Reading is so sexy

From The Guardian:

They have killed skinny jeans and continue to shame millennials for having side partings in their hair. They think using the crying tears emoji to express laughter is embarrassing. But now comes a surprising gen Z plot twist. One habit that those born between 1997 and 2012 are keen to endorse is reading – and it’s physical books rather than digital that they are thumbing.

This week the 22-year-old model Kaia Gerber launched her own book club, Library Science. Gerber, who this month appears on the cover of British Vogue alongside her supermodel mum, Cindy Crawford, describes it as “a platform for sharing books, featuring new writers, hosting conversations with artists we admire – and continuing to build a community of people who are as excited about literature as I am”.

“Books have always been the great love of my life,” she added. “Reading is so sexy.”

Gerber isn’t alone. Last year in the UK 669m physical books were sold, the highest overall level ever recorded. Research from Nielsen BookData highlights that it is print books that gen Z favour, accounting for 80% of purchases from November 2021 to 2022. Libraries are also reporting an uptick in gen Z users who favour their quiet over noisy coffee shops. In the UK in-person visits are up 71%.

While the BookTok charts – a subsection of TikTok where avid readers post recommendations – are regularly topped by fantasy and romance titles from authors such as Colleen Hoover, gen Z are reading a diverse range of genres.

“The gen Z book sphere is incredibly broad,” says Hali Brown, the 28-year-old co-founder of Books on the Bedside, a popular TikTok account dedicated to gen Z reading habits. “There is a lot of appreciation for literary fiction, memoirs, translated fiction and classics in particular,” says Brown.

Gerber’s first literary guest was the Iranian-American writer Kaveh Akbar, who joined the model on a video call to discuss his debut novel, Martyr! On the Library Science site, a curated collection of recommended reads include Joan Didion and Jia Tolentino.

“There is a bit of a subculture within the gen Z book world which is ‘hot girl books’ or ‘sad girl books’,” explains Brown. “These largely skew towards literary fiction and memoir and deal in some way with girlhood or womanhood.”

The 28-year-old model Kendall Jenner became the unofficial face of this new “Lit Girls’ Club” when she was pictured on a yacht in 2019 off the Côte d’Azur reading Tonight I’m Someone Else, a collection of essays by Chelsea Hodson musing on the objectification and commodification of the body. Jenner’s copy was covered in green Post-it notes.

She has also been photographed by a pool in the south of France reading Darcie Wilder’s Literally Show Me a Healthy Person, which explores grief and anxiety, alongside Miranda July’s collection of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You. Both Hodson’s and Wilder’s books sold out on Amazon within 24 hours of the photographs being published.

. . . .

After the photos of Jenner and Elordi were published there was a stream of online discourse stating we had entered an era of performative reading. Elsewhere, meme accounts regularly satirise readers of titles from the indie publisher Fitzcarraldo Editions, which have become known for their identical Yves Klein-blue covers.

Brown says she dislikes this type of discourse. “I think if they’re both keen to explore the world of reading, they shouldn’t be shut down in this way because they’re beautiful or have large internet presences. Book clubs imply that these are titles they’d like to explore with a community of like-minded people; that’s never a bad thing. If it gets more people reading, then that’s great.”

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

How the ghostwriter of Biden’s memoirs ended up in the center of a classified documents probe

From The Associated Press:

President Joe Biden worked so closely with the ghostwriter with whom he is accused of sharing classified secrets that he once declared that he’d trust the author with his life.

Mark Zwonitzer worked with Biden on two memoirs, 2007’s “Promises to Keep” and “Promise Me, Dad,” which was published 10 years later. According to a report released Thursday by special counsel Robert Hur, Biden was sloppy in his handling of classified material found at his home and former office, and shared classified information contained in some of them with Zwonitzer while the two were working on the Biden’s second book.

Hur’s report says no criminal charges are warranted against Biden. It says his office considered charging Zwonitzer with obstruction of justice because the ghostwriter destroyed recordings of interviews he conducted with Biden while they worked on his second memoir together once he learned of the documents investigation. But Hur also said Zwonitzer offered “plausible, innocent reasons” for having done so and cooperated with investigators subsequently, meaning the evidence against him was likely “insufficient to obtain a conviction.”

Hours after the report was released, Biden addressed reporters at the White House and spoke to what he shared with Zwonitzer, saying, “I did not share classified information” adding he didn’t do so “with my ghostwriter. Guarantee you I did not.”

Zwonitzer did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Years earlier, in an interview Biden conducted as part of the Audible audiobook version of “Promise Me, Dad,” Biden called Zwonitzer a “great, great guy” and said, “I trust him with my life.”

He added that Zwonitzer “helped me organize; that was his great asset to me.”

It may feel like less of one now.

Hur’s report says Biden saved notebooks from his time as vice president that contained classified information and used them to help Zwonitzer put together his memoir — sometimes reading from them verbatim for more than hour at a time. Biden did that, the report says, despite being aware from when he once suggested that Zwonitzer could be hired as historian for the Office of the Vice President, that the author did not have security clearance.

The report details one of the boxes recovered by federal investigators was labeled “mark Z,” and that one recorded conversation with Zwonitzer in 2017 had Biden saying that he’d “just found all the classified stuff downstairs” of a home he was then renting in Virginia.

Biden spoke to that incident Thursday night and, when pressed that Hur’s reports suggested he had read classified documents to his ghostwriter responded, “It did not say that.”

. . . .

Biden added, “it was not classified information in that document. That was not classified.”

Though the report concludes that the published finished product of “Promise Me, Dad” did not contain classified information, it says that Zwonitzer deleted recordings he made during his previous conservations with Biden after he learned about the special counsel’s probe.

But it also says that Zwonitzer offered explanations for his deletions and made available transcripts of the recordings. Additionally, he gave investigators his notes and the computer and external hard drive from which the recordings were removed, which allowed authorities to recover most of what had been deleted.

Link to the rest at The Associated Press

Cheers in Czechia for the End of VAT on Books

From Publishing Perspectives:

Czech book industry representatives say they hope that after a challenging 2022, the introduction of a zero-percent value-added tax rate (VAT) on books could provide much-needed support to the country’s publishers and booksellers.

During 2022, the country’s book sales dropped to about 8.4 billion koruna (US$359.5 million), down around 3 percent year-over-year. That worrying data was released in the latest market report by the Prague-based Czech Booksellers’ and Publishers’ Association (SČKN).

. . . .

Local publishing houses expect that this year’s tax cut on books could improve the situation in their market.

In a message on its home page, the association says, “On January 1, 2024, the approved adjustment of VAT on books came into effect. As of this date, books are exempt from VAT. To put it simply, the VAT rate for books is reduced from 10 percent to zero percent.

“We believe that this enlightened step by legislators—we’re finally at the forefront this time in Europe—will ultimately lead to an increase in the quality of reading in the Czech Republic, the development of Czech book culture, and accessibility for readers.

. . . .

Grada’s position, Sviták says, is that digital sales have the potential to serve as a pillar of the publisher’s growth in the coming years.

“We’re committed to continuously improving Bookport,” he says, “our online subscription service for unlimited reading, both in terms of book selection and user experience. We plan to continue improving our digital content offerings and digital services for customers, as well as raising the efficiency of our internal processes through digitization. We’re exploring for ways to expand our product range to include a broader portfolio.”

In addition to this, Sviták says he’s researching the potential of using artificial intelligence in its activities, while remaining “cautious about the negative impact of AI on the book market and copyrights.”

Asked about the potential impact of the reduced VAT rate on book sales in Czechia, Sviták says he expects the tax cut “will help us get back on track for growth and help stabilize the Czech book market as a whole. We can continue to publish a wide spectrum of books from fiction that people enjoy, along with personal-development content, and professional books for specific smaller target groups.

“Certainly, this move will positively influence both the Czech book market and Grada Publishing. It will benefit Czech readers and enrich the cultural landscape. Without this, there’d likely be a significant decline in the number and diversity of published books across the book market, especially in non-mainstream titles that often contribute greatly to societal diversity and enrichment.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Pakistan

Creator: Jeremy Weate CC BY 2.0 DEED no changes

Wikimedia Commons

From The Economist:

The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key to the Future of Pakistan and Afghanistan. By Abubakar Siddique. Hurst; 299 pages; $48.50 and £35

This is a thoroughly readable account of the Pashtuns, Pakistan’s second-largest ethnic group, which is settled on both sides of the border with Afghanistan. Abubakar Siddique is a Pashtun who has covered his fellow tribespeople for years for Radio Free Europe. Much of his work has focused on the Pashtuns’ tragic entanglement with Islamist militancy. The Taliban and its various offshoots on both sides of the border are an almost exclusively Pashtun movement. Militancy began after the British split the Pashtuns’ historic lands between India and Afghanistan, triggering numerous “frontier jihads”. After independence Pakistan backed Pashtun Islamists against nationalists who dreamed of creating a united Pashtunistan. Pakistan’s government in Islamabad also sponsored Islamist rebellions against the government in Kabul and, during Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, directed American resources to the most extreme Pashtun fundamentalists. This helped dislodge the Russians but radicalised and militarised many Pashtuns. More than a million have died since 1979 in wars involving Russia, American-led forces and other Afghans. Support for Islamists also backfired on Pakistan. Even though Pakistan helped the Afghan Taliban seize power from an American-backed government in 2021, the Taliban refuse to do Pakistan’s bidding. The Pakistani Taliban—an offshoot—have repeatedly turned their guns on Pakistan itself.

A Case of Exploding MangoesBy Mohammed Hanif. Knopf; 336 pages; $16.95. Vintage; £9.99

Perhaps because it is such a troubled place, Pakistan produces fabulous art. “Joyland”, a film from 2022 about a man who falls in love with a transgender dancer, was rightly praised. The paintings of Salman Toor sell for more than $1m. The country also has many fine authors writing in English, including Mohammed Hanif. His debut novel, “A Case of Exploding Mangoes”, is a satire about the death of Zia ul Haq, the military dictator who seized power in 1977 and was largely responsible for Pakistan’s Islamisation. The book imagines the events leading up to the explosion of his plane on August 17th 1988 through a series of darkly comic episodes. Many of Mr Hanif’s characters want the pious and paranoid general dead. A bomb in a consignment of mangoes (Pakistan’s national fruit) is just one of the weapons that would-be assassins consider. The cruelty and absurdity of Zia’s rule is captured by the story of a blind woman who is gang-raped, then stoned for committing adultery. Mr Hanif trained to become an air-force pilot during the Zia era. One of Zia’s would-be assassins is also a trainee pilot. The sequences set in the Pakistan Air Force Academy are worthy of Joseph Heller.

Travels in a Dervish Cloak: Adventures in Pakistan. By Isambard Wilkinson. Eland Publishing; 324 pages; £16.99

For all its maddening problems, Pakistan is a beguiling place. Isambard Wilkinson identifies much of what it is that captivates. He was the Daily Telegraph’s correspondent in Pakistan (and also wrote for The Economist) at a tumultuous time, covering the fall of Musharraf, the Taliban takeover of the Swat valley and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. But these great events are secondary to his search for “the quiddity of Pakistan”. It helps that he fell in love with the place as a teenager, when he accompanied his grandmother, a Raj-era Anglo-Indian, on visits to see her old friend, a grande dame of Lahore known as “the Begum”. A beautiful writer, Mr Wilkinson paints a warm and generous picture of a diverse country of tribal chiefs and mountain valleys still populated by pagan tribes. But the problems are never far away. The Sufi shrines that he regards as the “pulses of Old Pakistan” are blown up by jihadis who hate tolerant, syncretic strains of Islam. Mr Wilkinson’s warnings that the “Heath Robinson contraption” of the Pakistani state could fall apart are all the more powerful coming from such an admirer of the country.

Link to the rest at The Economist

7 Texas Novels About Mother-Daughter Relationships

From Electric Lit:

I’m going to admit something to all y’all: the best thing that has ever happened to me—becoming a mother—is also the absolute worst. When my daughter was born, I was unprepared for the overwhelming scope of motherhood, the endless fulfilling of needs, the simultaneous busy-ness and boredom, the crushing psychic pressure of being responsible for a new human being, and the stretch-marks that blessed my ever-expanding heart. I resented her and I adored her. My precious girl.

Undoubtedly, mother-daughter relationships are as varied in the Lone Star state as anywhere else on the planet, but in my experience, Texas moms are tough. Maybe because we have to be; a recent survey ranked Texas as one of the worst states for women in terms of economy and well-being, which is certainly nothing new. 

Texas mothers—like the land itself—can be flinty and intense, tempestuous and severe, even as we protect, nurture, and defend our babies. I’m fascinated by the varied ways the women in my life have approached motherhood, and how rarely they match the idealized depictions we grew up with on TV. Perhaps that’s why I prefer to write—and read—about strong women and their complicated, imperfect familial relationships. My latest, The Young of Other Animals, tells the story of Mayree and her daughter, Paula, whose tense proximity has grown more fraught following the death of Mayree’s husband. When Paula narrowly survives a violent assault, the two confront the shared traumas of their pasts, and attempt to save the relationship they hadn’t realized they’d lost.

Here are seven books about mothers and daughters in Texas that illuminate how we’re more likely to be one person’s shot of whiskey than everybody’s cup of tea.

. . . .

Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurtry

This 1975 novel set in Houston is full of crisp prose and fascinatingly flawed characters. The story is centered on Aurora Greenway, an acerbic, eccentric Houstonian widow navigating life and a complicated relationship with her imminently practical daughter, Emma. For those readers who need their characters to be likable, this one—like most of the books on this list—might not be for you. Aurora is indeed often unlikeable, but at least she isn’t uninteresting. She is the sun of her own solar system, around which other characters—her daughter, her housekeeper, her string of male suitors—orbit. But it is her daughter who understands her the best, which seems to contrast the way Aurora feels about Emma, until at the most crucial moment, it doesn’t. 

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

This light-hearted Bildungsroman tackles some heavy themes: inhabiting a human body that a mother is compelled to criticize, wanting to love and be loved, and living unabashedly alongside profound insecurities. Willowdean is a plus-sized, 16-year-old, Dolly Parton-loving Texan living with her former beauty queen mother who calls her, not insignificantly, Dumplin’. This is a positive coming-of-self story that taps right into one of Dolly’s famous quotes: “Find out who you are. And do it on purpose.”

Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird

Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War, this historical fiction is absolutely spellbinding. It tells the fictionalized story of the real Cathy Williams, a former slave and the only woman to ever serve with the legendary Buffalo Soldiers. Though she was born into servitude in America, her maternal grandmother had been an African warrior queen, and, in her words, “my mama never let me forget it.” When Cathy is taken from her plantation—and her mother—by Philip Sheridan of the Union Army and recruited to work as a cook’s assistant, she recalls what her mother told her: that she was never a slave but a captive whose warrior blood destined her escape from the enemy. To survive, Cathy poses as a man, becoming an outspoken, hardworking, unbreakable soldier posted at Fort Davis in West Texas. Although Cathy and her mother are separated for most of the book, I was compelled by the strength Cathy draws from her maternal heritage and her unwavering determination to someday be reunited with her mother.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Author Platform Is Not a Requirement to Sell Your Novel or Children’s Book

From Jane Friedman:

Recently an article was published at Vox titled “Everyone’s a sellout now.” The subtitle: “So you want to be an artist. Do you have to start a TikTok?”

The dour conclusion, probably the writer’s predetermined conclusion when she began her research: more or less.

This article makes the classic mistake of conflating all kinds of artists and creative industries and painting them all with the same brush. But specifically, for writers and book publishing, it spreads so many myths and misconceptions about the business of authorship that I’ll be undoing the damage for years. (My inbox last week: Did you see this article!) However, I hope this post helps reduce the length of that battle. So let’s get straight to it.

Vox: With any book, but especially nonfiction ones, publishers want a guarantee that a writer comes with a built-in audience of people who already read and support their work…

Agents and big publishers seek authors with platform for adult nonfiction work.

If a debut novelist or debut children’s author seeks a book deal with a big New York publisher, then agents and editors make their decision based on the story premise, the manuscript, and/or whether the project fits with their theory of what sells in today’s market. That theory may be driven by pop culture, by what else is selling well among their clients or at their publishing house, by trends on TikTok—you get the idea.

If you’re a debut novelist with a platform, great! But it’s not going to make up for a lackluster story or premise that’s unappealing to today’s readers. The agent or publisher has to have genuine enthusiasm for the story or writing itself. They tend to trust their instincts on story quality or story marketability, and if they don’t love it, they’ll have trouble convincing anyone else of the same. The general hope is that word of mouth and consistent recommendations by readers and influencers will fuel the book’s success—not the debut author’s platform/following. Most bestsellers occur because of readers saying to their friends and family: you must read this.

Let me be absolutely clear: Agents and publishers don’t read a novel or children’s manuscript, fall in love with it and/or think it will sell in today’s market, then check to see if it’s safe to represent or acquire based on the author’s online following. (However, I have seen such a thing happen with nonfiction. I’ve also seen it happen when an author has a poor sales track record.)

Side note: I’m adding children’s authors into the mix here because, I hope for obvious reasons, it can be problematic to expect children’s writers to build an online following among children (their readers), although some children’s writers do have strong connections in the children’s community—with librarians, educators, teachers, and so on. Children’s books often must meet considerable requirements related to format, word count, education level, curriculum expectations or standards, etc—and platform is usually low on the list of concerns even for nonfiction.

Having an online presence or following is mostly a bonus for the agent or publisher if you’re an unpublished or untested fiction writer. Think it through: if you’re an unpublished novelist who’s building a following, why are others following you exactly? It’s not for your novel, because that’s not published yet. Is it for your short fiction in literary journals? Congratulations! You have a rarefied audience of people who actually read short fiction in literary journals.

Certainly publishing credentials that impress or show you’ve been selected/vetted or validated can help you get the consideration you deserve, or make you more visible to agents or decision makers at publishing houses. And social media will do wonders for building relationships with others in the writing and publishing community. To the extent that being on social media helps you be seen by gatekeepers, sure—this is part of platform, and it can lower some barriers and lead to more connections that help you get published. But we’re not talking about a following of existing readers on social media. We’re talking about relationships and visibility to specific, influential people. You can be visible to such people with a tiny following.

