Why I Turned Away From Realism and Began to Write Surreal Fiction

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

My writing has taken an unexpected turn in the last few years. I’ve begun to incorporate elements of the surreal—what some might term fantastical or magical realist—into what would otherwise be realistic novels. My 2018 novel, Weather Woman, for example, tells the story of a woman who discovers she has the power to change the weather; she must then navigate her way in a world where no one believes this is possible. Where did this rogue desire to employ surrealism or fantasy come from?

My earliest reading enjoyment as a child came from a variety of different kinds of books. Some were “realistic” such as The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, or The River by Rumer Godden, but others were delightfully fantastical. Half Magic (Edward Eager), A Wrinkle in Time (Madeline L’Engle), and The Trouble with Jenny’s Ear (Oliver Butterworth) come to mind. I didn’t discriminate on the basis of genre back then—I was a happily omnivorous reader.

But school changed that. What was considered serious fiction, the fiction we studied and wrote about in middle school and high school, was mostly realistic fiction: Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Updike, Cheever. I developed a certain view of the aesthetic components that went into what was considered “good” literature. That aesthetic included a devotion to portraying the world as we experience it on a daily basis, alongside a respect for causality and linearity.

In college I was an avid student of the theater. I performed in plays, read plays, wrote plays. I respected the realistic work of playwrights Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Henrik Ibsen, but it was the absurdist works of Beckett, Sartre, Albee, Buchner, and others, that really excited me, along with the surrealist plays of playwrights like Strindberg and Cocteau. The possibilities for my own writing widened with this exposure, and I found myself writing plays that grew out of that excitement. My first play, Mergatroid, was about two women who raised ten “neuter” children.

My enchantment with theater led me to pursue a career in film where the prospects for earning a living were more viable. As a screenwriter in Hollywood, I had to squelch my zaniest impulses. Unless you are writing superhero movies or movies for children, Hollywood takes a dim view of the non-realistic.

When I departed from film to devote myself to the writing of fiction (where I felt I had always belonged), my circuitous writing path had bequeathed different kinds of guidance. Which wisdom would I heed? I began by writing realistic fiction, the kind I’d been schooled to believe was the only serious work. My first two published novels fit squarely into that genre, a genre I have not entirely abandoned.

But recently, for several years now, this rogue and irresistible impulse has cropped up, the urge to play with fantastical (surreal? supernatural? magical?) elements. The powerful work of writers like Toni Morrison and Aimee Bender, among many others, has given me permission to explore beyond the boundaries of strict realism. What I have discovered is that, in distorting aspects of what we know as “reality,” I can get closer to certain truths about human nature, and human thought, and the human condition.

I have come to think of surrealism/fantasy/the supernatural/magical realism as a kind of steroid, bulking things up and bringing certain perceptions into clearer relief. The distortions I create in a narrative can be thought of as tools that amplify the material, much as an astronomer employs a telescope, or a biologist uses a microscope.

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

Gritty and Glittery

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

THESE ARE DARK DAYS for theater people. Playhouses sit empty. Performers cash unemployment checks. Broadway remains closed and won’t reopen until May 2021 at the earliest. Many industries have found ways to accommodate our apocalyptic new reality, but commercial theater is not among them. There can be no “outdoor dining” equivalent of a $21 million musical.

Here to fill the void — and to remind us of a better time — is Michael Riedel’s Singular Sensation. This juicy, jaunty book is about Broadway in the 1990s, a period of great change that paved the way for the industry’s recent artistic and financial prosperity. Singular Sensation offers less an explanation of present-day abundance, however, than a reminder of all that has been lost. “I never intended the subtitle of this book — The Triumph of Broadway — to be ironic,” Riedel writes in his foreword. Ironic, alas, it is, though the author insists better times are on their way. “There will be a comeback,” he says, “and Broadway is good at comebacks.”

Riedel’s last book, Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway, tracked the demise and resurgence of New York City, Times Square, and Broadway in the 1970s. Starring two lawyers who took over the Shubert Organization, Broadway’s biggest theater chain, Razzle Dazzle was a relentlessly entertaining piece of cultural history. Riedel, who until his COVID-19 furlough was the much-feared theater columnist at the New York Post, brought his trademark voice — biting, loving — to an epic that was every bit as gritty as it was glittery. He showed how Gerald Schoenfeld and Bernard Jacobs, the hero-lawyers at the center of the book, steered Broadway through fiscal catastrophe and helped deliver New York City into its current affluence. More than just a dishy gossip compendium (though it was that), Razzle Dazzle illustrated just how mutually intertwined the destinies of cities and their arts sectors are.

Singular Sensation has a smaller case to make, and is accordingly a shorter, more narrowly focused book. Much like Razzle Dazzle, it unfolds through a series of show profiles that embody the significant shifts of the era: the decline of the British mega-musical, the reinvigoration of American playwrighting and musical comedy, and the increased corporatization of the producer class. Also like its predecessor, it’s a blast.

We begin with Sunset Boulevard, the musical that effectively ended Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway dominance. By 1993, the year of the show’s American premiere, Lloyd Webber had firmly established his commercial preeminence. The British composer’s productions, which included Cats (1982) and The Phantom of the Opera (1988), delivered unprecedented weekly grosses; Sunset Boulevard, adapted from the 1950 Billy Wilder film, seemed destined to join this run of hits. Production staffers referred to it as “The Female Phantom.”

But there were problems. Stage star Patti LuPone opened the show in London on the understanding that she’d follow it to New York. When Glenn Close won the favor of Lloyd Webber in another pre-Broadway tryout, however, LuPone was fired. On learning the news from a Liz Smith column in the Post, LuPone says she “started screaming […] I had batting practice in my dressing room. I threw a floor lamp out the window.”

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

A dragon’s toast!

And now, my friends, a dragon’s toast! Here’s to life’s little blessings: war, plagues, and all forms of evil. Their presence keeps us alert— and their absence keeps us grateful.

T.A. Barron

Comments seem to be working well

It appears to me that the comments function is working as it should.

If anyone is still having problems making comments, let me know via the Contact PG link at the top of the blog.

I’ll still keep an eye on comments, but currently plan to leave the settings as is for awhile.

I haven’t seen anything that looked like spam showing up yet. If you see any, feel free to let me know via the Contact PG link.

As I’ve said more than once before, I think the comments are the best part of TPV and thank one and all for sharing your information, intelligence and wit and for avoiding nastiness in your disagreements.

BookExpo, Bookstores, and Libraries

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

In 2020, BookExpo finally died. BookExpo was, once upon a time, a convention for booksellers, put on by the publishing industry. Back then, it was called The American Booksellers Association Convention, and honestly, it was marvelous. If you were a book person, it was like the best place ever.

Books everywhere. So many books in such large convention halls that you couldn’t see everything. You couldn’t even try.

Dean and I went as authors a few times, and always hoped to go back with our bookseller friends. If you had a bookseller badge, you got free everything. Free books. Free posters. Free autographs from famous writers. Free admission into fascinating talks. Everything but free shipping—because you got so much free stuff that you had to ship it back home, where you would finally have time to look at it, sort it out, and maybe make purchases.

In one long hallway at the convention, foreign publishers sat and discussed rights sales with agents and a handful of savvy writers. A lot of deals got made right there. And in a separate building, the small and specialty and regional presses lived. On the way, you could run into the new technology wing…which was filled with things that almost never came to fruition.

It was loud and exhausting and fascination. I remember watching a few of my out-of-shape bookseller friends treating their bodies like Christmas trees, hanging book bags off arms, shoulders, around their necks, and waists, staggering out of the convention hall to the even bigger parking lot to drop off the bags, then go back and get even more piles and piles of stuff.

No one does this anymore. In fact, no one has done this in…oh, maybe 10 to 15 years. BookExpo got sold to Reed Exhibitions in 1995, and the convention declined from there. Of course, bookselling changed too. There was too much consolidation in the 1990s, the book distribution system collapsed, and Barnes & Noble and the other chain stores took over. The small booksellers remained, hanging on by their fingertips.

Attendance at BookExpo got smaller and the freebies rarer. Publishers found other ways to introduce new books to the “trade.” And then in the past few years, Reed spun off the rights fair, which was, really the only reason to go. You could meet foreign publishers face to face and actually sell a few things, if you felt so inclined.

Ah, but let’s face it. The rise of the internet meant that all of the information that used to be shared in person could be shared quicker and in more depth over the internet. And it wasn’t as tiring as using your body like a Christmas tree or spending hundreds on shipping freebies that you probably didn’t even want.

For years, everyone in the industry complained about BookExpo, calling it a shadow of its former self. Reed Exhibitions moved BookExpo to the pop culture part of its organization and added BookCon, hoping to bring in “readers” (forgetting, I guess, that booksellers are readers). That didn’t work.

They canceled the convention in the spring, like damn near every other convention, and held a virtual convention on the usual dates, a convention that made little news or impact. And so, in December, ReedPop, the organization that now manages BookExpo announced there would be no BookExpo in 2021 or maybe ever again. BookExpo was “retired.”

The event director, Jenny Martin, issued a surprisingly candid (for this kind of business) statement:

The pandemic arrived at a time in the life cycle of BookExpo and BookCon where we were already examining the restructure of our events to best meet our community’s needs. This has led us to make the difficult decision to retire the events in their current formats, as we take the necessary time to evaluate the best way to move forward and rebuild our events that will better serve the industry and reach more people than we were able to before. We remain committed to serving the book community and look forward to sharing more information in the future.

I don’t really expect to see anything like this again. The annual meeting of a lot of booksellers and a lot of publishers made sense when there were a lot of booksellers and a lot of publishers, thirty or so years ago. Now, though, in the traditional publishing arena, there just aren’t a lot of big traditional publishers.

And after this year, maybe not that many booksellers. The American Booksellers Association reported that 35 member bookstores had closed due to the pandemic as of October. Another 20% are in danger of closing.

Even those that are managing are struggling. They’re holding on through a combination of cost-cutting, online sales, crowdfunding, and PPP loans—which are (as of this writing) no longer available. Between April and June, the Book Industry Charitable Foundation issued $2.7 million in grants, and has given 443% more in grants than last year.

. . . .

Bookstore owners all say they’re working harder for less money. The stores that are open are spending on cleaning and PPE, as well as dealing with the stress of ordering customers to mask. Some stores have gone to curbside pickup and what used to be called special ordering. Others have done fundraisers and are linking with other businesses. They’re hanging on, but just barely.

And they’re all worrying about the supply chain. They are smaller, so they often don’t get the bigger books as early as say, Amazon or Barnes & Noble, because of the limitations in the supply chain.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

PG notes that, during a major catastrophe that substantially disrupts the personal, family, social and business lives of many people at the same time, a great many people make predictions about what life will be like after the disruption is complete.

After the disruption is complete, some predictions are wrong and some are right. For PG, the most interesting post-disruption happenings are those that few or no one predicted.

One thing that often occurs is that business enterprises that were in poor or marginal condition prior to the disruption are more likely to be destroyed or, if they survive, substantially changed from their prior form. Often and unfortunately, a great many people employed by those businesses have to find another line of work through no fault of their own.

Examples of many such disappeared businesses will come to mind for most visitors to TPV, so PG will not list examples.

PG will, however, make one prediction that will surprise no one who hangs around these environs very often – the parts of the traditional book business that deal in the now-expensive process of creating and selling physical books will be much-diminished after the economy opens up again.

Traditional publishing and selling physical books are, in the 21st century, narrow-margin operations without a lot of room for error or financial difficulties.

Some may continue because they are owned or funded by those not overly reliant upon the book business for their ongoing financial welfare, but the status of an organization that is an expensive hobby, business or personal, is fraught. It is difficult for such organizations to attract and retain talent or intelligence when other opportunities look like a much better bet.

Morale among the employees of such organizations becomes lower and lower, to the detriment of the organization’s business operations and financial results. Those who can get out, leave.

