other than New York City, including places where the cost of living is much lower than it is in New York City. On a regular basis, the cost of living affects the fees a quality freelance editor (or anyone else providing services) charges for her/his services.

Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise

From The Wall Street Journal:

H.L. Mencken was doubtful that Shakespeare wrote the plays assigned to him because there is substantial evidence that he acted in them, which is an amusing way of saying that actors are not notable for searing intelligence. Their intelligence and much else about famous movie actors was nicely kept under cover during the years, from the 1930s through the early 1960s, of the studio system in Hollywood. The men who ran the great studios—MGM, Fox, Warner Bros., Paramount—knew that the people went to the movies above all to see their favorite actors, and so the actors had to be protected from showing themselves the coarse, ignorant, foolish beings they often were. The studio bosses did this by controlling the interviews their actors gave, restraining them from making political statements, hiding anything peculiar about their sex lives. Actors were where the money was, the vehicles in which the movie business drove all the way to the bank.

One reads about the off-screen lives of actors at the peril of never again being able to enjoy in quite the same innocent way the movies they made.

. . . .

I began Scott Eyman’s biography of Cary Grant with some trepidation. In his movies Cary Grant was the embodiment of suavity, the master of savoir faire, elegant, witty, in every way winning. He was dazzlingly but somehow inoffensively (to men) handsome, for in most of his movies he won over women not by his good looks but by his bumbling yet invincible charm. Would Cary Grant, too, in so-called real life, turn out to be a jerk, a creep, a monster, another disappointment? I, for one, distinctly preferred not.

Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach in 1904 in Bristol, England, to an alcoholic working-class father (he was a tailor’s presser) and a mother who spent more than 20 years in a mental institution. In Mr. Eyman’s account, Grant, an only child largely ignored by his parents, “would spend the rest of his life coping with the damage inflicted on him during these years,” harassed all his days by unreasonable fear and uncertainty.

The young Archie Leach left school at 14—actually, he was kicked out—and found succor in Bristol’s music halls, the English version of our vaudeville, with a touch of bawdiness added. He soon acquired low-level work among some of the performers and not long after joined a troupe of tumblers, with whom he did acrobatics, stilts-walking and pantomime. The troupe traveled to America, where it played second- and third-line theaters, and when it returned to England the young Archie Leach chose not to return with it.

He found a place acting in B-minus movies in New York, then traveled out to Hollywood, where he gradually found parts in better movies. In 1931 he had his name changed to Cary Grant—or, as Mr. Eyman puts it, “the matchless specimen of masculine charm known as Cary Grant.” A friend of Grant’s once told him, “I always wanted to be Cary Grant,” to which he replied, “So did I.” The subtitle of “Cary Grant” is “A Brilliant Disguise.”

. . . .

What was disguised underneath Grant’s nonchalant aristocratic facade, according to Mr. Eyman, “was a personality of nearly perpetual anxiety.” Grant was a man who had no fewer than five marriages (he remarked late in life that he was a better judge of scripts than wives), spent much of his life in therapy, once attempted suicide, and claimed LSD (which he had taken under supervision more than 100 times) to be a wonder drug that quieted the rumblings in his soul and becalmed him by revealing his true self to him.

Whatever the rich complications in his personal life, Cary Grant was never less than keen about cultivating his professional life. He was sedulous about his personal appearance. He worked daily on his perfect tan. His clothes were, beyond impeccable, perfection. Never rumpled, even when chased by an airplane through a farm field or climbing Mount Rushmore, he was often on Ten Best-Dressed Men lists, and the other nine men, whoever they were, must all have felt themselves more than a touch shabby compared with him. “I consider him not only the most beautiful but the most beautifully dressed man in the world,” said Edith Head, the fabled Hollywood costume designer.

Over his 40-year career, Grant made 73 movies. 

. . . .

Romantic comedy was Cary Grant’s specialty. “Grant was to romantic comedy,” Mr. Eyman writes, “what Fred Astaire was to dance—he made something extremely difficult look easy.” Grant recognized that the key to comedy was in timing, and his own timing, first learned on the English music-hall stage, was consummate. He knew his strengths and limitations and kept his ambition in bounds. William Wilkerson III, son of the founder of the Hollywood Reporter, noted that Grant “was one of the few English actors who had no desire to play Shakespeare.” He avoided glum parts generally, sensing, correctly, that movie audiences had no interest in seeing him, in a wife-beater undershirt, screaming “Stella!”

Grant understood that a key to success for an actor in Hollywood was to work with the best directors. For the most part, he was able to arrange to do so. He worked in films directed by Leo McCarey, Howard Hawks, George Stevens, George Cukor and Alfred Hitchcock. Given his popularity at the box office, he had, as Mr. Eyman writes, “first crack at nearly every script that didn’t involve a cattle drive or space aliens.”

Equally careful about female co-stars, Grant played in movies with Katharine Hepburn, Irene Dunne, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman. He especially admired Bergman. “Grant found that he liked Ingrid Bergman a great deal,” Mr. Eyman notes. “She was beautiful, but lots of actresses are beautiful. What made Bergman special was her indifference to her looks, her clothes, to everything except her art.” With Bergman he made “Notorious,” “the high-water mark,” according to Mr. Eyman, “of the Hitchcock-Grant collaborations.”

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