None of this is to say social media doesn’t sell books—it can and it does—but it’s rarely in the way that any writer thinks. It’s not going to sell a novel that readers aren’t motivated to go and tell all their friends about, whether that’s online or offline. And that’s the quality that agents/publishers are looking for when they receive your submission. Authors will find it challenging to support word of mouth on social without having readers’ own enthusiasm for their work present at the same time.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Sales Predictions for Ebooks vs. Traditional Books Over the Next Ten Years

Prompt: describe the future sales picture over the next ten years for ebooks vs. traditional books printed on paper

ChatGPT4:

Predicting the future sales picture for ebooks versus traditional books printed on paper over the next ten years involves analyzing current trends, technological advancements, and changing consumer behaviors. Here are several key factors and projections:

Continued Growth of Ebooks: Ebooks are expected to continue their growth trajectory, driven by the convenience of digital reading, advancements in e-reader technology, and the increasing comfort of consumers with digital content. The ability to carry thousands of books in one device, instant access to purchases, and often lower prices compared to print books contribute to the appeal of ebooks.

Stable Demand for Print Books: Despite the rise of digital reading, print books are likely to maintain a significant and stable market share. Many readers still prefer the tactile experience of a physical book, and certain genres and formats, such as children’s books, cookbooks, and illustrated works, often perform better in print. Additionally, the resurgence of independent bookstores and the trend of book collecting suggest a sustained appreciation for physical books.

Hybrid Publishing Models: Publishers are increasingly offering both print and digital formats to cater to diverse consumer preferences. This hybrid approach allows readers to choose the format that best suits their reading habits, whether it’s print, digital, or a combination of both.

Impact of Subscription Models and Library Lending: Subscription services for ebooks and digital library lending are becoming more popular, offering readers access to a vast array of titles at a fixed cost. This model encourages the consumption of digital content but may also impact individual ebook sales. Print book lending through libraries continues to support the circulation of physical books.

Technological Innovations: Advances in e-reader technology, such as improved battery life, better display technology, and enhanced interactive features, will make ebooks even more attractive to consumers. The development of digital rights management (DRM) and piracy prevention methods will also play a role in the growth of the ebook market.

Environmental Concerns: Growing awareness of environmental issues may lead some consumers to prefer ebooks over print books to reduce paper use and the carbon footprint associated with book production and distribution. However, concerns about electronic waste and the energy consumption of digital devices might temper this trend.

Market Penetration and Global Reach: Ebooks offer publishers the opportunity to reach a global audience more easily, particularly in regions where the distribution of physical books is challenging. The increasing penetration of smartphones, tablets, and e-readers worldwide supports the potential for international ebook growth.

Changing Demographics: Younger readers, who are more accustomed to digital devices for entertainment and education, may be more inclined toward ebooks. However, print books continue to appeal across all age groups for their collectibility, giftability, and lack of screen fatigue.

In conclusion, over the next ten years, the market is likely to see a balance between ebooks and print books, with each format catering to different preferences and situations. While ebooks may gain in popularity and market share due to technological advances and changing consumer habits, print books are expected to remain an essential part of the publishing landscape, sustained by their unique qualities and reader attachment.

PG Comments – Wetware Analysis:

As with some of PG’s earlier queries about future events, ChatGPT4’s response includes lots of on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand analysis as if the AI is shying away from firm or firmish predictions. PG is going to try some different prompt creation strategies to encourage the AI to show a little more backbone.

I do write by hand

I do write by hand. I just think – I don’t know, it’s a physical thing for me. It’s a bodily thing. It literally has to earn its way through my hand.

Elizabeth Strout

But wherever they go

But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.

The House At Pooh Corner, A.A. Milne

The House At Pooh Corner, A.A. Milne

8 Stories About Cultural Alienation and the Search for Belonging

From Electric Lit:

Cultural alienation is the feeling of being disconnected or estranged from one’s own culture or the culture in which one lives. While these stories traverse continents and cultures painting vivid portraits of characters grappling with displacement, loss, and the yearning to belong, each is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. From navigating societal pressures to confronting historical wounds, generational trauma, or their own identity, these characters defy obstacles and forge their own paths to connection, self-discovery and acceptance.

In my novel The Things We Didn’t Know, I portray the journey of Andrea, a young girl from Puerto Rico who moves to the United States. Andrea struggles to reconcile expectations coming from the diverse circles that shape our lives, ranging from school to the dynamics of a traditional Hispanic family living in the midst of an American community. Andrea walks an emotional tightrope—never feeling quite rooted, always adapting to ever-shifting social landscapes. These conflicts are not confined solely to the realm of cultural disparities. They resonate universally with anyone grappling with the displacement that requires us to form multiple layers of identity.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is a compelling odyssey portraying the experience of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who migrates to the United States in pursuit of education and opportunities. Through her blogging, she addresses pressing issues such as cultural appropriation and the new set of racial dynamics she confronts. But when she returns to Nigeria, Ifemelu feels Americanized and questions her Nigerian identity. As Ifemelu navigates her own sense of self, Adichie offers a striking commentary on the struggles faced by immigrants, the complex nature of personal identity and the evolving landscape of race in today’s interconnected world.

Adichie explores the psychological and emotional burdens that come with alienation while confronting the persistent challenges posed by social expectations. Adichie’s narrative invites readers to reflect on the burden imposed by migration on the individual. This story is a testament to the quest for belonging in more than one place.

. . . .

The Night Travelers by Armando Lucas Correa

Armando Lucas Correa’s The Night Travelers weaves together the intricate lives of its characters across time and continents, exploring the theme of overcoming generational alienation. The narrative unfolds with Ally’s clandestine interracial romance with Marcus in 1931 Berlin, amid the looming dangers of Nazi ideology. As Ally protects Lilith, her biracial daughter, the novel transforms the fear imposed by a hostile, racist society into a heartfelt narrative of motherhood and survival.

Decades later in Havana, Cuba, Lilith, who escaped Germany as the daughter of a Jewish couple, grapples with the loss of her mother and the shadows of her German heritage. This portrayal of her now even more complex identity accentuates the persistent challenges of alienation. The novel’s trajectory unfolds further when her daughter Nadine reveals a web of familial secrets in New York. Nadine’s journey becomes an example of breaking free from generational trauma and offers a glimmer of hope for future generations through education and self-identification.

. . . .

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

In Edwidge Danticat’s Claire of the Sea Light, the delicate balance of beauty and heartache unfolds through the narrative of a seven-year-old girl, Claire Limyè Lanmè, who is aware that her father is trying to give her away. The story explores the alienation experienced by Claire until her disappearance, as her father seeks a better life for his daughter, after his wife’s death.

Danticat’s prose paints a beautiful shimmering coastal setting in Haiti in contrast to the vast distances that separate individuals within a community, capturing both the beauty of the landscape and the profound loneliness that can exist, even in a close-knit community. The novel portrays alienation as both an individual and collective reality and emphasizes the characters’ shared sense of being adrift in search of belonging in a country devastated by poverty and loss.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Why You Need a Press Release in the Digital Age

From Jane Friedman:

If you’re wondering whether press releases are still relevant or important, I’m here to convince you that they are.

Why send out a press release?

Media relations departments from all types of companies—Fortune 500 to startups—use press releases to communicate with the media. Why do billion-dollar businesses bother to send them out? Because this is still how you send information to the media. A press release is a tool that is considered “approved” copy for any media organization, online or traditional, to use to discuss an outside entity.

Here is a simple example in the book world: It is very likely that someone will review or feature your book and lift copy straight from your release, which is exactly what you want. If a media outlet decides to run a story about your book with a price or on-sale date that’s inaccurate, you can cite information in the press release and ask to have it corrected. If there are factual errors in coverage tied to your release, you can easily point to the problem and ask for a change. 

If you want to include a blurb or endorsement, or include a quote from an expert cited in your nonfiction book, a media outlet understands they can use it. If Michelle Obama endorses your book, wouldn’t you want to have her name and her words in your press release? This is an extreme situation, but it illustrates my point. 

However, before you email one sentence to a journalist, there are direct benefits you get from writing your own release.

Why am I writing press materials?

You are writing this document because it will help you figure out what your core message is.

The core message is the newsworthy or unique aspect(s) you, your book, and your ideas can offer to a target audience—an audience that is most likely to spread word of mouth and/or purchase your book or services. The core message is ultimately part of your elevator pitch. 

Creating a release also forces you to think about your competition and how you are offering something different than what every other mystery, romance, literary fiction, self-help guru, history buff, academic author, etc. is writing about. In an online world, this is incredibly important, because most likely, the first place you are going to make your mark is online and with search engines.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for press releases

Having the release available on your website, your publicist’s website, publisher’s website, etc., will help with you or your book appearing in response to search queries. If you Google your book title, you will probably notice Amazon and other big retailers first; your publisher and your own website can appear later. Having a press release can boost this rank in search queries.

Because the competition for ranking is much more competitive these days, you should do some extra work to enhance your release: include keywords or keyword phrases in the text. You can research which ones to use by using Google to search for terms related to your work such as “books about WWII,” “self-help divorce books,” “books about good habits”, “books about joining the circus,” etc. See what comes up in the search window and consider what phrases or keywords will help your press materials rank better in results.

I don’t think paid services like PR Newswire (that publish and distribute your press release) are worthwhile for most books. If you have an amazing news peg, that could be one reason to invest, but there are thousands of releases posted at such PR websites.

Press release structure

This structure is based on how much interesting or provocative information you can share, without overhyping your message. When you introduce the book in the opening paragraphs, you will need to identify it using the entire title with the subtitle; in parentheses include the publication date, imprint, format, price, and ISBN, like this:

The Great Book: A Novel by Bobbie Bobs (imprint name, publication date, format, ISBN, price).

The first paragraph should tell the reader of the release why your story is compelling and what its relevance is to the audience. You will also want to explain why you wrote the book and how your personal story is connected to it.

The next one or two paragraphs should be a short synopsis of the plot if you are promoting a novel, and a list of the main facts or talking points if you are working on nonfiction. You can also include a more in-depth section on yourself and your story as it relates to the content if you believe it will enhance the core message.

Within the release, you will want to mention the book’s title at least two times. In the final paragraph, you need to develop an action statement “Call to Action” (CTA) that will tie up everything and encourage the reader to pick up the book and open it.

Add your short bio under “About the Author” and the specs of the book (the ISBN, etc) below that. Finish it off with the traditional # # # centered on the bottom, which indicates to the media person that all the words preceding the hashtags are approved for the press.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG is ambivalent about press releases (well, actually not very ambivalent) about old-fashioned press releases(and thinks ISBNs are worthless for indie authors).

If you have a publisher or publicist, they should be the ones writing and distributing the press release (if they think it’s worth the effort).

Ultimately, it’s a matter of the bang for the buck for an author (the buck may represent money or time).

A serious public relations agency charges serious money because their people have longstanding relationships with all manner of people working for all manner of publications, print, online, TV/radio, etc.

A good PR person knows who should be contacted because she/he is interested in stories about books like yours. The PR person won’t make a call or send an email to the sports editor about your regency romance.

Most large places where you would like to have a story about your book to appear have someone or several someones whose job is to spend time every day screening incoming emails, letters and voicemails and delete/destroy 90% of them because their boss has more important things to do. Or they may just rely on their spam filters.

Release the ghosts

From The Bookseller:

When I worked at a library as a teenager, one of my duties was to unbox and process newly released novels, and I noticed something that has stuck with me.There were some authors who had a book out every couple of months. When I skimmed them, they were well-written, with tight plots and exciting characters. But even then, I knew there was no way an author could churn out a full-length novel at this rate, especially at this level of quality. And to do that while touring the country, giving book readings, interviews, and writing guest columns for various news outlets?

Having written novels myself and worked as a professional ghostwriter, I’ve realised what I guessed back then: these authors aren’t writing the books themselves.

It’s something of a dirty secret in the publishing industry. Some authors — especially big-name writers working in genre fiction — rely on a ghostwriter or a team of writers to help them churn out books regularly. Occasionally, hints of this will come out, and the press will react with feigned horror. The British actress Millie Bobby Brown was criticised for working with a ghostwriter on her novel. Prolific Swedish mystery writer Camilla Läckberg faced her own criticism when a journalist claimed she’d relied on a ghostwriter for some of her novels.

But while these stories make a big splash, and authors and publishers live in fear of them, there’s little evidence that the public cares. Each time the media raised the question of whether the author acknowledged it or issued a terse denial, the book kept selling. Like me working in the library, readers have learned that authors are getting some help, and they don’t seem to care. 

In the United States, ghostwriters have become more public about their work, and it’s accepted that any celebrity — whether they are an actress or a politician or even the second in line to the throne — did not actually write their memoir. Sometimes, they are even upfront about which ghostwriter they worked with. But novels remain a separate class. Perhaps because novels are considered more creatively prestigious than a mere memoir or non-fiction advice book, authors and publishing houses are more reticent to acknowledge the use of a ghostwriter.

There’s no real reason for this, however. While readers often think of a novel as the product of a lone genius working in their study, they are usually much more collaborative than this, as The Bookseller’s readers well know. An author may have a first draft or a few chapters of a novel before working with an agent, but once they have a contract, an experienced editor will jump in. In some cases, editors may suggest considerable changes to the storyline, cuts to entire chapters, or minor but consequential shifts in writing style, cutting unnecessary words or asides that slow down the action. If you want to see how this works most clearly, put the Harry Potter books in a row and see if you can guess when J K Rowling’s first editor stopped working with her. You can tell from across a room because the books are physically thicker as she adds more digressions to the main plot.

Beyond that, publicists and marketing teams will weigh in on the book cover, the title, and how it’s marketed — valuable feedback that will be in the author’s head when they sit down to write their next book. And there’s the audience, who will respond more to certain novels, leading some authors to churn sequels or write similar books while abandoning other ideas.

A team of ghostwriters adds more manual labor to the mix, but the book is still the author’s. An established author, especially one working in a genre, will have created the formula — the type of setting, the tone, the main character — which the ghostwriters then use. Often, the author will set out an overall plot and ask the ghostwriters to flesh it out, or they may do some writing and then hand it off to someone else to finish up.

The author, then, is more like a brand. You buy a Ralph Lauren suit not because Ralph Lauren personally tailored it for you but because you trust the name behind it. The same goes for a thriller writer, mystery novelist, or romance author. You know when you pick it up that it will meet your expectations. The fact that the author didn’t personally write every sentence of the novel doesn’t matter. Does it sound like their other books? Is it a good read? Is it the type of novel you like reading? Those are the questions the reader really cares about.

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

PG says the author’s name is a brand name. It’s not exactly like Cambell’s Soup, but there are more similarities than differences.

Without denigrating authors’ creative talents in any way, a great many people look for books from authors they have enjoyed previously. Agatha Christie is one prime example. James Patterson is another.

PG is highly confident that Agatha did not use any ghostwriter. James Patterson readily admits to using a great many ghostwriters.

——-Content Warning – Major PG Diversion Follows——-

After starting as a copywriter in a large New York City advertising agency, Patterson worked his way up to CEO while writing in his spare time. After he retired. he devoted all his energy to his writing. He supervised copywriters both before and after his retirement.

Undoubtedly, his expertise in advertising and promotion has played a role in Patteerson’s success. PG is not privy to Patterson’s relationship with his publisher, but an intelligent publisher would understand that Patterson knows far more about advertising and publishing than anyone employed by the publisher.

As further examples of Patterson’s marketing and promotion smarts, he has coauthored #1 bestselling novels with Bill Clinton (note that Patterson got top billing on both book covers) and Dolly Parton (Dolly got top billing).

PG isn’t certain whether it was Patterson or Parton’s idea, but in 2022, the year their book was released, she released a CD with the same title. Dolly knows how to market and promote herself very effectively, but that’s another story.

Cancel Culture Dominates Children’s Literature

From The Wall Street Journal:

In 2016 Scholastic canceled the children’s book “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” two weeks after publishing it. The book’s images of smiling enslaved people set off a social-media tsunami and a petition demanding cancellation. It didn’t matter that the illustrator was black, or that the editor, Andrea Pinkney, was black and also a towering figure in the children’s book world.

What mattered was that a social-media mob could force a major publisher to stop distributing a book. When the news broke, one of my editors phoned. I had a contract with him for a children’s book about slavery, and though he’d approved the final draft, he was nervous. It didn’t matter that my manuscript did the opposite of sugarcoating slavery. It didn’t matter that I had won awards for “Lillian’s Right to Vote,” one of many books I’d written on racial justice. My editor worried about public perception of a book “by a white male author, edited by a white male editor, about a white male slave owner.” Seventeen months later, after many pointless revisions, the contract was canceled. No book.

Scholastic’s cancellation marked the beginning of a brave new children’s book world, as detailed in PEN America’s 2023 report, “Booklash.” So-called progressive activists discovered they had power through social media, and they wielded it, assailing book after book with charges of offensiveness and demands for cancellation. Children’s publishers now live in fear of these activists, terrified of showing up on their radar with a book or author that could be deemed “problematic”—meaning out of alignment with the activists’ puritanical code.

According to that code, an author’s identity must match a book’s subject matter. Further, certain books can harm children, the activists believe, and books they deem harmful must be removed. If that sounds eerily similar to the right-wing activists’ mission, it’s because it is. The only difference is that while right-wing activists merely want certain books removed from particular schools, left-wing activists want the books they target annihilated.

In 2017 an initially much-praised book of mine about the atom bomb was attacked with the inaccurate charge of having “erased” American Indians. The social-media mob weighed in and the book went from getting rave reviews and being predicted as a Caldecott Medalist to fading into obscurity. I wrote an essay describing my experience, which was published in February 2019. Two months later, Debbie Reese, the blogger who had led the campaign, attacked me again—in her Arbuthnot Lecture, awarded to her by the powerful American Library Association—for not withdrawing my book after what she called her “criticism” of it.

One month later, I wound up on a sort of blacklist on a blog called Reading While White. The contributors—liberal white people who call out other liberal white people for racism—accused me and some other white authors, with no evidence, of “racism—in words, works, and deeds.”

