Knowing What We Know: How Information Was Born

From The Wall Street Journal:

Knowledge is power, Francis Bacon wrote in 1597, using a quill and the Elizabethans’ distinctive “secretary hand.” Thomas Hobbes, who started out as Bacon’s secretary, agreed: Scientia potentia est, Hobbes wrote in the 1668 edition of “Leviathan.” Generations of spymasters, dictators and tax inspectors concurred, and so, as the rubble of the Humanities confirms, did the French theorist Michel Foucault. Yet knowledge is no longer power.

Today digital information is power. The quantity of information debases its value: The printed newspaper is dematerializing before our eyes. The smartphone offers more than a different physical experience from its predecessors, the tablet, scroll, manuscript and printed book. It carries the entire history of information. Writing, Socrates warns in Plato’s “Phaedrus,” “will implant forgetfulness.” If we “cease to exercise memory,” we will be “calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.” When we outsource the storage of information, we outsource our knowledge of the world and ourselves.

Philosophers agonize over how knowledge is made. Historians are more interested in its circulation and application. In “Knowing What We Know,” Simon Winchester dispenses with the technicalities. Mr. Winchester, a prolific author whose bestsellers include “The Meaning of Everything,” considers knowledge as per the Oxford English Dictionary, meaning no. 4b: “The apprehension of fact or truth with the mind; clear and certain perception of fact or truth; the state or condition of knowing fact or truth.” With his typical fluency and range, Mr. Winchester then traces the intertwined evolution of knowledge, society and the individual, from ancient illiteracy to the wisdom of the hour, artificial intelligence.

The first transmissions of knowledge, Mr. Winchester writes, were “oral or pictorial.” As current indigenous practice shows, the collective cultural inheritance and identity of the tribe is transmitted by “knowledge keepers,” usually “designated elders or specially skilled custodians.” The oldest surviving written transmission, a “small tablet of sunbaked red clay” found recently in what is now Iraq, dates to around 3100 B.C. In the Sumerian city of Uruk, a man named Kushim, who “appears to have been an accountant,” issued a receipt in a Mesopotamian warehouse for a delivery of barley. He had created a piece of movable information. Anyone who could read it was educated: able to acquire information, able to pass it along. As scarcity ensured value, the invention of writing devalued knowledge. It also lowered the tone. When people started to write as they thought, Mr. Winchester argues, they aired the “more vulgar aspects of society.”

Mr. Winchester is adroit at arranging information in pursuit of knowledge, and he has an eye for the anecdote. The familiar prehistory of the Latin alphabet is here, but he emphasizes the simultaneous making of a cross-civilizational consensus on education and its methods.

Innate human curiosity is the engine of knowledge, but the engine runs on two fuels, experience and facts taken on trust. Mr. Winchester’s own experiential curiosity was triggered at the age of two by a wasp sting. For his brain to develop into “some kind of mental context-cabinet,” he needed a mental filing system. Facts and memorization were emphasized in the imperial-minded curricula of ancient Sumeria, Confucian China and Mr. Winchester’s schools in England. The Chinese examination system ran for 1,316 years, until 1905. Mao revived the idea of early testing to identify a future elite in 1952, and the annual gaokao exams remain “an ordeal of the first magnitude,” requiring proof that “one’s degree of acquired knowledge is both immense and of the highest quality.” The American schoolroom may be a kinder place, but the rest of the world thinks that the SAT is “ridiculously easy.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Six Word Stories: How to Write the Shortest Story You’ll Never Forget

From The Write Practice:

According to legend, Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a short story using only six words. Ernest Hemingway’s story? It was: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

While you’re not going to be able to tell an entire life story in six words, you just might be able to catch a movement of conflict or a significant moment in a character’s life. Plus it’s fun. Let’s look at how to write a really short story.

Six word stories are a great way to practice your writing without actually having to write much. They can also be used to warm up before working on a novel or short story.

When I first heard about six word stories, I thought, “A whole story in six words? That’s impossible!”

Then I wrote my first one. It was really easy, not to mention fun! Once you write your first, you can write a whole slew of them. Let’s look at how to write one.

1. Read examples

Start by looking at some examples. A great website you can use is If you just want to look at a few examples, here are some I liked:

“Rapunzel! I am slipping! A wig?!”

Misleadingly deep puddle. Curious child missing.

“I love you, too,” she lied.

2. Choose a Moment of Conflict

Part of what makes a story, well, a story is a goal coupled with conflict. Think about the examples we listed above. Where is the moment of conflict?

Rapunzel’s suitor has a goal (reaching Rapunzel) and the conflict is that the hair he is climbing is a wig that is slipping. Oops.

The second one implies one of two stories: the child lost in a puddle OR what happens next when someone realizes the child’s fallen in. The goal will determine the conflict.

In the third one, the goal is to mislead someone. The conflict? The lie (or maybe why she lies).

Link to the rest at The Write Practice

What happens when a story loses a main character?

From The Economist:

Like elvis, he conked out, bathetically, in a bathroom, only in Logan Roy’s case it was on a private plane, en route to haggle with a Swedish billionaire over the sale of his media conglomerate, Waystar Royco. He uttered no last-gasp curse, committed no climactic act of tyranny or deceit. He was just gone.

For three and a bit seasons of scatological insults and sociopathy, back-stabbing and joyless luxury, Logan (played by Brian Cox) was the dragon around whom the viperous cast of “Succession” slithered. Then Jesse Armstrong, its creator, bumped him off with seven episodes of the final series to go. Killing a kingpin early in this way is a risky narrative move, but sometimes, if storytellers pull it off, a profound one.

Risky, because of an implicit contract with the audience or reader: that their investment in a main character will earn a return in longevity. Offing them too quickly can feel like a betrayal—even if, like Logan’s, their demise is anticipated in the show’s title. It can tilt the entire proposition of a story, if rarely as drastically as in “Psycho”, which morphed from a heist film to a slasher movie when Alfred Hitchcock sent Janet Leigh to have a shower halfway through.

Terminating a lead is a marketing headache. If they paid to see Drew Barrymore, audiences of “Scream” may have felt short-changed when, though purportedly one of its stars, she was disembowelled after 12 minutes. Mostly stars are too expensive, and too demanding, to be jettisoned early. Perhaps above all, fielding a “false protagonist”, as the trope is sometimes known, is an artistic challenge. A truism of creative writing holds that even minor characters should have their own untold stories. Kill the protagonist and you have to tell them.

Nevertheless, it is a challenge that some of the best writers and showrunners take up. Sean Bean’s character was too noble for Westeros and lost his head before the end of the first season of “Game of Thrones”. “Homeland” hanged Brody (Damian Lewis), its hero, grimly from a crane in Iran, disenchanting fans who expected an 11th-hour rescue.

For his part, Stringer Bell (Idris Elba), the suavest figure in “The Wire”, bit the dust with just over two seasons to run, midway through his transformation from gangster to businessman and in the middle of a word: “Well get on with it, motherf…” It is part of that show’s illusionless genius that his killer, Omar (Michael K. Williams), another mainstay, met a brutally random end himself, shot by a child as he bought cigarettes. At the start of act five of “Macbeth”, Shakespeare makes Lady Macbeth wander offstage madly, never to return. “She should have died hereafter,” says her miffed husband.

The value of these premature deaths lies not only in shock—maximised when a gremlin burst out of John Hurt’s chest not long into “Alien”. By confounding expectations, they make it clear that the conventional shape of a story, with its finely wrought acts and arcs, does not match the shape of a life. Real lives are precarious and messy; they tend not to end neatly or on an elegant schedule. Logan snuffs it on the day of his eldest son’s wedding (he wasn’t going anyway).

Death, in other words, is even more of a spoiler than this column.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Most Banned Authors of All Time

From WordsRated:

As there is a lack of consistent and reliable sources regarding book banning for most of recorded history, it’s impossible to determine which books and authors have been banned the most. It’s also important to note that, even with the more accurate and reliable reports over the last few decades, over 80-90% of all book bans and challenges remain unreported.

We used the most extensive available database on book-banning efforts, ALA’s list of banned and challenged titles, to compile this report that shows the most banned authors since 1990. We calculated our WordsRated Ban Score to rank authors by the frequency and the number of banned titles during this period.

Who is the most banned author of all time?

  • Toni Morrison has been the most frequently banned author since 1990. Her books have been on the list of the 100 most banned titles in each of the previous 3 decades, reaching the top 10 between 2010 and 2019.
  • Judy Blume is the second most banned author since the 90s, appearing on the 100 most banned list from 1990 to 1999.
  • Robert Cormier’s titles appeared on the list of the 10 most frequently banned books between 1990 and 2009, making him the third most banned author of all time.
  • Books written by the 10 most banned authors since 1990 account for 33% of all top 10 most banned titles for each of the past 3 decades.

The list of the 25 most frequently banned authors, according to our metrics, is presented in the table below:

AuthorBanned titlesWordsRated ban rank
Toni MorrisonThe Bluest Eye, Beloved, Song of Solomon155
Judy BlumeForever…, Blubber, Deenie, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret., Tiger Eyes141
Robert CormierThe Chocolate War, We All Fall Down, Fade118
Alvin SchwartzScary Stories to Tell in the Dark (series), Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat106
Robie HarrisIt’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health, It’s So Amazing104
Lois LowryThe Giver, Anastasia Krupnik (series)99
Dav PilkeyCaptain Underpants (series), The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby98
Katherine PatersonBridge to Terabithia, The Great Gilly Hopkins96
Mark TwainAdventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer88
Phyllis Reynolds NaylorAlice (series)88
John SteinbeckOf Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath86
Harper LeeTo Kill a Mockingbird75
J. D. SalingerThe Catcher in the Rye74
Alice WalkerThe Color Purple72
Maya AngelouI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings68
Walter Dean MyersFallen Angels, Monster64
Peter Parnell, Justin RichardsonAnd Tango Makes Three63
Aldous HuxleyBrave New World61
Lauren MyracleInternet Girls (series)60
Stephen ChboskyThe Perks of Being a Wallflower58
Chris CrutcherAthletic Shorts: Six Short Stories, Whale Talk, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Running Loose56
Lois DuncanKilling Mr. Griffin, Daughters of Eve53
James Lincoln Collier, Christopher CollierMy Brother Sam Is Dead, Jump Ship to Freedom52
AnonymousGo Ask Alice52
Maurice SendakIn the Night Kitchen51

Link to the rest at WordsRated

When the Spoiler Is the Hook

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Handselling a book whose reading experience would be materially diminished by spoilers can be a particularly difficult challenge for a bookseller if the book’s intrinsic strength is related to elements that would be inconsiderate to broach. For example you might ask why reading Sarah Everett’s The Probability of Everything brought up for me the topic of circumventing damaging spoilers, and all I could morally say was that it is an amazing book and you should read it yourself straightway and find out.

Sure, to promote the book one could just elide the dynamic surprise element or go big on description so as to say that its brilliant and novel use of an unreliable narrator is used as a lever to humanize the impacts of inhumanity with remarkable force. By tightly maintaining focus on its insightful and resilient young narrator the story extends from the personal to the cultural and communal with far-reaching effect. And so forth. One might feel more latitude if pitching the book to an adult who is purchasing it for a young reader, but it would still be wrong. Nonetheless, the susceptibility of The Probability of Everything to having its reading experience diminished by spoilage is a tricky but ultimately happy constraint. After all, having a book to share the power of whose impact on the reader would rival that of the earth’s on being struck by a giant asteroid is a rare and desirable responsibility.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG tried to remember an occasion on which a book store employee ever handsold him a book and couldn’t remember a single one.

While PG’s reading tastes do not always dwell on the beaten path, he almost never has problems finding a book that he enjoys either online or (citing ancient history) in a physical bookstore.

One of the reasons PG prefers shopping for books online is that there is much, much more information about almost any given book online than there is in any physical bookstore.

For example, PG will likely choose his next non-fiction read about the history of the Byzantine Empire. In some of his non-fiction history reading, PG has finally appreciated what a huge empire it was. The Ottomans controlled a large swath of North Africa bordering on the Mediterranean, Egypt, Greece, Macedonia,the Balkans and virtually all the countries on the bordering the western side of the Black Sea.

PG doesn’t think most employees in most bookstores could tell him a single thing about Bessarabia or Azerbaijan. To be clear, PG is not trying to show the breadth and depth of his knowledge, just what particular twig his historical interest is perched on at the moment.

In a year or two, his historical interest will be perched on an entirely different twig and he probably won’t remember where Bessarabia or Azerbaijan are himself.

Writer’s Block? Maybe You’re Writing in the Wrong Format

From Jane Friedman:

Earlier this year, I took a week-long writing retreat at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in Temecula, California. I had an idea for a new project and had written about 10,000 words, but I wanted some focused time to dive in and figure it out.

The week started off well. I wrote 13,000 words in the first two days, exploring characters and drafting scenes that had been percolating in my head, but on the third day everything slowed down. I simply couldn’t think of what else to write.

