Veritas

From The Wall Street Journal:

‘Hotwife’ Pornographer Gulls Harvard Prof With ‘Wife of Jesus’ Hoax.” The headlines could have been worse for Karen King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard University. But not much worse.

The first line of act I of “Veritas,” Ariel Sabar’s mesmerizing five-act real-life melodrama, is “Dr. Karen Leigh King had reached the summit of her field as a dazzling interpreter of condemned scripture.” We join Ms. King at the apex of her career, her September 2012 unveiling of the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” at the International Congress of Coptic Studies, held a stone’s throw from the Vatican in Rome. Speaking to three dozen colleagues, Ms. King describes the tiny papyrus fragment that had come into her possession, lingering over its fateful line 4: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . .’ ”

This little snippet, Ms. King claimed, “leads us to . . . completely re-evaluate the way in which Christianity looks at sexuality and at marriage.” Ms. King considered calling the bit of papyrus the “Mary Fragment” but chose to call it a “Gospel”—“something that will stick,” she later explained. From some 30 Coptic words spread across eight discontinuous lines, Mr. Sabar writes, Ms. King had “alchemized . . . [the] case for a thoroughgoing Gospel of Jesus’s Wife.”

A married Jesus would turn the Catholic Church on its head. The papyrus hinted at a wife named Mary, presumed to be Mary Magdalene, painted as a prostitute by Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century. The New Testament, however, never mentions a marriage, other than in references to the Church or holy Jerusalem as Christ’s spiritual bride. Christ’s purported bachelorhood undergirds the Catholic doctrine of priestly celibacy. If the papyrus accurately described a wife of Christ, “this means that the whole Catholic claim of a celibate priesthood based on Jesus’s celibacy has no historical foundation,” noted Ms. King, a feminist scholar and expert on the apocryphal, second-century Gospel of Mary.

The papyrus presented problems from the start. Before the Rome event, two of the three anonymous peer reviewers retained by the Harvard Theological Review suggested Ms. King’s fragment might be a fake—although none of the scholars assembled in Rome knew that. Ms. King’s reviewers examined only a digital photograph of the “Gospel,” and “something felt off,” Mr. Sabar reports. One expert said the script “looked like twenty-first-century handwriting.” On closer inspection, small imperfections manifested themselves: missing characters and the “grammatical monstrosity” of an impossible double conjugation.

Brown University Egyptologist Leo Depuydt called the papyrus’s grammar a “colossal double blunder,” arguing that its creator was less likely to have been “a very incompetent ancient scribe” than “a modern author who might have benefited from one more semester of Coptic.” Ms. King, who, Mr. Sabar reminds us, taught Coptic at Harvard, “had somehow failed to spot most of the text’s grammatical irregularities.”

The besieged Ms. King fought back. Nineteen months after the Rome reveal, the Theological Review published her article defending the fragment’s authenticity, backstopped by testing carried out at Harvard, Columbia and MIT. Harvard issued a triumphant press release: “Testing Indicates ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ Papyrus Fragment to Be Ancient.” Ms. King and the as-yet-unidentified owner of the fragment exchanged a sigh of relief. The lab tests, he emailed her, served as “the ultimate confirmation for me that we’ve been right all along, confirming again what has been obvious from day one.”

. . . .

Mr. Sabar doesn’t name the purported papyrus pusher until page 162, and the man’s bona fides seem quite unusual indeed. A former student in Egyptology at Berlin’s Free University, Walter Fritz briefly directed the Stasi Museum, housed in the former headquarters of the notorious East German secret police, before moving to Florida, becoming a pornographer, and carving out a name for himself and his wife in the state’s “vibrant swingers’ community.” Mr. Fritz is the proverbial man of many parts; one wonders why a prodigious researcher like Ms. King didn’t perform a few more Google searches or place some phone calls before dynamiting 2,000 years of patriarchal tradition on the basis of his sketchy offering.

As the reader moves through acts III and IV, Mr. Sabar continues to tantalize us. It is curious, we learn, that Ms. King had urged the Theological Review to scotch a dissenting article by Mr. Depuydt that was printed in the 2014 issue devoted to the papyrus. It is equally curious that the Columbia and MIT “authentications” of the fragment were performed by scholars with “close personal ties” to Ms. King and to one of her key allies. The MIT man was the son of a family friend and “an expert in explosives detection.” The ink analyst from Columbia “had no experience with ancient objects.” Oops.

. . . .

“[Ms. King’s] ideological commitments were choreographing her practice of history,” Mr. Sabar writes. “The story came first; the dates managed after. The narrative before the evidence; the news conference before the scientific analysis.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

Longest running conservation journal goes Open Access

From The Bookseller:

Oryx, the international journal of conservation published by Cambridge University Press, is to become Open Access from January next year, in a move made possible by a grant from The Rufford Foundation.

From January 2021, the journal–which is the world’s longest running conservation journal–will be free to anyone with an internet connection. Past content dating as far back as 1950 will be made freely available, as well as all new research which will be published Open Access from next year. Meanwhile unfunded authors will benefit from a new APC (article processing charge) waiver policy, also thanks to The Rufford Foundation, dedicated to nature conservation.

CUP publishes the journal on behalf of wildlife conservation charity Fauna & Flora International, and it is billed as the “go-to publication for anyone interested in biodiversity conservation, conservation policy and related social, economic and political issues”.

Editor Dr Martin Fisher, who has overseen Oryx for almost 20 years, said: “This is the most significant development in the journal’s eminent history. Thanks to the support of the Rufford Foundation and Cambridge University Press’ commitment to Open Access publishing, the research published in Oryx will be freely accessible to all readers, no matter where they live or work.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

The Joys of Mystery Fiction’s Most Enduring Tropes

From CrimeReads:

The tropes of the murder mystery genre are familiar and widely parodied.

My personal favorite is the remote island location: barren and desolate, bordered by a wild blue sea, too sparse to have any hiding places and too far from the mainland to swim to, with a single, unimposing house. The perfect place for a murder.

My debut novel, The Eighth Detective, is a book all about murder mysteries and their tropes. It centers around a reclusive author, Grant McAllister, and a quick-witted young editor, Julia Hart, who meets with him to discuss reprinting some of his old stories, which have been unavailable for nearly thirty years. While Julia works hard to decode their secrets, which may or may not lead back to a murder, several of Grant’s short stories are reproduced in the novel in full.

. . . .

I sprinkled them liberally with tropes. Remote locations; country houses; characters distinguished only by their eccentricities; families ruled over by grumbling figureheads; bodies discovered in toilets, attics, and beds that don’t belong to them; poisoned drinks and disappearing weapons. But it wasn’t until I came to write them that I started to consider how these things became tropes in the first place, or why so many authors returned to them so often. What struck me was how useful they all are from the point of view of plotting. Each one offers a shortcut through pages and pages of narrative convolutions.

