Book fraudster Filippo Bernardini spared jail

From The Guardian:

The man who stole more than 1,000 manuscripts so he could be “one of the fewest to cherish them before anyone else” will not be jailed.

Filippo Bernardini, who worked as a rights coordinator, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in New York in January.

He was yesterday sentenced by judge Colleen McMahon to time served, meaning he will not be imprisoned, according to the Bookseller. He has agreed to pay $88,000 (£72,700) to Penguin Random House to cover the legal and expert fees the company paid as a result of his scheme.

Bernardini has also been sentenced to three years of supervised release, and will be deported from the US to the UK or Italy, where he grew up.

The former publishing employee, who worked for Simon & Schuster in the UK – the company has not been implicated in any of Bernardini’s crimes – had said in court documents that he had a “burning desire” to feel like he was a publishing professional. He added that he had no desire to leak the manuscripts he acquired.

After seeing scripts being shared among colleagues, he set up a spoof email address and managed to obtain a manuscript.

“When that request was successful, from that moment on, this behaviour became an obsession, a compulsive behaviour,” he wrote in papers submitted to the court.

During the scheme, in which he impersonated agents and publishers over email, Bernardini obtained manuscripts of books by Margaret Atwood, Sally Rooney and Ian McEwan, among others.

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

We didn’t exactly believe your story

We didn’t exactly believe your story, Miss O’Shaughnessy. We believed your two hundred dollars….I mean that you paid us more than if you’d been telling the truth….and enough more to make it all right.

Dashiell Hammett

February’s China Bestsellers: A Crime Drama Knockout

From Publishing Perspectives:

In a change to the recent leadership of the key bestseller list in mainland China, the Beijing OpenBook fiction chart is being led by a crime-drama tie-in novel from a trio of authors.

The Knockout (Qingdao Publishing House)—by Zhu Junyi, Xu Jizhou, and Bai Wenjun—has vaulted to the No. 1 spot on the fiction list from no previous ranking, effectively blindsiding consumers and the industry.

The trilogy that The Knockout has shoved down to Nos. 2, 3, and 4 is the mighty “Three-Body Problem” series by Liu Cixin, which, as Publishing Perspectives readers know, has been surging to the tops of the monthly lists on the strength of both an animated and a live-action television adaptation.

True to form for the Chinese readership, The Knockout is—you guessed it—being fueled by the dynamic popularity of a new television series, itself.  Xu Jizhou directs this CCTV-8 and iQIYI series, which premiered on January 14 this year. Xu has written the adaptation along with Junyi Zhu, and Jijun Xue produces with a cast featuring Xi Zhang, Songwen Zhang, Gang Wu, Jianyi Li, and Danping Shen.

The show is about a 20-year struggle by a police officer against an organized crime mob operating in Jinghai, which borders Hebei province and Beijing.

The popularity of the show “has been soaring since its launch,” OpenBook’s Wendy Pan says, having watched it gain traction in social media during the spring festival earlier in the year.

The book, a film tie-in edition, has leapt onto the February chart in the first month of its eligibility, those sales fueled by what’s described as “bizarre plot twists” in the television series. Qingdao Publishing has also used interactive elements to bond viewers and readers to the content, and has produced live events on various platforms, featuring actors from the cast.

Oriental Selection—one of the influential book-friendly shows we hear a lot about—is among shows used to raise the property’s visibility.

No need to cry for Liu Cixin and his “Three Body Problem” success—his work occupied seven slots on the February chart.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

How to Kill a Character Without Enraging Readers

From Writers in the Storm:

The death of a popular character has caused more than one angry fan to send email to the author and unfavorable reviews to chat groups and review sites. So, when you absolutely must cause a character’s demise, how do you do that without enraging your readers?

When and how you choose to kill off a character can make or break a story. It’s quite difficult for authors. The characters are very real. Permanently dispatching them is a bit like purposefully ridding oneself of an ally.

Characters should be killed off when the purpose of their demise will be the most impactful. Death may occur near the story’s end such as in John Steinbeck’s Of  Mice and Men, once we really feel for the victim. Or, like in Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, where deaths frequently happen with no warning, establishing the theme that the characters are never safe.

1. Make the Death Meaningful

Nothing aggravates a reader more than characters who die for no good reason. If you’ve built solid, relatable characters, then they deserve to die for a purpose.

For a death scene to be truly meaningful the other characters need to be invested in the outcome as well as the reader.

  • Show how the death affects your characters
  • Explore the repercussions of the death
  • Look at the emotional impact on the characters

Hodor, one of the kindest characters in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice, sacrifices himself by holding a door shut with his body to block the attack of a horde of wights, allowing the family he served time to escape. He is torn apart, while he repeats his own name until it’s revealed that Hodor is really saying “hold the door,” a phrase that became the only thing he could say.

2. Foreshadow the Character’s Death

When done right, foreshadowing is a great way to create emotional tension for the reader. It can set up expectations of the characters’ behaviors and outcomes.

Here are some common examples of elements used as foreshadowing:

  • Dialogue, like “I have a bad feeling about this”
  • Active weather, such as storm clouds, wind, driving rain, clearing skies
  • Omens, like a broken mirror or prophecies
  • Symbols, such as blood, weapons, certain colors, types of birds, and physical/emotional symbolism like the pain of Harry’s scar in the Harry Potter series
  • Settings, like a graveyard, battlefield, river, isolated path
  • Characters’ reactions, such as secrecy, fear, apprehension, curiosity
  • Time and/or season, such as midnight, dawn, twilight, fall, winter

If you end the life of an important character suddenly, readers are probably not going to react well. They anticipated spending quality time with this character. Ripping that character from them at the last-minute means sacrificing foreshadowing. And may get your book tossed across the room.

In John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, the reader knows early on that Owen is going to die. The narrator, who is retelling past events, tells us. Owen’s dreams provide clues to the manner of his death. When tragedy strikes, we are ready for it.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Five Ways Numerical Data Can Improve Your Novel

From diyMFA:

A few weeks ago, I shared how numbers could improve your writing life. Today, I’m going to discuss how numerical data can improve your story. The suggestions I present here are in the context of novels, but you can apply these principles to other forms as well. 

As with the previous article, I don’t want to scare away any writers who fear the very mention of numbers. I promise there are no complex equations or proofs here – just practical ways you can use numerical data to help you revise your novel. 

1. Pace Yourself

Pacing is all about rhythm, and rhythm is very mathematical, so it should not be surprising that numerical data can identify pacing issues. For starters, determine your word count for each of your chapters. Are they within a close range of each other or do they wildly fluctuate throughout the book? You might have a good reason for a lot of variation in your chapter lengths, but make sure this variation is serving a purpose. 

Note where your novel’s critical scenes occur as a percentage of the entire manuscript. Does your inciting incident happen at the 30% mark? Your opening is too long. You can also look at the length of each critical scene. Maybe your climax is occurring at an appropriate point, but you fly through it in two pages. 

Consider your genre and age category when evaluating your pacing. For instance, middle grade and YA novels typically start and end quickly, with early inciting incidents and late climaxes, so your pacing will feel off if you have a long introduction or resolution. If you’re writing romance, you have a problem if you haven’t introduced the love interest in the first 50% of the book. In a murder mystery novel, readers expect to encounter the crime early, not 25% of the way into the book.

Numerical data can help you identify potential trouble spots, but it should not be prescriptive. If your figures slightly differ from the recommended standards for your market, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem. If you can justify the choices you’ve made and your beta readers don’t notice a problem with your pacing, then you’re probably fine. 

2. Break It Down

Once you have a solid draft, figure out the composition breakdown of your manuscript. With a set of highlighters (use a different color for each category), identify dialogue, world building and description, action, character interiority, and backstory. Approximate the percentage of your total word count that you have written in each of these categories. (The computer can give you more precise information. Highlight in different colors on your screen and calculate your percentages easily. The printed version, however, may have an advantage in making a visual impact, and approximations will work for this, so pick your preference.)

Is one category dominating your story? If so, can you justify this? There may be an excellent reason your novel is 80% dialogue, so long as it is an intentional one. 

Conversely, is one category lacking? Adding passages to enhance that category may give your novel more balance.

3. Remember the “Comp” in Comp Titles

“Comp” is short for comparison. A comp title is a book like yours, often sharing genre, market, and style. Comp titles demonstrate your novel has an audience. 

Choose a comp title you admire. Break down its composition, as described above. If you’re daunted by tackling a full novel, then try a few choice chapters, including the opening and closing chapters, the inciting incident, and the climax. Determine the percentages spent on dialogue, setting and description, action, character interiority, and backstory. 

Then take a literal approach to the word “comparison” by comparing your novel’s composition to that of your comp title. They probably won’t be exactly the same, but you should pay attention to big discrepancies. This is how you learn from published authors. 

Link to the rest at diyMFA

5 Reasons to Write Your “Taboo” Stories

From Jane Friedman:

Writing memoir is always a vulnerable experience, but some stories are especially difficult to tell. Topics like mental illness, sex, and violence are often branded “taboo” and can be among the most challenging material to write about. In many cultures, we’re taught to avoid these topics, and that sharing them is TMI (“too much information”).

But at their best, these narratives speak to our darkest truths and teach us what it means to be human. Despite the challenges of writing about stigmatized topics, sharing our vulnerable, deeply personal stories can be incredibly healing. And not only that, but these stories can make for the most compelling writing for readers.

1. Writing about taboos can give our stories heat and urgency.

Emotionally charged, vulnerable experiences lend themselves to high-stakes storytelling. In memoir, we are challenged to answer the question of: “So what?” Why would a disinterested reader, who doesn’t know us from Adam, care about our lives? Taboo topics tend to be rife with conflict and dramatic tension, among our best tools for engaging readers in our stories. What’s more, when we lean into stigmatized topics, we invite readers to wrestle with the same complexities we’re examining in ourselves—this gives our storytelling urgency and nuance, which keeps the reader turning the pages.

2. Vulnerability can make us more trustworthy narrators.

In memoir, readers want us to tell the truest, most candid versions of our stories. If they sense that we are holding back, being evasive, or trying to present our lives and ourselves as rosier than the reality, we risk losing their trust. Not shying away from the thorny, messy truths of our lives sends a powerful message to the reader. It shows them we are willing to lay bare our most difficult truths—even when, and perhaps especially when, these are unflattering. Readers respect writers who come across as honest and authentic—facing challenging material head-on, without sugar-coating it, shows our ability to grapple with complicated memories. This kind of honesty can help build our credibility as narrators, while establishing a more intimate connection between the writer and reader.

3. Writing the “unspeakable” allows us to reclaim power.

Often, what is categorized as “taboo” or “unspeakable” has a lot to do with power dynamics. For instance, topics like sexual assault and racism have long been stigmatized; this is a way of silencing voices of dissent, those that might disrupt the established social order. Writing about taboos helps jumpstart conversations about some of the most important topics of our day. We can break through the forces that attempt to silence us, instead using our stories as a way of speaking truth to power. This is especially the case in marginalized communities, where voices have been systematically shut out—writing the hard truths can be empowering for the writer, and illuminating for readers.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Humanly Possible

From The Wall Street Journal:

Humanism was born in Renaissance Italy as an approach to reading Roman literature. It later turned into an Enlightenment philosophy for reorganizing society along rational lines, especially in France. No one called it “humanism” in English until the 19th century. Our humanism is a Euro-American ideology, and its keynotes are progress, liberal individualism, agnosticism or atheism, and trusting the science.

The British historian Sarah Bakewell has previously deciphered the complexities of Montaigne (“How to Live”) and given a droll and chatty account of the Existentialists (“At the Existentialist Café”). Her latest book, “Humanly Possible,” traces the abstract ideal of humanism through the lives of its exponents and the hopes of its adherents, from Petrarch’s Florence to present-day Glasgow, where the Humanists International group recently issued a “Declaration of Modern Humanism.” A book of big and bold ideas, “Humanly Possible” is humane in approach and, more important, readable and worth reading, whether you agree with it or not.

For the Romans, Ms. Bakewell writes, the word humanitas meant being human, “but with added overtones of being refined, knowledgeable, articulate, generous, and well mannered.” Her first humanists are the umanisti of 14th-century Italy, literary scholars specializing in studia humanitatis, or human studies, rather than Christian theology, for instance. Not that religious concerns were ignored: Dante may have been a “cosmic visionary,” but his cosmos was Christian, so much so that he invented a Hell for his enemies and had to leave the pagan Virgil in Limbo.

After Dante came Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) and Giovanni Boccaccio. Petrarch (1304-1374), a poet and scholar, relished the peripatetic “literary life.” He was a bloodhound in the library, hunting down fragments of Livy’s Roman history, and discovering Cicero’s “Pro Archia,” in which the Roman statesman argued that the Greek poet Archias merited citizenship for his “human and literary studies.” His biggest find was three of Cicero’s letters in the cathedral library of Verona. These showed the private Cicero, the “informal writer and friend who reflected on human dilemmas and emotions,” and mixed observations on current affairs with anecdotes from philosophy and literature. When Petrarch emulated Cicero in his letters, he revived the voice of humanitas.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG notes that, once again, Big Publishing (Penguin in this case) got a positive review in the largest-circulation newspaper in the United States, has posted the book for sale on Amazon but has not enabled Look Inside on Amazon so the millions of ardent readers can examine the book in more detail to decide whether to buy it or not.

Modern intelligent and cultured readers have a huge offering of interesting writing about nearly any subject available online. At least some of these potential customers are like PG, flitting from flower to flower. PG has already read the WSJ review and looked up the book on Amazon.

Between today and the release date, March 28, PG will have scanned hundreds of online pages, read at least two hundred pages of ebooks and forgotten all about the nice review the publisher scored in The Wall Street Journal.

PG is on the verge of emailing the WSJ editors to request that they not publish a book review until the book itself is on sale. His email may or may not have any impact on the WSJ review policies at all, but PG will have let off a bit of steam.

