Missing in Action

PG was careless with a boxcutter a few minutes ago and discovered he has excellent circulation at the tip of his right index finger.

It has required two layers of Bandaids to prevent PG from dripping here and there. Touch-typing with a clump of bandages on the tip of “Pointer” is more than a bit frustrating.

(PG has used at least a week’s worth of back-spaces for this message.)

Therefore, PG has declared Pointer and his squad to be missing in action for today.

3 Publishing Trends You Must Know in 2024

From Entrepreneur:

What was the last book or novel you read? Was it full of action and adventure? A steamy, slow-burning romance? Maybe it was the tale of a successful business owner or entrepreneur. Or was it the tell-all from a famous entertainment icon?

More importantly, What format was that story in? The traditional way of reading a story these days has drifted from the standard paperback or hardcover physical book to that of eBooks, audiobooks and even videos.


The way we read has changed. And that change is not in just how we access the reading material. I’m going to explain 3 of the most insane trends happening in the world of publishing that will change the way you read in 2024.

Trend #1 — The explosion of eBooks

In 2020, 191 million eBooks were purchasedThis shouldn’t be a surprise, considering that the world was in the midst of a global pandemic. But this statistic has actually been growing steadily since about 2019.

The popularity of Amazon’s Kindle helped to drive that, with 84% of people reading those purchased eBooks on the device. Additionally, 23% of the $26 billion publishing industry in 2020 came from eBook purchases.

While the pandemic helped boost eBooks even higher, the impact of digital reading will only grow into 2024. Why? There are several reasons:

  • Convenience – readers can start reading immediately after purchase, without the need to leave the office or home.
  • Accessibility – to add to convenience, accessibility is also what’s helped to make eBooks a popular choice. eBooks come in various formats – PDF, ePUB and MOBI – and many are designed to handle and use assistive technology for those with disabilities.
  • Portability – the portable nature of eBooks means you can take an entire library anywhere you go. The Kindle is a popular device. However, thanks to its mobile app, anyone with a smartphone can access their library on whatever device – Mac, PC, iPhone, or Android – they prefer.
  • Customization – perfect for students at all levels, eBooks can mark up passages for quick reference, notes, annotations and even website links.

Trend #2 – Can you hear me now?

The convenience and portability of eBooks make them the perfect companion while on vacation or for a relaxing evening. But what if you don’t have time to sit and relax with a good book? Our hectic daily lives, both in and outside of work, can often make enjoying leisurely activities difficult to come by. So, while you may want to read, you probably don’t have the time or energy to settle down with a good book.

Enter the audiobook.

Audiobooks might seem like a new invention thanks to the growth in technology, but they’ve had a long life, starting in 1932. Actually, the American Foundation for the Blind established a recording studio, creating recordings of books on vinyl records.

This continued into the early 1990s when the term ‘audiobook’ became a standard to explain these recordings — the year 1995 introduced the debut of the soon-to-be audiobook giant Audible. Started by Donald Katz and Tim Mottthe two took the initial idea of the audiobook and began to develop it for the growing internet.

Two years later, the company released a mobile player, allowing people to listen while on the go. It wasn’t as popular or cheap as the emerging iPod, but it was a glimpse at what could be. Two years after that, Amazon became the strategic partner for Audible and the rest, as they say, is history.

Since then, searches for ‘audible’ have risen over the last 15 years by 167%, with revenue growing 14.3% year over year. While holding most of the eBook market, Amazon also hosts about 200,000 audiobooks through Audible.

In combination, the explosion of both eBooks and audiobooks will ultimately continue – especially as more publishers develop their works to accommodate the technology.

Link to the rest at Entrepreneur

PG understands that most of the OP is old news to regular visitors to TPV, but it’s nice to know that the word may be getting around to a wider audience.

Authors shocked to find AI ripoffs of their books being sold on Amazon

From The Guardian:

Publishing a book is a big occasion for any writer, and Rory Cellan-Jones is no exception.

“Like any author, I obsessively check Amazon,” he said. “And this thing popped up.”

The former BBC technology correspondent wrote a memoir untangling the truth about his family history. What had popped up on the Amazon website was a biography of Cellan-Jones, with a naively designed cover by someone he had never heard of.

“I thought: ‘This is strange – who’s writing a biography of me?’” Cellan-Jones told the Observer. “I don’t kid myself. It’s difficult enough for me to sell books about myself, [let alone] for other people to sell books about me.”

But glancing at a few passages revealed that Cellan-Jones had fallen victim to someone attempting to piggyback on his memoir by releasing a title with text apparently generated by artificial intelligence – one of an influx of AI titles since the emergence of ChatGPT enabled people to generate pages of text rather than bothering to write it.

Cellan-Jones’s book, Ruskin Park: Sylvia, Me and the BBC, describes how he discovered a shoebox of letters from his mother detailing her love affair with his father, a BBC TV director he only met at the age of 23, and how she came to spend most of her life in a one-bedroom south London flat. It is, he said, “about growing up with a single mother and a father who wasn’t there”.

The book rivalling his family detective story was “complete fantasy”, Cellan-Jones said. “There are passages about the Cellan-Joneses, an academic family sat around the table … His father, a kindly academic; his mother, a teacher. Just complete baloney.

“Then Amazon sent me an email saying: ‘You might like this.’ Their algorithm had decided this was a bloody book I would want rather than recommending my book that I’ve slaved long and hard over … They’re effectively allowing book spam and recommending it to the very person who is most annoyed by it.”

The ersatz biography and other titles by the pseudonymous author were removed by Amazon, but plenty more get through the filters intended to weed out low-quality books.

It has been easy for bookspammers to release dozens of titles in a day using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) system, which enables authors to self-publish ebooks and printed books.

. . . .

Someone styled as “Steven Walryn” published more than 30 books, mostly nonsensical and repetitive guides on how to use camera brands, as well as a couple of fantasy romances, with 15 published on the same day in May. They were removed by Amazon last week.

. . . .

Amazon could not say how many books it prevents from being published or how many were taken down. In August, Jane Friedman, who writes about publishing, forced it to remove five bogus titles in her name that appeared to be AI-generated.

“Amazon is clearly facing significant challenges with the influx of AI-generated products in its stores, and it appears to be playing catchup,” said Nicola Solomon, the chief executive of the Society of Authors (SoA).

A few weeks ago, the firm said publishers of new KDP publications would need to declare if they included AI-generated content and would be limited to publishing three books a day, moves welcomed by Solomon.

“But these small fixes seem more designed to benefit Amazon’s processes than readers and human authors,” she added. The SoA wants Amazon to clearly label products as AI-generated and allow readers to filter out AI titles.

The problem is similar to that encountered by musicians, who face competition for a slice of Spotify’s royalty pot from people uploading white noise to the streaming service.

Link to the rest on The Guardian

Plan to Write a Book When You Retire? Some Tips for Late Blooming Writers

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

A lot of people hope to write a book when they retire. And that’s a great plan. Late blooming writers can do very well for themselves if they learn to write well and have something unique to say.

Some writers who became successful authors in their later years were Laura Ingalls Wilder, who was 64 when she published Little House on the Prairie, Bram Stoker, who was 51 when Dracula came out, and Frank McCourt, who was 66 when his first book, Angela’s Ashes made it into print.

Late blooming writers have some advantages over younger people starting writing careers. For one thing, they have decades of experience to write about. And they’ve got a lot more reading under their literary belts. Presumably they’ve read a lot in their chosen genre, so they know their audience, and what that audience expects.

Well, unless they don’t…

The Trouble with Memoirs

Oh, you read mostly thrillers, but you plan to write a memoir about your abusive childhood and fight with prostate cancer? Yeah, most late blooming writers think they’ll start with a memoir.

So start reading! You can’t just sit down and write a memoir if you’ve never read one any more than you can write a mystery if you’ve never read Agatha Christie or Raymond Chandler.

When choosing what to write about, it’s good to keep in mind that memoirs are the hardest books to sell — whether you’re querying agents and traditional publishers or self-publishing.

Why? Because it takes topnotch writing skills to write a memoir other people want to read, especially one that chronicles abuse and pain. This week, on Jane Friedman’s blog, editor Hattie Fletcher says, “if you’re asking whether writing this memoir is likely to justify your time and energy, financially — well, unfortunately, that’s probably a very short response letter. It’s almost certainly not.”

However, the “misery memoir” is an accepted genre, and some of them sell very well. Look at James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, which was a bestseller until the revelation that it wasn’t a memoir at all, but mostly fiction. Then fans were furious. They wanted a misery memoir, not a novel.

But it’s still not the best way to break into the business. If you’re not famous, nobody much cares about your life story, unless you’ve got a great hook. (Like you’re Elvis’s love child, a kid famously rescued from a well, or you invented the creamsicle.)

Late Blooming Writers Should Think Outside the Book

I have to admit you couldn’t pay me to read most memoirs. Bad ones can be tedious and cringey.

But I’ll read anything David Sedaris writes. His short memoir-like essays are brilliant and hilarious.

If the book you want to write is a memoir, you might consider writing it in bits — otherwise known as “creative nonfiction” essays. You’ll have readers gobbling them up if you write them with a punchline, like David Sedaris, or an uplifting message, like the stories in the “Chicken Soup” anthologies.

Short essays are much easier to sell than a full-length book. They can also be a sales tool if you decide to write a book later.  Published essays help you gather a following and build a “platform.”

In fact, who knows — you may find those essays work well as blogposts, and your “book” should really be a blog.

Turn Your Life Experiences into Fiction

But you don’t have to write a memoir if you want to write about your life experiences. You can write those experiences as fiction. Change names and settings and you’ll probably find the characters take off and lead you to places you never expected.

Ruth Harris wrote a great post a few years ago on turning real life into fiction.

 “After getting bogged down over and over because I kept thinking “it really happened” was important, it eventually dawned on me that ignoring “it really happened” was even more important.”

You just need to be careful you don’t libel anybody. So make sure your bad guy isn’t recognizable as a real person. And if you’re writing about that tall, dark, handsome stranger who totally messed up your life, make him a short gnome-y bald dude and he’ll never own up to being that guy.

Miss Ellwood was a Great Teacher — in 1971

I’ve found that a lot of late blooming writers tend to fall back on what they learned in high school when they pick up writing again. This is fine when it comes to avoiding dangling participles and overuse of adverbs.

But writing in the style of Jack Kerouac is probably not going to impress many publishing professionals in 2023. Hey, Jack Kerouac himself probably couldn’t get a nibble from an agent today. Reading habits have changed.

And now that you’re writing as a grown-up, Miss Ellwood isn’t going to be here to give you a gold star for effort, or praise you for being “honest” when you write cringey confessions and navel-gazing musings.

The truth is, you’re not a student anymore, so nobody’s being paid to encourage your fledgling scribbles. If you want anybody to read your stuff, you have to keep that reader in mind. And she’s probably not Miss Ellwood.

Nobody’s going to read your book because you (sob) spent 4 whole years writing it. Most authors spend that long on their first book. It takes a long time to learn to write narrative prose with the right pacing, tension, action, and characterization to keep a reader turning the pages.

People generally don’t want to pay you for your learning time. You need to produce a saleable product before you can make sales.

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

Peak TV Is Over. A Different Hollywood Is Coming.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Fewer new shows in production. A higher bar to get shows renewed. Rich paydays going only to an elite few.

The labor pact writers struck with studios and streamers this week, ending a five-month strike,  will likely accelerate the retrenchment that was already under way in Hollywood for more than a year. It represented a formal end to “peak TV,” a decade that included an explosion of programming for viewers—and job opportunities for talent in Tinseltown.

Writers won major concessions in the deal, including new bonus payouts and higher royalties. Those hard-won victories are especially important given the hard financial realities of the entertainment business. 

A combination of debt-laden mergers, mounting losses in streaming, and the fast-shrinking cable TV bundle, has led to a push on Wall Street for entertainment companies to rein in spending. 

The streamers will have to find a way to pay increased talent costs—from the writers’ settlement, along with an earlier deal with directors and whatever is finalized with actors—without adding to their overall production costs.

That will likely mean that companies will make fewer new shows and cancel even more that are on the bubble. In effect, while many people in Hollywood will get better pay as a result of the deal, the contraction in spending means there will be less work to go around.

“The gusher of spending—I don’t see that marketplace coming back,” said Kevin Reilly, who held top programming positions at Fox, NBC and the streaming service HBO Max, championing shows like “The Office” and “The Shield” along the way. “Everyone will get a better piece of what they’ve created. But if anyone is thinking, ‘Let the good times roll!’—that won’t happen.”

One veteran TV producer predicted the number of scripted shows Hollywood produces could fall by one-third in the next three years. “The contraction in investment in content will by definition restrict the amount of work that’s needed,” the executive said.

For most of a decade, streaming companies were antiestablishment insurgents. Now, streamers, from Netflix to Max to Disney+ to Amazon Prime Video, are the new establishment, and the negotiations with writers reflected that. 

Mike Royce, a writer-producer whose credits include “Everybody Loves Raymond” and the Netflix reboot of “One Day at a Time,” said pushing for better terms was a no-brainer, regardless of whatever programming cuts might be coming, because the old system wasn’t working.

“There is no, ‘You’ll cut off your nose to spite your face,’ ” he said. “Our faces had already been eaten. The world we were in, we had lost so much.”

Writers were upset that streaming didn’t offer the same rewards for success as traditional TV. Under the new deal, they secured bonuses when their streaming shows perform well. They were concerned about a movement toward smaller writing rooms—a cost-cutting measure as streamers continued to bleed money—and won a provision that imposes minimum staffing requirements. 

The studios held the line on key issues. Streamers won’t publicly release viewing data, despite the writers’ demands for transparency, but instead will give data on how shows fared to the Guild confidentially to share with its members in aggregate form. 

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Top 10 opening scenes in books

From The Guardian:

Sometimes I want an opening to slap me in the face; other times I’d rather it come on like a creepy hand across my shoulder. There are millions of ways a voice can convince me to listen, but there are even more ways it can fail. I have little patience for the latter. Life is not long enough to ingest sub-par art.

It all gets so much more fraught when I’m the writer, not the reader, of that opening scene. I worked and reworked, un-worked and reworked the first chapter of my second novel, The Answers, trying to get the tone just right. It began as 12 pages, a braid of the main character’s memories and anxieties, then whittled down to 10, then eight, then five. For a year, I thought that five-page opening was perfect. Then, in a rare late-night revision fit, I deleted it and replaced the whole thing with a single paragraph. Now it wastes no time in opening the book with the right feeling –a mix of regret and menace and mystery.

Here are 10 openings that satisfied me enough to be memorable. As usual, the list is unranked and inherently incomplete.

1. A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

“Nikki, the name we finally gave my younger daughter, is not an abbreviation; it was a compromise I reached with her father. For paradoxically it was he who wanted to give her a Japanese name and I – perhaps out of some selfish desire not to be reminded of the past – insisted on an English one.”