In the past I would have called it writer’s block, but I don’t believe in writer’s block anymore. In fact, in my coaching program, I devote an entire hour-long lesson to dismantling writer’s block because I believe fervently that it’s not a thing. It’s just a catch-all phrase we use to describe other things that keep us from writing.

But sitting there, staring out the window of my cabin in Temecula at the unusually verdant valley below, I began to worry I had been wrong. What if writer’s block really IS a thing? Not only was it a concern for my immediate circumstances, but it seemed to me that if writer’s block really was a thing, I would have to write a letter of apology to every writer I’d ever worked with. Had I really been wrong all along? In my mind, a spiral of darkness opened like a gaping mouth.

But wait, I thought, I had never, in all my years of coaching, failed to help a writer get unblocked. I just had to coach myself a bit. I mentally stitched up that pit of despair and instead imagined the conversation that might take place between April Dávila the frustrated writer and April Dávila the writing coach.

Frustrated April: The words just aren’t coming.

Writing coach April: Is the material too fresh? Maybe you need to do some more research.

Frustrated April: No, I know what I want the story to be. I’ve been outlining for months.

Writing coach April: Are you maybe feeling overwhelmed, burned out?

Frustrated April: Are you kidding? (gestures at gorgeous view from my cabin that I have all to myself for a whole week) The words should be flowing like vodka at a Sean Combs party. (bangs head against the desk)

Writing coach April: Maybe you’re not writing what you think you’re writing.

Frustrated April: (lifts head) Wait… what?

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Bookwire integrates ChatGPT into its software

From The Bookseller:

Frankfurt-based publishing technology and distribution company Bookwire has integrated ChatGPT as a beta version into its “Bookwire OS – One Solution” software.

The organisation says that with the integration it aims to offer publishers “the latest technology and ensure the best service for the industry”.

During the beta phase, publishers will be able to test the benefits of the artificial intelligence tool for their digital book marketing. As an example, it says ChatGPT can be used to create automated blurbs and social media posts for Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

“As ChatGPT cannot access content from OS but only publicly available information on the internet, the tool is particularly interesting for backlist titles,” Bookwire states. “With just one click, publishers receive tailored texts for various scenarios from everyday publishing life. Publishers are free to decide whether they want to use the tool for their content.

“Bookwire will only submit requests to ChatGPT if the publishers have expressly agreed. Bookwire only provides the technical interface and does not assume any responsibility for the content created by ChatGPT.” It goes on that “it is important to emphasise that ChatGPT in Bookwire OS cannot access content or metadata but only uses publicly accessible information on the internet”.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

UC Berkeley Students Occupy Anthropology Library, Hoping to Save It From Closure

From Book Riot:

A group of University of California at Berkeley (UCB) students are entering the second full week of occupying the school’s Anthropology Library, slated for closure. The silent protest organized by students has had them setting up makeshift beds among the library collections, and they plan to remain inside until the school agrees to keep the facility open. The Anthropology Library is only one of its kind at a public university in the United States, and it is one of only three at any higher education institution.

UCB Chancellor Carol Christ believes closing the facility will help bridge a budget gap, saving the university $400,000. Christ believes the collections could be moved to other facilities across campus, and the space could be used instead as a reading room.

. . . .

Students disagree, noting that the library’s rare materials are a crucial resource for anyone studying the humanities and social sciences. Because the staff knows every resource within it and because those resources are so specialized, shifting the collections elsewhere would not only risk loss of vital research and primary source material but would also disintegrate the interconnectedness built around such a focused collection.

“This plan once again emphasizes the disconnect between the administrators of the University of California and its mission to “serve society as a center of higher learning, providing long-term societal benefits through transmitting advanced knowledge, discovering new knowledge, and functioning as an active working repository of organized knowledge”,” said the student organizers behind the Anthropology Library occupation.

. . . .

Many universities, public and private, are home to specialized libraries and collections. Their purpose is to both preserve those materials and to grant access to them for the purposes of learning, research, and scholarship. Where public libraries serve the needs of the community and are not repositories of all knowledge, academic libraries operate with the opposite ethos–they are repositories, and specialized libraries such as the Anthropology Library exist in order to collect and retain as much information, material, and ephemera as possible.

. . . .

“UC Berkeley’s plan to close the Anthropology Library will destroy the curated collection of material for research from students who depend on it, and confine the disarticulated material to physical locations that our community partners cannot access,” said the student organizers.

. . . .

Students activists emphasize that this library’s closure will also have an especially big effect on some of the most marginalized within the school.

“This decision will disproportionately impact socio-economically disadvantaged students, including many underrepresented minority students, on this campus. This is especially poignant with regard to the anthropology department, as our own student population is 34% Latinx identifying, an outlier on campus,” they said. 

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Who knew anthropology could generate such heated disagreements?

Workers at B&N Flagship Store in NYC Launch Union Drive

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Workers at the Barnes & Noble’s flagship store in New York City’s Union Square are hoping to join the growing numbers of booksellers across the country who have opted for collective bargaining: they filed with the National Labor Relations Board on Friday, requesting a union election with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU). RWDSU already is the union representing several indie bookstores in New York: McNally Jackson, Greenlight, and Book Culture. Workers at the Barnes & Noble Education Store at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. recently filed for a union election with RWDSU; it has been scheduled for May 12. (B&N Education is a separate company from B&N.)

“We like to keep the numbers close to our chests, but there’s an overwhelming majority of the more than 100 workers at B&N on Union Square who have filled out authorization cards,” RWDSU director of communications Chelsea Connor told PW. “We always demand recognition first, and if we don’t get it, then we go to an election.” Connor says that pending the two parties coming to an agreement over the terms of the election, it could be held as early as next month, with booksellers, baristas, cashiers, and other non-supervisory personnel eligible to vote.

. . . .

Connor noted that filing with the NLRB for a union election was done after B&N representatives did not voluntarily recognize the union, thus preventing negotiations from starting immediately to address the grievances cited by the workers, including safety issues, harassment in the workplace, substandard pay, erratic scheduling, a lack of structure regarding job responsibilities, favoritism by management, and a lack of transparency regarding promotions.

B&N’s corporate headquarters is housed on the upper floors above the bookstore in the same building.

During a gathering of booksellers and others inside the store on Friday afternoon that organizers called a “walk on the boss,” Aaron Lascano, one of the booksellers leading the campaign for unionization at the Union Square store, announced the filing and explained why unionization was necessary. “Management and corporate are quick to offer gratitude for our work,” he said, “But at every available opportunity, they have demonstrated to us that we are disposable. How can we see this? Because this year, despite our store crushing our financial goal by several million dollars, there is no discussion of a bonus or a raise for us. We saw this last year too, when we also crushed that year’s plan, and then were offered raises of 20-40 cents. We see this over the company’s long history, which even when it did hand out yearly raises, only provided raises of 25 cents per year. Coming out of Covid, this company promised better pay, better support for full-time workers, and a clear promotion path. None of this has materialized.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Amazon Publishing Statistics

From WordsRated:

Amazon was initially founded as a bookselling platform in 1995. Since then, the company has gone through massive changes, becoming the world’s biggest retail company in which bookselling represents just a fraction of profit.

However, even in the book sales sector, the company dominates the book publishing industry with an upwards trend, threatening to overtake the market in the future completely. On the other hand, the company did a lot of positive things for the book industry, such as the emergence of self-publishing accessible to anyone. In this report, we’ll cover all the aspects of Amazon’s book publishing business.

Amazon book sales

Even though Amazon’s book sales make up only 10% of the company’s profit, they are still the biggest seller of books in the United States and worldwide.

Amazon generates around $28 billion worldwide from book sales every year. The company is responsible for over 50% of sales from the Big Five publishers and controls between 50% and 80% of the book distribution in the United States.

  • Amazon sells at least 300 million print books every year.
  • The company reportedly controls at least 40% of the print book sales in the States.
  • Some estimates show that by 2025 Amazon could take over more than 70% of the US print book market.
  • In the UK, Amazon controls at least 50% of the market, selling over 106 million copies each year.

When it comes to ebooks, Amazon is dominating the market by a wide margin.

  • Amazon sells over 487 million ebooks through Kindle every year.
  • The company’s market share in ebook sales stands at least 67%, climbing to 83% when Kindle Unlimited is included.
  • Amazon is estimated to control over 87.9% of yearly ebook sales in the UK.
  • Even though the company sold more ebooks than print books in 2011, nowadays, Amazon sells 3x more print books than ebooks.

Self-publishing on Amazon 

Amazon has been the driving force behind the massive emergence of self-published books in the United States:

  • Amazon releases over 1.4 million self-published books through its Kindle Direct Publishing every year.
  • This doesn’t even take into account self-published ebooks with no registered ISBN number, so the extent of Amazon’s self-publishing figures is much higher.
  • Kindle Direct Publishing is regarded as the largest ebook publisher of self-published ebooks, even without official numbers available.
  • Amazon pays over $520 million in royalties each year to over 1 million authors who decided to self-published through KDP.
  • Only 1% of audiobooks on Audible are self-published
  • Self-published books account for 31% of Amazon’s ebook sales
  • Self-publishing authors have the option to publish their work in 40 languages.

Amazon’s Royalties Paid to KDP Authors

Link to the rest at WordsRated

Boost Your Book Launch by Perfecting Distribution and Metadata

From Jane Friedman:

The major self-publishing platforms have made the publishing process easy—perhaps too easy. We’ve been conditioned by our use of consumer technology to expect instant results. Errors are not difficult to fix. A change of heart or opinion? Re-upload the file or edit your book’s listing!

But in practice, some things in publishing can’t be changed, and other changes don’t happen anywhere near as fast as you might think. The truth about publishing is that you basically get one shot with many essential aspects of the process. Do-overs can be expensive if not impossible, or they may not be successful.

During the past ten years, AuthorImprints has helped more than 200 self-publishing authors publish their books. We’ve experienced virtually every conceivable pre-release production challenge, discovered pitfalls to avoid, and found several opportunities you can use to streamline the publishing process. Here are the most important lessons self-publishing authors can integrate into their first or next book-release plan.

Determine your distribution strategy first

The first question I ask a self-publishing author is if they have special print requirements as these may preclude the use of print on demand (POD). Those requirements can include the need or preference for special paper, color printing, or non-standard dimensions.

Beyond the cost of printing, the big hurdle for books that are not POD is selling the book on Amazon and listing it in the Ingram catalog. For this you’ll need to find a distributor or fulfillment company that can do this for you.

On the other hand, the two big POD providers—Amazon KDP and IngramSpark—offer printing with distribution as a single offering. Compared to printing books in bulk and having to find a distributor, the process is simple to set up, assuming your book meets POD requirements.

This is what makes POD so popular with self-publishers. It’s a terrific solution, but it also carries those expectations of instant results and the assumption that updates are easy. They can be, but make sure you avoid these three gotchas when using IngramSpark. They can bring chaos to an otherwise well-planned book launch:

1. Do not enable distribution until the files are final. IngramSpark clearly states that they may begin printing books “as soon as the title is enabled for distribution.” If you’ve uploaded a draft or advance reader copy, and distribution is enabled, that’s the version your buyer may receive. It has happened to novices and experienced authors alike.

2. While your book is available for pre-order, don’t make changes to the files close to the release date. This relates to the preceding lesson. If your book has been enabled for distribution, IngramSpark states it will be removed from distribution while the changes are processing. I’ve found that books sometimes remain for sale. You never know.

For example, a client’s hardcover was available for pre-order two weeks before the release date when he asked us to update the dust jacket. It was indeed removed from distribution, and as of this writing, three weeks after release date, it still isn’t available for purchase from Other stores have it, including, but not

3. Do allow for listing delays. We’ve found that books distributed by IngramSpark will appear on Barnes & Noble relatively quickly, in about a week or so. But we’ve seen it take weeks for a book to appear on Amazon in full—cover, price, and order button. It can also take weeks for the formats to be connected or joined on a single page. Other times, these processes may take only days.

Does that mean Amazon KDP is a better choice? No, they aren’t even an option if you want to offer pre-order. KDP also does not allow you to control wholesale settings, which you need to control so bookstores can order your book.

I suggest you upload final files at least six weeks before release date and don’t make changes to the files.

Get the price right from the start

Leaving margins aside, your paperback’s retail price can generally be competitive with traditionally published trade paperbacks. It’s almost impossible, however, to be competitive with hardcover pricing. Printing in bulk helps, but larger publishers also have distribution efficiencies that enable them to price hardcovers more attractively than self-publishers can.

The biggest difference between self- and traditionally published book pricing can be seen with ebooks. One reason for traditional publishers’ high ebook prices is to protect the pricing of their print editions, which in turn benefits bookstores. But traditional publishers also enjoy distribution advantages unavailable to self-publishers via KDP or from a self-service ebook aggregator. Traditionally published books often aren’t subject to the download fees charged by KDP, and the royalties are different. These terms can be negotiated by traditional publishers.

