Copyright Office Urges Congress To Curb Broadway Bootlegs

From Forbes:

Broadway bootlegs might soon get the boot.

Last week, the U.S. Copyright Office released a report urging federal legislators to change the law in an effort to slow the spread of pirated content like unlicensed recordings of Broadway shows on the Internet. Enforcing Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act nowadays has “resulted in an increasing burden on rights-holders to adequately monitor and enforce their rights online, while providing enhanced protections for online service providers in circumstances beyond those originally anticipated by Congress,” stated its spokesperson.

Designed to foster the growth of online commerce in the early days of the Internet, the legislation protects online platforms from being held liable for copyright infringement when their users post copyrighted material without permission, as long as the online platforms meet certain requirements. In addition to having special policies in place, the companies must not receive a financial benefit directly from any pirated content, know about its presence or any red flags that it exists, or allow it to remain on their websites after its presence has been reported.

“As to the development of online services, it is reasonable to state that Section 512 has achieved this purpose,” stated Raza Panjwani, an attorney who worked for the Public Knowledge public interest group. “Online platforms ranging from YouTube, to Facebook, to Tumblr, to Twitter, to Wikipedia, to innumerable subject matter specific discussion forums, have arisen thanks to the legal certainties provided by Section 512,” he said.

However, a lot has changed since the law was introduced in 1998.

When Section 512 was written, the Internet had only recently expanded beyond the closed platform or “walled garden” websites like America Online and Prodigy. “There was no Facebook or YouTube or Twitter; the first MP3 player had just been launched, and Napster, which popularized peer-to-peer file-sharing, would not exist until the following year,” recalled the spokesperson for the Copyright Office.

. . . .

However, with the growth of the Internet, the distribution of Broadway bootlegs has exploded.

Instead of being distributed on dusty VHS tapes like in the 1990’s, bootleg recordings of Broadway shows are now streamed on popular video-sharing platforms like YouTube, stored on foreign file hosting services like Mega, and traded in online communities like LiveJournal. Hundreds of thousands of unlicensed files are floating around the Internet, and one poll found that over 97.9 percent of theatre enthusiasts under the age of 20 have seen a Broadway bootleg.

Many rights-holders believe that the procedures that Section 512 put in place are not effective in combating copyright infringement on the Internet.

“Copyright owners send millions of notifications, yet these collectively have had little impact toward reducing the volume of infringing material available through the numerous sites employing the safe harbors to shield their responsibility for the persistent presence of such material,” argued Allan Robert Adler, the general counsel for the Association of American Publishers trade group. When pirated content is finally removed from a website, it often pops up again somewhere else, requiring rights-holders to spend a ton of time and money monitoring websites and mailing take-down notices. Jeffrey Seller, the lead producer of Hamilton, had to hire someone full-time to search for bootleg recordings of the show, and an executive at the record label Warner Music Group estimated that “it would take at least 20-30 people, at a fully-loaded cost in excess of $2 million per year, and probably the use of an outside content monitoring contractor at additional expense, to meaningfully affect (but not entirely block) just WMG’s top 25 album releases on YouTube.”

. . . .

According to Section 512, in order for an online platform to be shielded from liability, it must have “adopted and reasonably implemented … a policy that provides for the termination in appropriate circumstances of subscribers and account holders of the service provider’s system or network who are repeat infringers.” The platforms must have plans for blocking repeat infringers to make sure that they do not continue to post pirated content on their websites.

However, federal judges interpreting the law have not made up their minds over what makes someone a “repeat infringer.” Some judges think that it refers to someone accused of committing copyright infringement, and some judges think that it refers to someone found in court to have committed copyright infringement.

The Copyright Office believes that Congress originally intended the phrase to refer to only someone accused of committing copyright infringement, and it now insists that legislators should update the statute to make the language more clear. Websites should not wait for a court to find the person who shares multiple Broadway bootlegs liable before closing his or her account and putting a stopper on the source of pirated content.

In addition, there has been some confusion over how much Internet platforms must know about the existence of Broadway bootlegs on their websites before they are required to remove them. Other than when the companies receive a take-down notice or actually know that there is copyright infringement, the statute demands them to act whenever they see red flags or are “aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent.”

Some courts have taken the position that red flags exist when Internet platforms are aware of facts that would make a specific instance of copyright infringement “objectively obvious to a reasonable person.” The facts must relate specifically to the pirated content, and general knowledge that most videos on a website contain pirated content would not be considered a red flag.

Link to the rest at Forbes

What Happens to Powell’s Books When You Can’t Browse the Aisles?

From The New York Times:

Powell’s Books was selling books online before Amazon.com existed. Over the years, its flagship store grew to occupy a full city block in Portland, Ore. And the company, which until recently employed some 500 people, is still family owned.

But when the coronavirus hit, Powell’s — like many businesses around the world — suddenly faced an existential crisis. Its chief executive, Emily Powell, closed the company’s stores in mid March. Without customers browsing the aisles, revenues dried up immediately, and the company’s head count was slashed by some 90 percent in a matter of days.

As word of the layoffs spread, online orders spiked, allowing Powell’s to rehire many workers. Yet with its stores still closed and the virus still spreading, Ms. Powell — who took over the business from her father and grandfather — says it remains unclear how a sprawling used bookstore will be able to safely reopen to the public.

. . . .

How was Powell’s able to succeed in the era of Amazon?

Most of the credit goes to my father and grandfather. My grandfather never limited his vision of what the bookstore could be. He was one of the first to put used books and new books together on the shelf, so you could afford to take a chance on a book you might not feel like splurging on a hardcover copy of. That synergy has been everything for our business. And my father brought to the table a willingness to say, “If customers are buying this many books and there are more books out there, why not make it bigger? Could we take over the next part of this block?” Those two pieces I think were really the foundation of what has made us what we are.

Amazon came along relatively late into our story. We went online ourselves in 1994, which was just slightly before Amazon, but we were already very well established as a very large independent bookseller with very large inventory and selection.

When did the virus first start to disrupt the business?

I remember a Friday, the 13th of March, coming around and feeling a very clear sense at that point we were going to have to close. We are just too big of a space and we did not feel like we could stay open and potentially participate in a spread of a virus. And our employees were feeling increasingly uncomfortable about coming to work. We are a big public space, lots of people in and out, lots of travelers visiting. It was feeling increasingly uncomfortable to them and we could not stay open and potentially risk infecting them as well. So on Sunday the 15th, we just decided we have to shut right now.

After you closed and had to lay off so many staff, how did the community respond?

We suddenly had this huge outpouring of support in the form of online orders. So we pivoted as quickly as we could to hire folks back to be able to fulfill those orders. That was honestly the most challenging time in many ways because there were just so many unknowns and, rightly, a lot of folks did not want to come back to work. It’s a scary time. They didn’t feel safe or comfortable getting on a bus. They didn’t have child care. They have folks with health issues at home. And so it was a very difficult time for employees to make a choice about what is the right thing for me and for my family. And I respect all of those choices that they were wrestling with. But at the same time it meant our orders were sitting for quite some time.

. . . .

What is the outlook for the next few months?

The real honest answer is, I don’t know. I think of ourselves right now as having been very fortunate. If you use a surfing metaphor, we were on our board and a huge wave was coming for us and we paddled as hard as we could. We didn’t know if it was going to crash on our head or not. We caught the wave and now we’re on it. And the problem is we don’t know if it’s going to crash us on a rocky beach without any food, if there’s a shark hiding in the wave or if we’re going to ride this thing out and land on a nice soft beach down the road. A lot depends on what happens in the next six to 18 months. It depends on both our ability to rise to the current challenge and find ways to be creative, but also on the support of our customers being willing to keep coming back and stay with us through the duration. So it’s really an unknown at the moment.

It doesn’t sound like the stores are opening anytime soon. You recently wrote that “like so many other Portland businesses, we struggle to see a business model where we can enact the social distancing and safety measures we feel are necessary while sustaining the work of our operations.” That’s a pretty grim assessment.

In many ways the book business hasn’t changed in a very long time and that’s certainly no different for Powell’s. When we opened, all we needed were wooden bookshelves, a rotary phone, a cash register and cash. Now we, like many other retailers, need social media. We need dev ops engineers to build an automated website. We need a database that lives in the cloud that’s searchable in a very nuanced way. There are far more costs to doing business. So we have these expenses that have been going up for a very long time, and now we have very few of the sales, and we anticipate when we open the sales will be quite low even as folks come back.