I was first compelled by the nervous, halting voice, but in only two sentences the narrator has hinted at tensions between past and present, mother and father, England and Japan.

2. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

“Everyone had always said that John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father. It had been said so often that John, without ever thinking about it, had come to believe it himself. Not until the morning of his 14th birthday did he really begin to think about it, and by then it was already too late.”

The language here is so deliciously clear, yet the content is about how brutal and controlling an inherited story can be, how the repeated words of others can predetermine the life of another. Few writers have elucidated this human predicament as well as Baldwin.

3. Mrs Bridge by Evan S Connell

“Her first name was India – she was never able to get used to it. It seemed to her that her parents must have been thinking of someone else when they named her. Or were they hoping for another sort of daughter? As a child she was often on the point of inquiring, but time passed, and she never did.”

The utter exasperation and estrangement. Enough said.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

What is Amazon’s [redacted] ‘Project Nessie’ algorithm?

From TechCrunch:

The FTC’s lawsuit against Amazon alleging anti-competitive practices is largely full of things we already knew in a general sense: price hikes, pressure to use Amazon fulfillment and so on. But then we get to a sea of redactions and the mysterious “Project Nessie.” What is it, and could it possibly be as alarming as the unredacted sections make it sound?

The project, product or process is referred to more than a dozen times in the complaint filed by the FTC. And it’s one of those situations where the redactions probably make it sound scarier than it actually is.


The first reference comes on page 6:

Amazon has also [redacted] through a [redacted] operation called “Project Nessie.” [redacted] Amazon’s Project Nessie has already extracted over [redacted] from American households.

What is it extracting? Money? Data? Something quantifiable, or else the document would not say “over.” Though I wouldn’t put it past Amazon, the context does not suggest anything physical or private, like video or biometrics.

An Amazon blog post from 2018 spotted by GeekWire describes Nessie as “a system used to monitor spikes or trends on Amazon.com.” Much of the timeline in the lawsuit takes place since then, however, so this definition (such as it is) may no longer be accurate, if it ever was.

Then, on page 11, among discussions of “anti-discounting” tactics, we have:

Amazon has deemed Project Nessie [redacted]: it has generated more than [redacted] in excess profit for Amazon.

In addition to overcharging its customers…

So Nessie does result in profit, but not necessarily directly, even though the last sentence implies it.

A bit of redaction sleuthing: An earlier sentence describes Nessie as a “[redacted] algorithm,” with the blackout text composed of no more than five or six characters (and note, “a” not “an”). Price? Profit? Sales? “Search” would just about fit too.

Last in Nessie references in the lawsuit is the whole section 7, which is four pages dedicated purely to Project Nessie.

Project Nessie is an algorithm [redacted]. Aware that this scheme belies its public claim that it “seek[s] to be Earth’s most customer-centric company,” [redacted].

How distressing. It later refers to “Part VI.A.3, above” in the middle of a redacted paragraph; the section is about how “Amazon maintains its monopolies by suppressing price competition with its first-party anti-discounting algorithm.”

Amazon recognizes the importance of maintaining the perception that it has lower prices than competitors. Behind closed doors, however, Amazon executives actively [redacted].

Instead, [redacted] “prices will go up.”

So what are we to make of this mysterious Project Nessie? It’s a highly secret internal algorithm and associated operation that makes them a lot of money, likely by manipulating price or search.

Are those small, seemingly arbitrary changes to price we see on items — up by a few cents today, down by a few tomorrow — Project Nessie in action, increasing or decreasing the price as needed based on the immense amount of sales data they have access to? This seems the most likely explanation, and the ability to dictate price based on what a customer is likely to pay would be both highly profitable and fit the description of “belying” the customer-first narrative.

Or could it be that search — which we know Amazon heavily manipulates in favor of certain sellers — is also being juiced in some unknown way? It could also be something else entirely, more arcane or technical.

One thing is sure: Amazon doesn’t like talking about it. (I contacted the company for comment and have not heard back yet.)

Will we ever find out what it is? It seems very unlikely that this entire lawsuit and trial will not shed at least a little light on it.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch

The Writers Guild of America has won its monthslong dispute with the studios

From Fortune Data Sheet:

The Writers Guild of America has won its monthslong dispute with the studios. While the most immediate effect of the strike’s end will be the return of late-night TV—and hooray for that—the new deal may ultimately be most remembered as a precedent-setter in the much wider, emerging confrontation between labor and management over the use of AI.

Here’s the gist of the new three-year “basic agreement” as it relates to (mainly generative) AI:

If studios use genAI to generate scripts, the results won’t qualify as “literary material,” which means fleshie writers won’t have to share writing credits with the AI. GenAI output also can’t qualify as “assigned” or “source” material like a novel or game might, so again, the person tasked with wrangling such output gets all the credit—and doesn’t have to settle for the lower pay associated with doing rewrites. Studios must make writers aware if they’re being given AI-generated text to incorporate. Writers can use AI if they want (and must first notify the studio if planning to do so) but the studios can’t force them to use it. And the Guild gets to reject the use of its members’ writings to train AI models.

Obviously, these terms are specific to their context, which includes the fact that the studios have multiple incentives to keep humans involved in the process—straight genAI output is not copyrightable, and the technology is still a way off being able to write acceptable screenplays on its own. Other unions may also lack the muscle (and solidarity, in this case from Hollywood actors) to win comparable concessions.

But the underlying principle is at least theoretically applicable in many other sectors: AI is a tool that can be incorporated into the workflow—with the consent of everyone involved—but it’s not for replacing nor undermining the human worker.

That seems to be a healthy balance. It certainly fits very nicely with the “copilot” narrative of AI that companies such as Microsoft are touting, and sticking to that storyline would give AI its best shot at societal acceptance. But let’s see how this plays out over time.

Link to the rest at Fortune Datasheet

PG says this is a preliminary skirmish in what is likely to be a long series of disputes between employees who earn a salary by writing and AI content generation.

PG thinks trade unions will move far too slowly to keep up with developments in AI. Freelance writers will be able to utilize AI tools with great flexibility in the manner that seems best to them in order to generate quality content more quickly.

AI Analysis of Novels Written by Four Authors

If you read TPV in the way many do – from the most recent to the less recent posts, what follows for you is the results of ChatGPT (3.5) analyses of novels written by several different novelists that are known by many.

PG hasn’t read anything Danielle Steel has written, but has read most or all of the novels of Tolstoy, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, in most cases, several decades in the past (although he has been thinking of rereading all three of these authors together with several more that PG regards as notable masters/mistresses of their art and craft).

Feel free to praise/criticize, agree/disagree with any of the AI analyses.

PG isn’t certain exactly what materials ChatGPT has swallowed that are relevant to his queries, but for most subjects, they are voluminous, enough raw material that no human or groups of humans (short of the populations of large nation-states – maybe) would be capable of reading it all.

That said, there is no rule governing huge computer systems that guarantees they will not make huge mistakes.

ChatGPT Analysis of the Typical Structure of a Danielle Steel Novel

Danielle Steel is a prolific author known for her romance novels and family dramas. While the specifics of her novels can vary, there is a typical structure and formula that she often follows to create her compelling stories. Here’s an analysis of the typical structure of a Danielle Steel novel:

  1. Introduction of Main Characters: A Danielle Steel novel typically begins by introducing the main characters, often with a focus on the female protagonist. These characters are usually well-developed with distinct personalities and backgrounds.
  2. Setting: The novels are often set in glamorous and affluent locations, such as New York City, Paris, or San Francisco. The setting is used to create a sense of luxury and escapism.
  3. Conflict and Challenges: Early in the story, a major conflict or challenge is introduced. This could be a personal tragedy, a romantic setback, or a family crisis. The conflict is what drives the plot and keeps the reader engaged.
  4. Romantic Elements: Romance is a central theme in Danielle Steel’s novels. The protagonist typically encounters a love interest or has a complicated romantic history. The development of romantic relationships and the obstacles they face are key components of the story.
  5. Family Dynamics: Family plays a significant role in Danielle Steel’s novels. The protagonist often has a complex family background, and family relationships and dynamics are explored throughout the story. Family secrets and conflicts are common plot points.
  6. Overcoming Adversity: As the story progresses, the characters face various challenges and adversities. These challenges could be personal, professional, or related to their relationships. The characters often demonstrate resilience and strength as they navigate these difficulties.
  7. Resolution and Happy Endings: Danielle Steel’s novels are known for their feel-good, optimistic endings. After overcoming the obstacles and challenges, the characters typically find happiness, whether in their personal lives, careers, or relationships. The novels often conclude with a sense of closure and hope.
  8. Themes of Love and Friendship: Themes of love, friendship, and the importance of human connections are prevalent in Danielle Steel’s novels. The characters often rely on the support of their friends and loved ones to overcome their challenges.
  9. Epilogue: Many of Danielle Steel’s novels include an epilogue that offers a glimpse into the characters’ lives after the main events of the story. This provides readers with a sense of closure and satisfaction.
  10. Prolific Output: Danielle Steel is known for her prolific writing, and she has a dedicated fan base. Her novels are typically not very long, making them easy to read, and she has released multiple novels each year throughout her career.

Overall, Danielle Steel’s novels follow a formulaic structure that combines elements of romance, family drama, and personal growth. While the specific details and characters may vary from book to book, her signature style and focus on themes of love and resilience remain constant, making her novels popular among readers seeking heartwarming stories with happy endings.

ChatGPT Analysis of the Typical Structure of Leo Tolstoy’s Novels

Leo Tolstoy, a renowned Russian novelist and philosopher, is known for his epic and sprawling novels that often delve deeply into the human condition and societal issues. While the exact structure of his novels can vary, there are some typical elements and characteristics that can be found in many of his works. One of the most famous examples of Tolstoy’s novel structure is found in his two major novels, “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina.” Here’s a description of the typical structure of his novels:

  1. Vast Character Ensembles: Tolstoy’s novels often feature a wide array of characters from different social classes and backgrounds. These characters have complex and multifaceted personalities, and Tolstoy delves deep into their inner thoughts and emotions. The ensemble of characters allows Tolstoy to explore various facets of Russian society and human nature.
  2. Societal and Philosophical Themes: Tolstoy’s novels are not just stories but also philosophical treatises on life, love, morality, and the human condition. Throughout his works, he explores profound themes and engages in philosophical discussions, often through the thoughts and dialogues of his characters.
  3. Historical Context: Many of Tolstoy’s novels are set against the backdrop of significant historical events in Russia. For example, “War and Peace” takes place during the Napoleonic Wars, and “Anna Karenina” is set in the 19th-century Russian aristocracy. Tolstoy’s meticulous research and attention to historical detail create a rich and immersive historical context for his narratives.
  4. Dual Plotlines: Tolstoy frequently employs dual plotlines or parallel narratives. In “War and Peace,” for instance, one plotline follows the lives of aristocrats and their societal interactions, while the other focuses on the experiences of soldiers during wartime. This dual narrative structure allows Tolstoy to examine the interplay between personal lives and historical events.
  5. Realistic Descriptions: Tolstoy is known for his vivid and detailed descriptions of characters, settings, and everyday life. His writing style brings the world he creates to life, immersing readers in the sights, sounds, and emotions of his characters.
  6. Moral and Ethical Dilemmas: Tolstoy’s characters often grapple with moral and ethical dilemmas, and their decisions have far-reaching consequences. These dilemmas serve as a central focus of the novels and contribute to their philosophical depth.
  7. Episodic Structure: Tolstoy’s novels often have an episodic structure with numerous subplots and interconnected stories. This structure allows him to explore different aspects of his characters’ lives and the broader societal landscape.
  8. Reflection and Self-Examination: Characters in Tolstoy’s novels frequently engage in introspection and self-examination. Their inner thoughts and conflicts are given significant attention, providing insight into their evolving personalities and values.
  9. Symbolism and Metaphor: Tolstoy employs symbolism and metaphor to convey deeper meanings and themes in his works. These literary devices add layers of interpretation to the narratives.

In summary, Tolstoy’s novels are characterized by their rich character ensembles, philosophical depth, historical context, and intricate narrative structures. His exploration of human nature, society, and morality makes his novels enduring classics that continue to be studied and admired for their complexity and insight.

ChatGPT Analysis of the Typical Structure of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Novels

F. Scott Fitzgerald, an American novelist and short story writer, is best known for his novels that capture the spirit of the Jazz Age in the early 20th century. His novels typically share certain structural elements and themes, although each work is unique in its own right. Here is a description of the general structure of Fitzgerald’s novels:

  1. First-Person Narration: Many of Fitzgerald’s novels are narrated in the first person by a character who is often an observer of the world around them. This narrative style allows readers to gain insights into the protagonist’s thoughts, feelings, and personal experiences.
  2. Social Commentary: Fitzgerald’s novels often serve as a commentary on the social and cultural norms of the time. He frequently explores themes such as wealth, class, privilege, and the pursuit of the American Dream. His characters are often caught up in the allure of materialism and the desire for social status.
  3. Love and Relationships: Romantic relationships play a central role in Fitzgerald’s novels. His characters often experience love, infatuation, and heartbreak, reflecting the complexities of human emotions. These relationships are often intertwined with the pursuit of success and happiness.
  4. Setting: Fitzgerald’s novels are usually set in the 1920s, a period of significant social change and cultural upheaval in the United States. The settings often include glamorous and decadent locations such as New York City, the French Riviera, or Long Island’s North Shore.
  5. Symbolism and Imagery: Fitzgerald is known for his use of symbolism and vivid imagery in his writing. Objects and settings often carry deeper symbolic meanings, and his prose is rich in metaphorical language.
  6. The American Dream: Many of Fitzgerald’s characters are driven by the American Dream—the belief that anyone can achieve success and prosperity through hard work and determination. However, Fitzgerald often portrays the disillusionment and moral decay that can accompany the relentless pursuit of wealth and status.
  7. Tragic Flaws: Fitzgerald’s protagonists often have tragic flaws that lead to their downfall. These flaws may include naivety, idealism, or an inability to confront the realities of their lives. Their flaws contribute to the tragic and sometimes ironic endings of his novels.
  8. Flashbacks and Nonlinear Narrative: Fitzgerald frequently employs flashbacks and non-linear narrative techniques to provide insight into his characters’ pasts and motivations. These techniques add depth to the storytelling and allow readers to piece together the characters’ histories.
  9. Exploration of Identity: Many of Fitzgerald’s characters grapple with questions of identity and self-discovery. They often struggle to define themselves in a rapidly changing world and may adopt personas or masks to fit in with their social circles.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels, including “The Great Gatsby,” “Tender Is the Night,” and “This Side of Paradise,” are celebrated for their exploration of the human condition, their vivid portrayal of the Roaring Twenties, and their enduring themes of love, ambition, and the pursuit of happiness in a changing society. His storytelling style and thematic concerns continue to resonate with readers today.