Perhaps the owners of a business in a declining sector hope to find a greater fool to whom to sell the business, but even fools can often recognize a death spiral.

Considering the future, traditional bookstores are essentially just another retail business. They may sell something regarded as of more cultural worth than a load of gravel, but, ultimately, to quote an old phrase, when their outgo exceeds their income, their upkeep will be their downfall.

A traditional publisher is somewhat different in that its principle assets consist of intangible intellectual property, essentially long-term licenses that permit them to use the words contained in the works licensed to them by authors in a wide variety of ways. Much of the time, the author has only retained the right to be paid by the publisher for “sales” or licenses of the author’s work.

The author may hold the copyright to a book or story, but the publisher has exclusive control over all of the means by which that book or story can be used to generate money.

If someone acquired the assets of a publisher for a good price and that new owner of rights under the typical publishing contracts of hundreds or thousands of authors, if the new owner wanted to maximize its revenue from such contract rights, the owner has a variety of ways of doing so.

Under the provisions of typical publishing contracts used by large publishers and a lot of medium-sized or small publishers, PG opines that an unscrupulous owner could game those contracts in a manner that would minimize or eliminate royalty payments to some or all of its authors.

PG is not going to provide any details because he doesn’t want to see any author being treated poorly or cheated out of income she/he reasonably expects to receive from their art and labors.

He will only say that he has not reviewed a publishing contract that he could not game to the author’s financial detriment if he were suddenly had ownership and control of the publisher’s rights to that contract.

PG has reviewed more contracts of different types and used in different businesses during the centuries of his legal career than he can remember. He has reviewed and negotiated extremely well-written contracts prepared by highly-competent attorneys working for very, very wealthy organizations owned and operated by very, very talented and intelligent individuals. He has also reviewed and negotiated contracts prepared by incompetents and idiots on the other side of the deal.

Based upon that experience, he can say that traditional publishing contracts are close to the bottom in terms of precision, enforceability and a lack of ways a publisher could avoid its expected financial obligations to its authors without the author ever knowing about it. In the event the author discovered what the publisher was doing, if the publisher was careful and willing to game the provisions of the publishing agreement in its financial favor, it might be difficult or impossible for an author to persuade a court to help the author out of the mess.

But, as usual, PG could be wrong or, given the current world situation, have been driven crazy by Covid and its attendant distortions of nearly everything.

(However, through some sort of minor miracle, PG and Mrs. PG did receive their first of two anti-Covid vaccinations earlier today, so PG’s thoughts may be muddled by unreported vaccine side effects in addition to the usual causes.)

How Libraries Can Help Us Make a More Perfect Union

From Publishers Weekly:

Throughout our history, we’ve see that when we come together in civil, honest conversations based on facts and science, history and truth, we find commonality.

It has taken me several days to come to terms with my anger over the events of January 6, when insurrectionists invaded the Capitol in Washington, D.C., after a morning—indeed months—of instigation founded on false grievances and outright misinformation. For our nation to move forward, many things must now happen, beyond the investigations and the impeachment process that began earlier this month. As a nation, we must find a way to rebuild the civic and educational structures that bring us together. And I believe libraries can play a critical role in this process.

This is hardly a shocking conclusion. Because I’m a librarian, educator, author, and information scientist, one might even rightly say it is a self-serving one. After all, I am invested in the success of these institutions. But I am invested in these institutions because I truly believe in the words our nation was founded on—“to seek a more perfect union.” These words represent a mission, a starting point. We did not form a perfect union; we formed a government to seek one out. And I believe this ongoing challenge is deeply connected to the core mission of librarianship: to improve society through knowledge creation in our communities.

I have seen firsthand how libraries act as instruments of community cohesion. I have seen how our public libraries—from providing rich collections to offering diverse programs like drag queen story hours—help us weave our social fabric together neighborhood by neighborhood, person by person. I have seen libraries host difficult conversations on race. I have seen libraries bring people together on issues of immigration. I have seen libraries stand up for the poor, the incarcerated, and the marginalized.

. . . .

I have seen academic librarians dedicate themselves to preparing college students to do actual scholarly research and investigation beyond Google and social media. I have seen how archivists not only preserve our cultural heritage and scholarly record but make it accessible and meaningful. And I have seen how these stewards of our history help keep us faithful to the values on which our nation was founded, while also forcing us to acknowledge and learn from our flaws—our racism, bigotry, exclusion, and authoritarianism.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

As PG has mentioned previously, he worked in a large university library for a period of time while he was going to school. (However, working as a busboy in the cafeteria at a large dormitory occupied exclusively by girls [AKA women] was his favorite campus job many years before meeting the future Mrs. PG.)

If you credit the old saying, “Once a librarian, always a librarian” then PG is a librarian. Plus a bunch of other stuff.

As a librarian, PG states with authority that a great many librarians are nice people while a few are jerks. Most try to do a good job, even when things get a little boring. (See, for example, working in a large university library on Saturday night after you upset your boss a little.)

Basically, everybody, including librarians, can do their bit to save the world and/or make the world a better place, depending on your opinion concerning terra firma.

However, PG will take this opportunity to announce an amendment to his long-standing motto. “Don’t do business with jerks,” is hereby amended to read “Don’t do business with or vote for jerks.”

A reminder, this is not a political blog and PG didn’t name names and, if you believed him to be referring to any particular political figure, PG would simply respond, “You might think that. I couldn”t possibly comment.”

A government of, by, and for the people

A government of, by, and for the people requires that people talk to people, that we can agree to disagree but do so in civility. If we let the politicians and those who report dictate our discourse, then our course will be dictated.

Donna Brazile

Nil by Mouth

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

WHEN I WAS 13, I was a skinny girl: a brittle frame of seagull bones, all bluff and bluster, cliffs and cartilage, and thin skin woven tight as a fisherman’s net. I was a skinny girl. I took small bites.

This is what I told the school nurse who pulled me into her office and questioned me about my bones. I take small bites, I told her.

I take small bites of the world, so it won’t notice that I have teeth. When I was a little girl, I would bite myself on the arm, when I was bathing, just to see the half-moon indents of my molars. To bite — to leave my own mark upon my own skin — was to know I was real.

But I did not tell her this. I knew nobody wanted to hear that. Just like nobody wants to see bones.

You need to eat, she said.

But I do, I said.

You are an anorexic, she stated.

But I’m not. I wasn’t.

Oh yes, you are.

And that was the end of that.

¤

The psychiatrist asked me if I ate. Yes, yes, I said. I eat all the time.

Do you, she asked. It was not a question.

Yes, I said. I put food in my mouth, and I chew and chew and swallow it all down. Good girl that I am.

Do you, she asked.

Yes, I do, I told her. I can prove it if you like.

She raised an eyebrow in challenge. So, I opened my mouth and bared my hidden teeth.

Do you like chocolate? she asked me.

No, I don’t like sweet things, I replied.

Hmmm, she said, and made a note of it in her little black book.

. . . .

I was sent an appointment for surgery as if it were an invitation to a sleepover. I packed a small bag with my toothbrush and my department store makeup. I packed a new pair of pajamas and some fashion magazines.

The ward was suffocating in its ordinariness. Hospital-issued beds of iron with flaky paint. Above my head, a sign: NIL BY MOUTH. But when they wheeled me into the theater, the taste of garlic was in my mouth.

¤

After they sliced me open, I was not just a skinny girl without a period anymore.

I was a rare skinny girl with no womb, a living sympathy card, there to be studied. The fresh-faced medical students filed into my room with their sturdy clipboards and fish-like smiles. They looked at me as if I were a bug in a jar. The aroma of grief was leaking from my every pore, and they leaned in closer to get the scent of me.

But I would not let them near.

No, I said. You cannot examine me. I am not a curiosity. I am not yours to see.

The students were disappointed. Their fat cheeks expelled their heavy breath as they filed out of my room. I did not care. I have a hole inside where everything maternal should be, I thought. Don’t come looking for comfort here. I am nobody’s mother.

I never will be, so don’t ask me for understanding. I am too busy devouring my own pain.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

Amanda Gorman’s books are topping best seller lists and they haven’t even been released yet

From CNN:

Amanda Gorman is fast becoming a household name after she delivered a powerful inauguration poem at the US Capitol on Wednesday, challenging Americans to unify and “leave behind a country better than the one we were left.”

And if her words to the country weren’t incredible enough, the nation’s first-ever youth poet laureate has two books topping best seller lists — and they aren’t even expected to release until September 21.

. . . .

Gorman, 22, is the writer of “The Hill We Climb: Poems,” and “Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem.” The titles are currently topping both Barnes & Noble and Amazon’s best sellers lists. The poem Gorman No. 1 on Amazon’s list.

. . . .

Born and raised in Los Angeles by a single-mother and sixth-grade English teacher, Gorman started writing poems when she was a child, but found performing terrifying due to a speech impediment.
She overcame that fear by drawing confidence from former President Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr., and practicing songs from the Broadway musical “Hamilton.”

From celebrities to politicians, Gorman’s words resonated with many and praise on social media was not in short supply.

Link to the rest at CNN

For those outside of the United States, Ms. Gorman’s performance delivering her poem during the inauguration of the recently-elected president yesterday was a perfect antidote to Covid gloom and doom.

Sour English professors may make snide remarks about prosody in the faculty lounge, but the combination of the poem and Ms. Gorman’s presentation of it was wonderful, far better than any speech given by a politician yesterday.

Unfortunately, Ms. Gorman’s first books, published by Viking, are evidently stuck in Publisher Production Hell:

The Hill We Climb, her debut poetry collection (currently #1 bestseller in Books on Amazon US) and is scheduled to be released on September 21 (currently only in 80-page hardcover for $19.99).

A special 32-page quickie edition of her Inauguration poem, The Hill We Climb, (no Sales Rank when PG checked) is scheduled to be released on April 27 ($15.99 for a 32-page hardcover).

Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem, an illustrated children’s book (currently #1 bestseller in Children’s Poetry on Amazon US) is also scheduled to be released on September 21 in Kindle for $10.99 (no Look Inside available) and hardcover for $16.95. It is also 32 pages.

PG notes that, while the children’s book has an enjoyable cover, The Hill We Climb in both the published in September and the quickie 32-page version each have cheapo-looking covers that PG could have turned out with his mediocre artistic skills in about 10 minutes or less.

Perhaps, Viking is trying to speed up its creaking production process up just a tiny bit and has forgotten to notify the largest bookstore in the country, but any sentient organization, hearing that one of its authors would be featured on nationwide television event watched by a much larger than normal audience, would have whipped the peasants with extra vigor and had at least an ebook and POD edition available for sale before most people had put Ms. Gorman into the mental “Oh, I think I remember her” category of their Covid-impaired memories.

Big Publishing idiocy at its shining best.

6 Outside-the-Box Book Marketing Ideas

From BookBub Partners:

1. Make part of the book’s cover wearable

Some authors and publishers have created fashionable swag from the cover’s design elements or the novel’s plot. Book bloggers, influencers, and readers are often excited to show off these items on social media, creating a unique opportunity for word-of-mouth buzz.`

The cover design for Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson — featuring art by Rachelle Baker and designed by Erin Fitzsimmons — positions its title in an earring worn by the protagonist.

Tiffany and her publisher, Katherine Tegen (an imprint of HarperCollins), created a bamboo version of these earrings as a giveaway item in their preorder campaign. She posted pictures of herself wearing the earrings on social media, effectively generating hype and preorders — Grown launched as a New York Times bestseller!

Some book bloggers and bookstagrammers received these earrings early, and many of them shared pictures of themselves wearing these earrings or using them as bookstagram props. Tiffany compiled some of these images on Instagram, reminding readers that these earrings were part of her preorder campaign and expressing gratitude for bloggers’ early coverage.

2. Self-publish a prequel to a traditionally published book or series to run price promotions

Since authors don’t have control over pricing for their traditionally published titles and therefore can’t discount them whenever they like, some authors self-publish prequels or connected standalones so they can discount those and use them to promote their traditionally published books.