That same year, Time Magazine named one of my books, “The Sad Little Fact,” a Best Book. The Washington Post named my biography of Justice Thurgood Marshall a Best Book. Yet since then I’ve amassed a pile of rejections on a wide range of topics. Editors tell me they can’t publish anything by me about “people of color or women”—the subjects of my most popular works. Editors say publishers mainly want books about “marginalized people,” but the authors’ identities must match the subject matter. My former main editor praised my writing but suggested that if he gave me a contract he would be taking away a “slot” from “previously underrepresented minorities.”

It is mind-blowing that this happened to me—an author who devoted his career to promoting diversity long before it became publishers’ singular focus. And it’s ironic that most of the people behind the pile-ons, petitions and cancellations are white—and privileged. Even more ironic: Many victims of cancel culture are “previously underrepresented minorities”—nonwhite, gay or lesbian authors, who have tended to self-cancel after being targeted by social-media pile-ons. Among them are Kosoko Jackson, E.E. Charlton-Trujillo and Amélie Wen Zhao.

This isn’t progress. The campaign to bring diversity to children’s books must be separated from cancel culture, from social-media mobs, from the vitriolic intolerance toward any dissenting opinions that veer at all from the new orthodoxy.

I say this as a lifelong liberal, whose books have been removed from library shelves in right-wing school districts.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The author of the WSJ piece is Jonah Winter, an author of very popular children’s books.

Here’s a link to Mr. Winter’s books.

Following are some of Mr. Winter’s most popular books. PG is going to buy some of them for his grandchildren.

1 in 4 Books Sold in France Are Comics

From Book Riot:

While we primarily focus on stateside bookish news, we thought some recent news on France’s reading habits was pretty interesting. According to the data from market research company GfK, 1 in 4 books sold in the country are comics.

France’s affection for comics isn’t a recent thing — it is the home of immensely popular comics like Asterix and The Adventures of Tintin, after all — but comics did get a boost because of a couple recent things. For one, the onset of the pandemic saw that more people stayed home, allowing for more reading time.

There was also a measure implemented recently called the Culture Pass. With it, French teens were allotted €300 ($367) to spend on things like museum trips, instruments, and yes, comics.

Still, publishing industry people like Marie Parisot, the marketing and commercial director of Dargaud, didn’t think the increased interest would last this long, “We didn’t expect this phenomenon after lockdown was lifted. Everyone was worried people would stay at home, turned in on themselves.”

Comics’ enduring popularity in France can be attributed to a number of things, like the country’s vast number of independent bookstores (which equals the number in the US and the UK combined).

Link to the rest at Book Riot

We fall out of bed

We fall out of bed and into our rags, still crusted with the grime of yesterday.

Eating Dirt by Charlotte Gill

Great Last Lines in Books

In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.

The Road

The First Rule of Write Club

From Writer Unboxed:

Fight Club, the book and the movie, comes at you like a right hook. In my experience, you love it or you hate it. But unless you’re tragically hipster or a Gen Z nihilist, the last thing you are is ambivalent.

Which brings us to the topic of today’s post.

Welcome to the Suck.

I’ve been in the publishing industry for nearly 25 years. It’s always been the Wild West. Lately, though, it’s been looking less like a Western and more like a post-apocalyptic dystopia. We went from High Noon to The Hunger Games in six seconds flat.

In this landscape, your story is either a Sherman tank, or a ghost.

“One size fits all” fits no one.

I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve talked to who say their story “could appeal to everyone… anyone from age ten to seventy, any race, any gender, any walk of life!”

No, it really, really doesn’t.

Because nothing appeals to everyone.

Hell, I know people who don’t like pizza, and if that’s not proof there is no universally appealing thing on earth, I don’t know what is.

More importantly, appealing to everyone should never be your goal when it comes to writing, especially now.

“Universally appealing” generally means average, safe, standard.

That’s DMV beige. That’s unseasoned boiled chicken breast.

That’s ghost territory.

Turning it up to eleven.

It started with the rise of the internet, when a plethora of images, information, and interaction were suddenly, literally at your fingertips. Ironically, in a time where we have the largest buffet of brain candy in the world, people are starving for all the choices.

(If you’ve ever spent an hour perusing Netflix titles while choosing nothing, you know what I mean.)

As a result, it takes something truly vibrant, amplified, and dare I say polarizing to connect with the right readers… the ones who will not only love your work, but spread it like an underground rebellion through their various whisper networks.

In this environment, “meh” is the enemy. Ideally, you want people to either love it or hate it, but by God, they have strong feelings either way.

That’s what we’re looking for. Strong feelings.

But how do you do that?

  • Start with the right project. Impact has to be baked in at inception. Start by identifying three main elements: personal passion, reader experience… and, quite frankly, a hook that could bring in a marlin.What are you genuinely thrilled to write? What will readers in that genre adore about it? And in the intersection of those two, what will surprise them, compelling them to find out more about it?
  • Amplify. You’re then going to turn up the volume on these elements. Ultimately, you want to write things that make you grin and rub your hands together gleefully. Even if it initially feels self-indulgent, a darling that’s going to be slaughtered later, toss it in.

    Repeat with reader experience. Think about what draws readers to your genre. For example, in mystery, they love the puzzle, the challenge. They want the clues, the twists, the red herrings. They want to feel smart, but challenged. They want to know they could solve the murder – but still be pleasantly surprised at a fair, believable, yet unexpected finale.

    Add depth to your characters without “reinventing” the genre or sacrificing pacing. Play off their expectations, leading them to a lull of “oh this again” before belting them with a surprise.Look for universal fantasy elements, those primal emotional hooks that are irresistible, and incorporate them as often as possible. What are the core emotions for the story and the set pieces, and how can you make them shine? How can you look at each scene, and think about adding in things that will delight your readers?

    Finally, what are your (for lack of a better term) “viral moments”… the stuff that’s going to get people talking? Not in a general “I really liked this book” kind of way. In an “Oh my God, that scene, the one at the wedding? I couldn’t believe it!” kind of way. Specific scenes that make them strong-arm friends into reading the book because they’ve got to talk about it with somebody!
  • Distill. In a world that has the attention span of a goldfish with ADHD, you’ve got mere moments to make a strong impression. Once you’ve got all the delicious and deliberate material, you’re going to distill the experience down for the most impact. Streamline and reduce. Look at every element – characterization, plotting, pacing, dialogue, setting – for ways to tighten, strengthen, enhance. Story level and scene level. This is a diamond that you’re carving for drama, and polishing for emphasis.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

So you want to be an artist. Do you have to start a TikTok?

From Vox:

When Rachael Kay Albers was shopping around her book proposal, the editors at a Big Five publishing house loved the idea. The problem came from the marketing department, which had an issue: She didn’t have a big enough following. With any book, but especially nonfiction ones, publishers want a guarantee that a writer comes with a built-in audience of people who already read and support their work and, crucially, will fork over $27 — a typical price for a new hardcover book — when it debuts.

It was ironic, considering her proposal was about what the age of the “personal brand” is doing to our humanity. Albers, 39, is an expert in what she calls the “online business industrial complex,” the network of hucksters vying for your attention and money by selling you courses and coaching on how to get rich online. She’s talking about the hustle bro “gurus” flaunting rented Lamborghinis and promoting shady “passive income” schemes, yes, but she’s also talking about the bizarre fact that her “65-year-old mom, who’s an accountant, is being encouraged by her company to post on LinkedIn to ‘build [her] brand.’”

The internet has made it so that no matter who you are or what you do — from nine-to-five middle managers to astronauts to house cleaners — you cannot escape the tyranny of the personal brand. For some, it looks like updating your LinkedIn connections whenever you get promoted; for others, it’s asking customers to give you five stars on Google Reviews; for still more, it’s crafting an engaging-but-authentic persona on Instagram. And for people who hope to publish a bestseller or release a hit record, it’s “building a platform” so that execs can use your existing audience to justify the costs of signing a new artist.

Corporate consolidation and streaming services have depleted artists’ traditional sources of revenue and decimated cultural industries. While Big Tech sites like Spotify claim they’re “democratizing” culture, they instead demand artists engage in double the labor to make a fraction of what they would have made under the old model. That labor amounts to constant self-promotion in the form of cheap trend-following, ever-changing posting strategies, and the nagging feeling that what you are really doing with your time is marketing, not art. Under the tyranny of algorithmic media distribution, artists, authors — anyone whose work concerns itself with what it means to be human — now have to be entrepreneurs, too.

“Authors are writing these incredible books, and yet when they ask me questions, the thing that keeps them up at night is, ‘How do I create this brand?’” says literary agent Carly Watters. It’s not that they want to be spending their time doing it, it’s that they feel they have to. “I think that millennials and Gen Xers really feel like sellouts. It’s not what they imagined their career to look like. It inherently feels wrong with their value system.”

Because self-promotion sucks. It is actually very boring and not that fun to produce TikTok videos or to learn email marketing for this purpose. Hardly anyone wants to “build a platform;” we want to just have one. This is what people sign up for now when they go for the American dream — working for yourself and making money doing what you love. The labor of self-promotion or platform-building or audience-growing or whatever our tech overlords want us to call it is uncomfortable; it is by no means guaranteed to be effective; and it is inescapable unless you are very, very lucky.

. . . .

Take publishing, where there are only five major companies who control roughly 80 percent of the book trade. Fewer publishers means heavier competition for well-paying advances, and fewer booksellers thanks to consolidation by Amazon and big box stores means that authors aren’t making what they used to on royalties, despite the fact that book sales are relatively strong. The problem isn’t that people aren’t buying books, it’s that less of the money is going to writers.

. . . .

Even when corporations did enter the picture, artists working with publishing houses or record companies, for example, had little contact with the business side of things. “Before the internet came along, artists not only could let their companies worry about the money, but they actually didn’t have a choice. The companies didn’t let them,” says Deresiewicz. That was until social media, where every single person with an account plays both author and publisher. Under the model of “artist as business manager,” the people who can do both well are the ones who end up succeeding.

You can see this tension play out in the rise of “day in my life” videos, where authors and artists film themselves throughout their days and edit them into short TikToks or Reels. Despite the fact that for most people, the act of writing looks very boring, author-content creators succeed by making the visually uninteresting labor of typing on a laptop worthwhile to watch. You’ll see a lot of cottagecore-esque videos where the writer will sip tea by the fireplace against the soundtrack of Wes Anderson, or wake up in a forest cabin and read by a river, or women like this Oxford University student who dresses up like literary characters and films herself working on her novel. Videos like these emulate the Romantic ideal of “solitary genius” artistry, evoking a time when writing was seen as a more “pure” or quaint profession. Yet what they best represent is the current state of art, where artists must skillfully package themselves as products for buyers to consume.

It’s precisely the kind of work that is uncomfortable for most artists, who by definition concern themselves with what it means to be a person in the world, not what it means to be a brand.

Link to the rest at Vox

Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion

Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion in October 2022 and changed the name from “Twitter” to “X” in July. In the past year, 60% of Americans who are frequently on the platform have taken a break from using the app, according to Pew Research Center. Some users called the new X “toxic.”

Link to the rest at Campus Current

Great Last Lines in Books

I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Social Media Best Practices for Authors in 2024

From Writers in the Storm:

Most writers have a love-hate relationship with social media. It’s consistently the best way to promote your author brand and books as well as build an engaged community of readers who love you and your work for little to no cash outlay. For many of us, though, the ever-changing platforms, algorithms, and best practices can be disheartening. Even on the best days, social media is often a distraction rather than a tool.

In 2023,

  • AI-generated content and tools took center stage as a trending topic and created change in how we use social media and create content.
  • Twitter became X and has made many changes, both positive and negative, in the first full year with Elon Musk as owner.
  • Meta launched Threads in July to much fanfare and record-setting, but since then its daily active user count has dropped 82%.
  • YouTube video podcasts became the most popular talk shows, and often sources of news. As per YouGov: only “25% of US adults now say that TV is their primary news source, down from 31% in 2019. In the same time, Americans who say social is their primary news source have increased from 12% to 18%, while for Americans under 34, social has already usurped TV as the top new source.”

. . . .

I ran this article in sections through Writer.com’s AI Content Detector, and the various sections were rated between 35% and 98% human-generated. I personally wrote the entire article myself, but because I focused on the facts and data, rather than my personal E-E-A-T, some sections ranked lower.

. . . .

Facebook

Facebook has become more user-friendly over the past year and has reversed some decline that was being observed a year ago. The biggest changes, however, are in Meta Ads. Still one of the top options for paid advertising as far as cost and customizable targeting, Meta is currently rolling out AI assistance in creating ads, and has recently partnered with Zapier and HubSpot for CRM integrations. While these tools are exciting, what you need to know is that if you use Meta advertising, make sure your ads look and feel like a personalized post or Reel, and be sure to follow the Google E-E-A-T protocol.

Instagram

Instagram is probably the best at keeping its users up to date with changes. Adam Mosseri, the head of IG, posts regular weekly Reels letting us know what’s rolling out, what’s in development, and why. He also has a Broadcast Channel for creators where he shares even more behind-the-scenes info that is relevant to us.

  • The big takeaway for authors is that Instagram has reset the algorithm to rate reach and engagement based on the size of your account. There are five size tiers, so the small accounts (under 500 followers) are no longer competing with the Kardashians for impressions. And while Reels are still important, they are not all important. 
  • Your IG strategy for 2024 needs to include a mix of Reels, Carousel posts, Stories, DMs, and Static posts– in that order of priority. Getting in the DMs with your readers and followers will very much help you in the algorithm and get your posts seen by more followers and new people. 
  • The hashtag strategy is still adjusting. I encourage you to experiment. While some accounts are dropping hashtags altogether, others are finding the full 30 are still giving them the best exposure. Mosseri is currently recommending using, on average, about eight very specific and relevant hashtags at the bottom of your post to help the algorithm correctly classify who you are, what you do, and who your target audience is.

TikTok

TikTok, while still rather new among the leading social media platforms, is evolving quickly. They’ve released a customized-for-you feed, 15-minute-long videos, shut down their creator fund, and expanded “out of phone” TikTok ads to show on billboards, cinema screens, and elsewhere.

  • Their more intrusive privacy policy released in early 2023 caused renewed censorship among many countries, businesses, and government entities. If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to read the privacy policy for yourself. TikTok updated it again on 24 January 2024. 
  • One point of discussion among social media marketers is the issue of higher vanity metrics for creators and businesses, but lower conversion rates compared to other platforms. If you are not already, make sure you track your sales relative to the content you are putting out on each platform.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

PG opined about social media in an earlier post today.

How much of a working author’s time should be devoted to learning best practices and creating promo content best suited for each social media platform and audience on a regular basis?

How does the author determine which social media platforms do the best job of reaching her/his current and likely readers? Social media platforms are in constant combat with each other and today’s best platform for reaching readers may not be the same as the best platform will be in six months.

Considering the value of an author’s time, if an author believes she/he can make more money by advertising on one or more social media platforms, is it cheaper to pay for a social media marketing expert than for the author to spend work time to learn and keep up with current best practices on multiple social media sites?

Is it possible that an author might get more bang for the buck by experimenting with using smart computer-savvy kids from the computer clubs at local high schools to run social media ad programs? If PG were to experiment with this type of strategy, he’d talk to the smartest computer teacher at the local high school about helping to set up such a group. It might not be a bad idea to offer to pay the teacher to help oversee the students’ work.

PG suggests structuring this activity so it qualifies as a legitimate educational activity might be a reasonable goal.

Many students have still not regained pandemic-era losses in reading, math

From ABC:

Elementary and middle school students have only made up some of the losses in math and reading they experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report finds.

For the report, published Wednesday, a collaborative team at the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University and The Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University, looked at the first year of regular testing between spring 2022 and spring 2023 for school districts in 30 states.

Overall, students managed to recover about one-third of the original loss in math and one-quarter of the loss in reading. While these gains are historic, students are still not where they should be, the researchers found.

“Both of those gains were large by historical standards, but the gains in average achievement are masking the dramatic widening in achievement that happened between 2019 and 2022, and just the failure of many of the high poverty districts to catch up,” Dr. Thomas Kane, co-author of the report and faculty director of the Center for Education Policy Research, told ABC News.

When broken down by subject, only students in Alabama returned to pre-pandemic achievement levels in math, meaning levels seen in 2019, the report found. However, students in 17 states are still one-third behind 2019 levels in math.

. . . .

The report’s authors say that districts would need at least another year of recovery in math and two more years in reading for students to catch up to pre-pandemic level achievements.

. . . .

The report also found that in many states, the recovery of math and reading losses has been led by wealthier districts, including those in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Kane said in Massachusetts, high-poverty districts didn’t just fail to catch up but lost further ground between spring 2022 and spring 2023 so the improvement came from the higher-income suburbs, which he called “disappointing” and “concerning.”

. . . .

“During the pandemic, many high-income families relied on private tutors to maintain their students’ achievement while lower-income families didn’t have the resources to do the same,” he told ABC News. “A lot of school-based interventions meant to close the gap were too little, too late. What we really need are strong early childhood interventions.”

Link to the rest at ABC

Excerpt from My Antonia by Willa Cather

From Penguin Random House Canada:

I

I first heard of Antonia on what seemed to me an interminable journey across the great midland plain of North America. I was ten years old then; I had lost both my father and mother within a year, and my Virginia relatives were sending me out to my grandparents, who lived in Nebraska. I travelled in the care of a mountain boy, Jake Marpole, one of the “hands” on my father’s old farm under the Blue Ridge, who was now going West to work for my grandfather. Jake’s experience of the world was not much wider than mine. He had never been in a railway train until the morning when we set out together to try our fortunes in a new world.

We went all the way in day-coaches, becoming more sticky and grimy with each stage of the journey. Jake bought everything the newsboys offered him: candy, oranges, brass collar buttons, a watchcharm, and for me a Life of Jesse James, which I remember as one of the most satisfactory books I have ever read. Beyond Chicago we were under the protection of a friendly passenger conductor, who knew all about the country to which we were going and gave us a great deal of advice in exchange for our confidence. He seemed to us an experienced and worldly man who had been almost everywhere; in his conversation he threw out lightly the names of distant states and cities. He wore the rings and pins and badges of different fraternal orders to which he belonged. Even his cuff-buttons were engraved with hieroglyphics, and he was more inscribed than an Egyptian obelisk.

Once when he sat down to chat, he told us that in the immigrant car ahead there was a family from “across the water” whose destination was the same as ours.