So how do you make that work? Especially as we add the additional expense of creating a very safe environment for our employees and for our customers. You have to be comfortable touching a book, pulling it off a shelf and putting it back and lingering in an aisle. And that’s going to take quite a bit of work on our part, which we’re happy to do, but we have to be able to pay our bills at the same time. So that’s the essential struggle: How do you exist in this modern business retail environment at a time when your sales have returned to a level you maybe haven’t seen in 20 or 30 years? We will figure it out, but it will be a very different business and it’s going to take us some time.

. . . .

Do you have any advice you for someone considering opening an independent bookstore of their own right now?

Don’t do it. Um, that’s not good advice. I don’t mean that. It is really a lovely line of work. My only advice is that it will always be challenging. You know, don’t get into the business thinking that if you sort of get a few things right in the beginning that then it will just work and I don’t have to think about it again. The work of book selling is always challenging. There’s always something new, whether it was the big box stores in the ’90s, and then Amazon and now this. There’s always something.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

As bookstores in France re-open, early euphoria gives way to plummeting book sales in week two

From The New Publishing Standard:

After a long and painful lockdown it was hardly surprising that many booklovers made a beeline for their nearest bookstore when the green light was given for booksellers to re-open their doors.

From May 11-17 unit sales in bricks & mortar stores were up 6.8% and revenue up 2.7% as lovers of the printed book rushed to get new stock.

But the long lockdown had also introduced many French booklovers to the convenience of digital, be it buying print books online (tempered by the closure for a while of the Amazon warehouses in France) or discovering the delights of the digital book.

Too soon to say how the new normal will level out, and among the factors impacting print book sales will be consumer income that will have taken a hit during lockdown. But the big fear, now seemingly being realised, was that some bookstore buyers may never come back.

In the second week of “deconfinement”, May 18-24, reports Livres Hebdo using statistics from GFK, book sales fell 8% in value and 9.1% in unit sales, and compared to the same period in 2019 revenue was down 10.9% and unit sales down 6.4%.

. . . .

[I]t may well be that it is not publishing per se that has taken the hit, but bricks & mortar book-selling, and that as the new normal settles in publishers may not be any worse off financially, just facing new marketing challenges where ebooks, digital audio and online print sales are a much bigger part of the retail landscape than hitherto.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG notes that, unlike the world of bricks and mortar, on Amazon and other digital sales venues, books from traditional publishers sit side-by-side with books from indie authors.

Readers who have been hammered financially over the past several weeks or months may be even more interested in the reasonable prices of indie ebooks compared to those from traditional publishing. At a minimum, they won’t have the same ability to engage in discretionary spending that they enjoyed a few months ago.

Even those few without significant financial scars may be frightened by their view of their fellows and less apt to spend freely even if they can afford to do so. Who knows, in some circles, spending lots of money may be regarded as unseemly when so many people are suffering financially and emotionally.

Physical bookstores are/were the one market where Big Publishing could sell books without the contemporaneous exposure to price competition from indie authors.

It is inevitable that B&M bookstores will take a significant financial hit from the long shut-downs and continuing economic crash in many parts of the world. Bookstores are, after all, subject to the same forces that affect the larger retailing world.

Some bookstores will simply not be able to afford to reopen. We don’t know how many will fall into that category, but PG thinks it will be a large number. Many indie bookstores are shoe-string operations that were chronically under-capitalized prior to the virus event.

PG has no doubt that publishers will do their best to stuff all bookstores full of physical books, but if the stores haven’t already defaulted on their lease payments and facing eviction notices, the owners may discover that they’re too far in the hole to afford to pay rent, utilities, staff, etc., and decide to cut their losses and walk away (or hide away to avoid lawsuits).

What we don’t know is how many bookstores will try to reopen only to close permanently when they discover that, even with fewer meatspace competitors and a little bit of cash in reserve, a large share of their customers aren’t coming back.

PG doesn’t take pleasure in predicting a financial and emotional disaster for owners of small bookstores. He never likes to see anyone forced out of business by events they can’t control.

However, PG will say that the Virus Months have accelerated the timing of a financial collapse of the traditional book business which, even in the absence of plague, would have occurred, perhaps less suddenly, at some future time.

U.K. Wholesaler Bertram Group Is Up for Sale

From Publishers Weekly:

Bertram Group, one of the top U.K. book wholesale companies, is up for sale, according to The Bookseller. An advertisement online notes that the company had revenuer of some £250 million last year, with a gross profit of £9 million. The assets that have been put up for sale include the company’s 185,000 sq ft warehouse, as well as 200,000 titles held in stock. In addition, Bertram’s subsidiaries, Dawson Books and Education Umbrella, are also for sale.

The company had shut down its warehouse temporarily due to the pandemic and sold off Wordery, its online bookstore, to Elliot Advisors (which also owns Waterstones and Barnes & Noble) earlier this month. Bertram also divested its European library businesses, Erasmus Antiquariaat en Boekhandel BV and Houtschild Internationale Boekhandel BV, to the Italian company Casalini Libri SPA.

On May 3, the company announced it would go under “strategic review.” The Bookseller has noted that numerous publishers interviewed by the magazine are owed money by Bertram’s.

The move to sell the company is widely viewed as a means of trying to avoid bankruptcy.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG says it’s a good time to be a bankruptcy attorney.

How Book Publishers Decided To Move Publication Dates During The COVID-19 Pandemic

From Forbes:

When the COVID-19 pandemic caused bookstores across the United States to close indefinitely, many publishers decided to push back select publication dates for their titles in order to give them the best chance to succeed in the marketplace. Three publishers shared in interviews how they went about making these decisions and how they’ve approached marketing newly released titles during this time.

Emily Bestler, EVP and publisher of Simon & Schuster imprint Emily Bestler Books, said that every Simon & Schuster imprint has changed some publication dates. The process started in mid-March, after the publisher made the decisions for workers to stay at home. Bestler said that since demand for books by well-known authors has been high during the pandemic, some books had their publication dates moved up, such as novel Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner (Atria), which was published two weeks early, on May 5. Other Atria titles shifted many months forward, such as essay collection Keep Moving by Maggie Smith, which moved from May 5 to October 6, and memoir Everybody (Else) is Perfect by Gabrielle Korn and nonfiction Bad Medicine by Charlotte Bismuth, which both moved from June 2020 to January 2021 publication dates.

. . . .

“For books whose authors we planned to tour, it made sense to move some of those back and wait for travel restrictions to ease, and stores to reopen,” said Bestler. “Certain non-fiction titles dealt with subjects that would perhaps be overlooked during this period or were heavily dependent on media coverage which is no longer available, at least for the time being.” Bestler said the process was done “in collaboration with production, publishing, sales, publicity, editorial and author and agent.”

Link to the rest at Forbes

NYC Public Libraries Mull Grab-and-Go Book Pickup Service

From The City:

The New York Public Library is working on a plan to launch grab-and-go services for books and other materials — even as it’s buying more e-books, THE CITY has learned.

The dual approach reflects efforts to serve readers’ immediate needs while preparing for a technological transformation hastened by the COVID-19 pandemic, library officials said.

The NYPL is mulling having library cardholders order books online or by phone — and pick them up in a branch vestibule or on the sidewalk outside.

“As we begin to reopen our doors, we would do probably a small number of locations first and begin phasing in services,” said Brian Bannon, the Merryl and James Tisch director of The New York Public Library.

Public libraries remain closed in almost every major city in the country, with some exceptions. In central Ohio, for example, customers in cars can text or call the library to ask for a staffer to run out and put the materials in their trunks.

Link to the rest at The City

PG wonders why anyone needs a big study for this program.

Local restaurants around Casa PG inaugurated free pick-up-your-order service several weeks ago. Nearly every restaurant had an employee sitting outside under an umbrella (sun), waiting for people to pull up to designated parking spaces.

PG and Mrs. PG have been ordering online at their usual grocery store, then calling when they arrive and having a store employee put their groceries in the trunk.

How to Become a Self-Published Author

From Stage32.com:

It was back in 2010 when I was first approached about publishing a novel. I was a lighter shade of Latina actress who had met the frustration of waiting for casting directors and agents to notice me, and see me as Latina enough…so I decided to write my own stage play. It was my autobiographical, coming of age story, that would show people once and for all who I was, instead of waiting for them to see and find a place for me. My one-woman stage play (Brownsville Bred) took the festival circuit by storm and within one year I was performing it Off-Broadway and to critical acclaim.

The book packager, who shall remain nameless, was absolutely wonderful, experienced and best of all she loved my story and believed in me as a writer.

. . . .

My book packager sat me down and told me how it “Usually” worked. It seemed that “usually” they (the packager or publisher) hire a GHOST WRITER–someone who comes in, listens to your story, and reads your work, before diving in to write their version of your story. The ghostwriter never gets credited as the Author, but they are still the person who is actually writing the book.

“Hold up…wait a minute,” I said. “I am a writer!” But it wasn’t that easy. I had to prove that I could write in prose and that I did. One sample chapter later and I proved to her (and to myself) that I was able to write prose just as well as I wrote for the stage. I was handed the STANDARD publishing contract–which is…to put it delicately…HORRIBLE. For the most part, it says you get about twenty-five cents per book, and you give up your rights to the book, TV, and Film.

As a writer/filmmaker, the cents didn’t matter to me nearly as much as the TV and film rights did, and luckily for me, she quickly took it out of our contract. So we had the deal and now it was time to write the book, right? Kind of. I learned the lesson that most book publishers only want a package that would include an intro, an About The Author page, and about three or four sample chapters–this because anyone who picks it up will want a hand on the direction they want it to take.

Long story short, within three months we had a great package, sample chapters, and people willing to bring it into their publishing house pitch meetings. I was never in on those meetings so I can’t tell you exactly how those went. But I can tell you that my packager described these folks as “LOVING” the materials. I even got the words, “No one could love it more than her”…but still, it was rejected by the ultimate decision-makers. That process repeated a few times and before long, my one-year agreement with my packager was up.

. . . .

It was also around the same time that the publishing world was changing. Kindle was managing to do to the book publishing world what Napster had done to the record industry. The world was changing and my story, about a Puerto Rican girl growing up in the welfare projects of Brownsville Brooklyn, proved “too dark” for the YA readers they had in mind for it.

With that, I took the experience and told myself that it had veered my journey away from the on-screen journey that I had hoped for the story. But I am a firm believer in “everything happens for a reason…moreover a GOOD reason and it’s up to us to find that reason.”

Fast forward a few years later, I was in the thick of filmmaking. I had a few episodes of a web series that I’d written, produced, and directed and found filmmaking to be my greatest passion. I knew I wanted to make my stage play into a feature film. It was then that I sought the advice of a great feature film director, Rashaad Ernesto Green, who told me that if I wanted to direct a film I should, “Make short films”.

. . . .

It was while at the Official Latino Film Festival in late 2019 that I received the next big great piece of advice. During a panel of professional writers–people who had all of the experience of being in a pitch room, I asked, “what is the number one thing that gets projects sold?” The answer sent bursts of colors through my brain– “I.P.”–Intellectual Property. Intellectual Property like a book lends any story credibility.

The writer went on to say that he had an idea for an alien series, and so he wrote and self- published a graphic novel to support the idea. When asked where the story came from, he simply took out the book and said, “this graphic novel”.

. . . .

I dug up all of the chapters I’d written and spent the next two days immersed in what I had and figuring out what was missing. I looked to my stage play and then to my new screenplay’s beat sheet. I added some parts that would reinforce the decisions I had made for the screenplay version. Within a week I had my first manuscript.

. . . .

My eyes were strained from reading, and so I uploaded my manuscript into Speechify and listened to it read back to me over and over again as I noted the errors to correct.

I googled everything I could about self-publishing…and it wasn’t the first time I’d done that but 2019 proved to be the year when technology would finally catch up to me, without the demand of financial investment. It took me a few weeks to consume the self-help videos and seminars made available through KDP Amazon. Yes, people, we have to thank Jeff Bezos on this one.

. . . .

After you’ve gotten through the editor’s changes you should get BETA Readers. These can be hired or just ask people who you know are avid readers if they’d give you feedback on the manuscript. I recommend creating a questionnaire specific to your book.

It should have questions like:

  • “What was your favorite part?
  • What confused you?
  • What would you tell someone about this book?
  • Who would you want to read this book?
  • Did you feel that anything was missing?

In my case, I had added a whole end chapter to my book, after a friend who had seen the play, told me that she very much missed the end of the play where I gave a recap of the real people the book was based on and shared where they are today. Now in retrospect, I can report that, at my book-club readings, I am often asked to read that very chapter aloud.

Link to the rest at Stage32.com and thanks to Judith for the tip.

PG will note that, just like literary agents, book packagers are not licensed and are not subject to any effective regulation. A high school dropout on drugs can promote her/himself as a book packager or literary agent.

One difference between the two is that the literary agent typically doesn’t get paid until you receive some money from your book (although there are those agents who charge “reading fees” for scanning your ms.).

Hollywood Park

From The Wall Street Journal:

The story begins in 1979, when (Mikel) Jollett is 5 and living on a farm-like compound in Northern California with other children and a few female caretakers. Every person Mr. Jollett ever sees has been shorn of hair. A woman with a shaved head who cries a lot visits occasionally. “I’ve been told this woman’s name is ‘Mom,’ ” Mr. Jollett writes, in an opening chapter that attempts to capture his childhood perspective. “I know the word is supposed to have some kind of special meaning.”

One night, this woman spirits him and his older brother, Tony, away from the compound. Mr. Jollett later learns that the place is a cult called Synanon, where former alcoholics and drug addicts (including, at one point, Mr. Jollett’s father) came to get clean and to try to create a utopia.

The price is those you love: Parents must give up children; husbands and wives must divorce; and no one can be more important than dear leader, in this case a false prophet with a penchant for violence. Some who leave the cult, the author reports, find their dogs hanging from trees. Others disappear and are presumed murdered. Mr. Jollett reports witnessing an escaped Synanon member being beaten by cult thugs. This would be a horrific scene for anyone to see, let alone a young child. Mom’s solution is to tell Mr. Jollett he never saw it and is thus not entitled to feel fear or anguish. “Do feelings exist if no one sees them?” Mr. Jollett wonders.

The boys are moved to Salem, Ore. They grow up hungry, dirty, cold. Mom has them raise rabbits so they can eat; by age 6, Mr. Jollett is required to defrost the creatures’ water bowls before dawn, and to learn to kill them. He receives guidance from a lover of his mother’s, a gentle alcoholic who teaches him to fish and engenders in him a love of running. One day, with no proof, she tells the boys he’s dead. The boys never see him again, leaving Mr. Jollett racked with sadness.

Meanwhile, Dad has been clean for years and is managing a mechanic shop. He lives in Southern California with a fellow ex-Synanon member—a woman who cared for Mr. Jollett at Synanon, a woman the author loved and still does. By the time he is 7, Mr. Jollett and his brother are spending summers in SoCal—where, Mr. Jollett says, “We fight less. We eat more. We lie with eyes closed in the sun thinking of precisely nothing.” He recalls going to the beach and standing in “the soft waves as they pour over us and Dad, shirtless and tan in the sun, standing still like an anchor in the water.” They go to horse races at Hollywood Park, where, feeling Dad’s hand on his shoulder, Mr. Jollett is overwhelmed by what it is “to be a son, to have a father, to be out at the track, with the men all trying their luck.”

Then it’s back to Oregon, to “moldy bread and four-day-old rabbit”; to Mom telling Mr. Jollett he’s fat and figuratively scratching off whatever healing has occurred when he’s away from her. Teachers tell her that Mr. Jollett, a straight-A student, should skip a grade; Mom won’t have it, and by age 10, Mr. Jollett understands why. “I know it’s my job to take care of Mom and that all boys are supposed to take care of their mothers because that was the reason they were born,” he writes.

As he gets older, Mr. Jollett tries to thrash his way out. He ditches school and crashes a Honda XR80 motorcycle. He becomes obsessed with David Bowie, picks up a broken guitar and beats on it. He takes up track in high school and earns a full-ride scholarship to Stanford, where he wins Pac-10 honors and runs the third fastest 10,000-meter time in the nation. It should be sunshine from here on out, but the damage inflicted by Mom has Mr. Jollett pushing women he loves away and occasionally wondering whether he should stick around this world at all.

It can sound airy to say, “Music saved my life.” In Mr. Jollett’s case, it seems also to be true. In his early 20s, living in L.A. and writing for a music magazine, he finds himself interviewing his hero Bowie. He gets up the gumption to ask, how does Bowie write songs? Mr. Jollett confesses that he’s written a few hundred; that his “deepest wish” is to perform for an audience. But the interviewer admits to the rock star: “So many things I thought were good, including parts of myself, turned out to be more complicated, more broken. And I can barely remember having a thought where love is just love, where there is peace and I feel like I deserve it, before all this contradiction in me came about.”

“Write about the contradiction then,” Bowie says.

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

How The Publishing World Is Staying Afloat During The Pandemic

From HuffPost:

As social distancing reportedly provides the perfect opportunity to, depending on one’s authorial aspirations, either write or finally read “King Lear,” book publishing may seem like the rare industry well-suited to a world altered by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ve had friends and family who are completely outside of the publishing industry be like, ‘This must be a great time for book sales!’” Stephanie Wrobel, whose debut novel “Darling Rose Gold” came out on March 5, said wryly. “I have to be the one to burst the bubble.”

In practice, nothing is quite so simple — and the publishing industry, like nearly every other, is struggling. Last month, not long after scooping up Woody Allen’s controversial memoir, Skyhorse Publishing laid off 30% of its staff. Macmillan Publishers shut down an imprint, instituted salary reductions and laid off a number of employees. Indie bookstores like Powell’s in Portland, Oregon, and McNally Jackson in New York City have also laid off staff, though Powell’s later rehired salespeople to ship online orders.

The inexpert among us are getting a crash course right now in supply chains and revenue streams. Despite the current demand for hospital resources and news media, for example, both industries are facing a financial crunch thanks to lost elective procedures and ad revenue, respectively. And though a book may begin and end as a solitary experience, from a writer’s mind to a reader’s hands, the publishing industry is an ecosystem vulnerable to the pandemic just like so many others, one threaded together by bookstores, festivals, warehouses, delivery trucks and, of course, customers with money to spend.

. . . .

For other authors, with release dates falling amid lockdowns, none of the in-person parties and readings are coming to fruition. Travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders have brought tours, parties and festival appearances to an abrupt halt, leaving authors, particularly less-established ones, scrambling to sell their books.

Link to the rest at HuffPost

But wait!

PG thought one of the jobs of publishers was to sell the books they publish.

If it’s up to authors to scramble to sell their books, what value exactly do the publishers add to the mix?

When Amazon is by far the largest bookseller in the parts of the world PG knows anything about?

Well, publishers arrange book-signings . . . at physical bookstores that sell a smaller and smaller percentage of total books sold. (Cue ominous Amazon music)

Well, publishers get reviewers to provide book reviews, which appear in newspapers (declining circulation) and magazines (ditto), and reviews drive readers to buy books (on Amazon, where there are zillions of reviews written by actual fans of romance or science fiction)

But printed books! The sensuous feeling when your delicate fingers lightly slide over the pages and feel the price tag on the back!

PG is not very imaginative today, but has no trouble thinking of dozens of things which are not books for his delicate fingers to slide over if he’s in that sort of mood.

PG recently made the mistake of purchasing an excellent physical book by one of PG’s most favorite authors.

It’s a history. Of World War II. With lots of details and comparisons between battles in World War II and the Athenians vs. the Spartans, the Second Punic and Jugurthine Wars, Yorktown, Napoleon, etc., etc. Plus it has 122 pages of end matter.

It’s a great book and, like a lot of PG’s favorite books, about one brick thick (in paperback).

However, it’s just not that fun to hold and, should PG absent-mindedly put it down without inserting a bookmark, it will take him several minutes to relocate his place. (PG realizes that this is a first-world problem, but that’s where he lives.)

PG’s Kindle Paperwhite, which is his favorite reading device (much lighter than an iPad and without incoming text messages, plus it just sips on its battery), is a device designed for one purpose, reading books.

Reading a 1200-page book on the Paperwhite feels just the same as reading a 150-page book. Absent the intervention of one of PG’s younger offspring, the Paperwhite always lights up where PG stopped reading. It won’t fit in a pants pocket, but does slide nicely into the pockets of most of PG’s coats if he wants to read somewhere else.

The only downside to the Paperwhite that PG can think of offhand is that, unlike a collection of books, a Paperwhite doesn’t make a good backdrop during a Zoom videoconference.

Twisted Siblings and the New Era of Psychological Thrillers

From Crime Reads:

Ah, sibling rivalry…something anyone with a brother or sister is likely to understand. The arguments, the jealousy, and in my case at least, the hastily scribbled not-so-nice notes shoved under my older sister’s bedroom door when I was eight. While many of us thankfully grow closer to our siblings as we get older and wiser, it’s no surprise past experiences are fuel for the writer’s imagination, allowing us to tread the darker paths (hopefully) never taken. Mysteries and psychological thrillers are perfect for creating and exploring these twisted relationships. After all, a character’s deeply rooted animosity can fester for decades before exploding and unleashing all kinds of evil wrath on their unsuspecting family members. Here’s a list of ten older, more recent and new sibling stories to take you on a wild ride.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (September 1962)

Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood is eighteen and lives in a big house on large grounds with her older sister Constance, and their wheelchair-bound Uncle Julian. Six years prior, Merricat’s parents, aunt and younger brother died after they were poisoned, and young Constance was suspected of killing them. But did she do it? And how do the surviving family members cope with the increasingly hostile villagers who’d rather see them all burn? This was Jackson’s final work before she died in 1965, age 48.

. . . .

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Doubleday, November 2018)

The title alone of this book had me clambering for a copy. Korede’s sister, Ayoola, has a habit of, uh, “dispatching” boyfriends, and alleging self-defense. Korede knows it’s anything but. Now Korede’s expected to help clear up another of her sister’s messes instead of going straight to the police, and she helps Ayoola because she loves her… But what will happen when Ayoola starts dating the doctor Korede’s been in love with for quite some time? What will Korede do and who will she choose to save? Wholly original and utterly surprising.

Link to the rest at Crime Reads

Japan Doesn’t Want to Become Another Casualty of English

From Foreign Policy:

In a 2019 survey, Japan dropped to 53rd in global English proficiency, squarely in the “low proficiency” band. Japan ranks near the bottom of Asian and developed countries alike despite constant reshuffling and refinement of the English educational curriculum in schools and the frequent assertions, acknowledged by Japan’s Ministry of Education, that English-language skills are needed to compete in the modern economy.

The failure to adopt English is particularly unexpected given that the English language—and the whiteness associated with it—signifies privilege in Japan. Countless advertisements flaunt white foreigners on TV and use English aptitude as the basis for selling products. Top companies such as Rakuten, an e-commerce website and the Japanese competitor to Amazon, place immense weight on English proficiency, whether or not English is needed for an employee’s role. Eikaiwa (English conversation) programs run daily on TV, and accounts featuring videos of Japanese American children speaking English cultivate tens of thousands of Instagram followers.

. . . .

At the same time, essays and books about the supposed uniqueness of Japanese language, culture, and identity—a genre known as nihonjinron—are in every bookstore, next to shelves of English-learning books. They overflow with complaints about young people’s poor Japanese and instructions on how to speak polite and beautiful Japanese.

Today, Japanese are caught between a belief in the importance of Japanese language and culture and the need to exist in a globalized world in which English carries economic privileges and status associations. A plummeting population and an inevitable future influx of foreign workers collide with a proud national identity, structural and cultural obstacles to English learning, and enough economic independence to resist what might otherwise seem an inevitable future: an English-speaking Japan.

For years, multinational companies have been mandating English as the common corporate language. “In East Asia, many parents, professionals, and students themselves see English as a prerequisite for attaining the best jobs on the market,” said Minh Tran, the executive director of academic affairs at Education First, a Swiss language-education company that offers classes in Japan.

Yet the spread of English has left behind a “trail of dead”: mangled languages, literatures, and identities. As countries around the world scramble for widespread English, there’s a fear of losing their own traditions, cultures, and even names.

English became a tool of the Japanese elite throughout Meiji era Japan’s relentless race to catch up technologically with the West. And while Japan was never a colony of a Western country, the U.S. occupation after World War II lasted for seven years—enough time for the U.S. military to implement widespread political and economic changes throughout the country. In the Cold War, Japan came under the U.S. nuclear umbrella of protection from the Soviet Union, further cementing America’s image as a symbolic protector.

This presence of American soldiers at this time exposed the general Japanese public to spoken English. “America [was] idealized in Japan at the time as a symbol of freedom and democracy, partly as a result of the success of the American occupation,” writes Takako Yoshida, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Lleida. English accordingly became associated with freedom, power, and status.

Link to the rest at Foreign Policy

During the occupation, Japan was governed (or ruled) by General Douglas MacArthur. At the end of the war, about 450,000 US military personnel together with other Allied soldiers were stationed in the country. Those members of the military who had fought in the war were mustered out as quickly as feasible and replaced with occupation troops from America, Britain, Australia, India and New Zealand.

Whatever his shortcomings, no one ever accused MacArthur of being indecisive. (Well, General George S. Patton did on at least one occasion, but Patton always had to be the most decisive military commander who had ever lived.) One biographer dubbed MacArthur as the American Caesar. (PG’s favorite bio of MacArthur)

The General effectively ordered Hirohito to remain as the emperor of Japan, staving off a potential suicide, which would have caused a great deal of societal disruption. Acting by fiat, MacArthur established a parliamentary democracy and, under his direction (although he was a politically-conservative Republican), the Japanese government introduced sweeping social reforms and implemented economic reforms similar to those of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s.

Major land reforms resulted in millions of acres of farmland (nearly 40% of Japan’s arable land) being purchased from landlords by the Japanese government, then resold at very low prices, to the tenant-farmers. Under these reforms, about three million peasants became owners of the land they had worked, sometimes for generations.

The Occupation ended in 1951 and Japan became a fully-sovereign nation in 1952.

According to Cultures of War,

Discipline, moral legitimacy, well-defined and well-articulated objectives, a clear chain of command, tolerance and flexibility in policy formulation and implementation, confidence in the ability of the state to act constructively, the ability to operate abroad free of partisan politics back home, and the existence of a stable, resilient, sophisticated civil society on the receiving end of occupation policies – these political and civic virtues helped make it possible to move decisively during the brief window of a few years when defeated Japan itself was in flux and most receptive to radical change.

How the Black Death Gave Rise to British Pub Culture

From Atlas Obscura:

“I’ll buy you a beer when this is all over,” declares Christo Tofalli, the landlord of Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, which lays claim to the contentious title of Britain’s oldest pub and is no stranger to pandemics. While closed, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, in the historic city of Saint Albans, has become a Community Supply Point, providing much-needed groceries and offering free delivery to the elderly. They are even delivering Sunday Roast dinners to residents in lockdown. The threat posed by coronavirus may feel unprecedented, but Tofalli, who manages the pub, says he has been looking to the past for inspiration.

In the summer of 1348, which was some hard-to-specify number of centuries after Ye Olde Fighting Cocks served its first beer, the Black Death appeared on the southern shores of England. By the end of 1349, millions lay dead, victims of what medieval historian Norman Cantor describes unflinchingly in In the Wake of Plague as “the greatest biomedical disaster in European and possibly in world history.”

Medieval society could muster little response, Cantor writes, except to “Pray very hard, quarantine the sick, run away, or find a scapegoat to blame for the terror.” Nobility and wealth was no defense: Princess Joan of England was struck down on her way to marry in Spain, while the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury perished shortly after being ordained by the Pope. The plague even halted (temporarily) the perpetual conflict between the French and English.

This pestilence returned repeatedly too; Cantor writes that “there were at least three waves of the Black Death falling upon England over the century following 1350.”

According to historian Robert Tombs, author of The English and Their History, one of the many repercussions was especially pertinent to establishments like Ye Olde Fighting Cocks: the rise of pub culture in England.

. . . .

When the plague arrived in 1348, drinking beer was already a fundamental component of Englishness. In his tome, Tombs writes that the English fighting the Norman invaders at Hastings in 1066 were suffering from hangovers. Drinking was even enshrined into the Magna Carta of 1215, which “called for uniform measures of ale.”

Drinking pre-Black Death, though, was comparably amateurish. In Man Walks Into a Pub: A Sociable History of Beer, beer journalist Pete Brown writes that “Society revolved around popular celebrations known as ‘ales’: bride-ales, church-ales … were gatherings where plenty of alcohol was drunk, and they frequently degenerated into mayhem.” Anyone could brew up a batch of ale in their home, and standards and strengths varied wildly. Homebrewed ale was advertised with “an ale stake,” Brown adds, which consisted of “a pole covered with some kind of foliage above the door.”

By the 1370s, though, the Black Death had caused a critical labor shortage, the stark consequence of some 50 percent of the population perishing in the plague. Eventually, this proved a boon for the peasantry of England, who could command higher wages for their work and achieve higher standards of living. As a result, the alehouses that were simply households selling or giving away leftover ale were replaced by more commercialized, permanent establishments set up by the best brewers and offering better food.

. . . .

“The survivors [of the Black Death] prioritized expenditure on foodstuffs, clothing, fuel, and domestic utensils,” writes Professor Mark Bailey of the University of East Anglia, who also credits the plague for the rise of pub culture, over email. “They drank more and better quality ale; ate more and better quality bread; and consumed more meat and dairy produce. Alongside this increased disposable income, they also had more leisure time.”

. . . .

In spirit, though, the pub was there. Peasants had the time and money for better food, drink, and leisure. “More ale was drunk, and beer (with hops) was introduced from the Low Countries. Brewing became more commercialized, with taverns and alehouses for drinking and playing games,” writes Tombs. “The English pub was born.”

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura

Amazon Literary Partnership Names More Than $1 Million in New Grants

From Publishing Perspectives:

Following its deadline of January 15 for applications, the Amazon Literary Partnership has this morning (May 27) announced $1 million in grants to 66 organizations in the United States. And as the country approaches the terrible milestone of 100,000 deaths to the coronavirus COVID-19, the funds being issued by the program may look better than ever.

In fact, Amazon already has provided COVID-19 emergency relief donations to Artist Relief and PEN America’s Writers’ Emergency Fund, the latter of which is also supported by the Lannan Foundation, and The Haven Foundation.

Publishing Perspectives readers are familiar with Amazon’s program, both for its more than $13 million in funding since Jon Fine directed the establishment of the program in 2009, and for its focus on supporting nonprofit efforts that serve writers, with a traditional emphasis on “overlooked and marginalized writers,” as Neal Thompson, another director of the program, has put it.

Today, Alexandra Woodworth guides the program, which has touched the work of more than 150 organizations.

. . . .

  • The theme is the author—with an emphasis on underrepresented voices—and supporting that writer’s needs
  • The variations or genres are represented by the wide variety of organizations and services funded

This translates into direct support for nonprofit writing centers, residencies, fellowships, after-school classes, literary magazines, national organizations supporting storytelling and free speech, and internationally acclaimed publishers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

On today’s announcement, Woodworth says, “The Amazon Literary Partnership champions organizations that support writers, poets, translators, and diverse voices at every stage in their career. Given the impact that COVID-19 has had on the literary community, we’re proud to continue to fund these remarkable organizations sustaining literary culture in our communities now and for the future.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG must have missed the announcements of Random House, Simon & Schuster, etc., about their donations to worthy nonprofits supporting diverse voices.

Coronavirus Worklife: Kalem Agency’s Şafak Tahmaz in Turkey

From Publishing Perspectives:

Ask anyone in world publishing who’d like to be at this year’s canceled spring trade shows, and they’ll tell you that Nermin Mollaoğlu of Turkey’s Kalem Agency is someone they miss most. Her bustling 10-person team—and the exuberant spirit they maintain in one of the world’s most challenging regimes—are favorites in international rights centers.

. . . .

Kalem by 2017 had created more than 2,100 contracts representing Turkish literary rights in at least 53 languages. The agency also produces the annual Istanbul International Literature Festival and works as a sub-agent for agencies and publishers in a huge range of markets. The company is coming up on its 14th anniversary.

As the contagion closed in, Tahmaz says, “Nermin made up her mind very, very fast, which we all appreciated and decided to close our office down on March 11, just after it was declared that the first coronavirus case had been detected in Turkey. We got our laptops, necessary files, backups, and started to work at home the next week.

. . . .

[H]ere’s some news from one of the most aggressive agencies in Europe and the Mediterranean for the international publishing industry to consider: “It’s a funny fact that last month,” Tahmaz says, “our fiction titles doubled. And our nonfiction titles broke their own record. Children’s titles are also doing well.”

. . . .

“Publishers in Turkey haven’t given up on new titles and they haven’t lost their excitement for books. But because of the crisis, the exchange rate started to fluctuate again. Revenue streams decreased when bookstores were shut down. But in audiobooks and ebook sales, the publishers in Turkey finally have comprehended the value of digital publishing and a great many publishers have demanded ebook and audio rights for both old titles and the new deals.

“It’s like a silver lining of these dark days. Especially for me, as I feel really comfortable reading in Kindle and listening to books, as well!”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

All the Lonely People

From The Wall Street Journal:

In recent years, surveys have shown that a large percentage of Americans feel lonely or socially isolated. (One such survey, published in January, put the figure at 61%.) The restrictions prompted by Covid-19 have surely triggered even more such feelings. At a time when technology supposedly fosters new levels of interpersonal connectivity, how did we get to this place? What are the broader effects? What should we do?

Those are some of the questions that Vivek Murthy, a doctor of internal medicine and a former surgeon general (2014-17), addresses in “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.” Though written before “coronavirus” entered our lexicon, the book is a timely and well-reported meditation on a critical aspect of the American mind.

Dr. Murthy begins by highlighting research showing that isolation is not our natural state: We evolved as social beings. “Humans have survived as a species,” he writes, “not because we have physical advantages like size, strength, or speed, but because of our ability to connect in social groups. We exchange ideas. We coordinate goals. We share information and emotions.”

It follows that when we’re not routinely socializing, we feel that something is amiss. Researchers have found three “dimensions” of loneliness, Dr. Murthy reports: “intimate” (wanting a spouse or confidant), “relational” (seeking close friendships) and “collective” (desiring a community with common interests). To thrive, we need to find the right approach to each of them, and loneliness can result if even one is left unfulfilled.

Dr. Murthy draws a distinction between loneliness and solitude. While solitude “is a state of peaceful aloneness or voluntary isolation,” loneliness is “burdened with shame.” He describes his own battle with loneliness as a child, saying that he didn’t want to tell his parents about it because doing so would have conveyed more than an absence of friends: “It would feel like admitting I wasn’t likable or worthy of being loved.”

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

The English towers and landmarks that inspired Tolkien’s hobbit sagas

From The Guardian:

Readers of The Lord of the Rings must surely imagine lifting their eyes in terror before Saruman’s dark tower, known as Orthanc. Over the years, many admirers of the Middle-earth sagas have guessed at the inspiration for this and other striking features of the landscape created by JRR Tolkien.

Now an extensive new study of the author’s work is to reveal the likely sources of key scenes. The idea for Saruman’s nightmarish tower, argues leading Tolkien expert John Garth, was prompted by Faringdon Folly in Berkshire.

“I have concentrated on the places that inspired Tolkien and though that may seem a trivial subject, I hope I have brought some rigour to it,” said Garth this weekend. “I have a fascination for the workings of the creative process and in finding those moments of creative epiphany for a genius like Tolkien.”

A close study of the author’s life, his travels and his teaching papers has led Garth to a fresh understanding of an allegory that Tolkien regularly called upon while giving lectures in Old English poetry at Oxford in the 1930s.

Comparing mysteries of bygone poetry to an ancient tower, the don would talk of the impossibility of understanding exactly why something was once built. “I have found an interesting connection in his work with the folly in Berkshire, a nonsensical tower that caused a big planning row,” Garth explains. While researching his book he realised the controversy raging outside the university city over the building would have been familiar to Tolkien.

Tolkien began to work this story into his developing Middle-earth fiction, finally planting rival edifices on the Tower Hills on the west of his imaginary “Shire” and also drawing on memories of other real towers that stand in the Cotswolds and above Bath. “Faringdon Folly isn’t a complete physical model for Orthanc,” said Garth. “It’s the controversy surrounding its building that filtered into Tolkien’s writings and can be traced all the way to echoes in the scene where Gandalf is held captive in Saruman’s tower.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Canada’s publishers face deluge of returns as bookstores re-open after eight weeks lockdown and a 63% drop in sales

From The New Publishing Standard:

Canada’s book publishing trade association Booknet is warning that as bookstores open their doors there will be even more books than usual being sent back unsold and unwanted.

While some bookstores have managed to maintain curbside sales, overall bricks & mortar sales are down about 63% and bookstores are sitting on case after case of unsold books that there is unlikely to be sufficient demand for as high street trade gradually resumes.

Canada’s The Star quotes Booknet Canada’s Noah Genner as saying:

If we just look at physical bookstores, so not online retailers, but mostly physical bookstores, they’re down almost 63 per cent year over year for the period. So 63 per cent in unit sales. That is hugely significant.

. . . .

The returns model, introduced last century to give bookstores flexibility to stock more books than they needed at no risk, is not just a Canadian problem but a model used around the world, and in normal circumstances the expectation of returns is factored into the production costs, so would not be a heavy drain on publisher profits.

But now publishers face not only the loss of sales for the lockdown duration (and however long it takes for some degree of normal trading to resume) but also an exceptional excess of unsold titles that will end up being pulped or more likely sold off to remaindered operations for re-sale.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG says that the book returns system is a twist on vendor financing, which, outside of the book business, typically happens when the retailer can’t qualify for conventional financing in order to pay for its purchases from a bank or other financial institution.

In the reality-based business world, vendor financing is often regarded as an indication that the customer isn’t in very good financial shape and doesn’t have enough working capital to operate its business. It can also be regarded as an indication that the vendor has a hard time selling its inventory unless it becomes what is, in effect, a bank or finance company for its customers.

Vendors often offer a price discount if the purchaser pays within X time period. This may be structured as follows: The Seller offers a 2% discount on an invoice due in 30 days if the buyer pays within the first 10 days of receiving the invoice. This usually doesn’t carry the same taint as vendor financing over a much longer period of time.

5 Ways to Improve the Action in your Story

From author Megan Ward via Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

Page-turners aren’t the only books that employ action. In every story the characters’ actions drive the narrative forward. Without action, a book would be a series of scenes full of dialogue and description, a literary Dinner with Andre that would put the reader straight to sleep.

. . . .

1) Evocative Verbs Improve the Action

The easiest way to improve the action in your story is through verb selection. Forget is and does and seems and feels. How about rattles and shakes and leaps and destroys? Forget was and did and appears and smells. How about hobbles and shimmers and carouses and spins?

You can even make verbs up, like “He drawered the manuscript,” “Her hair waterfalled across her face,” and “I watched the sand delta by the shore.”

We all know that active verbs are better than passive verbs, so try replacing “The book was passed down the row” with something like “The book jumped down the row from hand to hand.” Replace “The package was delivered to her house” with “The delivery man jettisoned her package from the truck before careening back down the street.”

Start by making a list of your favorite verbs. Think jitterspewfesterswagger, glimmer, squawk…if you run out of ideas try your thesaurus.

. . . .

3) Engage the Senses

Don’t confuse static “sensing verbs” (I feel sad, It smells good, You sound angry, She looks tired) with their dynamic counterparts (I feel the scalding water on my feet, I smell the loamy earth, The siren sounded throughout the town). And don’t confuse the use of sensing verbs with the use of sensory details in your writing. You should always aim to engage the senses in your writing.

Note how Sonali Deraniyagala uses dynamic verbs like hissed and rustled to engage the sense of sound in this passage from her memoir Wave:

“I moved on to make sinister noises when the phone was answered. I hissed, I rustled, I made ghostly sounds. The Dutch man spoke with more urgency now. ‘What is it you want?’ he said time and again. ‘Tell me, please. What is it you want?’”

Here’s a line from an LA Times article by Philip Caputo that engages the sense of smell. Note the use of the dynamic verbs overwhelmed and burned to convey the putrid odor of war:

“Their putrefying flesh overwhelmed the odors of smoke and diesel fuel and burned tanks, trucks and armored personnel carriers.”

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

Meghan is one of the authors of Writing Action

Can There Be Book Deals Without Meals?

From Publishers Weekly:

It was week four of coronavirus shelter-in-place. Going on 2 p.m.; I’m at my desk at home, answering emails, filtering submissions, contemplating a forthcoming edit. But wait, what’s that sound? Oh, right, it’s my stomach growling. I’m hungry. Must be time for a can of that chicken noodle soup I’ve been hoarding.

What a difference a couple of weeks makes. Before the lockdown orders came down in New York City, no self-respecting publishing person could forget about lunch. We all knew the drill. At 12:30 or 1 p.m.—occasionally as early as 12:15 or as late as 1:15—the office exodus would begin. We’d gather our coats and bags and wits and head out to meet with agents and authors at restaurants where reservations had been scheduled two, three, six, or eight weeks in advance. The mission: start or continue relationships that might lead to new submissions from said agents and authors, which in turn would lead to new acquisitions to be announced at future in-house editorial meetings.

While we might have shared sushi at Nobu, everybody knew lunch wasn’t really about food. No, it was about gossip, shop talk, and bringing brand new projects to fruition. Lunch, in other words, literally meant business.

So it should come as no surprise that among the questions, and there were many, that a lot of us asked when this whole work-from-home thing started was what would happen to the publishing lunch. 

. . . .

We have now had 10 weeks of sheltering in place, and I am happy to report that while I haven’t met anyone in a restaurant for what feels like forever, I, and most of my colleagues, are still making and publishing books and signing up titles for forthcoming seasons. I’m on the phone constantly, checking in with agents and authors about how they’re doing with kids at home and a bunch of new worries—but also about the projects they’re shepherding. I’ve been in a couple of major auctions and have won and lost several books, both fiction and non.

Will those books “work”? Who knows? Determining what the future reading world will embrace… well, that’s been a problem endemic to our industry forever; we’ve asked the question before (most recently during the 2008 recession, and before that after 9/11) and we’ve always survived. Sorry to paraphrase the over-paraphrased Mark Twain, but despite bookstore consolidation, the rise of e-books and audiobooks, and the explosion of interest in streaming TV, publishing’s death has been greatly exaggerated—many times. So what if now we’re talking books over Zoom, or WhatsApp, or maybe just in a plain old-fashioned phone call instead of across a two-top? We’re still publishing.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

While PG believes and ardently hopes there will always be an England, he can’t say the same thing about the traditional publishing business.

There will always be books, albeit in evolving forms, and books require authors (AI is lurking, but PG needs a bit more convincing that AI is capable of creating good fiction.) but printers used to do much of what publishers do today.

Publishers are an example of a classic middleman (or middleperson if you prefer, agents are as well) receiving products created by somebody else and funneling them to the organization or person who will actually sell those books to readers.

PG concedes that editors (whether they are called agents or not) can and do add value to the end product. However, this function can be outsourced to nice people working from their home office in Kansas where (for the benefit of those New Yorkers who have never visited), the costs of a comfortable life are much, much lower than on that skinny island hanging off the eastern part of the United States. The restaurants may be of a different type than Manhattan’s were before the plague, but with all the newly rich indie Kansas authors, Nobu may find greener pastures in Wichita.

If authors and booksellers (online or off) can work without the middlepersons, they both will probably make more money from their respective businesses.

From whatever New York restaurants survive the current disruption, the decline and fall of traditional publishing may cause an occasional tear to be shed, but there will be more-prosperous authors and booksellers who may make up the difference.

What now for authors?

From The Bookseller:

Sanjana Varghese had been working as a freelance journalist in London for around a year when the coronavirus pandemic hit. 

As countries around the world went into lockdown, many organisations froze their commissioning budgets, while others halted business entirely. Several of the pieces Varghese had been working on were cut as a result, having a “huge impact” on both her finances and her level of stress. As both a migrant and someone relatively new to freelancing, she was ineligible for support from the British government. 

“It was really stressful for a while – and it still is,” she says. “I’m increasingly uncertain that freelancing as we know it now will still exist in the same way in a couple of months. That’s something I spiral about when I’m left without something to do for too long.” 

One of the publications Varghese regularly wrote for has already shut down, again leading to increased anxiety about the future: “Basically, I try not to look at my emails too much because I’m anxious I’ll get one with, ‘Sorry, we’re shutting down’ in the subject line.” 

As a freelance writer, she is far from alone. Many currently working across journalism and publishing are facing similar anxieties when it comes to a shared uncertain future. But as a community used to going it alone, it’s a crisis that predates coronavirus. 

In many ways, freelance writers are prepared for periods of isolation. Hours are spent reading, researching or writing alone, while working from home away from the presence of colleagues is an everyday reality. For some it is liberating; for others, the total opposite.

Several of the issues people have faced since being confined to their homes are nothing new to freelancers. Epson research found that a quarter of freelancers had experienced depression, while almost half admitted to finding the experience lonely. On top of this, the publishing and media industries are also deeply unequal: 51 per cent of journalists and 80 per cent of editors are privately educated. For those without newspaper columns, cushy media jobs, family connections or six-figure book deals, lockdown – and its repercussions – have only heightened such disparity.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Regular visitors to TPV know what’s coming now.

As with hundreds of other indie authors, Mrs. PG has been working on her next book every day. The artist who creates her covers has been doing just about the same thing and did another great job on the cover for this next book.

As PG has mentioned in earlier comments, almost every indie author he’s communicated with since the lockdown happened has noticed Amazon sales going through the roof. Mrs. PG is expecting another nice royalty check in a few days and yet another next month.

When you freelance for a person who reports to another person who needs approval from a third person to offer you an advance and you sign a publishing contract promptly and send it back to your contact, time passes before you get anything in the email. How much time depends on a bunch of people who boss around the person with whom you have dealings.

Freelance journalists and photographers are all familiar with receiving messages from the person they’ve been working with saying there won’t be a contract after all. If the publication hasn’t signed the contract (and sometimes even if it has), there won’t even be a kill fee.

Similar Works

Following are excerpts from a website called Similar Works. As the website states, the purpose of this site is to help protect authors from plagiarism of their books.

Beginning of Excerpts:

Protect your book from plagiarism

Similar Works is a web application built to protect authors from having their work exploited and their stories taken from them.

Upload your book to Similar Works and we’ll scan the text against other titles and keep monitoring — and alert you when we find any matches.

. . . .

How It Works

The Similar Works system analyzes ebook files and identifies matching text.

Books are submitted by authors and publishers who wish to protect their copyright, or concerned readers who believe they have found a work containing plagiarized material.

Similar Works reviews all books manually before accepting them into the archive.

Once a book is accepted, the system checks that book against all other titles already added.

If we find text matches that look suspicious, we contact the author or publisher and provide information so that they can take further action to protect their copyright.

We continue to check every time a new book is added to the archive.

Our Book List shows titles that have already been added, as well as a summary of similarities that have been detected called the Similarity Band.

. . . .

The Similarity Band

The Similarity Band is a visual representation of the similarities that our system finds in books.

Each Band is a generated watermark which represents the book’s text, from beginning to end, going from left to right. This is the text as it appears inside the digital file which is uploaded into the Similar Works archive, so it includes things like the copyright notice, the table of contents, disclaimers, back matter, and samples of other books.

When every book is run through the master algorithm, the text is split into logical chunks, usually consisting of no more than a sentence or two. The Band is generated by lining up all the chunks in order, and then recording a color depending on whether a similarity has been detected within that chunk or not.

. . . .

The Band can tell you a lot about how books are related to each other! For example, if a book has a lot of stripes on the far right side of the Band, then there are similarities detected near the end of the text. That probably indicates that the same back matter or samples appear in another book. Stripes on the left indicate similarities detected near the start of the text, and they are probably disclaimers or generic copyright notices.

(We do our best to filter out disclaimers and other generic language used by a lot of authors, so hopefully you won’t see too many of those.)

Unfortunately, the algorithm can only identify similarities. It can’t tell us why the similarity exists.

Common Phrases or Quotations

If you see only one or two stripes, then those are likely common phrases. The sensitivity of the master algorithm is carefully tuned to try to avoid this, but it’s not always successful. These can also be quotations.

Similarity Band for The Best of Relations

Here’s an example of a Similarity Band for The Best of Relations, by Catherine Bilson. You can see that there is a single white stripe indicating a similarity about two-thirds of the way through the book. That similarity was identified as coming from none other than Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen – which is not unusual, as The Best of Relations is based on Pride and Prejudice! In this case, it’s a famous line from Jane Austen’s classic that Catherine Bilson added to her novel.

I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit.

The Best of Relations/Pride and Prejudice

What Does Plagiarism Look Like?

Royal Love, by Cristiane Serruya

This is the Similarity Band for Royal Love, a romance novel by Cristiane Serruya. Royal Love is currently part of an ongoing court case filed by famed romance author Nora Roberts against Cristiane Serruya in April 2019, accusing her of plagiarizing lines from as many as forty other romance authors.

The Similar Works system has identified many similarities in Royal Love, spread throughout the book.

In addition to potentially being a great help to authors, PG thinks this is a fascinating field of analysis.

Here’s a link to Similar Works

A human being

A human being is primarily a bag for putting food into; the other functions and faculties may be more godlike, but in point of time they come afterwards. A man dies and is buried, and all his words and actions are forgotten, but the food he has eaten lives after him in the sound or rotten bones of his children. I think it could be plausibly argued that changes of diet are more important than changes of dynasty or even of religion….Yet it is curious how seldom the all-importance of food is recognized. You see statues everywhere to politicians, poets, bishops, but none to cooks or bacon-curers or market gardeners.

George Orwell

Have We Weaponized Virtue?

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

FOR EVERY ACTION, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Newton’s Third Law deals with physical objects, but does it also have something to teach us about human behavior and the clash of forces in our fraught and turbulent society?

When it comes to the volatile issues of race, sex, identity, privilege, rights, and freedom, well-intentioned actions to redress genuine injuries can conflict with equally important societal values, such as freedom of speech and the open exchange of ideas. Are there unintended and adverse consequences that flow from the energetic vindication of cherished rights in our society? Consequences that have been ignored and deserve serious examination? Is there still any legitimate place for dissent and disagreement on these fundamental issues?

In The Tyranny of Virtue: Identity, the Academy, and the Hunt for Political Heresies, Robert Boyers, professor of English at Skidmore College, author of 10 books, and editor of the literary journal Salmagundi, is alarmed by the “irrationality and anti-intellectuality” on college campuses and in the wider cultural environment that was “unleashed by many of the most vocal proponents of the new fundamentalism” to “silence or intimidate opponents.” He is deeply concerned that

concepts with some genuine merit — like “privilege,” “appropriation,” and even “microaggression” — were very rapidly weaponized, and well-intentional discussions of “identity,” “inequality,” and “disability” became the leading edge of new efforts to label and separate the saved and the damned, the “woke” and the benighted, the victim and the oppressor.

He regrets that “people who are with you on most things — on the obligation to move the world as it is closer to the world as it should be — are increasingly suspicious of dissent.”

Boyers is asking whether in our zeal to address the consequences of racism, misogyny, sexual violence, bigotry, and intolerance in America, are we spreading a new intolerance, undermining cherished values of free and open discussion?

. . . .

As Boyers sees it, tendencies that alarmed him and others on the liberal left 25 or 30 years ago have grown more disturbing.

Intolerance among young people and their academic sponsors in the university is more entrenched than it was before, and both administrators and a large proportion of the liberal professoriate are running scared, fearful that they will be accused of thought crimes if they speak out against even the most obvious abuses and absurdities.

Boyers offers a startling example.

An Ivy League college senior in Boyers’s July 2018 New York State Summer Writers Institute — a young white man — told Boyers he was denounced in a seminar by several other students for writing poems based on his experience as a volunteer in Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. “How dare he write poems about lynching and the travails of oppressed people when it was obvious that he has no legitimate claim to that material?” Boyers sarcastically asks, echoing the all-too-sincere accusations leveled at the student. “Was it not obvious,” Boyers continues, “that a ‘privileged’ white male, who could afford to take off a year of college to work as a volunteer, really had no access to the suffering of the people he hoped to study and evoke?”

Boyers expands this example beyond the college setting by recounting another controversy that unfolded in July 2018, when objections (which Boyers calls “predictably nasty and belligerent”) were lodged against The Nation magazine for publishing a short poem by a young white poet in which he used black vernacular language. Within a few days the poetry editors who had reviewed and approved the poem issued what Nation columnist Katha Pollitt called a “craven apology” that read “like a letter from a re-education camp.” In The Atlantic, the scholar of black English John McWhorter called the language in the poem “true and ordinary black speech” and a “spot-on depiction of the dialect in use.” He also noted the irony that, at a time when whites are encouraged “to understand […] the black experience,” white artists who seek “to empathize […] as artists” are told to cease and desist.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

For PG, freedom of expression qualifies as the premier virtue of a free and civilized society.

With it, the polity has the possibility of fixing things that are broken, righting the wrongs that are, unfortunately, inevitable in any collection of diverse human beings.

Without it, not so much.

Close behind freedom of expression is tolerance for the opinions others with whom we disagree.

PG is reminded of how his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, illustrated Voltaire’s beliefs:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

The Gift of Good Soil

From The Wall Street Journal:

More than anything else during this lockdown, I’ve missed restaurants. What wouldn’t I give right now to be sitting with friends in a cheerful bistro, nursing a glass of wine and looking over the day’s menu? Instead, tucked under the bedcovers, I’m reading about dishes I might have ordered had I been so lucky. You can almost taste the food in Bill Buford’s “Dirt,” an engrossing, beautifully written memoir about his life as a cook in France.

“Dirt” refers to the soil that gives food its taste, the goût du terroir to which the French famously attribute the complexities inherent in wine. The book is a sequel to “Heat” (2006), Mr. Buford’s account of how he quit his job as an editor for the New Yorker to work in Italian restaurant kitchens. He was a man obsessed, determined to prove his worth among professionals, earning the requisite badges of honor: knife cuts, singed hair, burns and blisters. Former editor of the literary magazine Granta and author of “Among the Thugs” (1990), a hair-raising account of British soccer hooliganism, Mr. Buford seeks out extreme experiences. He finds plenty when he gets to Lyon.

The city, about 250 miles south of Paris, is the capital of French gastronomy and has been home to the finest chefs, including Daniel Boulud, who is from there, and the great Paul Bocuse. Mr. Buford intends to stay for three months, but he ends up living in the town for five years.

. . . .

During that time he works for a baker, attends a top cooking school and, finally, toils on the line in one of Lyon’s most famous restaurants.

Mr. Buford brings a novelistic approach to his story; he is both observer and participant. He’s an entertaining, often comical, raconteur. “The women were beautiful, as you would expect—it was France,” he observes upon arrival in Lyon. “It was the men who were unexpected. Their look was almost uniform: blunt, short-cropped hair, unshaven, sometimes a cheek scar, thuggish—ugly: forthrightly so. These were not New York faces. They were not Parisian. They were more English than French, an aging-lad look. I thought: I know these people. They are not fancy or fussy, and they unexpectedly put me at ease.”

. . . .

In his neighborhood bistro, a diner complains to Mr. Buford’s wife: “Do you really need to smile so much?” A taxi driver hits his 3-year-old boy for putting his legs on the seat. “I searched for words, while securing my children on the sidewalk, and put my head back into the car to tell the driver, in my best possible French, that he must never (jamais!), ever touch (toucher) my child (mon fils) or I would rip the eyeballs out of his fat sockets and eat them. Actually I have no idea what I said.” Mr. Buford had yet to master the French language.

. . . .

His descriptions of his new city are vivid and evocative. “In Lyon, the rivers make everything built near them—bridges, quais, pastel-painted sixteenth-century homes, random Roman ruins—into performances of light and darkness and reflection. But Lyon is also a throwback city—wiseguys, corrupt cops, unbathed operators working a chance, the women, mainly Eastern European, working their trade. Friday nights are rough: The after-hours clubs across the Saône from our home open at 11:00 p.m. and close whenever . . . Saturday nights, remarkably, are rougher than Fridays. You wake on Sunday and there is a drunk guy leaning against your door. A vehicle that had been parked in front of the apartment has been torched. Farmers arrive early at the market to hose away vomit.”

But early in the morning the enticing smell of bread wafts across the street from a bakery opposite his apartment. He befriends the owner, Bob, a large, jowly man, permanently bedecked with flour. After a month unable to find work in a restaurant, Mr. Buford becomes his apprentice.

The job is a stopgap. He leaves Bob when he is accepted at the prestigious culinary institute named for Paul Bocuse. The course is hard and, as in “Heat,” Mr. Buford is humorously self-deprecating. “My life had been a happy one, not quite knowing what a fricassee was.” At the school he learns, among other things, the three principles of a French plate: colorvolume and texture. Then, at last, he finds a restaurant willing to take him on.

The kitchen in Mathieu Viannay’s Michelin-starred La Mère Brazier was run the old-fashioned French way. It was hierarchical and tense, with 15-hour days. 

. . . .

“The French kitchen was about rules: that there was always one way and only one way (like trimming the gnarly ends off your beans—with your fingertips, never a knife).” There was even a rule about popping peas. Split the pod, drop the peas quickly into boiling water, drain and ice; the pea’s membrane will slide off with a gentle squeeze. He imagines the belly-wobbling laughs this idea would provoke in his Italian colleagues. “In the long history of Italian cuisine, you will not discover a single popped pea.”

But he has another goal besides training in a French kitchen: to investigate the history and origins of that country’s cooking and its links to Italian cuisine. Food historians have debunked the long-held myth that Catherine de’ Medici taught the French how to cook.

. . . .

This attitude towards food prevails even at the local school where Mr. Buford’s twins are enrolled. For lunch, the children are served three-course meals, no menu ever repeated during the year, ending with cheese, fruit, dessert or yogurt.

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