ChatGPT Analysis of the Typical Structure of Ernest Hemingway’s Novels

Ernest Hemingway was known for his distinctive writing style and narrative structure. A typical Hemingway novel often follows a simple yet impactful structure characterized by the following elements:

  1. Concise Prose: Hemingway’s writing is known for its brevity and simplicity. He uses short sentences and precise language to convey a lot with few words, creating a straightforward and uncluttered style.
  2. Iceberg Theory: Hemingway employs the “Iceberg Theory,” where he provides only the tip of the iceberg, leaving readers to infer deeper meaning and emotions beneath the surface. He trusts readers to interpret the subtext.
  3. Sparse Description: Hemingway tends to use minimal description when it comes to characters and settings. He lets readers fill in the details with their imagination, focusing on the essentials.
  4. Dialogue-Driven: His novels often feature realistic and authentic dialogues that reveal characters’ personalities and relationships. These dialogues are crucial for conveying subtext and emotions.
  5. Flashbacks and Foreshadowing: Hemingway occasionally uses flashbacks and foreshadowing to add depth to his narratives. These techniques provide insight into the characters’ past experiences and future consequences.
  6. Themes of Stoicism and Existentialism: Many of Hemingway’s works explore themes of stoicism, the “grace under pressure” philosophy, and existentialism. His characters often face challenging situations with courage and grace.
  7. Hemingway Code Hero: The protagonist in Hemingway’s novels typically embodies the “Hemingway Code Hero” qualities, such as bravery, self-reliance, and a sense of honor. These characters often grapple with existential questions.
  8. Multiple Settings: Hemingway’s novels often involve characters moving between different settings, reflecting his own experiences as an expatriate and traveler. These settings contribute to the themes and atmosphere of his works.
  9. Nonlinear Plot: While Hemingway’s novels may not follow a strict chronological order, they usually present events in a way that serves the narrative’s emotional impact rather than a linear timeline.
  10. Strong Endings: Hemingway often concludes his novels with powerful, open-ended, or thought-provoking endings that leave readers contemplating the story’s implications.

Notable examples of Hemingway novels that embody these characteristics include “The Old Man and the Sea,” “A Farewell to Arms,” and “The Sun Also Rises.” His writing style and structure continue to be influential in modern literature.

8 Dinner Parties in Literature Gone Wrong

From Electric Lit:

There’s something inherently charged and dramatic about a dinner party—various individuals, couples, or families coming together to share a meal, perhaps several courses over several hours, with everyone trapped in their seats. No escape, interruption, or distraction. Just the food, and each other’s company. 

In real life, the drama of these dinner parties is often confined to a mouthy uncle, or a political debate that morphs into a shouting match after too much wine’s been served. In fiction, though, the possible dramas and dangers of a dinner party are almost limitless—the tight, intimate space of contrasting characters with conflicting motivations a perfect setting for writers to enact their very worst. A fictional dinner might be capable of upending a character’s life over the course of just a few pages, for instance. Or the dinner food or invitees themselves could be treacherous. Or, as in my novel, a dinner party could be the very inconvenient situation a character finds herself in on the brink of the apocalypse.

. . . .

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Jack and Grace are the envy of their dinner guests: he’s handsome, successful, and charming; she’s graceful, doting, and a wonder in the kitchen. Little do these dinner guests know, though, that the elaborate three-course meal Grace has prepared is a malicious test designed by Jack, a secret sociopath—and if the beef wellington is undercooked or the souffles overdone, there will be hell to pay. 

. . . .

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

Protagonist Wallace, a gay, Black, introverted biochemistry graduate student, is pondering leaving his predominately White Midwestern university given the many indignities he’s endured inside his lab and on campus. Wallace’s limits are further tested when he’s invited to a campus dinner party. The danger, here, is overt when one of the other guests makes racist, incendiary remarks to Wallace during the meal. But there are also the more subtle, pervasive dangers of the institutional system in which Wallace is enmeshed, a system that consistently suppresses and permits these types of comments and conversations. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Children’s Books Edition: PRH’s ‘Banned Wagon’ Rolls Sunday

From Publishing Perspectives:

At Frankfurter Buchmesse (October 18 to 22), programming on tap in many parts of the world’s largest book publishing trade fair reflects the fact that politically driven censorship–frequently targeting children and young adult readers (YA)–is much on the minds of book professionals this year.
Despite the fact that the international sweep of right-wing censorship has recently surfaced in young people’s literature and textbook assaults–in Brazil’s State of São Paulo; in the vast educational system of Mexico; and in the Caribbean’s Dominican Republic–the waves of book bannings powered largely by organized activists in the United States have drawn sharp and understandable attention.

. . . .

Hearing the call, Penguin Random House–the world’s largest and most internationally positioned of trade publishers– is gassing up something new: its “Banned Wagon: A Vehicle for Change.”

The goal is to take the debate right into the American South during Banned Books Week. Putting its fuel budget where its “Read Banned Books” message is, the vehicle not only will showcase a section of 12 frequently challenged books but will also distribute free copies of those books to attendees in each of the cities in which the tour “sits down.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

New York City is lecturing to the unwashed masses occupying the rest of the country so they’ll understand they need listen to their betters and radically change their benighted values and beliefs. Right now.

Why Bookstores Can’t Avoid Politics

From Publishers Weekly:

The most glaring challenge to access to books today stems from attacks on school and public libraries by right-wing politicians and activists. In Texas, lawmakers are trying to regulate how books are sold to schools. Libraries frequently receive bomb threats, including in a recent spate in the Chicago area. These are brazen and dangerous attacks on our democracy as well as fundamental challenges to bookstores—but they’re not the only challenge that books and booksellers face.

Almost every bookseller has heard some version of “$18 for a paperback! Books are so expensive!” Given the thousands of hours of skilled labor a book requires, $18 really should be considered cheap. But $18 is still too much for many people. Once they’ve paid their rent, health insurance premiums, student loans, car loans, phone bills, and other utility bills, and fed and clothed their families, there isn’t enough left to buy the books they want. Readers who should be booksellers’ customers aren’t.

Today, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. The minimum wage in 1968, when adjusted for inflation, would have been worth $12 per hour today. According to data from the Federal Reserve and Realtime Inequality, if the federal minimum wage were to have grown with increases in productivity since 1968, it would’ve been $21.50 in 2020. Since 1980, the top 1% has seen its income grow 235.3%, while the bottom 50% has only seen an increase of 29.8%. We talk about the erosion of the American middle class in many other contexts, but I rarely see it discussed in terms of the ways in which it impacts small businesses in a consumer-spending-driven economy.

Those same expenses that eat into customers’ discretionary spending strain bookstore owners, too. We pay for health insurance for our employees, dramatically reducing our potential wages. We get squeezed on rent; too often we are forced to move from successful locations because landlords want more money. These economic conditions aren’t natural phenomena. Low wages and exorbitant healthcare, housing, and education costs are the result of policy decisions made to support some populations at the expense of others. And though none of those policies target bookstores, they still hit us.

My book, The Art of Libromancy, focuses on the changes booksellers can make to stores that will impact the publishing industry and the wider world. But booksellers also need to look at the challenges facing all small businesses and all Americans, and consider techniques for change that may have made us uncomfortable in the past. The American Booksellers Association has used litigation in the past, notably when it sued publishers and Barnes & Noble over unfair discounts; the shop local movement seeks to change both the culture of individual communities and influence municipal, state, and federal policy; and the ABA and many booksellers engage in antitrust and anti-censorship advocacy. These political actions have a direct focus on bookstores. But, taking a larger view, can we really argue that the collapse of the American middle class only indirectly affects our industry?

. . . .

That confronting these specific challenges overlaps with other political conflicts over social and economic justice shouldn’t make us fear accusations of partisanship. Rather we should look at is as an opportunity for solidarity and community with those who have been fighting these battles for decades.

Too many people in this country can’t afford the goods and services—and books—they want because of policies that transfer wealth from the working class to the rich and powerful. As much as booksellers may want to remain nonpartisan, we have to recognize that many of the challenges our stores face are political and, at least today, partisan. I believe if bookstore owners focus on community building and cultivating long-term booksellers, we can run profitable bookstores that pay livable wages—even if we are hamstrung by these challenges. But imagine if we weren’t.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

“My book, The Art of Libromancy, focuses on the changes booksellers can make to stores that will impact the publishing industry and the wider world.”

When PG goes into a physical bookstore, the last thing he wants to be confronted with is politics. If a bookstore couldn’t avoid politics, PG would head out the door and order a book from Amazon.

PG notes that the author of the OP is the co-owner of a bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While the author is correct that the federal minimum hourly wage is $7.25 per hour, Massachusetts has set a state minimum wage of $15.00 per hour and PG hopes that the employees of his bookstore are paid that amount.

The Art of Libromancy is published by Biblioasis, “a literary press based in Windsor, Ontario, committed to publishing the best poetry, fiction and non-fiction in beautifully crafted editions.”

From the Biblioasis website:

If books are important to you because you’re a reader or a writer, then how books are sold should be important to you as well. If it matters to you that your vegetables are organic, your clothes made without child labor, your beer brewed without a culture of misogyny, then it should matter how books are made and sold to you.

For the record, although Biblioasis and The Art of Libromancy don’t appear to be PG’s cup of tea, he thinks child labor and misogyny are bad things.

He’s happy to have fresh vegetables, regardless of how they’re raised or fertilized.

However, if you’re worried about the welfare of those who aren’t as wealthy as many others in society, you should understand that organic produce costs substantially more to raise and purchase than produce raised with fertilizer and harvested mechanically.

Using the most efficient means of cultivating food grains, America and Canada are able to raise far more food than their populations can eat. Every year, each nation exports a huge amount of food to the rest of the world at very low prices.

If you would like a bit more Mom and apple pie, per research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “family farms remain a key part of U.S. agriculture, making up 98% of all farms and providing 88% of production.”

PG grew up on family farms and ranches and drank milk from various dairy cows milked mostly by his father but also by PG on occasion. PG helped his family raise beef and dairy cattle, pigs, sheep, and chickens in varying quantities until he left home to attend college.

PG has been chased by upset cattle and mother pigs under a wide range of circumstances and shoveled (and occasionally slipped and fallen onto) a lot of nasty-smelling manure on more occasions than he can remember.

After such adventures, his mother almost always made younger PG leave his boots outside then strip to his underwear in the basement or mud room, where he rinsed his dirty clothing in a large basement sink used for dealing with those sorts of adventures. Thereafter, he put his clothes into a washing machine with a little extra soap to clean them up for their next outdoor adventure.

‘The Two-Parent Privilege’ Review: Where Have All the Good Men Gone?

From The Wall Street Journal:

For families with young children, morning routines can resemble an assembly line: Make breakfast. Remind the kids to brush their teeth. Negotiate which snacks to include in their backpacks. Remind them again to brush their teeth. Look for shoes. Head out the door. Head back in the door to get the stray backpacks.

In our household, when one parent is out of town, the process seems to intensify and can feel like the “I Love Lucy” episode in which Lucy takes a job wrapping chocolates. Quickly overwhelmed by the speed of the conveyor belt, she starts shoving chocolates anywhere they’ll fit, and concludes, “I think we’re fighting a losing game.”

Over the past 50 years, the number of one-parent households in America have dramatically increased. In 2019, 57% of U.S. children lived with two parents, down from 80% in 1980. Is the rise of single-parent households an emblem of empowerment or a sign of dwindling support for children?

Discussions of parenting can be fraught, dominated by feelings over facts, and too often tinged with judgment rather than support. The problem is, in part, that there has been limited accessible evidence on the causal effect of household logistics on children’s outcomes.

Enter “The Two-Parent Privilege: How Americans Stopped Getting Married and Started Falling Behind,” Melissa Kearney’s clear-eyed look at the economic impact of having a second parent at home. Ms. Kearney is an economist at the University of Maryland; her topics of research range from the social impact of the MTV show “16 and Pregnant” to the recent Covid baby bust. As she notes, “discomfort and hesitancy have stifled public conversation on a critically important topic that has sweeping implications not just for the well-being of American children and families but for the country’s well-being.”

Ms. Kearney’s objective is two-fold: first, to offer a data-driven overview of the rise and impact of single parenting; second, to propose strategies to enable more kids to live in stable households.

When it comes to the economic well-being of children, she argues, having two parents really is better than one—on average. Consider the conclusion of a 2004 paper, “Is Making Divorce Easier Bad for Children? The Long-Run Implications of Unilateral Divorce,” by the economist Jonathan Gruber. “As a result of the increased incidence of parental divorce,” Ms. Kearney tells us, “children wound up having lower levels of education, lower levels of income, and more marital churn themselves (both more marriages and more separations), as compared to similarly situated children who did not live in places where unilateral divorce laws were in effect.” Moreover, Ms. Kearney notes that children living with a stepparent also tend to have worse behavioral outcomes than those whose birth parents remained married.

While divorce is common, the spike in the number of single-parent households is mainly driven by an increase in the share of mothers who have never married—particularly among those who are less educated. In 2019, 60% of children whose mothers had a high-school degree (but less than a four-year college degree) lived with both parents, “a huge drop from the 83% who did in 1980” and low relative to the roughly 84% of children of college-educated mothers who lived with both parents in 2019. The author also notes significant gaps in family structure according to race: In 2019, 38% of black children lived with married parents, compared with 77% of white children and 88% of Asian children.

What is driving these changes? Among other factors, Ms. Kearney refers to the lack of “marriageable men,” pointing to a 2019 paper by the economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson, “When Work Disappears: Manufacturing Decline and the Falling Marriage Market Value of Young Men.” The paper analyzes the effect of drops in income for less-educated men, driven by increased international competition in manufacturing, and finds, Ms. Kearney tells us, that “the trade-induced reduction in men’s relative earnings led to lower levels of marriage and a higher share of unmarried mothers. It also led to an increase in the share of children living in single-mother households with below-poverty levels of income.” Reintroducing economic opportunities (for instance, through fracking booms) doesn’t seem to reverse this trend—suggesting an interplay between economic shocks and evolving social norms.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Writing About Pain: Best Practices for Great Fiction

From Writers Helping Writers:

Show Don’t Tell

This one comes first, because if you want to create evocative and compelling descriptions, showing is the way to do it. Take this passage, for example:

Pain throbbed in my wrist. It radiated into my fingers. Tears sprang to my eyes.

On the surface, this description gets the job done because it adequately describes the character’s pain. But it’s not engaging. Lists seldom are—yet this is how pain is often described, as a series of symptoms or sensations. This isn’t how real pain registers, so it being described this way won’t read as authentic to readers.

Don’t stop the story to talk about what the character’s feeling. Instead, incorporate it into what’s happening. This keeps the pace moving and readers reading:

Cradling my throbbing wrist, I searched for the rope and loosed it from my belt. I drew a shuddering breath of relief to discover my fingers still worked, though the pain had me biting nearly through my lip.