Take the remote location, for example. It may be atmospheric, but what’s more important is the use it has to the story. Our murder mystery needs to present the reader with a limited list of suspects, along with the promise that one of them will later be exposed as a murderer. We need to assure the reader that the crime couldn’t have been committed by a passing stranger. But there’s no need to tie ourselves in knots trying to justify this confected situation, when geography compels it. That’s the beauty of the remote location, bucolic or otherwise. The trope acts as a narrative shortcut.

Link to the rest at CrimeReads

There’s no excuse for not knowing where your book fits in the market

From Nathan Bransford:

I know that the vast majority of authors haven’t worked in the publishing industry and aren’t spending their days acquainting themselves with its ins and outs. I know that for the uninitiated it’s increasingly difficult to tell the difference between traditionally published books and self-published books. I know you would rather just write your books and coast to fame and fortune without lifting another finger.

But real talk: If you don’t know where your book fits in the market and can’t come up with some comp titles published in the last 5-10 years, there’s really only one reason: you just haven’t done the research.

It takes hundreds of hours to write a novel. You can afford to spend an extremely important 2-3 hours clicking around on Google and Amazon to research what else is out there.

. . . .

it’s not enough to just write a good book and then let the magic of publishing take care of the rest. There was never a time when someone could “just be a writer” and it’s certainly not true now.

There are many, many reasons it pays to know where your book fits in the market, but they all really boil down to this:

  • You must know what differentiates your book as you’re pitching and promoting it.

If you’re pursuing traditional publishing, you’re going to have to write a query letter. If you’re pursuing self-publishing, you’re going to have to write good jacket copy, or at least know what good jacket copy looks like. If you’re planning a marketing campaign or social media presence, it’s helpful to know where your audience is and what they’re reading.

In order to really know why your book is special, you should know what else is out there. You should know who your potential readers are. And in order to do that, you have to have a sense of the landscape.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

It’s Time to Radically Rethink Online Book Events

From Electric Lit:

Before the stay-at-home orders came down in Baltimore, the last thing I did in person was participate in a panel conversation about—ironically—“art and the apocalypse.” In retrospect, we should have cancelled, but the threat in Maryland still felt surreal; those were the days when it seemed like we could beat the pandemic by washing our hands.

I’ve been thinking about that panel a lot lately because my first novel is coming out in August, and I’ve been trying to envision a book launch without an in-person event. I’m embarrassed to be grieving for this tiny problem, which is less than negligible compared to all we have witnessed this year. But publishing a novel has been a lifelong dream for me, and book events have been an important part of that dream—because other authors’ events have been such meaningful parts of my own inspiration. I have vivid memories of electric readings by Victor LaValle, César Aira, and Tim O’Brien. I got teary-eyed watching a hundred public school kids crowd in to see D. Watkins at the Baltimore Book Festival. After hearing Valeria Luiselli speak about The Story of my Teeth, I was so inspired I wrote an entire short story in an afternoon. When my dreams have felt far away, when my fiction has seemed meager and hopeless, I have gone to a bookstore and sat on a folding chair and been reminded that books are my spirituality—they are my connection to my own humanity, and to my understanding of grace in others. The magic of a book event is in the revelation, fresh every time, that my very favorite thing to do, a thing I do mostly alone, is also the thing that connects me most closely to other people. 

As COVID has become our new normal, book events have started up again, in virtual formats. But like every other online substitute we’ve instituted—family Zoom calls, Instagram birthday wishes—these internet readings have lacked some of the magic of human connection. Is there a way to recapture that magic online?

. . . .

By the third week, I had swung from denial to despair at the never-ending stream of news of illness and death, health care system failures and government malfeasance. The experience of these months reminds me of when I fall asleep on the couch watching a movie and then refuse to get up to go to bed. I know that I will feel terrible sleeping on the couch, but all I want to do is keep sleeping on the couch. My friend Nicole calls this feeling “special features,” because back in the days of DVD, she would demand her partner play the special features after the movie so that she could continue to sleep. By my fifth week of staying at home, I felt like I was living in special features.

To alleviate the loneliness, I found solace in online book events. Bookstores and literary festivals, podcasts and grassroots publicity efforts, and publishers and authors had intrepidly brought their work and energy online, gathering readers together despite the pandemic with heroic success. I went to more book events online in April than I have ever been to in a physical month; there were nights I hopped between three different conversations, from Zoom to Crowdcast to Instagram Live; it was like wandering through a literary night market, the tents all patchwork-stitched together but the doorways tacked open to warm, inviting fires inside. In those first three lonely months, wandering through this nightly market has been a comfort.

But lately, I’ve started to wonder why these events have not yet evolved. Most events are still following the old-fashioned format of the in-person bookstore event, where two authors have a conversation, maybe with a short reading, maybe with an audience Q&A. Rather than developing new ideas for book events to suit the technology we’re using, the literary community is by and large continuing to do what we’ve always done. 

Don’t get me wrong—many of these events have been truly excellent. But the internet, which can be thrilling and inspiring and creative, rarely mimics the conventions of the physical world. So why are we still circumscribing book events according to the limits of what is possible in person? 

These restrictions are not ideal for digital space. In bookstores, the “in conversation” model works because it gives you the inspiration of being in the same room as the author, as well as the excitement of being part of an audience. Neither of those translates organically to Zoom or Instagram Live, where it doesn’t really feel like you’re in the same room. And while there is often a chat box, or little hearts floating up the screen when people “like” something, the sensation of being part of the crowd is abstract. Without this sense of community, some online book events have left me feeling lonelier than I was before. 

It’s time to start experimenting—and to try radically reinventing what a “book event” can be, in this radically different year. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG has six reactions to the OP.