19th Century marketing and promotion is still with us in traditional publishing.

WGA Seeks Higher Compensation Amid Streaming Boom, Threatens First Strike in 15 Years


The Writers Guild of America (WGA) has commenced high-stakes negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) for a new three-year contract, as the current agreement is set to expire on May 1.

. . . .

Representing over 11,000 television and movie writers, the WGA is seeking higher compensation, improved workplace standards, and a boost in contributions to pension and health funds.

The outcome of these negotiations will determine if the entertainment industry faces its first writers’ strike in 15 years.

. . . .

As the industry shifts towards streaming platforms, the WGA claims that Hollywood companies have taken advantage of this change to devalue writers’ work, leading to worsening working conditions.

The rapid transition to streaming entertainment has upended nearly every corner of Hollywood, and writers believe they have been left behind.

With fewer episodes per season on streaming platforms compared to traditional networks, writers are often paid less while working more.

Residual fees, or money paid when a film or series is rerun or aired on broadcast, have helped supplement writers’ income for years.

However, these fees are disappearing in the streaming era, where most projects ultimately land.

. . . .

The WGA is also asking for studios to establish standards around the use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

The guild wants the use of AI regulated in terms of material created for the studios.

The exact terms of agreement regarding AI have yet to be determined, and the WGA will have to overcome several hurdles to deliver its objectives to members.

. . . .

With the growing demand for content, many professionals in the entertainment industry work on a project-to-project basis, leading to job insecurity and a lack of long-term stability.

This gig economy structure can make it difficult for workers to plan their careers and secure stable income.

The potential writers’ strike highlights the need for better workplace standards and more reliable compensation structures to address the challenges faced by Hollywood workers in this evolving landscape.

Link to the rest at

Publishers Prepare for Showdown With Microsoft, Google Over AI Tools

From The Wall Street Journal:

Since the arrival of chatbots that can carry on conversations, make up sonnets and ace the LSAT, many people have been in awe at the artificial-intelligence technology’s capabilities.

Publishers of online content share in that sense of wonder. They also see a threat to their businesses, and are headed to a showdown with the makers of the technology.

In recent weeks, publishing executives have begun examining the extent to which their content has been used to “train” AI tools such as ChatGPT, how they should be compensated and what their legal options are, according to people familiar with meetings organized by the News Media Alliance, a publishing trade group.

“We have valuable content that’s being used constantly to generate revenue for others off the backs of investments that we make, that requires real human work, and that has to be compensated,” said Danielle Coffey, executive vice president and general counsel of the News Media Alliance.

ChatGPT, released last November by parent company OpenAI, operates as a stand-alone tool but is also being integrated into Microsoft Corp.’s Bing search engine and other tools. Alphabet Inc.’s Google this week opened to the public its own conversational program, Bard, which also can generate humanlike responses.

Reddit has had talks with Microsoft about the use of its content in AI training, people familiar with the discussions said. A Reddit spokesman declined to comment.

Robert Thomson, chief executive of The Wall Street Journal parent News Corp said at a recent investor conference that he has “started discussions with a certain party who shall remain nameless.”

“Clearly, they are using proprietary content—there should be, obviously, some compensation for that,” Mr. Thomson said. 

At the heart of the debate is the question of whether AI companies have the legal right to scrape content off the internet and feed it into their training models. A legal provision called “fair use” allows for copyright material to be used without permission in certain circumstances. 

In an interview, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman said “we’ve done a lot with fair use,” when it comes to ChatGPT. The tool was trained on two-year-old data. He also said OpenAI has struck deals for content, when warranted. 

“We’re willing to pay a lot for very high-quality data in certain domains,” such as science, Mr. Altman said.

One concern for publishers is that AI tools could drain traffic and advertising dollars away from their sites. Microsoft’s version of the technology includes links in the answers to users’ questions—showing the articles it drew upon to provide a recipe for chicken soup or suggest an itinerary for a trip to Greece, for example. 

“On Bing Chat, I don’t think people recognize this, but everything is clickable,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in an interview, referring to the inherent value exchange in such links. Publishing executives say it is an open question how many users will actually click on those links and travel to their sites.

Microsoft has been making direct payments to publishers for many years in the form of content-licensing deals for its MSN platform. Some publishing executives say those deals don’t cover AI products. Microsoft declined to comment.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

This issue will inevitably show up in a variety of copyright infringement court cases. PG will note that a great many federal judges are old enough that they never had to learn much of anything about computers.

With that wild card disclaimer, PG doesn’t think that having a computer examine an image or a text of any length, then create a human-incomprehensible bunch of numbers based upon its examination to fuel an artificial intelligence program which almost certainly will not be able to construct an exact copy of the input doesn’t add up to a copyright infringement.

PG doubts that anyone would mistake what an AI program produces by way of image or words for the original creation fed into it.

The Future Of Prompt Engineering

From Paul DelSignore:

Understanding how to write a good prompt will help you in getting the output you are looking for.

While there are some good UI tools that can write prompts for you, the ability to change, fine-tune and craft your own prompts is a skill that will serve you well. There’s even a term used to describe that skill — sometimes referred to as “prompt crafting” or “prompt engineering.”

Of course it’s entirely possible to get some amazing results without following any guidelines at all. I’ve seen some beautiful images rendered from just a simple word or phrase. However, if you want consistency and the ability to improve your output, you will need to learn how AI responds to language patterns.

The AI artists that I follow on community forums and discord channels have mastered this skill, and studying how they write their prompts has helped me at writing better prompts myself.

What I would like to do in this article is show you the thought process that I use when I am writing a prompt. I am also writing this agnostic to any specific AI art tool, as while there might be differences in the syntax between the different tools, the writing approach is largely the same. For the examples below, I will be showing art generated from Midjourney.

. . . .

Crafting Your Prompt

I like to think of the anatomy of the prompt in four distinct groupings and in a specific order (note the order affects how AI prioritizes the output).

  1. Content type
  2. Description
  3. Style
  4. Composition

Let’s take a look at each of them in the process of writing out a prompt.

1. Content type

When you approach creating a piece of artwork, the first thing to think about is what is the type of artwork you want to achieve, is it a PhotographDrawingSketch or 3D render?

So the prompt would start with…

A photograph of...

Link to the rest at Paul DelSignore on Medium

In ancient times, PG learned the craft/art of searching legal resources for attorneys, primarily Lexis with a bit of WestLaw thrown in. One thing he liked about both systems is that he could find exactly what he was looking for without extraneous search results. Of course, this cost a lot of money if you didn’t have complimentary accounts from each company as PG did for several years.

Prior to Google dominating web search, there were other web search engines. Does anyone remember AltaVista, which was acquired by Yahoo?

When Google showed up, PG learned how to use the various Google search commands to help find the sort of thing he was looking for without seeing a thousand different things that were sort of what he was looking for – search social media, search hashtags, exclude words from your search, etc., etc. (There are lots of locations online that will show you how to use Googles various search commands – see, for example, Google’s Refine Web Searches page.)

There are more search operators than Google includes in the link above. He found some sites that claim to include all of Google’s search operators – there are at least 40, perhaps more. Here’s a link to a non-Google site that claims to list all of Big G’s search operators.

PG’s major gripe against Google is that the search engine always wants to show you something. With the classic versions of legal search engines, if PG searched for something and it didn’t exist, Lexis would tell him that nothing existed that met his query.

PG will have to experiment with a combination of Google search operators to see if Big G ever admits that it is stunned.

Back to the OP, PG hasn’t figured out exactly how the various publicly-available AI systems are looking for their user inputs. But he’s enjoying his experiments.

The Origins of Female Protagonists in Children’s Literature

From Book Browse:

This article relates to The Magician’s Daughter

Bridget (known as Biddy), the protagonist of H. G. Parry’s The Magician’s Daughter, grows up on the magical, hidden island of Hy-Brasil, with only her father, the mage Rowan O’Connell, and his familiar, a rabbit named Hutchincroft. She is greatly influenced by the stories of heroines she reads about in her father’s library; female literary figures with whom she identifies and who help shape her character and moral compass. Their influence proves crucial when, in 1912 at the age of 16, Biddy has to leave the island to right past wrongs and face the challenges of the human world. Biddy’s coming of age from an idyllic, magical childhood to a cruel, harsh awakening follows in the footsteps of her heroines, such as Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Wendy Darling from Peter Pan, and Sara Crewe from A Little Princess.

The library of Biddy’s youth is filled with volumes that today’s readers might consider classics of children’s literature, but would have been fairly new at the time. Fiction written specifically for children and adolescents has its origins in the 18th century. Prior to this, the oral tradition of nursery rhymes and published religious verses such as Isaac Watts’ Divine Songs for the Use of Children (1715) was used to inculcate morals and values. Fairy tales, such as those by Madame D’Aulnoy and Charles Perrault, with their predominantly female protagonists, were not originally intended for children. Nor was the first fairy tale published in English in 1621, which featured a male hero, Tom Thumb, already a well-known figure from folklore. In his 1730 stage play The Tragedy of Tragedies, or the Life and Death of Tom Thumb the Great, Henry Fielding used the same male character to comment satirically on gender roles of the time — and, indeed, Tom Thumb himself would usually be played by a female child actress.

In 1749, Sarah Fielding, Henry’s sister, included two fairy tales in her novel The Governess, or Little Female Academy. This book is considered to be the first English-language novel written for children and it is notable that all its characters are female. The eldest pupil, Miss Jenny, leads by example, recounting the story of her life to teach the others how to aspire to goodness and happiness; all the other girls then tell the stories of their lives as well. A few years later, in 1765, John Newbery, the first major publisher of children’s books, published The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes, an anonymously written story of the poor but intelligent and virtuous Margery Meadwell, who is ultimately rewarded for her innate nobility and diligence.

By the 19th century, children’s literature had begun to evolve away from religious-themed morality tales as society became more secularized. Elements of magic and fantasy permeated children’s stories with the advent of Edgar Taylor’s 1823 translation of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales and the 1846 publication of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. Although male protagonists continued to appear in popular works of the time such as Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies (1863), the most influential, enduring, and famous of 19th century children’s books feature a female main character: Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass (1872). The heroine, Alice, is an exceptionally bright seven-year-old girl who enters dream worlds highly influenced by Edward Lear’s nonsense verses, juxtaposed with the darkness and chaos of traditional nursery rhymes. Carroll’s mentor, the Scottish author George MacDonald, deserves to be as well-known today as his protégé, being the creator of such memorable female protagonists as Tangle of The Golden Key (1867), Princess Irene of The Princess and the Goblins(1872), and Rosamunde and Agnes of The Lost Princess: A Double Story (1875).

Link to the rest at Book Browse

In Espionage Thrillers, Emotional Intelligence Matters, Too

From Publishers Weekly:

When you work at the CIA, you’re taught to keep everything you do secret. You must be invisible. As a woman who grew up in a patriarchal family, I was not unfamiliar with the imperative. So it felt dicey when I decided to make public that I worked at the CIA and was writing a book on the subject. Being exposed and vulnerable was unsettling, but with this exposure also came freedom.

I started working at the CIA shortly after 9/11. In the years that followed, there was an immediacy and relevance to the counterterrorism mission that is difficult to quantify. In 2005, I was assigned to support the CIA’s mission in Iraq. As a CIA targeting officer, my days were spent hunting elusive high-value targets, which typically meant high-ranking members of a Sunni extremist group.

In 2010, I graduated to hunting targets in the CIA’s Pakistan Afghanistan division—not just in support of the CIA’s capture/kill operations but also targeting for the potential recruitment of sources. These were challenging tasks in my 20s and early 30s—navigating both the war zones in the Middle East and the male-dominated vaults at Langley.

On one trip to the Middle East to debrief a terrorist we were trying to recruit as a source, I was told to let my male counterparts do the talking. This entailed describing me as an “expert from Washington” and a married, pious woman who took her faith very seriously. When I asked the reason for this backstory, my male colleagues said it was because the source had never met an American woman and that his idea of an American woman came from TV and movies.

At first I was appalled, but then I began to understand. This was when the TV show Homeland was wildly popular, in which Claire Danes plays a CIA officer with bipolar disorder who sleeps with the terrorist she is hunting. Similarly, Red Sparrow,starring Jennifer Lawrence as a Russian spy, shows the actor nakedly taunting one of the male trainees to prove that she’s unafraid to use her body in exchange for information. This was a widespread misconception among those inside and outside the agency about women at the CIA that I had to fight against constantly.

But it’s not all Hollywood’s fault. Mata Hari, who was convicted of seducing French men and spying for Germany during WWI, remains one of the most infamous female spies in history. Movies like Zero Dark Thirty staring Jessica Chastain, depicting the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden, did a much better job, having resisted the temptation to reduce female spies into dominatrices who exchange sex for information.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

TikTok’s influence on the books market is small but growing rapidly, says Nielsen

From The Bookseller:

One in four book buyers used TikTok/BookTok in 2022 and these consumers accounted for nearly 90 million book purchases last year, according to findings from Nielsen’s latest Books & Consumers survey.

Each month, the market measurement firm surveys 8,500 UK consumers aged between 13 and 84. Details from these surveys have been extrapolated to estimate the UK’s consumer book purchasing market in the year to March 2023.

In a presentation delivered at the London Transport Museum today (Wednesday, 22nd March), Nielsen revealed that UK consumers bought a total of 348 million books in 2022. This represents a 2% decrease over five years: in 2018, total UK book sales stood at 355 million. In terms of spending, 2022 sales clocked in at £2.5bn, £250m of which were printed book sales. This represents a 4% increase on 2018, when total spending came in at £240m.

Overall, TikTok’s influence remains relatively small. In 2022, just 3% of all books purchased, roughly nine million, were originally discovered via video assistance platforms (which Nielsen counts as YouTube and TikTok).