“They can’t any of them speak English, except one little girl, and all she can say is ‘We go Black Hawk, Nebraska.’ She’s not much older than you, twelve or thirteen, maybe, and she’s as bright as a new dollar. Don’t you want to go ahead and see her, Jimmy? She’s got the pretty brown eyes, too!”

This last remark made me bashful, and I shook my head and settled down to Jesse James. Jake nodded at me approvingly and said you were likely to get diseases from foreigners.

I do not remember crossing the Missouri River, or anything about the long day’s journey through Nebraska. Probably by that time I had crossed so many rivers that I was dull to them. The only thing very noticeable about Nebraska was that it was still, all day long, Nebraska.

I had been sleeping, curled up in a red plush seat, for a long while when we reached Black Hawk. Jake roused me and took me by the hand. We stumbled down from the train to a wooden siding, where men were running about with lanterns. I couldn’t see any town, or even distant lights; we were surrounded by utter darkness. The engine was panting heavily after its long run. In the red glow from the fire-box, a group of people stood huddled together on the platform, encumbered by bundles and boxes. I knew this must be the immigrant family the conductor had told us about. The woman wore a fringed shawl tied over her head, and she carried a little tin trunk in her arms, hugging it as if it were a baby. There was an old man, tall and stooped. Two half-grown boys and a girl stood holding oilcloth bundles, and a little girl clung to her mother’s skirts. Presently a man with a lantern approached them and began to talk, shouting and exclaiming. I pricked up my ears, for it was positively the first time I had ever heard a foreign tongue.

Another lantern came along. A bantering voice called out: “Hello, are you Mr. Burden’s folks? If you are, it’s me you’re looking for. I’m Otto Fuchs. I’m Mr. Burden’s hired man, and I’m to drive you out. Hello, Jimmy, ain’t you scared to come so far west?”

I looked up with interest at the new face in the lanternlight. He might have stepped out of the pages of Jesse James. He wore a sombrero hat, with a wide leather band and a bright buckle, and the ends of his moustache were twisted up stiffly, like little horns. He looked lively and ferocious, I thought, and as if he had a history. A long scar ran across one cheek and drew the corner of his mouth up in a sinister curl. The top of his left ear was gone, and his skin was brown as an Indian’s. Surely this was the face of a desperado. As he walked about the platform in his high-heeled boots, looking for our trunks, I saw that he was a rather slight man, quick and wiry, and light on his feet. He told us we had a long night drive ahead of us, and had better be on the hike. He led us to a hitching-bar where two farm-wagons were tied, and I saw the foreign family crowding into one of them. The other was for us. Jake got on the front seat with Otto Fuchs, and I rode on the straw in the bottom of the wagon-box, covered up with a buffalo hide. The immigrants rumbled off into the empty darkness, and we followed them.

I tried to go to sleep, but the jolting made me bite my tongue, and I soon began to ache all over. When the straw settled down, I had a hard bed. Cautiously I slipped from under the buffalo hide, got up on my knees and peered over the side of the wagon. There seemed to be nothing to see; no fences, no creeks or trees, no hills or fields. If there was a road, I could not make it out in the faint starlight. There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made. No, there was nothing but land-slightly undulating, I knew, because often our wheels ground against the brake as we went down into a hollow and lurched up again on the other side. I had the feeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge of it, and were outside man’s jurisdiction. I had never before looked up at the sky when there was not a familiar mountain ridge against it. But this was the complete dome of heaven, all there was of it. I did not believe that my dead father and mother were watching me from up there; they would still be looking for me at the sheepfold down by the creek, or along the white road that led to the mountain pastures. I had left even their spirits behind me. The wagon jolted on, carrying me I knew not whither. I don’t think I was homesick. If we never arrived anywhere, it did not matter. Between that earth and that sky I felt erased, blotted out. I did not say my prayers that night: here, I felt, what would be would be.

II

I do not remember our arrival at my grandfather’s farm sometime before daybreak, after a drive of nearly twenty miles with heavy work-horses. When I awoke, it was afternoon. I was lying in a little room, scarcely larger than the bed that held me, and the window-shade at my head was flapping softly in a warm wind. A tall woman, with wrinkled brown skin and black hair, stood looking down at me; I knew that she must be my grandmother. She had been crying, I could see, but when I opened my eyes she smiled, peered at me anxiously, and sat down on the foot of my bed.

“Had a good sleep, Jimmy?” she asked briskly. Then in a very different tone she said, as if to herself, “My, how you do look like your father!” I remembered that my father had been her little boy; she must often have come to wake him like this when he overslept. “Here are your clean clothes,” she went on, stroking my coverlid with her brown hand as she talked. “But first you come down to the kitchen with me, and have a nice warm bath behind the stove. Bring your things; there’s nobody about.”

“Down to the kitchen” struck me as curious; it was always “out in the kitchen” at home. I picked up my shoes and stockings and followed her through the living-room and down a flight of stairs into a basement. This basement was divided into a dining-room at the right of the stairs and a kitchen at the left. Both rooms were plastered and whitewashed-the plaster laid directly upon the earth walls, as it used to be in dugouts. The floor was of hard cement. Up under the wooden ceiling there were little halfwindows with white curtains, and pots of geraniums and wandering Jew in the deep sills. As I entered the kitchen, I sniffed a pleasant smell of gingerbread baking. The stove was very large, with bright nickel trimmings, and behind it there was a long wooden bench against the wall, and a tin washtub, into which grandmother poured hot and cold water. When she brought the soap and towels, I told her that I was used to taking my bath without help.

“Can you do your ears, Jimmy? Are you sure? Well, now, I call you a right smart little boy.”

It was pleasant there in the kitchen. The sun shone into my bath-water through the west half-window, and a big Maltese cat came up and rubbed himself against the tub, watching me curiously. While I scrubbed, my grandmother busied herself in the dining-room until I called anxiously, “Grandmother, I’m afraid the cakes are burning!” Then she came laughing, waving her apron before her as if she were shooing chickens.

She was a spare, tall woman, a little stooped, and she was apt to carry her head thrust forward in an attitude of attention, as if she were looking at something, or listening to something, far away. As I grew older, I came to believe that it was only because she was so often thinking of things that were far away. She was quick-footed and energetic in all her movements. Her voice was high and rather shrill, and she often spoke with an anxious inflection, for she was exceedingly desirous that everything should go with due order and decorum. Her laugh, too, was high, and perhaps a little strident, but there was a lively intelligence in it. She was then fifty-five years old, a strong woman, of unusual endurance.

After I was dressed, I explored the long cellar next the kitchen. It was dug out under the wing of the house, was plastered and cemented, with a stairway and an outside door by which the men came and went. Under one of the windows there was a place for them to wash when they came in from work.

While my grandmother was busy about supper, I settled myself on the wooden bench behind the stove and got acquainted with the cat-he caught not only rats and mice, but gophers, I was told. The patch of yellow sunlight on the floor travelled back toward the stairway, and grandmother and I talked about my journey, and about the arrival of the new Bohemian family; she said they were to be our nearest neighbours. We did not talk about the farm in Virginia, which had been her home for so many years. But after the men came in from the fields, and we were all seated at the supper table, then she asked Jake about the old place and about our friends and neighbours there.

My grandfather said little. When he first came in he kissed me and spoke kindly to me, but he was not demonstrative. I felt at once his deliberateness and personal dignity, and was a little in awe of him. The thing one immediately noticed about him was his beautiful, crinkly, snow-white beard. I once heard a missionary say it was like the beard of an Arabian sheik. His bald crown only made it more impressive.

Grandfather’s eyes were not at all like those of an old man; they were bright blue, and had a fresh, frosty sparkle. His teeth were white and regular-so sound that he had never been to a dentist in his life. He had a delicate skin, easily roughened by sun and wind. When he was a young man his hair and beard were red; his eyebrows were still coppery.

As we sat at the table, Otto Fuchs and I kept stealing covert glances at each other. Grandmother had told me while she was getting supper that he was an Austrian who came to this country a young boy and had led an adventurous life in the Far West among mining-camps and cow outfits. His iron constitution was somewhat broken by mountain pneumonia, and he had drifted back to live in a milder country for a while. He had relatives in Bismarck, a German settlement to the north of us, but for a year now he had been working for grandfather.

The minute supper was over, Otto took me into the kitchen to whisper to me about a pony down in the barn that had been bought for me at a sale; he had been riding him to find out whether he had any bad tricks, but he was a “perfect gentleman,” and his name was Dude. Fuchs told me everything I wanted to know: how he had lost his ear in a Wyoming blizzard when he was a stage-driver, and how to throw a lasso. He promised to rope a steer for me before sundown next day. He got out his “chaps” and silver spurs to show them to Jake and me, and his best cowboy boots, with tops stitched in bold design-roses, and true-lover’s knots, and undraped female figures. These, he solemnly explained, were angels.

Before we went to bed, Jake and Otto were called up to the living-room for prayers. Grandfather put on silver-rimmed spectacles and read several Psalms. His voice was so sympathetic and he read so interestingly that I wished he had chosen one of my favourite chapters in the Book of Kings. I was awed by his intonation of the word “Selah.” “He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob whom He loved. Selah.” I had no idea what the word meant; perhaps he had not. But, as he uttered it, it became oracular, the most sacred of words.

Early the next morning I ran out-of-doors to look about me. I had been told that ours was the only wooden house west of Black Hawk-until you came to the Norwegian settlement, where there were several. Our neighbours lived in sod houses and dugouts-comfortable, but not very roomy. Our white frame house, with a storey and half-storey above the basement, stood at the east end of what I might call the farmyard, with the windmill close by the kitchen door. From the windmill the ground sloped westward, down to the barns and granaries and pig-yards. This slope was trampled hard and bare, and washed out in winding gullies by the rain. Beyond the corncribs, at the bottom of the shallow draw, was a muddy little pond, with rusty willow bushes growing about it. The road from the post-office came directly by our door, crossed the farmyard, and curved round this little pond, beyond which it began to climb the gentle swell of unbroken prairie to the west. There, along the western sky-line, it skirted a great cornfield, much larger than any field I had ever seen. This cornfield, and the sorghum patch behind the barn, were the only broken land in sight. Everywhere, as far as the eye could reach, there was nothing but rough, shaggy, red grass, most of it as tall as I.

Link to the rest at Penguin Random House Canada

PG knew about Ms. Cather and My Antonia (he even recalls how to pronounce Antonia), but had never read any of her books. He was completely captivated by the portion he posted above and is going to download the ebook version so he can read the whole thing.

Burned Out on the Business of Writing? 6 Insights to Rediscover Joy and Passion

From Helping Writers Become Authors:

In the ever-evolving landscape of the writing profession, where deadlines loom large and market trends shift like shadows, it’s not uncommon for writers to find themselves engulfed in the relentless flames of burnout. The business of writing, with its demands for marketability and strategic branding, can sometimes obscure the very essence of what drew us to the craft in the first place: the pure joy and passion for storytelling. If you’re feeling singed by the pressures of the business of writing, fear not. Amidst the ashes lie embers of creativity waiting to be rekindled.

At the end of 2023, as I sat down to consider what “lessons” I wanted to share in my annual New Year’s post, I found I had gleaned so many things from this busy, productive, and rewarding year that I couldn’t thematically contain them all in one post. The “official” New Year’s post I shared last month talked about what my experiences had shown me about living (and writing) Flat Arcs. What I didn’t get to talk about in that post were the many specific lessons I learned last year in rewiring my relationship to the business of writing.

Over the past few years, I’ve talked about the period of significant burnout I experienced beginning in 2016, which included nearly four years of writer’s block. I learned so much in working through these experiences and am happy to report recovery from both the burnout and the writer’s block. Something I haven’t talked much about yet is how this burnout shone a light on dysfunctional aspects of my relationship with the business side of writing.

A few months ago, I wrote about how my relationship to marketing has evolved, and last week I discussed some of the mindsets necessary for writers to succeed at marketing and business. Today, I want to go deeper and share six insights I received in 2023 that are helping me rewire my relationship with the business of writing into an experience that is not only sustainable but deeply rewarding, creative, and generative.

Why It’s So Easy for Writers to Get Burned Out on the Business of Writing

First, a little background. I began my career, rather unwittingly, sixteen years ago. I didn’t really intend writing or teaching about writing to be a career. I was a sheltered homeschooled stay-at-home daughter, and writing books and starting little online businesses was just the sort of thing we did back then. I loved writing stories, and I started a blog to help me sell those stories. That blog and the subsequent writing-craft books I published became a huge adventure all their own, and before I knew it, I was earning enough to call myself a full-time writer.

I never had a real business plan beyond seizing the opportunities and proving to myself that being a self-published author at the inception of the indie boom was legit. I also had no clue what I was getting myself into. I wasn’t aware of what “joyful marketing” coach Simone Grace Seol talks about on her podcast as “The Three Stages of Growth“:

1. Creation (when you’re writing the book, building the business, etc.)

2. Acclimation (when you’re adjusting to the new identity of success)

3. Acceleration (when you’re taking everything you’ve learned and going 2.0)

I was good at creation and acceleration, but I had zero awareness or skill when it came to acclimation. To repeat Seol’s excellent insight:

So many of us think that hitting the goal is going to be the best thing ever, but then we realize that once we do hit the ambitious goal it starts to feel really, really scary and anxious, and we just kind of have a meltdown a lot of the times…. The pain of acclimation … is that now that you’ve created the thing that you wanted to create, now that you achieved the goal, now you have to get used to … being somebody who has that as part of her reality.

By the time 2016—that massive epoch in my life—arrived on the wings of a huge personal crisis, my relationship with my business was already significantly dysfunctional and unsustainable. The work I was doing to earn money was becoming increasingly disconnected from my creativity. I was making choices based on what I thought I “should” do or what would be most lucrative, versus what really excited me or aligned with my own values. As a result, I was suffering major anxiety attacks almost every time I opened my email. I lived in fear of criticism, and I was constantly chasing after some elusive idea of success that would slay my raging imposter syndrome.

Then when personal crisis hit, I very nearly gave up on the business of writing altogether. For several years, I cut back drastically on almost everything I was doing. I spent the next eight years (and counting!) getting real with myself about the patterns and beliefs that had caused me to create such dysfunction in my relationship with my business (among other areas of my life).

6 Insights to Rewire How You Relate to the Business of Writing

Now my experience may be extreme, and many writers will never reach this level of burnout. My situation was also ultimately founded upon and catalyzed by belief systems, relationships, and events that had nothing to do with my writing or my business. However, over the past years as I have discussed various aspects of my experiences and how they have taught me to heal and grow, I have received so many emails from so many of you who are able to relate on one level or another.

From my vantage point, I see how my struggles are ones so many writers also get tangled up in and, ultimately, for the same reason: because we don’t know what we’re getting ourselves into and because we aren’t taught how to create functional operating systems for the business side of writing. I spoke about some of the culprit misconceptions in last week’s post about why marketing is hard for writers. Today, I want to share some of the lessons I have been learning these past years that have changed my life.

I believe these things need to be normalized and talked about more in writing communities. They shouldn’t frighten anyone away from achieving as much success with their writing as is humanly possible. Rather, they should act as cautionary road markers to help us make decisions that arise from our own deepest alignment and health, rather than in response to some external guideline of what we’re “supposed to be doing” or what being a career writer is “supposed to look like.”

So today, let’s explore these six invaluable insights to rediscover the joy and passion that initially set our writerly souls ablaze!

1. Balance Speaking Up and Setting Boundaries Online

Okay… so imagine a long pause between this sentence and the one before it, because I’ve been sitting here for several minutes, trying to find the words to express something that still feels surprisingly vulnerable. And I suppose that’s the whole point of this first insight. Living as a writer means being willing to speak and to write from a deeply vulnerable and authentic place and then to face the potential criticism and judgement of the world.

It is crucial for writers to be able to create protective boundaries. This, however, is easier said than done. You can stop reading reviews on Amazon, but if you intend to continue with a blog or a social media presence, you can’t close your eyes to what followers are saying. Every day there is the opportunity to run across something someone is saying about you that feels triggering.

Ultimately, the boundaries must be created within ourselves. The only things that trigger us are those that already live within us. At its simplest, if someone says “you’re a bad writer” and it stings, it’s because you believe it at some level. More insidious, however, is the adjacent belief that this someone out there in Internet-land—who is probably someone you don’t know, will never hear from again, and whose own expertise is unproven—deserves to tell you how to live your life.

I was struck by how deep this belief had been ingrained in me when I was working through ways to create boundaries that would keep out unwanted criticism. The thought that arose was, But if I’m wrong, I should be criticized! Whoa. That stopped me short. For me, the unconscious belief was that I deserved any and all criticism that any random person with a random agenda wanted to sling at me. The countering belief I had to find was that I deserved to protect myself and I deserved to choose for myself whose advice I listened to based on my own value system.

2. Stay Connected to Your Own Authority

Boundaries are an external protection system. They are walls erected to keep danger out of our homes. But boundaries are not unbreachable. If an external boundary is our only defense, we’re ultimately doomed. It is important to reach down deep inside and find the strength of our own individual authority.

It’s like that old saying:

If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

But this, too, can be externalized. When we project authority onto something else, it is often in the belief that if we just follow that person, system, or thing, we’ll be just fine. We often do this unconsciously, not realizing we are identifying with this thing less because we align it with it and more because we derive a sense of approval and protection from it (even and sometimes especially if opposing groups offer resistance).

What I have learned for myself is that the only way to access true strength is to reach deep inside and find one’s own. There is no substitute. This is not easy. Accessing that strength and that ability to hold authority over one’s self often requires digging through all sorts of layers of unsafety in one’s programming. It also requires a radical claiming of personal responsibility and accountability—because now there is nothing else on which to shade blame.

For me, learning to recognize what is happening energetically when I abandon my authority to someone or something else has been a gamechanger in rewiring my ability to hold my own center when triggered and, just as importantly, to find the strength and self-worth to set boundaries unapologetically. Abandoning my own authority often makes me feel physically sick, including intense pressure in my head and neck. When this happens, I have learned to relax my throat and neck, to bring attention back to my solar plexus, and to focus on the crown of my head. I imagine a straight pole of light aligning my body from above the top of my head to below the bottom of my feet. With practice, holding this inner posture of authority becomes easier and easier. The tendency to feel sick in the presence of someone else’s negative opinion grows less, and the capacity for showing up with more authenticity, truth, and conviction echoes a quote that has been one of my favorites from childhood:

I speak the truth not so much as I would, but as much as I dare; and I dare a little more as I grow older.