This description is much better because it reveals the pain in bits and bobs as the character is going about her business. It uses words that describe the intensity and quality of the pain: throbbing and shuddering. There’s also a thought included, which is important because when agony strikes, our brains don’t stop working. The opposite is actually true, with our thoughts often going into overdrive. So including a thought that references the character’s mental state or physical discomfort is another way to show their pain to readers in an organic way.

Take Personal Factors into Account

The character’s pain level and intensity will depend on a number of factors, such as their pain tolerance, their personality, and what else is going on in the moment. Being aware of these details and knowing what they look like for your character is key for tailoring a response that is authentic for them. For more information on the factors that will determine your character’s pain response and their ability to cope with their discomfort, see the 6th post in this series.

Adhere to Your Chosen Point of View

Whether you’re telling your story in first person, third person, or omniscient viewpoint, consistency is a must, so you’ve got to stick to that point of view. If the person in pain is the one narrating, you can go deep into their perspective to show readers what’s happening inside—the pain, yes, but also the nausea, tense muscles, and the spots that appear in the character’s vision as they start to black out.

But if the victim isn’t a viewpoint character—if the reader isn’t privy to what’s happening inside their heads and bodies—you’ll need be true to that choice. Stick with external indicators that are visible to others, such as the character wincing, the hissed intake of breath through clenched teeth, the weeping of blood, or the skin going white and clammy.

Consider the Intensity of the Pain

All pain isn’t created equal, and the intensity of the pain being described will often determine the level of detail. Excruciating, agonizing pain is going to be impossible for the character to ignore; because of their focus on their own pain, more description is often necessary. On the flip side, a lot of words aren’t needed to express the mild, fleeting pain of a stubbed toe or bruised knee. The severity of the pain can guide you toward the right amount of description.

Don’t Forget about It

Remember that pain has a life of its own. Some injuries heal fast, with the pain receding quickly and steadily. Others linger. Many times, healing is a one-step-forward-two-steps-back situation, with things seeming to improve, then a relapse or reinjury causing a setback. And then there’s chronic pain, which never fully goes away.

The nature of the injury will dictate how often you return to the character’s pain and remind readers of it. Minor injuries can fade into the background without further mention. But moderate and severe hurts will take time to heal. This means your character will be feeling the pain well after it began, and you’ll have to mention it again. But when you do, the quality and intensity will be less, and your description will follow suit.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

The Best Fiction vs Nonfiction Book Covers: Ways They Differ

From The Book Designer:

In the vibrant world of book publishing, the first thing that comes to mind, I’m sure, when any of us think of design is the book cover! It’s the main element of any fiction or nonfiction piece that immediately turns heads and makes a statement all at once. 

It’s worth noting that there are subtle distinctions when it comes to fiction vs nonfiction book covers. While nonfiction books focus on displaying useful and persuasive information on the front (think autobiographies and history books), fiction books can be a lot more expressive with colors, fonts, imagery and so on. 

. . . .

Fiction vs Nonfiction Book Covers: The Big Difference

Fiction and nonfiction book covers have very different missions to accomplish, and recognizing these different paths is the first step to crafting the perfect introduction to your work. 

Fiction Book Covers:

Imagination, mystery, and the alluring call to a different world; these are the hallmarks of a compelling fiction book cover. 

With the main aim being to reflect the book’s tone and genre and to evoke curiosity, these covers often leave a lot to the imagination. The design elements are less restricted, urging readers to delve deeper and discover the story within. 

You’ll find that titles are concise and descriptions are almost non-existent, allowing the visual elements to play a more significant role in persuading readers to pick it off the shelf. 

Nonfiction Book Covers:

On the flip side, nonfiction book covers adopt a more straightforward approach, serving readers a clear picture of what to expect inside. 

This no-nonsense approach consists of a rich spread of information, longer titles with descriptive subtitles to offer readers a clear snapshot of the valuable insights awaiting them. While the storytelling element takes a backseat, the design leans towards minimalism with a preference for neutral tones, creating a clean and focused entry point that prioritizes information and clarity over mystery.

Understanding these foundational differences is pivotal in crafting a cover that not only resonates with your target audience but beautifully houses the heart of your literary masterpiece! 

What Readers Expect: Nonfiction Book Cover Design Elements

Understanding your audience’s expectations is a cardinal rule in book cover design. Let’s delve into what readers anticipate when they pick up a book from either genre:

Nonfiction Book Covers:

A nonfiction book cover must reflect the substantial and educative content it houses. It needs to exude a sense of authority and expertise, promising the reader a journey of learning and growth. Here are the key elements to focus on:

  • Detailed Titles and Subtitles: Go for long titles and accompanying subtitles that lucidly convey the book’s essence, offering a clear insight into what the reader can expect.
  • Minimalistic Graphic Elements: Stick to a linear and rational theme with minimal graphics to maintain a focused and serious demeanor.
  • Bold and Formal Typography: Employ typography that is both bold and formal, facilitating easy readability while also commanding respect and attention.
  • Centered Messaging: Place the central message or title in the direct eyeline to instantly grab attention and convey the core theme succinctly.
  • Volume and Version Details: If applicable, include details like volume number and version to offer readers a sense of the book’s place in a series or its updated content.
  • Neutral Color Palette: Leverage a palette grounded in neutral tones, avoiding vibrant hues that might potentially diminish the gravity of the topic at hand.

. . . .

What Readers Expect: Fiction Book Cover Design Elements

Crafting the perfect cover for a fiction book comes with a lot of freedom to play, to imagine, and to lure your readers into the world you’ve crafted within the pages. Think of it like an open canvas It’s an open canvas where you can illustrate your story through vivid imagery, bold colors, and evocative typography. Let’s explore the design elements that can help your fiction book cover become an irresistible pick:

  • Strategic Color Scheme: While the spectrum of colors is wide, it’s wise to narrow down your choice to up to three complementary colors that echos your book’s tone, genre, and essence. Use these chosen hues not just in the backdrop but also in the titles to create a harmonized visual appeal.
  • Creative Visual Imagery: Whether it’s unveiling the mysterious protagonist of your sequel to evoke a sense of familiarity or crafting bespoke illustrations, leveraging visual imagery allows you to strike a chord with your audience right from the first glance.
  • Title Readability: Amidst the expected noise of colors and visuals, ensure that your book title remains the hero. It should be easily conveyed, inviting readers to delve deeper into the story that awaits.
  • Dual Typeface Play: Play around with a dual typeface strategy where the main title and the supplementary information like the author’s name are rendered in distinct but complementary fonts, enhancing visual interest and hierarchy.
  • Background Storytelling: Your background is not just a canvas but a storyteller. Think of it as a preview of the genre, For example, darker visuals for action-packed mysteries or a serene landscape for a heartwarming tale.

Embrace the creative freedom that fiction book cover design offers and craft a visual narrative that is as captivating as the story inside!

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

The OP includes several examples of non-fiction and fiction book covers the author of the OP regards as examples of effective cover design.

Getty Images Launches Commercially Safe Generative AI Offering

From Getty Images:

Trained on Getty Images’ world‑class creative content, Generative AI by Getty Images allows customers to explore the power of generative AI with full protection and usage rights

New York – September 25, 2023: Getty Images (NYSE: GETY), a preeminent global visual content creator and marketplace, today announced the launch of Generative AI by Getty Images, a new tool that pairs the company’s best‑in‑class creative content with the latest AI technology for a commercially safe generative AI tool.

Generative AI by Getty Images is trained on the state‑of‑the‑art Edify model architecture, which is part of NVIDIA Picasso, a foundry for generative AI models for visual design. The tool is trained solely from Getty Images’ vast creative library, including exclusive premium content, with full indemnification for commercial use. Sitting alongside the company’s broader, industry‑leading services, Generative AI by Getty Images works seamlessly with the company’s expansive library of authentic and compelling visuals and Custom Content solutions, allowing customers to elevate their entire end‑to‑end creative process to find the right visual content for any need.

. . . .

Customers creating and downloading visuals through the tool will receive Getty Images’ standard royalty‑free license, which includes representations and warranties, uncapped indemnification, and the right to perpetual, worldwide, nonexclusive use in all media. Content generated through the tool will not be added into existing Getty Images and iStock content libraries for others to license. Further, contributors will be compensated for any inclusion of their content in the training set.

“We’ve listened to customers about the swift growth of generative AI – and have heard both excitement and hesitation – and tried to be intentional around how we developed our own tool,” said Grant Farhall, Chief Product Officer at Getty Images. “We’ve created a service that allows brands and marketers to safely embrace AI and stretch their creative possibilities, while compensating creators for inclusion of their visuals in the underlying training sets.”

. . . .

Customers will soon be able to customize Generative AI by Getty Images with proprietary data to produce images with their unique brand style and language. 

Link to the rest at Getty Images

PG has previously suggested that the owners of images used to train an AI are likely not going to be able to pursue a claim for copyright infringement effectively.

That said, large business organizations and their legal departments will be able to use Getty’s AI system without concerns about claims of copyright infringement by the owners of the images used provide grist for Getty’s AI mill.

Book Business Applauds Government Lawsuit Against Amazon

From Publishers Weekly:

The Federal Trade Commission, supported by 17 state attorneys general, finally filed its long-awaited antitrust lawsuit against Amazon yesterday. In a 172-page complaint, the government alleged that the e-tailer “uses a set of interlocking anticompetitive and unfair strategies to illegally maintain its monopoly power.” The use of that power, the government continued, allows Amazon “to stop rivals and sellers from lowering prices, degrade quality for shoppers, overcharge sellers, stifle innovation, and prevent rivals from fairly competing against Amazon.”

The immediate industry reaction to the news of the suit was uniform: “What took so long?” Or, in the words of Melville House publisher Dennis Johnson, that it was “about ******** time.” An industry lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous, gave a more nuanced view in wondering why it took the government so long to act, pointing to the infamous buy button case in 2010, when Amazon pulled Macmillan’s buy buttons in a dispute over e-book terms.

Even with Amazon’s dominant position over the sale of e-books and print books, the suit doesn’t mention books, which, of course, were Amazon’s first line of business. The suit does, however, highlight Amazon’s hold over the companies who use its online marketplace to sell a range of products, including books, to consumers.

Jed Lyons, CEO of Rowman & Littlefield, was skeptical about how the case will play out, pointing to the government’s “sketchy” track record in lawsuits against major corporations. But even though the FTC lawsuit is more about third party sellers, Lyons said, if “it shuts down unauthorized sellers of new books, which we know are not new books, then that will be a win for book publishers.”

Independent booksellers, which were the first physical retailers impacted by Amazon and the steep discounting on books it employed to attract customers, praised the FTC’s long-awaited action. The lawsuit, said ABA CEO Allison Hill, “is good news for indie bookstores and good news for all small business. ABA applauds the FTC and states’ effort to release Amazon’s stranglehold, and we look forward to the transparency this lawsuit will provide into Amazon’s business practices.”

. . . .

Other industry groups, including the AAP and Authors Guild, have also long advocated that the government investigate many of Amazon’s practices.

No bookseller has been more active in attacking Amazon’s book practices than Danny Caine, owner of the Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kans., and author of How to Resist Amazon and Why. Caine acknowledged that, “while the suit doesn’t go after Amazon’s book business in particular, it can still do a lot to level the playing field. For one thing, it can prove that Amazon is acting illegally or anti-competitively via tactics like preferencing its own products, placing unfair pressure on sellers who list their products for lower prices elsewhere, and forcing sellers and customers onto their Prime platform.”

The head of one independent publisher, who wished to remain anonymous, said that if the government prevails, “it could be very beneficial to publishers.” She then laid out the many challenges publishers face in dealing with Amazon: “I think [the suit] could affect tactics around the negotiation of discounts and fees, etc., with publishers. This would also be a good thing. The negotiations over the years between publishers and Amazon have been brutal. At first, Amazon got big discounts since they were buying non-returnable. Then, predictably, they started returning books and kept the discounts.”

She continued: “Publishers were simply too fearful and too powerless to stand up to their biggest customer. And then Amazon started added all manner of fees, effectively increasing their discount even further. To the extent that Amazon was able to discount books to lure customers away from other booksellers, publishers were effectively subsidizing Amazon’s growth and dominance while watching their margins erode.”

Melville’s Johnson made many of the same points, lamenting that the government’s lack of action up until now and allowing Amazon to use books as a “loss leader” got the company to where it is today. The government further strengthened Amazon’s hand, Johnson maintained, when it sued the major publishers over their e-book pricing policies. That decision “really pounded Amazon’s suppliers, and thus altered the business of making and selling books, probably irrevocably.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Here are a few questions PG would like to put to the traditional publishers celebrating the FTC’s suit against Amazon:

  1. Do you really want your biggest customer to stop selling your books? That’s an option for Amazon. Traditionally-published books are a minuscule part of Amazon’s total sales, a rounding error.
  2. If Amazon decided to shut down its book business on a temporary or permanent basis, would Americans buy more or fewer books? Would Americans change their behavior and travel to physical bookstores once again (assuming they live within a reasonable distance from a remaining physical bookstore)?
  3. Do you really not care about readers who live a long way from a physical bookstore? Have you ever even visited North or South Dakota? Nebraska? Wyoming? New Mexico? Idaho? Nevada (outside of Las Vegas)? Kansas?
  4. Do you understand that the internet provides endless reading material at no charge to readers, reading material that doesn’t include commercial books?
  5. Do you really think your books are not competing for reader attention against free reading material on the internet?
  6. Do you understand how many more Americans log on to the internet every day instead of visiting a physical store of any sort, let alone a book store?

The Stages of Womanhood

From Electric Lit:

It was in the midst of these days when I was struggling to complete the—what would it be?—seventh, no, sixth stage of my growth as a woman, being a year late already with that, according to the (ineffective) anthroposophic doctor I had consulted about my persistent ear infections, when I was awoken yet again during a particularly restless night of being awoken, first, by my child, then by a mosquito, then by my child again, then by the tickling in my ears, then by my child again—when I was awoken yet again, this time by the high-pitched wail of an air-raid siren that I mistook at first for a malfunctioning fan in one window and then a fan in another, going around turning off and unplugging the fans one by one, then finally making my way downstairs and out the back door to stand in the yard looking up until the sound of the siren died abruptly, the wail descending. Of course I thought of war, since our country was in conflict yet again with another country. I thought maybe the mosquito that had been bothering me would live longer than I would. I thought of calling the local police station. I wondered if my husband had heard the siren through his ear plugs. He was sleeping downstairs so that he would not be bothered by me, since I was sleeping so badly these days, or by the child, who was waking so often. The doctor had told me that the next stage, the last stage of womanhood in which a woman is reproductive, was very important creatively. The stage that came after that was very different—also wonderful, she said, but very different. But I had not yet completed this stage, which was supposed to be a growth into full womanhood. As far as I could see, I was exactly the same this year as I had been last year and the year before.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Is It Worthwhile to Write My Memoir, Especially If a Publishing Deal Is Unlikely?