Brenda Novak used this strategy as part of her marketing campaign promoting Face Off, book 3 in her traditionally published Evelyn Talbot thriller series, and this book was an instant USA Today bestseller! Before Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press published book 1 in the series, Brenda self-published Hanover House, a 200-page prequel, and priced it at $3.99. Within the prequel, she encouraged readers to buy the subsequent books via a letter in the front matter and an excerpt of book 1 in the back matter. After the excerpt, she included links to the retailer product page to make it as easy as possible for readers to buy.

Since Brenda had control over pricing for this self-published prequel, she could discount it whenever she liked. For example, about a month before the launch of book 3 in the series, she discounted the prequel to $0.99. She figured that would be the right timing for new readers to buy this prequel, make their way through books 1 and 2, and be eager for book 3 upon launch.

In order to drive as many unit sales as possible, Brenda ran a BookBub Featured Deal to the Psychological Thrillers category. Featured Deals can generate a high volume of exposure and often result in subsequent sales of an author’s other titles — 70% of authors report an increase in sales of their other books (including full-priced books!) after running the promotion. The Featured Deal for Hanover House generated over 6K clicks and 1.5K sales.

. . . .

Note: Brenda cleared this idea with her publisher before writing Hanover House. If you’re under contract with a traditional publisher, communicate your plans to publish connected content early to ensure you have their approval!

Link to the rest at BookBub Partners

PG notes that Mrs. PG has used Zazzle to produce merchandise to help promote her books.

Long Black Veil

Blame it on Covid. Blame it on the crazy US election season that finally ended today.

The song titled, “Long Black Veil” has been running through PG’s mind on repeat since last night.

From Wikipedia:

“Long Black Veil” is a 1959 country ballad, written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin and originally recorded by Lefty Frizzell.

It is told from the point of view of a man falsely accused of murder and executed. He refuses to provide an alibi, since on the night of the murder he was having an extramarital affair with his best friend’s wife, and would rather die and take their secret to his grave than admit the truth. The chorus describes the woman’s mourning visits to his gravesite, wearing a long black veil and enduring a wailing wind.

In 2019, Frizzell’s version of “Long Black Veil” was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

. . . .

The writers later stated that they drew on three sources for their inspiration: Red Foley’s recording of “God Walks These Hills With Me”, a contemporary newspaper report about the unsolved murder of a priest, and the legend of a mysterious veiled woman who regularly visited Rudolph Valentino’s grave. Dill himself called it an “instant folksong.”

Wilkin played piano on the original recording by Frizzell. The song was a departure from Frizzell’s previous honky tonk style and was a deliberate move toward the then current popularity of folk-styled material and the burgeoning Nashville sound.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

While the song has been performed and recorded by a great many talented performers, PG considers the Johnny Cash performance as the ultimate. That’s the version that has been running through PG’s head.

Here are the lyrics of the first two verses of original Lefty Frizzel song.

Ten years ago, on a cold, dark night
There was someone killed ‘neath the town hall light
There were few at the scene, but they all agreed
That the slayer who ran looked a lot like me

The judge said, “Son what is your alibi?
If you were somewhere else, then you won’t have to die”
I spoke not a word, though it meant my life
For I had been in the arms of my best friend’s wife

The following video features Johnny Cash and Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell and PG likes it a lot.

x

A Semi-Colon Moment

From Writer Unboxed:

I was asked to write something to mark the day—something to encourage a re-set as we turn the proverbial page on a difficult and divisive chapter in American history. But the truth is that I don’t know with certainty what this day will bring. I’m not writing this piece on January 20th, and at this point several outcomes seem possible, ranging from peaceful ideal to horrific.

What can be said of such a day, when so many different outcomes are imaginable?

It struck me that we give our protagonist a moment like this toward the end of a story—following a dark moment, there is resolution or there is an even darker moment.

It struck me that no matter what our protagonist experiences, there is an after, whether it’s happily-ever or not.

It struck me that we are—collectively—the protagonist of this moment in history.

Some believe something will end today. Period. But I think it’s safer to say something will change today; it will shift, marking the start of a new phase or chapter [semi-colon].

The semi-colon is a powerful marker of connection. Two ideas are so intrinsically bound that to exist as sentences beside one another without the marker is to weaken the idea. Whatever comes next, whatever happens today, it will be the cause of an effect we won’t know for a while. But make no mistake that our future—at least our most immediate future—will be tied to our now in a way we won’t be able to shake.

This is a semi-colon moment.

What do we do with the rubble of our time? How do we rebuild? What can be salvaged? What do we take from this moment and pull into our future? What’s on the other side of that semi-colon? What do we want to be on the other side of that semi-colon? To undo it all, to go back to “normal”? How wide is that gap, between reality and some impossible dream?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Rules for Your Writing Group

From David Farland:

I’ve belonged to several writing groups, and many of them were excellent, while a couple were actually dysfunctional. I’d like to suggest a few things that you can do to keep your writing group on track.

First, have a leader for your group—a president, and a sergeant-at-arms. The president’s job might be to lead discussions and to submit ideas for rule changes. The sergeant-at-arms is a person who talks quietly to someone who breaks the rules and let’s them know that the group has a problem. He or she may even need to evict others. Usually, both positions are voted upon.

Second, manage the size of your group. You don’t want to be overwhelmed by piles of manuscripts to critique each week, so don’t let the group get too big. I’ve seen writing groups with 150 people in them, and at that size, you can’t really have a meaningful critique of a novel. Even ten people is too large.

I’ve been in some groups where each writer was expected to submit, say, twelve pages a week. That worked very well. It meant that each writer progressed each week, but no writer came in with two hundred pages, week after week.

Generally speaking, by the time you’ve had eight people comment on a single manuscript, you’re probably critiqued it enough, so decide how big you want your group to be—three people, six? Once you hit your limit, close the group. In the same way, you don’t want the group to be too small. Search for members who compliment the group, people who have their own skillsets. Some authors, for example, might be full of passion and excitement. Another may have a vast understanding of a given genre. Those two writers are stronger together than they would be apart.

Meet together often. Most groups seem to work well when they meet weekly. If you try once a month, it can work, but groups that don’t meet together regularly will fizzle out.

Critiques should be written on the manuscript (either in pen or in a file) so that the author can compile the ideas when finished. Talking about the critique verbally, though, helps stimulate ideas in others and gets members of the group focused on a story, so you want to have both written and verbal comments. Always start a critique with something positive. Knowing what works is as important for a writer as knowing what to fix. More importantly, it helps authors remember to accentuate the positive, give praise when it might be needed the most. Give substantive criticism in oral critiques: talk about plot, characterization, scene building, pacing and other “big-ticket items.” Don’t waste a group’s time by talking about punctuation, spelling, dropped words or typos in an oral critique. Sure, you can fix commas in a written critique, but don’t belabor the point. 

Link to the rest at David Farland

A Frolic of His Own

American law is based upon English law due the United States being comprised of 13 British colonies prior to the The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783).

In all state constitutions except for Louisiana’s, there is provision sometimes described as a “reception statute” which provides something to the effect that the common law of England is the law of the state to the extent that it does not conflict with provisions of the state constitution or with state laws. There is an understanding, either explicit or implicit, that the reception of the common law of England refers to the judge-made decisions as kept and recorded for centuries, not including Acts of Parliament.

In PG’s experience, after well over 200 years of independence, citing a judgement made under English common law to an American judge would almost always be a poor idea, regarded as a desperation move. This is because, in one state or another, English common law principles have been included in a bunch of American court opinions.

That direct and indirect inclusion process has included some delightful British court language.

One of PG’s favorite terms describing a legal principle is “a frolic of his own.”

Under US and English common law, if an employee causes damage to someone else while the employee is doing his/her job, the employer and the employee are both liable for the damages caused.

If a semi-tractor/trailer runs a red light and collides with your car, both Jane Jones, the driver, and Super-Fast Deliveries, the trucking company that owns or leases the truck and pays Jane to drive it are obligated to pay any damages that result to you and your car.

From a practical standpoint, this is useful for an injured person because, while Jane may not have any assets or personal liability insurance, Super-Fast Deliveries will have liability insurance (and may be required by law to maintain such insurance in force up to a legally specified minimum level).

“A frolic of his own” is a rare and seldom-seen exception to the general employer pays liability rule, called, in Latin, respondeat superior, meaning in translation, something like, Let the Master Answer.

So, back to frolicking, if Jane delivers her load for Super-Fast Deliveries and, instead of returning the tractor portion of the truck to the closest Super-Fast depot as she is supposed to do, Jane decides to “borrow” it for a weekend getaway out by the lake, and, on her way to the lake, runs a red light and smashes into into a loaded bus filled with wealthy investment bankers, causing a huge amount of damage, well beyond the limits of Super-Fast’s liability insurance, Super-Fast might contend that Jane had the accident not while she was doing the job for which she was hired, but rather, “on a frolic of her own” or an updated term that means the same thing.

(Yes, PG acknowledges that was a run-on sentence and Mrs. Lascelles would be upset with him even if he were still only in the third grade.)

If successful, this frolic argument would get Super-Fast off the hook for a bazillion dollars in investment-banker damages caused by Jane’s negligence while driving its truck.

So, after that first-year law school explanation, here’ the opinion of the English case that first created the judge-made exception to respondeat superior rule that says the employer is liable for an employee’s negligence.

From Joel v. Morison:

England and Wales High Court (King’s Bench Division) Decisions

IN THE COURT OF EXCHEQUER

03 July 1834


Between:
JOEL
v
MORISON

  1. The declaration stated, that, on the 18th of April, 1833, the plaintiff was proceeding on foot across a certain public and common highway, and that the defendant was possessed of a cart and horse, which were under the care, government, and direction of a servant of his, who was driving the same along the said highway, and that the defendant by his said servant so carelessly, negligently, and improperly drove, governed, and directed the said horse and cart, that, by the carelessness, negligence, and improper conduct of the defendant by his servant, the cart and horse were driven against the plaintiff, and struck him, whereby he was thrown down and the bone of one of his legs was fractured, and he was ill in consequence, and prevented from transacting his business, and obliged to incur a great expense in and about the setting the said bone, etc., and a further great expense in retaining and employing divers persons to superintend and look after his business for six calendar months. Plea: Not guilty.
  1. From the evidence on the part of the plaintiff it appeared that he was in Bishopsgate street, when he was knocked down by a cart and horse coming in the direction from Shoreditch, which were sworn to have been driven at the time by a person who was the servant of the defendant, another of his servants being in the cart with him. The injury was a fracture of the fibula.
  1. On the part of the defendant witnesses were called, who swore that his cart was for weeks before and after the time sworn to by the plaintiff’s witnesses only in the habit of being driven between Burton Crescent Mews and Finchley, and did not go into the City at all. Thesiger, for the plaintiff, in reply, suggested that either the defendant’s servants might in coming from Finchley have gone out of their way for their own purposes, or might have taken the cart at a time when it was not wanted for the purpose of business, and have gone to pay a visit to some friend. He was observing that, under these circumstances, the defendant was liable for the acts of his servants.
  1. Parke, B: He is not liable if, as you suggest, these young men took the cart without leave; he is liable if they were going extra viam in going from Burton Crescent Mews to Finchley; but if they chose to go of their own accord to see a friend, when they were not on their master’s business, he is not liable.
  1. His Lordship afterwards, in summing up, said: This is an action to recover damages for an injury sustained by the plaintiff, in consequence of the negligence of the defendant’s servant. There is no doubt that the plaintiff has suffered the injury, and there is no doubt that the driver of the cart was guilty of negligence, and there is no doubt also that the master, if that person was driving the cart on his master’s business, is responsible. If the servants, being on their master’s business, took a detour to call upon a friend, the master will be responsible. If you think the servants lent the cart to a person who was driving without the defendant’s knowledge, he will not be responsible. Or, if you think that the young man who was driving took the cart surreptitiously, and was not at the time employed on his master’s business, the defendant will not be liable. The master is only liable where the servant is acting in the course of his employment. If he was going out of his way, against his master’s implied commands, when driving on his master’s business, he will make his master liable; but if he was going on a frolic of his own, without being at all on his master’s business, the master will not be liable. As to the damages, the master is not guilty of any offence, he is only responsible in law, therefore the amount should be reasonable.