For more on pricing self-published books, read Kim Catanzarite’s post about the wisdom of giveaways and low pricing here on Jane’s blog. Her experience is my own, and I give most of our new author-clients the same advice: price aggressively low from the outset. If you start high and later reduce the price, you may never recapture momentum. You want to maximize reading, not margins. Having lots of readers translates to getting customer reviews. And books with lots of reviews have pricing leverage.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Where would the memoir be without bipolar writers?

Where would the memoir be without bipolar writers? I mean, that’s what – that whole oversharing thing is really a very clear symptom of bipolar disorder. And I’m not saying that every, you know, I’m not accusing every memoirist of being bipolar. But I think in a way it’s kind of a gift.

Ayelet Waldman

Reddit, Tell Me Where I Went Wrong

From Electric Lit:

My neighbor (32F) is not speaking to me (44M) because I made some repairs to her home while she was out of town. These were mostly exterior and relatively minor (clearing debris, replacing deck boards, adding a utility sink, installing a rain cap), but I did climb onto her roof. She says I was out of line by not asking permission and that she no longer trusts my judgment.

We live two streets away from each other in a small neighborhood of old houses. We have been friends for a year and hooking up for about three months. I would like more, but she is a relatively new widow and single parent to a four-year-old boy and doesn’t have the capacity right now. She is seriously my ideal woman, though, and I am willing to wait. I am not the most attractive guy and never thought I’d interest a person of her caliber. We’ve gone out a few times when her mom was watching her son or if there was a “Parents’ Night Out” at his daycare, but mostly it’s a couple hours together after her son goes to sleep. She’s invited me along with a larger group to go hiking a couple times, and we get each other’s mail and water each other’s plants if the other person is out of town.  

I bought a house in this neighborhood after my divorce because it was close to my job and to my ex-wife’s house (we share custody of two teenagers), but a lot of people move here because it is one of the few affordable city neighborhoods in a good school district. Then they realize that because the houses are all extremely old repairing them is a hassle. You think about yanking down the wallpaper somebody painted over only to discover lead paint or try to replace a door and realize you’ll have to get one custom made. I’m an engineer and can get into this kind of stuff, but a lot of people don’t. My neighbor told me on more than one occasion that her house stressed her out. She could handle the yard work and minor repairs and outsource the truly big projects, but then there were all of these things in between. Installing a utility sink felt impossible when you had a full-time job and a young child and no spouse, but were you really going to pay someone to do that? “You don’t have to pay me,” I’d tell her. “Get the sink, and I’ll put it in,” but she wouldn’t let me. I figured it was about her son and his father, about not wanting him to see anyone step into that kind of role, and so I dropped it.

The night before she went out of town, we were on her porch drinking beers and watching for the fox that lives in the overgrown lot across the street. Her son had gone to bed about thirty minutes before and was still sleeping lightly. We couldn’t go upstairs yet and so we got to talk. Work, TV shows, a book she almost loved whose ending felt contrived, my daughter’s failing grade in chemistry that brought me and my ex-wife to a moment of real collaboration. We had a fan going to ward off the mosquitos, and the sunset was just beginning to brighten the edges of the summer sky. When the dog walkers passed, we’d wave, and this gave me a good feeling, all of these people seeing me with her. It felt like being claimed.

“This is nice,” I said.


“Being with you. I’m glad we don’t sneak around.”

She made a face. “Why would we do that?”

Her voice had a slight edge to it, and I knew I had to tread lightly. I couldn’t imply she was risking her reputation or trusting a person she barely knew to behave well if whatever it was we had ended.

“That first night you slept with me I was so happy,” I said. “I told myself, she has a kid and we’re neighbors. She isn’t going to hook up with me unless she thinks it could really be something.”

She took a long drink of her beer and seemed to consider her response. I was hoping she would say I was right, but she just shrugged. “We’re both adults. You never struck me as a lunatic.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Process for Fantasy World Building

From dyiMFA:

Let us begin with the very basic question: “What is world building?” If you are going to write fiction, every story needs a place to call home, where the action happens, where your characters live. This can be extraordinarily complex (as in the case of fantasy world building), or as simple as “the story takes place in the real world.” 

Whatever method you choose, the most important thing to remember is to stay consistent. If the story takes place in the real world, you do not have to deal with many of the complexities which arise in a fantasy story. 

It is when you are setting your story in another world that you need to be creative. This article deals with fantasy world building, although it can be used for almost any world building.

Where to Begin with World Building

I know building a new world is quite daunting for many people. Where to begin? Do I need to make maps? Do I need to create history, religions, political and economic systems? So many questions that need answers—Whew! Right? 

I have an acronym I use to start my personal process for building a new world: WHEW.

  • Who?
  • How?
  • Effects?
  • Why?

Each of these questions, when answered, makes up the basis of your world.

WHEW! Process for Fantasy World Building Explained

Who lives in your world?

The first question, the big question, I ask myself when I am building a new world, whether for a game campaign or for a story, is: Who lives there? 

Now you probably already have a good idea who the characters in your book will be, so that is your starting point. If you are writing a traditional epic fantasy, you may already have your book’s races in mind: Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Haflings, etc. 

Your geography will probably be defined by where your races traditionally live. Elves live in the woods, Dwarves live underground, etc. This is not saying every elf is found in the forest and you will only find dwarves underground, but it is a starting point. 

If you wish to create a totally unique setting, then deciding who lives in your world will be a vital first step. If you want a story set on a water-world, then you need races which can cope with being wet. Aquatic elves, Mer-folk, etc. If you want your story to take place in a desert, then you definitely want people who can cope with the lack of water. 

Thus, deciding who lives in your story will set the basic parameters of your world.

How does your world work (magic, technology, etc.)?

How your world works is another point which needs to be decided early on, especially in fantasy world building. 

Is your world rich in magic? Or is it scarce and only available to a very few? How is it acquired? Are only some people born with the ability, or can anyone learn to cast spells? Is magic a force of mind or personality or is it a gift bestowed by the deities? Is there more than one kind of magic in your world? And what about magical objects? Does everyone and their brother carry a magic sword, or are they rare and only used by an occasional hero or villain? At what stage is technology in your world? Stone age or are there printing presses and mechanical clocks? Is some technology enhanced by magic? Or conversely, is some magic enhanced by technology?

How your world works gives you a basis to set up the systems your world needs to be a place where your story can happen. For example, if your world has an economy, then you need some kind of exchange system for goods and services. Is there money? Or is everything bartered? Does your world have civilization or is it pure barbaric savagery?

What effects make your world special and unique?

The hows spelled out above give cause for whatever effects you may wish to have. 

Is there a gold standard? If so, where does the gold come from? Only from Dwarven mines?

Link to the rest at dyiMFA

How To Become An Audiobook Narrator: 5 Vital Skills

From The Write Life:

Becoming an audiobook narrator can open an array of opportunities and take you places you haven’t considered possible. For example, imagine narrating for one of your favorite authors or being paid to read books aloud!

If you dream of working as an audiobook narrator you’ve come to the right place. In this article we’ll cover the equipment you need to do the job and review five key skills to develop as you begin your journey. Lastly, you’ll find options for finding your first audiobook narrator job. Let’s get going!

. . . .

Audiobook Narrator: 5 Skills Needed

Now that you know some of the equipment you will need, it’s time to discuss the soft skills that help set you apart from other audiobook narrators. 

Public Speaking

Public speaking is often viewed as a “public” career—after all, it is in the name. However, public speaking is an immeasurably helpful training ground for the private career of audiobook narration. 

The more opportunity you have to speak in public, the better you will be able to articulate your words under pressure. 

Voice, Tone, Inflection

Just as the speaking voice, chosen tone, and the various inflections you choose impact how others perceive you in conversation, the same is true for audiobook narration. 

Imagine reading a thriller in a happy, comedic tone. Your voice would not reflect the content you are reading. Mastering these three aspects is crucial to lasting success as an audiobook narrator. 

Acting Classes 

With the idea of inflection in mind, think back to the last time you heard someone read aloud. Did they impersonate the characters they read with their tone? If they were reading a narrative, did they speak softly in appropriate parts and raise their voice in others? 

As much as acting is about gestures and facial expression, much of the subtext in our favorite movies comes from tone. Consider the following dialogue: 

“I would love to take you on a date tomorrow evening.”
“Would you?”
“Well yes, of course.” 

These three lines could be read as a joke, sarcasm, or genuine. Audiobook narration is acting without facial expression. 


I took a speech class in college and the feedback I received most was to slow down my speeches. I talked too fast and although people enjoyed my content, they struggled to understand me because of my pacing. 

Self-awareness is a valuable asset, particularly for audiobook narrators. If you are aware you are speaking too fast, too slow, or not adding enough inflection then you can make the necessary changes. 

Research Skills 

Have you ever been reading and stumbled across an unfamiliar word? This is an audiobook narrator’s nightmare. Honing your research skills can help you proactively avoid these issues. When choosing to become an audiobook narrator, invest in educating yourself on a myriad of topics, particularly concerning the genre you would like to record. 

Even if you plan to be an audiobook narrator for sports memoirs, familiarizing yourself with a variety of topics will help your recording process run smoothly. You never know what illustrations or examples a writer may use!

Link to the rest at The Wright Life

Context and subtext in dialogue: Creating layered speech

From Now Novel:

Context and subtext in dialogue helps us read place, emotion, motivation and more in speech. Use this guide to context and subtext in dialogue to write communication that comes alive in spoken and unspoken cues.

What is subtext in conversation? Definition and types

‘Subtext’ is what lies ‘beneath’ the text (sub- meaning ‘beneath’ as in ‘submarine’ or ‘substandard’). In other words, subtext is the underlying motivations, feelings, meanings – what isn’t explicitly stated.

For example, the dialogue tag and action in this example suggest that Martin’s feelings contradict what he’s saying:

“What an amazing day,” Martin said, his affect flat, as he threw himself down to lie on the couch, hoping she’d caught the sarcasm.

The motivational subtext to this dialogue might be that Martin wants someone to notice he’s had a bad day.

The emotional subtext in Martin’s sarcasm suggests frustration, angst. Perhaps the desire to vent or for someone to help him feel better.

What are different types of subtext? Read six types below.

Keep reading for eight types of context in dialogue, too, plus examples of both subtext and context from books.

Why is subtext in conversation important?

Subtext in dialogue is important because:

  1. Subtext helps to avoid on-the-nose dialogue. Real communication doesn’t all happen on the surface, in direct statements or questions and answers. People read tone, body language and other ‘sub-‘ layers of communication to understand feeling, inference, shifts and changes
  2. Subtext makes dialogue feel alive. For example, gestures in dialogue supply a sense of attitude and personality. See Lily’s mother running her finger over a surface to check for dust in the example section below (suggesting a critical nature).
  3. Subtext aids tension and ambiguity. Inference (such as in Martin implying he’s had a bad day in the example above) creates tension and ambiguity. Often there’s something more than exactly what’s being said going on.

Types of subtext in dialogue

Read definitions of six types of subtext in dialogue:

What is emotional subtext in conversation?

The unsaid emotions (e.g. anger, joy, fear) which dialogue conveys via tone, gestures, facial expressions, body language, movement.

What is motivational subtext?

The inference of what a character wants, their reason to speak. For example, a character who says ‘You know you’re my favorite person, right?’ They might be buttering someone up to ask a favor.

What is power subtext?

In dialogue, subtextual aspects that suggest power are signs of dynamics such as submission, dominance, control, passivity. Who’s in the driver’s seat, or are the power dynamics balanced?

What is cultural subtext?

Unspoken cultural (or subcultural) elements that inform conversation. For example, how a kid familiar with lingo from the video game Among Us may say something’s ‘sus’ to their parents, meaning ‘suspicious’.

What is personal subtext?

Personal subtext in conversation is a speaker’s private history, experiences or backstory. It’s the way these elements shape how a person speaks, responds.

What is psychological subtext?

The psychological subtext of conversation refers to psychological processes in dialogue (such as projection – e.g., calling someone a liar when feeling bad about having lied).

Link to the rest at Now Novel

The Book Business Needs to Be a Better LGBTQ Ally

From Publisher’s Weekly:

As a publisher and a parent of a queer-identifying child, I was thrilled and honored when Drag Story Hour chose to read our book No One Owns the Colors, written by Gianna Davy and illustrated by Brenda Rodriguez, for Read Across America Day in March. I saw it as win-win: great recognition for a book and author I love, plus a wider platform for the book’s important message of joy, self-expression, and liberation.

But that was before the backlash. Once I started to express my enthusiasm for this opportunity, I was accused of promoting the “grooming” of children, and an onslaught of emails ensued, one of them even attacking my mothering. The experience popped my San Francisco bubble and made me realize how important it is to stand up and speak out for books, authors, and communities who need our support.

Recent headlines portray drag events as sexual and harmful to children, distorting and misrepresenting the art of drag and its rich history that can be traced back centuries. Drag has been described as the theatrical performance of gender and creative self-expression that plays with traditional notions of gender, among many other definitions. And while there have been countless stories and features on the harm of banning books with LGBTQ content, we’re not seeing the same outrage about the war on drag.