  1. Don’t look to traditional publishing for technological innovation. Not in their DNA, not in their bloodstream, not in their frame of reference, not in their world.
  2. A great many authors are introverts and speaking to a large group of people, let alone pitching their books to a large group of strangers is akin to medieval torture. Some will put together a schtick-style personality to use in signings, but they still may not enjoy the experience, particularly if they have to repeat their schtick night after night. It’s even more depressing if they spend all prime writing time away from their keyboard and don’t sell very many books.
  3. What portion of readers will buy books in physical bookstores in the future? The historical origin of book signings is based upon the belief that if you can draw a lot of people to a physical bookstore and they hear an author talk about a book, they’ll pick up a copy before they leave. This assumes that they 1) prefer physical books to ebooks and 2) won’t pick up their cell phone and order the book from Amazon for a lower price, perhaps even while they’re listening to an author talk about the book.
  4. If Amazon is the preferred place for a lot of people to purchase books, why not focus energy and money online, where purchasing a book is a click away?
  5. If you catch a bookseller in a candid mood, they’ll admit that book signings are a pain to deal with. They have to keep at least one more person working in order to handle a crowd, which costs money. You have to order more copies of the book than you ordinarily would to make certain you have something to sell to people who attend, but you also probably have to pay someone to return a bunch of unsold books so you can use your limited budget to buy different books that people will buy. If someone outside the store wants to make a quick visit to buy a book and sees a mob of people in the front window, isn’t it possible that they may skip the purchase or go elsewhere because they don’t want to spend the time necessary to work through the throng to locate and purchase their book? Plus, maybe have to track down someone to take their payment.
  6. With regard to online gatherings, PG notes that human beings are marvelously adaptive creatures. Certainly, we like to physically gather with kindred spirits, but we can also become more accustomed to seeing someone’s face on an iPad. PG has already seen improvements in the quality of online presentations and meetings because a perceptive individual will try to improve her/his performance in a business/commercial setting, whether it’s a conference room, bookstore, coffee-shop interview or in a video conference. At the beginning of this pandemic, nobody seemed to think about their cat playing in the background during a video call. Now, only the terminally clueless fail to put pussy into another room and shut the door. And, if you’re dressed properly only from the waist on up, you should expect to show up on YouTube in your underpants, you idiot.

PG suggests that the book signing is an outmoded publicity technique whose time has past. If an author values his/her time, it is unlikely to be worth the time, effort and queasiness involved in talking to a bunch of strangers while worrying about flop sweat on your forehead and in your armpits.

The writing of a novel

The writing of a novel is taking life as it already exists, not to report it but to make an object, toward the end that the finished work might contain this life inside it and offer it to the reader. The essence will not be, of course, the same thing as the raw material; it is not even of the same family of things. The novel is something that never was before and will not be again.

Eudora Welty

Don’t Fall Into the Trap of ‘Precrastination’

From LifeHacker:

We live and work in a culture that values productivity (and in turn, profits) above pretty much everything else. But we’re also big fans of instant gratification. (Isn’t the best part about making a checklist adding a few things you’ve already done, just so you can tick them off right away?) As it turns out, when you mix the push for productivity with our love of instant gratification, you can end up falling into the trap of “precrastination.” Here’s what that concept means and how to avoid it.

Dr. David Rosenbaum, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, first coined the term “precrastination” in a 2014 article in the journal Psychological Science. He describes it as “the hastening of subgoal completion, even at the expense of extra physical effort,” but it can apply to tasks (like office work) that don’t involve physical labor.

Basically, you precrastinate if you opt to put in extra effort in the rush to complete a task (and tick it off your to-do list) that may end up being unnecessary with a little more time and planning. Chris Bailey, writing for CNBC’s Make It vertical provides this example:

You and your team are gearing up for a complex project, and they’ve sent a number of emails asking for clarification on certain points. Rather than taking the time to write back in a thoughtful and deliberate manner or schedule a call to discuss, you send back a series of half-baked replies.

Task complete, right? Not quite. While you may have temporarily dealt with a few items on your to-do list, your lack of clarity generates further questions. As a result, more effort is needed to get everyone back on track.

How to avoid ‘precrastination’

The key here, Bailey says, is to identify when zipping through tasks is a good idea, versus when it’ll actually end up costing you more time in the end. 

Link to the rest at LifeHacker

Powell’s Books Closes Airport Store Permanently

From Shelf Awareness:

Powell’s Books has closed its store and kiosk at Portland International Airport permanently. Owner Emily Powell said, “Closing the airport store is a sad necessity as we face the months ahead. The privilege of welcoming book lovers to Portland, and sending Portlanders off on their travels with a good book in hand, has been a true gift. It’s hard for me to imagine our future without the airport, and without the airport’s seasoned team of booksellers. We hope to return one day.”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

Digital Printing: The New Normal

From Publishing Trends:

Everyone’s looking for silver linings in their COVID-19 playbooks, and for publishers – along with their distributors and wholesalers – the answer is, paradoxically, print. 

In the olden, pre-pandemic days when most books were printed offset, digital files were stored in case a book needed to be reprinted quickly. But this March, that dynamic was upended: everything shut down, some publishers’ warehouses and bookstores closed, and even Amazon slowed its bookselling to prioritize sanitizer over bestsellers.  

All of these abrupt shifts resulted in enormous strains on the supply chain, says Ingram Content Group’s Kelly Gallagher. Publishers couldn’t access their inventory; books couldn’t be shipped even to the few retailers who were open; printers couldn’t get their titles where they were supposed to be. Within weeks, Lightning Press, Ingram’s print-on-demand division, found itself creating everything from “virtual warehouses” for some clients, to print-to-order titles that were delivered direct-to-consumer via orders through bookstores and online retailers. 

Then, just as stores were coming back, protests erupted around the country and readers rushed to read up on social justice – often opting for backlist titles with low or no inventory on hand. Again, publishers looked to Ingram and other printer/distributors to supply those titles. While some, like Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility (2018), went on to sell hundreds of thousands of ebooks, print versions often had to be produced using short-run and print-on-demand (i.e. digital) techniques just to satisfy immediate demand.

“The pandemic has accelerated the move from print to digital by three years,” estimates Books International’s David Hetherington. Now, “more and more titles are born digital.” This isn’t simply a shift to ebooks, though some outlets, such as libraries have doubled their ebook downloads. Instead, “born digital” content refers to the shift from traditional first printings using offset, to smaller first runs that are printed digitally. Though the quality is not (yet) as good and the costs are higher, savings come in time and the ability to customize. 

Baker & Taylor’s Eric McGarvey agrees that digital-first is on the rise but says the shift has been taking place over the last five years, especially with university presses eager to keep overhead down while making the full range of backlist available. University presses have been in the forefront of innovation over the last few years, in part because of funding issues that forced efficiencies, and in part because some have been folded under their academic libraries, which have long embraced digital resources.

Many of these transitions are a result of improved technology. Digital presses can now handle everything from roll-fed printing and heavy paper stock to full color, a range of formats, and customization. Even the Big Five are looking to third parties to ensure books can be quickly printed and distributed through the appropriate channels. McGarvey cites a new largescale backlist title effort between a new PRH Publisher Services client and Baker & Taylor as an example. 

And BISG Executive Director Brian O’Leary sees a possible “broader conversation” than one dedicated solely to how the book is printed. “This technology enables the shift in publishing from fixed to variable expense and the ability to match capacity to demand,” he says. In other words, the old model of looking at the unit cost of a manufactured book has morphed into looking at the cost per unit sold. 

Link to the rest at Publishing Trends

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Public Humiliation

From Writers Helping Writers:

Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

. . . .

Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

It’s our hope that this thesaurus will help you come up with meaningful and fitting conflict options for your stories. Think about what your character wants and how best to block them, then choose a source of conflict that will ramp up the tension in each scene.