Verdict for the plaintiff: damages, £30.

Thesiger and S. Martin, for the plaintiff.
Platt, for the defendant.

Link to the original at Joel v. Morrison

We are removing distribution to 24Symbols

From a Draft2Digital email PG received earlier today:

Part of our job at Draft2Digital is to ensure that any distribution partnerships we offer are structured and maintained to a set of standards. We do this so that authors can continue to receive the same level of high quality that we’ve always offered, and can continue to trust that we are protecting their interests. Occasionally, this means vetting distribution channels to decide whether they should be included or excluded from our service.

As such, we have determined that distribution to 24Symbols is no longer in the best interest of our authors, and we will be removing distribution to this channel.

We have been closely monitoring 24Symbols for several months and have determined that the operational and accounting timelines of the platform do not currently meet the minimum requirements we have set for our distribution partners.

. . . .

NOTE: Draft2Digital will cover any outstanding royalties due for our authors who have made sales through the 24Symbols platform.

[Emphasis in the original email]

PG couldn’t find anything on the D2D website about this. Feel free to provide a link in the comments if you know of one.

PG did some work with the founders of D2D during their very early days of starting up the business. He was very impressed with their personal qualities and attitude about treating authors fairly.

For PG, this letter is evidence that they’re still stand-up guys.

For the record, PG hasn’t had any experience with 24Symbols or heard anything about them one way or the other. Feel free to post any comments, pro or con, concerning the organization.

Comments Status Update

Dateline: Latish on Tuesday afternoon, PG time zone

PG had to be out of the office for awhile this afternoon, but he hasn’t perceived any significant problem with comments being held for moderation when they shouldn’t be.

He tweaked the WordPress settings on TPV to email a copy of every published comment to him and his inbox unread emails have been increasing quite rapidly to the point that he’s going to need to modify blog settings so he can identify emails from other sources more readily.

His present plan is to leave comment settings as they are (with the exception of emailing a copy of every comment to PG) at least overnight and, maybe, on a permanent basis.

If anybody is having any problems with comments or if one of PG’s junkyard comment guard dogs that he’s chained up for the last couple of days needs to be set loose again, please feel free to drop a comment in this post or send PG an email via the Contact link toward the top of the blog.

‘The Spotify Play’ Review: Better Than Piracy

From The Wall Street Journal:

Neil Young, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham owe Daniel Ek an enormous debt of gratitude right about now. The rock legends have all recently sold their song publishing rights for gigantic sums, sell-offs that can partially be attributed to the surge in digital revenue that accounts for more than half the global recorded-music market. One man saw all this coming before anyone else: Mr. Ek, the 37-year-old co-founder of Spotify, the world’s largest streaming service with 320 million users and counting.

For those of us who regularly call up almost any song we desire with a tap on our phone screens, it’s easy to think of streaming music as an inevitable development. But for Mr. Ek, streaming’s triumph was more of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having endured years of pushback, Spotify has been at the vanguard of a global revolution in the way music is consumed. It’s quite a turnabout for the Stockholm native, who has endured heaps of negative press, the enmity of underpaid musicians everywhere, and the looming threat of competing services from Apple, Jay-Z’s Tidal and many others.

. . . .

A rabid music fan as a teenager, Mr. Ek’s exposure to Napster was a profound conversion experience. Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker’s file-sharing service was the shrapnel blast that tore holes through the web’s commercial firewalls. “Napster is probably the internet service which has changed my life more than anything else,” Mr. Ek once told an interviewer. What if he could merge Napster’s peer-to-peer technology with commercial content? What if he could draw file-sharing out of the shadows?

Even while Mr. Ek was rapidly moving up as a programmer in Stockholm’s hot tech market, the notion of a legal answer to Napster’s music streaming never left him. In 2006 Mr. Ek’s tiny startup Advertigo was acquired by Tradedoubler, a digital marketing company whose co-founder Martin Lorentzon was enamored of Mr. Ek and his ideas. The savvy, flamboyant Mr. Lorentzon would become both partner and cheerleader. When he came to visit Mr. Ek in his raffish Stockholm neighborhood, Mr. Ek quoted “The Godfather” at him: “Put your hand in your pocket like you have a gun.”

Mr. Ek knew that what made Napster so revolutionary was its decentralized protocol, its ability to transform everyone’s hard drives into public servers. Mr. Ek’s idea was to use similar technology in an improved experience that would be “better than piracy.” There was only one man for the job: Ludvig “Ludde” Strigeus, Sweden’s leading file-sharing technologist and the inventor of uTorrent, a program for ripping content from illegal sites. Mr. Strigeus and his team of engineers one-upped Napster, devising a system that eliminated glitchy downloading. Mr. Ek was on his way.

It was an inauspicious time for Mr. Ek to be stirring the pot. The music world was squirming its way through an uneasy transition into a digital future, and the great file-sharing panic of the early aughts was still in effect. Thousands of file-sharing users were slapped with lawsuits, while record labels fretted over the cannibalization of CD sales by a method of music consumption they likened to stealing cars from showroom lots in broad daylight. What Mr. Ek envisioned was a “freemium” music service in which ad revenue would be paid to the labels in exchange for the use of their catalogs. Customers would, in theory, eventually convert to the paid subscription service.

Record labels were cold to the ad-revenue model, and insisted on cash on the barrelhead before opening their songbooks. The pursuit of music licenses, Mr. Ek’s biggest hurdle, runs through “The Spotify Play” like a Holy Grail quest. In order to get, Spotify had to give, which is how, according to this book, behemoths like Sony BMG were paid tens of millions in non-recoupable advances and negotiated deals that gave them big equity stakes in Ek’s company.

It wasn’t just the music companies that Mr. Ek had to contend with; Steve Jobs wanted him marginalized, as well. By the time Spotify was founded in 2006, the iTunes store was the most successful music retailer on the planet, creating a proprietary system of MP3s for sale that drove consumers to Apple’s iPods. Spotify was bad for business, and Apple mounted a campaign against Mr. Ek, at one point threatening to remove Spotify from its app store. A fusillade of litigation between the two companies followed—and continues unabated. Eventually, Apple would see the wisdom of Mr. Ek’s model and offer streaming, though Spotify currently has more than five times as many paid subscribers as Apple Music’s streaming service.

So what about the musicians themselves? Spotify is still regarded as an evil empire among artists who feel they are grossly underpaid by the service. Does Spotify in fact shortchange performers to maximize profits? Not according to Messrs. Carlsson and Leijonhufvud, who claim that the labels, with their fat Spotify sinecures, choose to hoard the revenues (70 cents of every dollar Spotify makes is paid to master and publishing owners).

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

PG notes that the music business exploits its creators just as much as the traditional publishing industry exploits its creators.

PG also notes that, in it’s infinite marketing wisdom, the publisher has not enabled Look Inside, but the links take you to Amazon for a preorder. Given the price, you can expect pirated versions of the ebook to appear shortly.

7 Ways Deep POV Creates Emotional Connections With Readers

From Writers Helping Writers:

Deep POV (point of view) is a popular (and lately, divisive) writing style to employ. Many blogs about deep pov will list out the same four or six foundational tools as though any newbie could pick this up and run with it from these meagre explanations. Deep POV is complex and involves many tools that overlap and interact with one another to create specific effects. It’s truly a disservice to simplify deep POV to such an extent that newer writers stew in frustration for years trying to figure out why they can’t get this simple style to work for them.

What Is Deep POV?

Deep POV is a style of fiction writing that aims to remove all the psychic or narrative distance between the reader and the character so the reader feels as if they’re immersed in the story. By removing the author/narrator voice, the reader takes a vicarious emotional journey along with the point-of-view character. Here are 7 ways you can use deep POV to make that happen.

1. Remove The Writer Voice Entirely

First, it’s important to understand the role of the author/narrator in each point-of-view style.

  • Most are familiar with Omniscient POV, where the writer tells a story about a group of characters and shares how all the characters feel or think (and often whether they’re right to feel or think that way). 
  • Objective Third Person is a writer/narrator telling a story about one or more characters, but there’s little focus on what the character thinks or feels.
  • Limited or Close Third Person POV is a writer/narrator telling a story about ONE character, and that character shares thoughts intermittently with readers through free indirect speech (the parts we like to italicize).
  • First Person POV can also utilize this narrative or psychic distance, but it isn’t in deep POV by default.

Deep POV is one character living out a story with the reader at their side, in their head. The writer will use free indirect speech when writing in deep pov, but the focus of the story is the character’s emotional journey. There’s no place for the writer/narrator voice.

. . . .

3. Filter Everything Through the POV Character

This is so critical to making deep POV work for your story. Everything comes to the reader filtered through the point-of-view character – through all the things and all the feels. When another character is speaking, the reader receives that dialogue through the point-of-view character, not the writer (as they would in limited third person). The POV character will have an opinion about what’s said and the person saying it. What’s said will have an effect on how they think and feel. 

The same goes for setting and description, to the beats written to attribute dialogue to another character, how characters move, their expressions, ambient sensory details… EVERYTHING is filtered through the POV character’s perspective. This is a hard mindset shift to make.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Status

PG is going to leave the commenting settings as-is for today unless something strange occurs.

So far, he hasn’t seen any terrible consequences with his current settings.

He’s still seeing a few comments requiring his approval from people who shouldn’t need it, but there is a general improvement. He’ll plan to pay a bit more attention to comments than usual to comments that haven’t made it through then reevaluate tomorrow morning.

PG appreciates the patience of many commenters. He has used his current commenting setup for several years and this is the first time it has begun to act erratically .

Are publishers leaving billions on the table by fixating on well-heeled readers?

From TeleRead:

Much of the news is cheery in “COVID-19 and Book Publishing: Impacts and Insights for 2021,” a free 50-page report from three seasoned industry consultants, Cliff Guren of Syntopical, Thad McIlroy of The Future of Publishing, and Steven Sieck of SKS Advisors.

True, the coronavirus has bankrupted some brick-and-mortar stories, and libraries will have to compete at budget time with other agencies the virus is battering. But publishers themselves have fared surprisingly well.

Working at home to avoid the contagion, millions have ditched their commutes and are now ordering books online from Amazon and other big retailers. Many Americans, at least those not saddled with new childcare burdens, enjoy more reading time.

Savvy publishers also will be able to sell directly to consumers directly, including those home-schooling their children. Print on demand should make all kinds of things possible. Same for electronic books, whose September sales grew 22 percent year over year. And the “online first” publishing model may become increasingly attractive.

. . . .

The report covers plenty of territory, but one observation in particular leapt out at me—how publishers have stayed afloat partly because they are so focused on affluent consumers, who tend to be less affected by the virus than America at large.

Backing up their claims, the authors reached back to some 2015 statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing in their words that “the top 10% of earners spent nearly 8½ times more on reading than the bottom 10%. And so while the pandemic is hitting lower earners financially more heavily than the more prosperous, this is at worst a minor negative indicator for publishing’s bottom line.”

On the surface, that tidbit would seem to delight. Hooray! Publishers so far have been more virus-proof than, say, restaurants or brick-and-mortar bookstores in malls.

But the ultimate message is a downer in a certain way, and not just in regard to the threat to democracy if financial and cultural gaps grow between rich and poor Americans. Unwittingly, between the lines, the report is implying that major publishers, at least, are leaving a lot of money on the table by focusing on the well-heeled at the expense of the masses.

Ebook prices from them have been too high, as I see it, to tempt many consumers, and publishers should not take the status quo for granted or even be happy with it if they look ahead.