And while it is difficult to put a specific figure on the platform’s overall influence on the books market, Nielsen reports that sales of titles which feature the word “TikTok” in their subtitles (for example, “TikTok made me buy it” or “The TikTok sensation of the year”) totalled approximately £46m in 2022. This figure is based on top 100,000 bestseller list data and includes work by the likes of Colleen Hoover (£15.9m), Alice Oseman (£9.9m), Taylor Jenkins Reid (£2.5m), Karen McManus (£2.0m), Ali Hazelwood (£1.4m), Ana Huang (£1.3m) and Elena Armas (£1.2m).

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

How TikTok broke social media

From The Economist:

Is tiktok’s time up? As the social-media app’s chief executive, Shou Zi Chew, prepares for a grilling before Congress on March 23rd, TikTok’s 100m-plus users in America fret that their government is preparing to ban the Chinese-owned platform on security fears. Their anguish contrasts with utter glee in Silicon Valley, where home-grown social-media firms would love to be rid of their popular rival. With every grumble from Capitol Hill, the share prices of Meta, Snap, Pinterest and others edge higher.

TikTok’s fate hangs in the balance. But what is already clear is that the app has changed social media for good—and in a way that will make life much harder for incumbent social apps. In less than six years TikTok has weaned the world off old-fashioned social-networking and got it addicted to algorithmically selected short-form video. Users love it. The trouble for social apps is that the new model makes less money than the old one, and may always do so.

The speed of the change is astonishing. Since entering America in 2017, TikTok has picked up more users than all but a handful of social-media apps, which have been around more than twice as long (see chart 1). Among young audiences, it crushes the competition. Americans aged 18-24 spend an hour a day on TikTok, twice as long as they spend on Instagram and Snapchat and more than five times as long as they spend on Facebook, which these days is mainly a medium for communicating with the grandparents (see chart 2).

TikTok’s success has prompted its rivals to reinvent themselves. Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, has turned both apps’ main feeds into algorithmically sorted “discovery engines” and launched Reels, a TikTok clone bolted onto Facebook and Instagram. Similar lookalike products have been created by YouTube (Shorts), Snapchat (Spotlight), Pinterest (Watch) and even Netflix (Fast Laughs). The latest TikTok-inspired makeover, announced on March 8th, was by Spotify, a music app whose homepage now features video clips that can be skipped by swiping up. (TikTok’s Chinese sister app, Douyin, is having a similar effect in its home market, where digital giants like Tencent are increasingly putting short videos at the centre of their offerings.)

The result is that short-form video has taken over social media. Of the 64 minutes that the average American spends viewing social media each day, 40 minutes are spent watching video clips, up from 28 minutes just three years ago, estimates Bernstein, a broker. However, this transformation comes with a snag. Although users have a seemingly endless appetite for short video, the format is proving less profitable than the old news feed.

TikTok monetises its American audience at a rate of just $0.31 per hour, a third the rate of Facebook and a fifth the rate of Instagram (see chart 3). This year it will make about $67 from each of its American users, while Instagram will make more than $200, estimates Insider Intelligence, a research firm. Nor is this just a TikTok problem. Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, told investors last month that “Currently, the monetisation efficiency of Reels is much less than Feed, so the more that Reels grows…it takes some time away from Feed and we actually lose money.”

Link to the rest at The Economist

I don’t want to really scare you

I don’t want to really scare you, but it was alarming how many people I talked to who are highly placed people in AI who have retreats that are sort of ‘bug out’ houses, to which they could flee if it all hits the fan.

James Barrat, author of Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era, told the Washington Post

Microsoft’s new Copilot will change Office documents forever

From The Verge:

Microsoft’s new AI-powered Copilot summarized my meeting instantly yesterday (the meeting was with Microsoft to discuss Copilot, of course) before listing out the questions I’d asked just seconds before. I’ve watched Microsoft demo the future of work for years with concepts about virtual assistants, but Copilot is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to them coming true.

“In our minds this is the new way of computing, the new way of working with technology, and the most adaptive technology we’ve seen,” says Jon Friedman, corporate vice president of design and research at Microsoft, in an interview with The Verge.

I was speaking to Friedman in a Teams call when he activated Copilot midway through our meeting to perform its AI-powered magic. Microsoft has a flashy marketing video that shows off Copilot’s potential, but seeing Friedman demonstrate this in real time across Office apps and in Teams left me convinced it will forever change how we interact with software, create documents, and ultimately, how we work.

. . . .

Copilot appears in Office apps as a useful AI chatbot on the sidebar, but it’s much more than just that. You could be in the middle of a Word document, and it will gently appear when you highlight an entire paragraph — much like how Word has UI prompts that highlight your spelling mistakes. You can use it to rewrite your paragraphs with 10 suggestions of new text to flick through and freely edit, or you can have Copilot generate entire documents for you.

. . . .

Microsoft has customized this Copilot system for every Office app, so there are different ways to command it. Friedman demonstrated to me how Copilot can help you write emails in Outlook, offering up short or long message drafts with options to change the tone. It even works in the mobile version of Outlook, which got me thinking about the ways this could speed up work on the go.

“Outlook mobile is the first place where we’re doing a big push,” explains Friedman. Outlook can summarize all your emails on the go, generate drafts, and generally make it easier to triage your inbox. But imagine creating entire Word documents from your phone without having to type on a tiny on-screen keyboard. “We’ll have more to talk about mobile in the coming months,” says Friedman. But you can imagine where things will go.

Link to the rest at The Verge

Google’s AI doctor appears to be getting better

From Popular Science:

Google believes that mobile and digital-first experiences will be the future of health, and it has stats to back it up—namely the millions of questions asked in search queries, and the billions of views on health-related videos across its video streaming platform, YouTube. 

. . . .

The tech giant has nonetheless had a bumpy journey in its pursuit to turn information into useful tools and services. Google Health, the official unit that the company formed in 2018 to tackle this issue, dissolved in 2021. Still, the mission lived on in bits across YouTube, Fitbit, Health AI, Cloud, and other teams.

Google is not the first tech company to dream big when it comes to solving difficult problems in healthcare. IBM, for example, is interested in using quantum computing to get at topics like optimizing drugs targeted to specific proteins, improving predictive models for cardiovascular risk after surgery, and cross-searching genome sequences and large drug-target databases to find compounds that could help with conditions like Alzheimer’s.

. . . .

In Google’s third annual health event on Tuesday, called “The Check Up,” company executives provided updates about a range of health projects that they have been working on internally, and with partners. From a more accurate AI clinician, to added vitals features on Fitbit and Android, here are some of the key announcements. 

. . . .

Even more ambitiously, instead of using AI for a specific healthcare task, researchers at Google have also been experimenting with using a generative AI model, called Med-PaLM, to answer commonly asked medical questions. Med-PaLM is based on a large language model Google developed in-house called PaLM. In a preprint paper published earlier this year, the model scored 67.6 percent on a benchmark test containing questions from the US Medical License Exam.

At the event, Alan Karthikesalingam, a senior research scientist at Google, announced that with the second iteration of the model, Med-PaLM 2, the team has bumped its accuracy on medical licensing questions to 85.4 percent. Compared to the accuracy of human physicians, sometimes Med-PaLM is not as comprehensive, according to clinician reviews, but is generally accurate, he said. “We’re still learning.” 

Link to the rest at Popular Science

Google Is About to Unleash AI for Gmail and Google Docs

From Gizmodo:

Google announced it’s finally unleashing its generative AI tools Tuesday, bringing a set of features to Gmail and Google Docs that will automatically create drafts based on simple prompts. Google will also add new AI capabilities to its business products, including Google Cloud and a new API for developers

Google says it’s rolling out a test of these features to a “limited set of trusted testers” in the coming weeks. When they’re released to the more than 3 billion users of Gmail and Google Docs, more people will be exposed to the latest generation of artificial intelligence technology than ever before.

In Gmail and Google Docs, you’ll be able to type in a few words about a topic, and the apps will automatically spit out a draft. The company posted a GIF using a job posting as an example. The user types “job post for a regional sales rep,” and in a second, Docs spits out a formatted page of text with filled out sections for a job description, responsibilities, and qualifications.

“We’re now at a pivotal moment in our AI journey,” said Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, in a blog post. “Breakthroughs in generative AI are fundamentally changing how people interact with technology — and at Google, we’ve been responsibly developing large language models so we can safely bring them to our products. Today, we’re excited to share our early progress”

With Google’s upcoming business tools, companies are sure to create a flood of AI apps.

Link to the rest at Gizmodo

The Angel Makers of Nagyrev

From The Economist:

When the people of Nagyrev had a problem, they went to Auntie Suzy. Though she had no formal training, she was the Hungarian village’s appointed midwife and the closest thing it had to a resident doctor. Men used her homemade tinctures for relief from the aches and pains they sustained toiling in the fields. Women, too, turned to her for help, and not just with the delivery of their babies. Alongside rubs and salves, Auntie Suzy produced another concoction: arsenic, made from boiling flypaper in vinegar.

Some women used the solution out of desperation—to avoid having another mouth to feed or to get rid of a violent spouse or relative. Others, however, dispensed it to deal with less urgent personal inconveniences. One woman had tired of her clingy husband, so fed him contaminated duck soup. Another, weary of her adult son, mixed some of the elixir into his goulash; later, when she suspected her third husband of having an affair, she reprised her technique. The arsenic was an open secret. If a woman complained of her partner’s behaviour, a friend would suggest a visit to the midwife.

Patti McCracken’s new book, “The Angel Makers”, is a detailed account of the killing spree in Nagyrev and other nearby villages in the early 20th century. It took prosecutors several years to grasp its scale. Eventually 29 women and two men were put on trial in 1929 for the murders of 42 men; 16 women were convicted. Scores of bodies were exhumed and examined for traces of arsenic. Some think as many as 300 people could have been killed. “The boldness and utter callousness with which they carried on their criminal activities seems to have been equalled only by the stupidity of the men who were their victims,” the New York Times reported.

The author weaves in character sketches that suggest the perpetrators’ various motives. Her portrait of Auntie Suzy, a buxom woman fond of her pipe and brandy, is particularly evocative. When questioned by the police about a pattern of infant deaths, she described her role in benevolent terms: she helped poor people with family planning. In fact, she was motivated by money and status.

She plundered goods from clients’ homes and charged exorbitant fees for her potions. (From Maria, the woman who killed her son and husband, she hoped to extract a house.) Occasionally Auntie Suzy or one of her helpers would bump someone off unprompted. A baby was killed without the mother’s say-so. A war veteran was dispatched so that Auntie Suzy’s son might marry his wealthy widow.

Ms McCracken also lays out the context in which these misdeeds took place. She describes regional customs and the effects on the village of the first world war and the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire. 

Link to the rest at The Economist

Fool Me Once

From The Wall Street Journal:

You know the saying: “You can’t cheat an honest man.” It assumes that those who are the target of a cheat asked for it. The investment fund with the suspiciously high returns, the inside racing tip, the stock trade that’s a “sure thing”—the investors knew, or should have known, that something was off. The victims thought they were in on the con, and it turned out they were the marks.

The truth is that honest people can be and are cheated all the time. In “Fool Me Once: Scams, Stories, and Secrets From the Trillion-Dollar Fraud Industry,” Kelly Richmond Pope explores how this happens. Small-business owners are blindsided when their bookkeeper turns out to have been cooking the books; multinational financial institutions find executives funneling out cash; the government of a small city discovers that an official has been skimming from its accounts for decades. Ms. Pope, a professor of forensic accounting at DePaul University, even includes a class of “accidental” perpetrator for those who start out as inadvertent beneficiaries of a mistake but who, rather than confessing, decide to lean into the opportunity.

As Ms. Pope argues: “We all have to understand the cycle of fraud because at one point or another you’re either impacted by it, you did it, or you were in a position to expose it.” She has spent time with fraudsters, interviewing the incarcerated and paroled, to understand why they made the choices they did. She has also spoken to victims, examining how they became vulnerable, and whistleblowers, who reported their co-workers, often at high personal cost.

Some of Ms. Pope’s observations make intuitive sense, like the conclusion that community groups and churches are among the softest of targets: they’re typically run by volunteers, hold lots of cash and apply very little oversight. But any organization can be vulnerable. Most of us ignore the red flags or don’t even know whatto look for. We don’t want to treat our friends andco-workers with suspicion, and keeping a beady eye feels unnatural. That’s why the perp is always the “trusted” employee. (The person everyone thinks is kind of shady is rarely given access to the bank accounts.) In my experience, systems designed to prevent fraud probably make scams more possible: Forcing users to change their passwords every 30 days results in passwords written on Post-it notes and found in obvious locations. Convoluted swipe-card systems end up with doors propped open.

A threat can come from anywhere, given how much of our lives is online. Maybe you’ve seen the Facebook message saying your grandson has been mugged and could you please wire some money. I’ve received emails, purportedly from my boss, asking me to send him some gift cards. Ms. Pope notes how victims often don’t report crimes like this out of shame and embarrassment. The thief didn’t lift their wallet—they willingly handed it over.

But this isn’t a “protect grandma from getting scammed” book. It’s a study of who does it, whom they do it to and who reports it. Ms. Pope’s profiles of fraudsters include the typical corporate swindlers, but there’s also one shocking case of a pharmacist who diluted cancer medicine for profit. (My gut instinct is to call this a homicide rather than fraud.) The diversity of the people in this book reminds us that almost anyone could perpetrate a fraud—or be the victim of one.

“I’m fixated on how people cheat,” Ms. Pope writes. The prevailing answer seems to be by taking advantage of opportunity and impunity. An ATM technician grabs a few handfuls of cash. An insurance-account manager creates fake transactions. If a novice cheater gets away with it the first time, he’ll probably keep doing it.