We need to work with organizations within our industry such as Drag Story Hour to elevate their platform, which exists to promote reading and diversity. The program strives to capture the imagination and play of gender fluidity that’s a cornerstone of childhood and gives kids glamorous and positive queer role models.

It is not enough to add LGBTQ titles to publishers’ lists or create imprints dedicated to LGBTQ titles. We are at a pivotal point in history where all of us must speak out and act against any insinuation that drag has an agenda to indoctrinate children—an accusation that blatantly misunderstands LGBTQ experiences and is rooted in homophobia and transphobia.

In March, Tennessee became the first state to ban drag performances in public spaces as well as anywhere in the presence of someone under 18 years old. I am a mother of a child whose gender expression and sexuality is being questioned by conservative activists and politicians. I am also an ally—to my child and to anyone whose gender expression doesn’t fit neatly into the confines of the socially imposed binary.

In January 2022, Tennessee also banned the Pulitzer Prize–winning graphic novel Maus, about the Holocaust, citing “inappropriate language” as its reason for doing so. I wrote a Soapbox column for PW that March titled “Correcting the Distortion of History,” about the importance of stepping into my own power as a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors to create a safe space for Jewish voices. The efforts to extinguish popular drag story hours at which queens read to kids take from the same playbook. Both crackdowns seek to undermine the validity of marginalized people’s existence.

Being an ally means taking an active stance for the rights of a minority or marginalized group without being a member of it. The Nazis began with burning and banning books in 1933. Between 1933 and 1945, an estimated 100,000 gay men were arrested by Nazis—a dire warning about just how scary and real these Tennessee laws are. We need to examine our relationship to homophobia and transphobia as we see the rise in book challenges and bans at libraries across the U.S.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG has personal feelings and opinions about LGBTQ and the current sexual/political discussions/disagreements about that topic.

That said, he reminds any visitors who choose to leave comments to be courteous and respectful towards those with opinions that may diverge from their personal opinions/feelings/etc.

Even if it’s a lie

Even if it’s a lie, it’s a place of my own. That’s why I’m going to keep it. It doesn’t need to be a big lie—just big enough for one person. And if I can hold on to that lie inside my heart, if I can keep repeating it to myself, it might lead me somewhere. Somewhere else, somewhere different. If I can do that, maybe I’ll change a little, and maybe the world will, too.

Emi Yagi, Diary of a Void

Readers in the West are embracing Japan’s bold women authors

From The Economist:

Murata sayaka has long kept company with imaginary friends. She first conjured them up as a child, while enduring bullying at school and hectoring at home. Her parents forced her to practise cooking and encouraged “girlie” behaviour, thinking that would one day help attract a rich husband. “I didn’t feel like my body, my life, belonged to me,” Ms Murata (pictured) says. She dreamed of flying away, on a spaceship with her fantastical companions, to a planet where she would belong.

Throughout her fiction, Ms Murata questions what it means to be “normal” and writes sceptically about family life. Her work has struck a chord in Japan, her conservative home country. Her semi-autobiographical novel, “Convenience Store Woman”, won the prestigious Akutagawa literary prize in 2016. It has since been translated into more than 30 languages and sold over 1.5m copies.

Ms Murata’s work has helped usher in a new era of Japanese literature in translation. “Convenience Store Woman” came out in English in 2018 and its feminist undertones may have resonated amid the #MeToo movement, thinks Ginny Tapley Takemori, its translator. In 2020 “Breasts and Eggs”, a novel about pregnancy and beauty standards by Kawakami Mieko, another female Japanese author, also became an international bestseller. “Publishers used to ask for the next Haruki Murakami,” says David Boyd, a translator who has worked on Ms Kawakami’s books. “Now they ask: What’s going to be the next ‘Convenience Store Woman’?”

Though the settings may be unfamiliar to Western readers, these books examine universal themes, such as the challenges of family life. In “Weasels in the Attic” (2022), a novella made up of interlinking stories, Oyamada Hiroko portrays an unhappily married couple who seek fulfilment by having a baby. “In Japan, it seems as if women are seen as incomplete unless they have a child,” says Ms Oyamada. Her short story “Spider Lilies” explores the related obsession with breastfeeding. “When I had a baby, I felt like my breasts were a public asset,” the author says. “Strangers kept asking me: ‘Is the milk coming?’”

Ms Murata’s view of motherhood is even more caustic. The women in her fiction are often “monstrous”. In “Nothingness”, a short story, the female protagonist is incapable of maternal affection. Ms Murata once hoped her own mother would shower her with unconditional love. She now says the mother-daughter relationship usually involves “beautified abuse”.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Twitter will let media publishers charge per article starting in May

From The Verge:

Full-time Twitter CEO and part-time Tesla enthusiast Elon Musk said on Saturday that users of his social media platform will be able to avoid media subscriptions and pay per article starting “next month.” Musk says that Twitter’s forthcoming “one-click” service “should be a major win-win for both media orgs & the public” by allowing media companies to charge a higher per article price to readers who wouldn’t necessarily pay a full subscription rate.

Musk didn’t say what percentage Twitter would pocket for itself or what conditions media publishers would need to abide by.

As with all Musk timelines, it’s best to take the “next month” estimate as an absolute best case scenario for the arrival of Twitter’s pay-as-you go micro-transaction service. But I don’t doubt Musk’s urgency. Twitter is in a race to grow revenue even as it alienates long-time users and antagonizes media organizations — both of whom are actively testing waters elsewhere. The latest Twitter alternative du jour is Bluesky, which recently added Twitter royalty Darth, Dril, and AOC to its ranks. 

Twitter’s pay-per-article announcement comes at a time when Musk is attempting to lure creators to the beleaguered platform. In addition to courting individual podcast creators directly, Musk is also urging creators worldwide to begin monetizing their content with Twitter Subscriptions (previously known as Super Follows) with a promise that “Twitter will keep none of the money” for the first 12 months. 

Link to the rest at The Verge

Outlines, AI and Stormy Daniels

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

I’d been planning to write my April post about outlines.

Which authors do outlines? And which ones don’t?

(I don’t and neither does Anne).

I’d done a bit of research and made some notes when along came AI, the hot new kid in town.

How could I ignore AI when everyday I was almost buried by an avalanche of news about AI, how to use it, and how it was going to revolutionize everything.

And put writers out of business.


Hold my beer.

Does s/he? Or doesn’t s/he?

Dean Wesley Smith does not outline: His book, Writing into the Dark, goes into the details of his process.

Neither does Nora Roberts. “I don’t plot. I don’t sit down and plot a book. It sort of unreels as I write.”

James Patterson outlines. Does he ever!

Daniel Silva doesn’t. “I have just never been able to outline. I just can’t bring a story to life on note cards, never have been able to….To me, it’s just a waste of time. My first draft is, in effect, the outline. If you do it long enough, you know that it becomes second nature—how you bring a character on the page, and this is what’s really going on—so I write it at one level but I have a much deeper understanding about what will happen later.”

Lisa Scottoline: “I just get writing. I don’t outline. I don’t know what the story is going to be until I get it down on paper. At the end, hopefully, I see I have a story. And then I’m the happiest person on the planet.”

Harlan Coben:  “I don’t outline. I usually know the ending before I start. I know very little about what happens in between. It’s like driving from New Jersey to California. I may go Route 80, I may go via the Straits of Magellan or stopover in Tokyo… but I’ll end up in California.”

At this point along came AI.

I asked it to write a blogpost about writers who do — and don’t — outline.

Here’s the result:

AI chimes in on Outlines.

When it comes to the writing process, every author has their own unique approach. Some writers meticulously plan out their stories with outlines, while others prefer to let their creativity flow freely without a rigid structure.

In this blogpost, we will explore famous writers who have used outlines in their work, as well as those who have chosen to forgo this method.

Famous Writers Who Use Outlines:

J.K. Rowling –

The world-famous author of the “Harry Potter” series is known for her meticulous planning and outlining. In fact, Rowling is known to have created extensive outlines for each of her seven books in the series before she even started writing the first one. Her outlines included detailed plot points, character arcs, and even diagrams of the Hogwarts castle. Rowling’s use of outlines allowed her to carefully plot out the complex storylines and foreshadowing that are integral to the “Harry Potter” series.

Dan Brown –

The best-selling author of “The Da Vinci Code” and other popular thrillers is known for his meticulous research and detailed outlines. Brown’s books are known for their intricate plots and historical references, and he uses outlines to carefully plan out the complex storylines and clues that make his novels so thrilling. Brown’s outlines often include detailed descriptions of locations, historical events, and clues that his protagonist must unravel, helping him create a fast-paced and engaging reading experience for his readers.

Stephen King –

Although he is known for his spontaneous and free-flowing writing style, Stephen King has also used outlines in some of his works. King has mentioned in interviews that he uses a loose outline to guide him through the writing process, particularly when working on longer novels with multiple plotlines. King’s outlines are not as detailed as those of other writers, but they serve as a rough roadmap that helps him stay on track while still leaving room for his creativity to flow.

George R.R. Martin –

The author of the epic fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” which inspired the television series “Game of Thrones,” is known for his intricate world-building and complex plotlines. Martin has stated that he uses extensive outlines to plan out the intricate politics, alliances, and conflicts that make up his fantasy world. His outlines often include detailed descriptions of characters, their motivations, and how they fit into the larger story. Martin’s use of outlines allows him to keep track of the numerous characters and storylines in his novels, which are known for their intricate and interwoven plots.

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


From The Wall Street Journal:

When he was 28, Burkhard Bilger learned a jarring family secret: Shortly after World War II, his grandfather spent two years in jail while on trial as an accused Nazi war criminal.

The revelation shocked Mr. Bilger. His parents, who moved to the U.S. from Germany in 1962, seldom spoke about their Nazi-era upbringing. Mr. Bilger, who was born in Oklahoma a year and half after his parents’ emigration, similarly avoided calling attention to a heritage that could give pause to new acquaintances. “To be German, it seemed, was always to be one part Nazi,” he writes. “In my case, that part was my grandfather.” Rather than dwell on the past, for the most part he avoided it. Then the past found him.

In 2005, a package arrived from one of Mr. Bilger’s aunts in Germany containing a shoebox filled with letters dating from around World War II. Mostly handwritten, some in an old-fashioned German script difficult for contemporary readers to decipher, the documents propelled Mr. Bilger into a yearslong journey to make sense of how his grandfather, a reserved and seemingly upstanding schoolteacher, had entangled himself and his family in the rise and fall of Hitler’s Third Reich.

The result is Mr. Bilger’s resolutely unflinching and ultimately illuminating book “Fatherland: A Memoir of War, Conscience, and Family Secrets.” In the course of his quest, Mr. Bilger, a staff writer at the New Yorker, interviewed far-flung family members as well as his grandfather’s long-lost neighbors, and scoured government archives in both Germany and France. As he pieces together the memories and documentary evidence, Mr. Bilger makes palpable the tension he feels between the wish to forget the past, in all its discomforting details, and the desire to understand behavior that might be easier to erase from memory than to confront and try to take in, much less forgive.

He begins by wondering how his grandfather Karl Gönner could have been both the father his mother loved and “the monster history suggested.” She was still a schoolgirl when her father finally returned from the war, and she remained too fearful to ever ask him if he was guilty of the crimes for which he was accused. What if Mr. Bilger discovered, now, that the answer was yes?

An authentic reckoning with his grandfather’s past demanded that he find out. Mr. Bilger charts his family’s history, generation by generation, back to the 18th century. Gönner himself had provided the roadmap in his personal “ancestry passport”—the official document laying out his “pure” Aryan genealogy over the centuries, as required for his membership in the Nazi Party as well as for his government-regulated teaching job.

Like his ancestors before him, Gönner was born in the Black Forest village of Herzogenweiler, founded in 1721 by a successful consortium of glassblowers. By the time of Gönner’s birth in 1899, though, the glass business had collapsed and the once-flourishing village had become derelict.

Religious and bookish by nature, Gönner set his sights on the priesthood as his best route to an education and a career away from poverty. Then came World War I. Drafted in 1917, Gönner arrived at the Western Front in time to join the German army’s battered retreat. In late September 1918, beaten down by hunger and the muck of the trenches, his troop arrived at Meuse-Argonne, the site of one of the war’s final and most brutal battles. A land mine blasted Gönner unconscious, its shards piercing his right eye, arm and thigh. Upon his release from the hospital several months later, Mr. Bilger writes, Gönner “came home hobbled and half blind, with a sense that never left him that the world was a shattered thing, in need of radical repair.”

Yet he was told he was lucky. After all, his brother Josef, who had been killed in Flanders, never returned from the war at all. But what kind of a life could Gönner have back in the impoverished villages of the Black Forest? The war cost him his religious faith and replaced his right eye with a sightless glass prosthetic. Eventually he married and started a family, became a teacher and, in 1933, joined the Nazi Party.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Poem about the Loss of Love by Copymatic

In the quiet of the night,
The pain of loss seeps in.
Memories of what once was,
Now twisted with chagrin.