“Consumer discretionary spending should rise with the economy’s anticipated growth in 2021, a positive note for consumer book sales,” the report itself says while citing widely accepted forecasts of six percent for such spending as a whole. “But there are clear signs of demand elasticity in, for example, consumer willingness to add or cancel video streaming services to lower cost, and resistance to paying high prices for home rental of first-run movies; and in the high demand for library ebook lending.”

Too many publishers, in my opinion, would rather protect their infrastructure for paper books than assure their digital titles maximum distribution by pricing them reasonably. There is also the issue of editorial content of the books. Small publishers and self-publishers are dominating category fiction such as romance.

Even with that factored in, the entire publishing business is still leaving billions on the table. Household expenditures for books are just a fraction of the several thousand dollars a year that the typical American household spends on other forms of entertainment.

Such is the bad news, worsened by the virus, which if anything is exacerbating income and wealth differences. And the good news? Lots and lots of potential upside for publishers of all sizes. The industry simply needs to think more about expanding the universe of readers and less about such short-sighted strategies as overpricing ebooks and and in the future especially jacking up prices for library ebooks.

I know. Some publishers complain that library borrowing steals from retail sales. But despite the willingness of many consumers to check out books rather than buy when prices are too high, the truth is more complex.

Borrowing of library ebooks has surged during the epidemic, but print book sales have risen, too—8.2 percent in 2020. The message here is that publishers can be both pro-library and solvent. And pro-library is really pro-publisher since today’s borrower may be tomorrow’s buyer even if direct correlations may not be evident. It’s the book habit that we need to encourage among the many millions who are now spending either a pittance or nothing at all on books.

Asked for his thoughts on the demographic differences in book-buying, especially during the pandemic, Thad McIlroy emailed me: “I feel there’s a major study to be done on this issue. The book publishing industry largely sells to the same well-heeled audience, year after year. The audience increases slightly as additional literate graduates enter the reading world—then declines with the deaths of the heavy-reading seniors.

. . . .

As noted in our report, the pandemic has led to a lift in ebook sales and lending. I suspect the increases in sales and borrowing will last beyond the pandemic. Familiarity breeds contentment. And, as you note, we are all getting used to doing more and more online and on our phones. Convenience is addictive.

“With regard to libraries and discovery—I agree that libraries have an increasingly important role in driving discovery, but discovery doesn’t automatically (or uniformly) drive sales. It’s relatively easy to assess the impact of specific events (such as author readings) on sales—much harder to assess the long-term impact of library promotion and availability of a specific title on sales. The Panorama Project is working on this, but it’s going to take time and significant industry cooperation/coordination to get to authoritative results.”

Link to the rest at TeleRead

PG says (again) that when you combine too little business and marketing savvy at major publishers with an obstinate refusal to spend money to build the size of the overall market and market share on the part of the primeval management of the large international holding companies that own most of the US traditional publishing business, you’re likely to wait a long, long time for any sort of innovation in pricing, business practices, more focus on innovation in ebook marketing and sales activities, etc. to occur.

Innovation for this group usually involves long discussions about how much higher the prices for books can be increased this year.

Traditional publishing has a highly-conflicted view of libraries. They have the idea that a high percentage of borrowers would buy their books if it were unable to conveniently borrow them from a library.

Publishers don’t understand (or are unwilling to accept) that readers don’t live in an information-consumption box that only contains books (and traditionally-published books at that). Consumers can find entertainment and education from all over the place, including from online sources besides libraries.

PG spends far more time during the day reading text that comes to him via email and web browser than he does reading text that arrives on his ereader (and he’s a regular reader of books on his ereader). PG hasn’t purchased a physical book for himself in years. Ditto for Mrs. PG.

Something PG hasn’t seen discussed by traditional publishers or journalists who cover that beat is that more than a handful of avid readers of hardcopy books automatically put their physical books up for sale as used books as soon as they finish reading them. This includes readers of printed books that they purchase new from Amazon as well as readers who have purchased used books from local or online bookstores.

These types of readers want to help fund their physical book reading habit, so any amount of money they can generate from selling their once-used or many-times-used books help fund the purchase of additional books.

PG just checked on eBay and over 35 million books were for sale. All the ones he looked at were used and selling for a small fraction of their original retail price. PG includes a handful of eBay screen shots at the end of this post.

PG notes that most of the eBay screen-clips he made were sponsored posts – paid advertisements – not just a bunch of amateurs selling their books. A would-be reader could spend ten minutes and ten dollars and buy at least a couple of weeks of reading on eBay (with free shipping). And there was no mention of any sales tax the purchaser would have to pay.

Looking at the overall book market with a hard-eyed view not limited to only wealthy readers, a business-savvy publisher would sell ebooks direct to readers, keeping virtually all the money the ebooks generate for their first sale and rely on off-the-shelf copy-protection systems to discourage most purchasers from re-selling the ebooks to their friends.

Speaking of high ebook prices, this “strategy” encourages tech-savvy individuals to circumvent copy protection. If you compare the likelihood that a non-techie reader will look outside of traditional sales channels for an illicit ebook that carries a retail price of $2.99 from Amazon vs. one that carries a $10.99 price on Amazon, more than a few people will seek a way around paying $10.99 to Amazon than will spend the time and effort to get a free or lower-priced $2.99 ebook.

(PG notes that the last eBay ad he clipped and pasted at the end of this post offered 300,000+ ebooks in PDF format with “Master Resell Rights” for 99 cents)

Low prices sell more consumer products of every kind. That’s why Amazon sells so much of everything. That’s why Walmart sells so much of everything.

That’s why higher-priced physical retailers who don’t sell primarily to rich people have closed most of their doors during Covid and are unlikely to open them after Covid goes away.

Covid has continued for long enough that, for many people, the changes involved with Covid aren’t all going to reset themselves after everyone is vaccinated.

As an example, the PG’s are likely to continue to order a lot of their groceries online, then drive to the store and have someone put their purchases in their trunk instead of wasting time pushing a cart around the store, making impulse purchases (more of a problem for PG than Mrs. PG), waiting in line to check out, then wheeling a filled grocery cart across a large parking lot, then putting their grocery items into their trunk and driving home to unload the groceries once more. Since PG does most of the grocery lugging, he’s going to opt to touch his purchases once when he takes the groceries out of the trunk to carry them into the house.

If PG had used the grocery pickup service for a couple of weeks then the Covid lockdown had ended, he would be likely to go back to his normal pre-Covid practice of going into the grocery store to shop. After several months of grocery store pickup experience, the pickup service has become his habit.

There are a lot of readers who have purchased physical books in the past who have experimented with ebooks or have learned that they get a much wider selection of physical books from Amazon at lower prices if they stay in their home rather than follow their habitual behavior of making a mental note to stop by the bookstore the next time they go out shopping.

PG predicts that this going-on-line-to-find-and-purchase-books habit is not going to change after the Covid storm passes. It’s going to be a life-long habit for enough people to change traditional bookselling forever.

Here are some of the eBay used books listings PG found in less than ten minutes:

Overall 2020 Downturn in China: 5.08 Percent

From Publishing Perspectives:

The annual conference produced by Beijing OpenBook—familiar to our readers for its research in our China bestsellers series—this year has reflected, predictably, on the instability of a unique year.
Titled “Crisis and Changes,” the 2020 report on China’s book market was released in a lengthy broadcast with more than 19,000 viewers at the time and at least 25,000 more following its original airing.

. . . .

(F)or the first time since OpenBook began its tracking in 2001, it saw China’s huge book market take a step back. Growth charts showed a -5.08-percent downturn in 2020, especially striking by comparison to 2019’s rise of 14.4 percent.

. . . .

Our colleague Rainy Liu at OpenBook points out that between 2015 and 2019, the Chinese retail market had been growing at more than 10 percent annually, making the 2020 retreat felt especially sharp.

Echoing what we hear from many of the world markets we cover, online retail channels saw a jump of 7.27 percent in book sales, amounting to 76.7 billion yuan RMB (US$11.8 billion), while physical bookstores experienced a plunge of -33.8 percent.

Indeed, the Chinese digital retail channels, while landing in positive rather than negative territory, did see their growth rate struggle, which in fact does not follow the pattern seen in some world markets in which digital retail surged under lockdown pressures on print.

. . . .

One early observation during 2020 from OpenBook was that the “super-size” bookstores in the sprawling Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities of China were experiencing the most daunting downturns in business under pandemic pressure.

. . . .

And in terms of what was being read, the normally robust self-help nonfiction category was seen to suffer most heavily, with a 33.2-percent dive in sales, year-over-year.

While children’s books and school study books saw positive growth, engineering and technology, computer science, medical, economics and management, education, agriculture, and natural sciences went into negative territory in 2020.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The Continuing Saga

Comments are still acting a little wonky.

PG just approved several comments that were held for moderation, so some of you should be able to get in to comment now.

Comments – Interim Update

PG has been cleaning up behind the scenes at TPVx, but needs to be away from his desk for a couple of hours.

If you haven’t already made a comment under the new blog settings since this morning, feel free to do so. See the post immediately before this one (chronologically) for more info.

PG will likely turn back on the WordPress setting that may be misbehaving after he returns. He’ll post a notice when he does that.

Thanks for all the help from the visitors to TPV today.

The Offspring of Comment Problems

In attempting to discover the problem that is keeping perfectly respectable visitors to TPV from making comments, PG has changed a WordPress setting for the blog that requires all commenters to be registered and logged in in order to make a comment.

Since he started the blog, PG has required that a visitor register prior to commenting to help avoid runaway spam and other nastiness in the comments. It’s not a perfect solution, but it certainly helps.

So, while he has turned that off, PG requests that anyone who wants to test their ability to comment to leave one to this post. After he collects enough comments on this post for research purposes, PG will turn the registration requirement back on so only registered users can comment and invite another test to see if the simple disabling/re-enabling move did anything to help fix the issue.

As usual, PG requests no obscenity, nastiness, etc., in the comments, even in the cause of serving PG’s comment problem research.

Comment Problems

PG apologizes for the comment problems some visitors to TPV have been experiencing.

He thought the problems were limited to just a couple of visitors, but has learned that it is more widespread.

Earlier today, WordPress sent out an email saying that Contact Form 7, a widely-used WP contact form, was experiencing serious problems and PG was over on Mrs. PG’s blog replacing Contact Form 7 with an alternative solution.

So, if anyone is having problems with making comments to any posts on TPV, please let PG know via the Contact link for the blog. It’s up at the top menu bar if you don’t want to use the link in the prior sentence.

Blacklists Are the Rage in Publishing

From The Wall Street Journal:

I am an independent book publisher, and in recent days I have been taking calls from journalists asking which authors I would refuse to publish. That’s an odd question to ask an American publisher, but suddenly it seems to be on everyone’s mind in our industry. Some 250 self-described “publishing professionals”—mostly junior employees of major houses—have issued a statement titled “No Book Deals for Traitors,” a category in which they include any “participant” in the Trump administration.

Readiness to silence someone because of who he is or whom he associates with is often called the “cancel culture,” but I prefer an older term—blacklisting—whose historical associations expose the ugliness of what is going on. Not so long ago, publishing professionals would have been horrified to be accused of it. Today they compete to see who can proclaim his blacklist with the fiercest invective.

On Jan. 6, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri invoked his legal right to object to Congress’s certification of electoral votes. Reasonable people can disagree whether his act was noble or cynical, courageous or rash, but no one can reasonably argue that he intended to incite that afternoon’s invasion of the Capitol by a lawless mob. He immediately and forcefully condemned the attack. But the next day Simon & Schuster canceled his forthcoming book, “The Tyranny of Big Tech,” citing the senator’s “role in what became a dangerous threat.”

I started getting calls from reporters in effect daring me not to join the blacklisters and from publishers, editors and agents who wondered when and how the mob would come for them.