Conflict: Public Humiliation

Category: Power struggles, failures and mistakes, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, moral dilemmas and temptation, losing an advantage, loss of control, ego

Examples:
Infidelity being made public (through a sign on the lawn, a billboard ad, announcing it at a wedding or family event, in a mass email, or on social media)
Having private letters, images, or video shared online
The character being negatively singled out in front of peers
Being ridiculed by family or friends at a group event
Having their dirty laundry aired publically
An explosive secret coming out (drug use, sexual fetishes, criminal behavior, etc.)
Being put on the spot when the character is unprepared or at a disadvantage
Guilt by association (a spouse’s drunkenness at a company event, an adult child who has a very public arrest, a family scandal coming out, etc.)
Having a lie publically exposed or fraudulent behavior called out
Being forced to do something in public that the character believes is beneath them (due to their status, prestige, wealth, etc.)

Minor Complications:
Embarrassment, guilt, or shame (or all three)
Friends and connections who distance themselves, leaving the character to deal with the fallout alone
The rumor mill spinning, adding to the drama
Not knowing who to trust
Being shunned by neighbors or coworkers
Having to explain what happened over and over
Paying for legal advice
Changing a routine to avoid being harassed or ridiculed
Pulling back from activities to protect one’s privacy
Feeling trapped at home because of reporters, protesters, etc.
Having to disguise oneself in public
The character’s family members being inconvenienced or harassed
The character’s words being twisted in the media to fit a certain narrative to make things more “news-worthy”
Feeling watched
Having one’s other past actions examined and scrutinized
Damage to the character’s reputation
Having a membership revoked or an award taken back
Feeling uncomfortable around others due to being judged
Being unwelcome at a club, event, or establishment
Being threatened and harrassed
Being bullied or targeted online

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Keeping a Connection to Your Library

From Publishers Weekly:

As news of school closures spread throughout New York City, I frantically took books off of shelves and shoved them into my students’ arms, explaining, “You can take out six books now!” On every table in our middle school library, I piled book sets, urging students to check out the same book as their peers and form book clubs with their friends. Students were confused and grateful—unsure of why, exactly, I was urging them to stockpile, allowing them double the usual amount of checkouts.

. . . .

From March through June I Zoomed with students, and somehow, probably through the magic of kids’ resiliency and flexibility and imaginations, we created a space that felt not completely like a library, but close to it. We wrote and read and drew and laughed together. We recommended books to one another. We bookmarked passages and read them out loud.

Most importantly, we kept our beloved book clubs going. I host a recess and after-school book club for students in grades four through eight. These spaces—of shared literary love, deep conversation, and casual hanging out—proved a very important part of students’ remote learning experience, because they were one of few opportunities where students could bond socially.

. . . .

Encourage student preparation. I have found that the most engaged discussions are sparked when students actually read fewer pages per week but have done some discussion preparation. Assigning shorter sections of the text allows students to easily recall the section they read. Asking them to do the work of the facilitator readies them for facilitating! I ask students to prepare discussion questions or track character development and themes. Not only does this mean you’re no longer the only facilitator (teacher trick) but it means that students are better prepared to engage more deeply, even if it is with a shorter section of the text.

Open with a go-around. Begin with an opening question where students call on one another. Go-arounds, which can range from silly to serious questions, have always been a core element of the book clubs I lead. Their importance became clearer in the Zoom classroom, where some shyer students hide behind their mute buttons. When students begin by responding to a question or providing their opinion about a book, they are primed to talk. The group hears everyone’s voices and adjusts to expect everyone’s voices. Students calling on one another keeps the discussion flowing and spontaneous; it also makes them keep tabs on the people who have or haven’t spoken yet (another teacher trick).

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Don’t Forget the H

From SFWA:

The horror genre is undergoing a renaissance these days, with audiences devouring popular and critically acclaimed books, movies, and television series. If you’re a science fiction or fantasy writer who’d like to add more horror to your authorial toolbox, but you’re not quite sure how to go about it, you’re in luck, because that’s what this article is all about.

A lot of people’s views on horror have been shaped by slasher films, simplistic predator-stalks-prey stories with lots of blood and sex. But the genre of horror performs some very important functions for its audience beyond providing simple scares. Horror is a way for us to face our fears and come to terms with death and the “evil” in the world. Through horror, we explore, confront, and (hopefully) make peace with our dark side. And as a particular benefit for writers, horror can add a different level of suspense and emotional involvement for readers in any story.

Good horror is internal more than external. Horror stories are reaction stories. They’re not about monsters or monstrous forces as much as how characters react to monsters (or to becoming monsters themselves). Horror also thrives on fear of the unknown, so you should strive to avoid standard horror tropes such as bloodthirsty vampires or demon-possessed children, or rework them to make them more original and impactful for readers. Maybe your vampire is a creature that feeds on people’s memories, or maybe your possessed child is an android created to be a child’s companion who’s desperately trying to repel a hacker’s efforts to take over its system. Reworking a trope — dressing it in new clothes, so to speak — allows you to reclaim the power of its core archetype while jettisoning the cliched baggage it’s picked up over the years.

Link to the rest at SFWA

Previously, PG used the acronym SWFA instead of SFWA.

That’s the first mistake he’s made in the last five years and he apologizes immoderately.

How to Survive a Pandemic, According to an Academic Publisher

From Publishers Weekly:

Like all businesses, Oxford University Press has responded rapidly to the changing market conditions and customer needs resulting from the Covid-19 crisis. The stages we’ve gone through will be recognizable by anyone in the sector: an initial rush to enable remote working, extensive financial scenario modelling, and then accelerating digital programs and sales in anticipation of a very different-looking post-pandemic world. It’s been demanding, but with lots of learning points along the way.

After reviewing the past four months of our activity and talking to colleagues at other houses about how they’ve responded, I recommend publishers and IP businesses take these five steps to stabilize their operations and position themselves for what comes next. Most of these are simply good business responses, but I hope they are helpful as a checklist.

1.Shorten your planning time horizon and carve out spare bandwidth. In publishing, planning horizons are generally 18–24 months. We’ve shifted ours to six. Which of your activities have the most immediate return? Could longer-term projects be put on hold? Carve out capacity (even if you’re not sure where to deploy it yet) by deciding what you can afford to stop. This shift in perspective will help you identify and redeploy resources to support short-term, opportunistic activities.

. . . .

3. Audit your IP and services. Before offering deals to grab quick sales, perform an audit of all of your content and outputs, and then rank them in terms of how valuable each one is in meeting current market requirements. The order might not have changed since the last time you did it, but you might be surprised, given how many market conditions have been radically upended. Who knows what gems you’ve got on your backlist, or what services you offer that have become more or less useful.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Scientists put visions of letters in blind people’s brains

From Massive Science:

Surrounded by the buzz of medical equipment, a blind man raises his hand to a touch screen. Pop! A vision of the letter “N,” placed in his brain, flashes through his mind. He traces his finger across the screen, replicating the vision with perfect form.