The biggest fraudster in this book is Rita Crundwell, who stole more than $50 million from the city coffers as the comptroller of Dixon, Ill. She was caught when a colleague looked at some accounts while Crundwell was out of the office. According to Ms. Pope, a high proportion of fraud comes to light this way. We depend on these human monitoring systems as much as any password setup or background check.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

At Hearing, Judge Appears Skeptical of Internet Archive’s Scanning and Lending Program

From Publisher’s Weekly:

After nearly three years of legal wrangling, the Internet Archive’s scanning and lending program finally got its day in court on Monday, March 20. And if Judge John G. Koeltl’s questions are any indication, the Internet Archive is facing an uphill battle.

Over the course of a 90-minute hearing on the parties’ cross motions for summary judgment, Koeltl appeared skeptical that there was sufficient basis in law to support the Internet Archive’s scanning and lending of print library books under a legally untested protocol known as controlled digital lending, and unconvinced that the case is fundamentally about the future of library lending, as Internet Archive attorneys have argued.

“To say that this case is about the ability of a library to lend a book that it owns ignores whether the library has a right to copy wholesale the book,” Koeltl offered at one point during an extended exchange with IA attorney Joseph Gratz. “Does a library have the right to lend a book that it owns? Of course,” the judge conceded. But the question at the heart of this case, he added, is “whether a library has the right to make a digital copy of a book that it owns and then lend that digital copy, which it has made without a license and without permission” to patrons. “To formulate the issue in this case as simply ‘does the library have a right to lend a book that it owns’ belies the issue in the case,” Koeltl said.

In its motion for summary judgment, lawyers for the publishers argue that the Internet Archive is guilty of illegally digitizing tens of thousands of in-copyright print books and making them available to readers worldwide. “No case has held or even suggested that IA’s conduct is a lawful fair use,” the publishers argued.

In its motion for summary judgment, the Internet Archive counters that its efforts to scan legally acquired physical books and lend the scanned editions in lieu of the print under conditions that mimic physical lending is protected by fair use. “The Internet Archive and the hundreds of libraries and archives that support it are not pirates or thieves. They are librarians, striving to serve their patrons online just as they have done for centuries in the brick-and-mortar world,” the IA brief states. “Copyright law does not stand in the way of a library’s right to lend its books to its patrons, one at a time.”

Opening the day’s hearing, Elizabeth McNamara, arguing for the publishers, reiterated the plaintiff’s position that the Internet Archive’s scanning and lending program has no basis in law. “In short, CDL is built on a fallacy,” McNamara told the court. “No laws support this mass duplication and digitization of millions of books to distribute the entire world for the identical purpose that they were originally published, to be read. And for good reason—if this conduct was sanctioned, it would destroy the rights and controls of copyright holders.”

Disputing the defendant’s contention that there is no evidence of any net loss to the publishers from the IA’s program, McNamara argued that the existence of a “thriving” licensed access library e-book market, and potential lost license fees, was sufficient to show harm. “Because you don’t like the price or you don’t like the terms the answer to that is not that you steal,” McNamara told the court. “That is basically the IA’s answer, that we don’t like that market, we don’t want to pay it, it’s not in our interest to pay it and so we’re entitled to just duplicate your work without authorization and distribute it to the world. Well, that isn’t the way the law works and it’s not the way we work in markets.”

Arguing for the Internet Archive, Gratz maintained that the scanning and lending of library books under CDL rules is a lawful extension of the library’s traditional mission and that the IA’s creation of digital copies is “transformative” because the digital copy at issue is merely “incidental” to the loaning of a lawfully acquired corresponding physical book.

“Lending books by more efficient technological means does not offend the purposes of copyright,” Gratz argued. “Instead, it more effectively furthers those aims.”

Gratz also argued that there is “no evidence of harm such that taking away CDL from a library will harm those libraries and their patrons with no countervailing economic benefits to the publishers,” maintaining that the publishers did not lose “one dime” to the IA’s scanning and lending program.

But Koeltl peppered Gratz with questions throughout the hearing, appearing deeply skeptical that the Internet Archive’s fair use case was properly supported by case law, and unconvinced that the publishers’ market for library e-books was not impacted by libraries choosing to scan print books under CDL protocols.

“A library whether they hold a physical copy or not, has the ability to license an e-book from a publisher. Rather than pay that licensing fee to the publisher some libraries choose to make their own copy and to lend that copy. Why isn’t it self-evident that that deprives the publisher of the fees that the publisher could otherwise obtain from licensing an e-book to that library?” Koeltl asked.

“It is because with respect to the copies at issue in the CDL situation the question is not between OverDrive and nothing. The question is between physically lending a book to a particular patron, for which no payment would be due to a publisher, or digitally lending that book to the patron,” Gratz replied, adding that to find harm “there would need to be a reason to think that the publishers were worse off than the situation in which in which the fair use did not occur at all.” In fact, library e-book lending has grown throughout the existence of the IA’s scanning program, and actually surged during the height of the pandemic.

Koeltl sounded largely unmoved, however. And in her closing rebuttal, McNamara reiterated the publishers’ claim that “if CDL were given a green light” it would have a “a significant impact” not only on the library e-book market but on the consumer e-book market as well.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG says that you can’t conclusively discern from questions a judge or group of judges ask the attorneys during a summary judgement or other hearing similar to that described in the OP that the court will rule one way or another.

Judges differ in the manner in which they deal with counsel during arguments concerning a motion or during the trial of a case. They can be playing devil’s advocate to probe each side’s reasoning and their charicization of various statlues or court cases they’re relying upon to support their contentions.

That said, based upon the OP’s description of what went on, PG doesn’t give the Internet Archive much of a chance of prevailing in this judge’s court.

Publishers, Internet Archive Set for Key Hearing Today

From Publisher’s Weekly:

After nearly three years of legal wrangling, a federal judge today will hear cross motions for summary judgment in a closely watched lawsuit challenging the legality of the Internet Archive’s program to scan and lend print library books.

First filed in New York on June 1, 2020, by four major publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, John Wiley & Sons, and Penguin Random House) and the Association of American Publishers, the copyright infringement lawsuit alleges that the Internet Archive’s scanning and lending of library books under an untested legal theory known as “controlled digital lending” is piracy on an industrial scale. The Internet Archive counters that it’s activities are legal, protected by fair use, and that the publishers’ action fundamentally threatens the core mission of libraries to own and lend collections in the digital age.

The wheels of the lawsuit first began to turn in late March 2020, in the early days of Covid-19 pandemic, when, with libraries and schools shuttered, the Internet Archive unilaterally launched the National Emergency Library, a program that temporarily removed controls on the scanned titles in the IA’s Open Library, making them available for multiple user borrowing. The move sparked outrage from author and publisher groups.

The suit, however, is about about more than the National Emergency Library (which shuttered in early June 2020, in the wake of the litigation). Rather, the suit challenges the legitimacy of controlled digital lending and the fundamental legality of scanning and lending library books without permission.

Under CDL, libraries (including the Internet Archive) make scans of their legally acquired physical books and loan the scans in lieu of the print under rules that mimic physical lending: only one person can borrow a scan at a time; the scans are DRM-protected; and only one format can circulate at a time to maintain a one-to-one “owned-to-loan” ratio. In other words, if the scan is checked out, its print counterpart cannot circulate, and vice versa.

. . . .

[L]awyers tell PW the case very likely will be decided at the summary judgment stage, as there are few factual disputes at issue in the case. Barring a surprise settlement, however, the case is likely far from over, as the outcome of today’s hearing, whichever way it goes, would likely be appealed.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Romeo and Juliet via ChatGPT

Here’s a question PG put to ChatGPT, one of the leading text AI programs:

Did Romeo and Juliet have to die? Couldn’t they have married and enjoyed a happy life?

Here’s the answer to PG’s question from the AI:

Romeo and Juliet is a fictional play written by William Shakespeare, first performed in the 16th century. The tragic ending of the play is an essential part of the plot and serves to highlight the consequences of the feud between the two families.

Although it is possible to imagine a different ending for the story, where Romeo and Juliet marry and live happily ever after, it would fundamentally alter the play’s themes and message. The tragic ending is what makes the play so powerful and enduring.

In the context of the play, Romeo and Juliet’s death is the result of a tragic set of circumstances, including their families’ long-standing feud, the lack of communication between them, and the tragic misunderstanding about Juliet’s supposed death. These factors combined to create a tragic outcome that could not have been avoided.

Ultimately, the play’s message is not about whether Romeo and Juliet could have lived happily ever after, but about the destructive power of hatred and violence, and the need for love and compassion to overcome these forces.

Audiobooks Are Thriving, but Could AI Take Over?

From CNet:

Stomachs gurgle. That’s normal. Sometimes, if there’s a mic nearby, those burbles and gurgles get picked up.

AI audiobook narrators don’t have to worry about strange gastrointestinal noises, but Leah Allers and engineer Craig Hinkle aren’t bots. They’re human beings, recording for Nashville Audio Productions in mid-January, fretting about gurgles, discussing where to put the emphasis on the word “increase” and tending to the detailed work of giving a “real” voice to a book about how couples communicate. 

NAP’s studio is at the Rukkus Room in Nashville, Tennessee, the same place Taylor Swift recorded her seven-time platinum, self-titled debut album. The smell of coffee permeates the waiting room. Hinkle is tuned in to every word coming out of Allers’ mouth, glancing from an iPad with the book’s text to a large monitor sitting on the soundboard in the studio.

“I want to get some more emotions in these questions,” Allers tells Hinkle before restarting a section of a chapter. 

Audiobooks are booming. The market is expected to hit $33.5 billion by 2030, up from about $4.2 billion in 2021, according to Acumen Research and Consulting. Whether this is an offshoot of the rise in popularity of podcasts, a matter of listening convenience or a byproduct of the pandemic, it hasn’t escaped the attention of tech companies and the inevitable creep of artificial intelligence. 

. . . .

Tech companies including Apple and Google have been working on AI audiobook narration for a while now. In 2022, Google rolled out its services to publishers in six countries, including the US and Canada. Google’s AI narrators have names like Archie, who sounds British, and Santiago, who speaks Spanish. In early January, Apple introduced a stable of AI voices with names like Madison and Jackson, that authors and indie publishers selling their books on Apple Books can tap to read genres from nonfiction to romance. 

The increasing presence of AI in audiobook narration has human narrators like Tanya Eby in various stages of stress. 

“I don’t know if, in five years, this will be my full-time gig anymore,” said Eby, a Grand Rapids, Michigan-based narrator who’s recorded more than 1,000 books in the last 21 years.

Narrators like Eby say their humanity is exactly what helps them do their jobs. Particularly with fiction, narrators make decisions about everything from a character’s voice to how to communicate nuance and emotion in a way that mirrors the story. 

“If a character is sobbing after the death of their father, I have to convey those tears and gasps in her speech,” said Kathleen Li, an Austin, Texas-based narrator.

Narrators describe the intimacy of being a voice in a listener’s ear, and wonder if even the most lifelike AI will fall into the uncanny valley. The danger, they worry, is disrupting the experience.

AI voices can range from stilted to quite convincing. But even the most fluid can set off those uncanny valley tripwires with a delivery or pacing that sounds off. 

Link to the rest at CNet and thanks to F. for the tip.

PG claims no expertise in audiobooks although he has listened to several, generally on long trips in the car with Mrs. PG.

That said, his understanding is that an audiobook narrator doesn’t interpret the book – give a performance like a voice actor does – but rather provides a pleasant narrative that doesn’t intrude into the story being experienced by the reader/listener.

From Gravy for the Brain:

What Is Voice Over?

Voice over also known as voice acting, is part art, part perspiration and a whole lot of practice. In this post, we are going to give you an insight into the amazing, exciting and fun world of voice acting and becoming a voice-over artist.

When we think about what is voice acting, we often hit the first problem. People don’t realise how often they hear voice acting in their everyday lives.

Voice acting is extremely varied so, let’s, first of all, establish: “what is voice over?”

It is commonly believed that the first voiceover was created by Walt Disney for Mickey Mouse in “Steamboat Willie.” Although this was in 1928, in reality, the first voice-over was performed in 1900! This historical first belongs to Reginald Fessenden, a Canadian inventor. He was thrilled with Alexander Graham Bell’s new device, the telephone, and set out to create a way to remotely communicate without wires. The beginning of “Wireless!”.

In 1900, working for the United States Weather Bureau, Fessenden recorded the very first voice over:  reporting the weather.

It is generally accepted that he was the first voice on the radio. In Boston, in 1906, during the Christmas season, he recorded an entire program of music, Bible texts, and Christmas messages to ships out at sea.

What is voice over acting then?

Well, as communications developed, voice acting became more common in radio, animated cartoons, etc. The actors behind those voices were rarely known by the public with perhaps the exception of the eponymous Mel Blanc, a radio personality and comedian. He became known as “The Man of 1000 Voices” for his versatility and is the voice on many cartoons that were made and distributed by Warner Brothers.

One of the most influential and prolific voice-over artists of all time is not commonly known by the public, but very well known in the industry. This is Don LaFontaine, who began voice acting in 1962, recording VO for a movie trailer.

He became the voice of movie trailers and the sound of the cinema for a generation of moviegoers, setting the gold standard for how they were written and voiced.

While voice-over acting has grown into being a recognised career path, it still remains unseen and largely unknown by most people. Most voice-over work is still done by classically trained actors who often use voice acting to fill gaps in-between jobs. However, voice acting is increasingly getting noticed and gaining recognition as true performance art and profession in its own right.

Famous actors have gained huge amounts of publicity from box-office animation successes such as those produced by Pixar and Disney. Actors like Liam Nielsen have essentially played leading roles in films through their voice, he was the Lion in Narnia series. People now expect well-known actors to be in animated films. Of course, there are other benefits. Studios can use the name of the stars that appear in the animated films to globally promote these films.

. . . .