The founder of my publishing house, Henry Regnery, proudly called himself a “dissident publisher.” The conservative books to which he devoted his fortune and career were no more in favor in 1951, when he published William F. Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale,” than they have been during my own 25 years in this business. But blacklisting then, though real, was discreet. Everyone knew it was un-American. No one was proud of it.

An independent publisher is vulnerable to today’s Jacobins in many ways, for it relies on large partners to print, distribute and sell its books. Now that dissent from the latest version of progressive orthodoxy is equated with violence and treason, my colleagues and I know we could be next. But we choose to fight back.

We’re proud to publish Mr. Hawley’s book, which his original publisher has made more important than ever. We don’t have to agree with everything—or anything—Mr. Hawley does. We ask only if his book is well-crafted and has something true and worthwhile to say. The answer is yes.

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

PG notes that those who would censor or silence political speech with which they disagree are employing a strategy that has been and is currently being used by the most brutal and intolerant dictatorships in the world’s history. Hitler censored. Stalin censored. Mao Zedong (Mao Tsê-tung) censored. Many who were subject to such censorship were also tortured and killed if they did not first commit suicide.

Such regimes often included censorship in a program that rendered an individual into a nonperson, someone who was banished into non-existence by the dictatorship.

The Nazi term for this was Nacht und Nebel (Night & Fog) under which process a person simply disappeared, never to be heard from again. Family, friends and the populace in general never knew what happened to an individual who received Nacht und Nebel treatment.

Fortunately, traditional publishers lack the power the fascists and Stalin held but the impulse to silence the opinions of or “deplatform” others has experienced a troubling resurgence of late, at least in some myopic intellectual bubbles in the United States.

Regardless of current intellectual fashion, silencing someone with opinions one regards as offensive rather than ignoring them or arguing against their opinions and demonstrating why they are wrong originates in the very dark portions of human nature.

Although PG regards traditional publishing as a business like any other, those who would raise publishing to a more exalted sphere as a “curator of culture” or exemplar of virtuous and enlightened values or even an influential taste-maker (like Kim Kardashian or other any number of other social media superstars) should, in PG’s blue-collar and humble opinion, engage in some serious self-doubt and extended introversion, preferably while engaging in manual labor to help clear their heads.

PG feels much better now, but is going to check the grounds of Casa PG to see if there isn’t some snow-shoveling or tree-trimming or preparing the soil for spring planting to do.

Freelance Fight Goes National: Must-Know Info on The ABC Test

From Making a Living Writing:

[T]here’s a very real threat to American freelancing coming — and now is the time to organize to defeat it.

. . . .

For starters, let me introduce you to the proposed labor law that’s part of President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s platform: It’s known as The PRO Act (Stands for ‘Protecting the Right to Organize).

. . . .

The point of the bill is to clarify who is an independent contractor and who’s an employee. Luckily, you don’t have to wade through reams of legalese to get to the big problem for freelancers: The ABC Test it contains that is the proposed federal definition.

It’s right on the first page. Here’s a screenshot:

Pro Act language

If you’re a copywriter, you should be OK here. You’re writing for a widget maker, and their primary product isn’t marketing copy. It’s widgets.

But that point “B” of the ABC Test poses a barrier to any freelancer writing for a publication. Articles are the core, ‘usual’ business of that employer. If you’re writing articles for them as a freelancer, you flunk the ABC Test.

. . . .

If you’re wondering, this ABC test for who’s an employee and who’s a contractor dates from the 1930s. There’s a more recent test for telling freelancers from employees that dates from the 1980s, and it was created by the Internal Revenue Service.

It’s been being used for tax purposes for decades — and freelancers feel it’s the rule that should be used in The PRO Act, instead of the ABC Test.

In essence, the IRS rule says independent contractors have multiple clients, and do work on their own schedule, at their own place of business, with their own tools. It’s a simple definition that’s served to clarify freelancing for decades, in tax filings.

Then, along came Uber and Lyft, and an increased focus on the ‘gig economy.’

Unions soon pointed out that it could be considered worker exploitation for drivers to risk their lives — letting strangers get into their cars which might also crash and injure them — without even the protections full-time employees enjoy, such as paid healthcare. (Though the drivers themselves said they prefer to stay freelance.)

Lawmakers started looking for ways to compel the app-based companies to make their drivers into employees, and the ABC Test reared its ugly head. (Read on below for how that worked out in California.)

Something you may have missed: The PRO Act already passed the U.S. House of Representatives, nearly a year ago. With a Republican-controlled Senate, however, the bill stalled didn’t become law.

Now that Democrats control both houses and we have a Democratic incoming president, The PRO Act is back on the table for 2021.

. . . .

Three states have put forward labor laws with the ABC Test as their guide: California, New Jersey, and New York.

California’s Assembly Bill AB5, passed in September 2019, hit freelancers out of the blue. It wasn’t publicly debated, and implementation was immediate. The result was chaos — and a lot of journalists losing freelance jobs.

To sum up a very, very long story, here in bullets is the California legal arc:

  • Sept. 2019: AB5 implements the ABC Test. Freelancers lose work, as confusion erupts over who can hire what sort of writer when. Particularly onerous for reporters: A specific, 35-piece limit provision that makes it impossible to be a freelance weekly columnist.
  • Sept. 2020: AB2257 amends AB5. Scores of carve-outs and exceptions for dozens of industries soften the damage from AB5, including removal of the 35-article cap for writers. But problems remain, including a rule that freelancers must have a contract before working. That’s difficult to pull off if you’re a journalist, photojournalist, or videographer rushing to the scene of a protest or fire. Activists note this rule amounts to an assault on independent journalism and results in the suppression of news, as all news organizations have long relied on stringers or freelancers to get news their staffers can’t access.

. . . .

Freelancers continue to press for full repeal of AB5, to resolve the confusion these three separate, and in some ways conflicting, pieces of legislation have wrought. The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) is among the organizations suing for repeal.

“AB2257 made some things worse, with provisions that only apply to freelance writers, no other type of freelancer,” notes Jo Beth McDaniel, a freelance writer who chairs the First Amendment committee for ASJA.

California’s AB5 dropped on freelancers as an unexpected A-bomb (partly because it had no public comment period). When New Jersey and New York floated similar bills after AB5 passed, Kavin says, freelance journalists were ready for them.

. . . .

“When we explained how we earn a living, and how well many of us earn,” Kavin says, “they were flabbergasted. And once they learn it, they don’t want to cause us harm. When we don’t speak up, then they just hear from those who say we’re being exploited by the gig economy.”

Link to the rest at Making a Living Writing

PG notes that he hasn’t read any of the legislation described in the OP, but does acknowledge that legislators sometimes do dumb things because they don’t understand a great deal about the complexities of the American economy.

And, in many cases, organizations hiring lobbyists to push for various types of legislation are similarly clueless about all the different ways people operate and earn their livings within a free-market (or quasi-free-market) economy. They have an itch to scratch and are so focused on the interests of their supporters, they don’t consider how proposed legislative language might impact those who have lives and economic interests that are much different than their supporters have.

Rowman & Littlefield aims for international digital growth

From The New Publishers Standard:

Put simply digital opens up markets where a traditional print-focused strategy, with all the inherent costs involved with printing, warehousing, distribution and remaindered stock, will often be unviable.

. . . .

Rowman & Littlefield’s Alex Kind . . . has pivoted to the newly created role of European and digital sales manager, which will see Rowman & Littlefield take direct account management of Europe for the first time in its history. Kind will also be heading up R&L’s acceleration of digital delivery of content globally.

. . . .

It’s not clear how much this particular decision is down to last year’s pandemic-driven global pivot to digital publishing, but is an example of the way western publishers are looking afresh at digitally-focussed global opportunities.

. . . .

As this year unfolds and the pandemic continues to ravage the planet, we can expect digital to assume an ever more central role in the global publishing ecosystem.

Savvy publishers will, like Rowman & Littlefield, be exploring the global possibilities a hybrid print and digital strategy brings, not clinging to pre-pandemic models that were already in decline before this decade began.

Link to the rest at The New Publishers Standard

PG notes that this took long enough for someone in traditional publishing to notice.

US indie authors have been international with their ebooks since about five minutes after KDP provided checkboxes for Canada, Britain, and Australia. He assumes UK, Canadian and Australian indie authors made similar decisions within similar timeframes.

(PG expresses gratitude that, as opposed to kilometers, pounds, euros, etc., his English-speaking distant cousins around the world all share the same methods of expressing hours and minutes as their kin in the US do.)

Typos

PG was checking several older posts on his iPad and noticed a few with niggling typos in them.

He realized that, during some wanderings through the cellars of TPV, he had managed to turn off Grammarly which, among other things, checks for misspellings in PG’s posts.

PG apologizes for his sloppiness and is assured by the little green G on his screen that Grammarly is on the job once again.

Melinda Gates Donates US$250,000 to New Carol Shields Prize for Fiction by Women

From Publishing Perspectives:

The Carol Shields Prize for Fiction may not be a literary or publishing award you know, and that’s because it has yet to be awarded.

Today (January 15), however, the program has announced a donation from Melinda Gates’ Pivotal Ventures investment and incubation firm, a handsome US$250,000, which is sure to help make this specialized awards program make a viable start on its mission to recognize the work of women and nonbinary writers in Canada and the United States.

When the new award was announced in February 2020, Marsha Lederman wrote for The Globe and Mail in Toronto this anecdote about the late American-born Canadian novelist and short-story writer (1935 to 2003):

“Carol Shields earned Hanover College’s top writing prize when she graduated from the Indiana school in 1957. She did not, however, receive it. The committee gave the prize to the second-place student instead. Because he was a he. He would need to make a living, the thinking went, and the prize would help.”

And the co-founders of the Shields Prize—Susan Swann and Janice Zawerbny—created the award as one that not only would recognize women’s work but do so handsomely, with a winner’s purse of 150,000 Canadian dollars (US$118,000) and four nominees’ payouts of 12,500 Canadian dollars each (US$9,821).

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Amazon.com and ‘Big Five’ publishers accused of ebook price-fixing

From The Guardian:

Amazon.com and the “Big Five” publishers – Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster – have been accused of colluding to fix ebook prices, in a class action filed by the law firm that successfully sued Apple and the Big Five on the same charge 10 years ago.

The lawsuit, filed in district court in New York on Thursday by Seattle firm Hagens Berman, on behalf of consumers in several US states, names the retail giant as the sole defendant but labels the publishers “co-conspirators”. It alleges Amazon and the publishers use a clause known as “Most Favored Nations” (MFN) to keep ebook prices artificially high, by agreeing to price restraints that force consumers to pay more for ebooks purchased on retail platforms that are not Amazon.com.

The lawsuit claims that almost 90% of all ebooks sold in the US are sold on Amazon, in addition to over 50% of all print books. The suit alleges that ebook prices dropped in 2013 and 2014 after Apple and major publishers were successfully sued for conspiring to set ebook prices, but rose again after Amazon renegotiated their contracts in 2015.

“In violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, Defendant and the Big Five Co-conspirators agreed to various anti-competitive MFNs and anti-competitive provisions that functioned the same as MFNs,” the complaint states. “Amazon’s agreement with its Co-conspirators is an unreasonable restraint of trade that prevents competitive pricing and causes Plaintiffs and other consumers to overpay when they purchase ebooks from the Big Five through an ebook retailer that competes with Amazon. That harm persists and will not abate unless Amazon and the Big Five are stopped.”

. . . .

Hagens Berman sued Apple and the Big Five publishers for fixing ebook prices in 2011, in a case that would eventually lead to suits from several US states and the Department of Justice, which accused Apple of colluding in order to break up Amazon.com’s dominance in the ebook market.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

We all have triggers

I’m an actor who believes we all have triggers to any stage of emotion. It’s not always easy to find but it’s still there.

Hugh Jackman

Relationship Thesaurus Entry: Stalker & Target

From Writers Helping Writers:

Trigger warning on this one. Please practice self care.