The laughter, the love,
All now distant dreams.
The emptiness surrounds me,
As I try to hold back screams.

The hurt is all-consuming,
A fire that won’t subside.
No amount of tears or time,
Can bring back what’s died.

The way your touch felt,
The magic of your kiss.
All of it now a memory,
Lost in the abyss.

I know I must move forward,
Though it seems impossible now.
Through the pain and the heartache,
I’ll somehow find my way out.

I’ll cherish what we had,
And hold onto the good.
But in this moment of loss,
My heart feels misunderstood.

So I’ll mourn what once was,
And slowly find a new way.
Hoping that someday, somehow,
Love will come back to stay.

PG says William Wordsworth and Dylan Thomas are secure in their reputations. Ditto for Dickenson, Keats, Wordsworth, Whitman and Hughes.

Notable & Quotable: Econ

From The Wall Street Journal:

I have a go-to discussion strategy, for when I teach undergraduate political economy. It is a way of shocking students out of their dogmatic slumbers. I ask three questions; here are the first two:

1. What percentage of workers in the US work at the minimum wage?

2. If you have a job in the US, at the minimum wage, where does that put you in the world income distribution?

I get answers to the first question ranging from 20 percent to 40 percent (the correct answer is fewer than 2 percent); the answers to the second question are usually around 20 percent (the correct answer is above 85 percent). . . . It quickly gets real, real quiet in the auditorium. All through high school the kids have earnestly been told that poverty should be defined in relative terms, and that the US system is cruel to the poor. The fact that a minimum wage job puts you in the top fifth of the world income distribution . . . and that 98 percent of Americans make more than the minimum wage, creates enormous cognitive dissonance.

Michael Munger of the American Institute for Economic Research

via The Wall Street Journal

Beyond black

FromThe Bookseller:

This past week has seen the good and bad of the book trade writ large. The good was manifest in The London Book Fair, a return to a “proper” event packed full of agents meetings, seminars, parties and general all-round buzz. There was plenty of good humour too, and one or two decent rumours. We are an industry that wants to meet, and mischief make.

But we are also less than perfect. That is a polite reference to The Bookseller’s survey of author welfare that has rightly been the most read news piece across our website this week and sparked a robust online conversation.

The results were stark and, at times, depressing. More than half of authors (54%) responding to the survey on their experiences of publishing their début book have said the process negatively affected their mental health. Authors talked of a lack of attention from their publisher, and a lack of preparedness. In fact, just 22% of the 108 respondents to the survey described a positive experience overall with their first publication. As one author said: “It has taken me a long time to reconcile the train wreck of my début.”

Some hardened souls might shrug their shoulders at all this. The sample size is small, and no doubt skewed by those whose experiences prompt them to fill in such surveys. Besides, publishing is a tough business. A bad launch need not dictate a book’s fortunes in the same way that a great launch doesn’t guarantee success. I once went to a party at the Groucho Club for a book by a relatively well-known journalist and spent most of the evening talking to the author’s immediate family, the relations making up the bulk of the attendees. The book? Bridget Jones’s Diary. I’ve been to huge events for books long since forgotten, written by authors whose follow-ups were silently sidelined. Publication day—launch or not—tells us very little about future prospects.

At least that’s half-true. In reality trade book publishing works on a momentum model—titles build as word-of-mouth does its thing, with those books that bulk-up during the publication process likely to land with a greater thud at launch. This is as true for débuts such as Lessons in Chemistry as it was for Spare; quiet books can do well but their need for a slice of good fortune will be greater.

For authors, and particularly for début writers, this can be a chastening experience, and one that can feel increasingly futile as they see an arcane world united only by indifference. My concern reading the survey and the many other comments not reported is that as a sector we are doing too poor a job managing expectations; we focus too much attention on the race and not enough on the athlete.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG says that traditional publishers regard authors as content providers, nothing more. And if an author gets uppity and forgets her/his place, there are always lots of other content providers banging on the door, begging to enter.

Woke Roald Dahl Will Put Kids to Sleep

From The Wall Street Journal:

My late father-in-law detested vague or imprecise language. “Don’t tell me you saw a person,” went his typical complaint. “What kind of person was it? A man or a woman? Tall or short? Old or young?”

He, like his contemporary Roald Dahl, came from an era when people valued clarity in speech and writing and believed words should reveal meaning rather than conceal it. Puffin Books has made the passing of that era obvious by subjecting Dahl’s books to a ghastly process of social-justice blandification.

The Telegraph reports that Puffin functionaries and hired “sensitivity readers” have combed through Dahl’s works for children—including whizbang novels such as “Matilda,” “The Twits,” and “James and the Giant Peach”—and cut all references to fatness, craziness, ugliness, whiteness (even of bedsheets), blackness (even of tractors) and the great Rudyard Kipling, along with any allusion to acts lacking full and enthusiastic consent. Some male characters have been made female; female villains have been made less nasty; women in general have been socially elevated; while mothers and fathers, boys and girls have dwindled into sexless “parents” and “children.”

Dahl, who died in 1990, didn’t agree to these changes—consent came from Netflix, which bought Dahl’s estate in 2018. Many of the edits reveal a total failure to understand why children love the spiky and opinionated British writer and why they gobble his stories as fast as his porcine characters eat sweets. Dahl’s writing flashes with menace and tenderness; it’s funny, exciting and unpredictable.

Like all the most enduring stories for children, Dahl’s are odd and original. They stir the mind, disquiet the spirit, and stimulate the imagination. To read “Peter Pan” or “Alice in Wonderland” is to plunge into a fever dream; to read Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is to careen through a fantastical landscape full of greedy youngsters (and indulgent adults) who meet bizarre and terrible fates. Stripping away the weirdness expunges the magic.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Setting Research: When You Didn’t Write What You Know

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

A woman floats peacefully in a swimming pool at night, a spangled view of the city behind her.

The image wouldn’t leave my head, and over time turned into a central scene in my debut romance novel, PAINTING CELIA.

Naturally, my character needed a house with a pool and a view. We don’t have those where I live in the Pacific Northwest, so I decided she would live in Los Angeles.

After my first draft, I realized I was making up an awful lot about LA. My armchair research in Google Street View might not be enough.A recent promotion had left me feeling rich. What if I went to LA and just looked around? Got a feel for places like the ones in my book? That’s what real authors do, right? What does one do on a research trip, though? How does one define “local color” and where do you get it?

I decided to “visit my characters” as though they were friends who would entertain me in their homes, show me where they worked, and tell me how the pressures and benefits of living in LA had shaped them.

I meticulously planned an itinerary, researching businesses and neighborhoods that were similar to those in my novel. One character—she of the swimming pool—lived up in the Hollywood Hills, another in Koreatown, and one ran a business in Boyle Heights. 

Giddy, I booked a weekend flight, a hotel, and a far-too-expensive car. I nearly expected my characters to pick me up at the airport, so immersed was I in the idea that I was flying to their home.

And suddenly I was there, driving along a straight boulevard underneath palm trees. I used a hands-free voice recorder to save notes about the way the sun hit terra cotta apartment buildings, the vivid murals that flowed around windows to third floor balconies, and how the dust collecting on my dashboard was golden.

I didn’t even hit up my hotel first. Instead, I drove straight to a community art gallery I’d found which seemed similar to one in my book. Parking was as hard as I’d heard, but I found a space and hoped I’d find my way back after. I walked in, wearing a long-sleeved sweater that had been appropriate for my flight but now marked me as a sweaty outsider. I asked the woman at the front desk if I could ask questions about their operations, for my novel. 

Within minutes, I was speaking to three bemused but flattered employees, all incredulous that anyone would write fiction about what they do. I walked out with far more detail than I could use and a glow I can still feel today. I did the same at two other businesses that weekend, receiving each time the same generosity.

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

Yuval Noah Harari argues that AI has hacked the operating system of human civilisation

From The Economist:

Fears of artificial intelligence (ai) have haunted humanity since the very beginning of the computer age. Hitherto these fears focused on machines using physical means to kill, enslave or replace people. But over the past couple of years new ai tools have emerged that threaten the survival of human civilisation from an unexpected direction. ai has gained some remarkable abilities to manipulate and generate language, whether with words, sounds or images. ai has thereby hacked the operating system of our civilisation.

Language is the stuff almost all human culture is made of. Human rights, for example, aren’t inscribed in our dna. Rather, they are cultural artefacts we created by telling stories and writing laws. Gods aren’t physical realities. Rather, they are cultural artefacts we created by inventing myths and writing scriptures.

Money, too, is a cultural artefact. Banknotes are just colourful pieces of paper, and at present more than 90% of money is not even banknotes—it is just digital information in computers. What gives money value is the stories that bankers, finance ministers and cryptocurrency gurus tell us about it. Sam Bankman-Fried, Elizabeth Holmes and Bernie Madoff were not particularly good at creating real value, but they were all extremely capable storytellers.

What would happen once a non-human intelligence becomes better than the average human at telling stories, composing melodies, drawing images, and writing laws and scriptures? When people think about Chatgpt and other new ai tools, they are often drawn to examples like school children using ai to write their essays. What will happen to the school system when kids do that? But this kind of question misses the big picture. Forget about school essays. Think of the next American presidential race in 2024, and try to imagine the impact of ai tools that can be made to mass-produce political content, fake-news stories and scriptures for new cults.

In recent years the qAnon cult has coalesced around anonymous online messages, known as “q drops”. Followers collected, revered and interpreted these q drops as a sacred text. While to the best of our knowledge all previous q drops were composed by humans, and bots merely helped disseminate them, in future we might see the first cults in history whose revered texts were written by a non-human intelligence. Religions throughout history have claimed a non-human source for their holy books. Soon that might be a reality.

On a more prosaic level, we might soon find ourselves conducting lengthy online discussions about abortion, climate change or the Russian invasion of Ukraine with entities that we think are humans—but are actually ai. The catch is that it is utterly pointless for us to spend time trying to change the declared opinions of an ai bot, while the ai could hone its messages so precisely that it stands a good chance of influencing us.

Through its mastery of language, ai could even form intimate relationships with people, and use the power of intimacy to change our opinions and worldviews. Although there is no indication that ai has any consciousness or feelings of its own, to foster fake intimacy with humans it is enough if the ai can make them feel emotionally attached to it. In June 2022 Blake Lemoine, a Google engineer, publicly claimed that the ai chatbot Lamda, on which he was working, had become sentient. The controversial claim cost him his job. The most interesting thing about this episode was not Mr Lemoine’s claim, which was probably false. Rather, it was his willingness to risk his lucrative job for the sake of the ai chatbot. If ai can influence people to risk their jobs for it, what else could it induce them to do?

In a political battle for minds and hearts, intimacy is the most efficient weapon, and ai has just gained the ability to mass-produce intimate relationships with millions of people. We all know that over the past decade social media has become a battleground for controlling human attention. With the new generation of ai, the battlefront is shifting from attention to intimacy. What will happen to human society and human psychology as ai fights ai in a battle to fake intimate relationships with us, which can then be used to convince us to vote for particular politicians or buy particular products?

Even without creating “fake intimacy”, the new ai tools would have an immense influence on our opinions and worldviews. People may come to use a single ai adviser as a one-stop, all-knowing oracle. No wonder Google is terrified. Why bother searching, when I can just ask the oracle? The news and advertising industries should also be terrified. Why read a newspaper when I can just ask the oracle to tell me the latest news? And what’s the purpose of advertisements, when I can just ask the oracle to tell me what to buy?

And even these scenarios don’t really capture the big picture. What we are talking about is potentially the end of human history. Not the end of history, just the end of its human-dominated part. History is the interaction between biology and culture; between our biological needs and desires for things like food and sex, and our cultural creations like religions and laws. History is the process through which laws and religions shape food and sex.

What will happen to the course of history when ai takes over culture, and begins producing stories, melodies, laws and religions? Previous tools like the printing press and radio helped spread the cultural ideas of humans, but they never created new cultural ideas of their own. ai is fundamentally different. ai can create completely new ideas, completely new culture.

At first, ai will probably imitate the human prototypes that it was trained on in its infancy. But with each passing year, ai culture will boldly go where no human has gone before. For millennia human beings have lived inside the dreams of other humans. In the coming decades we might find ourselves living inside the dreams of an alien intelligence.

Fear of ai has haunted humankind for only the past few decades. But for thousands of years humans have been haunted by a much deeper fear. We have always appreciated the power of stories and images to manipulate our minds and to create illusions. Consequently, since ancient times humans have feared being trapped in a world of illusions.

In the 17th century René Descartes feared that perhaps a malicious demon was trapping him inside a world of illusions, creating everything he saw and heard. In ancient Greece Plato told the famous Allegory of the Cave, in which a group of people are chained inside a cave all their lives, facing a blank wall. A screen. On that screen they see projected various shadows. The prisoners mistake the illusions they see there for reality.