Voice Over Announcers can be heard introducing segments of live television or radio broadcasts such as; award shows, talk shows, continuity, promo and sporting events.
Voice Over Narrators often specialise in audiobooks, documentaries, explainer videos, educational videos, business videos, medical videos and act as audio tour guides.
Voice Actors are heard performing in animated movies, TV cartoons, radio dramas, ADR, video games, puppet shows and in foreign language dubbing.
Voiceover Artists are versatile performers, able to weave interchangeably between any of the above as well as direct telephone prompts (IVR), they can be heard welcoming visitors to a website, or guiding road trips as the voice of a GPS.

Voice Talent refers to all of the above. The term was coined as an easy way to reference all types of voice-over performers and is often used by agencies or companies that hire voice overs.

. . . .

Some well-known voiceovers by type of work:

  • movies – Star Wars: Darth Vader – James Earl Jones
  • Animated Movies – Toy Story: Woody – Tom Hanks
  • Animated TV – The Simpsons – Hank Azaria
  • X-Factor UK and 2012 Olympic Games – Peter Dickson
  • Commercials (UK) – The Meerkat Comparethemarket – Simon Greenall
  • Promos TV (USA) – Joe Cipriano
  • Reality TV (UK) – Marcus Bentley – Big Brother

Link to the rest at Gravy for the Brain

So, here’s a question from PG: Would James Earl Jones make a good audiobook narrator?

5 Productive Forms of Procrastination for Writers

From A Writers Path:

Though we call ourselves writers and take pride in our work, sometimes it’s hard to get it done. We clean the house or walk the dog, leaving our manuscript reproachfully languishing as we procrastinate working on it.

This can happen for any number of reasons, from being bored with the story to simply feeling blocked. Facing the problems head on definitely has its merits, but if it feels like your procrastination is in for a long stay, it can be useful to work with it rather than fight it.

In this post, I share five ways you can make your procrastination productive — and hopefully get yourself back on track to writing your next big hit.

Do some research

Whether you’re not sure where your story’s going or you feel like you don’t know your characters very well, going down a research rabbit hole is the best kind of diversion. It may not be actively writing your book, but if you look into something related, it still counts towards building your story.

The research can be related to writing topics or strategies if you feel like that’s where your problem lies. It could involve looking into story structures you haven’t used, like the Save the Cat Beat Sheet or the 7-Point Story Structure so you can get excited about writing again. Or it can just be a good way to while away the afternoon so you have something tangentially related to tell your writing group.

But it doesn’t have to be directly related to writing either. Look into any historical events or famous people you’ve been curious about. The truth can truly be stranger than fiction and many authors draw inspiration from real world events for their own stories. There’s nothing wrong with simply learning something new, as making new connections in your mind may lead you back to your story and give you things to ponder.

Who knows? Whatever you find out might give you some new ideas for a character backstory or an interesting aspect to your world. The excitement might be all you need to nudge you out of procrastination mode and back into writing.

If you think research involves too much heavy lifting though, there’s plenty more low-key activities you can try.

Make a Pinterest moodboard

If you haven’t already made one as preparation for your novel, making a dedicated Pinterest board for your book can be a great way to procrastinate while still feeling like you’re getting something done. It’s not limited to the planning stage, either. Whenever you’re feeling like you can’t work on your book, turning to the endless variety of Pinterest can be a fun (yet helpful) distraction.

As you look for images that remind you of your story, characters, or world, it also helps you get to know it better. The pictures you choose can give you an idea of what your tone is. For example, if you’re going for darker pictures, maybe you’re discovering that there’s an eerie undertone you haven’t explored. You might stumble on some nature photography that gives you inspiration for a scene that more deeply examines your character’s emotional arc, or world architecture that helps your worldbuilding.

And if it doesn’t do that much for you, it’s still a fun way to spend the day.

Experience another story for inspiration

Fantasy author V.E. Schwab believes in the importance of keeping your “creative well” filled to make sure your inspiration never dries up. The best thing you can do for that is read a book. The format doesn’t matter — it’s more important that you in some way consume a story.

It’s easy while you’re writing to get a little obsessed with your book. Especially if you don’t have a lot of time, more leisurely pursuits, like watching TV, might fall to the wayside in favor of your writing project, but you can’t stay motivated in a vacuum. Experiencing the works of others, especially the ones that speak to you, can remind you why you’re writing in the first place and reignite your creative fire.

So go back to an old favorite or pick up that new release you’ve been meaning to read. Get excited about storytelling again by experiencing a character’s journey rather than plotting it out yourself. This might not happen after one chapter or even one book if your well has gotten too dry, but sometimes we do our best work while distracted.

Link to the rest at A Writers Path

The Culture Wars Are Energizing Feminist Bookstores

From Publisher’s Weekly:

As book banning efforts intensify—along with assaults on women’s bodily autonomy and on the AP African American studies curriculum—old-school feminist bookstores and new intersectional feminist stores alike are drawing customers seeking safe spaces for buying books and gathering information.

Sarah Hollenbeck, co-owner of Women & Children First in Chicago, echoed other feminist booksellers PW spoke with when she said that the current culture wars have rejuvenated her 44-year-old store. “In recent years, we’ve only stood stronger in our mission and encouraged our community to invest in the ongoing work,” Hollenbeck said. “Our most recent tote bag reads ‘Support Your Local Feminist Bookstore’ in big, bold, all-caps letters. That pretty much captures the tone of our current marketing strategy.”

WCF also has been buoyed by spikes in new customers and sales due to external factors. Most notably, in June 2022, Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker visited WCF to mark his repeal of a state law requiring minors to obtain parental consent before having an abortion, just before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. “We continue to have quite a bit of interest in certain titles, like the new edition of The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service and Ejaculate Responsibly: A Whole New Way to Think About Abortion,” Hollenbeck said.

WCF has also upped its scheduling of collaborative programming benefiting feminist organizations, including two Bake Sale for Abortion fundraisers for the Chicago Abortion Fund.

Sales at 49-year-old Charis Books & More in Decatur, Ga. also “have gone up, and up, and up” in the past year, said co-owner Sara Luce Look, who ascribes this success to being “rooted in community that holds us accountable.” Charis has always had robust programming in collaboration with like-minded organizations, such as one Atlanta group focused on reproductive justice and another on domestic violence. “The kinds of books we carry and the programing we do are intertwined,” Look added, noting that the store is going to be a distribution point for Plan B contraception pills.

Most of the indies identifying as feminist stores that have opened in recent years also embrace LGBTQ books and Black literature. One such store, Socialight Society in Lansing, Mich., was founded in 2021 as a pop-up specializing in books by Black women; it moved into a bricks-and-mortar space inside the Lansing Mall a year ago. Owner Nyshell Lawrence said she was inspired to open Socialight Society after visiting a large bookstore in Lansing that had a “pretty disappointing” section of books by BIPOC authors.

“Things are going well” with in-store and online sales, plus sales to local schools, Lawrence said, noting that Socialight stocks 300 titles. Conversations with customers often concern banned books, since “people want to get their hands on them,” she noted.

This past summer, sales at Socialight rose when customers were given the opportunity to donate books to be handed out to protesters for women’s rights rallying outside the Michigan state capitol building. “Just Get on the Pill: The Uneven Burden of Reproductive Politics was probably the most popular book handed out to the protesters,” Lawrence said.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Copyright: The ‘Protect the Creative Economy Coalition’

From Publishing Perspectives:

In the United States, a coming-together of the Washington-based Association of American Publishers and various copyright-engaged businesses including the Authors Guild—the US market’s leading author-advocacy organization—has created the “Protect the Creative Economy Coalition” as a response to “efforts designed to weaken intellectual property protections and damage digital markets.”

Representing not only major creative industries but also small and independent business owners’ interests, media messaging about the program specifies that its “immediate priority is combating a series of unconstitutional state bills that would artificially depress the value of literary works and the contracts that govern intellectual property licenses.”

Of course, these often inchoate localized efforts “directly conflict with the federal copyright act,” as the AAP indicates, “including the responsibilities of federal lawmakers to determine the nation’s intellectual property laws.”  

And an in an age of performative office-holders, many of whom have no experience or interest in genuine governance, it’s easy to overlook the potential gravity of such wild-eyed forays. However, “The problem is not theoretical,” says AAP president and CEO Maria A. Pallante in her comment on the establishment of the Protect the Creative Economy Coalition.

“The state bills would subject authors and publishing houses of all sizes to serious liabilities and financial penalties for exercising the very rights that the United States Copyright Act so clearly affords them—the definition of a constitutional conflict.  

“Moreover, they would forge a concerning precedent for downstream appropriation of intellectual property investments by actors well beyond the states, especially as to already precarious digital copies.

“We stand by our time-tested copyright system, and we are deeply dubious of assertions that devaluing the nation’s creative output is in the public interest.”

. . . .

Our international readership at Publishing Perspectives might recall one specific struggle of this kind for publishers when the state of Maryland tried to put into place a law requiring publishers to offer its state libraries “reasonable terms” established by the state itself, a direct contradiction to the federal priority of the United States Copyright Act. By June of last year, the state’s federal district court had issued the equivalent of a legal smackdown of Maryland’s scheme, followed swiftly by the governor of New York’s veto of a very similar bill being tested in that state’s capital.

In its media messaging provided to Publishing Perspectives on Wednesday (March 15), the coalition refers to the dogged, almost incoherent energy with which such right-wing efforts are repeated in various jurisdictions–an energy not unlike that which underlies the jagged anger of book bans and the more than 60 completely unsuccessful efforts made in courts nationwide to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential elections.

“Inexplicably,” the AAP writes for the coalition, “proponents continue to push their bills after a similar effort in Maryland was declared unconstitutional by a federal court in 2022. Bills in both New York and Virginia were also rejected, although not without ongoing, illogical, and reckless claims by the proponents. In an especially ludicrous example in Connecticut, a proponent equated the nation’s literary works with ‘floor wax and road salt.’”

. . . .

Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild: “These bills are unconstitutional and for good reason. They target the federal copyright system that authors depend on to earning a living.

“And they’re doing this at a time when the writing profession is already facing existential threats. Writers’ incomes have become precariously low, forcing talented writers to leave the profession; as a culture, we lose their books and their important insights. By forcing pricing limits and other restrictions on not just publishers but thousands of self-published authors, the bills exhibit total disregard of the reality that authors in the commercial marketplace have to earn enough money to stay in the profession.

“The Authors Guild is fully committed to libraries having access to all books and in all formats to meet their communities’ needs. We regularly lobby for increases in library funding. It is unfair to put the cost of libraries’ needs on authors.”

Andrea Fleck-Nesbit, CEO of the Independent Book Publishers Association: “For independent publishers and self-published authors, these [state] bills are especially harmful.

“The legislation would undermine the intellectual property of authors and publishers by manipulating fair market compensation for their creative work. It also places an outsized and unsustainable financial burden on small business owners.

“The bills would lead to a patchwork of differing rules across the country creating mass confusion, disrupting access, and undermining future investments. This is the reason why copyright is under the purview of federal law in the first place.” 

Keith Kupferschmid, CEO of the Copyright Alliance: “Several states are considering misguided ebook bills that would require publishers to license their works to libraries on terms determined by the states.

“Such legislation would strip authors and publishers of their exclusive right under the copyright act to decide whether, when, and to whom to distribute their copyrighted works.

“It has already been well established in several states that not only are the ebook bills unconstitutional, they also are contradictory to the economic philosophy and purpose behind copyright, which encourages the advancement of authors, artists, photographers, and all creators by providing them with an incentive to create new works for the public to enjoy and to control how they are distributed and monetized.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG has no doubt that traditional publishers overcharge public libraries for ebook lending rights, but this not something state legislatures can do anything about. While a number of states have their own copyright laws, those laws only protect against copying in that state and are generally ignored by most IP lawyers.

Additionally, the book business (and especially the ebook business) falls into the sphere of interstate commerce which is exclusively reserved for federal legislation. When you drive your automobile from California to New York, you don’t need to buy a new license plate for every state you pass through.

Meaningful copyright laws are exclusively on the federal level and, from that platform, are reciprocated in a number of other nations via a number of international copyright treaties. A Google search for “The Berne Convention” will give you all the information you are likely to care about concerning international copyright treaties.

How to Write for the Web: All Writers Need to be Web Content Providers Now

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

These days, pretty much all writers need to learn to write Web content. Yes, even if you’re a Victorian romance author whose readers care more about reticules and spatterdashers than retweets and SEO. Even if you don’t have your own blog. Any website needs content.

. . . .

Like it or not, all writers need to become “Web content providers” these days.

Yeah, I know. Sounds a lot less creative than “author” doesn’t it? And harder.

But it actually isn’t. Writing Web content is a little different from writing a traditional essay or magazine article, but it’s not hard. You just have to learn some basic guidelines.

Learning to Write Web Content Involves Unlearning

Especially what you were taught about paragraphing.

According to Mike Blankenship at Smart Blogger, the paragraph has gone through radical changes in the 21st century.  He says the 100-200 word standard paragraph has disappeared.  Now your average paragraph should be between two and four lines. You can go over and under — some paragraphs can be just one word long — but stay close to that average and you should be fine.

But don’t make them all the same length. Blankenship says, “Too many same-sized paragraphs in a row will bore your reader. It doesn’t matter if it’s too many small paragraphs or too many long paragraphs, the effect is similar.”

I had to unlearn a whole lot of what I was taught about writing prose back in the 20th century in order to be an effective Web content provider today.

. . . .

Back in the 20th century, good writers…

  • Learned to use topic sentences and avoid cutting to a new paragraph until there’s a new topic.
  • Wrote for people who paid money for a number of words and read every one.
  • Wouldn’t put a title on a serious essay that looked like a cheap tabloid headline.
  • Avoided repetition.
  • Would never offer an outline instead of an essay.
  • Substantiated information with footnotes.
  • Never heard of tags, keywords, or SEO.