–Catherine Drinker Bowen

Link to the rest at Helping Writers Become Authors

PG is certain he’s not the only one who has watched hard-working indie authors burn themselves out by going faster and faster in writing and promoting their work. Each new book brings a bump in revenue, but, in the nature of things, fans can read books much faster than an author can write them.

Since most indie authors are doing everything for their book business, writing and promoting are competing for the author’s time. Deciding which is the best use of the author’s time may solve the author’s dilemma today, but the decision likely needs to be faced again tomorrow. Or next week.

Some authors can wake their muse easily, but, for others, the muse must be regenerated or rediscovered or reconstructed. Getting today’s muse firmly connected with yesterday’s muse can also take some work.

For any who think these challenges are a reason to choose the path of traditional publishing, PG notes that traditional publishing has its own creative and emotional burdens for the author. The author typically doesn’t know what’s going on with her book, whether the people doing whatever they are doing in connection with the book are as committed to the book as the author is or just going through the motions using outmoded practices, watching the clock to decide when they can go home without causing other people in the office to doubt their work ethic and commitment and wondering if they can find a better job somewhere else.

As Facebook turns 20, politics is out; impersonal video feeds are in

From The Economist:

“I’m a little intoxicated, not gonna lie. So what if it’s not even 10pm and it’s a Tuesday night?…Let the hacking begin.” So typed a 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, liveblogging from his Harvard dormitory as he began work on a website called Facemash. The site displayed randomly selected pairs of students’ mugshots, harvested from the university’s intranet, and allowed users to vote on who was hotter. It caused a stir and was promptly shut down. But before long, a successor was in the making. On February 4th 2004 Mr Zuckerberg launched a new site: TheFacebook.com.

Facebook, as it later became, quickly overtook established social networks such as Friendster and MySpace to become the world’s largest, a position it still holds on its 20th birthday. Today 3bn people—about 60% of all internet users—scroll its infinite feed every month (see chart 1). It has outwitted its rivals, or swallowed them, as it did Instagram and WhatsApp. Six of the ten most-downloaded mobile apps last year belonged to Meta, Facebook’s holding company, which is now the world’s largest seller of advertising after Google. Meta’s market value has surpassed $1trn; in the third quarter of last year it reported revenue of $34bn.

Facebook and its imitators have done more than make money. Social media have become the main way that people experience the internet—and a substantial part of how they experience life. Last year nearly half of mobile screen-time worldwide was spent on social apps (and more than a quarter of waking hours were spent on phones), according to Data.ai, a research company. The networks have become what Mr Zuckerberg and others call a digital “town square”, in which the arguments of the day are thrashed out and public opinion is shaped. Social media have fomented social movements, from #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter to the Arab spring and the Capitol riot.

Feedster

Now, after two decades of evolution, the town square is being dug up and rebuilt. Following the arrival of competitors such as TikTok, powered by artificial intelligence, Facebook and other incumbents have been forced to reinvent themselves. Platforms that began as places for friends to interact and share their own content are turning into television-like feeds of entertainment, for passive consumption. At the same time, users are moving their conversations and arguments off the open networks and into closed, private groups on platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram. That migration, in turn, will have big implications for politics, in a year when countries with more than half the world’s population are heading to the polls.

Social media are more popular than ever. The average internet user spent nearly two and a half hours a day on social platforms last year, according to gwi, another data company. Usage ticked up during the pandemic and has not returned to pre-covid levels. As more people go online, more are signing up. Total time spent using social apps on Android devices, which account for about 70% of the world’s phones and tablets, has risen by 42% since 2020, to 2.3trn hours last year, according to Data.ai.

But the sort of social networking that Facebook pioneered is disappearing. The most obvious change is the shift to video on today’s networks. The explosive success of TikTok, a Chinese-owned short-video app which launched in 2017 and quickly had young people hooked, has sparked a wave of copycats. Meta has added a video feature called Reels to Facebook and Instagram. Similar products have been bolted onto Pinterest (Watch), Snapchat (Spotlight) and YouTube (Shorts). Elon Musk, who bought Twitter in 2022 and renamed it X, now claims it is a “video-first” platform. Of the 64 minutes per day that the average American spent on social media last year, 40 were spent watching video, up from 28 minutes three years earlier, estimates Bernstein, a broker.

The bigger change to social feeds is under the bonnet. At first, social networks showed chronological updates from users’ contacts: their friend just got engaged, their uncle was storming the Capitol and so on. As the volume of posts grew, the networks employed algorithms to prioritise posts that had proved popular among the user’s friends. Now a new phase has begun. TikTok decided that, rather than guessing what people would like based on their “social graph”—that is, what their family and friends liked—it would use their “interest graph”, which it inferred from the videos they and people like them lingered on. And rather than show content created by people they followed, it would serve up anything it thought they might like.

Every other big platform has followed suit. In 2022 Mr Zuckerberg announced that Facebook’s feed would become a “discovery engine” to seek out engaging content from around the internet. Since last year half of the posts X shows its users come from outside the network of people they follow. Threads, Meta’s Twitter-clone, launched last year with a similar approach. The resulting feeds of unrelated content from strangers can be jarring: “Here’s a healthy breakfast option! You should kill your mom!” quipped Bo Burnham, a YouTube comedian, in a satirical song. But users seem to like it. Time spent on Instagram has risen by 40% since Meta launched Reels. Even the geriatric Facebook somehow added 5m new users in America and Canada last year.

Google

As users’ newsfeeds become unmoored from their network of friends and family, they are posting less about themselves. “The average user is now more of a consumer,” says Michael Bossetta of Lund University. In a survey last year by Gartner, a market-research company, only 28% of Americans said they liked documenting their life online, down from 40% in 2020. Some 61% say they have become more selective about what they post, finds Morning Consult, another research firm, which speculates that an influx of “influencer” content may have made users think “their everyday life is too mundane to justify frequent posts”. Video, the new format of choice, is harder to create than dashing off a quick status update. And some platforms, such as X, prioritise posts by users who pay, reducing incentives for the rest.

Instead, conversations have been moving for some time to private groups. In 2021 Mr Zuckerberg wrote that, as well as debating in the “town square” of Facebook and Instagram, “People increasingly also want to connect privately in the digital equivalent of the living room.” Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, said last year that more photos and videos were being shared in direct messages than on the app’s main feed. “All the friends-sharing is moving in that direction,” he concluded. Morning Consult asked people how they would be most likely to recommend a movie. Only 30% said they would post on social media, behind the 43% who chose text or email and the 35% who opted for group chats.

At the same time, in the digital town square, fun is in and politics is out. Although (and perhaps because) social networks are accused of driving political polarisation, they seem increasingly eager to steer users away from news and current affairs. A study by Joshua Tucker of the Centre for Social Media and Politics at New York University (NYU) and colleagues compared a group of Facebook and Instagram users who were on chronological newsfeeds in the run-up to America’s election in 2020 with another group who used the platforms’ recommendation algorithm. Those using the chronological feed saw 15% more political content on Facebook and 5% more on Instagram than those who were fed by the algorithm. (They also saw a lot more information from what Meta classified as untrustworthy sources: 69% more on Facebook and 22% more on Instagram, albeit from low bases.)

Since then, the platforms have shied even further from news. The u-turn has been sharpest at Meta, whose boss said ten years ago that he wanted Facebook’s newsfeed to be a “perfect personalised newspaper for every person in the world”. The firm now says that news makes up less than 3% of what people see on the platform. Mr Mosseri, who is also in charge of Threads, wrote at its launch last year, “Politics and hard news are inevitably going to show up on Threads…but we’re not going to do anything to encourage those verticals.” A week later he added, “From a platform’s perspective, any incremental engagement or revenue they might drive is not at all worth the scrutiny, negativity (let’s be honest), or integrity risks that come along with them.”

A campaign by some publishers to make social-media firms pay to share their content has reinforced the networks’ view that news is more trouble than it is worth.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG tried to remember when he had last read about a literary agent recommending that every author should be on Facebook. He thinks it was last week.

His own experiences with the new Facebook have convinced him that it’s really not that simple for an author to have an effective Facebook destination without, perhaps, hiring a Facebook marketing expert. That said, PG wouldn’t advise any new graduate to become a Facebook marketing expert.

The place has changed by much more than just rebranding to Meta. It’s laid off lots and lots of skilled employees, is facing serious technical, legal, ethical, and social issues. and, for PG has lost at its moorings and started drifting into strange places he finds offputting.

Don’t Shave That Yak!

From Seth Godin:

The single best term I’ve learned this year.

I want to give you the non-technical definition, and as is my wont, broaden it a bit.

Yak Shaving is the last step of a series of steps that occurs when you find something you need to do. “I want to wax the car today.”

“Oops, the hose is still broken from the winter. I’ll need to buy a new one at Home Depot.”

“But Home Depot is on the other side of the Tappan Zee bridge and getting there without my EZPass is miserable because of the tolls.”

“But, wait! I could borrow my neighbor’s EZPass…”

“Bob won’t lend me his EZPass until I return the mooshi pillow my son borrowed, though.”

“And we haven’t returned it because some of the stuffing fell out and we need to get some yak hair to restuff it.”

And the next thing you know, you’re at the zoo, shaving a yak, all so you can wax your car.

This yak shaving phenomenon tends to hit some people more than others, but what makes it particularly perverse is when groups of people get involved. It’s bad enough when one person gets all up in arms yak shaving, but when you try to get a group of people together, you’re just as likely to end up giving the yak a manicure.

Which is why solo entrepreneurs and small organizations are so much more likely to get stuff done. They have fewer yaks to shave.

So, what to do?

Don’t go to Home Depot for the hose.

The minute you start walking down a path toward a yak shaving party, it’s worth making a compromise. Doing it well now is much better than doing it perfectly later.

Link to the rest at Seth Godin

The Power of the Prompt

From Writer Unboxed:

In 2010, the consensus was that a writer needed to have a blog.

As a dutiful rules follower, who at the time wanted an agent, I started blogging regularly about my journey, about a software program my friend had recommended called Scrivener, and—for more than a year—I penned a weekly blog post called The Sunday Squirrel.

The odd name comes from an experience I had in Toastmasters in my twenties. We had a member, Ken, who was truly a remarkable speaker. Anytime we had an unfilled speaking slot, he would give an impromptu speech using a random topic from the audience. His most memorable was a humorous, completely off-the-cuff, 7-minute speech about hunting squirrels as a kid, that may or may not have been complete B.S. I was impressed.

My hope was that I could grow a similar skill with the written word through extemporaneous writing. I especially wanted to hone my “show-don’t-tell” skills via short pieces of prose with low stakes. So, every Sunday, I picked a random word or topic and then wrote around it, publishing the result immediately, with minimal editing.

The very first squirrel was water bottle, and here’s what I came up with:

He reached for the water bottle tucked into the truck’s console, but it slipped from his grip as he lost the feeling in his fingers. The bottle fell to the floor with a thud, water pulsing out onto the dirty carpet. Every lost drop made him more desperate to quench the fire in his throat as his heart stopped beating and he gasped for his last breath.

A bit, morbid, but you get the idea. These grew increasingly longer, quickly becoming 800-1500 word scenes with a full arc.

Looking back, I’m shocked that I was brave enough to put the results of those impromptu writing sessions out there for all the world to see, and shocked that some of them aren’t too bad. It seems like limiting yourself to a word or specific idea would stifle creativity, but I’ve found that it actually feeds mine. The wilder the concept you have to incorporate, the more creative you have to be.

I’ve done similar prompts at writing conferences, and I’m always surprised how much fun it is and how easily my writer brain takes off when given an assignment.

One of my favorites used three words and a quote.

Words/Concepts: cocktail bar, Sunday school teacher, riding crop

Quote: “I’m just doing what the fortune cookie said. Who am I to stand in the way of fate?”

I somehow wrote a 504-word scene using all the elements in 30 minutes. There are a lot of days when I’d be happy to get 500 words in two hours, so that felt like a breakthrough. Sometimes a blank page is overwhelming. I can write anything! Except, oh, no, I can write anything, what should it be? Where do I start?

Narrowing the possibilities can cut through the indecisiveness and unfreeze your brain.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Vivendi to divide group and put divisions, including Hachette, on stock market

From The Bookseller:

Vivendi has announced that it will carve up its group into four separate entities which will be listed on the stock market.

This follows its recent takeover of Lagardère, owner of Hachette Livre, France’s largest book publisher, and is prompted by the need to “fully unleash the development potential of all its activities”, the group said in a statement. Until now, it has suffered from a “significantly high conglomerate discount”, which has reduced its value and hampered its subsidiaries’ ability to acquire other companies, it added.

Book publishing will be bundled together with media, entertainment and distribution, which includes Hachette, the Prisma Media magazine publisher and retail outlets in railway stations and airports. The three other entities will be the Canal + pay TV network, the Havas communications firm, and an investment company to look after all the group’s assets in culture, media and entertainment.

Lagardère is the world’s third largest general public and educational book publisher, and a “leading global player in travel retail”, with its chain of shops under Relay and other brands, the statement said. It is present in 40 countries and has more than 27,000 employees.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Art

From Salmagundi:

Art is useless, said Wilde. Art is for art’s sake—that is, for beauty’s sake. But why do we possess a sense of beauty to begin with? A question we will never answer. Perhaps it’s just a kind of superfluity of sexual attraction. Nature needs us to feel drawn to other human bodies, but evolution is imprecise. In order to go far enough, to make that feeling strong enough, it went too far. Others are powerfully lovely to us, but so, in a strangely different, strangely similar way, are flowers and sunsets. Art, in turn, this line of thought might go, is a response to natural beauty. Stunned by it, we seek to rival it, to reproduce it, to prolong it. Flowers fade, sunsets melt from moment to moment; the love of bodies brings us grief. Art abides. “When old age shall this generational waste, / Thou shalt remain.”

Art is for truth. Even Wilde suggests as much, though he, and we, don’t call it truth but meaning. Art points beyond itself. At what? At us. The role of art is to compile the endless atlas of human experience. It’s often not a pretty picture for, as Solzhenitsyn said, the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. Except it’s not a line; it’s a tangle. The gurus want to solve human nature; so do the utopians, the ideologues and revolutionaries. The artist, wiser, observes it, above all in herself. One answer to a question of the moment, is it ethical to engage with art by bad people, is: what other kind of people are there? If artists are heroic, it’s in this: that they are willing to confess the dirty human secrets that the rest of us can’t even bear to look at.

Art is for justice. Excuse me, “social justice.” So today’s ideologues and revolutionaries claim. They seek to yoke the artist to their plow. But the artist and the revolutionary, Baldwin said, “seem doomed to stand forever at an odd and rather uncomfortable angle to each other.” Both are visionaries, he continued, but their vision differs. Art may sometimes serve the cause of justice, but only ever indirectly. To improve the world (I will not say perfect or save, for these are illusions), you first have to know it. Art comes before politics, because truth comes before justice.

Art is good for us. That’s the institutional line: the NEA line, the PBS line, the foundation and museum line. Art is meant to “educate” us, to “enlighten” us—at most, to “challenge” us or challenge “the status quo,” but always within the four corners of consensus values. It’s always repelled me, this way of thinking: its mealy-mouthed, Victorian, Unitarian-church-lady lukewarm bath of civic good intentions. Art is good for us, like exercise and vitamins and have lots of fiber in your diet, a kind of spiritual tonic for the body politic. It is exactly such earnest importance that Wilde was thumbing his nose at. Yet aren’t I guilty of it, in my own way, too?

Art, I have preached, is for bildung, self-development, especially within the context of an undergraduate education. Art helps you to become a deeper, freer version of yourself, etc., etc., blah blah blah, you’ve heard the song a thousand times. So what’s the difference between that and “art is good for us”? If there is one, it is this. The whole modern idea—the liberal idea—is that the group isn’t all. The state, the clan, the tribe: that within these we carve out space for the individual (think of the Bill of Rights, as it dwells within the Constitution); that carving out space for the individual (“to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men”) is indeed the whole point of the thing. But that space is always under siege, mainly by people who think they know what’s good for us: by the church ladies or, now, the progressive commissars, who are really just militant church ladies. The point of art-for-bildung, as I understand it, is to help you to become an individual—a cussed, wayward, stubborn individual, with your own ideas and purposes—not to fit you to the group. Is it contradictory to try to use the setting of an institution, a university, to teach young people to be individuals? It is. It would be better not to have to. But that is what we have.

Art is for constituting the tribe, especially in modernity. We’ve seen no better instance of this recently than the all-conquering Swifties, a group so large and mighty it could plausibly demand a seat on the Security Council. Art unites us across existing groups; it creates new groups where none existed. Hence the salience of “fandom” —the costumes, the Cons, the devotional art—for the rootless children of the internet age.

Art is for connecting us, as individuals, outside the borders of the group. In a previous piece for these pages, I said that artists’ proper role, not even now but especially now, is to be un-political, trans-political, to remind us of everything in our experience that can’t be captured by the categories of the moment. Three weeks after sending in the piece, I came across a perfect example of what I was talking about. It was an essay by Meghan Daum, called “The Broken-In World,” about life after divorce, life in middle age, life in the wake of life’s inevitable fuck-ups and regrets. “[A]s your story joins the chorus of stories being told and listened to in as many versions as there are broken people to tell and hear them,” she writes, “you slide into a new kind of world.…It’s a world built on scar tissue, which turns out to be a surprisingly solid foundation. And at some point, without quite realizing it, your life goes from broken to broken in.” It is a piece about the beauty that lies on the other side of disfigurement, the honesty that lies on the other side of forty. And those are human things, two among a million, that don’t have anything to do with where you stand on the identity grid or the political spectrum.

Link to the rest at Salmagundi

PG notes (renotes, again?) that he doesn’t necessarily agree with items he posts on The Passive Voice.

Getting Down to Business

From Medium:

The creation of content is a noteworthy use of AI in book writing. Advanced algorithms for natural language processing enable AI systems to generate text that is both logical and appropriate for the given context. AI is being investigated by publishers and authors more frequently to help with book drafting, editing, and even section generation.