Successful stories are driven by authentic and interesting characters, so it’s important to craft them carefully. But characters don’t usually exist in a vacuum; throughout the course of your story, they’ll live, work, play, and fight with other cast members. Some of those relationships are positive and supportive, pushing the protagonist to positive growth and helping them achieve their goals. Other relationships do exactly the opposite, derailing your character’s confidence and self-worth or they cause friction and conflict that leads to fallout and disruption. Many relationships hover somewhere in the middle. A balanced story will require a mix of these dynamics.

. . . .

Description: This relationship is a one-sided fixation where a stalker deliberately observes, pursues, harasses, manipulates, falsely inserts themselves, and maliciously targets another, causing them psychological distress and often physical harm. A stalker often chooses their victim due to being scorned, certain visual or personality factors (having a preferred “type”), manic beliefs (political, for example), an inability to let go of a past relationship, feeling wronged, or even because the target is a fit for a fantasy (a good surrogate for a situation the stalker wishes to re-experience). They may believe a special bond is in place, their fate is entwined, the two are meant to be together romantically, or that the target must die.

Depending on the aggressor, they may fixate on a stranger, acquaintance, or even a celebrity. It is possible the target may not even know what is taking place if the stalker’s fantasy is to keep them unaware but usually at some point they progress things to activate the victim’s fears. Either way, the stalker experiences a rush of power from having special knowledge about and influence over the target, and feels God-like at having control over what ultimately happens to them.

Dynamics of a Healthy Relationship
Because this is a one-sided relationship, it is inherently unhealthy.

Dynamics of an Unhealthy Relationship
Fantasizing and reading into innocent interactions
Obsessing about the target and prying into their personal affairs to feel close to them
Sending unwanted gifts, letters, and tokens
Unrequited love
Gathering the target’s personal information without permission
Digital stalking, bullying, or insertion into the target’s online contacts
Using manipulation to influence or cause problems (spreading falsehoods or lying to people in the target’s life to cause disruption)
Monitoring their movements and interactions
Theft or forced entry to access to the target’s property or personal items
Vandalizing their home, car, or place of work
Mimicking to feel closer (ordering the same takeout, building friendships with the target’s core group, wearing the same clothing, etc.)
Moving or altering things around the victim to cause them to question their memory or feel unsafe
Intimidation
Gaslighting
Cloning their electronic devices, digital hacking
Hurting people (or animals) around the victim to send a message
Impersonation (cancelling their appointments, giving permissions they would never give by phone, providing false reports, etc.)
Wanting the target to “pay” for not noticing them or returning their feelings
Manipulating people close to the target
Fantasizing about what will happen and even rehearsing an attack
Attacking, restraining, forcibly confining, and/or committing sexual assault against the target

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

PG notes that the trigger warning was in the OP.

To the best of his knowledge, this is the first time he has used a trigger warning for anything that has appeared on The Passive Voice. He’s not planning to make trigger-warning-worthy posts a practice around here, however.

Oxford University Press Puts Its Full ‘World Classics’ List Online

From Publishing Perspectives:

This week, the Oxford University Press has announced a new digital resource, bringing together its flagship “Oxford World’s Classics” collection in a single dedicated digital format.

Institutional users will have access to 300 works, “ranging from 18th-century dramas and essays to core Victorian novels, complete with up-to-date supplementary materials,” according to media messaging.

The new online version of the series “is designed with users in mind,” per information from the publisher. The new site’s searching and browsing functionality is said to be easy to “allow researchers, lecturers, and students to pinpoint the material they need.

“Integrated sharing and social media tools also make it easy for readers to distribute precise content with colleagues and students, facilitating seminar discussions and essay ideas.”

. . . .

“In the last year, we’ve really seen the importance of reliable digital products as universities and libraries have come under extraordinary strain.

“Digital products like our online ‘Oxford World’s Classics’ enable research and teaching to continue in these unparalleled times but will also help to permanently expand access, giving users the chance to explore beyond just what’s available in the nearest library.

“It’s great to think that the next generation of humanities students will be able to access reliable, consistent, rigorously prepared editions of key texts, thanks to the technological progress of the 21st century.”

. . . .

Researchers will find translations from the 18th and 19th century—from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Émile Zola’s Germinal, and Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina to Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species and Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Under the law, I can only conclude

However, this court is constrained by law, and under the law, I can only conclude that the Government has not violated FOIA by refusing to turn over the documents sought in the FOIA requests, and so cannot be compelled by this court of law to explain in detail the reasons why its actions do not violate the Constitution and the laws of the United States. The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me; but after careful and extensive consideration, I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules—a veritable Catch-22. I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our Government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.

U.S. District Judge Hon. Colleen McMahon

Rather like “Orwellian”

Rather like “Orwellian”, the term “Kafkaesque” has come to be used, often enough by those who have not read a word of Kafka, to describe what are perceived as typically or even uniquely modern traumas: existential alienation, isolation and insecurity, the labyrinth of state bureaucracy, the corrupt or whimsical abuse of totalitarian power, the impenetrable tangle of legal systems, the knock on the door in the middle of the night….

John R. Williams

I want to set the record straight

“I want to set the record straight.”

“The record’s never straight, you idiot! Haven’t you ever read 1984? They rewrite the record anytime it doesn’t suit them. You’re spinning your wheels and exposing your bare fanny for nothing.”

David Eddings, The Losers

How ‘Orwellian’ Became an All-Purpose Insult

From The New York Times:

After the events of last week, one has to wonder whether Josh Hawley — for all of his prep school polish and Ivy League degrees — was fully cognizant of what he was doing. The Republican Senator from Missouri apparently assumed he could have it all: Hitch his star to Donald Trump’s, attempt to overturn November’s presidential election, and prove his down-home bona fides by giving the mob that later invaded the Capitol a raised-fist salute — while also presenting himself as a Very Serious Thinker who had written a book about the wisdom of Teddy Roosevelt and was about to publish another titled “The Tyranny of Big Tech.” What he got instead was mostly revulsion from his congressional peers and a canceled book contract.

An irate and incredulous Hawley took to Twitter, calling the publisher’s actions “a direct assault on the First Amendment.” In peddling specious claims of voter fraud, he said he had merely been doing his duty, “leading a debate on the Senate floor on voter integrity.” He insisted that his publisher was taking its cues from “the Left” and trying to silence him: “This could not be more Orwellian.”

One might come up with things that are in fact “more Orwellian” — including the bland euphemism “voter integrity,” which typically serves the cause of disenfranchisement and not voting rights. (Just as one might question whether a single publisher scrapping a single book contract amounts to what George Orwell’s novel “1984” describes as “a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”) But Hawley was taking part in the long tradition of invoking Orwell’s name as a cudgel for settling scores and scoring points. The next day, after Twitter permanently suspended the president’s account, his son Donald Trump Jr. announced (on Twitter) that “free speech no longer exists in America” and “we are living in Orwell’s 1984.”

In the meantime, the novel “1984” — in which a totalitarian regime crushes dissent through violence and the perversion of language — shot to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list. Hawley may have bungled the rollout of his own book, but it looked like he helped buoy the sales of someone else’s.

It’s an irony that Orwell, ever alert to the stubborn discrepancy between reality and high-flown fantasies, might have appreciated. Or perhaps he would have despaired that his last novel, published in 1949, less than a year before he died, had been pressed into service as an impulse purchase (by anxious book buyers) and a weapon (by cynical politicians). Sales of “1984” are a barometer of national worry — they surged in 2013, after Edward Snowden revealed the vast scope of the surveillance state; and again in early 2017, after Kellyanne Conway, then serving as an aide to President Trump, defended demonstrable lies by calling them “alternative facts.” Even if Hawley’s critics have argued that his use of “Orwellian” is itself Orwellian, there’s a reason it’s become an all-purpose epithet, a go-to accusation. Americans in 2021 might not agree on much, but everyone can agree that the world depicted in “1984” is a dystopia — which is to say, it’s obviously and indisputably bad.

. . . .

Throughout his writing life, Orwell had been preoccupied with consensus reality — its necessity and vulnerability. In “Homage to Catalonia,” he chronicled his experience as a volunteer for anti-Franco forces during the Spanish Civil War, watching as the Republicans devoured their own. Once their shared understanding of the world began to break down, they started denouncing one another as liars and traitors to the cause. “In such circumstances there can be no argument,” Orwell wrote. “The necessary minimum of agreement cannot be reached.”

. . . .

Dictionary, the term “Orwellian” started as a literary critic’s playful shorthand, when the writer Mary McCarthy used it in a 1950 essay to describe a fashion magazine that had no “point of view beyond its proclamation of itself.” The word has since been used to describe such varied phenomena as the euphemistic jargon of the nuclear industry, the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam and a ’60s-era kitchen appliance that turned powdered mixes into coffee and soup.

You don’t need to have read “1984” to grasp why someone is calling something Orwellian, even if you disagree with the assessment. But someone who hasn’t read the book may be more susceptible to the manipulation of the term. Hawley, Trump Jr. and others on the right deploy the word to complain about “cancel culture,” but the novel itself isn’t so much a treatise on free speech absolutism as it is a warning about the degradation of language and the potency of lethal propaganda.

. . . .

Still, even that is a flattened description of a novel that is more sophisticated than the leaden morality tale it’s often made out to be. In his illuminating book “The Ministry of Truth,” a biography of “1984” and its influence, Dorian Lynskey makes a persuasive case that the novel is structured in a way that heightens its ambiguity. Yes, the brute force of totalitarianism is an inextricable theme, but the novel’s narration — with its texts within texts — also enacts its own phantasmagoria, a world where both everything is true and nothing is true. Lynskey credits Orwell with anticipating what Hannah Arendt would describe in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” published a year after Orwell died: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

But the periodic invocations of “Orwellian” generally have less to do with the specifics of the text than with the writer’s noble sheen — Orwell as a stalwart man of the left who was never seduced by the extremes of either side. As Lynskey puts it, “To quote Orwell was to assume, deservingly or not, some of his moral prestige.” In 2002, Christopher Hitchens wrote a short book titled “Why Orwell Matters” that extolled Orwell’s independence of thought, implying that Hitchens himself was Orwell’s rightful heir. A year later, Hitchens was part of the chorus in favor of invading Iraq — a cause he would unwaveringly support until his death in 2011, even after the stated pretext for the war turned out to be a sham.

In “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell discussed the blight of “dying metaphors” — those well-worn phrases that allow us to mouth off without paying much heed. The examples he gave included “Achilles’ heel,” “swan song” and “hotbed.” Had he lived long enough, he may well have added “Orwellian” to the list.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Perhaps, PG missed something in the OP, but, while the author criticizes others for misusing “Orwellian”, PG didn’t note any clear definition of the term the author did provide.

Perhaps nobody really knows what Orwellian means any more. It may have fallen into the category of fascist or communist as a general insult directed toward someone with whom a speaker or author disagrees.

PG can easily think of self-described communist governments today that operate in the same manner that governments that formerly defined themselves as fascist did with someone acting as supreme leader for life, rubber-stamp party faithful, etc.

Certainly, at least in the United States, fascism has become less popular than communism in that there are a handful of people willing to call themselves communists and support a Communist Party, but no one of which PG is aware who belongs to a Fascist Party (although it’s possible the Communist Party or parties are better at PR than fascists are.)

One of the regular visitors to TPV who has performed serious scholarly research on Orwell and hi writings sent PG an email saying that most people misuse the term, Orwellian and PG can’t disagree.

PG doubts that very few could read 1984 and think Big Brother was a cool guy and they would like to live in a place like Oceania. As for himself, PG thinks he’ll pub Orwellian up in his mental attic where it can collect some mental dust (which is proliferating in PG’s brain at a rapid pace – he blames Covid).

Stories, Short and Not

From WriterUnboxed:

Desperate Literature

It’s always been interesting to me that late and early in each year, several news items we touch on at Publishing Perspectives have to do with short stories.

This normally is sustained no longer than the stories themselves are.