But the majority of people don’t read on the Internet; they skim. In fact, most people don’t even skim the whole article. Farhad Manjoo famously reported that only half the people who visit a website read past the first hundred words.

So how do you get them to come by…and stick around?

Forget all of the above and learn some new tricks:

1) Write Intriguing Titles

This is probably the most important aspect of learning to write Web content.

Mystery author C. Hope Clark once said in her “Funds for Writers” newsletter: “You might be surprised at the key factor I use in deleting or holding to read: The quality of the subject line. Hey, when time is crazy limited…the words have to snag me as I rush by. That means first and foremost that the subject be crisp, sharp, attractive, intriguing, or whatever adjective you want to use that gives me whiplash. It has to shout, “HEY, READ ME OR YOU’LL REGRET IT.”

She’s right.

Headers are the most important element of a blog’s content, and it’s the one most novelists don’t get. We want our blogs and newsletters to sound creative and literary like our books, not cheesy like a supermarket tabloid. But tabloid journalists are good at what they do. They have only a moment to grab a reader going through that checkout line, so they need an irresistible hook.

In our case, headers need to snag a reader in the endless stream of content Web browsers can choose from.

So how do we do that?

Here are 8 ways you can grab a Web reader’s attention with your story about, say, a writer who suspects her bathroom is haunted.

  1. Stir emotions: “The Tragic Ghost that Haunts my Bathroom.”
  2. Offer useful advice: “How to Make Sure a Building isn’t Haunted before you Sign that Rental Agreement.”
  3. You can sensationalize: “Why This Woman is Afraid of her own Bathroom!”
  4. Or appeal to sentiment: “This Story of a Cat and a Flapper’s Ghost Will Melt Your Heart.”
  5. Maybe stir up some greed: “How Wendy Writer inked a 7- Figure Deal with her Haunted Bathroom Story.”
  6. Paranoia is good: “Is Your Bathroom Haunted?”  Or “Who or WHAT is Flushing Your Toilet in the Middle of the Night?”
  7. Curiosity, too: “10 Things You Don’t Know about Poltergeists.”
  8. Or you can appeal to thriftiness: “Save Money and Time with a Do-It-Yourself Exorcism.”

. . . .

2) Promise a Fast Read

Everybody’s in a hurry online.

Author Jillian Mullin  wrote in the Web Writer Spotlight: “Generally, an average Web user only spends 10 to 30 seconds reading Internet content. People rarely read web pages word-per-word. Instead, they scan the page for related keywords, bullet points, subtitles, and quotes.”

That’s why one of the best ways to let people know you’ve got a quick, easy-scan piece is with a numbered “listicle” like “The Top 10 Best Ghostwritten Books” or “5 Signs Your Computer is Possessed.”

The other thing is to learn to harness the power of white space. A page with lots of white space can be taken in at a glance.

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


From Grammarly:

Today, we announced to the world GrammarlyGO—Grammarly’s on-demand, contextually aware assistant powered by generative AI. With GrammarlyGO, we’ll be changing the way people and businesses communicate and get work done by accelerating productivity where writing happens.

Effective communication is transformative. It’s how we share new ideas, advocate for change, and build connections. And when done right, communication empowers businesses to operate efficiently and achieve ambitious goals. We’ve been focused on our mission to improve lives by improving communication for well over a decade. And we’ve always leveraged the latest technical innovations to help solve the real problems our customers face.

We’re building on that legacy with GrammarlyGO, which uses generative AI to help people and businesses succeed with on-demand communication assistance, whether they are starting from scratch or revising an existing piece of writing. It will uniquely offer relevant, contextually aware suggestions that account for personal voice and brand style while staying true to our augmented intelligence philosophy to keep customers in control of their experience. GrammarlyGO will enable customers to save time, enhance their creativity, and get more done—helping individuals achieve their potential and enterprises transform how they work.

. . . .

GrammarlyGO provides on-demand generative AI communication assistance directly in the apps where people write. Whether in an email thread or a long-form document, GrammarlyGO is right there with you and your teams during the writing process. GrammarlyGO understands context to quickly generate high-quality, task-appropriate writing and revisions.

With GrammarlyGO, individuals and businesses can use generative AI to:

  • Rewrite for tone, clarity, and length: Transform writing to be clear and on target, whatever the context.
  • Compose: Type a prompt and watch GrammarlyGO compose high-quality writing, saving time finding the perfect words.
  • Ideate: Unblock writing with GrammarlyGO as an AI ideation partner and unlock creativity with GrammarlyGO’s outlines and brainstorms, generated from prompts.
  • Reply intelligently: Flow through emails quickly with GrammarlyGO, which understands an email’s context and instantly drafts a thoughtful reply.

Link to the rest at Grammarly

PG is very interested in this development.

He will note in passing that his current Grammarly version found some parts in the OP that needed to be cleaned up.

Writer’s Block is a misnomer

Writer’s block is a misnomer and can be compared with turning off a faucet. Like the ability to write, faucets can develop problems when they’re seldom used. You get all this rust in the pipes. When you turn on the faucet, a lot of rust comes out.

Susan Neville

Learning In Writing Not Like Other Skills…

From Dean Wesley Smith:

This came from a fun conversation with other writers today at lunch.

When you learn something in fiction writing, you can’t just take that learning and apply it like learning how to fix a pipe or do something in Photoshop. I wish sometimes it worked that way, but alas it does not.

So when you learn something from a writing book, or another writer’s work, or a workshop like we teach, you must do your best to understand it while learning it, then go back to writing and forget what you learned.

That’s right, forget it.

When you learn something about a craft area of writing, your creative voice already knows how to do it because it has been reading and absorbing story for your entire life. But your critical voice suddenly understands that skill, so the critical voice gives the creative voice permission to use it.

That is how fiction writing is learned.

But the hard part is getting the critical voice out of the way. It wants to use that new skill and that will freeze you down faster than anything.

So assure the critical voice that in the coming writing, at some point, when that new skill is appropriate to use, it will be used, and get the critical voice to forget it. You will notice you are using the skill stories or books later, often when some reader points it out.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

The Ancient Greek Myths Retold

From The Wall Street Journal:

Whatever the ferment of contemporary literary culture, the myths and legends of ancient Greece continue to be a rich source of story and reference. In our censorious era, there is something wonderfully unkillable about the old gods and heroes. If anything, our attachment to the Greeks is becoming more intense, judging from the appearance of a tranche of fine new (and new-ish) retellings of old, old stories.

This rewriting business is almost as old a tale as those of Orpheus and Eurydice, Echo and Narcissus, and the doomed men and women of the grisly House of Atreus. The poets and playwrights and artisans of antiquity used and reshaped elements of these thrilling narratives, along with other stories of creation, transformation and divine retribution—and thank goodness for it. Without all their riffing, some of which has survived only in fragmentary form, we wouldn’t know as much as we do about, say, Hercules (aka Heracles or Herakles), the demigod whose strength and feats come to us from, among others, Homer, Hesiod, Apollodorus and Euripides. We also owe a debt of gratitude to 20th-century classicists who kept the connection alive, not least Edith Hamilton, whose magisterial “Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes” recently celebrated its 75th anniversary.

And here we are, with the cornucopia tipping out again! Sarah Iles Johnston brings exceptional verve and scholarship to “Gods and Mortals: Ancient Greek Myths for Modern Readers,” a comprehensive volume that is illustrated with harsh and jagged pictures by the author’s son, Tristan Johnston. Ms. Johnston, a professor of classics at Ohio State University, restores the lustiness of tales that other writers have made bloodless. Readers acquainted with the Big Bang theory, for instance, may be a little startled by how literal that concept was to the Greeks. Their cosmos emerges, in this reading, from vigorous sex between Earth and Sky that ends when Earth conspires with her son Kronos to castrate the priapic father in flagrante delicto.

Indeed, sexual desire drives the action throughout Greek mythology. Zeus is forever seducing mortal women (Io, Europa, Semele), and his wife Hera is forever persecuting these unfortunates. But sexual frigidity exacts costs too, as when the chaste goddess Artemis punishes poor Actaeon when he sees her bathing. Transformed into a stag, the young man is run down and torn to pieces by his own faithful hunting dogs. “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods,” Shakespeare writes. “They kill us for their sport.” There is little in these stories to contradict him.

The textual fidelity of “Gods and Mortals” means that armchair enthusiasts may find some surprises. In Ms. Johnston’s description of Midas, for instance, there is no little daughter whom the greedy king turns to gold; that detail, we learn from the author’s fascinating source notes, comes from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s version of the myth in his 1851 “Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys.” Ms. Johnston has shaped her stories in obedience to the oldest narratives, but she does take the welcome liberty of slipping in descriptions of cultural norms and domestic practices to enrich the reader’s knowledge. We read that, in keeping house, one ill-starred woman “used jars made of clay to stockpile grain, olive oil and other food. By sinking the jars partway into the cool earth of her pantry floor, she was able to keep their contents fresh for a long time.”

In “Arcadian Days: Gods, Women, and Men From Greek Myths,” John Spurling retells the single and shared stories of five pairs of males and females: the titan Prometheus and the god-fashioned Pandora; the hero Jason and the sorceress Medea; the doomed king Oedipus and his daughter Antigone; the warrior Achilles and his mother, the sea nymph Thetis; and the wily Odysseus and his clever wife Penelope.

Mr. Spurling, an octogenarian English author and playwright, has adjusted certain things to his taste (presenting the baddie Creon, he concedes, “in a somewhat kinder light than Sophocles”). He has also introduced substantial passages of dialogue, a narrative choice that robs some moments of grandeur (Zeus at one point complains that people are “getting up my nose”) but that has the effect, in others, of adding slow-building dread and pathos.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Being Taken Advantage Of

From Writers Helping Writers:

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

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

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

. . . .

Fear of Someone Taking Advantage of Them

A character with this fear may worry about potential situations where they might be taken advantage or exploited. These could be serious crimes, such as sexual abuse and identity theft or a simpler occurrence, like being used by a friend for some larger gain.

  • What It Looks Like
  • Questioning people’s motives
  • Believing that other people can’t be trusted
  • Highly valuing privacy
  • Not volunteering information
  • Being very independent
  • Living self-sufficiently
  • Doing extensive research (to avoid scams, find out if someone is reliable, etc.)
  • Avoiding vulnerable situations, such as walking at night or being alone with someone
  • Setting boundaries that keep others at a distance
  • Avoiding situations where the character has been burned in the past, such as dating, shopping online, or sharing their creative work with others
  • Not trusting certain types of people (politicians, salespeople, women, etc.)
  • Pulling away when people try to get too close
  • Seeing exploitation where there is none
  • Taking careful security measures (locking up documents, changing passwords frequently, giving a false name, etc.)
  • Demanding payment up front before offering services
  • Difficulty working with a team
  • Resisting new technologies or advances that carry an element of risk
  • Being standoffish with strangers and new acquaintances
  • The character being reluctant to help someone outside their inner circle who asks for help
  • Common Internal Struggles
  • The character worrying about a person’s trustworthiness, then wondering if they’re being paranoid
  • Second-guessing the motives of others
  • Living in a constant fear of betrayal
  • Feeling unnoticed and underappreciated
  • The character doubting their own judgment (because they’ve been wrong about people before)
  • The character mentally warring with their body’s fight-flight-or-freeze instincts

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Decoding the Secrets of Mary, Queen of Scots’ Letters


A team of researchers, George Lasry, Norbert Biermann, and Satoshi Tomokiyo, has successfully deciphered 57 encrypted letters written by Mary, Queen of Scots, dating from 1578 to 1584.

This discovery is being hailed as the most significant find regarding Mary in over a century. The letters were found in the French National Library, catalogued as Italian texts from the first half of the 16th century.

Dr. John Guy, a fellow in history at the University of Cambridge and author of a 2004 biography of Mary, Queen of Scots, called the findings a “literary and historical sensation.”

The decryption project involved a combination of manual research and computerized cryptanalysis, which identified the plaintext language as French, not Italian as previously assumed.

. . . .

Mary, Queen of Scots, used more than 100 different ciphers in her correspondence.

Mary’s cipher system often masked individual letters with a single symbol; however, to bolster security, she employed homophones, allowing several symbols to signify frequently used letters.

Additionally, she concealed common words by utilizing symbols designated for months, locations, and names of individuals.

Lastly, to further obscure the content, she incorporated red herrings or “nulls” that knowledgeable recipients would disregard.

. . . .

The decrypted letters reveal a mix of political discussions and personal complaints, reflecting Mary’s shifting strategies during her imprisonment.

She often wrote about her efforts to negotiate her release and her willingness to relinquish her claims to the English throne.

The letters also reveal her distrust of Sir Francis Walsingham and the Puritan faction at the English court.

Mary’s deteriorating personal circumstances, including financial difficulties and recurrent bouts of physical and mental illness, are also evident in her correspondence.

The letters provide valuable insight into how she maintained connections with her supporters despite the intense surveillance during her captivity.

. . . .

The newly deciphered letters have confirmed the long-held suspicion of a mole within the French embassy who successfully passed letters to the English.

The survival of both ciphered letters and contemporary plaintext copies in English archives indicates the mole’s success throughout 1584.

. . . .

According to Dr. Guy, these new documents show Mary as a shrewd and attentive analyst of international affairs and will occupy historians of Britain and Europe and students of the French language and early modern ciphering techniques for years to come.

Link to the rest at

The King of Prussia

The King of Prussia is innately a bad neighbor, but the English will also always be bad neighbors to France, and the sea has never prevented them from doing her great mischief.