In ancient India Buddhist and Hindu sages pointed out that all humans lived trapped inside Maya—the world of illusions. What we normally take to be reality is often just fictions in our own minds. People may wage entire wars, killing others and willing to be killed themselves, because of their belief in this or that illusion.

The AI revolution is bringing us face to face with Descartes’ demon, with Plato’s cave, with the Maya. If we are not careful, we might be trapped behind a curtain of illusions, which we could not tear away—or even realise is there.

Link to the rest at The Economist

ChatGPT Will See You Now: Doctors Using AI to Answer Patient Questions

From The Wall Street Journal:

Behind every physician’s medical advice is a wealth of knowledge, but soon, patients across the country might get advice from a different source: artificial intelligence.

In California and Wisconsin, OpenAI’s “GPT” generative artificial intelligence is reading patient messages and drafting responses from their doctors. The operation is part of a pilot program in which three health systems test if the AI will cut the time that medical staff spend replying to patients’ online inquiries.

UC San Diego Health and UW Health began testing the tool in April. Stanford Health Care aims to join the rollout early next week. Altogether, about two dozen healthcare staff are piloting this tool.

Marlene Millen, a primary care physician at UC San Diego Health who is helping lead the AI test, has been testing GPT in her inbox for about a week. Early AI-generated responses needed heavy editing, she said, and her team has been working to improve the replies. They are also adding a kind of bedside manner: If a patient mentioned returning from a trip, the draft could include a line that asked if their travels went well. “It gives the human touch that we would,” Dr. Millen said.

There is preliminary data that suggests AI could add value. ChatGPT scored better than real doctors at responding to patient queries posted online, according to a study published Friday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, in which a panel of doctors did blind evaluations of posts.

As many industries test ChatGPT as a business tool, hospital administrators and doctors are hopeful that the AI-assist will ease burnout among their staff, a problem that skyrocketed during the pandemic. The crush of messages and health-records management is a contributor, among administrative tasks, according to the American Medical Association.

Epic, the company based in Verona, Wis., that built the “MyChart” tool through which patients can message their healthcare providers, saw logins more than double from 106 million in the first quarter of 2020 to 260 million in the first quarter of 2023. Epic’s software enables hospitals to store patient records electronically.

Earlier this month, Epic and Microsoft announced that health systems would have access to OpenAI’s GPT through Epic’s software and Microsoft’s Azure cloud service. Microsoft has invested in OpenAI and is building artificial intelligence tools into its products. Hospitals are piloting GPT-3, a version of the large language model that is powering ChatGPT.

ChatGPT has mystified computer scientists for its skill in responding to medical queries—though it is known to make things up—including its ability to pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam. OpenAI’s language models haven’t been specifically trained on medical data sets, according to Eric Boyd, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of AI Platform, though medical studies and medical information were included in the vast data set that taught it to spot patterns.

“Doctors working with ChatGPT may be the best messenger,” said John Ayers, a computational epidemiologist at the University of California, San Diego, and an author of the JAMA study.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

This life is what you make it

This life is what you make it. No matter what, you’re going to mess up sometimes, it’s a universal truth. But the good part is you get to decide how you’re going to mess it up. Girls will be your friends – they’ll act like it anyway. But just remember, some come, some go. The ones that stay with you through everything – they’re your true best friends. Don’t let go of them. Also remember, sisters make the best friends in the world. As for lovers, well, they’ll come and go too. And baby, I hate to say it, most of them – actually pretty much all of them are going to break your heart, but you can’t give up because if you give up, you’ll never find your soulmate. You’ll never find that half who makes you whole and that goes for everything. Just because you fail once, doesn’t mean you’re gonna fail at everything. Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie? So keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most importantly, keep smiling, because life’s a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.

Marilyn Monroe

Abandon Your Protagonist at the Side of the Road

From Writer Unboxed:

My brother is a counselor. A very good one who won’t tell any of his clients’ stories, even when our dad asks him to strip all identifying features. Dad knows better, but he’s a curious man who’s never been afraid of hearing no (which made him a great entrepreneur). One night, after refusing to answer, my brother kept thinking about how he could honor our dad’s desire to connect with him about his work.

About an hour later, he told us about an image and a corresponding therapeutic technique he’s been using with clients who’ve experienced trauma and cannot directly address what happened to them. They’ve built up so much resistance that they shut down when they try to even name it. He’s given these patients this story:

As you’ve gone through your life, when you experienced something you couldn’t face, you went on, but to survive, you left your pre-trauma self on the side of the road and went on without them. You may have done this a number of times. Let’s invite those abandoned yous to sit around the table with us and talk.

His clients have found this gentle and poignant exercise helpful. They’re able to re-connect with the self/selves who experienced the trauma and begin to deal with their misbeliefs, their unhelpful coping strategies–even if they can’t say what happened to them.

Which made me think of our protagonists.

When building our characters, we usually identify a moment in their past that is the root of the problem that will be solved in the course of our story. Whether we call it the Origin Story, The Wound, a Marker Moment, or something else, we create a before/after: Before this, I believed X, but after I believed D. They build up layers of habits, beliefs, and self-talk to cope. It is the action of the story to get them to face the results of that moment.

Using my brother’s image, the protagonist abandons their old-self on the side of the road and goes on.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Love & Other Epic Adventures: Science Fiction Romance Books

From Book Riot:

I grew up on Star Wars, so you can imagine that science fiction, space fantasy, and science fiction romance have a special place in my heart. After all, what is Star Wars if not an epic science fiction love story? (Don’t try to fight me on this.) There’s just something about the combination of science fiction elements — you know, epic space battles, intergalactic political intrigue — and romance that work together to create the sense of a love story of epic proportions. Maybe it’s the grand scale of space or the stakes that are so often involved, with entire planets and civilizations dependent on the hero’s actions. Either way, I just can’t get enough.

But it seems like finding really good science fiction romance isn’t always as easy. Maybe it’s because I’m looking for that Han and Leia tier romance (see The Princess and the Scoundrel below) full of banter and complicated feelings and the highest of high stakes. When that’s your standard, it’s no wonder a lot of love stories fall short. But these 10 science fiction romance books (Han and Leia included) deliver on the feels in a big way, even if the stakes aren’t always quite as high as battling an evil empire.

The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard

A pirate and a captured scavenger enter into a marriage of convenience in this gorgeous sci-fi romance. For Xích Si, this marriage will offer her the protection of the Red Banner, and in return, she agrees to help the mindship Rice Fish uncover who was behind the murder of her late wife, the Red Scholar. But though they both enter into this as nothing more than a business arrangement, their feelings for each other soon grow. As threats from both inside and outside of the pirate banners begin to circle, they must decide just how much they’re willing to give up to be with the ones who matter most.

The Red Scholar’s Wake is set in Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya universe, and while it can absolutely be read as a standalone, you might also enjoy the many other novellas, short stories, and novels set in this world of mind ships and vibrant Vietnamese and Chinese inspired cultures.

The Stars Undying by Emery Robin

Inspired by the lives of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, The Stars Undying tells the story of a princess who has lost everything to a civil war and the commander of an interstellar empire. If Gracia can win over Commander Matheus Ceirran and his right-hand officer, Anita, she might just be able to win back the throne and the computer containing the soul of the planet’s immortal god. But attempting to bed an Imperial commander is as dangerous as any battle, and if Gracia wants to regain her planet, she’ll have to become a queen the likes of which the universe has never seen before.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Religion Publishers Face Up to DEI Challenges

From Publisher’s Weekly:

In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, many religion and spirituality publishers publicly stepped-up commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion in their workforce and in their book acquisitions and marketing. Since then, however, the impact of the Covid pandemic, plus economic upheavals that prompted layoffs, hiring freezes, and other cost controls have challenged these commitments—according to PW’s conversations with executives at half a dozen executives.

When asked for an update on their DEI efforts, no publishers shared statistics. However, executives contacted by PW at HarperCollins Christian Publishing, InterVarsity Press, Eerdmans, Loyola, New World Library, and Paulist Press each spoke of their determination to push ahead. Several acknowledged that hiring efforts have stalled in this economic climate, but efforts to broaden acquisitions from people of color are moving forward with workarounds such as new partnerships and strategies to reach more BIPOC editors, writers, and readers.

Mark Schoenwald, president and CEO of HarperCollins Christian Publishing and HarperCollins Focus, said, “We want to remain relevant in today’s conversations, which includes being more reflective of the world in which we live.” He added that despite the current economic downturn, HCCP, “continues to recruit, publish and promote diverse authors and subjects as a long-term strategy” across all their publishing teams. He highlighted 20 BIPOC authors recently published or signed for trade, fiction, and children’s titles and cited a new 10-year agreement between Harper Collins and the Martin Luther King, Jr. estate granting an exclusive license to publish new and previously published material from the estate’s archives. (HCCP parent company, HarperCollins, is cutting 5% of its North American workforce to reduce expenses in a move due to be completed by May 31).

. . . .

Eerdman’s president and publisher Anita Eerdmans told PW, “We continue to actively pursue authors that represent diversity of all kinds, and I’m pleased with some of our success there, though we acknowledge that we (all) have a long way to go in that regard.”

At New World Library, editorial director Georgia Hughes said they have broadened their author ranks. Their fall 2022 list of 14 titles included three books by BIPOC authors and, “in the last three years the numbers of proposals we have from people of color have risen dramatically.” She continues to work with Pub West and the Publishing Professionals Network, “to build diversity and understand the concerns of underrepresented groups.” Even so, NWL has not added any new hires and, she said, “I don’t see that we will in the foreseeable future, as we have not had any openings at the company for many years.”

Paulist Press is also focusing on broadening book acquisitions and marketing to Black Catholic organizations such as the Knights of St. Peter Claver, the largest African American lay association in the U.S., seeking advice and offering review copies of titles, according to president and publisher Rev. Mark-David Janus. The company does have openings—created during the Covid pandemic when many senior staffers chose to retire — but not the cash to fill them all yet, Janus said. The Catholic house is also challenged by its as location “35 miles from New York City in Northern Bergen County, which is as Caucasian as you can get,” he said.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Of course traditional publishing has to jump on every political bandwagon that passes by and, of course, nothing in traditional publishing ever changes. These folks are among the more skilled practitioners of tokenism.

Book bans are getting everyone’s attention — including Biden’s. Here’s why

From National Public Radio:

President Joe Biden named checked “MAGA extremists” and attempts to ban books in his video on Tuesday announcing he was officially running for office again. Here’s why it’s the topic that just won’t stop.

What is it? Put frankly, it’s a rising trend of parents and politicians pushing for censorship on material available to students in public schools and public libraries.

According to the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, the number of challenges to unique titles last year was up nearly 40% over 2021.

As reported by NPR’s Meghan Collins Sullivan, the ALA says that 2,571 unique titles were banned or challenged in 2022.

From July 2021 to June 2022, 40% of the banned titles had protagonists or prominent secondary characters of color, and 21% had titles with issues of race or racism, according to PEN America, a non-profit tracking book ban data.

What’s the big deal? It appears that public libraries are another battleground for the United State’s ever-present culture wars.

Another 41% of titles challenged or banned have content relating to LGBTQIA+ identity and themes, according to PEN.

This dynamic has existed for decades. Famed novelist Judy Blume faced heavy scrutiny and calls for censorship in the 1980s for her books that discussed sexuality and self-image.

The number one banned book is once again Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, a graphic memoir that follows Kobabe’s journey into exploring their own gender and queer identity.

. . . .

Here’s what he said at a White House event honoring educators earlier this week:

I never thought I’d be a president who is fighting against elected officials trying to ban, and banning, books.

Lessa Kananiʻopua Pelayo-Lozada, president of the American Library Association, on how the campaign for books being banned has ramped up in past years:

Now we’re seeing organized attempts by groups to censor multiple titles throughout the country without actually having read many of these books.

Elle Mehltretter, a 16-year-old who spoke with NPR’s Tovia Smith about circumventing book bans online in her home state of Florida:

You can say you ban books all you want, but you can never really ban them because they’re everywhere.

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

For those visitors from outside the United States, the politics of the 2024 presidential election are already simmering and the aroma is, for PG, very off-putting.

Assuming Trump manages to snatch the Republican party nomination, both candidates would be the oldest ever elected. Trump will be 78 in 2024 and Biden will be 81.

A recent survey by Reuters-Ipsos shows more than 60% of American voters feel Biden is too old to work in government… and two thirds don’t want Biden or Trump to run.

Shakespeare’s First Folio assembled the world’s greatest literature

From The Economist:

Not much in European trade runs the same way now as it did four centuries ago. However, English-language publishers still advertise future titles at the Frankfurt Book Fair—just as they did in 1622. In that year, a catalogue of forthcoming English works featured an intriguing volume, announced between blurbs for a biblical commentary and a genealogical tome. It alerted potential buyers to the imminent appearance of “Plays, written by M. William Shakespeare, all in one volume, printed by Isaack Jaggard, in fol[io].”