Thanks to large datasets, artificial intelligence algorithms are able to identify patterns in writing styles, themes, and structures. This facilitates the production of content that conforms to particular genres or emulates the traits of well-known writers. AI-generated literature may raise questions about its authenticity, but some purists see it as an additional creative tool to human creativity.

There are more and more instances of AI and human authors working together. AI is a useful tool for writers as it can help with character development, story twist suggestions, and idea generation. The creative process is improved by this cooperative approach, which makes use of the advantages of both machine efficiency and human inventiveness.

. . . .

But using AI to write books also brings up philosophical and ethical issues. Can a machine really understand the subtleties of culture, the depth of storytelling, or the complexities of human emotions? Even though AI systems are capable of producing text and copying styles, true creativity and emotional connection are frequently derived from the human experience.

Notwithstanding the progress made, there is still continuous discussion about AI’s place in book writing. Preserving the genuine voice of human authors and the breadth of human experiences is a delicate balance that demands careful consideration, even though it surely offers efficiency and creative possibilities.

In summary, the connection between artificial intelligence and book writing is quickly changing. Automation improves productivity, offers opportunities for collaboration, and provides data-driven insights, but it also raises questions about what makes human creativity truly unique. As technology develops further, the future of literature will be shaped by striking the correct balance between the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) and the inherent qualities of human storytelling.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG noted the portion of the last paragraph of the OP that talked about “the inherent qualities of human storytelling.”

While that portion of the OP certainly caused PG to feel warm and fuzzy for a few moments, retired lawyer PG butted in with a question about what “the inherent qualities of human storytelling.” actually are.

Certainly, “the inherent qualities of human storytelling” are not manifested equally across the breadth of humanity. Some people are better storytellers than other people are. Some people are great at telling stories in print and others are great at telling stories on the stage or with a movie or television camera pointed at them and, on relatively rare occasions, some people are good at storytelling in multiple media.

For a motion picture, script-writing storytellers are involved, acting storytellers are involved, directing storytellers are involved, etc. We’ve already seen successful motion pictures like The Matrix and 2001: A Space Odyssey where the non-human acting storytellers play a key role or, in every Disney cartoon movie, where there are no human actors, all the roles.

As far as human emotions are involved, are there a lot of people who didn’t shed a tear when Bambi’s mother was killed by a hunter?

PG notes that AI foundational research has been going on for a long time. (More on that in a separate post to appear on TPV in the foreseeable future.)

However, the widespread use of AI systems by a lot of people is a relatively recent phenomenon that requires software and hardware sufficient to respond to a flood of prompts from a great many people at the same time. Hosting an AI program available to all comers today requires a lot of computing power on the scale of very large cloud computing services like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft’s Azure, and the Google Cloud Platform.

However, the history of modern computer development has been a nearly steady stream of smaller, cheaper, and more powerful devices. A couple of online reports claim your Apple Watch has over twice the computing power as a Cray-2 supercomputer did in 1985.

There is no guarantee that your next cell phone will equal the computing of a group of giant cloud computer systems in the next couple of years, but Moore’s Law says it’s only a matter of time

Moore’s Law is the observation that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit will double every two years with minimal rise in cost. Intel co-founder Gordon Moore predicted a doubling of transistors every year for the next 10 years in his original paper published in 1965. Ten years later, in 1975, Moore revised this to doubling every two years. This extrapolation based on an emerging trend has been a guiding principle for the semiconductor industry for close to 60 years.

Intel Newsroom

PG suggests that opinions about the ability of AI systems to generate book-length stories that many people will pay for are likely to be revised in the future.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Amazon announces AI shopping assistant called Rufus

From CNBC:

Amazon on Thursday announced a new artificial intelligence assistant for shopping called Rufus.

The tool is designed to help users search and shop for products. Shoppers type or speak a question into the search bar in Amazon’s mobile app and a chat window will appear at the bottom of their screen. Users can ask conversational questions such as, “What are the differences between trail and road running shoes?” or “Compare drip and pour-over coffee makers.”

“Rufus meaningfully improves how easy it is for customers to find and discover the best products to meet their needs,” Amazon said in a blog post.

Rufus uses Amazon’s product catalog, customer reviews and Q&As, as well as information from across the web to answer questions, the company said.

Amazon said it’s testing the feature with a small subset of users in the U.S. but intends to roll it out nationwide in the coming weeks.

CEO Andy Jassy has said the company plans to incorporate generative AI across all of its businesses. Amazon will likely give an update on its AI efforts when it reports fourth-quarter earnings after the bell Thursday.

Link to the rest at CNBC

Who Owns This Sentence?

From The Wall Street Journal:

Every three months, the Performing Rights Society of Britain sends me royalties on “Caught Steelin’,” a country-funk instrumental I co-wrote and recorded 20 years ago. Whenever it appears on the soundtrack of, say, a daytime TV show about antiques, I receive about 12.5% of the royalty pie. I receive thinner slices from sales of the books I have written; the typical royalty on paperbacks is 8%. When the painter Walter Sickert defined genius as the “instinct of self-preservation in a talent,” what he might have meant was: Always keep your copyrights, for some day they may keep you.

Copyright law began in London in 1710, with the Act for the Encouragement of Learning (known, after the queen of the day, as the “Statute of Anne”). This fixed into law an ancient moral principle: Plato was outraged when a student named Hermodorus published his lecture notes in Sicily without permission—perhaps history’s first bootleg recording. Pliny the Elder compared unattributed copying to theft (“plagiarism” comes from a Latin word for “kidnapping”). This moral sense endures in university honor codes; former Harvard president Claudine Gay, see me after class.

Authors of books still claim the “moral right” to be named as the perpetrator of the work. But the creator is also often the little guy, deprived of his moral right by legal maneuvers. Richard Berry, who wrote the much-covered R&B hit “Louie Louie” in 1955, once told me that he saw no royalties until he lawyered up in the 1980s.

In “Who Owns This Sentence?” David Bellos and Alexandre Montagu explain how copyright became an invisible economic architecture that governs not just vital matters such as royalties, but also ephemera such as commercial trademarks and medical patents. Mr. Bellos is a professor of French and comparative literature at Princeton, and Mr. Montagu is the founder of an intellectual-property law firm in London. They ask whether the invisible hand has now bent the little guy’s arm so far back that copyright has changed from a means to incentivize creativity to an “engine of inequality.”

Before 1710, British printing had been regulated by the Licensing of the Press Act (1662). The act granted a print monopoly to the Stationers’ Co. The Stationers bought the rights to authors’ work (the “buy-out,” as it’s known) took all the profits; it was also effectively the censor on behalf of the state. The 1662 law expired in 1695, and 15 years of debate and lobbying began. John Locke called it “absurd” that the work of Julius Caesar or Livy could be copyrighted. The printers protested a “notorious invasion of the property of the rightful proprietors.” In 1710, Parliament proposed a compromise. The printers retained “right of copy” (the right to print and sell) for 21 years. The authors, or their assignees, retained ownership of the contents. The book business was born.

In 1774, a new law affirmed that publishers only had limited rights to dead authors’ work, after which it entered the public domain. The printers were still in charge, and authors had yet to receive royalties, but competition now gave the public more and cheaper books. Then as now, publishers gambled on living writers, but found the dead more dependable earners.

Meanwhile, copyright began to be applied to other media. In 1735, Parliament approved a petition from William Hogarth and his club, the Sublime Society of Beefsteaks, that engravings should be considered printed matter. In 1777, the publisher Longman was caught stealing the sonatas of Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian. Lord Mansfield, bless him, ruled that music was one of the “other writings” covered by the Statute of Anne. These precedents would shape American and global jurisprudence as copyright spread around the world.

While the British argued over commercial rights, the French discovered that copyright, like the rights of man, was inalienable. Denis Diderot argued in 1761 that a book expressed the “spirit of the man of letters.” In 1777, a French law granted authors lifetime rights of property in their works. The philosopher and mathematician Nicolas de Condorcet, notably, rejected the claim that copyright encouraged “learning,” and asked why he could freely print a “general theory of mechanics” but would be breaking the law if he reprinted a “pretty poem” without permission.

The treatment of copyrights and practical intellectual property, such as patents, remains unequal. “Why should Donald Duck belong exclusively to Disney for nearly a century,” the authors ask, “but a miracle cure belong to the company that created it for twenty years at most?” Copyright law is a jerry-built skyscraper. Condorcet died late enough to benefit from the French law of 1793, which extended his exclusive rights 10 years after his death. The American copyright law of 1790, by contrast, was closer to the British law: 28 years from publication, plus another 14 if you were still alive, but nothing posthumously for your heirs.

. . . .

In any case, the American law had, the authors write, “minimal effect.” Piracy of imported literature was the norm in the United States throughout the 19th century. That changed because of a dispute over a staple of the American printing industry, circus posters. When the Wallace Circus ordered nearly identical promotional posters from the rival printing firms of Bleistein and Donaldson, Bleistein sued Donaldson for infringement. In 1903, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bleistein. The real loser was the unknown artist who created the posters for the Wallace Circus and was paid $100.

“The word author,” the U.S. Copyright Reform Act of 1909 confirmed, “shall include an employer in case of works made for hire.” Messrs. Bellos and Montagu call this definition of employer as author an “offence to common sense.” The author and employer are supposed to be different parties to the transaction, they insist. They argue that the 1909 act discreetly restored the “feudal” pre-1710 system of buy-outs by giving employer-owners an incentive to buy up and exploit authors’ rights (soon to be known as intellectual property, or IP”).

Thanks to Johann Christian Bach’s precedent, the Summy Co. and Warner/Chappell Music raked in around $2 million between 1949 and 2016 from the rights to “Happy Birthday to You.” In 1996, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers even tried to shake down the Girl Scouts for singing “God Bless America” around the campfire. By then, the United States had turned from pirate to international IP policeman, pushing the expansion of copyright across the world.

Fifty years ago, the authors write, the value of cross-border copyright licensing was less than a billion dollars. By 2021, it was $508 billion. The wealth of 16 of the world’s 50 richest people, they claim, derives “in whole or part from copyright industries.” While copyright law has spread across the globe, copyright ownership has centralized. The capital valuations of Microsoft, Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, Meta and Disney are, the authors write, “almost entirely constituted” by the ownership and sale of copyright material. The income of musicians and writers, meanwhile, has declined.

To the authors, it is as if intellectual property were back in the hands of a “small cartel of wealthy printers.” As copyright spreads, the “tax on reading” once paid by 17th-century Londoners has become a global levy on everything from phone apps to Mickey Mouse plushies. They estimate that the U.S., heartland of an “empire of I.P.,” extracts a “net tribute” of $80 billion from the rest of the world. “There is probably no way of computing,” the authors assert, “what share of your expenditure trickles upwards through retailers and distributors and manufacturers to the ultimate owner of the almost everlasting rent-generating monopolies.”

. . . .

Immanuel Kant thought writing could no more be owned than a “puff of hot air,” but the philosophers at the Walt Disney Co. proved otherwise. The initial copyright on Mickey Mouse was set to expire in 1984 until Disney’s lobbying secured a 20-year extension in the Copyright Act of 1976. Disney obtained a further extension in the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. Though Mickey’s earliest incarnations entered the public domain on Jan. 1, his earning potential is regularly refreshed by tweaks to his design.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The end of the social network

From The Economist:

Facebook may be turning 20 on February 4th, but it is just as much of a magnet for controversy and cash today as when it was a brash, break-everything teenager. On January 31st Mark Zuckerberg, the social network’s founder, was harangued by American senators over the spread of harmful material. The next day he announced another set of glittering results for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, which is now valued at $1.2trn. Yet even as social media reliably draw vast amounts of attention from addicts and critics alike, they are undergoing a profound but little-noticed transformation.

The weird magic of online social networks was to combine personal interactions with mass communication. Now this amalgam is splitting in two again. Status updates from friends have given way to videos from strangers that resemble a hyperactive tv. Public posting is increasingly migrating to closed groups, rather like email. What Mr Zuckerberg calls the digital “town square” is being rebuilt—and posing problems.

This matters, because social media are how people experience the internet. Facebook itself counts more than 3bn users. Social apps take up nearly half of mobile screen time, which in turn consumes more than a quarter of waking hours. They gobble up 40% more time than they did in 2020, as the world has gone online. As well as being fun, social media are the crucible of online debate and a catapult for political campaigns. In a year when half the world heads to the polls, politicians from Donald Trump to Narendra Modi will be busy online.

The striking feature of the new social media is that they are no longer very social. Inspired by TikTok, apps like Facebook increasingly serve a diet of clips selected by artificial intelligence according to a user’s viewing behaviour, not their social connections. Meanwhile, people are posting less. The share of Americans who say they enjoy documenting their life online has fallen from 40% to 28% since 2020. Debate is moving to closed platforms, such as WhatsApp and Telegram.

The lights have gone out in the town square. Social media have always been opaque, since every feed is different. But TikTok, a Chinese-owned video phenomenon, is a black box to researchers. Twitter, rebranded as X, has published some of its code but tightened access to data about which tweets are seen. Private messaging groups are often fully encrypted.

Some of the consequences of this are welcome. Political campaigners say they have to tone down their messages to win over private groups. A provocative post that attracts “likes” in the X bear pit may alienate the school parents’ WhatsApp group. Posts on messaging apps are ordered chronologically, not by an engagement-maximising algorithm, reducing the incentive to sensationalise. In particular, closed groups may be better for the mental health of teenagers, who struggled when their private lives were dissected in public.

In the hyperactive half of social media, behaviour-based algorithms will bring you posts from beyond your community. Social networks can still act as “echo chambers” of self-reinforcing material. But a feed that takes content from anywhere at least has the potential to spread the best ideas farthest.

Yet this new world of social-media brings its own problems. Messaging apps are largely unmoderated. For small groups, that is good: platforms should no more police direct messages than phone companies should monitor calls. In dictatorships encrypted chats save lives. But Telegram’s groups of 200,000 are more like unregulated broadcasts than conversations. Politicians in India have used WhatsApp to spread lies that would surely have been removed from an open network like Facebook.

As people move to closed groups, the open networks left behind are less useful because of the decline in public posting. During the covid-19 pandemic, scientists and doctors contributed to an online debate which contained real insight as well as misinformation. Open-source intelligence flowed when Russia invaded Ukraine. Today those conversations are disappearing or moving to closed channels, slowing the spread of ideas. The people still weighing in on the public networks, meanwhile, are disproportionately male and likely to describe themselves as very left- or right-wing: bores, in plain English.

What’s more, the open-network algorithms driven by users’ behaviour seem primed to spread the spiciest videos. For something to go viral on a social network, people had to choose to share it. Now they endorse it simply by watching, as the algorithm rewards content that attracts the most engagement. Deliberate curation has been replaced by a system that taps straight into the id. Provocateurs like Mr Trump or Nayib Bukele, the favourite in this week’s election in El Salvador, stand to benefit, as do misinformation merchants. Platforms say they are better at weeding out fakes. Taylor Swift, the latest high-profile victim of a deepfake, might disagree.

More urgent even than the rise of fake news is a lack of the real sort. Mr Zuckerberg once said he wanted Facebook to be like a personalised newspaper. But since the network’s pivot to entertainment, news makes up only 3% of what people see on it. Across social media only 19% of adults share news stories weekly, down from 26% in 2018. Publications like BuzzFeed News, which relied on social distribution, have perished. That is their lookout (and ours). But it is everyone’s problem when nearly half of young people say that, just as the platforms decide news is no longer interesting, social media are their main source of news.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG notes that this is presented as a trend in the OP. The article also recognizes that people individually and in groups change over time.

From a seller’s standpoint, you can’t assume the formula that worked wonderfully five years ago will continue to work this year or next. It’s not just because people react to shiny new things, it’s also because groups of people, including age groups, change over time. Last year’s breakthrough product or last decade’s standard does not necessarily fit well with changing social preferences.

Technology can certainly have huge impact on the behaviors of individuals and groups. PG is old enough to remember a time before everyone had a television. People who owned one talked about people and events that needed to be explained to those who didn’t own a television. It was a big deal when a family acquired their first television set.

Television was a true mass medium because everyone watched the same channels, which were limited in number. Today, of course, it’s 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On). As the OP suggests, Facebook is rightly concerned about becoming CBS or NBC.

Amazon Turns $2.7 Billion Loss in 2022 to a Profit of $30 Billion in 2023

From Publishers Weekly:

Cost cuts and a record holiday season, which included a 9% fourth-quarter increase in online sales, turned a $2.7 billion loss in 2022 to a $30.4 billion profit last year at Amazon, the tech giant reported Thursday afternoon. Operating income jumped from $12.2 billion in 2022 to $36.9 billion last year, with the majority of that profit coming from its web services division, AWS, which had income of $24.6 billion. Total company sales increased 12%, to $574.8 billion.

Following 2022’s disappointing year, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said that reducing costs was his top priority, and the company undertook a number of initiatives to cut expenses, including implementing layoffs throughout the company. Amazon is believed to have eliminated some 27,000 jobs last year, and among the casualties were staff members from the now-shuttered Comixology, who were let go last January.

In addition to layoffs, Jassy attributed the financial improvement to the reorganization of Amazon’s U.S. fulfillment network along regional lines, a move Jassy said improved delivery times while also cutting costs. The reorg, the company reported, allowed the company to deliver 4 billion units to U.S. customers within one day of ordering last year.

. . . .

Looking at 2024, Amazon predicted that net sales will increase between 8% and 13% compared with the first quarter of 2023. Operating income is expected to be between $8.0 billion and $12.0 billion, compared with $4.8 billion in first quarter 2023. The unexpectedly strong finish to 2023 and solid outlook for 2024 helped to drive up Amazon’s stock price, with its shares selling around $171 per share this morning, up roughly 7% from Thursday.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Make It Better for Younger Readers

From HypeWriteai.com:

Instruction: Please rewrite the following content (to make it better for younger readers):

Prompt: Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids.

Response: In a land not too far away, there lived four adventurous kids named Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. Our tale is about a magical journey they went on after they left the big city of London to stay safe from the noisy air-raids during a time of war.

Prompt: The story so far: in the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

Response: Once upon a time, the universe began with a big bang. Some people aren’t happy about it and think it wasn’t a great idea.