From Jane Friedman:


In the eighth decade of my life and after having three books traditionally published—a travel memoir 50 years ago and two novels more recently—I am pondering the wisdom of writing a very personal memoir.

What has moved me most to think about this is the #MeToo movement: I was the victim of date rape while working as a civilian employee on an American army base in France from 1963–1964. While my time in France was indeed a wonderful one, a dream come true, tarnished only by this one incident, I sometimes reflect on the high percentage of women who have suffered sexual abuse, many while serving in the military. I was advised not to report this case by my immediate superior with the very real threat that the perpetrator (an officer) most likely would not be punished, and it would likely mean the loss of my job.

The memoir I am thinking of and which I have partially written is about much more than this incident; it is also about the loss of innocence and the excitement of discovering a foreign culture. It includes the story of my first true romance, an interracial affair. I was the “innocent” white girl in love with an African American enlisted man—two “no-no’s” for I was told during my training that it was absolutely not advised to date enlisted men, but only officers, “men of a higher caliber.” Race was not mentioned but implied by the times and by several other statements. These experiences in addition to the opportunity I had to develop wonderful life-long friendships with several French citizens prompts me to want to share them in a memoir. I would like to know if this is worth my writing; would it be received well or would you offer a caveat to me, to avoid what may be a well-worn subject matter?

—Memoirist with a Dilemma

P.S. I would love to have a traditional publisher if I do finish this memoir, but in today’s world, I think it is highly unlikely I would find one interested in an octogenarian author.

Dear Memoirist with a Dilemma,

Oh my goodness, there are so many layers to this question!

I think I want to start by saying that even if #MeToo feels like it’s run its course, even if it feels like the publishing world is tired of women’s stories about rape, or maybe just tired of women’s stories or memoirs, period…I assure you, the market is not oversaturated with memoirs by women in their eighth decade.

Which, as you know, doesn’t mean there’s an easy path ahead of you. The publishing world may not be receptive to a memoir like this for any number of reasons—some of which might be valid and some of which are utter bullshit. Your age might be one of those reasons, but it’s not the only one. Publishing is a highly uncertain field with few guarantees, and the market for memoirs can be particularly uncertain.

As it happens, I’m writing this response on Labor Day, so in answering your question about the value of writing a memoir—and about the worth of writing—I do first want to acknowledge writing (and art-making, generally) as a form of labor that, like any labor, should be fairly compensated, monetarily.

That said, for better and worse, many artistic and writing projects fall largely outside the realm of capitalism. Recently, I was listening to one of the first episodes of the “Wiser Than Me” podcast*, hosted by Julia Louis-Dreyfus; it’s an interview with Isabel Allende (who didn’t start writing novels until 40), who channeled Elizabeth Gilbert giving advice to young writers—which you are not, but maybe this is actually just decent advice for any writer: “Don’t expect your writing to give you fame or money, right? Because you love the process, right? And that’s the whole point, love the process.” 

Which is just to say that, if you’re asking whether writing this memoir is likely to justify your time and energy, financially—well, unfortunately, that’s probably a very short response letter. It’s almost certainly not.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write it, or that writing this memoir would be unwise, in some way, or unworthy of your time and energy. The answer, here, lies in the whyWhy do you want to write this memoir?

Do you love the process? Do you think you’ll feel better about the world on the average day when you’ve sat down to work on this book than on a day when you haven’t? Do you enjoy writing more than you don’t enjoy it?

If your answers to those questions are enthusiastically positive, then that’s reason enough to write.

There might be other, even more significant reasons to dive fully into this project. Writing a memoir isn’t therapeutic, per se, but the process of writing and rewriting our personal stories can be a rewarding process, one that’s often full of (good) surprises.

In this case, you’re talking about revisiting experiences—including an assault—after 60 years; the opportunity to reshape your story and to reconsider what you make of it might be incredibly meaningful. Indeed, it sounds like you’re already doing this to some extent, inspired in part by the #MeToo movement and other people’s sharing of their stories. One of the reasons #MeToo took off was because it defused and transformed a particular kind of shame and loneliness an awful lot of women had been sitting with for too long. Perhaps you, too, have been feeling that way.

Does revisiting this time and your experiences—the many good ones as well as the bad one—and considering them from fresh and maybe unexpected angles sound appealing and useful? Again, if your answer here is an enthusiastic yes: what are you waiting for?

(This might be an unpopular opinion, but for what it’s worth, I think it’s also completely valid to say, “Nah, I don’t need to relive all that.” But I think you wouldn’t have written in with this question if that were how you felt about it.)

Ultimately, both of those reasons are sort of personal and maybe even a little self-centered. And so what if they are? After all, as Mary Oliver put it in “The Summer Day” (which she wrote at age 62), “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” You really don’t have to please anyone but yourself.

But I also understand that writing a memoir solely for the pleasure of it might not feel entirely satisfactory, either. We want our stories to make connections, and to matter to someone, right?

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

A Crisis Is Brewing at U.K. Universities

From The Wall Street Journal:

CAMBRIDGE, England—The U.K.’s storied universities have a problem. They lose money on almost every British student they teach.

The country’s university system boasts 11 of the world’s top 100 universities, with three in the top 10—in a country that has just 1% of the global population. The system’s health has an outsize impact on both the future of the world’s sixth-biggest economy and globally important research.

That system is increasingly at risk from politics. Unlike in the U.S., where private universities and many state schools set their own tuition, in England and Wales the government sets a price cap on tuition for all domestic undergraduate students—the same cap for every college from Cambridge to Coventry. Since 2010, the price cap has remained essentially frozen, even as inflation sharply raises costs. Northern Ireland cuts tuition in half for domestic students. In Scotland, there is no tuition at all.

The upshot: While U.S. universities charge ever higher tuition in an arms race for the best facilities and research, leading to a soaring student debt crisis, U.K. universities have the opposite problem. They aren’t able to charge enough.

To bridge the gap, they are cutting back on everything from research to teacher salaries to dorm rooms, and teaching more classes online. They are increasingly relying on foreign students, who are charged market rates. And they are cutting back on local students: The percentage of British teens going to college is now falling for the first time in generations.

“It’s a turning point,” said Simon Marginson, a professor of higher education at the University of Oxford. Even the U.K.’s most elite universities could see finances and quality decline if the government doesn’t step in, he said. A new report this month by the House of Lords said the university funding system in the U.K. wasn’t sustainable and faced a looming crisis.

About 30 universities reported financial losses in the latest academic year, a number likely to triple this year to about one in four overall, according to the government regulator, which nevertheless said the overall system remained sound. Teacher strikes for higher pay affected about 83 universities last year.

Rankings for U.K. universities, while still the second best in the world after the U.S., fell in nine of the 13 metrics measured by Times Higher Education, including for the global reputation of their research and teaching. The U.K. data firm will release its latest university rankings on Wednesday. 

‘Not in a million years’

The vast majority of universities in the U.K. are public, financed out of the annual government budget. That means politicians and bureaucrats, and not the universities themselves, decide tuition. Since 1998, when U.K. universities started charging tuition, the government has raised the tuition level three times, drawing howls of protest from students.  

There is no relief for university budgets coming soon. Raising tuition at a time when average salaries in the U.K. have fallen the past two years because of high inflation is “just not going to happen, not in a million years,” Robert Halfon, the higher-education minister for the conservative government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, said in an interview with Times Higher Education. The opposition Labour Party, heavily favored to win elections next year, usually talks about cutting fees rather than raising them.

Halfon declined to be interviewed for this article. A spokesperson for the department said: “We are keeping maximum tuition fees frozen to deliver better value for students and for taxpayers and keep the cost of higher education under control,” adding that the sector is financially stable overall.  

“Ultimately, it means we will not be able to deliver such a high-quality education,” said David Maguire, the vice chancellor of East Anglia University, which has a creative writing course whose graduates include Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro and novelist Ian McEwan. “So we won’t be able to attract the brightest and the best to our universities, who will then feed through into the U.K. economy, which is really built on services and knowledge.” 

U.K. universities have helped produce breakthroughs such as the theories of evolution and gravity, the discovery of penicillin, the structure of DNA and, more recently, the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine. British universities are currently researching cancer cures, artificial intelligence and next generation batteries for electric vehicles, among other vital issues. More than a quarter of today’s world leaders were educated at a U.K. university, second only to the U.S., according to the Higher Education Policy Institute, a U.K. think tank on education. 

Since 2012, annual tuition for domestic students in England has been raised only once, in 2017, from £9,000 a year to £9,250, or from about $11,200 to $11,500, an increase of 2.8%. Adjusting for inflation, fees have actually declined by about a third since 2012, according to DataHE, a higher-education consulting firm. Had tuition kept up with inflation, it would be close to £14,000, it estimates. 

Over the same period, U.S. tuition at private, nonprofit universities rose by 40% in nominal terms and nearly 10% after inflation to an average $34,041. Public universities raised annual tuition for in-state students by 34% before inflation and 5.4% after inflation to an average $9,596, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. 

Britain’s Russell Group universities, the rough equivalent of the Ivy League, ran a deficit close to £2,500 per U.K. student for the 2022-23 school year, a shortfall that will double to £5,000 per student by 2030, according to data released by the group, which comprises Britain’s 24 most research-intensive universities. 

“The one jaw-dropping thing I’ve learned in my first three months is just how perilous the higher-education sector is financially,” Oxford University’s new vice chancellor, neuroscientist Irene Tracy, told a higher-education seminar in March. “We really have a worrying financial future.” 

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG has attended a couple of two-week continuing legal education programs at one of the Oxford colleges. Also, in family history records, PG has found several ancestors who were educated to prepare them for the ministry at Oxford in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Some ancestors emigrated to the United States to avoid religious persecution in Britain.

Although his personal exposure has been relatively brief, PG developed a significant appreciation of Oxford. For him, the idea that learning has been going on in that place for over 900 years makes it an almost magical setting.

As the OP describes, Oxford and similar non-public institutions are subsidized directly by the British government. In the US, virtually all colleges and universities are subsidized directly or indirectly by the federal government, in large part by government-insured student loans. Public colleges and universities are subsidized directly by the state governments of the states where they exist and, secondly, by federally insured student loans.

Each approach to subsidizing college/university educational institutions has its downside.

As the OP describes, in Britain, direct subsidies are a recurring political issue. Why should those in the working class who did not attend university contribute to the rising subsidies for those who often are and will be more educationally and financially privileged? For members of Parliament representing primarily working-class constituents, this must be an evergreen political issue.

In the US, in past years, the number of staff members performing administrative functions, sometimes to satisfy state or federal government mandates, has grown much more rapidly than the number of professors. The salaries of more than a few of the administrative staff are higher than those paid to professors and instructors who are actually teaching students. In recent years, bloated staff roles have been a major driver of increased student costs.

In the US, the college cost squeeze often appears in the occupational choices made by graduates with large student loan debts.

A would-be public school teacher may not be able to afford this career path because it won’t provide a living wage, after student loan obligations are met.

In some locales, government programs may subsidize student loan repayments for public employees such as public school teachers. However, this approach carries some of the same inequities when those who didn’t receive a college education are indirectly subsidizing those who did.

Needless to say, PG doesn’t have a good solution for this growing problem.

Sublime Neutrality

From Public Books:

I read somewhere that good literature is indifferent to evil. It might have been that good writers are indifferent to evil. I retained none of the context, only the pull quote, and why wouldn’t I? What a seductive proposition—giving readers permission to banish the author, or at least the specter of their moral character; giving writers permission to write without thinking, first, always, what does this say about me?

Literary evil is thin on the ground these days; all those charming pedophiles, sadists, murderers, crowded out by neurotics, malingerers, failed imposters. Look at Dennis Cooper: even snuff is “tender.” You have to meet your reader in the middle. Too much specificity and you alienate your audience, who go from book to book looking for themselves. A popular template from the middlebrow almanac: name a place, throw in trees, quality of light, some vague cultural analysis, no real particulars. In the first person, the speaker invites you to where they are, which is very generous of them. They let you in, and there’s plenty of room in their blousy descriptions for you to bring yourself and everything you already knew. Particularity can be dangerous, even violent, so writers learn to be careful what they ask their readers to relate to. But if the writer knows what they’re doing, relatability doesn’t come into it. The reader has forgotten they exist as a being apart.

Before the publication of his first collection of short fiction, An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life, Paul Dalla Rosa enjoyed a remarkably slick career for a local short story writer. Who is his agent??? I would seethe, watching his bylines appear in GrantaThe Paris Review, and, most recently, Forever, a magazine so cool I paid $100AUD for it to get lost in the mail. I was surprised he even had an AustLit entry, despite failing to appear in the bloated back-catalogues of print periodicals or obscurely-monied short story competitions, not one weird poem on a glorified blog run by regional cat people. Dalla Rosa has been careful not to embarrass himself.

The stories in An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life are set in millennial Carver-country, an abstract zone of aestheticized precarity and terminally online mass culture, where there is no space but private space and hell is ourselves. Reviews of the collection have described its “poise,” “precision” and “elegance.” The stories are written with a calculated reserve, a wry and reflexive humor; they are contemporary without unduly dating themselves, breaking no sweat under anxiety of influence, neither unfashionably literary nor fashionably unliterary, with the author citing Ottessa Moshfegh, Amie Barrodale, Gary Indiana, Lucia Berlin, Eve Babitz, Dean Kissick, Jordan Castro, Honor Levy, Megan Boyle, Chelsea Hodson, and Tao Lin as influences, a North American canon of cool edge. Any dorky, undergraduate-writing-class interest in “place” has been excised. Settings are always threatening to turn into somewhere else (the Gold Coast “felt kind of like California, with theme parks, palm trees and water, but it wasn’t California”). Smartphones blink. People regard each other in terse, empty moments. Technology represents alienation. Sex also represents alienation. Mutual regard is held with roaches, emotionally dysfunctional pets, and Mary Gaitskill, but never other people. The dust jacket claims the book is “tender and unsparing,” and the word tender comes up in more reviews than I bothered to count. In profiles, interviews, and rarefied circles of snobs, the collection’s “deft execution,” “taut” prose, “forensic” detail have been praised. The general view holds Dalla Rosa as that rare and highly-prized thing: a craftsman.

Why is craft such cause for comment? If craft is so remarkable, this must mean that writing badly is not a barrier to publication in Australia, and while nobody wants a reputation for cruelty, failing to say this produces its own contradiction: if “craft” (labor) does not produce “craft” (quality), then the latter is either innate or some transcendental haze that comes over the writer like a spell, possibly after receiving an Australia Council grant. Or, and this is my suspicion, praise of “craft” is primarily bestowed on writers who tend toward a spare, ironic, placeless style; the skill here concerned is the disciplined study of fashionable Americans, who sometimes sound “American” but mostly sound, to their own ears and everybody else’s, neutral.

Americans are freaks, but they represent the imperial centre of Western cultural production and it’s natural to be curious what they get up to. If Dalla Rosa’s reception has a touch of “local lad proves to be no worse than the foreigner”—when he gets called the “real deal” and it bears the same inflection as world class—that is hardly his fault. And Dalla Rosa is writing in a tradition of, for want of a better word, nasty stories, brutal tales told with jaunty elegance, which we perhaps do not associate with the ruddy and simpering national character. Nobody has ever praised the dark glamor of the Wheeler Centre; there is something staid, dismayingly crude, about a literature that counts Murnane among its sexiest cult figures, making some dissociation from the local an understandable position for aspiring stylists. Mary Gaitskill, Mary Gaitskill, thinks writer-character Paul as he turns to sex work in “An MFA Story,” and Bad Behavior certainly looms, ur-text to a strain of fiction that, in its anti-sentimental approach, its “transgressive” subject matter, may court accusations of bad taste but never a failure of self-knowledge. What was transgressive in 1988 is a little pat now; this kind of franchizable cynicism has become familiar, which is not to say, in Dalla Rosa’s case, that it’s poorly done; and, in fact, its very iterability is the binding principle of the collection.

. . . .

Where a novel is an argument, a short story is an axiom. It’s the minor form for a reason. A novelist may have to publish three or four times before revealing that, like the proverbial flat character, they’re essentially possessed by one idea. A short story writer is less lucky; a story lasts just long enough for some central fixation or moral ideology to crystallize before it collapses under the imperative of economythen the gesture must be repeated. This is why short stories can be uniquely frustrating to read and to write; it’s also why they work so well when the prevailing mode is nastiness, bad people doing cruel and stupid things. The fetish figure of a typical short story collection might be the revenant, the same preoccupations returning again and again to be killed off in entertaining ways. Rather than the revenant, we might say, the fetish of An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life is the Sim.

This motif of the digital puppet pursues the characters across the collection. “The stars indicated I was under the influence of an inverted Mars,” says the narrator of “The Hard Thing,” “which meant I could act like a body possessed.” In “Charlie”:

Emma had begun to see herself as a model in one of her renders, or more so as an Emma avatar in the game The Sims or a Sims Brooklyn expansion pack. Emma’s avatar was a Sim that was playing The Sims to earn money, but that money was only ever enough to keep playing, and, at certain times, upgrade homewares.

At one point, Emma’s brain feels like an overworked MacBook; when she’s angry, her MacBook overheats. Experience in “COMME” is “like a certain kind of YouTube video,” or, for the movie star in “In Bright Light,” like “watching a 2D movie that was now 3D.” In “Contact,” in which a call center worker is automated out of her job, the character views her hallway as “a low-rendered loading screen she must navigate as her apartment buffers.”

Link to the rest at Public Books

There are clues in the excerpts, but PG confirms that the author of the OP is Australian. The OP first appeared in the Sydney Review of Books.

For a while, Criticism travels side by side with the Work

For a while, Criticism travels side by side with the Work, then Criticism vanishes and it’s the Readers who keep pace. The journey may be long or short. Then the Readers die one by one and the Work continues on alone, although a new Criticism and new Readers gradually fall into step with it along its path. Then Criticism dies again and the Readers die again and the Work passes over a trail of bones on its journey toward solitude. To come near the work, to sail in her wake, is a sign of certain death, but new Criticism and new Readers approach her tirelessly and relentlessly and are devoured by time and speed. Finally the Work journeys irremediably alone in the Great Vastness. And one day the Work dies, as all things must die and come to an end: the Sun and the Earth and the Solar System and the Galaxy and the farthest reaches of man’s memory. Everything that begins as comedy ends in tragedy.

Roberto Bolaño

BookLife Reviews – Reach the Right Readers

From Booklife from Publishers Weekly:

A Guaranteed Review by a Publishers Weekly Reviewer Designed to Help You Market Your Book

A BookLife Review is a respectful, knowledgeable 300-word review that includes information designed to help in the marketing of your book, all crafted by a professional Publishers Weekly reviewer who’s an expert in your genre or field.


Because a BookLife Review is a paid review ($399; $499 for books over 100,000 words), you are guaranteed to receive a review of your book (as long as you can provide a digital version of your book). BookLife Reviews are delivered in six weeks–four weeks if you purchase expedited service ($150). And with your approval, your review will run in the BookLife section of Publishers Weekly magazine at no extra charge. 

. . . .


It’s easy to get a BookLife Review! If you’re a BookLife member, just log in and go to the project page for the book you’d like reviewed.

Link to the rest at Booklife from Publishers Weekly

PG recalls not long ago that paid-for book reviews were among the worst violations of the Iron Code of traditional publishing.

In an earlier post today, we read how Amazon tracked down shady Chinese sellers of paid-for/fake reviews and helped send them to prison.

PG would love to see comments regarding the Publishers’ Weekly “Guaranteed Reviews” program and whether it materially differs from Chinese selling fake reviews.

For those not familiar with the publication, Publishers’ Weekly, which first appeared in 1872, is among the bluest of blue-blood publications covering traditional publishing. Being mentioned in or reviewed on Publishers’ Weekly was formerly a recognition that established an author as a rising star.

Additionally, if anyone is familiar with any reaction Amazon has had to the PW program, PG would love to hear about it, either in the comments or via the Contact PG link at the top of the La Blogge.

Amazon’s latest actions against fake review brokers: 2 fraudsters found guilty of facilitating fake reviews in Amazon’s store

From Amazon:

Two individual fake review brokers were found guilty of illegal business operations intended to deceive Amazon customers and harm Amazon selling partners through the facilitation of fake reviews. These verdicts are the result of local law enforcement’s investigation and a criminal referral supported by Amazon.

From March 2021 to March 2022, the China-based defendants used third-party messaging applications to advertise and sell fake reviews to bad actors operating Amazon selling accounts. In exchange for a fee, the defendants left fake positive reviews to boost a bad actor’s product ranking, or fake negative reviews to lower the ranking of a competitor’s product.

Following the criminal referral, local law enforcement conducted an investigation and confirmed the review brokers’ illicit activities in Amazon’s U.S. store. The defendants were officially sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison and three years of probation in China, marking Amazon’s second criminal judgement of this kind.

“Amazon is pleased to see that these fraudsters are being held accountable for their actions,” said David Montague, Amazon’s vice president of Selling Partner Risk. “The verdicts are a testament to the partnership of local officials in bringing down those who attempt to deceive our customers and harm our selling partners. We look forward to continuing to partner with law enforcement toward the mutual goal of bringing fake review brokers to justice.”

Link to the rest at Amazon

The most impressive part of the OP to PG is that Amazon relied upon local Chinese law enforcement to handle the arrest and whatever trial procedure China uses to punish the fake review scammers.

The FTC’s lawsuit against Amazon would lead to higher prices and slower deliveries for consumers—and hurt businesses

From Amazon:

Over the last several years, we’ve engaged cooperatively with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) during a broad-ranging investigation of our business. It was our hope the agency would recognize that Amazon’s innovations and customer-centric focus have benefited American consumers through low prices and increased competition in the already competitive retail industry.

We respect the role the FTC has historically played in protecting consumers and promoting competition. Unfortunately, it appears the current FTC is radically departing from that approach, filing a misguided lawsuit against Amazon that would, if successful, force Amazon to engage in practices that actually harm consumers and the many businesses that sell in our store—such as having to feature higher prices, offer slower or less reliable Prime shipping, and make Prime more expensive and less convenient.

The FTC’s complaint alleges that our pricing practices, our Fulfillment by Amazon offering, and Amazon Prime are anticompetitive. In so doing, the lawsuit reveals the Commission’s fundamental misunderstanding of retail.

In order to demonstrate how the Commission’s case could negatively impact consumers and the businesses that sell in our store, we think it’s important to address some key areas of the FTC’s complaint and explain how Amazon’s procompetitive model actually works.

Bringing low prices to customers

We’re proud of the low prices customers find when shopping in our store—we know customers have many options, and that competitive prices are essential if we want customers to choose us. We’ve also enabled third-party businesses to sell their products right alongside the products we sell ourselves, which provides opportunities for those businesses and an even better experience for customers. When setting prices for the products we sell ourselves, we try to match other retailers’ low prices—online and offline. All of the other businesses that sell in our store set their prices independently, but to help them increase sales and make our store more attractive to customers, we also invest in tools and education to help them offer competitive prices. Other retailers also use similar tools and practices to highlight competitive offers and provide customers value in their stores.

Even with those tools, some of the businesses selling on Amazon might still choose to set prices that aren’t competitive. Just like any store owner who wouldn’t want to promote a bad deal to their customers, we don’t highlight or promote offers that are not competitively priced. It’s part of our commitment to featuring low prices to earn and maintain customer trust, which we believe is the right decision for both consumers and sellers in the long run.

The FTC’s case alleges that our practice of only highlighting competitively priced offers and our practice of matching low prices offered by other retailers somehow lead to higher prices. But that’s not how competition works. The FTC has it backwards and if they were successful in this lawsuit, the result would be anticompetitive and anti-consumer because we’d have to stop many of the things we do to offer and highlight low prices—a perverse result that would be directly opposed to the goals of antitrust law.

The many ways we work to help independent sellers succeed, including Fulfillment by Amazon

We’re fortunate to have incredible businesses selling in our store. There are about 500,000 independent businesses of all sizes in the United States who choose to sell on Amazon, and these businesses have created 1.5 million U.S. jobs. We want them to succeed, we work hard to help them do so, and we’re very proud of their success.

Amazon’s store didn’t initially include third-party sellers. Early on, Amazon followed a well-worn retail path: we purchased products in bulk from brands and distributors, then we sold them directly to customers. In 1999, we began to build on that foundation. To provide customers with an even better experience and greater selection, we invited independent, third-party sellers into our store. Our initial attempts, including having different sections on our website for independent sellers, failed to resonate with customers—they were too confusing or required customers to do too much work to find the best offer. Believing that customers wanted a simple experience, we invited independent sellers to sell right alongside products sold by Amazon. And we even took it a step further—if more than one seller offered the same product (whether or not one of those sellers was Amazon), we listed those offers on the same product page. This single product page included key information about the product and the available offers to choose from, such as the names of the sellers, offer prices, and delivery options. By listing all offers together, customers could easily compare all of the available options for a single product and select the one that was most appealing to them.

In the two decades since we took the procompetitive step of opening our store to other businesses and inviting them to sell alongside us, sellers have gone from 0% to over 60% of sales on Amazon.

This result is not by accident. Amazon is a trusted partner for millions of sellers worldwide because we provide the most effective set of services for creating thriving, successful businesses. We have invested billions of dollars in people, resources, and services to support sellers at every stage of their journey. We regularly provide them with new data and insights about selling on Amazon, the capability to tailor products and listings to customer needs, and recommendations and advice to help grow their businesses. We also offer features that help sellers create and manage product listings, track sales, fulfill orders, respond to customers, and more.

One of the most helpful services we provide to sellers is Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA). This is an optional service for sellers where we’ll handle product storage, packaging, shipping, returns, and customer service—letting them focus on growing their businesses. FBA was made possible by years of investment to build a logistics network that could reliably get packages to customers quickly and handle customer service issues when they arose. As we built this network for ourselves, we decided to offer it to independent sellers to provide them a fast, reliable, and cost-effective option for serving customers. This is a big benefit for independent businesses and, in building it, we’ve created over a million jobs and made significant investments in the American economy.

FBA is a best-in-class, very competitively-priced service that’s offered to businesses selling in our store at very competitive prices. Sellers can choose to use their own fulfillment options as they see fit, and many do, or they can use the option we’ve developed. Many of them choose FBA because Amazon takes care of so much of the heavy lifting of logistics (e.g., storage, picking, packing, shipping, etc.) while also offering fulfillment fees that are an average of 30% less expensive than standard-shipping methods offered by other major third-party logistics providers, and an average of 70% less expensive than comparable two-day shipping alternatives.

Another optional service we provide to sellers is advertising. Like with logistics services, sellers have many choices for how to advertise their products. But sellers often choose our services because they provide better value than the alternatives—helping them grow their businesses and serve more customers.

The FTC’s allegation that we somehow force sellers to use our optional services is simply not true. Sellers have choices, and many succeed in our store using other logistics services or choosing not to advertise with us. We also enable sellers to use the trusted Prime badge when other logistics services are able to meet our Prime customers’ high expectations for fast, reliable delivery. When sellers have multiple options and can choose the right fit for them, the result is increased competition for those services, better prices, and a better experience for both sellers and the customers we all serve.

Innovating to make Amazon Prime a great deal for customers

Invention is core to Amazon’s DNA. Our innovations are often driven by our obsession with delighting customers, and we invent things customers may not even be asking for yet. For example, Amazon Prime started as a free shipping program, but has since become a lot more—even though customers already loved it. That’s because, as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos noted in his 2017 Letter to Shareholders, customers are “divinely discontent.” With customers, “yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary’,” so we know we have to keep innovating to keep customers happy.

Prime has been successful because we continue to invest in making it better and better for customers. For example, we hit our fastest Prime speeds ever last quarter. Across the top 60 largest U.S. metro areas, more than half of Prime member orders arrived the same or next day.

 We also recently launched the ability for sellers to offer Prime shipping on their own direct-to-consumer sites via Buy with Prime, and many sellers have already signed up. Early results show sellers who add Prime on their own site as an additional option for customers increase their sales—a clear demonstration of the value to consumers and sellers, even outside of the Amazon store.

Our customers love Prime because it’s such a great experience—which makes it hard to understand why the FTC attempts to paint the value of Prime as somehow anticompetitive. Antitrust laws encourage companies to compete vigorously by offering the best deals they can for consumers. We’ve done that with Prime. This has been good for competition, consumers, and sellers in our store, and we’ll vigorously oppose any attempt to degrade or destroy Prime.

Amazon operates in a thriving retail industry that is dynamic, vibrant, and varied

The FTC’s complaint grossly mischaracterizes the retail industry and the dynamic competition that consumers benefit from every day. Consumers today still buy over 80% of all retail products in physical stores. And as any shopper knows, you can buy the same products at any number of different retailers that compete vigorously with each other, including brick-and-mortar stores, online stores, and quickly growing hybrid models like buy-online-pick-up-in-store. This multitude of options gives customers the ready ability to shop around for the best deal. All of that competition leads to low margins for retailers, but lots of options for sellers to sell their products and better prices for customers wherever they choose to buy.

The FTC pretends that this everyday retail competition doesn’t exist. But its attempt to gerrymander alleged markets into narrow subsets of retailers (who in reality compete with other retailers on the same products) can’t make Amazon into something it is not. Amazon may not be the small business it once was, but we’re still just a piece of a massive and robust retail market with numerous options for consumers and sellers.

Maintaining the benefits of Amazon’s store for consumers and sellers

We’re proud of the ways we’ve helped to spur low prices, innovation, and competition across retail, and we intend to keep doing that for years to come. We fundamentally disagree with the FTC’s allegations—which are in many cases wrong or misleading—and with their overreaching and misguided approach to antitrust, which would harm consumers, hurt independent businesses, and upend long-standing and well-considered doctrines. We will contest this lawsuit, and we will also continue inventing to put our customers—both consumers and the businesses that sell in our store—first.