It sounds like science fiction. But in a recent study at Baylor College of Medicine, researchers made the blind see. A team led by neurosurgeon Daniel Yoshor “drew” letters of the alphabet on blind people’s brains by giving them specific patterns of electrical zaps. These patterns caused the participants to “see” the letters in their mind’s eye. The results could improve medical devices for people who have experienced other types of sensory or motor loss

. . . .

The researchers accomplished this by giving patterns of small electrical stimulations to the visual cortex. The visual cortex is one of the hubs in the brain that responds to what we see. This region contains a spatial map of our field of view, meaning particular sets of cells respond to visual information coming from particular locations in our line of sight. Turn on a light on the left side of your field of view, and one set of cells will respond by shooting off an electrical signal. Turn on a light on the right side, and a different set of cells will respond.

Yoshor’s team took advantage of this map in a clever way. Because the cells in the visual cortex respond to patterns of light in space, the scientists could reverse the process — give a tiny electrical zap to a particular group of cells and cause someone to perceive a spot of light at a specific location. They performed brain surgery on blind adults to implant a small electrical device with several points of contact to the visual cortex. Each point could be activated individually or in combination with others to stimulate the brain in precise patterns. By carefully controlling the combinations of activated areas, the researchers could cause someone to “see” a specific shape, such as a letter of the alphabet.

Link to the rest at Massive Science

My mom, Jackie

My mom, Jackie, had me when she was a 17-year-old high school student in Albuquerque, New
Mexico. Being pregnant in high school was not popular in Albuquerque in 1964. It was difficult
for her. When they tried to kick her out of school, my grandfather went to bat for her. After
some negotiation, the principal said, “OK, she can stay and finish high school, but she can’t do
any extracurricular activities, and she can’t have a locker.” My grandfather took the deal, and
my mother finished high school, though she wasn’t allowed to walk across the stage with her
classmates to get her diploma. Determined to keep up with her education, she enrolled in night
school, picking classes led by professors who would let her bring an infant to class. She would
show up with two duffel bags—one full of textbooks, and one packed with diapers, bottles, and
anything that would keep me interested and quiet for a few minutes.

My dad’s name is Miguel. He adopted me when I was four years old. He was 16 when he came
to the United States from Cuba as part of Operation Pedro Pan, shortly after Castro took over.
My dad arrived in America alone. His parents felt he’d be safer here. His mom imagined America
would be cold, so she made him a jacket sewn entirely out of cleaning cloths, the only material
they had on hand. We still have that jacket; it hangs in my parents’ dining room. My dad spent
two weeks at Camp Matecumbe, a refugee center in Florida, before being moved to a Catholic
mission in Wilmington, Delaware. He was lucky to get to the mission, but even so, he didn’t
speak English and didn’t have an easy path. What he did have was a lot of grit and
determination. He received a scholarship to college in Albuquerque, which is where he met my
mom. You get different gifts in life, and one of my great gifts is my mom and dad. They have
been incredible role models for me and my siblings our entire lives

Jeff Bezos

appearing before the U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law
July 29, 2020

Amazon Quarterly Results Smash Estimates By Big Margin

From Investors Business Daily:

Amazon reported second-quarter results late Thursday that blew past Wall Street estimates as the pandemic continues to present the company both challenges as well as opportunities. Amazon stock climbed.

The company reported adjusted earnings of $10.30 per share on revenue of $88.9 billion. Wall Street expected earnings of $1.48 on revenue of $81.4 billion,

Amazon stock jumped 5%, near 3,205.50, during after-hours action on the stock market today.

Revenue climbed 40% from the year-ago period, its strongest growth in nine quarters. Earnings powered above estimates even though it spent $4 billion during the quarter on coronavirus-related costs as previously announced. In addition, the company plowed more than $9 billion in capital projects, including fulfillment, transportation and Amazon Web Services.

Operating income increased to $5.8 billion in the second quarter, compared with $3.1 billion a year ago.

. . . .

Over the past several months, the pandemic has led to an elevated usage of e-commerce platforms due to convenience and a large number of retail store closures and bankruptcies. Amazon has been hiring furiously to keep up with demand.

. . . .

Amazon said it increased grocery delivery capacity by more than 160% and tripled grocery pickup locations. Online grocery sales tripled in the second quarter when compared with the same period last year.

Link to the rest at Investors Business Daily

US Book Publishing Remains Resilient: Print and Ebook Sales Are Growing

From Jane Friedman:

As much of the retail world faces crisis, book publishing is positioned to grow in terms of unit sales when compared to 2019. In fact, 2020 may prove to be one of the strongest sales years in recent memory.

A few factors are likely contributing to the resilience of sales:

  • the prevalence of online purchasing in the US market (driven by Amazon, of course)
  • the strength of Ingram’s print-on-demand operations in the US—and the overall robustness of the US supply chain thus far
  • the current events/bestseller effect, with race relations and politics driving high sales of titles such as White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened, and Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough. (Outperforming titles can bring a book category into a growth position or soften—even turn around—a decline for the market.)
  • the high adoption rate of ebooks and audiobooks in the US market prior to the pandemic
  • the migration of print sales to big-box retailers, as written about by the New York Times.

Let’s dig deeper into what’s happening.

US print unit sales are up by 3.6% so far versus 2019

As much of the retail world faces crisis, book publishing is positioned to grow in terms of unit sales when compared to 2019. In fact, 2020 may prove to be one of the strongest sales years in recent memory.

A few factors are likely contributing to the resilience of sales:

  • the prevalence of online purchasing in the US market (driven by Amazon, of course)
  • the strength of Ingram’s print-on-demand operations in the US—and the overall robustness of the US supply chain thus far
  • the current events/bestseller effect, with race relations and politics driving high sales of titles such as White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened, and Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough. (Outperforming titles can bring a book category into a growth position or soften—even turn around—a decline for the market.)
  • the high adoption rate of ebooks and audiobooks in the US market prior to the pandemic
  • the migration of print sales to big-box retailers, as written about by the New York Times.

Let’s dig deeper into what’s happening.

US ebook sales are up by 4% versus last year—an excellent result

US traditional publishers report 4.3% growth in ebook sales through May 2020, after years of decline. All of that growth is the result of the pandemic; during the first three months of 2020, NPD showed ebook sales down 18% versus 2019. Publishing Perspectives offers more detail on ebook sales trends, with category-specific information.

Bricks-and-mortar bookstore sales are down

The US Census Bureau publishes preliminary estimates of bookstore sales, and even though print unit sales are up according to NPD BookScan, the government report shows bookstore sales declining by 33 percent in March, 65 percent in April, and 59 percent in May. The most obvious explanation for why book publishing continues to perform well as an industry: print sales have drifted to online channels, such as Amazon or Bookshop, and to big-box stores.

Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt says that its sales are down about 20 percent overall from last year.

. . . .

What might happen next?


According to Kristen McLean at NPD Books, it won’t be demand that determines the industry’s future. Rather, she says it will be driven by:

  1. The stability of the channels which are currently selling and delivering books. Will stores stay open? Will the supply chain (printers, print-on-demand facilities, other delivery channels) remain resilient?
  2. The length and depth of the economic crisis which has been unfolding. Will governments help consumers, businesses and others?
  3. The pre-existing (financial) health of the businesses in the traditional book industry. Do they have the capital and the resources to get through this?

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Ms. Friedman has always impressed PG as an intelligent, articulate and insightful expert on the book business. However, the questions she includes at the end of her post from Ms. McLean are not those that come to PG’s mind after reading the OP.

Are traditional bookstores important any more?

Book sales seem to have done well during at least the early part of the pandemic, but traditional bookstores have, by and large, been pretty much shut down. How many of these generally thinly-capitalized businesses will be closed permanently is an open question.

But if traditional publishing sales have held up, perhaps Amazon really is the future for readers and publishers will be fine when competing head-to-head with indie authors on Amazon’s pages.

Anything troubling about strong sales of traditionally published books in Big Box stores?

PG only has current knowledge about the Big Box stores he slips into and out of, trying not to inhale too much. His experience is that Big Box stores had been reducing the amount of floor space devoted to books over the several months prior to the arrival of the current plague. He can’t say he’s paid much attention to that element of Big Box retailing recently.

However, Big Box stores routinely sell books at significant discounts from list price. The same book at the local Barnes & Noble or indie bookstore will cost much more.

PG suspects that at least some serious readers may have previously ignored the book displays in the Big Box stores on their way to fill up their carts with large quantities of diapers, soup and chocolate-chip cookies.

If book sales at Big Box stores are strong during this current time period, are serious readers going to stop buying nicely-priced books at the local Big Box and pay more at their local B&N when Covid fades into history? Or will readers default to Big Box to pick up a current best-seller? As mentioned previously, it won’t take much of a permanent decline in business to close a lot of bookstores for good.

How many people will keep buying lots of stuff (including books) from Amazon?

PG believes that more than a few readers who regularly purchased books from their local bookstore prior to Covid have continued to buy books – from Amazon. (Yes, PG knows there are other online bookstores, but he’s looking at the big picture here.)

Just like the Big Box customer, some readers who have done serious book shopping on Amazon for the first time will have become accustomed to the experience and enjoyed it. Instead of asking their good friend at Friendly Books Bookstore for book recommendations, some of these readers have discovered AlsoBoughts and intelligent Amazon customer reviews. Since Amazon always pays attention to what its customers purchase, the Amazon computers will regularly be suggesting other books the reader might enjoy and getting smarter with those suggestions.

Better prices online are also a big plus, particularly if the family income has taken a hit from Covid and its consequences.

Some readers will recognize that nobody ever got Covid (or any other transmissible disease) from buying an ebook online. Plus ebooks are cheaper and you can get them right away, any time and anywhere.

Plus, you don’t have to worry about how many people were coughing, sneezing and caressing the books in the romance section before you arrived at your local Barnes & Noble. Plus+Plus, nobody will see you browsing through the steamy titles on Amazon.

What is the new normal going to look like?

PG believes we don’t really know what the mid-term and long-term economic results of Covid shutdowns will be. A great many people, at least in the United States, are operating on credit cards, savings, the occasional government Covid check and some sort of income generated via reduced hours, one of two working spouses still working, etc.

The big economic question for PG (who is a lawyer, not an economist) is how many businesses will reopen when the shutdowns end, how many will be closed for good and what will those businesses that do reopen look like. Half of their employees temporarily laid off until business picks up? How many will never be asked to return? Some business locations reopened and others permanently closed?

What will the new normal look like and how long will it take to arrive there?

Closer to home, PG is, unfortunately, quite confident that there will be significantly fewer retail locations in the business of primarily selling books. If the local bookstore closes, how many people will decide not to travel farther to the next-closest bookstore?

Both the supply chain and book marketing are forever changed by Coronavirus

From veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin:

Just before the world changed, about five months ago on February 18th, we wrote in this space about two initiatives that made sense for all publishers to employ to raise revenues and profits.

One was Ingram’s Guaranteed Availability Program (GAP), which connects their Lightning print-on-demand capability to their ability to ship within 24 hours, delivering just about any quantity of books to justabout any account in the world. With just about any return address you want on the package. By mid-April, it was clear that the supply chain was already adjusting.

The other was Open Road’s “Ignition” marketing program, a highly automated way to sharply improve the performance of ebook titles. The tactics employed include metadata improvements, pricing adjustments, search-optimized discovery that brings in tens of thousands of new readers every day, 8 unique newsletters touching millions of consumers (about whom more and more is known every day), and an array of genre-specific websites that funnel readers to books they love. Building this capability involved many thousands of ebooks tracked across millions of consumers for more than five years.

Both of these capabilities required tens of thousands of titles, millions of dollars of focused investment, and laboriously constructed system support to build. Ignition required a commitment to build an automated marketing effort that works across many thousands of titles. This is not a good fit with a publishing business model that has always focused on a few new titles, not the thousands on the backlist, with dedicated efforts that are largely driven by hands-on human marketers.

It is not likely that any publisher, even the very biggest ones, could build what Ingram and Open Road have created. But beyond whether they could, it is even less likely that they would.  It took Ingram seven years to make Lightning Print efficient and tie it to “third party distribution”, the ability to ship the book “as” coming from somebody else. And Open Road, by dedicating massive marketing resources to build an automated capability that hardly connects at all to the marketing that publishers have always done, built something that it is almost impossible to imagine any of the biggest publishers shifting their focus to attempt.

The timing of the February 18 piece was accidentally prophetic. The world of publishing pretty much shut down less than a month after it was written. It is evident to many publishers that Ingram’s GAP capability has been a lifesaver. In a recent week, five of the top ten New York Times paperback bestsellers were being printed by Lightning. Those publishers know that they wouldn’t have been able to grab those sales with the normal book supply chain.

. . . .

Indeed, sales at Ignition are up 75% in the four months since we published that first piece. Forced lockdowns are good for online sales, and especially good for ebook sales.

. . . .

Publishers market manually. They use humans to examine their metadata and change it. They assign titles to marketers, who are charged with making them more visible to buyers and today that means online visibility for online buyers. They are experts at “publicity”, which means getting their titles featured to other people’s audiences. They have, to varying degrees, built lists of book consumers they can address directly with newsletters and emails. Some have “vertical” websites that give them billboards to feature their books.