Prompt: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Response: There were really good times and really bad times, lots of smart thinking and lots of silly mistakes. People believed in lots, yet didn’t believe in just as much. It was a time full of light and a time full of darkness, a time of hope and a time of feeling down. We thought we had everything, but also felt like we had nothing. Everyone thought we were on our way to a wonderful place, but also felt like we were heading the opposite way. Basically, the time back then was a lot like it is now, with loud people making sure everyone thought it was the most extreme time ever.

Link to the rest at HypeWriteai.com

Resignations, Censures Follow in Wake of Hugo Awards Controversy

From Publishers Weekly:

Two leaders of Worldcon Intellectual Property (WIP), the nonprofit that holds the service marks of the World Science Fiction Society, have reportedly stepped down from their posts following accusations of censorship in the voting process for the 2023 Hugo Awards.

In a January 30 statement, WIP officials announced that director Dave McCarty and board chair Kevin Standlee have both resigned from their positions. McCarty was also censured for “public comments that have led to harm of the goodwill and value of our marks and for actions of the Hugo Administration Committee of the Chengdu Worldcon that he presided over.” Standlee was “reprimanded” for “public comments that mistakenly led people to believe that we are not servicing our marks.”

In addition, WIP announced that two others, Chen Shi and Ben Yalow, were also censured for “actions of the Hugo Administration Committee of the Chengdu Worldcon [they] presided over.” The statement adds that there “may be other actions taken or to be taken that are not in this announcement.” Yalow, who co-chaired the Chengdu Worldcon with Shi, is no longer listed on the 2024 Glasgow Worldcon committee and staff page.

“WIP takes very seriously the recent complaints about the 2023 Hugo Award process,” the statement reads, “and complaints about comments made by persons holding official positions in WIP.”

The Hugo Awards are the most prestigious honors in the sci-fi/fantasy community. The awards, administered by the World Science Fiction Society, are awarded annually at the group’s global convention, Worldcon. Last year’s Worldcon was held for the first time in China, in Chengdu.

The resignations and disciplinary actions come after the nomination data for the 2023 awards was made public on January 20 and it was revealed that certain authors and books—including R.F. Kuang’s hit novel Babel—had been inexplicably deemed “not eligible” for the Hugo. Kuang is Chinese American, and her work draws heavily from Chinese culture and history. Many fans and authors have speculated that state censorship—or self-censorship under the state’s watch—was the reason for the opaque ineligibility rulings by the Chengdu–based committee.

Also deemed ineligible were Chinese Canadian author Xiran Jay Zhao, whose book Iron Widow is about China’s only female emperor, and writer Paul Weimer, who expressed concerns in 2021 over holding Worldcon 2023 in Chengdu.

In response to the outcry, McCarty took to Facebook on January 20 and attempted (sometimes curtly) to address hundreds of comments from angered authors, including Neil Gaiman and Silvia Moreno-Garcia. An episode of Netflix’s TV series The Sandman, based on Gaiman’s comic series, was also declared ineligible.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Against the Current

From TLS:

On July 4, 1845, a man from Concord, Massachusetts, declared his own independence and went into the woods nearby. On the shore of a pond there, Henry David Thoreau built a small wooden cabin, which he would call home for two years, two months and two days. From this base he began a philosophical project of “deliberate” living, intending to “earn [a] living by the labor of my hands only”. Though an ostensibly radical undertaking, this experiment was not a break with his past, but the logical culmination of years of searching and groping. Since graduating from Harvard in 1837 Thoreau had tried out many ways of earning his keep, and fortunately proved competent in almost everything he set his mind to. Asked once to describe his professional situation, he responded: “I don’t know whether mine is a profession, or a trade, or what not … I am a schoolmaster, a private tutor, a surveyor, a gardener, a farmer, a painter (I mean a house-painter), a carpenter, a mason, a day-laborer, a pencil-maker, a glass-paper-maker, a writer, and sometimes a poetaster”.

From this position, with any number of routes before him, yet none decided on, Thoreau was particularly well placed to consider questions about the nature, purpose and fundamental meaning of work. Yet he was also a born contrarian, a natural dissenter, with a knack for swimming against the current (his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke of him as “spiced throughout with rebellion”), and when finally he emerged from the woods he was set not on a trade or career, but on life as a communal gadfly – a professional pain in the neck. “I do not propose to write an ode to dejection”, he writes in Walden (1854), “but to brag as lustily as a chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.” His self-imposed seclusion had allowed him to see his outsiderness anew, to understand it from within, to become of a piece with it.

This was a time of unprecedented change in American history. In a generation the country had gone from a motley collection of states, lagging the European powers, to a key player on the world stage. It was a sharp and swift upheaval, resulting not only in a dramatic depredation of the natural environment, but also in a dangerous straining of the country’s social fabric and a remaking of the American collective psyche. Thoreau had already seen the effects in 1843, when he visited New York City, which was then in the vanguard of the great transformation. The rapid technological advancements, the piling up of wealth, the relentless drive to prosperity, the general acceleration of life – such markers of progress may, he worried, end up killing the humanity in us. “I walked through New York yesterday – and met no real and living person”, he wrote in his diary. The future may have seemed radiant to some, but Thoreau was not impressed: “I am ashamed of my eyes that behold it. It is a thousand times meaner than I could have imagined. It is something to hate – that’s the advantage it will be to me”. That meanness would in time follow him back to Massachusetts. In Walden he protests the arrival of the railway in Concord, a stone’s throw from his cabin: “What an infinite bustle! I am awakened almost every night by the panting of the locomotive. It interrupts my dreams. There is no sabbath”.

At a moment when everything in America seemed to be accelerating, Thoreau, always true to form, came up with a counterproposal: slow down, do as little as you need to. Nothing, ideally. “Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” Thoreau wanted not only to bring back Sabbath to a world that seemed to have lost it, but also to re-signify it. “The order of things should be somewhat reversed”, he had said a few years before, in his Harvard commencement speech. The “seventh should be man’s day of toil … and the other six his Sabbath of the affections of the soul”.

. . . .

Three recent books give us a sense of how the chanticleer of Concord keeps us awake today. In Thoreau’s Axe: Distraction and discipline in American culture, Caleb Smith uses Thoreau as the starting point for a wider discussion of attention and wakefulness in nineteenth-century America. Our concerns with distraction and dwindling mental focus, Smith argues, are nothing new. They were prefigured, centuries ago, by important public conversations – an “attention revival”, Smith calls them – sparked in America by the arrival of new economic systems and technologies, which threatened to dismantle traditional forms of life. Smith discusses twenty-eight short texts on attention by religious authors, fiction writers, social reformers and spiritual seekers. He examines Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851), for example. We see here an Ishmael who, because of his “opium-like listlessness”, proves to be the most incompetent of masthead watchmen. “Over the course of three years at sea, he fails to call out a single whale.” Ishmael suffers chronically from a form of distraction that places him among the “romantic, melancholy, and absent-minded young men, disgusted with the carking cares of earth”, a condition to which we can relate only too well. “Today, in our age of new media and chronic attention deficit”, Smith writes, such “passages from the nineteenth century have a strange resonance.” His book is “a salvage operation”. In that century’s “ways of valuing and practicing attention” he hopes to find resources for “living through the present”.

Smith’s book has the merit of showing a meaningful continuity not only between our time and Thoreau’s, but also between Thoreau and like-minded thinkers of his century. It places his work in the broader tradition of “spiritual exercises”, developed over centuries by philosophers and religious thinkers, designed to “detach people’s minds from the passions and drama of everyday social life so they can focus on higher, more enduring realities”. As Smith sees it, whether Thoreau was conscious of it or not, he was “reworking an older asceticism”. Just as Christian penitents strove to master their flesh and discipline their lives, so Thoreau acted on himself to become more wakeful – or “mindful”, as we would say today. In this reading his famous walks in the woods were no ordinary perambulations, but opportunities to practise what he called “the discipline of looking always at what is to be seen”.

Link to the rest at TLS

Authors are collaborating with AI—and each other

From The Economist:

Imagine living in a rundown apartment building on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. When covid-19 hits in 2020, you do not have the money to escape to a second home in the Hamptons or the Hudson Valley. Instead, in the evening you make your way up to the rooftop of your building, where, to your surprise, other tenants have come, too. You do not know most of them, but after some awkwardness, everyone starts meeting nightly, drinks in hand, to share stories about family, music, September 11th, love and, equally—inevitably—death.

This is the premise of “Fourteen Days”, a “collaborative novel” edited by Margaret Atwood (of “The Handmaid’s Tale” fame) and Douglas Preston (author of “The Lost City of the Monkey God”). In addition to Ms Atwood and Mr Preston, 34 notable authors of varied genres and backgrounds contributed to the book, including James Shapiro, a playwright, and the novelists Emma Donoghue, Dave Eggers and John Grisham. Reading “Fourteen Days” is like sitting by a campfire, with characters taking turns telling tales about their lives. (This conceit is helpful, given the number of collaborators. The book’s plot is simple, so each character’s story can stand on its own.)

“Fourteen Days” is one of a growing number of new works, both fictional and factual, which are written collaboratively in some way. Stewart Brand, a writer and futurist from California, is working on a book entitled “Maintenance: Of Everything”, which allows early readers to comment on draft chapters. In January Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s minister of digital affairs, and Glen Weyl, a noted economist and co-founder of the RadicalxChange Foundation, a group of activists, signed a contract to write a book, entitled “Plurality”, on digital democracy together with dozens of contributors. ai services, such as Chatgpt, have started to become co-authors, too. A more collective approach to authorship is on the rise.

There is a rich history of collaboration in writing. Just think of the Bible or the “Kalevala”, a Finnish epic, which were both written by many hands. Homer, if he was in fact a single person, probably synthesised bits of oral poetry for his “Iliad” and “Odyssey”. In the Renaissance plays had many authors, who often added new characters as they saw fit. Only after the invention of the printing press in the mid-15th century did books became a business. Single-author books proved easier to market, and the “myth of the solitary author” established itself, says Scott Rettberg, who leads the Centre for Digital Narrative at the University of Bergen in Norway.

In the 20th century collective authorship made something of a comeback. In the 1960s the idea re-emerged for all sorts of reasons, including as a counteroffensive against cultural conventions. In 1969 two dozen journalists wrote “Naked Came the Stranger”, a deliberately terrible book poking fun at American literary standards. (It became a surprise bestseller.) In the 1990s new technological possibilities prompted writers to work together—or, more accurately, to link to each other. A noted example is “Hypertext Hotel”, a collaborative writing space built online in 1991 by Robert Coover, an American experimental novelist, which uses a spatial metaphor to weave stories together.

. . . .

Chances are, your bookshelf contains an example of a literary collaboration, say by Lee Child, who wrote some of the “Jack Reacher” series with his brother, Andrew, or James Patterson, whose bibliography of co-authors reads like a name-dropper’s address book. “Fourteen Days” nods to this history of collaborative writing. In their foreword, Ms Atwood and Mr Preston cite the influence of “The Decameron” (1353) by Giovanni Boccaccio, a collection of stories about a small group of people who shelter in a villa near Florence to escape the bubonic plague.

Even if these projects do not blaze new trails, it is clear that something is different. The tools to write together have improved in recent years. Mr Brand publishes his draft chapters on Books in Progress, a website with a user-friendly commenting tool. He celebrates Google Docs: its features make co-authoring extremely easy. (Economist writers and editors are avid users.)

What Mr Weyl and Ms Tang are attempting is more novel. They intend to employ tools of the kind typically used to develop open-source software to co-ordinate their contributors and even “help them find a single authorial voice”, says Mr Weyl.

Their point of departure is Microsoft’s GitHub, a website that helps coders collaborate on open-source projects. But they have also added features, such as voting, to make it easier for contributors to agree on wording. Participants can earn a digital currency by doing tasks, too. This rewards their participation (and offers a share of the profits if the book makes money). This set-up is meant to create the right incentives, bribing people to do boring tasks like fixing typos and line editing.

Readers have become accustomed to collectively created works, Mr Brand argues: “We’re already living in a more interactive collaborative mode.” Social media has conditioned people to multi-author texts. Many have even contributed to collective works, such as Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia. But there are also all sorts of manuals, textbooks and writers’ groups for fan fiction, where people add and comment on new twists to existing works.

Generative ai will add more to the mix. It is not just that the algorithms powering services like Chatgpt are themselves collective works of sorts (trained on huge amounts of text scraped from the internet). Such models are also conversational machines, which can suggest phrases, give feedback and answer questions.

“Cyborg authorship” is what Mr Rettberg of the University of Bergen calls this. He already has more than one tech-supported writing project under his belt (and recently co-curated an exhibition of books written with the help of ai at the University of California, Berkeley, called “More Than Meets ai”). He published a book jointly with colleagues, in which Chatgpt is invoked to generate reviews of famous works in the style of well-known authors—think Jane Austen writing about William Burroughs’s “Naked Lunch”.

Writing with collaborators, be they human or artificial, will only become more common. But individual authors will still dominate creatively. That is because collectively written books rarely make for great literature. The many contributions to “Fourteen Days” are cleverly woven together. But the book does not quite gel (even if it does have a surprising ending).

Link to the rest at The Economist

YA Romance Requires Crazy Imagination and Full-Blown Dreams

From Publishers Weekly:

Author Jillian Dodd has proved that perseverance and savoring the process are key to success. To date, she has written 50 books, including seven series and one standalone title. Dodd has amassed a mighty fan base and sold more than 4.5 million books. In addition to her success on the page, Dodd’s That Boy series is currently in development for a television show. She spoke with BookLife about capturing young adult voices in her fiction and taking the reins of her publishing journey.

How did you start writing YA romances?

I’ve always had a crazy imagination and full-blown dreams. I had a series of dreams about three best friends, two guys and a girl. And, because I’ve always been a huge reader, I needed to know the rest of their story, and which guy she ended up with! So I wrote the story for me. It turned out pretty good, and I thought, “I might have something here.” Those dream scenes are in my first book, That Boy, which is in development as a series! YA fits my voice and writing style, probably because I have the inner voice of a 16-year-old.

Why did you choose self-publishing over traditional publishing?

I tried the traditional route—sent queries, sometimes my manuscript, and tried to get an agent. But I’m not really a rule follower; I’m sure my submissions were awful, even though the story was not. My husband came home one day with a Wall Street Journal article about Amazon’s new self-publishing platform and told me that I should do it myself. I loved the idea of owning my business and controlling every aspect of my journey and the rights to all my books. Humble beginnings, though. I sold 36 copies my first three months, but I was thrilled because I hadn’t told anyone I knew—which meant strangers were reading something I had written. I asked myself what would happen if I really tried to sell them. The following month, I sold 300; the next, 900; the next, 1,800. And I was at a $9.99 e-book price point when, unbeknownst to me, most indies were priced at under $2. The business has changed so much over the years, and it’s pushed me to learn more. I always want to be ahead of the curve and keep growing.

How do you research your books?

I love to travel, so almost all of the wonderful places that show up in my books are places I’ve been. I spend months, sometimes years, doing research before I begin a new series. I need my characters to be real in my head. I want them to have full-blown personalities, from the clothes they wear, cars they drive, places they live, family relationships, favorite foods, horoscopes, and what type of kissers they are. I’ve researched everything from nuclear bomb destruction to boarding school class schedules. Research is a huge part of making my characters and stories come to life. Although I tend to write as a pantser, I’m meticulous in my planning.

Your website showcases not only your books but also merchandise related to the books, such as clothing and accessories. What inspired you to market your own branded merchandise? And do you find it profitable?

If you asked me this question when I started publishing 12 years ago, my answer would have been the same. Once I realized I could create books that would sell, my business goal became to write stories with characters that readers would obsess over and have my own branded store. With a retail and design background, I’m able to be creative in lots of different ways and give superfans all the fun swag and apparel they want. I also have to give a shoutout to my daughter, Kenzie, who has been working with me from the beginning. She’s my brand manager and is a force in keeping me on-brand with everything we do. We most definitely find our store to be profitable, but mostly I love that we fully control the readers’ experience. They can’t get that direct access to me anywhere else.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Here’s a link to Jillian Dodd’s books

And here’s a link to some of Jillian Dodd’s Swag and more of Jillian Dodd’s Swag

PG says Ms. Dodd is a truly professional author. He wonders why more indie authors don’t do the same thing with their author websites.

When Louis Vuitton tries to make you change your brand name

From The BBC:

A small garden supply business called L V Bespoke recently won its fight to keep its name against the French luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton. Experts say such cases have increased “hugely” in the past 18 months as major brands seek to protect their intellectual property. But what actually happens when a multi-national firm comes knocking at your door?

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Victoria Osborne ran a holiday letting business and her husband Lawrence worked in construction.

“When the pandemic arrived, both of our incomes were wiped out literally overnight,” says Mrs Osborne.

Amid what she describes as a “mad panic” the couple, who were renovating their home in Reepham, near Norwich, focused on their garden and began growing their own food while former boat builder Mr Osborne tried his hand at making metal plant supports.

The supports turned out well. So well, in fact, the couple wondered if others would be willing to pay for them. They were.

The business grew from selling the supports on Gumtree and at car boot sales to being featured by the Royal Horticultural Society.

The couple had named the business using their own first initials, and L V Bespoke was born.

The trademark was sent off to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), which receives more than 150,000 registration requests each year, in December 2021. An examiner carried out initial checks and no issues were raised.

But when the application to register the L V Bespoke trademark was made public, Louis Vuitton Malletier objected in March 2022 via lawyers in London claiming the trademark impinged on its intellectual property.

“We were very shocked and surprised,” says Mrs Osborne. “We thought it was a practical joke by one of our friends.

“It was just ludicrous to think they had the rights to the letters “L” and “V” and there was no comparison to be made between our goods and theirs.”

They sought legal advice almost immediately and decided to stick to their guns.

IPO Tribunal Judge Matthew Williams found in the couple’s favour, deciding Louis Vuitton’s opposition had failed “on all grounds”.

Although Louis Vuitton has not responded to the BBC’s requests for comment on the case, Jamie Muir Wood, who represented the firm during the tribunal told the hearing that Louis Vuitton’s trademark contained the letters “L” and “V” and that it was understood those letters “stand for Louis Vuitton”.

He said the Osborne’s logo “contains the same two letters, in the same order, followed by the word ‘bespoke'”. It also contains some slight figurative decoration.

“Conceptually, we say that there is essentially identity or very high similarity because both signs refer to a brand LV,” he told the hearing.

Melanie Harvey, a legal director at Birketts LLP and a chartered trade mark attorney, says the Osbornes’ case is far from unique.

She says in the past 18 months there has been a “huge” rise big firms seeking to protect their trademarks. She says clothing businesses, champagne makers and high end brands were particularly busy protecting their identities at the moment.

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

PG was disappointed that the judge didn’t order LV to pay all of the defendant’s legal bills. Awarding attorney’s fees to the winner in a civil lawsuit helps to discourage foolish and overreaching suits, particularly against defendants who are not particularly wealthy.

A journalist goes undercover to reveal the absurdity of the art scene

From The Washington Post:

“If you are not rich, you’re not getting rich,” the writer Fran Lebowitz once quipped about life in contemporary America. Judging from “Get the Picture,” Bianca Bosker’s mesmerizing new book about New York’s contemporary art scene, Lebowitz might as well have been talking about cultural capital. If you’re not born with it, you probably won’t amass much of it, because the gatekeepers in this book make it clear that they’re not sharing any wealth. “The art world is the way it is because not everyone has access to it. And not everyone understands it. And that’s sort of what creates interest and intrigue,” a gallerist on the Lower East Side tells the author.

Bosker, an Atlantic contributor goes semi-undercover with the 1 percent of cultural capital, in swanky Chelsea galleries and drug-fueled VIP rooms at Miami’s Art Basel. Her goal is to figure out why contemporary art attracts so much money, status and (occasionally) talent. She spent several years taking entry-level jobs in galleries and artist studios so she could vividly capture the new class hierarchies in American culture and the subtle cues that mark cultural distinction.

In one memorable scene, a former assistant at the prestigious Gagosian Gallery describes how her employer had “such stringent guidelines on answering the phone that her boss made her record herself rehearsing the one-word greeting (‘Gagosian.’), then practice till she aced the intonation: curt with a downward inflection, because ‘you do not want to sound happy.’”

Bosker learns that money is never enough in the New York art world; it must be the right kind of money, preferably old, or at least vaguely attached to cultural prestige. “Gallerists hid the prices, then refused to sell you a piece, even if you could pay for it,” she writes. She patiently talks to an endless succession of nepo babies who are reluctant to discuss their inherited privilege, so it’s refreshing when the gallerist Rob Dimin admits he would never last in the New York art world without his trust fund: “To get to this point without the family support — hell [expletive] no.”

In a telling scene, the artist Julie Curtiss panics when her paintings sell at record prices at auctions, not just because she doesn’t get a cut from secondary sales but because hype that comes too quickly can destroy careers. When the art becomes associated with nouveau riche investors, top galleries turn up their noses, and careers can collapse quicker than a meme stock.

The galleries inform her that the way to avoid this is to sell art only to “Good Persons,” which tends to mean wealthy White people with friends at powerful institutions. One gallerist tells her, “You don’t necessarily want just, like, Joe Schmo to buy it and put it in his one-bedroom Bed-Stuy apartment and it never sees the light of day again.”

The book also asks deeper questions about the ways art institutions now fetishize political radicalism, while often abusing or excluding those who live it. Contemporary art galleries are happy to exhibit Black, queer or even (occasionally) working-class artists; they just prefer not to sell the art to them or share boardrooms with them. At the time Bosker’s book was written, there were 176 members of the Art Dealers Association of America, one of them African American.

Meanwhile, salaries in the art world are so absurdly low that only rich kids with family money can afford the entry-level jobs, turning galleries into self-selecting clubs that perpetuate their own privilege. Bosker exposes the often-abusive labor practices of art institutions and shows how gallerists, artists and curators take pride in treating their employees like vermin. They “hire by feel and fire on whims,” and one Manhattan gallerist brags about putting assistants “through hell the first day.”

Language also helps to keep outsiders away. Bosker quotes a widely discussed paper on the birth of “International Art English,” a blatantly exclusionary dialect, “not necessarily for communicating,” that instead serves to build tribal identity among art elites. It grew, the argument goes, out of dubious translations of French theory in American magazines in the 1980s and still shapes art-industry-speak, where the francophone suffix -ité is often applied awkwardly to made-up English words. Bosker quotes a news release describing artworks that allegedly “summon forces of indexicality and iconicity from the aspirations, alibis and abuses of sovereignty.”

“Art devotees spoke like they were trapped in dictionaries and being forced to chew their way out,” Bosker writes. When she told a curator that a performance art piece was “boring,” the curator disagreed: It wasn’t boring, it was “durational.”

Thankfully, Bosker’s book is neither boring nor durational. She has written a dark comedy of manners, and what she exposes here might be a new kind of country club mentality, where the cultural elite can no longer exclude people based on race, gender or sexual identity, so they come up with clever new ways to build moats around their little castles. “Outsiders,” a gallerist explains, “have zero social currency and just can’t help anyone.”

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

wooden skewers – Wikipedia

Extreme Anti-Free Speech Codes Rule American Universities, A New Report Reveals

From Newsweek:

You can’t make this stuff up: Stockton University investigated a college student for the crime of making Donald Trump his Zoom background. American University launched a harassment investigation against pro-choice students who criticized the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling. Syracuse University investigated another student for a slightly risqué scavenger hunt. And these colorful incidents of campus hostility toward free express from recent years aren’t outliers, if a new analysis from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is anything to go by; they are sadly representative of the repressive, fun-killing and anti-free speech atmosphere that has infected our system of higher education.

FIRE’s annual free speech report, which dropped today, evaluated 489 of America’s colleges and universities and found that an alarming 85 percent maintain “speech codes” that imperil free expression. It rated each university with either a red, yellow, or green light based on how restrictive their policies are on students’ free speech. In an unsurprising twist, some of the country’s most elite universities like Princeton and Northwestern were awarded “red light” ratings, while other top-tier institutions such as Harvard and Yale were flagged as “yellow light” schools for their less-egregious but still restrictive policies.

While the percentage of schools receiving a “green light” rating for their free-speech-friendly policies did increase in the last year, so did the proportion of “red light” schools—for the second year in a row.

Let’s face it: Illiberal policies that suppress free speech, which is a basic human right and the foundation of this country, are still rampant on American college campuses.

. . . .

This is a serious issue that should concern everyone, not just college students or their parents.

Why?

Well, because the censorious attitudes that start on campus don’t stay there. People used to dismiss what was happening on college campuses as just isolated pockets of extremism and reassure us that people would “grow out of it” after they enter the real world. Instead, we’ve seen many graduates take the hostility toward free speech that they’re immersed in during college with them out into their jobs in business, technology, and government.

Progressive Spotify employees now openly try to censor Joe Rogan, one of the platform’s most popular voices, because he dares air opinions and information they disagree with or believe is inaccurate. Netflix staffers dramatically walk out in protest against their employer for daring to air Dave Chappelle’s hit specials which include jokes about transgender people. Random tech and support staffers at the New York Times somehow feel entitled to dictate what opinions are off-limits for the opinion page to publish.

You get the picture.

It’s sad that so many people in positions of relative power and influence have internalized such overt hostility toward free expression, but it’s ultimately not surprising. College is where we send our young people to become adults and prepare for the workforce; for many, it’s some of the most formative years of their lives. If the campus cultures they’re immersed in are hostile to the traditional American principle of free speech, is it any wonder they come out having internalized this message?

Regrettably, it’s a tough sell to convince people who matured into adults while drinking this Kool-aid that their worldview is wrong. So, while some may be swayed, there’s really no fixing this problem unless we root it out at the source. And deeply ideological college administrators are not going to magically wake up one day and see the light.

We must force public colleges and universities to respect free expression and adopt policies that protect free speech.

The first step is transparency, which institutions like FIRE are doing a great job of providing. Yet transparency alone won’t change things unless we back it up with action.

Americans should vote with their wallets, and pointedly refuse to send their children to any college that receives a “red light” on FIRE’s index. Money talks, and even the wokest of administrators will be forced to course correct if their schools see a large decline in interest and start to slip down the rankings.

Moreover, public universities are taxpayer-funded, and as taxpayers, we are fully entitled to attach strings to that money. Whether it’s at the state or federal level, lawmakers can and should attach requirements that public schools enact policies that respect students’ First Amendment rights and embrace a culture of free expression—or else see their funding slashed.

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

PG hopes that a large percentage of college students can recognize propaganda when they see or hear it. He has read that alumni donations have been dropping for a great many institutions of higher education across the country and hopes that this sort of protest continues and grows to increase the pressure to clamp down on the speech police wherever they are found.

Additionally, he sees no problem for state and federal legislators to object loudly to this sort of forced indoctrination in public colleges and universities and take further steps in funding to demonstrate the seriousness in their objections.

Unless things have changed a great deal since PG was in college, government-guaranteed student loans is a big contributor to tuition at private universities in addition to numerous government research grants, work-study programs, veterans benefits, etc., etc., so even private institutions with large endowments would feel a pinch.

The Box Guy

I started as an artist and I had a side job moving some heavy boxes for a publishing company. They had just gotten a Mac for their art department, the department that creates the book covers. I was kind of showing the art director a thing or two about how to use a Mac. And one day everyone went out to lunch and I jumped on the computer and designed a book jacket and slipped it in the pile to go to the review board in New York. They picked my jacket and when the art director got back to Boston, he wanted to know who designed it and I said, “Me.” He was like, “The box guy?”

Biz Stone

Outsiders Book Covers: Design Tips and Inspiration

From The Book Designer:

If someone asks you to name some popular young adult fiction writers today, you’d probably mention authors like John Green, Cassandra Clare, J.K. Rowling, and maybe even Louisa May Alcott. But back in the day, S.E. Hinton, author of The Outsiders, was—and still is, in my opinion—one of the best YA fiction authors around, known for her novels set in Oklahoma, where she was born. 

Hinton attended Will Rogers High School and graduated in 1966. While still a student, she wrote her first (and most popular) book, The Outsiders, which was published in 1967. The coming-of-age novel revolves around the Greasers, a group of working-class boys, and their rivalry with the wealthier Socs (Socials). The protagonist, Ponyboy Curtis, is a Greaser who struggles with societal expectations and class conflicts. 

Because this novel explores evergreen themes of friendship, loyalty, identity, and the impact of social class on individuals, especially teens, it has become a classic among readers who are reminded of the prejudicial systems that existed in their own schools and neighborhoods. In 1983, the novel was adapted into a movie starring Tom Cruise, Ralph Macchio, and Patric Swayze. 

It’s been nearly six decades since The Outsiders was first published, and there have been many reprints and book cover designs since then. In this article, we’ll cover the various The Outsiders book covers that have been released.  

The Outsider’s Paperback Covers

The paperback covers for The Outsiders are some of my favorite covers because they all depict the central theme of the novel: youth. The first three follow a similar concept: bright and dull orange hues, the landscape of a small town, and young (school)boys taking center stage. While you might not guess that the story is set in a school, you’ll know almost instantly that the plot revolves around teenagers or young adults trying to navigate life in their town. 

The colors of the first three covers themselves are striking to the eye—especially the first one that depicts a rising sun shining over the town and exposing the contours on the faces of the people illustrated atop it. In contrast, the bottom-left cover shows only the silhouettes of young people, which can trigger curiosity and a closer look from readers who happen upon the book cover for the first time. 

Unlike the first three covers, the bottom-right cover is in greyscale and only features a muted image of a young man seemingly looking at the floor. While there’s only a single person on the cover—rather than many people, as in the other three covers—you’re still able to decipher the theme of “youth” that S. E. Hinton based her work upon.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

Want to Improve Your Amazon Ranking? Improve or Update All of Your Book Descriptions

From Jane Friedman:

Let’s say you’re running some Facebook ads and you’re getting lots of clicks, but no sales. This tells Amazon your book isn’t relevant to the search, and that will impact your search rank on Amazon.

Really?

Yes, really.

Amazon’s goal is to serve up things its consumers want to buy; the site isn’t there for window shoppers, and the website is quite intelligent. If someone lands on your book page and immediately clicks off without engaging with your page at all (expanding your book description to reach more, scrolling down to read the reviews), that tells Amazon your book isn’t right for the market; consequently, it becomes harder to rank. So if you’re thinking about your own Facebook ads (or even your Amazon ads) that are getting lots of clicks but no buys, you may want to consider how it’s impacting your relevancy score and your overall visibility on Amazon.

So, how far back does Amazon go when considering your overall relevancy score?

Remember that first book you published that didn’t do well? The cover wasn’t great—you knew it could have or should have been better—but it was your first book, so you took it in stride. You learned from your mistakes and you moved on.

The thing is, Amazon never moves on. Somewhere, lurking in the back end of Amazon is a black mark beside your name, and that mark means, This author once published a book no one seemed to like = low relevancy.

Amazon cares about relevancy. It’s how the entire site—with all of its millions of products—manages to find exactly the thing you’re looking for when you need it. Plug in a few keywords and, boom, the exact widget, lotion, or book you were looking for appears. This is why relevancy is so important and why making sure everything connected to your Amazon account (even the older books you’ve published) is in tiptop shape. This point can’t be overemphasized.

The other element of this as it relates to Amazon ads is that the less conversion you have on your Amazon book page (i.e., the lower your relevancy score), the more your ads will cost you. And if your ads never seem to do well across the board, Amazon will ding your relevancy score as well. If you have an ad set that’s not doing well, kill it.

Is there any hope for that older book that didn’t do well? Fortunately, there are some options. Often, it means revisiting an older title, maybe republishing it, revamping the cover, or in extreme cases, taking it down entirely. But that’s pretty much a last resort.

A few years ago I noticed that our website wasn’t ranking as well as it should for the term “book marketing.” Considering that that’s the work we do, it’s a pretty important term to rank for. Upon investigation, I discovered that a page on our website was broken. By “broken,” I mean it had no keywords, no title tags; it was basically a mess. I fixed it and within about three months, our website was back and ranking again.

You can use the same method for an older book: fix what needs fixing and show Amazon that you mean business. The algorithm keeps a close eye on fixes, updates, and any polishing you do to your book or book page. It’s easier than ever to get back on track, and small changes and enhancements can help build your status in the Amazon ecosystem and grow your presence for both your author page and your book pages.

A great way to get back on track: improve your book descriptions

Whether we’re talking about Amazon or any other online retailer, book descriptions are more important than most authors realize. Too often I see simple details overlooked that can make or break an author’s ability to turn an Amazon browser into the next book buyer.

Dumb down the description

Most people bristle at the saying “dumb it down,” but dumbing it down doesn’t mean your audience is stupid; it means you’re making your content easier to absorb. Brains are meant to conserve energy, and reading long, complex text exhausts the brain and consequently your target reader. Fewer words, shorter sentences. Using eighth-grade writing doesn’t mean you sound like an eighth grader; it reduces the amount of mental energy a consumer needs to use to absorb what you’re telling them.

Make the description easy to scan

If you have huge blocks of text without any consideration for spacing, boldface type, bulleted lists, short paragraphs, or other forms of highlighting that help the reader scan and zero in on the best of the best you have to offer, that’s unlikely to attract readers. When your description is visually and psychologically appealing, it invites the reader to keep going, instead of clicking to a different page.

Our minds are image processors, not text processors, so huge pieces of text that fill a page overwhelm the mind and in fact slow down the processing time considerably.

When we’re looking at websites, our attention span is even shorter than it is when we’re reading a book. Even on sites like Amazon—where consumers go to buy, and often spend a lot of time comparing products and reading reviews—it’s important to keep in mind that most potential readers will move on if your description is too cumbersome.

The first sentence in the description should be a grabber. Often, this is where authors use their elevator pitches. This text could also be an excerpt of an enthusiastic review or some other endorsement; regardless, it should be bolded, and your elevator pitch should always follow this format.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Are the myths of Pandora and Prometheus a parable for AI?

From The Economist:

In Greek mythology Prometheus, a Titan, stole fire from Mount Olympus to give to humans, whom he created. That did not go down well with Zeus, king of the gods. He sentenced Prometheus to the daily torture of having his regenerating liver eaten by an eagle. For mankind, Zeus devised a different punishment. He created Pandora and gave her a jar, which he warned her not to open. When her curiosity got the better of her and Pandora lifted the top, all manner of evil was released into the world. Only hope remained trapped under the lid.

A new production from the San Francisco Ballet reimagines the myth for modern California. “Mere Mortals”, which premièred on January 26th for a limited run, is stylistically and sonically unique. Pandora’s story is an allegory for technological progress, explains Tamara Rojo, the ballet’s artistic director. She commissioned the piece with artificial intelligence (ai) in mind. “It is the perfect story to tell when we’re talking about the moral questions that we should be asking ourselves while developing these new technologies,” says Ms Rojo. Is ai a destructive force that humans have unleashed, an empowering tool offering them godlike power or both?

When she arrived in San Francisco from the English National Ballet in 2022, Ms Rojo’s goal was to tell stories relevant to the Bay Area and to California. It does not get more relevant than ai. Just west of the opera house is Hayes Valley, a small neighbourhood nicknamed “Cerebral Valley” after all of the ai techies who have moved there.

The result is an ancient story steeped in futurism. Ballet traditionalists may at first be taken aback. Signs outside the theatre warn guests that dry ice and strobe lights will be used during the performance. The dancers wear black, skin-tight, leathery costumes. The curtain opens on a stage filled with fog, red light and shadows. An electronic hum emanates from the orchestra pit. Throughout the production, the musicians play alongside an electronic score composed by Sam Shepherd, a British producer and dj also known as Floating Points.

The production does more than just hint at the progress and peril that ai offers mankind. ai has been used to help put on the show. Several large screens set behind the dancers display abstract images—crackling blue sparkles, a red sun, earthly landscapes depicted in celestial pastels—that set the tone for the performance. Hamill Industries, a creative studio based in Barcelona, made some of them using Stable Diffusion, an ai model that generates images from text descriptions and other prompts. The result is visually overwhelming—but that is the point. There is a tension between the dozens of bodies on stage and the images playing behind them, as if the humans are competing with the ai-generated art for the audience’s attention.

Link to the rest at The Economist