Marie Antoinette

Why Marie Antoinette’s Reputation Changes With Each Generation

From The Smithsonian Magazine:

Approximately 230 years after Marie Antoinette’s execution by guillotine at the hands of revolutionaries, the French queen remains one of history’s most recognizable royals. Depicted alternatively as a materialistic, self-absorbed young woman who ignored her people’s suffering; a more benign figure who was simply out of her depth; and a feminist scapegoat for men’s mistakes, she continues to captivate in large part because of her tragic fate.

“[Marie Antoinette] has no official power. She’s just the wife of the king of France, and yet she’s put to death,” says Catriona Seth, a historian and literary scholar at the University of Oxford. “It seems like an almost gratuitous action on the part of the revolutionaries. … [If] they had sent her back to Austria or put her in a convent,” she would be far less famous.

Marie Antoinette’s exploits at the glittering court of Versailles, coupled with her dramatic fall from grace during the French Revolution, have inspired numerous silver screen adaptations, from a 1938 film starring Norma Shearer to Sofia Coppola’s sympathetic 2006 biopic. But “Marie Antoinette,” a new series premiering in the United States on March 19, is the first major English-language television show to tell the queen’s story. Much like Marie Antoinette herself, it’s proving controversial, with biographer Évelyne Lever deeming the production a “grotesque caricature” and a “litany of historic aberrations.”

Here’s what you need to know ahead of the series’ debut on PBS.

Is “Marie Antoinette” based on a true story?

Yes, but with extensive dramatic license. Created by British screenwriter Deborah Davis, who co-wrote the 2018 period drama The Favourite, “Marie Antoinette” originally premiered in Europe in 2022. Featuring Emilia Schüle as the queen and Louis Cunningham as her hapless husband, Louis XVI, the show’s first season (one of three planned installments) covers roughly 1770 to 1781, beginning with Marie Antoinette’s journey to France and ending with the birth of her first son. In between these milestones, she struggles to win the affection of both her husband and her subjects, all while navigating the competing interests of her birth kingdom of Austria and her new home.

In keeping with the recent period drama trend of presenting historical figures and settings through a thoroughly modern lens (see “Bridgerton,” “The Great” and “The Serpent Queen”), “Marie Antoinette” offers a feminist take on the queen’s life. As Schüle told Variety last October, Marie Antoinette was a “rebel” who was “modern, emancipated, and fought for equality and for her personal freedom.”

Link to the rest at The Smithsonian Magazine

Amazon’s Ending of Kindle Newsstand Could Severely Impact SF/F Magazines

From Patreon:

My father grew up in a rough, rural area where his family’s neighbors were bootleggers and backwoods mobsters. One of these mobsters liked him and, when my father turned 12, announced my dad was old enough to carry a gun for self-defense. He then gifted my father an illegal sawed-off shotgun covered in black tape to hide fingerprints.

“Be sure to hide it from the deputies,” the mobster said.

Growing up around all that, my dad learned a good bit of life wisdom. And one bit of advice he shared with me is that if someone’s rigged a game, don’t play it unless you’ve got no choice.

Sadly, sometimes we have no choice. Which brings us to Amazon.

In December, Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld said that “In an absolutely devastating announcement (right before the holidays) Amazon has informed us that they are ending their Kindle Subscription program in 2023 and trying to get magazines to switch to Kindle Unlimited.”

Michael Damian Thomas of Uncanny Magazine echoed this news. “If you are an SFF short story writer, the sky is falling today. This Kindle news couldn’t come at a worst time with what is also going on in social media. We were all barely scraping by. This is an extinction-level event for the ecosystem unless we all figure something out.”

The reason for the alarm is that over the last decade, Kindle subscriptions have become a significant part of the overall circulation for a large number of science fiction and fantasy magazines. Essentially, people like the convenience and ease of buying and reading e-books and expect the same from their magazine subscriptions.

By ending the Kindle Newsstand program, Amazon would no longer allow people on their platform to subscribe directly to magazines. Instead, Amazon announced it would allow certain magazines to remain on the platform through their Kindle Unlimited program.

As Rajiv Moté said, this means Amazon would be “moving e-magazines to a Spotify model, just like music. You pay the sales platform, not the producers.”

Because Kindle Unlimited (KU) allows subscribers to read as much as they want for a monthly fee, KU pays authors and publishers based on how many pages people read. The problem with translating this to magazines is many people don’t read every page in a magazine. Instead, they may pick out certain stories and articles to read, or may even stop reading a story if it doesn’t work for them. (Update: One anonymous source has told me Amazon’s KU for magazines won’t be based on pages. But specific details are not available.)

With an actual subscription, a publisher receives guaranteed revenue from each subscriber. With KU, the revenue magazine publishers receive will be far more uncertain.

Worse, as Uncanny pointed out about their own magazine, not all genre magazines were offered the chance to join Kindle Unlimited.

Since that initial announcement during the 2022 holiday season, genre magazine publishers have been trying to figure out their options. During a call with Amazon, Neil Clarke learned that “KU for Magazines is different than KU for books. It will not prevent us from publishing/selling our magazine elsewhere. It is not paid per-paid, but based on an annual projection based on ‘qualified borrows.'”

Link to the rest at Patreon

The disabled villain: why sensitivity reading can’t kill off this ugly trope

From The Guardian:

Some years ago, I decided to read all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. It may have been a fit of nostalgia for the Roger Moore films I grew up watching, or perhaps I was bored with writing short stories for a minuscule readership and wanted to know what mass-market success read like.

It was quite an experience – and one I found myself recalling recently, when I read that Fleming’s books were being revised, chiefly in order to remove some, though not all, of the casual racism. Also some of the misogyny, though likely not all of that either.

My first question, on reading the news, was what kind of reader exactly was the publisher, Ian Fleming Publications Ltd, envisioning. Presumably someone who would, were it not for the most explicit slurs, really enjoy the ethnic stereotypes. Or someone who would, were it not for the full-on rapes, really enjoy the pervasive sexism. (Come to think of it, there are probably quite a few of these readers.)

The other question that struck me was this: what on earth are they going to do about disability?

As a wheelchair user, I could not help noticing that the original Bond books had, shall we say, an interesting relationship to embodied difference. It was a feature of Fleming’s writing that would be all but impossible to alter through the interventions of a sensitivity reader, hired by the publisher to make the books more palatable to contemporary readers. Fleming’s attitude to disability was encoded not only in words and phrases, but in characterisation and plot – that is, in the stories’ most fundamental qualities.

It is not a novel observation that Bond villains tend to be, to use a less sensitive register, disfigured and deformed. Dr No with his steel pincers instead of hands, Blofeld with his scars, Hugo Drax, the villain from Moonraker, with his facial disfigurement and his pathetic attempt to conceal it with a “bushy reddish beard” (reddish hair may itself count as a deformity in these stories). Were they not successfully self-employed, most of Bond’s enemies would likely qualify for disability benefits.

. . . .

In Skyfall, Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva is a striking example of the narrative logic at work. He at first appears handsome and polished (if effete, which in Bond territory is always a warning sign), but something about his face seems a little … off. He then reveals himself as a villain by removing a set of hidden facial prosthetics. As his visage literally collapses, his inner monstrosity comes into view. Now Bond, and the audience, can see who he really is. And that is the main function of disability in these stories – an outwardly visible sign of an inner quality.

This particular trope, wherein a character’s moral and physiological natures mirror each other, is as universal as it is ancient. It is reflected in the philosophy of Plato, in commonplaces like “a healthy mind in a healthy body”and in the foundational texts of the cultural canon. In Buddhist tradition, too, disability has been construed as an impediment to understanding and enlightenment – and even, for some, as a punishment for actions in a past life.

As disability scholars David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder have pointed out in their books Narrative Prosthesis and Cultural Locations of Disability, using disability as a means of characterisation is an intrinsic feature in the storytelling tradition. It provides not only a shorthand for separating good characters and bad, but explains their motivation and narrative function.

Sometimes, this connection between embodiment and motivation is made fully explicit. In the opening monologue of Richard III, Shakespeare’s version of the king – made significantly more disabled than his historical counterpart – takes pains to establish that he will be the villain and not the hero of the play. This, he argues, is a logical consequence of his embodiment:

I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

What is a sensitivity reader to do with this? Does it make a difference if the Yorkist king is referred to as “differently abled” and not a “cripple”?

Undoubtedly – but I don’t think the change would be for the better, and for reasons beyond the clanging sound of euphemism. In many ways it would be worse. The fundamental problem lies not with the words used to describe the character, but with the attributes ascribed to him. And if those attributes are demanded by the logic of the narrative, we are facing a challenge that can be unexpectedly subtle.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Turns out that America’s most “recession-proof” business is . . . bookstores.

From LitHub:

Yep, that’s right—not NFTs! Shocking, I know. According to a Forbes Advisor analysis, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Google Trends, bookstores are projected to be the most recession-proof type of U.S. business in 2023, followed by PR firms, interior design services, staffing agencies, and marketing consulting services.

Forbes Advisor, which assessed 60 small business types to evaluate their 2023 recession-proof-ness (?), calculated that the number of bookstores in the U.S. increased by 43% during the latter part of the pandemic. Bookstores also “enjoyed steady wage growth” during this time (+16%) as well as during the Great Recession (+13%). These stats, plus their “moderate startup cost” (around $75k, apparently), earned bookstores the top spot in the recession-proof rankings.

What are the least recession-proof business, you wonder? Furniture stores, followed by women’s clothing boutiques, taxi/rideshare services, used car dealerships, and housing construction companies. Makes sense—people tend to delay big or unnecessary purchases during a recession, but luckily for bookstore owners, books are both cost effective and necessary.

Link to the rest at LitHub

Color PG exceedingly skeptical about the OP’s predictions about PR firms and marketing consulting services. PG knows nothing about interior design services or staffing agencies.

It will surprise no one who visits TPVX on a regular basis that PG doesn’t think bookstores have a golden future ahead of them. That said, in past lives, PG loved going into some bookstores to shop, chat, etc. In past lives, PG bought a 1954 Chevrolet (very used) for $100, too, but those days are long gone.

Minimum wage in New York City is $15.00 per hour. Minimum wage in California is $15.50. Overtime minimum wage (over 8 hours per day or some other stuff) is time-and-a-half or $23.25 per hour. Plus there are additional cost and taxes the employer has to pay on top of the wages for each worker.

Indie bookstores tend to be only marginally-profitable businesses under most circumstances, so PG doesn’t see much smart money going into book retailing.

How to Get a Book Deal in 4 Steps + Why You Shouldn’t Bother

From Kindlepreneur:

Here are the 4 steps to take to get a traditional book deal:

  1. Ensure your book is fit for market
  2. Find an agent
  3. Submit to publishing companies
  4. Choose an offer

Let me be clear: Traditional book deals are a thing of the past. If you do not actively reach 25,000+ people regularly before a deal, no reputable publishing company or literary agent will take a risk on your book.

In 2022, don’t bother trying to get a book deal without an existing, sizable audience.

If you have a relative or friend who works for an agency, you have a much better chance of your book proposal falling in the right hands.

For the rest of us: Self-publishing is a legitimate way to earn a living as a writer. Publishing your own book may not come with the prestige of earning a book deal. However, publishing prestige is an outdated concept, and readers certainly don’t care. Many self-publishers make more money than their traditionally published counterparts.

If you’re reading this article, I’m guessing you’re not a celebrity. If you don’t have a regular audience of 25,000 or more (and you don’t have close connections at a press or agency), just self-publish. My website and email list are great resources to walk you through the process step-by-step.

. . . .

What is a book deal?

A book deal is a contract between an author and a publisher. Sometimes called a traditional book deal, this is when the gatekeepers of the legacy publishing industry offer you an advance on book profits in return for several benefits.

How much do you get for a book deal? You can get an advance between $5,000 and $100,000 if you land a book deal. However, it is both difficult to get a book deal and unlikely that a first-time author will receive such a significant advance.

What are the benefits of a book deal?

  • A monetary advance before publishing the book
  • Bookstore placement
  • Professional editors, formatters, cover designers at no extra cost to you
  • The ability to say you landed a book deal

What are the disadvantages of a book deal?

  • Massive time investment for a slight chance at a traditional deal
  • Loss of control and ownership of your work and brand
  • Minimal financial upside (in the long run)

Let’s face facts: Traditional media is on its way out, including traditional book publishers. Readers don’t care if something was self-published or traditionally published (as long as it looks professional). Book contracts often require you to sign away your rights for an advance.

Self-publishing is more viable than ever — and more profitable, thanks to Amazon.

I recommend seeking a traditional book deal only if:

  • You are a celebrity of some sort.
  • You have more than 25,000 loyal followers on social media or listeners on your podcast. (Honestly, that’s a low number.)
  • You have a friend or relative who works at a publishing house.
  • You would be cripplingly ashamed to say you self-published (Self-publishing is far more respected these days, so this shouldn’t be an issue).

Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing vs. Indie Publishing

Traditional Publishing

Traditional publishing is the industry in which a publishing house publishes a book. This usually requires a literary agent as an in-between for the author and publishing house.

How hard is it to get a publishing deal? It is tough to get a traditional publishing deal. The chances of landing an agent, then a traditional publishing book deal, are about 1 in 1,000 — and even worse if you don’t have a massive online following.

Traditional publishers typically cover the cost of a professional editor, book cover artist, back cover blurb, ISBN number, printing costs, final proofreaders, and more. But they also take a sizable chunk out of your royalties.

They offer authors an advance, usually in the form of a five- or six-figure lump sum. This is not in addition to royalties. Instead, you won’t make any royalties until you would have made as much as your advance (called “earning out”). If you don’t earn out, you do not have to pay back the advance. It’s a risk the publisher takes by fronting cash before they’ve made a profit.

How much of a book price goes to the author? After a publisher has earned out their advance, about 5-15% of the book price is paid to the author in royalties. Not only will the publisher take a huge chunk, but you’ll also need to give your literary agent the standard 15% commission of what you make.