Within a week or two, this little confluence of storytelling and issues of brevity is swept into the rest of the new year’s avalanche of news.

But it’s quite distinctive.

  • In France, for example, an independent publisher called L’Ourse brune (The Brown Bear) has been set up to produce “the promotion of short stories by prospective authors.” Martine Paulais, based in Notre-Dame-de-Cenilly in Normandy, says that too many French editors neglect the form.
  • Then in London, there’s a shortlist of short stories–or a short-story shortlist, which is harder to say three times fast. The Costa Book Awards in January name the writers behind a shortlist of three short stories. (The authors’ names are not known until public voting on the stories is finished, so that the vote is “blind” and not swayed by issues of possible familiarity with one of the shortlisted writers.)
  • Also in the United Kingdom (land of literary awards, as you might remember me pointing out in the past), the BBC National Short Story Award program has opened and will, in early October, enrich a fortunate author by £15,000 (US$20,438), and four shortlisted authors by £600 (US$817) each.
  • Then in Madrid, there’s perhaps the most aptly named event, the Desperate Literature Short Fiction Prize will not only pay a writer €1,500 (US$1,821), but also will send that writer to a seven-day artist’s residency at Umbria’s Civitella Ranieri retreat and provide the writer with a consultation with an agent in London. It’s named, by the way, for the Desperate Literature bookshop that produces the award.

There probably is no real rhyme or reason to the way short-story news gathers in little corners of coverage near the end and beginning of a year, although this year we could be forgiven for speculating that it might have something to do with “the times.” More than once since January 6, I’ve misheard a news anchor or a correspondent and thought she or he had said that more than 100 “writers” had been arrested in connection with the rampage at the US Capitol. Can Rioters Unboxed be far behind?

Link to the rest at WriterUnboxed

Offbeat European Children’s Books For Adults

From Electric Lit:

I have a confession to make: with nearly half a century behind me, I still read children’s books. The best are truly ageless—think Alice in WonderlandThe Little Prince, Winnie-the-Pooh. No other genre, to my mind, is as consistently capable of reawakening our sense of wonder and joy, of brushing the dust off our somewhat faded vision of the world.

In fact, I drew on my lifelong love of fairy tales and nursery rhymes in my own fourth novel, The Charmed Wife, a genre-bending mix of fantasy and realism that plays with storytelling conventions as it upends the familiar narratives of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Bluebeard, and many other childhood favorites. True, my book features talking mice and divorce proceedings alike, and is decidedly not for the little ones, but I myself continue to find something deeply soothing in settling down with a cup of tea and a proper children’s book—and even more so now, during these anxious days of health worries, political unrest, and isolation.

So, if, like me, you gravitate toward more innocent pleasures as your comfort reads but have already exhausted all the old staples, here are some lesser-known offerings that may appeal both to the children in your family and to the child in you. Fair warning: many of these are darker, sadder, or odder than your regular boy-wizard, unicorn-princess fare. All are very good.

. . . .

The Moomin Series by Tove Jansson

Quite simply, these are the best children’s books I know. I grew up in Russia, and the Moomin trolls were a vital part of my childhood, as they have been for every child in Scandinavian countries since their appearance some three-quarters of a century ago. They are beginning to gain a devoted following in the U.S. too, but are not a household presence yet. By all rights, they should be.

Written and illustrated by the Finnish Tove Jansson (1914-2001) and inspired by her bohemian upbringing, these books—eight novels, a collection of short stories, and a number of picture books and comics—cover the adventures of the easy-going, fun-loving Moomins and their quirky friends. The stories celebrate family, openness to new things and new people, love of nature, simplicity, hospitality—the most important things in life, in short—and they do so with subtle humor, charm, and wisdom.

The earlier books (Finn Family MoomintrollMoominsummer Madness) are filled with summery pleasures, as delicious as strawberries savored amid carefree laughter at a June picnic. The later (Moominland MidwinterMoominpappa at Sea, and Moominvalley in November) are more somber in spirit, with a distinct vein of wintry sadness running through them, but, in my opinion, they are the most rewarding of the lot. Oh, and whatever book you choose to start with (and once you start, you will read more), it is very important to remember: Moomins are NOT hippos.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Don’t neglect the broader setting (page critique)

From Nathan Bransford:

Now then. Time for the Page Critique. First I’ll present the page without comment, then I’ll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to magicbeet, whose page is below.

“Move out of my way, darling,” Tari commanded with a confident smile.

Shadows filled the rented room, but Tari stood by the window in a single ray of moonlight, looking like an angel. Her skin glowed softly and her blonde hair shimmered, appearing almost silver. Her heavenly beauty contrasted with the black leather that hugged her long legs and cinched her small waist.

Darvyn tore his eyes from the deep V of skin exposed by her vest. Her pose and command were unconvincing. Had he ever refused her before? He chanced a look at her eyes, pale grey eyes, usually reminiscent of warm rain-filled clouds. Now they shone like icicle-daggers in a winter forest.

The cold scared him, but he ignored it. He blinked, reminding himself that she had betrayed Wildsea, had betrayed him.

He had invited her to this room, a room where they’d shared long hours of passion. But not tonight. Tonight, he intended to learn the truth about the woman to whom he’d given his heart.

She hadn’t confirmed or denied anything yet. He asked, “Who convinced you of this foolishness? Bring me to him, and together you and I will turn him over to the Council. You will be forgiven, but you must work with me.”

“Move,” she repeated.

In response to his stillness, she bent her elbow, resting her hand against her collarbone, a gesture that portrayed an almost childish innocence, but her eyes never left his. They held a sensual self-assurance

There are some good details in this opening, and I like that magicbeet takes the time to establish Tari’s physical presence. But I’m afraid I struggled to engage with this opening because at almost every opportunity the author missed opportunities to begin to open up the story and help us understand where we are, who Tari and Darvyn are, and what is passing between them in this moment.

. . . .

Here’s my redline:

“Move out of my way, darling,” Tari commanded with a confident smile. [This is a confusing opening because she doesn’t actually seem to be moving? She says this, but then they just stand there looking at each other?]

Shadows filled the rented room [the rented room where? Missed opportunity to establish the broader setting], but Tari stood by the window in a single ray of moonlight, looking to Darvyn like an angel [Tie this thought to the anchoring perspective to help contextualize who is making this observation]. Her skin glowed softly and her blonde hair shimmered, appearing almost silver. Her heavenly beauty contrasted with the black leather that hugged her long legs and cinched her small waist.

Darvyn tore his eyes from the deep V of skin exposed by her vest. Her pose and command were unconvincing. Had he ever refused her before? [Be more specific with this thought. Help us understand what he is actually considering refusing. Open up the story] He chanced a look at her eyes, pale grey eyes, usually reminiscent of warm rain-filled clouds now Now they shoneshining like icicle-daggers in a winter forest.

The cold scared him [Why?], but he ignored it. He blinked[empty gesture], remindingreminded himself that she had betrayed Wildsea, had betrayed him. [Missed opportunity to be more specific to start to open up the story. Be more specific with his memories and what, exactly, he fears right now]

He had invited her to this room, a room where they’dThey had shared long hours of passion in this room. But not tonight. Tonight, he intended to learn the truth about the woman to whom he’d given his heart. [Avoid repetition of room/room and tonight/tonight. Also, be more specific about what “truth” he is after. Open up the story]

She hadn’t confirmed or denied anything yet. He asked, “Who convinced you of this foolishness?” he asked. “Bring me to him, and together you and I will turn him over to the Council. You will be forgiven, but you must work with me.” [The reader has no context to understand what they’re talking about, so this is extremely confusing. Open up the story.]

“Move,” she repeated.

In response to his stillness, sShe bent her elbow, restingrested her hand againston her collarbone, a gesture that portrayed an almost childish innocence, but her eyes never left his. They held a sensual self-assurance

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Lockdown made our library better

From The Bookseller:

I have seen so many library services just disappear due to lockdown, both in France and England, and I am so proud of what we achieved. Even if not everything worked out the way we wanted to, whether it was in terms of attendance or technical problems, we always managed to find a solution and to take something from everything we did, either a new skill, a new way to work together or a new tool to develop in future projects. I think the best side of all that is that we are already thinking about the future and creating hybrid events, both digital and physical, and new ways to interact with our customers in the future. 

At Kingston Libraries, we’ve been quick to start on a digital programme, even before we closed the libraries. We wanted to stay in touch with our users, support local residents and continue to offer a diverse range of activities for everyone. It all started with our first ever live streamed rhyme time (the first in the country!), and we got an amazing response from the public and library staff. Eight months later, we have more than 350 original videos, 100 000 views on social media, more than 100 interactive events and countless great interactions with our customers.

Starting from this original event, we found a way to reinvent our way of working. We allowed more space for individual skills and experimentation. It was really interesting for me to coordinate all the projects and work with so many new people and partners. I used to be scared of managing a team or project, but this year I have really built my confidence. It was absolutely amazing to discover the many skills and talents of colleagues I had for several years but never got to work with in the way we did. I think the main thing I will take away from all of this is how awesome and creative librarians can be when you create a space to experiment, time to develop new projects and resources to apply them.

. . . .

Now that we have a great programme and that our customers know about it, we are focussing on becoming more relevant to our residents. In the last few months, we reached a population that we could never have reached otherwise. We had participants from the United States and Finland joining our events, which was really interesting for us, but we are now working on different ways to refocus our efforts on local residents. One example of this effort is our new virtual job club, created at the end of the year to replace our usual physical job club, where we welcome a new guest speaker every week to talk about various employment topics, from writing a CV, to where to find pertinent job information, and even wellbeing sessions to manage your stress before a job interview.

. . . .

Seeing how far we have come with our digital offer, we wanted to share with other libraries, but were also eager to learn about how library staff all over the country coped with the situation and what offer they created. This led to the organisation of the first ever Digital Events Bootcamp, in partnership with Libraries Connected in November, where eight libraries all around the country delivered digital events workshops to more than 350 library staff. The programme included how to create a digital escape room, use Minecraft in libraries, and how to create craft videos. This bootcamp was a huge success!

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Connecticut Investigating Amazon’s E-Book Business

From The Wall Street Journal:

Connecticut is actively investigating how Amazon.com Inc. sells and distributes digital books, according to the state’s attorney general, the latest of several state and federal probes into the tech giant’s business practices.

The investigation is examining whether Amazon engaged in anticompetitive behavior in the e-book business through its agreements with certain publishers, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement.

Connecticut asked Amazon to provide documents related to its dealings with five of the largest U.S. book publishers, according to a subpoena issued in 2019. The Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit that investigates technology platforms, obtained the subpoena through an open records request and shared it with The Wall Street Journal.

. . . .

“Our office continues to aggressively monitor this market to protect fair competition for consumers, authors, and other e-book retailers,” Mr. Tong said in a statement.

The publishers cited in Connecticut’s Amazon subpoena include HarperCollins Publishers, which like The Wall Street Journal is owned by News Corp ; Lagardere MMB; SCA’s Hachette Book Group; Penguin Random House, a unit of closely held German media company Bertelsmann SE; Simon & Schuster, the book publishing arm of ViacomCBS Inc.; and Macmillan. Penguin Random House has agreed to acquire Simon & Schuster, pending regulatory approval.

. . . .

The Connecticut investigation is one of several ongoing probes into the Seattle-based company’s market power. In October, the House Antitrust Subcommittee completed a 16-month investigation into Amazon and other technology companies, concluding that Amazon has amassed “monopoly power” over sellers on its site.

. . . .

Amazon is the dominant U.S. e-book retailer, accounting for 76% of digital books sold in the U.S. in September, according to Codex Group LLC, a book audience research firm. Rival sellers of digital books include Apple, Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Barnes & Noble.

The e-book market has been controversial for years. Amazon kick-started the business when it introduced its Kindle e-reader in November 2007, a launch that offered digital bestsellers for $9.99. The discounted offering helped Amazon build market share, but publishers believed it hurt the industry.

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