Link to the rest at Amazon

FTC Sues Amazon for Illegally Maintaining Monopoly Power

Today’s Press Release from The Federal Trade Commission:

The Federal Trade Commission and 17 state attorneys general today sued Amazon.com, Inc. alleging that the online retail and technology company is a monopolist that uses a set of interlocking anticompetitive and unfair strategies to illegally maintain its monopoly power. The FTC and its state partners say Amazon’s actions allow it to stop rivals and sellers from lowering prices, degrade quality for shoppers, overcharge sellers, stifle innovation, and prevent rivals from fairly competing against Amazon.  

The complaint alleges that Amazon violates the law not because it is big, but because it engages in a course of exclusionary conduct that prevents current competitors from growing and new competitors from emerging. By stifling competition on price, product selection, quality, and by preventing its current or future rivals from attracting a critical mass of shoppers and sellers, Amazon ensures that no current or future rival can threaten its dominance. Amazon’s far-reaching schemes impact hundreds of billions of dollars in retail sales every year, touch hundreds of thousands of products sold by businesses big and small and affect over a hundred million shoppers. 

“Our complaint lays out how Amazon has used a set of punitive and coercive tactics to unlawfully maintain its monopolies,” said FTC Chair Lina M. Khan. “The complaint sets forth detailed allegations noting how Amazon is now exploiting its monopoly power to enrich itself while raising prices and degrading service for the tens of millions of American families who shop on its platform and the hundreds of thousands of businesses that rely on Amazon to reach them. Today’s lawsuit seeks to hold Amazon to account for these monopolistic practices and restore the lost promise of free and fair competition.”

“We’re bringing this case because Amazon’s illegal conduct has stifled competition across a huge swath of the online economy. Amazon is a monopolist that uses its power to hike prices on American shoppers and charge sky-high fees on hundreds of thousands of online sellers,” said John Newman, Deputy Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition. “Seldom in the history of U.S. antitrust law has one case had the potential to do so much good for so many people.”

The FTC and states allege Amazon’s anticompetitive conduct occurs in two markets—the online superstore market that serves shoppers and the market for online marketplace services purchased by sellers. These tactics include:

  • Anti-discounting measures that punish sellers and deter other online retailers from offering prices lower than Amazon, keeping prices higher for products across the internet. For example, if Amazon discovers that a seller is offering lower-priced goods elsewhere, Amazon can bury discounting sellers so far down in Amazon’s search results that they become effectively invisible.
  • Conditioning sellers’ ability to obtain “Prime” eligibility for their products—a virtual necessity for doing business on Amazon—on sellers using Amazon’s costly fulfillment service, which has made it substantially more expensive for sellers on Amazon to also offer their products on other platforms. This unlawful coercion has in turn limited competitors’ ability to effectively compete against Amazon.

Amazon’s illegal, exclusionary conduct makes it impossible for competitors to gain a foothold. With its amassed power across both the online superstore market and online marketplace services market, Amazon extracts enormous monopoly rents from everyone within its reach. This includes:

  • Degrading the customer experience by replacing relevant, organic search results with paid advertisements—and deliberately increasing junk ads that worsen search quality and frustrate both shoppers seeking products and sellers who are promised a return on their advertising purchase.
  • Biasing Amazon’s search results to preference Amazon’s own products over ones that Amazon knows are of better quality. 
  • Charging costly fees on the hundreds of thousands of sellers that currently have no choice but to rely on Amazon to stay in business. These fees range from a monthly fee sellers must pay for each item sold, to advertising fees that have become virtually necessary for sellers to do business. Combined, all of these fees force many sellers to pay close to 50% of their total revenues to Amazon. These fees harm not only sellers but also shoppers, who pay increased prices for thousands of products sold on or off Amazon.  

The FTC, along with its state partners, are seeking a permanent injunction in federal court that would prohibit Amazon from engaging in its unlawful conduct and pry loose Amazon’s monopolistic control to restore competition.

Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin joined the Commission’s lawsuit. The Commission vote to authorize staff to file for a permanent injunction and other equitable relief in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington was 3-0.

NOTE: The Commission issues a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest.

Link to the rest at The Federal Trade Commission

PG will spare visitors to TPV by not embedding the entire 172-page complaint.

If you need a bigger US v. Zon fix, the complaint is available for download at the FTC link above.

FTC Sues Amazon, Alleging Illegal Online-Marketplace Monopoly

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Federal Trade Commission and 17 states on Tuesday sued Amazon AMZN -4.35%decrease; red down pointing triangle, alleging the online retailer illegally wields monopoly power that keeps prices artificially high, locks sellers into its platform and harms its rivals.

The FTC’s lawsuit, filed in Seattle federal court, marks a milestone in the Biden administration’s aggressive approach to enforcing antitrust laws and has been anticipated for months.

The agency’s chair, Lina Khan, is a longtime critic of Amazon who wrote in the Yale Law Journal in 2017 that earlier generations of competition cops and courts abandoned the law’s concerns over conglomerates such as Amazon. She has had trouble convincing courts of her antitrust views, however, having earlier lost cases against both Microsoft and Meta Platforms.

The federal agency and the states alleged that Amazon violated antitrust laws by using anti-discounting measures that punished merchants for offering lower prices elsewhere. The government also said sellers on Amazon were compelled to use its logistics service if they want their goods to appear in Amazon Prime, the subscription program whose perks include faster shipping times.

The FTC said sellers feel they must use Amazon’s services such as advertising to be successful on the platform. Between being paid for its logistics program, advertising and other services, “Amazon now takes one of every $2 that a seller makes,” Khan said at a briefing with the media Tuesday.

“The lawsuit filed by the FTC today is wrong on the facts and the law, and we look forward to making that case in court,” said David Zapolsky, Amazon’s general counsel and head of public policy. “The practices the FTC is challenging have helped to spur competition and innovation across the retail industry, and have produced greater selection, lower prices, and faster delivery speeds for Amazon customers and greater opportunity for the many businesses that sell in Amazon’s store.”

The federal agency’s claim that Amazon prevents vendors from offering lower prices on competing websites echoes a claim made in a suit brought last year by the state of California.

“Amazon is now exploiting its monopoly power to enrich itself while raising prices and degrading service for the tens of millions of American families who shop on its platform and the hundreds of thousands of businesses that rely on Amazon to reach them,” Khan said in a statement.

The FTC said it is seeking a court order “that would prohibit Amazon from engaging in its unlawful conduct and pry loose Amazon’s monopolistic control to restore competition.” The lawsuit doesn’t say whether the FTC will ask the court to break up the company, and Khan declined in a briefing with reporters to say whether it would.

“The FTC doesn’t have a particularly good history of bringing monopolization cases,” said Rick Rule, who headed the Justice Department’s antitrust division during the Reagan administration. “Most of the last ones that they brought were in the ’60s and ‘70s and lasted into the ‘80s, and there were various theories but they never went anywhere.”

. . . .

Until recently, it has been rare for federal agencies to file monopoly lawsuits seeking to break up companies accused of anticompetitive behavior. While the FTC and Justice Department regularly seek to block what they see as illegal acquisitions, the government doesn’t often move against companies for anticompetitive behavior unrelated to acquisitions.

. . . .

The FTC’s lawsuit alleges that Amazon, despite its reputation for low prices and convenient delivery among many consumers, steadily grew from an online bookseller into a gatekeeper of online commerce that used its size to squash any budding rivals.

The Justice Department, in its lawsuit over Google search, similarly alleged that Alphabet used its scale to thwart competition. In that case, the government said Google used restrictive agreements with Apple and others to be the default search provider. That enhanced Google’s reach while starving other search engines of the data they needed to improve, the DOJ alleges.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

On a list of the many things PG is not, an antitrust expert or a political analyst would be among the most prominent.

That said, he wonders what the PR issues will be in the Justice Department suit. Amazon has about 230 million customers in the U.S. (out of a total adult population of about 260 million.)

Amazon is unlikely to do anything as a company to stir up the populace, but PG would be surprised if various groups of Amazon customers don’t arise to encourage their elected representatives to criticize the Amazon lawsuit.

Amazon also has 1.1 million sellers in the U.S. Per PG’s quick and dirty online research, KDP has over 1 million authors that publish through the platform. Informed estimates of total royalties paid by KDP to authors in 2022 place the amount as over $500 million.

In a popularity contest, Amazon would crush the Federal Trade Commission and, likely, the entire government of the United States.

Antitrust counsel representing Amazon will take a firm grip on official comments about the lawsuit coming from Amazon and its executives.

However, PG expects the formal and informal web of Amazon sellers will get vocal about this once the word gets around. Ditto for authors who earn most of their royalties from Amazon sales.

Antitrust lawsuits against large, well-known companies in the United States are relatively rare. In 2022, the Justice Department filed only 242 antitrust lawsuits, mostly involving companies/parties even the well-read group of people who visit TPV are unlikely to recognize.

PG is going to follow the progress of this lawsuit from afar and will provide whatever reports he believes would interest visitors to TPV.

Let characters’ emotions spill in unpredictable ways

From Nathan Bransford:

One of the strangest things about writing fiction is that it often needs to make more sense than real life.

In real life, people fall into grief-stricken states of paralysis, wander around aimlessly without knowing what they’re looking for, and endlessly endure unpleasantness without trying to change anything about their circumstances. It’s extremely difficult to make those things interesting in a novel.

When we’re reading novels, it’s confusing and even frustrating when a character doesn’t act in accordance with their desires. To put it more simply: characters who care about something need to act like they care about it. They need to prioritize coherently (if not always rationally).

If they’re terrified, they need to act terrified. They shouldn’t be in the mood to stop in a place of danger and engage in endless breezy banter.

If they’re stuck, it’s helpful to see them at least try to escape so we can grasp the contours of their obstacles.

But there’s still plenty of room for humans to be human. One way you can give your character more latitude to act irrationally and convey to the reader that they really do care is to let their emotions spill out unpredictably.

A character under stress should act like it

Particularly when a writer has fallen a bit too in love with their dialogue, they can unintentionally create incongruities where it feels like a character can’t possibly care about what’s happening in the narrative if they are so unruffled that they have all the time in the world to engage in witty banter.

Now, this can be made to work. The James Bond-ish unflappable hero is an archetype for a reason. But the way to pull this off isn’t to show nothing at all getting to the protagonist. It’s to show stress building and then leaking out in unpredictable ways.

For example, a young protagonist who suffers an indignity from a teacher at school may not be able to immediately channel their frustration. If they were to lash out at the teacher, they’d get in still-more trouble, so they may well bite their tongue in the moment. But instead of simply moving on, the injustice should build and fester, and the protagonist might lash out at a safer target, like a friend or parent, or engage in some risky or uncharacteristic behavior. That acting out may well compound the stress even further.

In other words, the conflict isn’t just allowed to dissipate. It’s more like a ticking time bomb.

The most important principle here: Don’t let a good conflict go to waste!

Don’t let your character’s emotions just disappear. Pour them into an increasingly unmanageable bucket that might spill over at any time.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

The State of the Printing Industry

From Publishers Weekly:

Questions surrounding the future of book printing drew a capacity crowd of 155 publishing professionals to the BMI (Book Manufacturers Institute) Book Manufacturing Mastered conference, held September 14 at Penguin Random House’s New York City headquarters. And though the book manufacturing sector was booming during the pandemic, economic conditions have softened and costs for most materials are continuing to go up. Still, speakers at the conference said book printers are generally in a good place, albeit with a host of challenges ahead of them.

In addition to rising costs, topics discussed at the daylong conference included the renewed postpandemic threat of work moving off-shore, sustainability concerns, the shift from offset to digital printing, and labor shortages.

“We’re basically where we were back in 2014,” said Marco Boer, v-p of IT Strategies, in the opening presentation. “We haven’t lost all that printed book volume that people were worried about when e-books came in, and so we all say this is okay. People are continuing to read and print, and that’s great.”

But a deeper look at the numbers and trends reveals some challenges to be addressed, Boer continued, noting that, after some strong years during the pandemic, the printing market is not stable. “Yes, we’ve had a great 2022. But it’s getting a little bit more complicated as we go forward.” He pointed to logistical challenges, uncertainty over how Amazon will impact the market, and rising paper costs, citing a projected annual 3% decline in supply.

In addition, Boer pointed to another key factor that portends change: the end of the megabestseller. He attributed that trend in part to increased competition from other sources of entertainment, pointing out that the Harry Potter series (whose final volume was published in 2007) were the last to sell tens of millions of copies. “Last year, the bestselling titles were by Colleen Hoover, and she sold 2.75 million books.”

Still, Boer said that unit sales in 2022 were stronger than they were in 2019. “So again, things are not bad,” he noted. “But [the instability] means you have to get more efficient.”

On two follow-up panels—one featuring printers and the other publishers—speakers noted that pressure from publishers and consumers for printers to become more environmentally responsible will also add to pricing pressures. For one thing, they said, the cost for postconsumer wastepaper needed for making recycled paper is the highest it’s been in years. But the printers agreed that the book manufacturing sector needs to invest in an environmentally sustainable future. Todd Roth of Thomas Reuters’s core publishing solutions business (which prints about 30 million books per year) said his company’s goal is to reduce its carbon footprint by 50% by 2030. Linnea Knollmueller of Penguin Random House said her company has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030 and continues to up its use of certified paper (as of 2021, 96% of PRH’s paper came from certified mills).

Roth was one of several panelists who agreed that labor costs for book manufacturers will continue to rise, noting that his company is paying premiums for people to work on second and third shifts as a way to try to attract new talent. The company is also using younger employees to recruit much-needed workers.

While the consensus from the printers’ panel was that prices will have to rise as costs do, the panelists were cognizant that too many increases would negate some of the gains achieved during the pandemic in bringing back work from overseas, particularly from printers in China. David Hetherington of Business International said printers need to work together to convince publishers to support domestic book manufacturing.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

It’s like an instant replay that you’ve seen over and over. It’s way more expensive to ship dead trees than it is electrons over the internet. It’s way more expensive to get physical space in warehouses for dead trees than it is to have some organized bits of information sitting on a big hard drive or collection of big hard drives.

Hard-copy books are inherently more expensive to create, distribute and sell than ebooks are and publishers (or self-publishers) earn far higher profit margins with ebooks than they do with any sort of printed book.

PG is not predicting the imminent collapse of the market for printed books, but printing books is a business that’s going to get smaller and smaller over time. Eventually, printed books will become another category of collectibles.

The Band of Debunkers Busting Bad Scientists

From The Wall Street Journal:

An award-winning Harvard Business School professor and researcher spent years exploring the reasons people lie and cheat. A trio of behavioral scientists examining a handful of her academic papers concluded her own findings were drawn from falsified data.