I know many writers want a book deal so they don’t have to market their own book. Unfortunately, traditional publishers provide little marketing support for their authors. They reserve most of their marketing budgets for their top bestsellers (a tiny fraction of books written).

Traditionally published authors still have to do their own marketing, including:

  • Social media
  • Blog posting
  • Video blogging
  • Book signings
  • Email newsletters
  • Promotional giveaways
  • Podcasts
  • Book reviews (including paid/sponsored)
  • Organizing a launch team
  • Establishing a solid track record by writing good books in the first place

You may have heard of the Big 5. They’re the biggest publishing houses in America, primarily housed in New York City. The Big 5 traditional publishers are:

  1. Hachette
  2. HarperCollins
  3. Macmillan
  4. Penguin Random House
  5. Simon & Schuster


Self-publishing is when an author publishes their own book. This is a legitimate publishing route that many authors of all shapes and sizes have chosen.

Self-publishing can be more lucrative than traditional publishing.

Although you will not receive an advance on your self-published book, you keep a lot more of the profits. Amazon KDP might take 35-70% of self-published ebook profits, whereas traditional publishers and literary agents would take 80-95% of the royalties and retain printing rights.

But to be a real author, you have to go through a traditional publisher… right?

No! This is an outdated, offensive way of thinking. “Self-published” is not a dirty word. But if you like, you can say “independently published” or simply “published” to your friends.

Although Amazon does take a portion of your profits, they command 70% of the market share for selling eBooks. And Amazon gives little to no advantage to eBooks that are traditionally published.

You can always seek a book deal after you’ve successfully self-published. Make sure your first book is a great book that earns rave reviews. Your second book should do even better.

Once you’ve gained tens of thousands under your banner, perhaps it’s time to look into traditional book publishing for your new book. (I expect you will have fallen in love with self-publishing by this point.)

I know many writers don’t want to deal with marketing their book, but don’t be fooled. Traditional publishers hardly lift a finger to sell your book unless you’re an author superstar. When you traditionally publish, you still need to market your own book at signings and on social media.

. . . .

Indie Publishing

There’s a third option: indie publishing, sometimes called hybrid publishing or independent publishing. Different people mean different things when using these terms, but typically an indie publisher or hybrid publisher tries to combine the benefits of self-publishing and traditional marketing.

The main advantage of an indie publisher is that you usually don’t need an agent, but you can still tell your friends you landed a book deal.

They may offer small advances but still take a large chunk of the royalties. They may provide minimal design and formatting services but could ask for the copyright (a big no-no; never hand over the copyright for your book). They will still offer little to no marketing while expecting the author to market their own book.

Feel free to look into indie publishers with a critical eye. However, many of you reading this will benefit from simply self-publishing, utilizing professional freelancers along the way.

Pro tip: Avoid vanity presses. A vanity press is a type of publishing company that charges you upfront for publishing, usually resulting in a net loss for the author. Vanity presses prey on writers desperate to get their book published. Never pay upfront to distribute your book.

To be clear, self-publishers should pay for a professional editor and a book cover designer, at least, on top of other self-publishing costs. But never pay a publishing company. While we’re on the topic, never pay a literary agent to represent you. (Same as in real estate, acting, etc.)

Link to the rest at Kindlepreneur

Coalition Forms to Battle Library E-book Bills

From Publisher’s Weekly:

In a release this week, an alliance of author, publisher, and copyright industry advocacy groups launched Protect the Creative Economy Coalition, a coalition designed to combat a growing number of new library e-book bills surfacing in state legislatures in the opening weeks of 2023.

“The problem is not theoretical,” AAP president and CEO Maria Pallante said in a statement. “The state bills would subject authors and publishing houses of all sizes to serious liabilities and financial penalties for exercising the very rights that the Copyright Act so clearly affords them—the definition of a constitutional conflict. Moreover, they would forge a concerning precedent for downstream appropriation of IP investments by actors well beyond the states, especially as to already precarious digital copies. We stand by our time-tested copyright system, and we are deeply dubious of assertions that devaluing the Nation’s creative output is in the public interest.”

The coalition effort comes as a host of new library e-book bills have been introduced in several states in 2023, and a year after a federal judge in February of 2022 struck down Maryland’s groundbreaking library e-book law, finding that the bill was likely preempted by the federal Copyright Act.

“These bills are unconstitutional and for good reason. They target the federal copyright system that authors depend on to earning a living,” said Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild. “By forcing pricing limits and other restrictions on not just publishers but thousands of self-published authors, the bills exhibit total disregard of the reality that authors in the commercial marketplace have to earn enough money to stay in the profession. The Authors Guild is fully committed to libraries having access to all books and in all formats to meet their communities’ needs. We regularly lobby for increases in library funding. It is unfair to put the cost of libraries’ needs on authors.”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG says this is a battle that could backfire on Big Publishing.

PG thinks the publishers have a good constitutional case (assuming that they’re properly positioned to be speaking on behalf of authors and not their own commercial interest).

However, libraries, particularly public libraries are in the company of Mom and apple pie in the view of a great many citizens.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, here it is:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The Easter Visit From Relationship Hell

From Electric Lit:

A story walks into the bar and says, “I’d like you to meet this mother and this daughter,” and right away the whole room turns to see how similar or different they will be. Is the young woman a carbon copy of the older woman? Is she a physical opposite? Inside the young woman, is it all fight and wrestling to be different, to redefine? Can we sense the mother reaching to stay close?

Then the story says, “And here is this son and his mother,” and we all turn again because now we’re not so much looking to see if they are an exact match but to see if he’s grown up enough or if his mother has somehow ruined him with her careful love, if he has ruined her with his wild boyhood.  

But the story is not finished. Now it tells us that the young man and the young woman have fallen in love even though he came from wealth and she came from the opposite, and it’s Easter, and he is taking her to his mother’s grand home for an egg hunt and brunch. Now we have the boy’s mother and a potential daughter-in-law (plus pristine white carpet and long-standing family traditions and the shadow of the last girlfriend whom everyone wanted the boy to marry). The daughter’s own mother is far away, barely reachable on the phone, and though they have caused each other so much damage, the mother now feels suddenly like the only safe place.

This is the stage for Mary Otis’s Burst. The genius is the way Otis fills the room with the cloud of social expectations—gender and inheritance and the patriarchal chain of command and money and poverty and all that tired but persistent cruel-ladies-who-gobble-each-other-up and boys-who-would-rather-be-cared-for-and-then-let-outside. Emerging through the fog is Viva, particular and real, trying to find her own sharp, exact edges, her own actual needs, her own self in relationship to her boyfriend, her mother, and his.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Orwell, Camus and truth

From The Critic:

A war still raged in Europe, but the enemy were firmly in retreat. The occupation of Paris had been broken, and France was free, and so were the cafés of the Boulevard St Germain. No longer did the waiters have to serve coffee to SS officers.

One afternoon in April 1945, a dishevelled Englishman walked into one such café. He was a war correspondent for the Observer — fond of shag-tobacco and Indian tea. His pen-name was George Orwell. 

Orwell was meeting Albert Camus – the distinguished writer and intellectual. But even so, I always imagine Orwell taking a seat indoors, among the pale, ornate woodwork, and feeling slightly out of place. Les Deux Magots, and the Café de Flore opposite, were frequented by a kind of intellectual of which Orwell often disapproved. That is, philosopher-types with communist sympathies: the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone De Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. 

Orwell sat and waited, and waited, for Camus to arrive. He never turned up: he was laid up with an exacerbation of tuberculosis. They would never get the chance to meet again, and Orwell would die five years later, having lost his own battle with the same disease.

My admiration for both of these eminent writers developed in isolation of one another — but I have always unconsciously identified them as the same sort of writer, and indeed, the same sort of person. There are various superficial similarities: the TB diagnosis that prevented both of them from joining the armed forces, the foreign birth, the rampant womanising, the shared hatred of fascism and suspicion of communism. Much more importantly, they seemed to share the same outlook. Both of these writers took the view that truthfulness was more important than ideological allegiance and metaphysics, that the facts should be derived from the real world, rather than the world of ideas. They were similar stylistically too: both wrote candidly, clearly and prolifically. 

Camus seemed to have shared my view. He said as much in a letter to his mistress, Maria Casarès, on the day of Orwell’s death in 1950.

Some bad news: George Orwell is dead. You don’t know him. A very talented English writer, with exactly the same experience as me (although ten years older) and exactly the same ideas. He fought tuberculosis for years. He was one of the very few men with whom I shared something.

For Camus to say that another writer had “exactly the same ideas”, and was “one of the very few men with whom I shared something” was no small thing. 

No correspondence between the two authors seems to exist. In fact, when I searched for personal links between them there was little to go on. But although my hunt for biographical evidence of a relationship was fruitless, the time I have since spent reading and comparing their work yields some rather more intriguing connections. 

Orwell’s best-known novel is undoubtedly Nineteen Eighty-Four. What’s remarkable about this novel — above virtually all other novels in English — is the number of words and expressions it has bequeathed to the English-speaking world. Perhaps this was Orwell’s greatest gift to mankind: an entire language through which to talk about the coming age of state sponsored surveillance, fake news and post-truth politics in which we now live. When someone says a policy or a government’s behaviour is “Orwellian” people know precisely what is meant.

One phrase from Nineteen Eighty-Four should be familiar to us all, even to those who might not have actually read the novel: 

There comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two and two make four is punished with death.

Except of course, these words are not Orwell’s at all. This is a quote from Albert Camus’ novel La Peste, which was published two years before Nineteen Eighty-Four, in 1947. Of course, the formulation of two and two making five has a history that predates both Orwell and Camus, but Orwell used a very similar version of it as far back as 1939, in a review of a book by Bertrand Russell in Adelphi:

It is quite possible that we are descending into an age in which two plus two will make five when the Leader says so

The similarity between these lines is patent. Is it possible that Camus got the idea from Orwell’s article? Yes, but such things are nearly impossible to prove. Still, it is not important whether Camus was taking influence from Orwell’s writing (although an interesting possibility). What’s important about this example is that it exposes common ground. These quotes embody a foundational principle that united their work: a shared anxiety over the fragility of truth.  

. . . .

Both Camus and Orwell are rightly credited with being “antitotalitarian” writers. And yet their reasons for being so are not wholly political. They were antitotalitarian not just because they opposed totalitarian regimes, but because they both understood that the totalitarian mindset requires you accept that truth comes from ideology. If the ideas say something is true, it becomes true, and is true. For Fascists and Communists, ideology is not merely a set of values or beliefs, but a cohesive explanation of the past, present and future of mankind. This is what Camus referred to in The Rebel as the desire “to make the earth a kingdom where man is God”. Orwell and Camus both understood the dangers of such thinking, and sought to repudiate it in their work.

Link to the rest at The Critic

Are science and religion fated to be adversaries?

From The Economist:

In the late 19th century two books on science and religion were published within a decade of each other. In “The Creed of Science” William Graham tried to reconcile new scientific ideas with faith. In 1881 Charles Darwin, by then an agnostic, told him: “You have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance.”

The other book made a much bigger splash. “History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science” by John William Draper was one of the first post-Darwinian tomes to advance the view that—as its title suggests—science and religion are strongly antithetical. Promoted hard by its publisher, the book went through 50 printings in America and 24 in Britain and was translated into at least ten languages. Draper’s bestseller told a story of antagonism that, ever since, has been the mainstream way to see this relationship.

In “Magisteria”, his illuminating new book, Nicholas Spencer claims that this framing, more recently espoused by Richard Dawkins and others, is misleading. For centuries, he says, science and religion have been “endlessly and fascinatingly entangled”. Even (or especially) those readers inclined to disagree with him will find his narrative refreshing.

Mr Spencer works at Theos, a religious think-tank in London, and is one of Britain’s most astute observers of religious affairs. Some conflict between science and religion is understandable, he argues, but not inevitable. He offers an engaging tour of the intersection of religious and scientific history: from ancient science in which “the divine was everywhere”, to the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad in the ninth century and Maimonides, an illustrious Jewish thinker of the 12th—and onwards, eventually, to artificial intelligence. Now and again he launches salvoes against ideologues on both sides.

“Medieval science” is not an oxymoron, he writes. Nor is religious rationalism. In the 11th century Berengar of Tours held that “it is by his reason that man resembles God.” As religious dissent spread following the Reformation, Mr Spencer says, theology helped incubate modern science through the propagation of doubt about institutions and the cracking open of orthodoxies. For their part, an emergent tribe of naturalists strove, chisel and hammer in hand, to show that creation pointed towards a creator. Exploration of nature was itself a form of worship.

Mr Spencer insightfully revisits the dust-ups involving Galileo, Darwin and John Scopes (prosecuted in Tennessee in 1925 for teaching evolution). He traces the interaction of the two disciplines in often fascinating detail. Many pioneering scientists lived in times of religious and political strife and found in “natural philosophy”, as pre-modern science was known, a “ministry of reconciliation”. Thomas Sprat, dean of Westminster and biographer of the Royal Society, opined in 1667 that, in their experiments, men “may agree, or dissent, without faction, or fierceness”. That was not always true, as Isaac Newton’s spats with his peers showed. Still, says Mr Spencer, by supplying an arena for calmer debate that was beyond clerical control, “Science saved religion from itself.”

The roll call of scientists who were people of faith runs from Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell to Gregor Mendel and Georges Lemaître, a Belgian priest who, on the basis of mathematical calculations, first proposed that the universe was expanding and therefore had a beginning. In 1933 Lemaître made what, for Mr Spencer, is a key observation: “Neither St Paul nor Moses had the slightest idea of relativity.” The writers of the Bible could see into “the question of salvation. On other questions they were as wise or as ignorant as their generation.” In other words, science and religion are not different attempts to do the same thing. Lemaître warned the pope against drawing any theological conclusions from his work on the cosmos.

Link to the rest at The Economist