The Frankfurt punters had to wait. That bumper book of playscripts by an author who had died in April 1616 proved a tricky, arduous job. The printers completed it in 1623. By 1624, the chunky compilation was pitched at the fair as “Master Shakespeare’s Works”. According to Chris Laoutaris, a historian of the volume, this upgrade in terminology implied the “intellectual gravitas” of an author with “grand achievement” to his name. Among dramatists, only Ben Jonson, Shakespeare’s friend and rival, had presumed to publish a swanky folio of “Works” before. In 1612 the founder of Oxford University’s Bodleian Library had even warned against collecting play-texts: worthless “baggage books”.

Sir Thomas Bodley lost that battle. The so-called First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays soon entered the Bodleian’s collection. This large-format volume, around 950 pages long, not only gathered 36 out of Shakespeare’s 38 surviving plays, it was also the cornerstone of his subsequent renown, which 400 years later extends to parts of the world he never knew existed. Fifty small “quarto” editions of individual Shakespeare plays appeared between 1594 and 1623, and “Henry IV” and “Richard III” proved particularly popular. But 18 Folio items had never seen print before—including “Julius Caesar”, “Macbeth”, “The Tempest” and “Twelfth Night”. The First Folio fixed the Shakespeare canon for posterity (it lacks only “Pericles” and “The Two Noble Kinsmen”) and even—via Martin Droeshout’s frontispiece of the balding playwright—his physical image.

Readers can now access a digital reproduction of the Bodleian’s “Arch.G c.7” at any time, for nothing: one of several Folios online. If you crave an original copy, the bill will prove steeper. In 2020 Mills College in California sold a high-quality First Folio at Christie’s in New York to a rare-book dealer, Stephan Loewentheil, for $9.98m. Modern celebrity buyers include Sir Paul Getty (who paid £3.5m, or $5.7m, in 2003) and Paul Allen, Microsoft’s co-founder ($6.1m in 2001). In 2021 the University of British Columbia paid $5.9m for a Folio.

Now, to coincide with the First Folio’s 400th anniversary, Peter Harrington, an antiquarian bookseller in London, is selling a fine copy, previously in private hands, for $7.5m. The firm had the full set of all four 17th-century Folio editions of Shakespeare, plus a scarce edition of his poems from 1640, on offer for $10.5m. Pom Harrington, the proprietor, called that a “once-in-a-generation chance”. The poems, and the Fourth Folio of 1685, have just been sold. (The First remains available.)

Thanks, in part, to his friends’ push to celebrate the playwright’s legacy, Shakespeare’s First Folio is not especially rare compared with other early 17th-century books. From the original print run of around 750 copies, 235 are known to exist. Most, however, lie in hushed, low-lit state in libraries and museums. The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, dc, has 82 copies, gems of the literary treasure trove amassed by Henry Folger, the president of Standard Oil, and his wife, Emily. America hosts 149, Britain 50, with the others scattered around the world. Perhaps 27 remain in private hands, and few are likely to enter the open market.

Your correspondent inspected the First Folio now on sale in London. Inside its handsome calfskin binding—not contemporary, but dating from around 1700—the large pages look, and feel, crisp, clean and strong. Although four of the eight preliminary pages, including poems, dedications and Droeshout’s famous engraving, are marked as facsimiles on this copy, the pages containing the plays’ texts remain intact and unrestored.

Sold in 1950 for £5,000 (then a steep price tag), this Folio had perhaps rested in the library of some proud but not-too-bookish hunting squire in northern England. Its bright and legible leaves of imported French paper showcase the array of crafts that blended to make the volume. Professor Emma Smith of Oxford University, whose study of the Folio’s creation has been revised for the quatercentenary, writes that it was “the product of many different people with different amounts of agency and investment—personal, intellectual and economic—in the project.”

Link to the rest at The Economist

Shakespeare’s Book. By Chris Laoutaris. Pegasus Books; 560 pages; $35. William Collins; £25

The Making of Shakespeare’s First Folio. By Emma Smith. Bodleian Library Publishing; 258 pages; $40 and £30

The Problem with Problematic

Note: The following post was written by Copymatic. PG entered a short prompt to seed the AI generation.

Have you ever found yourself in a conversation where someone used the word “problematic” to describe something they disagreed with or found offensive? It seems like nowadays, this term is thrown around so often that it’s lost its meaning. The overuse of “problematic” has become an epidemic, and it’s detrimental to effective communication.

Using this term too frequently can result in misunderstandings and miscommunication between individuals. When we label something as problematic without providing specific reasons or examples, we fail to communicate our thoughts effectively. Additionally, people may feel afraid to express their opinions if they fear being labeled as problematic themselves.

Furthermore, using “problematic” as a catch-all phrase for anything we disagree with limits our ability to engage in constructive dialogue and find meaningful solutions. Instead of simply dismissing something as problematic, we should take the time to identify exactly what issues are at play and work towards resolving them together.

In short, while it may be tempting to throw around buzzwords like “problematic,” doing so ultimately hinders rather than helps interpersonal communication. Moving forward, let’s strive for more thoughtful discussions and recognize that not everything can be reduced down to one simplistic label.

I can’t relax

I can’t relax. I find vacations problematic.

John Oliver

Why the weasel word ‘problematic’ should be banned

From The Los Angeles Times:

For the last few years, reasonable people of various ideological leanings have been lamenting the scourge that is the word “problematic.” Cropping up particularly in online discussions about social justice and unacknowledged privilege, “problematic” is sort of like “utilize” for the Smuggy McSanctipants set. It’s an unnecessary expansion on a better, simpler word, a piece of linguistic overreach favored by those who are trying to sound smarter and more sure of themselves than they are. For instance, the augmented-reality game “Pokemon Go” has been attacked for a lot of sins, such as excluding people with limited mobility and inserting itself into inappropriate locations. For those who can’t come up with such specifics but still think the game portends the end of the world, “problematic” covers a lot of bases.

Urban Dictionary, that indispensable compendium of vernacular terms and usages, defines “problematic” as “a corporate-academic weasel word used mainly by people who sense that something may be oppressive, but don’t want to do any actual thinking about what the problem is or why it exists.”

That may be a little harsh, because these days a great number of people are doing a great deal of useful thinking about all manner of oppression. But it’s hard not to agree with the definition’s essence: “Problematic” is a weasel word.

What’s more, as I’ve observed it, “problematic” tends to get used in inverse proportion to the seriousness of the offense.

We don’t hear “problematic” applied to police shootings of unarmed black men or to legislation preventing transgender people from using certain bathrooms. (The operative description of those issues would be, respectively, “actual problem” and “stupid.”) We certainly don’t hear it when the topic is international finance or the NFL because most people who use “problematic” can’t be bothered to follow such things. In the last few months the word has been applied, with some fanfare, to Calvin Trillin, who published a poem about Chinese food in the New Yorker that was deemed racist, and to Taylor Swift’s new boyfriend, whom fans are unhappy about because … I have no idea.

“Problematic” as the rallying cry of sanctimonious posturing is nothing new. In 2013, Gawker named it one of the worst words of the year. The satirical Tumblr site, everythingsaproblem, hilariously sends up “call out culture” with pitch-perfect deconstructions of identity politics that require “problematic.” Example: According to everythingsaproblem, the type of cuddling known as spooning, which one culture critic called a “fundamentally sexist arrangement,” represents the “deeply problematic way that power structures propagate themselves.”

Until recently, my problem with “problematic” mostly had to do with the moralizing, condescending and reliably humorless people using it. But when I thought more about it (and, yes, I recognize that sitting around thinking about “problematic” might itself be called problematic), I realized what we really need to do is look at so-called problematic things through a different lens: not as something we’ve labeled and figured out but as the exact opposite.

Think about it: Much of what is deemed problematic is really just complicated, it’s interesting. In a less fragile and reactionary culture we might call these things “worthy of discussion.” But discussion — you know, where people take turns talking and listening — has gone out of style.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Times

The problem with ‘Problematic’

From Macleans:

The word “problematic” has become problematic. 2015 may go down as the year when there was a backlash against how much this term was being used, particularly in online writing. Comedian Patton Oswalt’s 53-part Twitter essay (yes, 53 parts) against politically correct comedy included the line “parts 28 through 36 will simply be the word ‘problematic.’ ” And the conservative tumblr Everything’s a Problem! ranks Internet outrage targets on a scale of one to four Problematics. Even Buzzfeed, a site that has done much to popularize the word — with listicles such as “10 Extremely Problematic Realities about Latinos in Hollywood” and “The 24 Most Problematic Girlfriends in Popular Music” — ran a self-parodic article this year called “20 Things That Are Highly Problematic.” It’s a sign of how, in the online era, a word can suddenly go from obscure jargon to overused cliché and back again. But where did “problematic” come from, and why did it turn into such a, well, problem?

Before getting to that, let’s look at what “problematic” means when we say it these days. It’s currently used as an adjective to describe something that in some way—through its meaning, or the unstated assumptions behind it—reinforces unjust beliefs or an unfair system. In other words, “problematic” is an umbrella term meaning anything that is part of the problem, not part of the solution. It doesn’t always mean racist or sexist, though it certainly can. But mostly it means something that helps perpetuate racism or sexism.

Here are a couple of examples. The first one is the earliest I’ve seen, quoted in this 2014 piece on the history of the term.

As he steps into this arena to partake of its explanatory fruits he must necessarily step into its many academic bogs as well. Of this there can be no avoidance. This is because being Mexican-American alone does not dispel the problematic characteristics of social science research in general. In this light this issue of El Grito speaks directly to some of the problems that are to be encountered by Mexican-American social scientists in the production of objective and scholarly research on the Mexican-American.

The argument there is that social science, as a field, reflects certain biases against Mexican-Americans, and those biases (which will show up even in studies undertaken by Mexican-American social scientists) are what make the field “problematic.” It’s from 1970, but that’s how the word is still used today: to shift the conversation from individual fault to structural bias. The writer isn’t calling social scientists racists; he’s saying that there are “problematic” aspects to the research they produce.

Now, jumping forward to our time, the popular video game review series Tropes vs. Women (which points out “problematic” tropes in video games and suggests how they could tell their stories better) has a disclaimer explaining that the reviews are not condemning the games or the people who enjoy them. It includes this sentence:

This series will include critical analysis of many beloved games and characters, but remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it’s [sic] more problematic or pernicious aspects.

So that’s how we hear it now, but the operative word is now. We weren’t hearing it much in the ’00s. The Urban Dictionary, a cynical, lewd but useful guide to when people became aware enough of certain terms to start posting about them, didn’t have an entry for this definition of “problematic” until May 18, 2011, when someone called it “A corporate-academic weasel word used mainly by people who sense that something may be oppressive, but don’t want to do any actual thinking about what the problem is or why it exists. Also frequently used in progressive political settings among White People of a Certain Education to avoid using herd-frightening words like ‘racist’ or ‘sexist.’ “ Google shows that interest in the term spiked around that time and has been going up ever since. And in the New York Times, uses of the word were rare before 1970, and have become incredibly frequent since 2010.

So how did a word that was mostly used in academic journals and left-wing newsletters become part of the mainstream language? The date on that first quote I mentioned, 1970, may offer a clue. What we may be seeing here, in microcosm, is what happened to a word when the 1960s left became the establishment, particularly at universities. As time goes on, there are more professors, writers, and thinkers who use the term every day, and more students who pick up this formulation.

One of the places where “problematic” is most popular, apart from the Buzzfeed-style think piece, is Tumblr. And part of the significance of Tumblr is that it has helped import academic jargon into the mainstream. Terms like “erase” (to refer to downplaying or forgetting about non-whiteness or non-white people) or “male gaze,” which used to be mostly academic terms, are now routinely used outside the classroom. There used to be a sense that the university and the so-called real world were separate, and that the words you used in your academic discussions or writing weren’t necessarily the words you’d use in a mainstream forum – you’d say the same things, of course, but you’d use words that were more familiar to the mainstream. In our fragmented era, it’s more acceptable to write for a niche audience that understands the nuances of the terms you’re using. But the Internet has a way of taking niche words to people who might never have used them before, and integrating it into their conversation. So you have a term that goes from the universities to the Internet to the real world.

Now, why is this such a popular word to use? The main reason, I think, is that it’s vague enough to be gentle and not hurt anyone’s feeelings. Saying “problematic” is meant to avoid more loaded terms like racist or sexist or homophobic or colonialist. The advantage of this is that when you use those more specific, negative terms, someone is going to take offence, and the whole discussion will devolve into an argument about what constitutes racism or sexism, who gets to define, it, and so on. With “problematic,” you’re avoiding this explosion, avoiding the implication that it’s anyone’s fault in particular, and not even getting too deep into what kind of problem it is.

Link to the rest at Macleans

Now Explain What the Problem Is

From The Atlantic:

When people use the academic term problematic, they should say what they’re objecting to.