But all of those devices are applied book-by-book by human marketers who are directed, intentional, intelligent, and extremely limited in how many moves they can make and how many titles they can touch. And, therefore, very expensive.

This is a very poor match even for a publisher with 5,000 or 10,000 titles on their backlist. The publishers’ standard approach is not at all useful for lists of 20,000, 30,000 or 50,000 titles. And that’s why what Open Road has created, the only truly automated book marketing program in the industry, is of such extraordinary value. And unless two or three very big publishers get together to build something that will require millions of dollars and years of work as a joint effort, that will not change.

. . . .

For a variety of reasons, the biggest publishers have been the slowest to join the party. For one thing, Ignition is designed for large and difficult-to-manage backlists. Even though it works for new titles as well, it performs a function — marketing backlist — that publishers with enormous lists built over decades always got along without. The reflex reaction of a publisher seeing the virtue in marketing backlist (and, in the online sales era, everybody does) is to do it the time-honored way: allocating scarce (for backlist) marketing resources where they would seem to provide the most benefit.

Link to the rest at The Idea Logical Company blog

PG will lay out the problem with big publishers.

They don’t really want to change.

And, if a Big Publishing CEO takes a wiggle toward change that costs any significant amount of money, the large international conglomerates that own four out of the five largest US publishers (ViacomCBS, which is all about TV and video, owns the fifth), will shut down that foolishness in a New York Minute or a Gütersloh Minute (Bertelsmann), Paris Minute (Lagardère), Stuttgart Minute (Holtzbrinck) or a New York Minute with an Australian accent (News Corp).

In these conglomerates, publishers play the strategic role of cash cows (not terribly fat cash cows, but, still cash cows). If conglomerate management wants to take a flyer on risky booming growth and capital appreciation, it will invest in something in Silicon Valley through its separate venture capital investment arm. No book persons will be involved.

Furthermore, to the best of PG’s knowledge, none of the five conglomerates which own the Big Five US publishers have made even baby waves in the tech world. The founders of next Google or next Amazon are not looking for money in Stuttgart. Palo Alto, Menlo Park and San Jose are just a few freeway exits away and everybody there is already fluent in geekspeak and moving very fast is how those investors thrive and survive.

PG hadn’t heard about Open Road’s “Ignition” marketing program as mentioned in the OP.

However a quick look gave him the impression that the organization is primarily a collection of book-oriented e-newsletters – see Our Portfolio.

The company touts:

Ebook Promotions

Feature your books in a newsletter that reaches over 1 million book lovers looking for their next favorite read.

Content Marketing

Showcase your brand, product or creator on one of our targeted digital properties. Smart, search-first, audience-focused opportunities.

Maybe there’s some magic juice happening behind the scenes, but Early Bird Books, the company’s largest email newsletter with a claimed circulation of 2.6 million doesn’t seem too special:

Early Bird Books provides a great service to ebook aficionados looking for free and discounted ebooks written by authors they love—and by others that they’re willing to try at a special price.

The Early Bird Books web and social channels provide fun articles, book lists, product recommendations, and other highly relevant content to keep consumers engaged on all of their devices.

Email newsletters, social media marketing and search-engine optimization are standard vanilla services, provided by any number of internet marketing agencies. Analyzing the results of such activities typically comes with the package as well.

But this may be news for New York publishers.

Amazon Publishing on Wooing Dean Koontz

From Publishing Perspectives:

Keen observers of the trade publishing scene this week may have noticed in the news Publishing Perspectives reported on Monday about longtime bestseller Dean Koontz taking a new five-book series and short story collection to Amazon Publishing.

For decades, the prolific Koontz made his publishing home primarily at Penguin Random House’s Bantam, racking up more than 45 titles with the Big Five imprint, only to be discovered now talking of being “creatively rejuvenated” to have found a publisher “where change is understood and embraced” and he’s being provided with “a marketing and publicity plan smarter and more ambitious than anything I’d ever seen before.”

And yet, years ago, many in publishing, including veteran observer Mike Shatzkin, were watching for “defections” from major houses—not to Amazon Publishing, the company’s trade publishing house, but to the self-publishing platform Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

The idea was that an established and well-heeled author could easily hire the “author services,” as they’re called, to do the grunt work of preparing a manuscript for self-publication and managing its life in the online sales maelstrom, while using print-on-demand to produce brick-and-mortar store copies for print fans.

. . . .

Instead, Koontz may be the canary in the trade industry mines who hops off that darkening perch and buzzes out into the sunlight of Internet sales leadership—where, as we reported on June 23, the Association of American Publishers’ annual StatShot tells us, more book sales now are happening than on physical retail channels.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Uncrowned Queen

From The Wall Street Journal:

Margaret Beaufort was never queen, even uncrowned, but her only child became Henry VII when he defeated Richard III at Bosworth Field in 1485, and Nicola Tallis, a British scholar and the author of a book on Lady Jane Grey, may reasonably style Margaret the mother of the Tudor dynasty. Margaret was married to Edmund Tudor when she was only 12. She was both a mother and a widow at 13.

Margaret’s own lineage was more distinguished than her husband’s. The Tudors were minor Welsh nobles, but she was descended from John of Gaunt (Shakespeare’s “time-honoured Lancaster”), the third son of Edward III. In “Uncrowned Queen,” Ms. Tallis makes much of Margaret’s “royal blood,” but it was tainted, for Gaunt had several illegitimate children by a mistress, each surnamed “Beaufort.”He did at last marry their mother, after his wife’s death, and they were legitimized thereby, but they were also, by some accounts, barred from the royal succession. Henry VII would win the crown by conquest; his hereditary right was dubious.

Margaret had two husbands after Edmund Tudor: a duke’s son and an earl. Both matches were prudent; she needed a husband to protect her extensive property during the War of the Roses, when the houses of York and Lancaster vied for the English throne. Ms. Tallis insists that the marriages were successful in other ways, too, even affectionate.

. . . .

Margaret was now engaged in plotting rebellion—and the return of her son. It is clear that she was an active conspirator, and one can only wonder at Richard’s continued tolerance of her. Henry’s invasion followed, and the decisive moment at Bosworth came when Margaret’s husband, Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby, switched sides and secured his stepson’s victory.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

Kickstarter: Is it right for you?

Visitor M.C.A. Horgath graciously shared her Kickstarter lesson:

Many authors are using Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms to connect with fans and fund their work. But how can you tell if Kickstarter’s for you?

You need a project. A nebulous “pay three months of my expenses while I write something” notion is not a project: at the end of the campaign you need to have a deliverable for your backers, something you’re all excited about. So have a clear goal in mind: you want to write a specific novella. You want to produce an audiobook edition. You want to get one of your out-of-print editions back online. You want to publish an anthology.