It was a routine takedown for the three scientists—Joe Simmons, Leif Nelson and Uri Simonsohn—who have gained academic renown for debunking published studies built on faulty or fraudulent data. They use tips, number crunching and gut instincts to uncover deception. Over the past decade, they have come to their own finding: Numbers don’t lie but people do. 

“Once you see the pattern across many different papers, it becomes like a one in quadrillion chance that there’s some benign explanation,” said Simmons, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the trio who report their work on a blog called Data Colada. 

Simmons and his two colleagues are among a growing number of scientists in various fields around the world who moonlight as data detectives, sifting through studies published in scholarly journals for evidence of fraud. 

At least 5,500 faulty papers were retracted in 2022, compared with 119 in 2002, according to Retraction Watch, a website that keeps a tally. The jump largely reflects the investigative work of the Data Colada scientists and many other academic volunteers, said Dr. Ivan Oransky, the site’s co-founder. Their discoveries have led to embarrassing retractions, upended careers and retaliatory lawsuits. 

Neuroscientist Marc Tessier-Lavigne stepped down last month as president of Stanford University, following years of criticism about data in his published studies. Posts on PubPeer, a website where scientists dissect published studies, triggered scrutiny by the Stanford Daily. A university investigation followed, and three studies he co-wrote were retracted.

Stanford concluded that although Tessier-Lavigne didn’t personally engage in research misconduct or know about misconduct by others, he “failed to decisively and forthrightly correct mistakes in the scientific record.” Tessier-Lavigne, who remains on the faculty, declined to comment.

The hunt for misleading studies is more than academic. Flawed social-science research can lead to faulty corporate decisions about consumer behavior or misguided government rules and policies. Errant medical research risks harm to patients. Researchers in all fields can waste years and millions of dollars in grants trying to advance what turn out to be fraudulent findings.

The data detectives hope their work will keep science honest, at a time when the public’s faith in science is ebbing. The pressure to publish papers—which can yield jobs, grants, speaking engagements and seats on corporate advisory boards—pushes researchers to chase unique and interesting findings, sometimes at the expense of truth, according to Simmons and others.

“It drives me crazy that slow, good, careful science—if you do that stuff, if you do science that way, it means you publish less,” Simmons said. “Obviously, if you fake your data, you can get anything to work.”

The journal Nature this month alerted readers to questions raised about an article on the discovery of a room-temperature superconductor—a profound and far-reaching scientific finding, if true. Physicists who examined the work said the data didn’t add up. University of Rochester physicist Ranga Dias, who led the research, didn’t respond to a request for comment but has defended his work. Another paper he co-wrote was retracted in August after an investigation suggested some measurements had been fabricated or falsified. An earlier paper from Dias was retracted last year. The university is looking closely at more of his work.

Experts who examine suspect data in published studies count every retraction or correction of a faulty paper as a victory for scientific integrity and transparency. “If you think about bringing down a wall, you go brick by brick,” said Ben Mol, a physician and researcher at Monash University in Australia. He investigates clinic trials in obstetrics and gynecology. His alerts have prompted journals to retract some 100 papers with investigations ongoing in about 70 others.

Among those looking into other scientists’ work are Elisabeth Bik, a former microbiologist who specializes in spotting manipulated photographs in molecular biology experiments, and Jennifer Byrne, a cancer researcher at the University of Sydney who helped develop software to screen papers for faulty DNA sequences that would indicate the experiments couldn’t have worked.

“If you take the sleuths out of the equation,” Oransky said, “it’s very difficult to see how most of these retractions would have happened.”

The origins of Data Colada stretch back to Princeton University in 1999. Simmons and Nelson, fellow grad-school students, played in a cover band called Gibson 5000 and a softball team called the Psychoplasmatics. Nelson and Simonsohn got to know each other in 2007, when they were faculty members in the business school at the University of California, San Diego.

The trio became friends and, in 2011, published their first joint paper, “False-Positive Psychology.” It included a satirical experiment that used accepted research methods to demonstrate that people who listened to the Beatles song “When I’m Sixty-Four” grew younger. They wanted to show how research standards could accommodate absurd findings. “They’re kind of legendary for that,” said Yoel Inbar, a psychologist at the University of Toronto Scarborough. The study became the most cited paper in the journal Psychological Science.

When the trio launched Data Colada in 2013, it became a site to air ideas about the benefits and pitfalls of statistical tools and data analyses. “The whole goal was to get a few readers and to not embarrass ourselves,” Simmons said. Over time, he said, “We have accidentally trained ourselves to see fraud.”

They co-wrote an article published in 2014 that coined the now-common academic term “p-hacking,” which describes cherry-picking data or analyses to make insignificant results look statistically credible. Their early work contributed to a shift in research methods, including the practice of sharing data so other scientists can try to replicate published work.

“The three of them have done an amazing job of developing new methodologies to interrogate the credibility of research,” said Brian Nosek, executive director of the Center for Open Science, a nonprofit based in Charlottesville, Va., which advocates for reliable research.

Nelson, who teaches at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, is described by his partners as the big-picture guy, able to zoom out of the weeds and see the broad perspective.

Simonsohn is the technical whiz, at ease with opaque statistical techniques. “It is nothing short of a superpower,” Nelson said. Simonsohn was the first to learn how to spot the fingerprints of fraud in data sets.

Working together, Simonsohn said, “feels a lot like having a computer with three core processors working in parallel.”

The men first eyeball the data to see if they make sense in the context of the research. The first study Simonsohn examined for faulty data on the blog was obvious. Participants were asked to rate an experience on a scale from zero through 10, yet the data set inexplicably had negative numbers.

Another red flag is an improbable claim—say a study that said a runner could sprint 100 yards in half a second. Such findings always get a second look. “You immediately know, no way,” said Simonsohn, who teaches at the Esade Business School in Barcelona, Spain. Another telltale sign is perfect data in small data sets. Real-world data is chaotic, random.

Any one of those can trigger an examination of a paper’s underlying data. “Is it just an innocent error? Is it p-hacking?” Simmons said. “We never rush to say fraud.”

. . . .

Bad data goes undetected in academic journals largely because the publications rely on volunteer experts to ensure the quality of published work, not to detect fraud. Journals don’t have the expertise or personnel to examine underlying data for errors or deliberate manipulation, said Holden Thorp, editor in chief of the Science family of journals. 

. . . .

Thorp said he talks to Bik and other debunkers, noting that universities and other journal editors should do the same. “Nobody loves to hear from her,” he said. “But she’s usually right.”

The data sleuths have pushed journals to pay more attention to correcting the record, he said. Most have hired people to review allegations of bad data. Springer Nature, which publishes Nature and some 3,000 other journals, has a team of 20 research staffers, said Chris Graf, the company’s research integrity director, twice as many as when he took over in 2021.

Retraction Watch, which with research organization Crossref keep a log of some 50,000 papers discredited over the past century, estimated that, as of 2022, about eight papers have been retracted for every 10,000 published studies.

Bik and others said it can take months or years for journals to resolve complaints about suspect studies. Of nearly 800 papers that Bik reported to 40 journals in 2014 and 2015 for running misleading images, only a third had been corrected or retracted five years later, she said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Amazon restricts authors from self-publishing more than three books a day after AI concerns

From The Guardian:

Amazon has created a new rule limiting the number of books that authors can self-publish on its site to three a day, after an influx of suspected AI-generated material was listed for sale in recent months.

The company announced the new limitations in a post on its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) forum on Monday. “While we have not seen a spike in our publishing numbers, in order to help protect against abuse, we are lowering the volume limits we have in place on new title creations,” read the statement. KDP allows authors to self-publish their books and list them for sale on Amazon’s site.

Amazon told the Guardian that the limit is set at three titles, though this number may be adjusted “if needed”. The company confirmed that there had already been a limit to the number of books authors could list a day, but declined to say what this previous limit was.

The post stated that Amazon is “actively monitoring the rapid evolution of generative AI and the impact it is having on reading, writing, and publishing” and that “very few” publishers will be affected by the change. Authors and publishers will also have the option to seek an exception to the rule.

The rule change will “probably not” be a “gamechanger for managing the influx of AI-written content on Amazon’s platform,” said Dr Miriam Johnson, senior lecturer in publishing at Oxford Brookes University. “It will dent the numbers a bit, but for those who are making money by flooding the market with AI-generated books and publishing more than three a day, they will find a work-around.”

The three-book limit announcement comes a week after Amazon introduced the requirement for authors to inform the company when their content is AI-generated and added a new section to their guidelines featuring definitions of “AI-generated” and “AI-assisted” content. Johnson said that though the disclosure requirement is a “nice idea”, she questions how Amazon would check whether authors are disclosing AI-generated content.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

‘Boss’: From a Head Honcho in Dutch to a Rock Star in the U.S.A.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Earlier this year, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced that Bruce Springsteen’s birthday, Sept. 23, would be formally recognized by the state as Bruce Springsteen Day. “Truth be told, I know my place in the hierarchy of New Jersey,” Murphy joked when presenting the official proclamation. “After all, I may be the 56th individual to be called ‘governor,’ but there will ever only be just one ‘Boss.’”

The moment was reminiscent of the 2016 ceremony in which then-President Barack Obama bestowed Springsteen with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “I am the president, he is ‘The Boss,’” Obama acknowledged.

Springsteen himself has never been fond of the nickname. Biographers have said have said that early in his career, his bandmates called him “The Boss” when he collected money from concert venues to distribute to the band. That appellation extended to his onstage authority, and the music press picked up on it when he became a star in the mid-1970s.

In a 1980 interview, Springsteen plainly stated, “I hate bosses. I hate being called the boss.” His reluctance to embrace the word “boss” is understandable given the way it has been used both approvingly and disapprovingly over its history.

“Boss” first entered English during the American colonial era, when settlers from England and the Netherlands interacted along the Atlantic coast. In Dutch, the word “baas” meant “master” and could refer to an employer or foreman overseeing workers. A fuller form, “werkbaas,” or “work-boss,” was used by Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop in a 1635 journal entry about an engineer building fortifications.

Early usage of “boss” centered in New York, where Dutch influence was the strongest, spreading out to other regions in the 19th century. In her 2009 book “Cookies, Coleslaw, and Stoops: The Influence of Dutch on the North American Languages,” Dutch linguist Nicoline van der Sijs observed that “boss” was “an acceptable alternative to ‘master’” for English settlers who “wanted to do away with the hierarchical relations customary in their homeland.” As the English traveler James Flint wrote in an 1818 letter from America, “‘Master’ is not a word in the vocabulary of hired people. ‘Bos,’ a Dutch one of similar import, is substituted.”

While “boss” may have originally sounded better than “master” to American ears, it would not be long before more negative connotations began creeping in. In the 1860s, when William M. Tweed rose in the ranks to take control of New York City’s government, he earned the title “boss,” and newspapers began to label him regularly as “Boss Tweed.” As the extent of Tweed’s rampant corruption in his Tammany Hall political machine became widely known, the word “boss” was tarnished, with “bossism” coming to refer to the domination of a political organization by a single dictatorial leader. In the early 20th century, “boss” worked its way into the criminal underworld as well, as in “mob boss” or “gang boss.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Not a fast writer? You can still build a successful publishing strategy

From Nail Your Novel:

The classic advice for authors, particularly indie authors, is to pump out a lot of books fast to build a big backlist and keep your readers interested. But that pace of writing and production doesn’t suit everybody.

Exhibit A, the introduction to my newsletter.

I write books slowly.

I probably won’t have a new release for a while but I’ve always got adventures to share. My newsletter is my diary of what’s mattered to be in a month, as a writer, editor, book adorer, storybrain for hire.

For a long time, slow-burn authors in the indie world weren’t getting seen or acknowledged. Most of the guidance was geared to fast producers. It seemed that if you didn’t put out several titles a year, and have a backlist that would fill a car boot, you wouldn’t be able to build a readership. What about the people whose work didn’t fit that pattern?

link to the rest at Nail Your Novel

How to Write a Compelling Transition Sentence

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

At a writers’ workshop, I once heard a beginning writer talk about how it had taken him almost all day to write a paragraph describing his character waking up in his bedroom upstairs and going to the kitchen downstairs to make breakfast.

“He made eggs and toast,” continued the writer.

“And then what happened?” I asked.

“He got some strawberry jam out of the refrigerator.”

Not much of a story, I thought. “The jam was poisoned?” I prompted.

He shook his head. “He found a body near the stove.”

Which meant the writer needed to beware the dreaded narrative-crushing, throat-clearing set up.

Which also meant he needed to learn how to write a compelling, effective transition sentence.

What is a transition sentence?

Transition sentences are the crucial bridges that link one thought to the next or one scene to the next.

Well-constructed transition sentences, unlike London Bridge, do not fall down. Instead, they structure a smooth-flowing story, ensure forward progress, escalate suspense or tension, and, in turn, create page-turning, can’t-put-it-down fiction.

We’re talking about the hard working sentences that move your story from here to there, from him to her, from good guy to bad guy.

The transition sentence seamlessly moves the reader from one character, scene, place or mood to the next.

For example:

“As up-and-coming country singer, Joe Bob Smith, knocked on the door of the Memphis company’s hottest hit maker, in cold, snowy Moscow, his sister, CIA super agent Daphne Smith, bundled in thick sheepskins, skulked along the wall surrounding the Kremlin.”

So here we are: all the way from Memphis to Moscow, from pop music headliner to tense thriller in a single sentence.

The transition sentence can also link one thought or mood to another:

“She loved him, but she was already late for work and he’d left the car’s fuel gauge pointing to empty. Which meant she would have to stop at the gas station first and would make her even later.

“Which also meant she wanted to kill him.”

Three sentences that shift the mood.

Whether the tone is mystery, thriller, or comedy depends on genre.

How to write a powerful transition sentence.

The transition sentence must be clear, simple, and direct as it moves the reader’s attention from one focus to another and provides the connective tissue that supports compelling narrative.

It might link AM and PM, Wednesday and Friday, Spring to Summer — or one place to another — from Memphis to Moscow, from the kitchen to the living room, or from one thought or mood to another.

“Leaving the hot, steamy kitchen and the winey beef stew for which she was locally celebrated, Linda Jones checked the mirror to refresh her makeup and tidy her hair. She wanted to look her best when the tall, Cary Grant lookalike United Parcel man rang her doorbell even as she fretted about what she could do to keep her husband from finding out about him.”

The well-crafted transition sentence can compress or expand time.

“As Henry Tailor gunned his silver Ferrari into merging traffic, he recalled the time almost fifteen years ago when he’d been dead broke. He’d vowed never to be poor again, and he’d lied, stolen and cheated to make his way to the top of the Hollywood heap as CEO of Colossal Pix.”

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

We live in a time of such rapid change

We live in a time of such rapid change and growth of knowledge that only he who is in a fundamental sense a scholar-that is, a person who continues to learn and inquire-can hope to keep pace, let alone play the role of guide.

Nathan M. Pusey