Academics like me love to describe things as “problematic.” But what do we mean? We’re not saying that the thing in question is unsolvable or even difficult. We’re saying—or implying—that it is objectionable in some way, that it rests uneasily with our prior moral or political commitments.

For instance, when I described applying Ancient Greek free-speech ideals to social media as “problematic” in a recent article, I wasn’t saying that Socrates’s audience was impossible to please. I was saying that these practices were premised on exclusion in a way that modern egalitarians won’t like. Or when my Oxford colleague Amia Srinivasan describes stand-up comedy in Los Angeles as “problematic,” she’s not saying that she struggled to understand the jokes. She’s saying that they relied on sexism in a way that she—and everyone—should find morally bad.

In principle, every usage of the term problematic should be followed by an explanation. Is the situation or person in question unjust, immoral, or unfair? Racist, sexist, or otherwise bigoted? Wrongheaded, perhaps, or just plain wrong? All too often, the explanation never comes.

Snark artists on Tumblr have parodied pretentious, pejorative uses of problematic for years. Yet today, they are as popular in mainstream publications as with professors. According to a recent article in Scientific AmericanJEDI is “problematic” as an acronym for “Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion” initiatives because, among other issues, the Jedi protagonists in Star Wars employ “toxically masculine approaches to conflict resolution.” Elsewhere, we’re told that the facial features of Bond villains are “problematic” because they cast aspersions on people with disfigurements, or that West Virginia’s long history with the coal industry is “problematic”—at least,according to members of the Rockefeller family.

Which other academic buzzword can boast of going so decisively and pervasively mainstream? Conventionally, problematic just means “presenting a problem or difficulty,” a usage that The Oxford English Dictionary traces back to 1609. But this definition can’t explain the word’s current popularity.

Like the verb problematize, the adjective problematic came into its own in the 1980s with the importation of French structuralism into American academia. The philosopher and historian Michel Foucault presented “problematization” as a process whereby something previously taken for granted comes to be understood as a problem to be addressed.

We ultimately owe problematic, however, not to Foucault, but to his Marxist colleague Louis Althusser, for whom the phrase la problematique described a structured, theoretical system through which ideas are processed. Incidentally, Althusser also strangled his wife, Hélène Rytmann, to death in 1980. The fact that many who embrace his terminology today would now reflexively describe Althusser himself as “problematic”—instead of “misogynistic” or “violent”—illustrates how successfully the word has slipped the bonds of social theory to become an all-purpose term not of art but of opprobrium.

Problematic may have escaped the academy, but scholars and teachers still bear a lot of responsibility for its current use. Like any casual Twitter user, academics use problematic as an innuendo, or better yet, an “insinuendo.” Rhetorically, this usage divides our audiences between those who know already what our commitments are—in many cases because, on a politically homogeneous campus, they share them—and so are presumptively in the know about what we find objectionable. To this audience, problematic indicates where the problem is; they do not need to be told what it is.

. . . .

In effect, problematic communicates that those who don’t share our commitments at the outset are not wortharguing with, let alone persuading. It relies on a subtle sort of bullying in place of mutual justification. It excludes,rather than explains.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

How Do We Reckon With the Art of Problematic Artists?

From Electric Lit:

Claire Dederer’s Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma offers no easy answers when considering the art of wrongdoers. Across thirteen chapters, Dederer unpacks the complex legacies of a variety of artists—Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, J.K. Rowling, Picasso, Michael Jackson, and many more—with unfailing wit and nuance. Threaded throughout this exploration of genius, creation, and monstrosity is her own history as a consumer, student, critic, mother, and writer in her own right. As Dederer openly wrestles with questions of fandom and morality, Monsters serves as an undeniable reminder that our biographies are inextricable from our experience of the art we love.

Monsters provides a roadmap for readers who are interested in thinking through the subtleties of Dederer’s questions and willing to sit with the resulting discomfort. “The way you consume art doesn’t make you a bad person, or a good one,” she writes. “You’ll have to find some other way to accomplish that.” As Dederer’s own biography shapes her considerations of capitalism, criticism, and time itself, Monsters offers a deeply personal testament of one fan’s multifaceted relationship to the art of imperfect people.

I spoke with Dederer over Zoom about her experience of going viral, fame’s relationship to art, and the thorny intersections of capitalism and love.

. . . .

Abigail Oswald: How did the viral response to your Paris Review essay “What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?” feed into the way you crafted Monsters

Claire Dederer: Every writer knows that having a viral piece is both a dream and a nightmare. Here’s the deal with that piece, I wrote this book called Love and Trouble about predation of young women—girls, really—in the 1970s, and a theme of the book was sort of “What is it like to be an adult who had that experience, and how did it affect my sexuality?” And in that book I really engaged with Roman Polanski. He’s used in the book as a kind of straw man, and also as kind of a person I’m in dialogue with. So by the time I’d finished that book, I really knew everything there was to know about Roman Polanski’s rape of the young girl, and yet I was still watching the films. So I started writing Monsters, I’m gonna say in 2016. And just really sitting with this question of what is happening when I consume this work. What do I feel like? What’s my experience of it? How does my idea of him alter me as an audience member? 

So that essay was never conceived as an essay. It was always conceived as the first chapter of the book. I had really approached the subject with curiosity, without an axe to grind, without something I was trying to prove, but with this very exploratory mindset, and I think that’s why the essay did well. I think it was because it was nuanced, and the nuance didn’t come from me being some genius, the nuance came simply from the fact that it was something I’ve been working on for years. But it looked like it was in response to the moment, and so for me that was a really interesting experience—almost more as a citizen than as an artist myself—because it was really heartening, actually, to have something in the current information economy that was super nuanced and had a really strong positive response, right. I don’t mean to be Pollyanna-ish or like, bright side of miserable topic, but that made me feel both excited about my work, but also excited that there was a potential for a more complex dialogue. And so that was my initial response.

Then I had this experience of the ways in which there were feminists who had a problem with the essay. There was a response that was like, don’t totalize these kinds of offenses. And I was like, well, clearly I didn’t make that point clearly enough. So that was great, I could take that on board and think about it for the final book, which, as you’ve seen, I feel like I’ve wrestled with it. And there was just this constant barrage of Woody Allen defenders and men’s rights people and accounts being set up to attack me. Which speaks to my larger point, which is there’s something about our subjective emotional collapse with this work that is undeniable and profound, which I saw in all these accounts being set up to attack me. 

So, as I proceeded working on the book, [I was guided by] the knowledge that nuance and a really deep exploration was going to be my watchword. It took me five years to write the book.

AO: Part of the modern rise in this conversation about the artist’s biography can be attributed to changes in media consumption and the sheer contemporary accessibility of said biography. How would you say the more widespread accessibility of biography has affected our sense of responsibility as consumers? 

CD: One of the central ideas of the book is the idea that we don’t strive for biography, it happens to us. That biography is like an ongoing natural disaster—just befalls us, right? And that we don’t really get to choose that. So in terms of how I personally approach knowing things about the people whose art I consume, I feel like choice is not part of it. It just happens. The plight of the audience member, as I see it in this book and as I explore it in this book, is this person to whom the knowledge has already happened. So then, what do you do with it? 

What effect do I think that has on our experience of art? I think that the answer to that is, first of all, taking a step back and saying it does have an effect on our experience of art. The initial question that sort of comes up over and over—or used to, I think it’s slightly more nuanced now—is “Can you separate the art from the artist?” And that’s one of the first principal questions this book asks. And because I believe that biography befalls us, and because I believe we can’t pull out our response to the biography, I think the decision to separate is a flawed decision. It’s a failure before it begins. I think my first response is that we respond with that biography on our minds, whether we want to or not. And then the question for the audience is what do you do with that knowledge? Do you acknowledge it and consume the work anyway? Do you not watch the work because it’s too painful? Do you not watch the work because you’re making an ethical stand? And I think there’s as many answers to that question as there are viewers, readers, listeners… 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG has mentioned this before, but he has found very few people to like who make regular use of problematic.

Don’t rush to the inciting incident

From Nathan Bransford:

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

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to bankoferin, whose page is below:

Title: Proof of Love
Genre: Literary Fiction/Women’s Fiction

As Eliza entered her apartment, her phone buzzed impatiently in her back pocket. She pulled it out and glanced at the screen as she stepped out of her shoes. One new voicemail. She must have missed the call when she was underground in the subway, journeying back from a late dinner in Manhattan with Jackie and her new girlfriend. Eliza debated even listening to it; she was exhausted from uncomfortably witnessing a strange woman dote upon her friend. Not her friend. Her sponsor. Had she been jealous, of someone diverting attention normally reserved for her? Or of two people finding connection with each other?

She played the message on speaker while she undressed. With one leg out of her jeans, she froze when she heard an unmistakable voice, slow, soft, and strong. The voice of a ghost, from a life she no longer had.

“Eliza, hi, this is Owen. It’s Tuesday night, eight o’clock out here. I’m sorry I haven’t called sooner, we were hoping… well.” A deep breath crackled the line. “Your dad had a stroke. And he’d like to see you. Call me back anytime.”

Eliza slowly pulled her other leg out of her pants and circled slowly around the apartment, trying to breathe. She counted her inhale, one-two-three, and her exhale, one-two-three-four, like she was supposed to do when she wanted a drink. But instead of calming down, she felt dizzy and dashed to the bathroom to crouch over the toilet.

A lot of the pages I read in the course of my editing life feel like they’re the end result of misapplied feedback.

If I had to bet, the writer initially started the novel in a different place, but they either heard some writing advice that you have to grab the reader right away or received feedback that the opening was too slow. Eliza finding out her father had a stroke is the inciting incident where the plot kicks off, so the writer decided get there as fast as humanly possible with only some meager references to a dinner with Eliza’s sponsor to ham-handedly establish that Eliza is a) an alcoholic and b) single.

There’s no physical description to help us understand what her apartment is like (is she in a cramped three bedroom with five roommates in the Bronx or is she in a palatial Manhattan penthouse?), we don’t have any hints of what else might be going on in her life beyond alcoholism and singledom, and the news is followed by a cliched gesture explosion that doesn’t help us understand how specifically she’s thinking through this news or who Owen is.

If the previous opening was slow, the right solution was not to move the inciting incident to paragraph three. The author just needed a better mini-quest to show the protagonist in her element before the main plot kicks off. In other words, if there was a different opening before that didn’t work well, the right solution wasn’t to eliminate it, it was to fix the old opening to make it more interesting.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

 Living In The Past

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Three things happened in quick succession recently, that forced me to write this blog now, not, say, months from now.

First, a writer friend astonished me by saying they have finally gone indie, after being urged to do so for more than a decade. They’ve been unable to sell a book traditionally for that entire decade, but they’ve kept writing.

Only…they’re not really ready to go indie, because they want to pay someone to design the book’s interior for both ebook and for paper. They want to pay someone else to design their cover, and they want to pay yet a third person for marketing.

I’m afraid my hair was on fire as I answered them…as gently as I could…informing them that they could do most if not all of these things on their own. They were looking at a cash outlay per book of a minimum of $5,000—and they wanted to publish a book per month.

I have no idea if this friend is wealthy. I do know that as a start-up, with zero track record outside of nonfiction and short fiction, this person would not earn back the full $60,000 they spend on this plan for years and years. I warned them about scammers, I gave my writer friend links, and I know that I overwhelmed them. But Good-freakin’-God, this person and I had the same conversation in 2012, when doing everything they discussed was a lot harder.

Then I sent them to a service…that went out of business, like every other service. (Except this service did not steal the writer’s IP in the process, like so many others had.)

I know other writer friends are trying to triage with this poor person, but I’m thinking, just let this writer spend the money. They’re actively refusing to learn modern publishing and have actively avoided it for 12 years. It’s not going to matter how much most of us yell; that person will not take the leap into indie.

Then, at lunch, I mentioned an older writer friend of ours, a writer in his eighties who declared fifteen years ago that he was retiring from writing because he was about to hit seventy. He crept into indie publishing with some unpublished backlist titles, then published all of his out-of-print titles and finally, about eight years ago, published a brand-new newly written book.

Yeah, this writer has help, because he’d run a business in the past, so he built a new business (after he retired) that resembles WMG. Someone else handles most of the publishing details, and he has social media folks because he can afford them. (He is wealthy, having had movies made from his work and because he’s a good money manager.)

Lo and behold, this guy, who fifteen years ago said that the words have dried up, has published at least 10 newly written books since that first one eight years ago.

I got a newsletter from him on the same day as I had gotten that other email about the writer who wants to be taken care of. Dean got the same newsletter and we discussed it at lunch.

I mentioned how this eighty-something writer had secretly unretired, and Dean said, “If he had stayed in traditional publishing, he wouldn’t be writing anymore. It’s indie that brought him back to life.”

Completely true. Not only has indie brought his fiction back to life, but he’s doing all kinds of creative marketing things, like limited editions and special editions and fan-favorite editions. He’s participating in bundles and is talking about a Kickstarter, but worries that he lacks the time, because he doesn’t want to take time from his latest novel.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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