You need time. Preparation for a Kickstarter requires scheduling, accounting, planning prizes and pricing them, recording a video, writing your marketing materials, planning publicity and asking your test audience for feedback. Running the actual campaign will take at least half an hour a day of writing updates, keeping up with publicity requests and managing your prize production. And then if your Kickstarter succeeds you’ll be spending time fulfilling your backers’ prizes. Make sure you’re ready to commit that much time for the next 20-40 days of your campaign, and enough time afterwards to do what you’ve promised. Remember to plan for unexpected success: fulfilling prizes for 50 backers might not take long, but what if 1000 show up?

You need a fanbase. Statistics show that most Kickstarters attract 10% of their browsers from Kickstarter’s site. All the other backers are going to come from your efforts, and your fans’. If you don’t have a broad or energetic fanbase, keep your goals reasonable, and remember that 90% of that money is going to come from your marketing efforts.

Link to the rest at SWFA

And here’s some additional advice on Kickstarter for authors

Viral Intimacy

From Writer Unboxed:

“The primacy of airborne person-to-person transmission,” as Derek Thompson put it on Monday at The Atlantic brings together for me an intriguing parallel between the COVID-19 pathogen, our experience of it, and literature.

Contrary to trends found in studies showing people have less time for audiobooks during the pandemic – because many are at home more and not alone on commutes or gym trips – I’ve been listening to more books. Masked breaks from the desk for me are more frequent, not less, and more necessary because of a heavier workload.

And something about the nearness of a voice in your ear, the digital equivalent of someone’s breath on your shoulder, can intensify the psychological proximity of reading–the author in your head, the voice against your face, dangerous in terms of a contagion, luxurious in terms of literature.

Thompson is right that the scientists’ shift from a focus on surface transmission to an aerosolized threat hasn’t been followed well by the public. But neither was the shift to an understanding of masks’ importance, either. As the medicos’ grasp has deepened, the population’s attention has waned (or has been politically diverted), and yet both cleaning! and masks! are part of the same evolving insight, even as so many folks are breathing heavily from their labors with sponges and soaps, “funneling our anxieties into empty cleaning rituals,” as Thompson writes.

. . . .

But the understanding now is that the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is moving through the population on one of our most intimately shared features: breath. Talking. Whispering. Chatting someone up. Shouting someone down. At bars, outbreaks occur not because everyone is drinking after each other or pawing the same table top or bar surfaces but mainly because they sit close to each other to be heard over music, they raise their voices, they share breath. And they may be fully asymptomatic, too – the final terror.

Ironically, of course, the more isolated we become in order to keep from sharing each other’s breath, the more literature’s intimacy may mean to us.

A book is a thing of safe breath.

It’s better if it’s digital than print because other hands (and breaths) won’t have impacted its surfaces.

But it may be even better if rendered in audio, not only freeing you from the safety issues of surfaces but bringing the format into alignment with the communicative mechanism we need to avoid: speech.

. . . .

I find that I favor an almost conspiratorial tone in a narrator, reliable or otherwise. I want a voice that wants me. I want a story that arrives with eloquent urgency. I think there’s such a thing as narrative pressure and it feels good, like a breath on the ear.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

While it’s only a premise for the OP, PG questions whether anyone paying attention to the the world’s currently most famous virus formerly believed it was primarily contracted by surface transmission instead of floating invisibly into the bodies of its victims when they inhaled.

PG does agree that the quality of the audiobook narrator’s voice is an important part of the entire experience. He recently returned an audiobook edition of a bestselling traditionally-published book because he found the narrator’s voice annoying.

PG could be wrong, but he believes the quality of a narrator’s voice in an audiobook should become almost unnoticeable to the listener after the first few words. It needs to be a good voice, but not necessarily an overly-distinctive voice.

Internet Archive Responds to Publishers’ Copyright Lawsuit

From Publishing Perspectives:

Following the June 1 filing of a copyright infringement lawsuit by four publisher-members of the Association of American Publishers—including three of the Big Five—the Internet Archive has made its scheduled response and released to news media today (July 29) a copy of its filing with the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

As Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, this is the suit that asks the court to enjoin the archive’s scanning, public display, and distribution of whole literary works—which it offers to the public through what the association terms “global-facing businesses” branded the Open Library and National Emergency Library. These are found at both openlibrary.org and archive.org.

. . . .

What underlies the contention here is a concept called Controlled Digital Lending, a notion never tested in court and widely considered suspect by many in the publishing industry and author corps.

Controlled Digital Lending’s essential position is that it’s fine for a nonprofit like the archive or a library to scan a print copy of a book it owns, then lend that digital scan out on a one-copy-per-one-user basis. The print copy is to be unavailable while the digital copy is loaned, meaning that only one copy is out at a time in any format, and an author or publisher has the right to opt out of this by asking. Many rights holders have, indeed, asked to opt out because, as they see it, the user of a loaned digital copy of their book has paid nothing for that loan and this means copyright revenue has gone unpaid.

Publishers and authors thus claim that Controlled Digital Lending is not a valid form of “fair use” (called “fair dealing” in some cultures) under copyright law, and in normal procedures with libraries, a publisher’s arrangement for a digital book licenses the library to lend it out only for a certain number of loans and in a set time frame, after which a new license must be bought.

. . . .

In a blog post dated today at the Internet Archive’s site, Kahle lays out the nonprofit’s stance on the lawsuit.

Probably a point of agreement all around is that however much the National Emergency Library may have prompted the suit, the real issue is Controlled Digital Lending. And Kahle goes right to it in his opening line, writing that the lawsuit’s intent is “to end the practice of Controlled Digital Lending,” which he writes is “the digital equivalent of traditional library lending.”

He also continues to see the pandemic as an element of his position, writing, “As we launch into a fall semester that is largely remote, we must offer our students the best information to learn from—collections that were purchased over centuries and are now being digitized. What is at stake with this lawsuit? Every digital learner’s access to library books. That is why the Internet Archive is standing up to defend the rights of  hundreds of libraries that are using Controlled Digital Lending.”

. . . .

“These publishers call for the destruction of the 1.5 million digital books that Internet Archive makes available to our patrons.

“This form of digital book burning,” he writes, “is unprecedented and unfairly disadvantages people with print disabilities. For the blind, ebooks are a lifeline, yet less than one in 10 exists in accessible formats. Since 2010, Internet Archive has made our lending library available to the blind and print disabled community, in addition to sighted users. If the publishers are successful with their lawsuit, more than a million of those books would be deleted from the Internet’s digital shelves forever.”

. . . .

“Contrary to the publishers’ accusations, the Internet Archive and the hundreds of libraries and archives that support it are not pirates or thieves. They are librarians, striving to serve their patrons online just as they have done for centuries in the brick-and-mortar world. Copyright law does not stand in the way of libraries’ right to lend, and patrons’ right to borrow, the books that libraries own.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives