Taskforce set up to tackle Disney’s attempts to weasel out of paying its genre authors

From SF Crowsnest:

A task force has now been set up to tackle Disney’s attempts to weasel out of paying its genre authors of their promised/contracted royalties.

The organisations behind the #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force include the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the Author’s Guild, the Horror Writers Association, the National Writers Union, Novelists, Inc., the Romance Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime.

The task force includes members such as Neil Gaiman, Tess Gerritsen, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Chuck Wendig.

“Writers must be paid or given missing royalty statements; these contracts must be honoured,” said Mary Robinette Kowal, President, SFWA. “We urge all authors to review their statements to make certain they are in order.”

SFWA has told us that Alan Dean Foster’s novelisation payments have now been resolved. But about a dozen additional authors contacted SFWA with a request for help, including the authors of Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Indiana Jones, and multiple other properties. SFWA has provided Disney with the names of authors who are similarly missing royalty statements and payments going back years.

Fox had licensed the comics rights to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Dark Horse. After Disney purchased Fox, they withdrew those rights from Dark Horse and granted them to Boom! Comics. When one Buffy author contacted Boom! about missing royalties, they were told that “royalties don’t transfer.” Disney is the owner of Boom! Comics.

So, basically, if this is allowed to legally stand, any publisher can just sell their books’ rights internally in a shell game, voiding any further author royalty payments at all.

Disney is now being reactive rather than proactively working with the SFWA to address the significant issue they have brought to their attention. While in talks for Alan Dean Foster’s Alien novels, Disney was told that Alan was also missing statements and royalties for his Star Wars novelisations. They would not begin the process or resume royalty statements until Alan contacted them with a formal claim.

“SFWA wishes to create a cooperative relationship with Disney, but the corporation flatly refuses to work with us,” added Kowal. “They say they are committed to paying the authors, but their actions make it clear that Disney is placing the onus to be paid on the authors, while at the same time attempting to isolate the authors from receiving counsel from their professional author organisation.”

. . . .

There are now many verified reports of missing statements and royalties from LucasFilm (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc.); Boom! Comics, and Dark Horse Comics (Licensed comics including Buffy the Vampire Slayer); 20th Century Fox (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alien, etc.); MGM (Stargate); Marvel WorldWide (SpiderMan, Predator); Disney Worldwide Publishing (Buffy, Angel).

Link to the rest at SF Crowsnest and thanks to Stephen for the tip.

Five Writing Tips We Love to Hate

From Writers in the Storm:

While perusing the Twitterverse recently, I happened upon a question that caught my interest. Author Jeff Richards asked, “What is your LEAST favorite common writing tip?”

We all have that one piece of advice that makes us roll our eyes when someone feels the need to impart that particular kernel of wisdom. Below, I’ve collected some of the most popular responses from Mr. Richards’ query. Everyone has their own interpretation as to the meaning of these gems. Let’s take a deeper look and I’ll give you my opinion (I’m full of them).

Write Every Day

“Write every day” is the one I hear most often and was also high on the Twitter list. The most common complaints about this piece of advice involve finding the time and/or the inspiration. Both can be quite difficult at times. You need to write consistently, but that may not mean every day in your particular life situation. I like to approach this tip more as, “Make time in your schedule for writing and stick to it.”

The truth is life doesn’t always give us a choice, so do your best and don’t kick yourself to hard when you stumble and miss a day or two (or in my case sometimes weeks). There are times you need to give yourself permission to say, “It ain’t happening today…”

. . . .

Don’t Use Prologues

I have to admit “Don’t use prologues” used to be one of my favorite pieces of advice. I always felt the need for a prologue meant you were starting your story in the wrong place. I also found a good number of the prologues I encountered were simply data dumps of back story that could have easily been woven into the fabric of the narrative or eliminated completely.

I’ve flipped my opinion on this one a little. Sometimes a prologue can set the proper mood for a piece or help the reader get anchored in an unfamiliar setting, especially when it comes to fantasy and science fiction. I think the key is to keep it short and don’t overload the reader with details you can work into the story when they are necessary. A lot of back story can be implied by context and world-building done by your character’s interactions with their surroundings.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Antiquities

From The Wall Street Journal:

The narrator of Cynthia Ozick’s seventh novel is neither Jewish nor intellectual—a significant departure from her usual characters. Nor is he worldly, witty, well-read or astute. But Ms. Ozick is of course all of the above, and this slim but by no means slight narrative is as cunning and rich as anything she’s written.

Antiquities” is about an excavation into the past by a man not insightful enough to fully understand what he has unearthed and revealed. Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie is a cultural relic, a stodgy retired lawyer who in 1949 resides, with the six other elderly surviving trustees of the Temple Academy for Boys, in converted apartments in their former Westchester County boarding school, which closed 34 years earlier.

“Antiquities” consists of Petrie’s attempt to write about a salient experience from his school days: his idolatrous relationship with a mysterious classmate, a boy whose foreign name, Ben-Zion Elefantin, strange accent, and skeletal appearance subjected him to ridicule from the other students. Petrie’s association with Elefantin, initially over chess, rendered him an outcast, too.

Petrie’s recollections of his schoolboy infatuation are deeply entangled with memories of his father, who died when he was 10—the same year Elefantin came to the Academy, though he doesn’t mention this confluence explicitly. Petrie discovers that his upstanding father, too, had suffered an infatuation—with “ancient times”—which caused him to briefly abandon his new wife and position at the family law firm for a fling with a different life: work on the excavation of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, run by renowned archaeologist (and historical figure) Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, whom he believed to be a cousin.

Sorting through the rubble of both infatuations is heavy labor for Petrie, even many decades later. He notes in a moment of rare self-awareness that “it is as if I must excavate, as in a desert, what lies far below and has no wish to emerge—to wit, my boyhood emotions.”

Ms. Ozick has created a character who, unlike herself, is unconscious of the reverberations of the words he chooses. The lonely, friendless widower writes of his “racking affections” for Elefantin and what, in a lonely childhood in which physical contact must have been a rarity, he considers their “intimacy.” He repeatedly mentions their bare knees touching on the climactic day when Elefantin mesmerized him with a tale of his family’s ancient origins, part of an outcast Jewish sect whose history on the Nile, he claims, was omitted from the Torah by “falsifying scholars.”

Even as an old man, Petrie doesn’t know what to make of these “frenzied murmurings of two agitated boys prone and under a spell.” Is it, he wonders, “a liar’s screed, an invention? An apparition’s fevered pedantry? And who knows such things, this garble of history and foreign babble? Not I. Nor am I a man of imagination,” he writes.

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

The individual has always had to struggle

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.

Rudyard Kipling

The Secret To This Romance Author’s Success? Breaking All The Rules.

From Amazon Author Insights:

I can safely say that every time I’ve been asked to speak to aspiring writers, afterward, I’ve had not one, but several come up to me and say, “I can’t believe you did what you said you did. I was told never to do that. I was told never to break that rule.” This does not surprise me, but it saddens me. When I started writing, I too had a set of rules for writing romance (my genre) that I was under the impression were unbreakable. And I wrote within the confines of those rules.

It was only when publishing house after publishing house, agent after agent had rejected my submissions, and I’d decided that no one was ever going to read my books, that I threw the rules out the window. I then simply wrote what I wanted to write, wrote how the stories came to me, was true to them and my characters.

Then I published myself … And I’ve sold more than two and a half million books.

What are the rules I broke? First, I didn’t write what I thought people wanted to read. I didn’t research what might be popular — what might sell — and write that. I wrote stories that felt personal to me, that I enjoyed completely from writing to reading. The first book that I did this with was Rock Chick, and with it and the Rock Chick series, I broke all the rules:

I wrote in first person, and at that time, romance novels in first person were available, but not customary.

I wrote my heroine’s thoughts in a stream of consciousness. I had paragraphs — many of them — that were just one word. I put myself, and what would eventually be my readers, in the mind of my heroine, Indy. Not describing what she was thinking, but thinking what she was thinking as she was thinking it. It’s important to note that not everyone could get into that, and that’s understandable, even expected. It’s also important to note that the ones who did, really did.

. . . .

I didn’t censor my characters or their behavior. I didn’t think, “Oh, that might make her unlikeable, I need to switch that up, make her perfect.” I didn’t water down my aggressive, but loving heroes. I let them be them — real, imperfect, sometimes annoying, more times endearing (I hoped). They were great friends and good people, but they could (and often did) do stupid things (like we all do).

And my Rock Chicks were — and still are — hugely successful.

Once I let myself be free, my writing took off — not only in that people were reading it, but that I felt at liberty to create how I needed to create. To be true to what I was doing. It wasn’t about stepping out of bounds for the sake of it. It was about opening a cage and giving myself the freedom to fly.

In other words, I broke the rules for the sake of the stories. And I didn’t play it safe after my books started selling; I had to stay true to that process. I needed to keep spreading my wings, doing this for me, but also to give my readers something new and fresh, a story I was passionate about so they could enjoy it right along with me. 

Link to the rest at Amazon Author Insights

Using TikTok to Sell Books

From Writers Helping Writers:

Almost every teenager in the United States knows about TikTok—the video-sharing social media platform with hundreds of millions of active users. And with the increasing popularity of the #BookTok hashtag, which readers use to talk about their favorite books, many YA authors are turning to TikTok to promote their work.

I began posting on the platform in August of 2020 and have since amassed nearly 225,000 followers (a number that is still growing by hundreds each day). TikTok makes it incredibly easy to go viral with minimal effort. Just one fifteen-second video can get you tens of thousands of followers; all you need is a decent strategy. Here are some tips that earned my videos millions of views:

1. Use Hashtags to Your Advantage

Many users believe that using popular hashtags (such as #fyp) will be enough for them to go viral. That isn’t entirely true. While there is a slight chance those hashtags will give you thousands of views, it is highly unlikely they will help you reach your target audience. Using hashtags such as #author, #writingabook, or anything relating to your genre will be much more effective. The first video I posted with those hashtags garnered nearly half a million views.

2. Post Consistently

If one of your videos does go viral and you disappear off the platform for the next few weeks, you’ll probably end up losing hundreds of followers. Your goal should be creating bonds with your fans so they’ll feel more inclined to buy your books, and one way to do that is posting at least once a day.

3. Don’t Just Promote

Believe me when I say this—nobody wants to hear you blatantly promote your book 24/7. A promotional post once in a while is fine, but your followers will get bored if everything on your page is just you talking about your book. Keep your content related to writing, but switch it up. One way to do that is by posting writing tips. Those are amazing choices for videos because they give you credibility. Not to mention, if you help someone with their writing, they’ll want to repay you in any way they can—like buying your book. Half of my followers wouldn’t be following me if it wasn’t for my writing tips.

4. Use Trending Sounds

This is probably the #1 factor that will help boost your videos. If you see that a sound has over ten thousand videos under it (most of which are recent), use it. You can even put it over a video of you talking (just lower the sound to zero if you don’t want it to be heard) and it will still boost your views.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

3 Key Tactics for Crafting Powerful Scenes

From Jane Friedman:

It’s one of the things we love most about fiction, the illusion that we’re not just reading a story about this character, we actually are this character.

Brain science tells us that when we read about a character doing or experiencing something, our brains light up in much the same way as if we were doing or experiencing that thing for ourselves—and nowhere is this illusion more complete than in scene.

Scene is where the pace of the story slows to “real time,” and we’re privy to every word, gesture, and sensory detail. Not only does this allow us to inhabit the story in a visceral way, it sends a clear message that what’s happening here is important—important enough that it cannot simply be narrated. Listen, the author is saying. You really just have to experience this for yourself.

Scene is also where the emotions of the story are at their most intense—the place where, to paraphrase Ursula K. Le Guin, the reader leans forward and bites her lip. Scene is the place in the story where we find tears welling up in our eyes, or find ourselves scowling at the antagonist’s unconscionable cruelty.

That’s because, no matter how much the author tells us about the characters, scene is where characters show us who they really are. And in doing so, they’re often unpredictable—which of course only adds to the appeal. When we read scenes where the characters surprise us, we want to keep reading, to see what wild thing they’re going to do next.

Powerful scenes make for powerful stories, and as both a writer and book coach, I’ve found that these are three key tactics for achieving them.

1. Dramatize turning points

To articulate means to give shape or expression to something, such as a theme or concept—it also means to unite by means of a joint. Maybe that’s why dramatizing the turning points of a story, its joints, is one of the strongest ways to give shape and expression to the story as a whole.

Situating scenes at the turning points of your story also ensures that something will actually occur in these scenes, beyond sharing the basic exposition, characterization, and conflicts. Which is to say, situating your scenes this way helps to ensure that there will be a major development within that scene that moves the story forward.

Often, writers have no real intentionality about where they place their scenes, or what work they’ll actually perform for the story. They write scenes to explore a situation or setting, to get a sense for the dynamics between the characters, to explore the conflicts between them—and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially in an early draft.

But powerhouse scenes are made of stronger stuff: they do all of this while also dramatizing the story’s major developments, and articulating its contours as a whole.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Time for a woman’s view with Miss Ann Powell

From The Niagara Gazette:

Moving along to 1789 and a trip involving a Miss Ann Powell. Her journal is a graphic description of the difficulties and inconvenience of travel in her day. I found it interesting enough to select some her writings, as they were found to be of great value historically, not only for the light which it throws upon the general state of the country, about Niagara and for the description of the Falls, but for the information which it contains relative to the Indians whom Miss Powell was so fortunate as to see in council assembled on the present site of Buffalo and for evidence as to conditions on the Niagara frontier just after the Revolution.

She states: “The Fort Niagara is by no means pleasantly situated. It is built close upon the Lake, which gains upon its foundations so fast, that in a few years they may be overflowed … Several gentlemen offered to escort us to the landing, which is eight miles from Fort Erie. There the Niagara River becomes impassable, and all the luggage was drawn up a steep hill in a cradle, a machine I never saw before. We walked up the hill, and were conducted to a good garden with an arbor in it, where we found a cloth laid for dinner, which was provided for us by the officers of the post. “

“After dinner we went on for seven miles to Fort Schlosher. (Her spelling) .The road was good, the weather charming, and this was the only opportunity we should have of seeing the fall. All of our party collected half a mile above the Falls and walked down to them. I was in raptures all the way. The Falls I had heard of forever, but no one had mentioned the Rapids! For half a mile the river comes foaming down immense rocks, some of them forming cascades 30 or 40 feet high! The banks are covered with woods, as are a number of islands, some of them very high out of the water. One in the centre of the river, runs into a point and seems to divide the Falls, which would otherwise be quite across the river , into the form of a crescent.

“I believe no mind can form an idea of the immensity of the body of water, or the rapidity with which it hurries down. The height is 180 feet, and long before it reaches the bottom, it loses all appearance of a liquid. The spray rises like light summer clouds, and when the rays of the sun are reflected through it , they form innumerable rainbows, but the sun was not in a situation to show this effect when we were there.

“One thing I could find nobody to explain to me, which is, the stillness of the water at the bottom of the Falls; it is as smooth as a lake, for half a mile, deep and narrow, the banks very high and steep, with trees hanging over them. I was never before sensible of the power of scenery, nor did I suppose the eye could carry to the mind such strange emotions of pleasure, wonder and solemnity.” For a time every other impression was erased from my memory! Had I been left to myself, I am convinced I should not have thought of moving whilst there was light to distinguish objects.”

Link to the rest at The Niagara Gazette

PG doesn’t believe he has ever posted anything from The Niagara Gazette before and definitely not something written by its columnist, Norma Higgs.

Along with many others (he presumes), PG and Mrs. PG have been discussing the short and long-term impacts of the extraordinary Covid shutdown and some of the weirdness which has accompanied it.

PG has found distraction and some perspective in reading historical fiction and non-fiction.

He is not quite certain how he stumbled across Ms. Higgs’ article transcribing what appears to be a 1789 journal entry by an unmarried woman, Ann Powell, recording her firsts impressions of Niagara Falls during her travels through the area.

For historical context, Ann was traveling six years after the end of the Revolutionary War and two years after the Constitutional Convention.

Fort Niagara, which Ann mentions in her account, was originally built under the direction of the Governor of New France in 1687 on Lake Ontario beside the source of the Niagara River. The fort underwent a series of reconstructions and expansions over the years thereafter.

The Fort fell into British hands during the French and Indian War in 1759. At the time Ann visited the fort, in 1789, although the area where the fort was constructed was ceded to the United States under the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War, the fort was still under British control.

During and after the Revolutionary War, this part of upstate New York was a stronghold and sanctuary for those who had been Loyalists, supporting the British during the Revolutionary War and a great many Loyalists fled the effective boundaries of the United States to settle in this area. Fort Niagara did not come under the control of the United States until after the signing of the Jay Treaty in 1796.

Following are a couple of illustrations of the fort.

Fort Niagara, 1728, via Wikimedia Commons
“The French Castle” a fortification at Fort Niagara State Park, photo via Wikimedia Commons, Attribution: Ad Meskens, use for any purpose permitted, provided that the copyright holder is properly attributed. Redistribution, derivative work, commercial use, and all other use is permitted.

Race and Color

We have got to move away from the concept of race and color because that is what apartheid is. We cannot end apartheid if we retain these concepts.

Oliver Tambo

For the real threshold for traditional publication, look at debuts

From Nathan Bransford:

It’s not a secret that the quality of books published by traditional publishers varies greatly. Some are breathtakingly magical, some read like lukewarm porridge.

I personally have long felt that authors cast too many aspersions against traditionally published books and underrate how good they really are, particularly if you’ve never read slush to get a sense of the “competition.” If you’re not finding more wonderful books than you could possibly have time to read, you’re really not looking very hard.

But it’s undoubtedly true that there are some traditionally published books that feel a bit, well, mailed in. And whenever an author brings one of these to my attention and uses it to interrogate the standards at traditional publishers, I often ask this question: was it a debut?

There are many reasons an established author might get a so-so book over the line to publication: they might have a faithful readership who will buy any book that hits the right notes, or it may be as simple as the author delivering a second or third book in a contract that has already been signed. These books may not need to reach the same level of excitement that’s required for an editor to go through the hurdles of acquiring a new book on behalf of the publisher.

If you want to know how good you have to be to get a traditionally published book across the finish line: look to the debuts. Those are the ones that had to get an editor excited enough to make an offer and take a chance on an unknown author.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

PG suggests that authors may be best-served by letting readers decide. At a minimum, an indie author with little talent will have more readers and make more money than a would-be traditionally-published author who never gets a book contract.

Jack and the Bean Counters: A Woke Children’s Story

From The Wall Street Journal:

One of my favorite childhood novels recounted the story of a boy separated from his family and caught behind Japanese lines in war-torn midcentury China. I felt I was with the boy, Tien Pao, when he woke terrified in a sampan sweeping downriver toward the smoldering ruins of his village. Alongside Tien Pao, I watched a doomed train back into a burning station and heard the screams of its passengers. Together we crouched in the broiling sun, scanning throngs of refugees for a familiar face. Later, we flew in a plane over an aerodrome and I felt his jolt of joy as if it were my own when, far below, he saw his mother.

That Tien Pao was a boy and I a girl, that his parents were married and mine divorced, that his skin was one hue and mine another—none of this impinged on the thrilling immediacy of Meindert DeJong’s “The House of Sixty Fathers,” illustrated by the young Maurice Sendak.

The teacher who gave me that book widened my horizons and enriched my life. Would she still do so today? I fear not. Schools and the world of children’s literature have been seized by the notion that the most important thing about a book is whether children can “see themselves” in it. This is understood in a narrow and reductive way: The race, ethnicity and sexual orientation of the young reader must be matched by those of the characters they meet in books.

What began as a laudable idea—that children’s literature should embrace a variety of stories and all manner of characters—has morphed into monomania. Identity is all. Professional journals that catalog and review new children’s titles now make a fetish of highlighting the pallor or pigmentation of fictional characters.

Publisher’s Weekly, for instance, in its review of “Faraway Things,” a forthcoming picture book by Dave Eggers and illustrated by Kelly Murphy, finds it necessary to report a young character is “pale-skinned” and an older one is “brown-skinned.” A reviewer for Kirkus notes: “The captain has dark skin; Lucian and the others have light skin.”

Researchers from Columbia and the University of Chicago have brought race-labeling to a new level by enlisting machines to sort literary characters by color. Led by Anjali Adukia, an assistant professor at Chicago University’s Harris School of Public Policy, the team used artificial intelligence to sift through the past century of prize-winning children’s books to identify characters by sex, age and color. Released April 12, their study, “What We Teach About Race and Gender: Representation in Images and Text of Children’s Books,” brings an antebellum ethic of race consciousness to American children’s literature.

The research team examined two sets of novels and picture books: “mainstream” ones, which won the American Library Association’s Newbery and Caldecott medals, and “diversity” ones, which have won ALA distinction because they satisfy criteria related to race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or physical ability.

The researchers taught the computer to detect faces in illustrations, classify skin colors and predict characters’ race, sex and age. The machine also combed through 1,133 prize-winning texts for gendered language, mentions of color and references to age. Books in the “diversity” group were found, over time, to depict more characters with darker skin, while “mainstream” books showed characters with either lighter or “chromatically ambiguous” features. There is, the study reports, “a persistent disproportionate representation of males, particularly White males, and lighter-skinned people relative to darker-skinned people.” The study includes charts and graphs depicting gradations of human skin color that would make John C. Calhoun proud.

The AI findings are both dispassionate and shockingly retrograde.

. . . .

And what of characters that can’t be classified as either light or dark? They are a product of a practice the study authors disdainfully call “butterscotching,” which “some may argue sends an assimilationist message regarding the representation of race.” Others may argue it’s an invitation to universality. A good book doesn’t cut readers off. It invites them in, and it doesn’t care what they look like.

“The House of Sixty Fathers” won a Newbery honor in 1957, which means my old friend Tien Pao is somewhere in the team’s “mainstream” color charts. To me he was a living boy, but in the study he’s been flattened and denatured and reduced to a few demographic data points. It’s ghastly.

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

From The Apartheid Museum:

From 1950 South Africans were classified on the basis of their ‘race’.

People were classified into one of four groups: ‘native’, ‘coloured’, ‘Asian’ or ‘white’.

By 1966, 11 million people had been classified under the Population Registration Act of 1950.

. . . .

Race Classification

Racial classification was the foundation of all apartheid laws. It placed individuals in one of four groups: ‘native’, ‘coloured’, ‘Asian’ or ‘white’.

In order to illustrate everyday reality under apartheid, visitors to the museum are arbitrarily classified as either white or non-white. Once classified, visitors are permitted entry to the museum only through the gate allocated to their race group. Identity documents were the main tool used to implement this racial divide, and many of these documents are on display in this exhibit.

Link to the rest at The Apartheid Museum

From Segregation in Action:

. . . .

. . . .

. . . .

. . . .

Link to the rest at Resources, The Apartheid Museum

PG is aware of the dangers of a slippery-slope argument.

However, slippery-slopes arguments gain their credibility because slippery slopes have existed on many more than one occasion in the past. They are not imaginary creations, but rather descriptions of what is possible, some would say probable, given human nature operating in a wide variety of different circumstances in many parts of the world.

PG suggests that no culture or nation is immune to the potential dangers of slippery slopes.

No pressure

No pressure, no diamonds. Little pressure, little diamonds. Great pressure, great diamonds.

Matshona Dhliwayo

Outcry over book ‘censorship’ reveals how online retailers choose books — or don’t

From The Washington Post:

Crying “Censorship!” has become the right’s favorite book marketing technique.

Roger Kimball, president of Encounter Books, is the latest publisher to hawk his wares this way in the Wall Street Journal. Last week, on the op-ed page, Kimball complained that Amazon had stopped selling “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment,” by social conservative Ryan T. Anderson. Kimball called the move “a deliberate act of censorship” — presumably to placate critics who call the book transphobic. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Kimball went on to note that “When Harry Became Sally” has also been dropped by Bookshop.org, the indie alternative to Amazon. Far from providing an alternative, “Bookshop,” he claimed, “turns out to be little more than another minion for the Emperor of Wokeness.”

That’s silly, but one point Kimball made draws blood: How can Bookshop defend removing this 2018 book that offends liberal sensibilities while continuing to offer about 20 different editions of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”?

Bookshop did not respond to a request for comment. But the reason you can buy the Führer’s memoir from a woke online bookseller says a lot about how Web-based merchants function and how they’re changing our relationship to retailers.

Consider that your local indie bookstore contains titles that have been carefully curated according to how much physical space is available, which books the managers consider worthy and what they anticipate customers will want to buy.

The World Wide Web is a different world. Large online book retailers are essentially search engines. They populate their sites by automatically sucking up inventory data from vast wholesalers, such as Ingram, so that they can, in effect, offer every book that exists. In the 1990s, that was part of Amazon’s great innovation, which allowed it to be the World’s Largest Bookstore, despite the fact that it began in Bezos’s garage.

But the convenience of having more than 10 million titles at our fingertips fundamentally changes retailers’ function in ways people don’t often acknowledge or readily understand. There is, it turns out, a price for that infinite inventory. Unlike the cozy bookstore in your town, online booksellers don’t choose each book they’re offering. The role of curator — if it exists at all — has effectively been passed from seller to customer.

Under this system, if a title attracts sufficiently convincing and public objections, that title is taken down from the website. I saw this process firsthand in 2019 when I asked Barnes & Noble why it was selling David Icke’s antisemitic book “The Trigger.” B&N blamed “an independent publishing distributor,” and the book vanished. Earlier this year, I asked Walmart why it was offering the racist “Turner Diaries” on its website; I never got an answer, but the title stopped showing up.

It’s highly unlikely that anyone at Barnes & Noble or Walmart ever looked at these bizarre and hateful books and decided, “Yes, I think our white supremacist customers will love this!” Instead, these books were simply swept up in the retailing equivalent of bottom trawling that drags a net across the ocean floor, catching cod and shrimp along with old barrels of toxic waste.

This feels like a problematic way to curate literature. I don’t want to read antisemitic, racist or transphobic books, but I also don’t want the marketplace of available titles to be shaped by my own or other customers’ objections. If these massive book retailers aren’t really choosing which books to sell except in rare occasions when a few titles are excluded — then perhaps they’ve relinquished their editorial control and become merely administrators of public space, in which case the public may have the right to make certain demands on them.

. . . .

[Justice Clarence Thomas] went on to suggest that Amazon (along with Twitter, Google and Facebook) may be what’s called a “common carrier,” like a railroad or a telephone network. These older entities don’t choose whose freight or data they carry; if you can pay and you have a legal product, they must take it without discrimination.

He went on to suggest that Amazon (along with Twitter, Google and Facebook) may be what’s called a “common carrier,” like a railroad or a telephone network. These older entities don’t choose whose freight or data they carry; if you can pay and you have a legal product, they must take it without discrimination.

Thomas wrote, “There is a fair argument that some digital platforms are sufficiently akin to common carriers or places of accommodation to be regulated in this manner.”

If that’s true — or if the court later decides it’s true — large online booksellers could find themselves in a very different universe. At the moment, Amazon, Bookshop and others are playing two different characters simultaneously: They essentially function as common carriers, offering everything their wholesale databases and distributors can supply. But when a particular book attracts negative attention and offends public sensitivities, these same booksellers act as private businesses and remove that title. The time may be approaching when that clever maneuver is no longer tenable.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG wonders who exactly decided that book curators were necessary or desirable.

He suggests that “book curation” was and is, more or less, a marketing slogan designed to attract potential purchasers who want to elevate themselves above the hoi polloi who don’t see any particular virtue in a self-appointed tastemaker deciding what they will or won’t be permitted to ready.

For those outside the US, the reference to a “common carrier” is a US legal term that describes is a person or company that transports goods or people for any person or company.

Per Wikipedia:

A common carrier (also called a public carrier in British English) is distinguished from a contract carrier, which is a carrier that transports goods for only a certain number of clients and that can refuse to transport goods for anyone else, and from a private carrier. A common carrier holds itself out to provide service to the general public without discrimination (to meet the needs of the regulator’s quasi judicial role of impartiality toward the public’s interest) for the “public convenience and necessity.” A common carrier must further demonstrate to the regulator that it is “fit, willing, and able” to provide those services for which it is granted authority. Common carriers typically transport persons or goods according to defined and published routes, time schedules, and rate tables upon the approval of regulators. Public airlines, railroads, bus lines, taxicab companies, phone companies, internet service providers,[4] cruise ships, motor carriers (i.e., canal operating companies, trucking companies), and other freight companies generally operate as common carriers.

An important legal requirement for common carrier as public provider is that it cannot discriminate, that is refuse the service unless there is some compelling reason. 

(per Wikipedia)

Generally common carriers have a competitive advantage over private carriers because they are cost-effective and convenient. Common carriers typically offer standard or quite similar terms and conditions and often compete on pricing.

In many cases, common carriers are regulated by law in various ways to provide a more predictable and reliable service to shippers as opposed to a private carrier which may not be operate according to industry standard terms and expectations.

Back to bookstores, PG tends to prefer a store that is likely to have a book that he desires, regardless of whether the book PG desires is part of the book mainstream or not. For that reason, if Amazon starts to delist a wider range of books because one or more pressure groups find objectionable, PG will begin to look elsewhere on a regular basis rather than wasting his time on a site that is not a reliable purveyor of books he likes.

Additionally, rallying groups of people to demand book banning can definitely go more than one way. People with a wide variety of beliefs and opinions are fully capable to organizing themselves online to bring pressure on Amazon or any other vendor that has shown it will respond to pressure to delist this or that book.

Novels and Novellas and Tomes

From Counter Craft:

We like to pretend that art is art. That an author writes what they are inspired to write, with no concern but the voice of the muse. This is a useful fiction. It is good for writers to focus on the art when writing and worry about the business side later. But it is a fiction. Writers are aware of market demands, what kinds of novels get buzz, and what subjects award judges gravitate towards. Even writers with high artistic aspirations are—consciously or unconsciously—warped by these pressures. Especially those of us hoping to make a living on our writing.

In my recent post on the literary fiction and SFF short story markets, I mentioned how the short story was the economically dominant length of fiction in the first half of the 20th century. Writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald bemoaned the fact they had to write short stories to subsidize their novel writing. In 2021—and really the last 50 years or more—the dynamic has been the opposite. Today, short story writers frequently (if mostly privately) grumble about how they have to write novels if they want any chance at earning money or even just getting an agent.

. . . .

This got me thinking about one of those rarely-spoken-about-but-interesting-to-me topics: what determines the lengths of novels?

The novel is an extremely flexible form. It can come out in countless shapes, include infinite content, and end up almost any length. Let’s call the lower limit of a novel 40,000 words. Long novels like Infinite Jest and The Stand are more than 10 times that length, and that’s not even getting into series or In Search of Lost Times type works that are published in dozens or more volumes. So why are most novels published in a relatively narrow range of 60k to 120k words?

Or to put it another way: why doesn’t anyone publish novellas in America? Novellas as a form thrive in many parts of the world. They’re very popular in Latin America and Korea, and hardly uncommon in Europe. Yet it’s almost impossible to find a book labeled “a novella” in America outside of small press translations or classics imprints.

. . . .

The length of books is one of those things that varies from genre to genre as well as era to era. Take high fantasy, a genre famous for its massive tomes ever since Tolkien. Even those tomes have grown longer as the decades have passed. The last individual volume of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has close to the same wordcount (422k) as all three volumes of Lord of the Rings combined (480k)! There’s been similar bloat in children’s fantasy. The Narnia books were all 39k to 64k in length, novellas to short novel range. Compare that to the volumes of His Dark Materials (109-168k per volume) and Harry Potter (74k-257k).

In general, popular genre fiction—thrillers, mysteries, etc.—and commercial fiction tends to be longer than so-called literary fiction these days, although all genres of novels became more bloated in the second half of the 20th century. Then again, pre-20th century novels were often quite long. Charles Dickens novels like Great Expectations (183k) and Bleak House (360k) or Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (126k) or Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (183k) and other novels of that era were frequently tomes by even today’s standards.

So what explains these novel fluctuations? One obvious factor for the length of 19th century English novels is that they were typically serialized either in magazines or else as a series of pamphlets. The more you wrote, the more you were paid. Pretty simple. The economic pressure was to write long works. Serialization of course also changes the content of the novel, not just the length, as you need to have cliffhangers and hooks at the end of each installment that will keep the reader coming back. Art is never free of economics in capitalism.

. . . .

Americans expect bang for their buck. Yet the price of novels is unrelated to length. Trade paperbacks are around 16 bucks a piece whether they are a 100-page novella or a 400-page tome. Even among highbrow literary readers, I’ve heard people say they rather get a long book than a short one for the same money. Why pay the same for 2 hours of entertainment when you can get 10 hours of entertainment for the same price?

Link to the rest at Counter Craft

Malcolm Gladwell’s New Word Order: Audiobook First

From The Wall Street Journal:

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book opens with ominous sirens, planes droning overhead and a powerful explosion.

Unlike most audiobooks, which are offshoots of a traditional text manuscript, “The Bomber Mafia” was conceived first as an audio project. Only later, after there was a completed script, was it offered to a major publisher. The print and ebook versions, as well as the audiobook, go on sale April 27.

“The Bomber Mafia” is part of an effort by Pushkin Industries Inc., an audio company that Mr. Gladwell co-founded, to become a major provider of highly produced “original” audiobooks. Such projects sound more like podcasts than traditional audiobooks, since they often feature original scores, as well as archival and interview tape.

Industry giants including Bertelsmann SE’s Penguin Random House and Amazon.com Inc.’s Audible also produce high-production original audiobooks with sound effects and a cast of multiple actors, representing significant competition for Pushkin.

As a writer, Mr. Gladwell has been a star on the pop-culture circuit for more than two decades, thanks to such bestsellers as “The Tipping Point,” “Blink” and “Outliers.” His ability to look at popular subjects in fresh and unexpected ways has made him an arbiter of human behavior and social phenomena.

Mr. Gladwell later applied that approach to podcasting with “Revisionist History,” a show launched in 2016 that looks to shed new light on past events. When the company that produced the podcast exited the medium, he launched Pushkin with former Slate Group Chairman and Editor in Chief Jacob Weisberg to keep “Revisionist History” going.

Today, the company has 12 podcasts, including Dr. Laurie Santos’s “The Happiness Lab,” which focuses on the science of well-being, and Dana Goodyear’s “Lost Hills,” a tale of true crime, which recently hit No. 1 on the Apple Podcast charts. Ms. Goodyear, like Mr. Gladwell, is a staff writer at the New Yorker magazine.

In a move likely to raise Pushkin’s profile, the company this week agreed to create an audio content subscription program called “PushNik” for a new podcast subscription service Apple Inc. is expected to launch next month. The offering will include ad-free versions of Pushkin’s various podcasts as well as a weekly news roundup and other exclusive audio content.

. . . .

Mr. Gladwell conceived the idea for “The Bomber Mafia” while recording the fifth season of “Revisionist History,” several episodes of which are about the life of Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay and the World War II bombing campaign against Japan.

“We were looking for some audiotape of Curtis LeMay, and realized that there were archives at the Air Force with audiotape of literally every major military leader involved in the air wars over Europe and Japan,” said Mr. Gladwell. “It was then I realized—I could do a whole book on this story.”

“The Bomber Mafia” will be Pushkin’s fifth audiobook. The first title it published, “Fauci,” came out about six months ago, and quickly rose to No. 1 on Audible’s nonfiction bestseller list. The title includes exclusive conversations with infectious-diseases specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci and his wife, Christine Grady, as well as key colleagues and peers, archival recordings and an original score.

The budget for some Pushkin audiobooks can top six figures, significantly higher than the estimated industry average of $10,000 to make a typical title.

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

.

The Free World

From The Wall Street Journal:

There was once a time—Louis Menand recalls at the beginning of “The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War”—when “people cared. Ideas mattered. Painting mattered. Movies mattered. Poetry mattered.” Even criticism mattered. It was a time when “people believed in liberty, and thought it really meant something.” The United States was “actively engaged with the rest of the world.” To be sure, the 20 years that followed World War II didn’t frame a utopia: a fifth of the nation lived in poverty, “white men” dominated “virtually every sphere of life,” the U.S. “intervened in the internal political affairs of other states, rigging elections, endorsing coups, enabling assassinations,” and “invested in a massive and expensive military buildup that was out of all proportion to any threat.” Nevertheless, Mr. Menand suggests, something extraordinary took place. American and European cultures were transformed by what transpired, and somehow the concept of “freedom” was bound up in it all as “the slogan of the times.” This epic book—at once brilliant and exasperating, illuminating and confounding, absorbing and off-putting—is his attempt to examine what happened and to explain why, by the end of the Vietnam War, America was a very different country from the one that led the “free world” just after 1945.

This would be a daunting project even if Mr. Menand had established some disciplinary boundaries, but as readers of his criticism in the New Yorker know, his interests and insights range widely. Though he teaches English literature at Harvard, he writes as an intellectual and cultural historian. He takes on eclectic subjects with dedication and imagination, whether teasing out the aesthetic behind Pauline Kael’s film criticism, tracing the complicated tensions between the ideas and personalities of Richard Wright and James Baldwin, two of the most imposing black literary figures of the Cold War period, or arguing, as he did in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 2001 book “The Metaphysical Club,” that late 19th-century pragmatism helped shape the character of modern American democracy.

In this 857-page tome he pulls together a decade of writing and research, but it doesn’t take long for us to see that this project is both overtly unsystematic and highly selective. We begin with what appears to be a conventional examination of George Kennan’s diplomatic career, his secret 1946 telegram from Moscow outlining the expansive ambitions of the Soviet Union in the postwar period, and his recommendation of a policy of “containment”—a geopolitical foreign strategy that was almost immediately adopted to deal with postwar confrontations. But no sooner have we begun to get a feel for Kennan’s views than we are carried into an analysis of George Orwell’s dystopian visions and the philosophies of Sartre and Heidegger. And Hannah Arendt and totalitarianism. And the development of Abstract Expressionist painting. Eventually we accommodate ourselves to a nonstop, nearly phantasmagorical display of erudite inquiry. What was John Cage up to with Merce Cunningham? What was the nature of Lionel Trilling’s relationship with Allen Ginsberg? Why was the 1964 arrival of the Beatles in the U.S. a pop-cultural tsunami? What role did academic literary criticism play in the transformation of American high culture? What were the differences between Simone de Beauvoir’s and Betty Friedan’s visions of the status of women? How was the film “Bonnie and Clyde” a tribute to postwar French cinema? What went wrong in Vietnam?

Clearly, even with hundreds of pages at the author’s disposal, none of these chapter-length probes can do its theme full justice, particularly because Mr. Menand’s approach is not to make a systematic argument but to focus on particular individuals and advocates, noting their characters and interactions and ultimately implying that cultural and political change might be discernable in statistics but is largely accidental, full of misunderstandings and unintended consequences. Many things that happened, he implies, could not have been expected, or if they could have been, people might not have noticed. When these tracings of lives and encounters are combined with the explication of some difficult ideas, the result can be unusually illuminating. Some revelations may be trivial (Sartre did terrific Donald Duck imitations; John Cage won a quiz show on Italian television by naming all 24 species of white-spored mushrooms—in alphabetical order) and others suggestive (Orwell was influenced by James Burnham’s 1941 book “The Managerial Revolution,” which predicted that society’s new social elite would include managers, executives and government administrators), but under Mr. Menand’s guidance, something always can be learned.

But why then, should this book also exasperate? First, because much of the interpretation is left to the reader. There is no attempt to shape the narrative into anything cumulative or conclusive. If there are varieties or notions of “freedom” and “liberty” in play here, they are only vaguely defined and never put in careful order, nor are we directed to any larger understanding of their interaction. It is strange: Much of the book is very concrete but it all ends up feeling rather amorphous. We wind up knowing quite a bit about Andy Warhol or about Elvis Presley’s early career but are left unsure about the relevance of the Cold War to either.

The book comes closest to suggesting connections in its early chapters, which deal most directly with America’s tensions with the Soviet Union. But these chapters also tend to minimize the confrontation’s stakes, suggesting they were, in retrospect, exaggerated. “Each nation,” we read, “honestly believed that history was on its side.” Each also claimed to be a “grand civilizing” nation. (Mr. Menand points out that while Kennan may be thought of as the first analyst of the Cold War, he was warning the U.S. of the Soviet Union not because of the dangers of communism but because of the nature of Russian history; he was also, surprisingly, wary of thinking of the conflict as a “moral” one.) Mr. Menand doesn’t really accept Cold War symmetry, though sometimes he seems tempted to do so. He notes that the confrontation was about “ideas in the broadest sense,” such as “civic and personal values, modes of expression, philosophies of history, theories of human nature.” But this is still too bloodless a description of the East-West contest. We don’t really understand the Cold War or its effects, because we can’t really understand the other side.

Mr. Menand alludes to it in a theoretical way, in a discussion of totalitarianism, but it might have helped if, for example, he’d provided an account of the notorious Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace staged at the Waldorf-Astoria in March 1949. There the Soviet Union attempted to undermine Western suspicion of its aims by presenting itself in a supposedly enlightened embrace of peace and brotherhood, bringing over some of its own artists and intellectuals and luring the support of Western fellow travelers (including Lillian Hellman and Pablo Picasso and Leonard Bernstein). On one panel, the composer Dmitri Shostakovich famously sweated in terror as his watchers made sure he gave no hint of the recent killings and purges that led him to fear—yet again—for his own life.

. . . .

Mr. Menand’s tendency is also to moderate his interpretations of some figures so that they and their ideas seem less polemical. The literary movement known as “deconstruction,” for example, is treated almost as a variety of liberal skepticism, even though, over time, its members engaged in ever more radical attempts to dismantle the philosophical premises of Western culture and society. And many of Mr. Menand’s aesthetic explorers may well have been influenced by the Cold War to become overtly antagonistic to the American perspective—and to so-called bourgeois culture. That certainly was the case with Sartre and, in a subtler way, with some of the American artists that Mr. Menand discusses. Is it possible, for example, to look at Jasper Johns’s “Flag” (1955), which displays an American flag painted on top of a newspaper collage, without seeing it as having a countercultural comment on the news of the day? The symbolism of the flag, disarmingly straightforward, is, beneath the painting’s surface, subtly undercut.

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

Be the Change You Want to See In Kids’ Books

From Publishers Weekly:

Books have always played an important role in my life. Books about social issues and activism nudged me into my career path. It’s only now, though, that I see where the gaps in children’s literature are and am in a position to do something about it.

As a young child books about activists were a mixed experience for me: moving, but also scary and sad. It appeared that most people did not do anything to support the activists, powerful people were against them, their paths required suffering and single-mindedness, and many faced beatings, jail, and untimely deaths. Only bold, extraordinary people could have such conviction, make such sacrifices. I did not feel extraordinary. I did not even feel bold. Yes, I was taught to do the right thing and help others, but I was also expected to be polite, not yell, not demand, and definitely not challenge the adults enforcing the rules. Obviously, I did not have what it takes to be an activist—and even if I did, no path was offered to that destination.

As an elementary school teacher the books about activists I had were mostly historical. I would finish a read-aloud title about women’s suffrage, desegregation, or labor rights and tell students there is still much more to do, that it isn’t all solved yet! There’s still discrimination, limitations, power imbalances. We need you! I knew there were vibrant organizations out there doing crucial work on issues like labor rights and immigration reform, but I didn’t have a way to capture it and bring it into the reading circle, the curriculum. I remember one student, Joselyn, who acted out but thrived when given leadership positions. Where was the book that showed an undocumented young girl like her how to be an agent of change?

As an activist I enjoy the deep sense of meaning of being part of a movement. Most days, I marvel about how lucky I am to get paid to do something I care about. I get to learn about issues, develop skills to address them, work with people I admire and respect. Where are the children’s books that show how joyful and satisfying this career is—and also how normal it is?

. . . .

As a parent I sneak in as many social justice books as I can get away with, but my kids can smell “lessons” coming from a mile away. I wish I had more books about social change that don’t feel like history textbooks—that are funny or surprising, and that have three-dimensional characters whom my kids can relate to instead of flattened-out “heroes.” I could sneak in a lot more books that way. I look for books that make activism seem fun, cool, and right for them. It’s not easy, as, currently, their passions are mainly riding scooters and making fart jokes. I wish I had books that showed them that no matter what they are interested in—science, cooking, sports, coding, business, art—there are ways to put these in the service of something that will change the world.

As an author, in my new book, For All/Para Todos, about a young undocumented girl who becomes an activist, I want to lift up the stories of people who are making change but not making it into headlines or lesson plans. And I want to do something more subversive—I want the reader to address a range of questions: What do you think about this? What do you care about? What do you think is fair? I want to make sure kids fully own their power as agents of change. And I want to question all of us: What role do we have in this issue? How are we complicit?

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG wonders if the author of the OP realizes how many people find stereotypical activists to be annoying and how many parents sincerely hope none of their children grow up to be activists, in part, because Thanksgiving dinner would be unbearable.

Make whole that which is broken

Somewhere in the teachings of every wisdom tradition on earth is the admonition to “make whole that which is broken.” In Judaism, it is tikkun olam, “repair of the world.” It is said that in the eyes of God, an object that has been repaired is more holy than one that is new. There is an interpretation in Judaism of the world as we see it and of how it came to be; it is a retelling of the Genesis story by the sixteenth-century mystic Isaac Luria. In his vision, Luria saw that God filled the entire universe completely and perfectly and that the world could only be created by somehow making a space for life. Luria imagined that God contracted, like a series of containers within containers, and by becoming smaller and smaller, God allowed a new creation to emerge. When the enormous energy and potential of that creation finally exploded outward, sparks of the divine scattered throughout the universe: the universe we see. The teachings that follow from this, in the wisdom tradition of the Kabbalah, tell us that we are to gather the shards and the sparks and bring them back together. This is the meaning of tikkun olam. Olam, or “world,” comes from the same root as hidden, and so the repair we are asked to accomplish requires that we see the sacred hidden within the ordinary — the wholeness that exists in all things, everywhere.

John Wackman

Grammar-Nerd Heaven

From The New Yorker:

It’s hard not to mythologize Bryan A. Garner. He is the Herakles of English usage. As a boy growing up in Texas, he lugged Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (Unabridged) to school one day to settle an argument with a teacher. When he was sixteen, he discovered “Fowler’s Modern English Usage” and swallowed it whole. By the time he was an undergraduate, he knew that he wanted to write a usage dictionary. Instead of going into academia or publishing, the traditional career paths for English majors, he went into law, a field where his prodigious language skills could have broad applications. His first usage dictionary was “Modern Legal Usage,” published in 1987. “Garner’s Modern American Usage” came out in 1998 and is in its fourth edition; with a significant tweaking of the title, it’s now “Garner’s Modern English Usage.” Move over, Henry Fowler.

Garner’s success—he is a highly sought-after speaker among lawyers and lexicographers—has enabled him to indulge his passions as a bibliophile and an antiquarian. A selection of sixty-eight items from the Garner Collection is on view at the Grolier Club (47 East Sixtieth Street, through May 15th), with a sumptuous hardcover limited-edition catalogue that serves as a companion guide. To enter the exhibit, titled “Taming the Tongue: In the Heyday of English Grammar (1713-1851),” via a discreet door on the second-floor landing of a stairwell at the Grolier, is to climb aboard the Grammarama ride at Disneyland for Nerds.

Above the mantel hangs a portrait of Samuel Johnson, the father of the English dictionary. An uncut first edition of Johnson’s two-volume Dictionary of the English Language (1755) is open to the pages for words beginning with “con” (“confectionary” to “confine”). What makes the dictionary eligible for the sweet confines of a grammar exhibit is that it contains an essay Johnson wrote, expressly for the dictionary, called “A Grammar of the English Tongue.” Johnson was not that interested in writing about grammar, and his treatment is said to be half-hearted.

Johnson’s portrait is flanked on the left by one of Noah Webster, his American counterpart. Webster didn’t set out to be a grammarian, either—he had studied law, but did not have a very successful practice—yet, as the author of “A Plain and Comprehensive Grammar,” he had strong opinions on the subject. A first edition, which looks to have been well used, is in the exhibit, along with several of Webster’s letters, most of them cranky. To the right of Johnson is Lindley Murray, who, though the least known of these three presiding spirits, came to be called the father of English grammar. Murray was a Quaker, American born, who was living in York, England, when he published his “English Grammar,” in 1795. The full title—“English Grammar Adapted to the Different Classes of Learners”—makes it sound like an early version of “Grammar for Dummies.”

The selection on view at the Grolier is a mere sliver of Garner’s collection; at home in Dallas, he has two more first editions of Johnson’s dictionary, along with a lot of other stuff that will make a language enthusiast’s eyes bulge. The catalogue for the exhibit has two subthemes. One is a running count of how many parts of speech are defined in each grammar book: anywhere from two (nouns and verbs) to thirty-three (don’t ask). (The traditional number is eight.) The other thread is rivalry and backbiting among authors. In that era, a Grammar was second only to a Bible as a necessary object in a God-fearing household. While the Bible provided moral instruction, the Grammar, as a guide to correct linguistic behavior, might shore up confidence and help one get ahead in the world. A pageant of pedants, both male and female, squabbled for their share of the market. The major conflict on exhibit is between Webster and Murray—or perhaps simply within Webster. Garner suggests that it may have all begun with a handwritten document labelled “Articles of Agreement for the Sale of Land in Lower Manhattan by Lindley Murray to Noah Webster,” dated December 20, 1794.

. . . .

At the time, Webster, the author of the aforementioned grammar as well as of a spelling book and a reader for schoolchildren, was living in New York, where he was the editor of the Minerva, the city’s first daily newspaper, a pro-Federalist mouthpiece. Murray was in York, so the sale was handled by his brother John. Garner writes that it would have been natural for John Murray to pass along to Lindley any pertinent information about the prospective buyer, notably his authorship of a grammar book, and that this may have given Lindley the idea for a grammar book of his own. Webster certainly thought so. Or, at least, Murray’s interest in grammar seems to have arisen rather suddenly. To be fair, there was a recognized need for such a book in Quaker schools, but the timing of its appearance is suspicious: “English Grammar” was published in the spring following the real-estate deal. Webster accused Murray of stealing his material, although he had said himself, when accused of plagiarism, that “the materials of all English grammars are the same.” It would be difficult to get a patent on, say, the objective case.

Murray instructed his brother not to respond to any of Webster’s claims. (He, too, was a lawyer.) “Whoever writes a Grammar, must, in some degree, make use of his predecessors’ labours,” he contended. Webster subsequently pointed out perceived errors in Murray’s work (“The word that is never a conjunction. It is a pronoun or pronominal adjective in every sentence in which it is used”). For decades, he pressed his case for copyright reform, eventually becoming known as the father of American copyright law. Meanwhile, Murray’s Grammar was popular on both sides of the Atlantic; with its sequels, he ultimately sold more than fifteen million books. Webster fell back on lexicography.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Twelve Years

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

On April 2, 2009, I started a blog with this:

This post marks the beginning of an experiment. I will post sections of a work in progress—a book tentatively titled The Freelancer’s Survival Guide—here, on my website.

If you go back and read that original post, you can see how tentative I am about the whole concept of an online blog. Two friends, Michael J. Totten and Scott William Carter, had a meeting with me and Dean and talked to us about new ways of publishing.

In 2009, blogging—with a donate button—was new. This was before Patreon, before Kickstarter, before all kinds of innovations. And now, twelve years later, blogging the way that I do it has become…well, not passé, exactly, but not necessarily the preferred modern way to do things.

Old hat. Old fashioned.

Weird how time flies.

And it flies fast. I was going to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the blog, but Allyson Longueira, who runs our company WMG Publishing, got diagnosed with a brain tumor and was in surgery around that point. We weren’t sure if she was going to survive, and we had to keep the business alive at the same time.

Then, last year, on April 2—Well, you were all around in 2020. You know that’s when the entire world was shutting down. We were worried about survival once again, and certainly not in the way that we expected.

So here we are in 2021. Most of us are excited about getting a vaccine. We’re using words like “opening up” and “returning to some semblance of normal,” because the past year has been anything but.

Reflecting on that time and those changes is almost impossible. Trying to imagine this world from the perspective of 2009 is well, I’m either afraid I would have believed me and panicked or (more likely) I would have reacted like the character in Julie Nolke’s YouTube series “Explaining The Pandemic To My Past Self.”

Really, when you think about all that happened since January of 2020, well, yeah. Really hard to believe.

But the pandemic was easier to live through because of innovations we didn’t really have in 2009. The Kindle was just premiering then. We didn’t have Zoom. We didn’t have much social media (maybe that’s a good thing?) and we certainly weren’t as connected online as we are now.

. . . .

Just today (as I write this), I got an email from a friend who is very invested in traditional publishing. He’s worried about how something he published will play “in the field.”

I stared at the email. What field? I wanted to ask. Because you can play in the remaining sandboxes of traditional publishing, but that “field” has gotten narrower and narrower.

Since it’s no longer a monolith, and it’s possible—no, better—to publish without it, the very idea of worrying what the curators think startled me.

Yet, when I reread the original post that started this entire publishing blog, I see that attitude underlying every sentence.

I was writing a blog that would become a book, and doing so with the online support of the readers. I honestly didn’t think anyone would read the post, let alone send in a few dollars to back what I was doing.

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.

PG’s brain doesn’t do anniversaries very well. Ditto for birthdays. BC (before computers) whenever he got a new paper calendar/schedule book at the beginning of a new year, he copied all of his annual reminders from his prior calendar into the new one.

Now, of course, he has recurring annual reminders on his digital calendar (and still fumbles an annual event once in awhile).

The them of Kris’ post got PG looking back and he discovered that he started TPV over ten years ago.

His first post referenced a web post that is still up – here’s the link

His only observation is the more things change . . . .

No logo?

From The Bookseller:

There’s definitely a thing about birds and publishing houses. Not just in the UK, but all around the world. 

Off the top of my head, I could name dozens of publishers who have gone for birds for their logo. Perhaps for obvious reasons – wings can look like book pages, and the ability to fly evokes what we do when we read – many publishers have chosen a feathered creature. 

Forty years ago, when they founded Edizioni E/O (Europa UK’s Italian sister house), my parents picked the stork. There is no particular love for birds in my household as far as I can tell, but the stork is a migrating bird which, in the collective imagination, carries something in its beak (usually a newborn). The stork migrates from east to west, and that’s precisely what E/O stands for, est/ovest (east/west), because, at the time the name of company was chosen, it focused on bringing the very best of Eastern European literature westward, to Italy. 

This bird with its elegant long legs seemed made to grace a book spine. And that’s exactly where you find it on our Italian editions, while the front cover carries only the company’s full name.  

Our stork grew restless and ambitious, and eventually, following the dictates of its nature, migrated again, further west, from Italy to New York, where we established Europa US, and then flew back east to the UK, landing on the front cover of our English editions. As a matter of fact, our stork keeps migrating every which way: altogether we publish authors from around 70 countries, motivated by the deeply rooted belief that literature can and must travel far. 

The reason I’m telling the story of our stork is that there’s also a thing about publishers’ logos appearing – or not – on book covers. Apart from a few exceptions (notably Penguin and Faber), few UK publishers persist in this practice.  There are several sensible reasons for this – to leave enough space for quotes, to stress the author’s importance, to ensure a tidy look, and, ultimately, to convey that every book is unique and should be published to reflect this.

Also, most imprints have over time lost their original identity, adopting an approach which is both more general and more eclectic. So, books are often purposely aesthetically undistinguishable from one another, and branding is an insider game, something that happens within the trade, as a way to communicate publishing and acquisition strategies to fellow publishing professionals.

It would seem that a logo on the front cover is a privilege accorded only to prestigious publishers with a long history: because unless a publisher is renowned among readers, what is the point of having a logo that only a few would be able to recognize?

. . . .

Europa is a UK company founded by and staffed with cosmopolitan people. In continental Europe, where some of us are from, all publishers, from the biggest corporate conglomerates to the tiniest independent houses, from academic to trade to children’s publishers, put their logos on book jackets. It’s always been a straightforward way to communicate to readers that behind every single book there is a unifying editorial vision (in Italy we call it “il progetto”, the project). A way to tell readers that just as every author and every book is unique, every publisher is also unique and follow its own taste and ethos. All tools that can help readers make informed choices. 

In Italy, one can often overhear readers saying things like “I can’t wait to head to the bookshop for the Adelphi promo”, or, “I just adore Sellerio”, and, “I think Feltrinelli have the best books”.  The same is true of readers in France, Germany, Spain and in other countries. When browsing in a bookshop, the publishing house becomes one of the basic criteria for their purchases. The fact that, in addition to having their logo on the cover, publishers almost invariably adopt a coherent overall design policy, makes this process even more radical. In Italian bookshops, books are frequently grouped by publisher, not just on display tables, but on the shelves too. Vertical displays of a publishers’ backlist often provide readers with an overview, a sense of how a list is curated, and ultimately why it exists. Seeing a whole wall covered with titles by a single publisher or imprint focuses attention on “the project”, helping readers discover new authors.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Although PG loves Italy and many of the Italians he has met, he thinks the OP is vastly over-emphasizing the weight most book purchasers place on the publisher of a book which they may find interesting. Or not.

PG admits he may be projecting since he virtually never pays attention to the identity of the publisher when making a book purchase and couldn’t tell you the name of the publisher of any book he has read either recently or in ancient times.

The OP also assumes, like many others before it, that most people are buying/will buy most of their books from physical bookstores.

Nuclear Folly

From The Wall Street Journal:

On Oct. 23, 1962, a delegation of prominent Romanians arrived at the Kremlin to meet Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Their host was foul of mood. Boorish and suspicious by nature, the strongman had spent a sleepless night deliberating with the Presidium over what to do in the escalating crisis for which Khrushchev himself was responsible: his secret installation, across that summer, of nuclear-weapons systems and some 40,000 Soviet troops in Cuba.

Aerial reconnaissance revealed the installations to the Americans on Oct. 14, and President Kennedy, in a televised address eight days later, announced a naval quarantine to block delivery of additional weapons to the island. All sides—with the exception, perhaps, of Fidel Castro, who relished Havana’s role at the center of world events—feared that any display of aggressiveness, or miscalculation, could trigger an apocalyptic nuclear exchange.

At the reception in their honor, the Romanians watched Soviet Defense Minister Marshal Malinovsky approach his boss with bad news: The U.S. Navy was on high alert, readying the blockade. “Khrushchev flew into a rage,” Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, a Romanian communist leader, reported later to Romanian intelligence. The premier was “yelling, cursing and issuing an avalanche of contradictory orders.” He “threatened to ‘nuke’ the White House, and cursed loudly every time anyone pronounced the words America or American.”

The vast literature on the Cuban Missile Crisis has made it a case study across scholarly disciplines: intelligence analysis, nuclear brinkmanship, game theory, organizational psychology. To this literature, the Oct. 23 Kremlin outburst—which appears midway through Serhii Plokhy’s superb “Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis”—would appear to mark a significant contribution: an eyewitness account of one of the saga’s two key decision makers exhibiting not only uncontrolled anger but delirium. Khrushchev’s threat to “nuke” the White House, his “avalanche of contradictory orders,” constitute the most troubling behavior we could imagine in a leader “managing” such a crisis.

. . . .

This time the bad news came from the KGB’s Vladimir Semichastny: a cable reporting that Kennedy had canceled a trip to Brazil to oversee the quarantine. Mr. Plokhy, a professor of history at Harvard, provides this account, drawing on Gheorghiu-Dej’s report: “Khrushchev’s face grew red as he read the cable. He started ‘cursing like a bargeman,’ threw the paper on the floor, and stamped on it with his heel. ‘That’s how I’m going to crush that viper,’ he shouted, also calling Kennedy a ‘millionaire’s whore.’ ”

Another arresting passage unmentioned in the earlier books relates the confession of Vasilii Kuznetsov, the Soviet deputy foreign minister: “From the very beginning of the crisis, fear of the possible course of further developments arose within the Soviet leadership and increased with every passing hour.”

Mr. Plokhy’s endnotes frequently cite Russian and Ukrainian sources: declassified KGB documents, memoirs of retired Soviet apparatchiks, studies by Russian scholars, much of it new to English readers. The range of such references conveys the scope of the author’s research and explains how he could add so much to the documentary record of a subject covered so voluminously. “Nuclear Folly” is an immense scholarly achievement, engrossing and terrifying, surely one of the most important books ever written about the Cuban Missile Crisis and 20th-century international relations.

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

Some women

Some women are born with an instinct for knowing how things work—and what to do when they break.

Barbara Delinsky

Back up and running smoothly

Casa PG has returned to the 21st century with all systems up and running well.

PG will take a moment to celebrate the people who fix things when they go wrong.

As mentioned previously, internet service at Casa PG was down for a couple of days following a new, improved update from PG’s internet service provider.

This morning a guy showed up with a baseball cap he had been wearing for awhile and a small bag containing a laptop and likely a few tools, meters, etc.

It took him about five minutes to determine what the problem was. He said, “These new boxes do this all the time,” explained what the problem was and told PG he’d fix it so it didn’t happen again.

A few keystrokes on the laptop which was connected to Casa PG’s main network box, a long wait while genius central downloaded updates and fixes and the electrons were flowing smoothly once again.

PG doubts that the repair guy has a four-year degree in anything, but he has used his native talents to develop an intuitive understanding about how electronic things work. Fifty years ago, he would have been an auto mechanic who could fix any car you brought in to his garage regardless of age and tell you what to do to avoid the same problem in the future.

PG opines that our contemporary society doesn’t value such people highly enough. Kudos and recognition go to those who create the electronics and the digital information that resides thereon and who are able use those organized electrons skillfully when they’re available, but not the guys (they tend to be mostly guys) who fix the basic pieces when they stop working.

Honor and glory to the people with well-worn baseball caps who are essential to keep us from regressing to the dark ages.

Why Was My Protagonist So Prickly?

From Writer Unboxed:

You know how it is when someone points out a jarring aspect of your writing, and you to go great lengths to explain why it’s absolutely purposeful and necessary? And then someone else points out the same element in a completely different manuscript … and then someone else in a third one …

When that happened to me, I thought it was just a tic in my writing. Then I began to wonder if maybe it wasn’t about my writing, but about me—because we put features and feelings into our characters that reflect who we are and how we see the world. In my case, it was a tendency to make my protagonist brittle and defensive. Someone with a chip on her shoulder, a snarky edge.

I told myself that I needed her to be that way so I could show an arc of transformation into someone kinder and more generous. You have to have a before in order to show a contrasting after, right? That was the point—an emotional journey, through inner and outer challenges, to a better self.

Yet something began to nag at me, and I wondered why I always chose this particular kind of before, and whether it was helpful to my writing.

These are two separate but related questions. One was what this tendency implied about me, as a person. The other was whether it was the best choice for my stories. Since this isn’t a confessional website—and I’m a very nice person, really!—I decided to ponder the second question and see if it might shed light on the first.

I asked myself: Couldn’t there be a compelling story about the emotional journey of someone who starts out a little bit good, struggles, is tested, does something extraordinary, and ends up being “more good” than she was at the beginning? Why does the protagonist have to start out angry and selfish in order to have an epiphany, pivot, and moment of redemption? After all, why would readers want to spend the first fifty pages of a novel with someone they wouldn’t want to spend fifty minutes with in real life?

Insert head-smacking emoji—because that was exactly the problem with the early versions of my recent novel.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Simon & Schuster and Political Books

From Publishing Perspectives:

Less than 100 days into the United States’ Biden administration—and, for that matter, less than two weeks after Simon & Schuster announced its two-book deal with the former vice-president Mike Pence—S&S has experienced new encounters with the heat of political publishing.

Today (April 20), Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp has issued a memo to staff, announcing that “we will proceed in our publishing agreement with vice-president Mike Pence.” That memo–which we’ll return to later in this article–is “in response to a petition, circulated by some of our employees, that calls into question recent acquisition decisions and ongoing business relationships at Simon & Schuster.”

Noting that “we have experienced outrage from both sides of the political divide,” Karp is issuing his second such message to employees in five days.

The backstory here begins late last week, as S&S determined that it will not distribute a book by one of the police officers involved in the raid on the home of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

You may recall that on January 7, Simon & Schuster cancelled its contract with Sen. Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, after Hawley had helped lead objections on January 6 to certification of Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump. But when Hawley’s book was then picked up by Regnery Publishing, which is distributed by Simon & Schuster, things from S&S were quiet. Distribution contracts don’t normally allow a distributor leeway over what it will or won’t distribute for contracted publishers.

And yet the question of distributing the book on the Breonna Taylor incident has had a different outcome at this Big Five company, which Bertelsmann has agreed to acquire in a deal still pending approval from regulators. And an especially thoughtful letter from Karp to the company’s employees reflects the level of ethical and business dilemma that executives in publishing can encounter as political and social issues continue to upend national and international dialogue and policy.

The moment becomes one to consider as a potential evolutionary phase in publishing, the focus being on the book business’ responsibilities amid social and political upheaval, and the reach of those responsibilities in the supply chain—in this new case, distribution rather than publication.

On Friday (April 16), Karp wrote, “Yesterday was a difficult day for all of us at Simon & Schuster, our authors, and our colleagues and contacts in the publishing industry. As you know, we decided that we would not distribute a planned book from Post Hill Press by Louisville police officer Jonathan Mattingly, who was involved in the death of Breonna Taylor.”

Taylor, for international readers who may not be recalling the tragedy, was 26 when she was shot and killed as she slept in her home in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 13, 2020, during a bungled police raid as part of a drug investigation. Taylor, who was Black, was an emergency room technician with the University of Louisville Health program, and her boyfriend Kenneth Walker was at her apartment at the time of the raid.

Jonathan Mattingly was one of the white plainclothes police officers involved in the raid. Mattingly was shot in the leg during the raid and his attorney last October announced that he would sue the late Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend Walker. As Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter report at The New York Times, an FBI ballistics report found that police sergeant Mattingly fired at least one of the six bullets that struck Taylor, “though his was not the lethal bullet.”

. . . .

“As a publisher, we seek a broad range of views for our lists. As a distributor, we have a limited and more detached role. The distinction between publishing and distribution is frequently lost on people who do not follow the publishing business closely, but it is a reality of this important part of our overall business portfolio.”

Karp is talking case-by-case basis, and cautions that the distribution role cannot accommodate the decision made on the Mattingly book. The publisher-as-distributor, in other words, is in a bind that’s becoming increasingly visible and uncomfortable.

In what may be the best possible expression of that bind, Karp concludes, “I understand and am sorry that yesterday’s events have caused distress and disruption for you. It has been a tumultuous year, marked by tragedy and injustice. We are grateful that throughout this time you have so openly and courageously shared with us your views and opinions and experiences. We will continue to seek your help and understanding as we strive to move forward as company.”

. . . .

The open letter this spring from publishing industry professionals to the industry’s executives has called on companies to refuse to contract former members of Donald Trump’s administration. The Times article from Alter and Harris indicates that the letter has more than 630 signatures on it. That letter refers to service in the Trump White House as “a uniquely mitigating criterion for publishing houses when considering book deals” and it asserts that book publishing is sometimes given to “chasing the money and notoriety of some pretty sketchy people” with book contracts.

Karp’s answer to the petition today, in asserting that S&S will go ahead with its Pence contract, says, in part, “Our role is to find those authors and works that can shed light on our world–from first-time novelists to journalists, thought leaders, scientists, memoirists, personalities, and, yes, those who walk the halls of power.

“Regardless of where those authors sit on the ideological spectrum, or if they hold views that run counter to the belief systems held by some of us, we apply a rigorous standard to assure that in acquiring books, we will be bringing into the world works that provide new information or perspectives on events to which we otherwise might not have access.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

As PG read the OP, he wondered about the nature of the discussion the S&S CEO Jonathan Karp had with his boss at Bertelsmann.

As PG has mentioned before on TPV, Bertelsmann is a giant world-wide media company headquartered in Gütersloh, a city of about 100,000 located in North Rhine-Westphalia and effectively controlled by a group of billionaires, the Mohn family.

PG suspects the Mohn family is much more interested in short-term and long-term profits than in contemporary US cancel-culture.

PG further suspects that Mr. Karp was informed that a book by the former vice-president of the United States was likely to be a money-maker and that Bertelsmann was not interested in having one of the companies it owned involved in a political catfight in the United States over such a book. If Karp couldn’t handle his employees, Bertelsmann would replace him with someone who could.

But, as usual, PG could be completely wrong.

There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing

From The New York Times:

At first, I didn’t recognize the symptoms that we all had in common. Friends mentioned that they were having trouble concentrating. Colleagues reported that even with vaccines on the horizon, they weren’t excited about 2021. A family member was staying up late to watch “National Treasure” again even though she knows the movie by heart. And instead of bouncing out of bed at 6 a.m., I was lying there until 7, playing Words with Friends.

It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.

As scientists and physicians work to treat and cure the physical symptoms of long-haul Covid, many people are struggling with the emotional long-haul of the pandemic. It hit some of us unprepared as the intense fear and grief of last year faded.

In the early, uncertain days of the pandemic, it’s likely that your brain’s threat detection system — called the amygdala — was on high alert for fight-or-flight. As you learned that masks helped protect us — but package-scrubbing didn’t — you probably developed routines that eased your sense of dread. But the pandemic has dragged on, and the acute state of anguish has given way to a chronic condition of languish.

In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Flourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being: You feel despondent, drained and worthless.

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.

The term was coined by a sociologist named Corey Keyes, who was struck that many people who weren’t depressed also weren’t thriving. His research suggests that the people most likely to experience major depression and anxiety disorders in the next decade aren’t the ones with those symptoms today. They’re the people who are languishing right now. And new evidence from pandemic health care workers in Italy shows that those who were languishing in the spring of 2020 were three times more likely than their peers to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference. When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself.

. . . .

Psychologists find that one of the best strategies for managing emotions is to name them. Last spring, during the acute anguish of the pandemic, the most viral post in the history of Harvard Business Review was an article describing our collective discomfort as grief. Along with the loss of loved ones, we were mourning the loss of normalcy. “Grief.” It gave us a familiar vocabulary to understand what had felt like an unfamiliar experience. Although we hadn’t faced a pandemic before, most of us had faced loss. It helped us crystallize lessons from our own past resilience — and gain confidence in our ability to face present adversity.

We still have a lot to learn about what causes languishing and how to cure it, but naming it might be a first step. It could help to defog our vision, giving us a clearer window into what had been a blurry experience. It could remind us that we aren’t alone: languishing is common and shared.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Reports of My Death or Dismemberment . . .

PG apologizes for his lack of online activity yesterday.

Casa PG suffered from an internet outage connected with an “upgrade” in internet service.

Suffice to say, PG spent a lot of frustrated time attempting to fix the outage until finally succumbing to the need to call tech support, which was no help. Evidently, PG may not be the only customer with problems because a physical tech support person can’t arrive at Casa PG until tomorrow morning.

Cellular internet access via PG’s phone requires a great deal more patience than PG is able to muster under the circumstances.

So, PG is writing this post from a small café where he and Mrs. PG frequently lunch. The café is a lovely place with good food and friendly staff. It also offers free internet access.

Since Mrs. PG uses a notebook computer for her writing and PG spends his working days at a maxed-out desktop hardwired into his home network and only uses a notebook computer when the PG’s take a trip, PG uses hand-me-down portable computers from Mrs. PG.

One of the consequences of PG’s intermittent use of his laptop is that, when he starts it up, lots of software updates require attention before he can use it. Many, many updates plus an adequate restaurant wireless connection means PG spends a lot of time waiting for things to happen and restarting the computer before he can do anything useful with his laptop.

Being without fast home internet service has made PG realize that, for him, in 2021, a computer without internet access is pretty much useless.

A Tale of Two Platforms

From Marker:

Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest person, and Amazon, the company he founded, one of the world’s most admired and valuable. Two recent books, Invent and Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos, with an introduction by Walter Isaacson, and Working Backwards, by longtime Amazon executives Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, offer lessons from the company’s enormous success.

The Family Business, by Keel Hunt, due out April 20, tells the story of another company, Ingram Industries, which, not coincidentally, played an indispensable role in enabling Amazon’s initial success as the world’s largest online bookstore. Ingram is a family owned business, founded in 1857 as a sawmill in Wisconsin but reinvented multiple times, eventually becoming a transportation and distribution company based in Nashville. 50 years ago, it branched out into book wholesaling, later adding video (and in the heyday of that industry, packaged software.) When Amazon was founded In 1995, it was essentially a web front-end to Ingram’s warehouses and its database of virtually every book that was commercially available. Even today, the Ingram Content Group is a key part of the hidden infrastructure of publishing and bookselling in the US, including Amazon.

Reading these corporate biographies in parallel provides a lot of food for thought. I spend a lot of my time these days studying marketplaces and the technology platforms that enable them: Amazon, Google, Shopify, Alibaba, and of course, my own O’Reilly learning platform. I’m interested in what makes marketplaces succeed and what makes them fail. And in particular, I’m trying to understand how modern technology-based platforms decide the central question of economics: who gets what and why?

. . . .

The core narrative of Silicon Valley is of the invention of a new, magical user experience so transformative that it draws hundreds of millions of users: a storefront from which you can order any product with one click, a search engine that gives access to all the world’s information, a phone that is “insanely great,” an app that summons a car and driver to pick you up within minutes wherever you are and take you wherever you want to go. Exponential user growth is seen as the ultimate measure of success. Today, Silicon Valley companies look to be valued at billions of dollars on that metric alone, when some of them can hardly be called businesses, since they have no profits and may even lack a plan for earning any.

Jeff Bezos founded one of the first of the internet’s hyper growth companies, but he understood that the reality is far more complex than simply growth in users. In 2001, he supposedly drew Amazon’s strategy on a napkin. The picture looked something like this:

Jeff pictured a flywheel in which sellers provide a big selection of products, and the unique Amazon customer experience of unparalleled access to those products drives more traffic, drawing even more sellers. Growth of a super-scale business allows a lower cost structure, allowing Amazon to lower prices for customers, which drives an even better customer experience, which drives more traffic, draws more sellers and more products, around and around, faster and faster.

Companies like Amazon, Uber and Lyft, and even Google and Netflix, are marketplaces, connecting and enabling both buyers and sellers. Amazon connects buyers to hundreds of millions of products; Uber and Lyft connect riders with drivers, and Google and Netflix connect readers and viewers with content providers.

One of the big problems in these hyper-scaled marketplaces is building up both sides of the market at the same time. 

. . . .

It’s a lot easier if you only have to build one side of the market. When Amazon launched in 1995 as “the world’s biggest bookstore,” it didn’t have to spend money assembling a critical mass of books, publishers, and authors. Ingram had already done that. Starting in 1970, Ingram had been connecting publishers and bookstores, such that any bookstore — not just Amazon — had access to every book in print. Jeff’s revolutionary insight, the one that launched Amazon, was that the web made it possible to create a friendly online interface to Ingram’s enormous catalog and that technology could be used to radically simplify the process of ordering and delivering. And the flywheel began to spin.

By 2001, when Jeff drew his flywheel diagram, Amazon was already selling electronics and music CDs as well as books, and before long, it was the interface to virtually anything its customers might want to buy. Amazon also created its own, much faster, real-time distribution layer, while continuing to rely on Ingram (and other wholesalers of different kinds of products) for those products that have less demand. As its flywheel spun faster and faster, Amazon took in more and more products and vendors, built more and more infrastructure for warehousing and delivery, and became the master of logistics that we see today. With the success of its third-party marketplace, millions of sellers now compete to offer hundreds of millions of products.

. . . .

In his 1998 Letter to Shareholders, Bezos wrote, “Our customers have made our business what it is, they are the ones with whom we have a relationship, and they are the ones to whom we owe a great obligation.”

And there’s the rub. Because Amazon understands so well that delighting the customer with lower prices, faster delivery, and a better customer experience drives its growth, it can sometimes forget that it operates a two-sided marketplace in which its merchants also matter. Rather than considering its merchants as among those “with whom we have a relationship, and … the ones to whom we owe a great obligation,” Amazon seems to view them as a resource to be exploited, an inexhaustible fount of redundant supply to whom no obligation is owed.

This is the Achilles heel of Silicon Valley. Focus on the user, taken as the only gospel, becomes a liability. Amazon faces antitrust investigations in both Europe and the US based not just on strongarm tactics against competitors but against its merchants. Google is likewise being investigated for competing against the web sites whose content it was originally created to help consumers search. Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick’s palpable disdain for one of his drivers led to a massive PR backlash and his ouster from the company.

Amazon’s treatment of its merchants seems like a curious blind spot in a company that has been so prescient, so innovative, and so capable of creating value for those in its ecosystem. Looking at Bezos’s flywheel, it should be clear to the company that merchants are as important to the flywheel as customers.

Why does this happen? Unlike many critics of Silicon Valley, I don’t think it’s because the leaders of these companies are making decisions solely motivated by profit as is so often claimed by their critics. In fact, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Mark Zuckerberg are profoundly thoughtful individuals working to do the right thing. The problem is that they are working within an economic system that values growth above all else, disdains small businesses as inefficient, and tilts the playing field against them.

. . . .

Jeff Bezos has told his team that “[other companies’] margin is our opportunity,” and accordingly, Amazon works to eliminate anyone it considers a middleman between the consumer and the ultimate source of supply. As Business Insider pointed out, though, this didn’t eliminate costs so much as it “shifted them to different, often hard to police and control places instead.”

“Before online retail, supply chains relied on friction to achieve quality. Becoming a vendor to Walmart required years of work and experience. Those vendor relationships were precious and would last for decades. Because of how hard it was to build one, Walmart could trust on the network of vendors to keep up the quality. In turn, they were invested in vetting their suppliers. Friction in the system meant the supply chain could be trusted. And if anything went wrong, there was a clear path to follow to find the responsible party.”

For Amazon, competition with its merchants also means that those merchants have an incentive to look elsewhere for a better deal. Over the years, Amazon has rebuffed competitors from Ebay to Walmart. Shopify, a platform company that provides infrastructure for companies to operate their own ecommerce sites, is the first rival that has begun to catch up to Amazon, with Gross Merchandise Volume now about $120 billion to Amazon’s $490 billion (versus $38 billion for Ebay, and Walmart in the “single digit billions.”) One executive at Shopify said to me, “Amazon went down the wrong path enough for us to exist.”

What does all this have to do with Ingram?

Ingram is a private company. That means it doesn’t have a public stock price that allows it to receive decades of future earnings today. In this sense, it’s an old-fashioned company, which provides a service and makes its money in the form of each year’s profit. A dollar of earnings is worth a dollar to the company, not $1100 (Tesla), not $77 (Amazon), not $34 (Apple) or $37 (Google or Microsoft.)

Unexpectedly, this allows a company to take a longer-term, more balanced view. If you can achieve an astronomic valuation on user growth alone, it is easy to convince yourself that any improvement that delights users and speeds user acquisition is worthwhile, whether it be lower prices, faster delivery, or more corporate efficiency to enable those things, even if it is at the expense of other elements of the flywheel, such as the merchants who sell on your platform or the drivers who deliver the packages or the passengers to their destination.

Ingram doesn’t have “users.” It is a B2B platform. Both sides of its marketplace are businesses: that is, publishers and bookstores (in the segment of its business that we have always dealt with.) And it has to thoughtfully balance the needs of both of them. It can’t sacrifice one to please the other. And it doesn’t have to do so to please Wall Street. Ingram’s management understands that the businesses on both sides of its marketplace are its customers, and obsesses about both of them.

Ingram’s innovation began with support for booksellers. In 1973, the company provided a weekly microfiche feed of new titles, radically improving the ability of small bookstores to keep up with the output of the fast-growing publishing industry. However, much of what has driven Ingram over the years is innovation designed to support its suppliers (authors and publishers). 

. . . .

There’s no question that Amazon has also introduced many services that benefit the supplier side of its marketplace. But Amazon’s innovations on behalf of the supplier side often come with costs designed to soak up their margin. Merchants on the platform are expected to compete fiercely with each other for attention. Amazon’s huge and fast growing advertising business, for example, can be seen as a tax on merchants. Before the addition of this lucrative business, merchants mostly had to compete on product quality and price. Now, they must also pay to play.

Link to the rest at Marker

As PG read the OP, he was reminded of an old quote which is attributed to many different people:

What you see depends on where you stand.

The author of the OP, Tim O’Reilly, is the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, a company that may be most known by those who formerly spent time in college bookstores or the technology section of traditional bookstores for the distinctive covers of its technical publications.

PG can’t say for certain, but he expects O’Reilly’s book business was pretty well decimated by the Web which was, from the very beginning, jammed with free information on the topics covered by pretty much any book O’Reilly sold.

As far as the OP’s assessment of who Amazon’s “customers” are, the question for any business is, “What’s the best price (from my standpoint) I can find that will maximize my profits from everybody necessary for my business to survive and succeed?”

Paying close attention to both outgo and income is essential for survival and success.

  • If Amazon is not willing to pay enough to its suppliers to ensure it has products its customers want to purchase, Amazon has a problem.
  • If Amazon is not willing to price its products/services at a level that customers are willing to pay, Amazon has a problem.

These calculations are not subject to a one-and-done approach for Amazon. It has to constantly consider what prices will result in its having products to sell and what prices its customers will pay.

If O’Reilly is willing to sell Amazon a box of tech manuals today for $1.00 less than yesterday’s price, is Amazon treating O’Reilly badly or unfairly if it says it wants today’s price not yesterday’s price?

Nearly everything Amazon sells is available from a variety of other retailers. Hardcopy books, ebooks, toothpaste, diapers, are all available from a zillion other vendors.

PG just checked and Amazon’s top five bestselling products included four different brands of disposable diapers and one brand of baby wipes for cleaning up while changing a diaper. PG is not an expert on diapers and baby wipes, but he expects that a great many other vendors, both online and IRL (in real life) are offering to sell disposable diapers and baby wipes.

Amazon is never free from price competition, service competition and every other sort of competition known to humankind for 99.9% of the products it sells.

PG just checked and Amazon’s percentage net profit margin over the last ten years is in the low to mid single-digits, typical of a great many other retailers, small and large.

The GOP’s big bulk book-buying machine is boosting Republicans on the bestseller lists

From The Washington Post:

As it happens, Crenshaw and his publisher, Hachette Book Group, got a little help from the Texas Republican’s friends.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which works to elect GOP candidates to Congress, spent nearly $400,000 on bulk purchases of the book. The organization acquired 25,500 copies through two online booksellers, enough to fuel “Fortitude’s” ascent up the bestseller lists. The NRCC said it gave away copies as incentives to donors, raising $1.5 million in the process.

The NRCC wasn’t the only outfit providing a big-bucks boost to conservative authors. Four party-affiliated organizations, including the Republican National Committee, collectively spent more than $1 million during the past election cycle mass-purchasing books written by GOP candidates, elected officials and personalities, according to Federal Election Commission expenditure reports. The purchases helped turn several volumes into bestsellers.

. . . .

A big buy can launch a book to prominence, unleashing a stream of royalties for its author and potentially driving up cash advances for their next book.

And that can be a significant source of income for lawmakers. Brett Kappel, an attorney who specializes in federal election regulations, said members of Congress are forbidden from earning more than $29,595 in income beyond their federal salaries in 2021. But book advances and royalties are specifically exempted from these limits.

“You can see why writing books is one of the favorite ways for members to earn outside income,” Kappel said.

. . . .

In February, [another Republican organization] paid nearly $65,000 to Regnery Publishing, Cruz’s publisher, for advance copies of Hawley’s forthcoming book. Hawley’s book was supposed to have been published by Simon & Schuster, but the contract was canceled in January after Hawley came in for widespread criticism for challenging Joe Biden’s electoral victory, leading up to the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.

. . . .

In a series of rulings since 2014, the FEC has advised campaigns to make bulk book buys only through the author’s publisher. This is designed to enable publishers to withhold royalty payments from the author for those purchases, as required by law. Cruz’s campaign followed the FEC guidance in 2015, when it spent nearly $300,000 in campaign funds to buy copies of his previous book directly from the publisher, HarperCollins.

But when it came time to buy thousands of copies of “One Vote Away” last year, the campaign bypassed Cruz’s publisher and went through online retailers Books-a-Million and Barnes & Noble.

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

PG notes that, in addition to politicians of all stripes, lots of other people goose initial sales of a book by purchasing a lot of copies during the first couple of days following a book’s release.

Ingram: the global infrastructure for the book industry

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

The global infrastructure for the book business that is not Amazon is owned and operated by the Ingram Content Group. In fact, a lot of the global infrastructure of the book business that is identified as Amazon is actually Ingram. And on top of that, there would probably have been no Amazon, certainly not the one we have, if Ingram hadn’t been innovating for more than two decades before Jeff Bezos left Wall Street to became an entrepreneur.

Ingram has been rewiring and repaving the book business since it was expanded beyond its roots in the 1960s as the Tennessee School Book Depository by its new owner, Bronson Ingram, who made his fortune in the oil business in the decades after World War II. His investment in the book business, which would reconfigure and redefine the industry in many different ways, began as a pure act of kindness. As it turns out, that was a very suitable and appropriate genesis.

As a leading businessman in Nashville, Ingram was involved with Vanderbilt University’s business school. So when Jack Stambaugh retired from a career at Vanderbilt, he accepted Bronson’s offer of an office at Ingram to be a base for his post-University endeavors. A few months later, Ingram observed that Stambaugh did little except read the Wall Street Journal each day and offered to put up the money to buy a business for Stambaugh to run.

And that’s how Ingram bought the Tennessee Book Company. The School Book Depository it operated was a low-risk, stable but no- or low-growth business that enabled local school districts in Tennessee to get textbooks in quantities smaller than publishers wanted to deal with. So the sales were pretty assured — new textbooks in some subjects were acquired every year by some school districts — and the customer base of schools were reliable payers.

Thus begins the story told in “The Family Business”, a history of Ingram by Nashville journalist Keel Hunt, a great storyteller who has known the Ingram family for almost all of its just over five decades of operation. “The Family Business” is being published tomorrow, April 20, by West Margin Press in Berkeley, CA.

Having a part in creating this project has been among the most enjoyable experiences of my career. Working with Hunt, publishing veteran Bruce Harris, and editor Karl Weber has been a voyage of rediscovery of my own time in the business. 

. . . .

The Ingram of today reaches every corner of the global book business. It is more accuracy than hyperbole to say that every publisher, every bookseller, and every library in the world does business with Ingram. As a wholesaler, they carry the books of all publishers and are the primary distributor (the originating source) for those published by hundreds of them. Their CoreSource digital asset repository, which dispatches the digital files for books to deliver ebooks or print books all over the globe, is the single biggest. Their “third party distribution” capability delivers books to more American homes than anybody else, in boxes identifying the customer of Ingram’s — which could be any bookstore including Amazon — that transacted the sale as the source for the book’s purchaser.

. . . .

I have met dozens of people from Ingram. I have consulted with them for years as well and introduced them to projects they have taken on board. I have never met a single person from Ingram who wasn’t smart. I have never met one who was in any way difficult to work with. And what was always most impressive throughout all these decades, they conducted their business without a hint of the bullying (even gentle, polite, subtle bullying) that is endemic in all businesses when large accounts deal with small suppliers.

They are relentlessly efficient and they value operational excellence. They are also very civil and they also value just being nice.

Ingram’s growth was accelerating when I met them. The company did about $1 million in business in 1970 and over $100 million in 1979. (Hitting $100 million is another great story well told in the book.) This growth was fueled by the expansion of retailers enabled by the vastly streamlined supply chain that for the first time allowed booksellers to know, through the microfiche, that they were ordering books they’d reliably have in a few days. That level of certainty in the supply chain had never existed before and it suddenly made bookselling a much better business to be in than it ever was previously.

. . . .

At almost the precise moment that Ingram’s operational efficiency was enabling the invention of the phenomenon of Amazon (clearly detailed in “The Family Business”), the torch was being passed to the next generation of the Ingram family. Bronson’s premature death led to his son, John Ingram, coming back from building Ingram Micro in Europe to take over the family enterprise in 1995.

The late 90s were a prelude to the new digital realities that mark the book business today, and Ingram’s hallmarks — operational excellence, focus on delivering value for their trading partners, and the patient money that only a very private business can invest — both shaped the change and assured the central place Ingram has in the global world of books today.

It was in that period, while Amazon was building their own behemoth, brilliantly leveraging the capabilities that Ingram gave them, that John Ingram launched two initiatives that are still central to the company’s success.

One was Lightning Print, the capability to print a single copy of a book at a commercially acceptable price on short notice. The other was the previously-mentioned “third party distribution”: the capability to ship to the end consumer with the book appearing to come from the Ingram customer using the service. The latter capability enabled any bookstore or web site to sell any book Ingram had as though they were sending it themselves. The former extended that capability beyond the hundreds of thousands of titles Ingram actually stocked to the many millions (now approaching 20 million) in the Lightning database.

In 2021, all you need to be a bookseller is customers and a relationship with Ingram. And all you need to be a publisher is a manuscript, a checkbook to hire some freelancers, and a relationship with Ingram.

Link to the rest at Mike Shatzkin

A Complete Expert Guide to the Amazon Self-Publishing Costs for New Publishers

From The Urban Writers:

Finishing your first book leaves you feeling like you’ve finally arrived at the center stage. The excitement alone can make your world spin around as you read it once more. It’s understandable when the authors want to rush into the next step.

However, they don’t realize there’s a bunch of sharks waiting out there, waiting to snatch them. New writers must take a step back and consider Amazon’s self-publishing cost and pricing before they allow these predators to grab hold of them.

I was in your position a few years back and I was impatient to get my book out there. I needed people to read my story and listen to my advice. I emailed publishers all over the world with a manuscript, hoping to get a response. 

It was only two weeks before the first shark came at me head-first. This publisher was prepared to take my book, but they wanted me to pay for publishing costs upfront. The quotes started pouring in and I was shocked with the requests!

Suddenly, I felt like I had to sell my soul and those of my kids, spouse, and even my dog just to cover the costs. Figures ranged madly but the average was well over $2,000 from publishers that didn’t even leave a stain on the map. 

This might not seem like Mount Kilimanjaro, but I assure you that this was only the cost to get started. I still had to pay ridiculous commissions on top of this. The sacrifice of my soul wasn’t enough and they only promised me 25% of future sales. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t use the easily accessible internet to find other options like a normal person would. I ended up giving my book to a company that would give me 15% royalties and owns the first 5,000 copies in lieu of printing costs. 

I sold my book to the devil, never mind a shark. They haven’t bothered to promote the book and it became lost in the vast world of available reads. The worst of all is that my book is sitting on Amazon at a price that even I wouldn’t pay. 

My heart breaks every time I see my book without reviews, simply wallowing in the black hole of nothingness. I signed my rights away and have no power to take it back or change the price. I don’t want you to experience the same thing I did. 

Link to the rest at The Urban Writers

PG isn’t familiar with The Urban Writers, which apparently sells various editing, formatting, cover design, etc., services to indie authors. They may provide good services at a fair price.

However, PG is inclined to be a bit suspicious of services that bundle various services that may benefit self-published authors. Invariably, not all the money an author pays is going to the people who are editing, formatting, designing covers, performing social media marketing (which can mean almost anything), writing reviews for hire, etc.

Some organizations farm out the actual work to inexpensive offshore labor, which may or may not provide very good quality.

PG suggests that indie authors keep their hands on the wheel of their career and spend some time understanding what’s involved in formatting an ebook or POD books (hint: not very much, although some people do a better job than others).

KDP provides a free tool called Kindle Create which will do a credible job of formatting a clean manuscript into an ebook. Draft2Digital offers more ebooks formatting options than Kindle Create (and, to PG’s eye, better-looking options). It very generously will allow you to use the formatted ebook file to
publish through D2D or anywhere else.

You’ll want to go through the resulting ebook file to check for any errors. Still, they’re not difficult to fix, either in the ebook file or by going back to your original MS and tweaking the format in your original word processing file, then running it back through the ebook formatting tool.

As far as cover design is concerned, an excellent cover will require someone with a good eye and some design talent, but you can find those sorts of people online or, depending upon where you live, among your circle of friends and acquaintances. You’re looking for someone who knows how to use digital design
tools like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop or an equivalent program and creates the sort of thing you think looks polished.

If a local community college offers classes or a major in design, they’ll almost certainly require students to use current digital design tools. Talented students are usually happy to take on projects for a bit of money to help build their design portfolios.

Cruise through Amazon’s book listings, particularly in your genre, and note covers that you think look good and are examples of the type of cover you’re looking for and share this information with your cover artist.

There’s nothing wrong with working with remote professionals to access the talent you need to provide the parts of a finished book you’re not able to create yourself. Still, PG thinks you’re more likely to get better quality at a better price than you will by sending your money to a website black box and hoping you’ll receive something you’ll like in return.

But, as with all other opinions he expresses, PG could be wrong and is happy to be educated concerning his lack of knowledge about a wide range of subjects in the comments.

 

 

What Walt Whitman Knew About Democracy

From The Wall Street Journal:

When Walt Whitman began conceiving his great volume of poetry, “Leaves of Grass,” in the 1850s, American democracy was in serious danger over the issue of slavery. As we celebrate National Poetry Month this month, the problems facing our democracy are different, but Whitman still has a great deal to teach us about democratic life, because he saw that we are perpetually in danger of succumbing to two antidemocratic forces. The first is hatred between Americans, which Whitman saw erupt into civil war in 1861.

The second danger lies in the hunger for kings. The European literature and culture that preceded Whitman and surrounded him when he wrote “Leaves of Grass” was largely what he called “feudal”: It revolved around the elect, the special, the few. Whitman understood human fascination with kings and aristocrats, and he sometimes tried to debunk it. But mostly he asked his readers to shift their interest away from feudalism to the beauties of democracy and the challenge of sustaining and expanding it.

This challenge is what inspired him to find his central poetic image for democracy, the grass: “A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands.” Whitman says that he can’t and won’t offer a literal answer to the question. Instead he spins into an astonishing array of “guesses.” The grass “is the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven”; it’s “the handkerchief of the Lord…Bearing the owner’s name somewhere in the corners, that we may see and remark and say Whose?”

To Whitman, “the grass is itself a child…the produced babe of the vegetation.” “Tenderly will I use you, curling grass,” he writes. “It may be that you are from old people and from women, and from offspring taken soon out of their mothers’ laps / And here you are the mothers’ laps.” He offers one metaphor for the grass after another, and one feels that he could go on forever.

But mainly Whitman’s grass signifies American equality: “I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,/And it means,/Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,/Growing among black folks as among white,/Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff,/I give them the same, I receive them the same.” Whatever our race and origin, whatever our station in life, we’re all blades of grass. But by joining together we become part of a resplendent field of green, stretching gloriously on every side.

Whitman found a magnificent metaphor for democratic America and its people. Like snowflakes, no two grass blades are alike. Each one has its own being, a certain kind of chlorophyll-based individuality. Yet step back and you’ll see that the blades are all more like each other than not. Americans, too, are at least as much alike as we are different, and probably more so. America is where we can be ourselves and yet share deep kinship with our neighbors.

And who are our neighbors? Kanuck, Congressman, Tuckahoe, Cuff—Canadian, legislator, Virginia planter, Black man, all of the teeming blades of grass that we see around us. When you stand back far enough, you can’t see any of the individual blades, but look closer and there they are—vibrant and unique, no two alike. We say “e pluribus unum,” from many one. But who could have envisioned what that would look like and how it would feel before Whitman came along?

The grass is Whitman’s answer to the problem that bedeviled his contemporary Ralph Waldo Emerson: how to resolve the tension between the individual and the group. Emerson is sometimes hopeful that the two can cohere. When you speak your deep and true thoughts, no matter how controversial, he believed that in time the mass of men and women will come around to you. Each will say, ‘this is my music, this is myself,” Emerson says in “The American Scholar.” But mostly he is skeptical, believing that society is almost inevitably the enemy of genius and individuality.

Whitman’s image of the grass suggests that the one and the many can merge, and that discovery allows him to imagine a world without significant hierarchy. Can any one blade of grass be all that much more important than any other? When you make the grass the national flag, as it were, you get to love and appreciate all the people who surround you. You become part of a community of equals. You can feel at home.

In “Leaves of Grass,” soon after he offers his master metaphor Whitman rises up to view American democracy from overhead. The poem’s famous catalogues of people doing what they do every day are quite simple: “On the piazza walk five friendly matrons with twined arms;/ The crew of the fish-smack pack repeated layers of halibut in the hold,/The Missourian crosses the plains, toting his wares and his cattle,/The fare-collector goes through the train—he gives notice by the jingling of loose change.”

This is your family, these are your sisters and brothers, Whitman effectively says. In general, we walk the streets with a sense of isolation. But if we can move away from our addictions to hierarchy and exclusive individuality, and embrace Whitman’s trope of the grass, our experience of day-to-day life can be different. We can look at those we pass and say not “That is another” but “That too is me. That too I am.” Or so Whitman hopes.

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

PG admits that it has been a very long time since he has read Leaves of Grass, but the OP stimulated a desire to reread it.

How to Write Science as Entertainment

From Publishers Weekly:

As a doctor, writer, and mother of a middle schooler, I was ready to scintillate the sixth graders when I volunteered for the chicken wing dissection class, demonstrating the exciting connection between muscles and tendons and bones. I opened and closed the wing, placed it in their hands, showed them the thin strips of tissue coordinating all the action. Did I see fascination? Excitement? Feigned interest of any sort? Sadly, no.

Surely they’d want to hear about my journey to becoming a doctor, then. And they did. But they were much more enthusiastic about a different topic they were studying: mythology. Greek gods, beasts with multiple heads, fathers who swallowed their children whole—they learned about all of it in school, but they already knew everything there was to know and then some.

Why? Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. If there was an obvious career path involving mythology, they’d be all in.

Fiction provides a framework to make any piece of information interesting and entertaining. Most information is interesting on its own, but it’s inevitably much more enjoyable when embedded in a story. Add action and suspense and humor and a kid who could be any of us, and we are captivated. But is there such a fiction series about medicine? The human body? Ailments and health? The excitement of biology or chemistry or engineering or math? Excluding books that deal with video games, very few.

. . . .

I set out to create a thrilling tale weaving in maladies, much like the Percy Jackson books weave in mythology. In The Antidote, 12-year-old Alex Revelstoke discovers a family secret: he can see disease. And not just disease—he can also see injury, illness, and anything else wrong with the body. He sees skin melt away to reveal the organs beneath, much to his shock and horror. He comes from a family of doctors with this extra gift, going back generations, helping, healing.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The runaway digital subscription train shows no sign of slowing

From Boktugg:

Sweden-based unlimited digital books subscription service BookBeat is on target to exceed a half million subscriber in Q2, and is targeting 600,000 by end 2021.

Q1 revenue was up 45% and subscribers up 66% compared to the same period last year.

Total 2020 revenue amounted to SEK 508 million ($60 million) from the core BookBeat markets of Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany and Poland. BookBeat is notionally in the UK, but British publishers mostly don’t want to play. BookBeat is also notionally available across the EU, but without a localized presence that’s neither here nor there.

CEO Niclas Sandin said in a press statement at the weekend:

We have never experienced such a high influx of new users at the beginning of a year as in 2021. In recent months alone in our three Nordic markets Sweden, Finland and Denmark, the average number of paying users increased during the quarter by 34,000 compared with Q4 2020. Also outside The Nordic countries in Germany and Poland see a strong start to the year. In total, we expect to soon pass the milestone of 500,000 paying users, which is 200,000 more than BookBeat had last spring.

That’s still a long way behind Storytel, which is at 1.5 million subscribers across 25 markets, but may be ahead of Nextory, which doesn’t share numbers, only percentages.

Link to the rest at Boktugg

Naming Fictional Characters: 10 Tips to Avoid Pitfalls

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

The old-school advice for naming fictional characters was to comb the obituaries. But not a lot of people get newspapers these days, so we need other sources of inspiration.

For me, spam is turning out to be one of the best places to find unique names. Every week I cull a few from my email and blog spam folders. I can always perk up a story by subjecting my heroine to a nasty boss named Hieronymus Weatherwax or a blind date with Snively Hassan. And I love the creativity of the three-first-names catfishers who try to friend me on Facebook. I’m using the catfisher name “Brownie David Jack” in my current WIP, Catfishing in America.

This week the loverboys who woo me on FB Messenger have come up with a new way to approximate American names. They’ve discovered the suffix “son” and gone to town with it. I found several messages from suitors named things like Kevinson Paulson, Ericson Peterson and Johnson Phillipson. Who knows? One of those names might work for some awful rich frat boy from your heroine’s past.

. . . .

1. Always Google your Characters’ Names!

I once wanted to name a porn star Peter McHugh until a Google search showed a local politician with that name. I don’t suppose he would have welcomed one more off-color joke.

And you want to make sure there’s not a real Galveston Ngyen, or you might find yourself in an embarrassing situation.

Sometimes failing to Google a name can lead to more than embarrassment. A few years ago author Jake Arnott created a thoroughly villainous character who was a London cabaret singer in the 1960s. He gave him the name Tony Rocco. Unfortunately, it turned out there was a real Tony Rocco who had been a cabaret singer in London in the 1960s. Lawsuits ensued.

2. Choose Names that Fit the Character

Would Jack Reacher be such a phenomenon if Lee Child had named him Phillidus Frogmore? Would Miss Marple have been able to do all that surreptitious investigating if Agatha Christie had called her Fifi LaRue?

Inappropriate and misleading character names are what prompted this post. You don’t want to give a character a name that sets up the wrong expectation in your readers. If you need to give your protagonist a name that goes against type, explain why as close to the opener as possible.

This week I tried to read a mystery with a sleuth named something like Fatty. Somewhere in the third chapter we were told he was tall, blonde and athletic. But because of his name, I already had a picture of the guy in my head…and that wasn’t it. If he got his name before a successful stint on The Biggest Loser, I needed to know that sooner.

Sometimes a name shows up on the page and we don’t even know where it came from. Those can be unique and inspired. But don’t commit to the name if it doesn’t fit the character,

And although you want your characters to have a memorable names that fit their personalities, beware getting too Dickensian. Unless you’re writing humor, names as outrageous as Dickens’ Master Bates, Wackford Squeers or Serjeant Buzfuz may take your reader out of the story.

3. Choose Names that Begin with Different Letters

It’s best to vary the length as well. You want to choose names that look different from each other on the page. Names that begin with the same letter will always confuse the reader. So don’t give your heroine rival boyfriends named Tim and Tom unless she can’t tell them apart either.

This gets tougher as you move along in a series. If you carefully name the villain du jour something that’s not at all similar to your recurring characters, you may end up with villains’ names that sound too much alike instead. If the bad guy is named Vincenzo in Book 3, Victoria in book 4, and Vidor in Book 5 you’ll confuse your series readers. (Or telegraph who-done-it too soon.)

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

Interrobang

From Wikipedia:

The interrobang, also known as the interabang (often represented by ?!, !?, ?!? or !?!), is an unconventional punctuation mark used in various written languages and intended to combine the functions of the question mark, or interrogative point; and the exclamation mark, or exclamation point, known in the jargon of printers and programmers as a “bang”. The glyph is a superimposition of these two marks. The interrobang was first proposed in 1962 by Martin K. Speckter.

. . . .

A sentence ending with an interrobang asks a question in an excited manner, expresses excitement or disbelief in the form of a question, or asks a rhetorical question.

For example:

  • You call that a hat‽
  • You’re dying‽
  • What are those‽

Writers using informal language may use several alternating question marks and exclamation marks for even more emphasis; however, this is regarded as poor style in formal writing

. . . .

American Martin K. Speckter (1915 – February 14, 1988) conceptualized the interrobang in 1962. As the head of an advertising agency, Speckter believed that advertisements would look better if copywriters conveyed surprised rhetorical questions using a single mark. He proposed the concept of a single punctuation mark in an article in the magazine TYPEtalks. Speckter solicited possible names for the new character from readers. Contenders included exclamaquestQuizDingrhet, and exclarotive, but he settled on interrobang. He chose the name to reference the punctuation marks that inspired it: interrogatio is Latin for “rhetorical question” or “cross-examination”; bang is printers’ slang for the exclamation mark. Graphic treatments for the new mark were also submitted in response to the article.

. . . .

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

From The New York Times:

Martin K. Speckter, a retired advertising executive known to lexicographers as the creator of the interrobang, a punctuation mark used to convey disbelief, died of bone cancer Sunday at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan. He was 73 years old and lived in Manhattan.

From 1956 to 1969, Mr. Speckter was president of Martin K. Speckter Associates Inc., which handled promotion for The Wall Street Journal, The National Observer, Barron’s weekly and the Dow Jones News Service. In 1962, Mr. Speckter developed the interrobang, since recognized by several dictionaries and some type and typewriter companies.

. . . .

The [interrobang] mark is said to be the typographical equivalent of a grimace or a shrug of the shoulders. It applied solely to the rhetorical, Mr. Speckter said, when a writer wished to convey incredulity.

. . . .

He was editor of TYPEtalks magazine from 1959 to 1968 and wrote many articles. He was also the author of a book, ”Disquisition on the Composing Stick” published by Typophiles Inc. in 1971.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

From Dictionary.com:

disquisition

[ dis-kwuhzishuhn ]

a formal discourse or treatise in which a subject is examined and discussed; dissertation.

Link to the rest at Dictionary.com

From Type Talks:

To this day, we don’t know exactly what Columbus had in mind when he shouted ‘Land, ho.’ Most historians insist that he cried, ‘Land, ho!’ but there are others who claim it was really ‘Land ho?’ Chances are the intrepid Discoverer was both excited and doubtful, but neither at that time did we, nor even yet, do we, have a point which clearly combines and melds interrogation with exclamation.”

–”Making a New Point, or How About That . . ..” Martin K. Specter, Type Talks, March-April, 1962

Amplitude Wide Bold and Fritz Robusto, both designed by Christian Schwartz, contain different interpretations of the interrobang.

Minds Without Brains?

From Commonweal:

n the view of many scientists, Artificial Intelligence (AI) isn’t living up to the hype of its proponents. We don’t yet have safe driverless cars—and we’re not likely to in the near future. Nor are robots about to take on all our domestic drudgery so that we can devote more time to leisure. On the brighter side, robots are also not about to take over the world and turn humans into slaves the way they do in the movies.

Nevertheless, there is real cause for concern about the impact AI is already having on us. As Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis write in their book, Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence We Can Trust, “the AI we have now simply can’t be trusted.” In their view, the more authority we prematurely turn over to current machine systems, the more worried we should be. “Some glitches are mild, like an Alexa that randomly giggles (or wakes you in the middle of the night, as happened to one of us), or an iPhone that autocorrects what was meant as ‘Happy Birthday, dear Theodore’ into ‘Happy Birthday, dead Theodore,’” they write. “But others—like algorithms that promote fake news or bias against job applicants—can be serious problems.”

Marcus and Davis cite a report by the AI Now Institute detailing AI problems in many different domains, including Medicaid-eligibility determination, jail-term sentencing, and teacher evaluations:

Flash crashes on Wall Street have caused temporary stock market drops, and there have been frightening privacy invasions (like the time an Alexa recorded a conversation and inadvertently sent it to a random person on the owner’s contact list); and multiple automobile crashes, some fatal. We wouldn’t be surprised to see a major AI-driven malfunction in an electrical grid. If this occurs in the heat of summer or the dead of winter, a large number of people could die.

The computer scientist Jaron Lanier has cited the darker aspects of AI as it has been exploited by social-media giants like Facebook and Google, where he used to work. In Lanier’s view, AI-driven social-media platforms promote factionalism and division among users, as starkly demonstrated in the 2016 and 2020 elections, when Russian hackers created fake social-media accounts to drive American voters toward Donald Trump. As Lanier writes in his book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, AI-driven social media are designed to commandeer the user’s attention and invade her privacy, to overwhelm her with content that has not been fact-checked or vetted. In fact, Lanier concludes, it is designed to “turn people into assholes.”

As Brooklyn College professor of law and Commonweal contributor Frank Pasquale points out in his book, The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information, the loss of individual privacy is also alarming. And while powerful businesses, financial institutions, and government agencies hide their actions behind nondisclosure agreements, “proprietary methods,” and gag rules, the lives of ordinary consumers are increasingly open books to them. “Everything we do online is recorded,” Pasquale writes:

The only questions left are to whom the data will be available, and for how long. Anonymizing software may shield us for a little while, but who knows whether trying to hide isn’t itself the ultimate red flag for watchful authorities? Surveillance cameras, data brokers, sensor networks, and “supercookies” record how fast we drive, what pills we take, what books we read, what websites we visit. The law, so aggressively protective of secrecy in the world of commerce, is increasingly silent when it comes to the privacy of persons.

Meanwhile, as Lanier notes, these big tech companies are publicly committed to an extravagant AI “race” that they often prioritize above all else. Lanier thinks this race is insane. “We forget that AI is a story we computer scientists made up to help us get funding once upon a time, back when we depended on grants from government agencies. It was pragmatic theater. But now AI has become a fiction that has overtaken its authors.”AI-driven social-media platforms promote factionalism and division among users, as starkly demonstrated in the 2016 and 2020 elections.

In Marcus and Davis’s view, the entire field needs to refocus its energy on making AI more responsive to common sense. And to do this will require a complete rethinking of how we program machines.

“The ability to conceive of one’s own intent and then use it as a piece of evidence in causal reasoning is a level of self-awareness (if not consciousness) that no machine I know of has achieved,” writes Judea Pearl, a leading AI proponent who has spent his entire career researching machine intelligence. “I would like to be able to lead a machine into temptation and have it say, ‘No.’” In Pearl’s view, current computers don’t really constitute artificial intelligence. They simply constitute the ground level of what can and likely will lead to true artificial intelligence. Having an app that makes your life much easier is not the same thing as having a conversation with a machine that can reason and respond to you like another human being.

In his Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect, co-written with Dana McKenzie, Pearl lays out the challenges that need to be met in order to produce machines that can think for themselves. Current AI systems can scan for regularities and patterns in swaths of data faster than any human. They can be taught to beat champion chess and Go players. According to an article in Science, there is now a computer that can even beat humans at multiplayer games of poker. But these are all narrowly defined tasks; they do not require what Pearl means by thinking for oneself. In his view, machines that use data have yet to learn how to “play” with it. To think for themselves, they would need to be able to determine how to make use of data to answer causal questions. Even more crucially, they would need to learn how to ask counterfactual questions about how the same data could be used differently. In short, they would have to learn to ask a question that comes naturally to every three-year-old child: “Why?”

“To me, a strong AI should be a machine that can reflect on its actions and learn from past mistakes. It should be able to understand the statement ‘I should have acted differently,’ whether it is told as much by a human or arrives at that conclusion itself.” Pearl builds his approach around what he calls a three-level “Ladder of Causation,” at the pinnacle of which stand humans, the only species able to think in truly causal terms, to posit counterfactuals (“What would have happened if…?”).

But then a further question arises: Would such artificial intelligence be conscious the way we are? Or would it simply be a more advanced form of “smart” machine that exists purely to serve humans? There is reason for skepticism. As philosopher David Chalmers told Prashanth Ramakrishna in a New York Times interview in 2019, intelligence does not necessarily imply subjective consciousness:

Intelligence is a matter of the behavioral capacities of these systems: what they can do, what outputs they can produce given their inputs. When it comes to intelligence, the central question is, given some problems and goals, can you come up with the right means to your ends? If you can, that is the hallmark of intelligence. Consciousness is more a matter of subjective experience. You and I have intelligence, but we also have subjectivity; it feels like something on the inside when we have experiences. That subjectivity—consciousness—is what makes our lives meaningful. It’s also what gives us moral standing as human beings.

In Chalmers’s view, trying to prove that machines have achieved consciousness would not be easy. “Maybe an A.I. system that could describe its own conscious states to me, saying, ‘I’m feeling pain right now. I’m having this experience of hurt or happiness or sadness’ would count for more. Maybe what would count for the most is [its] feeling some puzzlement at its mental state: ‘I know objectively that I’m just a collection of silicon circuits, but from the inside I feel like so much more.’”

Link to the rest at Commonweal

How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book in 2021?

From ReedsyBlog:

Writing and publishing a book is one of the most rewarding things you can do in life. As an author, you create something beautiful and unique that readers will cherish forever. But once you finish writing, you might be curious how to get your book out into the world — and perhaps more importantly, how much will it cost to publish?

Luckily, this post is dedicated to answering that very query. Here we’ve broken down the cost of self-publishing by type and quality of service, so you can know exactly what you’re getting for your money.

. . . .

How much does it cost to publish a book?

The cost to publish a book depends on a) the length of the book and b) the level of quality you want. Most authors spend $2,000-$4,000 to self-publish their books — this includes editing, cover design, formatting, and marketing services.

Of course, if you just want to get your book out there, you can always format it for free and use Amazon’s self-publishing platform to make it available within 72 hours! For many people, writing the book is the greatest reward, and publishing is more of a formality.

But if you want to actually sell your book, you’ll need to invest in some high-quality services — otherwise, you have no chance of competing with traditionally published books. Yes, you can pick and choose which services to splurge on, but you can’t deny that certain things (like a strong cover design) are absolutely essential to book sales.

Link to the rest at ReedsyBlog

Based on a handful of reports, PG believes that Reedsy and the people who work there are straight-shooters and provide real value to many indie authors.

That said, one of Reedsy’s principle services is connecting professional editors, cover designers, etc., with authors who need their services.

Indie authors, just like any other group, vary in their levels of competence and talent. While there is definitely something to be said for getting third-party input when writing a book, at least some indie authors may be able to acquire the third-party help they require from friends and relatives without hiring a professional to assist.

As an additional point, regarding sow’s ears and silk purses, no amount of editorial work will save a manuscript if the author is unable to tell a compelling story in writing.

It’s Time to End Free Agent Labor

From Bookends:

Nearly every week an agent at BookEnds receives a request to speak at an event, conference, or group meeting. Almost universally there is an expectation that the agent will do so for free. While this has been the norm for generations, it’s time to put an end to free agent labor.

As publishers are raising starting salaries, the rest of us need to do our part. That means dispelling the myth that conference work is a favor to the agent. It’s not. It’s work. A full weekend of exhausting work, missed family time, and travel costs that are not, let’s be honest, worth the reward.

. . . .

Most conferences offer to pay travel expenses–specifically hotel, flight, and most meals (not all) But as anyone who has ever flown knows, that’s never the extent of true travel expenses. You also need to get to and from the airport, eat meals (or snacks) that aren’t included, and you’re expected to schmooze with conference attendees that can often amount to at least a moderate bar/food/snack bill (depending on how you like to schmooze).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while conferences say they pay travel expenses, very rarely have all my travel expenses been covered. There’s always something that isn’t factored in (a $200 airport parking bill anyone).

. . . .

In the era of Zoom, many see this as a real boon to their agent networking. Now they can have agents attend without any costs. Those pesky travel expenses are a thing of the past.

They are. That’s true. But time is money people and asking an agent to spend an 8-hour day, or a 16-hour weekend, working in front of Zoom is ridiculous. 

. . . .

It’s a myth conference organizers have told themselves for years that conferences benefit agents. A myth that paying travel expenses is beyond generous. Sure, it’s expensive to pay travel expenses, but these agents are driving people to your event. It’s worth the cost, as is paying them for their work.

In my 20 years as an agent, easily over 100 conferences, I can count on one hand the number of clients I’ve found. Most clients come through connections I make after reading or hearing about their work or, truthfully, through Query Manager.

Link to the rest at Bookends

While PG doesn’t do this any more, he used to command nice speaking fees for his presentations at conferences.

For unpaid speakers, as the OP implied, the speaker has to decide whether it’s really worth the time and the hassle to accept these invitations.

Compared to in-store book signing sessions, however, conferences are a gold mine.

Quite often, somebody is making money from a trade conference. Usually, it’s the conference organizers.

S&S removes distribution for cop’s book

From Nathan Bransford:

Simon & Schuster came under fire this week because one of the publishers it distributes, Post Hill Press, acquired a book by one of the cops who shot Breonna Taylor. After a major outcry (and some confusion among people who weren’t splitting hairs between publishing and distributing), Simon & Schuster announced that it wouldn’t be involved in the distribution of the book (no word as of this writing on whether that means they have severed their relationship with Post Hill Press entirely).

Just for the record since this is a publishing blog, a publisher is the entity that acquires, edits, and publishes a book. In this case Simon & Schuster was not the publisher, nor is Post Hill Press one of its imprints. Post Hill Press is its own separate entity. A publisher, particularly a mid-size or small one, will often engage a distributor, an entity (sometimes one that is also a publisher, hence the confusion) that provides sales infrastructure and sometimes printing/warehousing/shipping on behalf of the publisher. An analogy would be like if the New York Times rented out its spare sales, printing, and shipping capacity to other newspapers, but they’re not the ones writing and editing what’s in that other paper.

I’m not sure the distinction matters all that much to those who think publishers should be pressured to divest from amplifying and profiting from these types of books entirely, but just FYI. 

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Top Two Anathemas

From Daily Writing Tips:

On National Grammar Day, the AP Stylebook editors tweeted a question for their readers:

What grammar rule do you find yourself getting wrong no matter how many times you look it up? Tell us your grammar kryptonite.

The feed I saw had 72 Quote Tweets. If “Quote Tweets” means “responses,” then I read them all. I did not take the time to count the repetitions, but I did note some clear winners. I’d say that the top two were these:

affect vs effect
lay/lie and all their tenses

It’s not as if the people who responded to the AP quiz haven’t been trying. They have looked up these bêtes noires numerous times in the AP Stylebook. The bitter truth remains that for some of us, some points of grammar and usage just won’t stick in our brains. Lack of grammar instruction in the early grades accounts for some persistent errors, but not all. Sometimes our brains are just blind to the reasoning behind the rule.

In this post, I’ll address the top two “kryptonite” examples given in the Twitter thread.

affect and effect
Although spelled differently, these two sound identical in speech, so it’s not surprising that speakers stumble when putting them into written form. It doesn’t help that effect functions as both noun and verb. As for affect, its most common use is an action verb, but psychologists sometimes use affect as a noun. Here are examples of correct usage of affect and effect:

We hope that the pandemic will not permanently affect social interaction. (verb)

What is the effect of gamma rays on Man-in-the-Moon marigolds? (noun)

The new law will effect a much needed change in wetland protections. (verb)

Often, the patient’s affect changes with his environment. (noun, in the sense of “feeling, emotion, mood”)

TIP: When used as a noun, effect will usually have an article in front of it: the effectan effectthe uncertainty effectto have an effect, etc. A clue to the use of effect and affect as verbs is the presence of a helping verb in front of them: will effectmay affect.

lay and lie
Sorting out the usage of this family of verbs requires a mastery of the concept of transitive and intransitive verbs. I don’t think that young people are being taught this concept anymore. Plus, so many speakers and writers now use the words interchangeably—even in professional contexts— I believe that attempting to maintain the distinction is a lost cause. While writing this post, I glanced at a news item in the Daily Mail, in which I read that a person shot a man and “then approached him while he was still laying on the ground.” I’ve seen lay used for lie in The New York Times and in The Washington Post. It’s a dead horse, folks.

Nevertheless, I’ll provide examples of preferred usage.

The verb lay, meaning, “to place” or “to put”
The verb forms are lay, laid, have laid, laying

Lay the book on the table. (Lay is transitive here. Its object is “the book.”)

My father is laying tile in the basement. (Laying is the present participle of lay. The object is “tile.”)

I think I laid my keys on the kitchen counter. (Laid is the past of lay. The object is “my keys.”

TIP: When the verb lay (to put or to place) is used correctly, it will be followed by a word that answers “what?” Lay what? “the book.” Is laying what? “the tile.” Laid what? “my keys.”

The verb lie, meaning, “to recline”
This verb is intransitive. It does not take an object. There is no word that answers “what?” after it.
The forms are lie/lies, lay, have lain, lying

He lies in bed until noon. (Third person present singular)

lie in bed until seven. (First person present singular)

The man was lying in the parking lot. (Lying is the present participle of to lie (to recline))

The dog lay in the shade. (Lay is the past tense of to lie (to recline).

We have lain on the beach since dawn. (Lain is the past participle of to lie (to recline)

TIP: I can’t think of a universally helpful tip for this one. The problem is that both verbs, the one for “to place” and the one for “to recline” share a form spelled lay. The speaker who is unable to remember the difference between present tense lay—place or put—and past tense lay—reclined—will continue to use them incorrectly. The best tip I can think of requires a person to understand the concept of verbs that have objects. Lay in the sense of “to put” needs an object and lie in the sense of “to recline” does not.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

Hubris

Hubris, arrogance, is just one step ahead of loss of integrity, because if you think you’re better than other people, you know more, then you’re going to think, as many leaders have, that the rules don’t apply to them – so they lose their integrity.

Charles Koch

Censorship Competition Heats Up

From The Wall Street Journal:

By now it is clear that wokeness is a contagious malady. Amazon.com made headlines in February when it suddenly delisted Ryan Anderson’s book “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment,” a thoughtful, humane and deeply researched investigation of a controverted subject of public debate.

As the publisher of that 2018 bestseller, I was taken aback by reports that Mr. Anderson’s book was unavailable at “the world’s largest bookstore.” At first, I wondered whether there was some mistake.

But no. It was a deliberate act of censorship. Moreover, like the earl of Strafford, Amazon’s motto was “Thorough.” They didn’t just stop selling the book. They pushed it into the digital oubliette, erasing all trace of it from the Amazon website. They did the same thing at their subsidiaries Audible, which sells audiobooks, and AbeBooks, which sells secondhand books.

Now it turns out that Bookshop.org, which bills itself a scrappy alternative to the Bezos Behemoth, is up to the same game. A couple of weeks ago, a reader alerted us that Mr. Anderson’s book had gone missing from the Bookshop.org website.

The organization never responded to our queries. But on Friday we learned from our distributor that Bookshop had deep-sixed the book. “We did remove this title based on our policies,” Bookshop wrote to our distributor—without, however, explaining what those “policies” might be. “We had multiple complaints and concerns from customers, affiliates, and employees about the title.”

Perhaps other customers, affiliates and employees expressed “complaints and concerns” about Heather Mac Donald’s “The War on Cops,” another Encounter bestseller. That book has also been disappeared from the Bookshop website.

. . . .

I couldn’t help but note that at least one of my own books, “Tenured Radicals,” is missing in action there. Apparently there were no “complaints and concerns” about Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” however. That book is available in a variety of editions, as are the anti-Semitic lucubrations of Louis Farrakhan and many other similarly unedifying effusions.

Underdogs make for good copy, so it was no surprise that Bookshop was hailed as a brave upstart, a feisty David to the Goliath of Amazon. “Bookshop.org hopes to play Rebel Alliance to Amazon’s Empire,” ran the headline of a valentine in the Chicago Tribune.

Bookshop turns out to be little more than another minion for the Emperor of Wokeness. For the past couple of weeks, the first item advertised on its home page is that bible of antiwhite woke sermonizing, “How to Be an Anti-Racist.” Many readers, I’d wager, would have “complaints and concerns” about that screed. But that doesn’t mean that Bookshop should stop selling it. Nor would it, regardless of how many complained.

The move to squash Mr. Anderson’s book is the vanguard of a larger effort to silence debate and impose ideological conformity on any contentious issue in which the commissars of woke culture have made an investment. It has nothing to do with principle and everything to do with power.

Amazon and now Bookshop have sided firmly with the bullies. Doubtless there will be more interdictions, delistings and suppressions. They can do it, so they will do it.

One of the more tiresome canards from the courtiers is that entities like Amazon and Bookshop are private companies and therefore that they can choose to sell, or not sell, whatever they want.

This is true, but also irrelevant. What we are witnessing are not the prerogatives of the free market but the clashings of a culture war. Those clashings may adopt, as camouflage, the rhetoric of free enterprise, but their end is control and obliteration of opposing points of view.

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

Lest any visitors to TPV should have any doubts, PG is concerned about viewpoint discrimination on the part of Amazon.

He acknowledges that, as a private business, Amazon has the right to choose what products it will and will not sell, but this decision drops the company into the middle of a political controversy that it needn’t have joined.

Amazon is a very large target for those across the political spectrum and a serious antitrust investigation of the company’s activities and policies could substantially harm its business.

More than one giant US company has been hamstrung and permanently impaired by a lengthy antitrust probe. Classic examples are AT&T, Kodak and Standard Oil.

Most recently, Microsoft was involved in a lengthy antitrust suit.

Bill Gates later said that the antitrust suit prevented Microsoft from completing development on Windows Mobile, its cell phone operating system (which left the field open to Apple and Android). Apple’s annual revenue is now about twice as large as Microsoft’s.

Gates also cited the stress of the antitrust suit as a contributing factor in his decision to step down from the leadership of Microsoft in 2000. PG is not alone in believing that Microsoft has not been the same company since Gates left.

There has been a growing sentiment in the United States that the big technology companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook have become too large and powerful.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had what was widely regarded as a poor showing in his videoconference testimony before the House Antitrust Committee last summer. He recently declined an invitation to testify before a Senate committee investigating “The Income and Wealth Inequality Crisis in America.”

PG notes that TPV is not a political blog and requests that comments not devolve into political name-calling. He is concerned about Amazon’s future primarily because it is the only significant marketplace where indie authors can publish their books on an equal basis with books from traditional publishers and Amazon provides a very large portion of the royalties that indie authors earn from their books.

Kindle Vella Royalties, Content Guidelines and Publishing Process

From KDP Publishing’s Kindle Vella section:

(Note: PG has removed all the embedded links in the excerpts below. A link to the particular Kindle Vella section is included at the bottom of that section.)

Kindle Vella Royalties

Use Tokens to unlock episodes

Read episodes

To give readers a chance to check out a story, they can read the first three episodes of every story without redeeming Tokens.

Use Tokens to unlock episodes

Readers can purchase and redeem Tokens to unlock later episodes. The number of Tokens needed to unlock an episode is determined by the episode’s word count at the rate of one token per 100 words. For example, it takes six Tokens to unlock a 638-word episode. You can view the number of Tokens needed to unlock an episode on the episode setup page.

We plan to have several bundle options available for readers to purchase Tokens on the web and in the Kindle for iOS app. Token pricing may change before Kindle Vella stories are made available to readers, but here is an example of the Token purchase experience on the web:

Royalties

You’ll earn 50% of what readers spend on the Tokens that are used to unlock your story’s episodes. You’ll also be eligible for a launch bonus based on customer activity and engagement. To make it easy for readers to find stories they love, the first few episodes of every story are free. The number of Tokens needed to unlock an episode is determined by the episode’s word count at the rate of one token per 100 words. You can view the number of Tokens needed to unlock an episode on the episode setup page.

We plan to make Tokens available through mobile channels that charge a fee. In this case, the fee will be deducted from the revenue that is shared.

Here’s how earnings per episode will be calculated:

  • (Number of Tokens to unlock episode) * (Tokens bundle price/# Tokens in bundle – taxes and fees) * (50% rev share) = Earnings per episode

For example, here’s how we calculate earnings for a 3,025 word episode (30 Tokens) when the Tokens are purchased on the web in a 200 Tokens bundle versus an 1,100 Tokens bundle. In this example, we are assuming no taxes or fees.

  • Episode purchased with 200 Tokens bundle: 30 Tokens * ($1.99/200 Tokens – 0) * 50% = $0.1493
  • Episode purchased with 1,100 Tokens bundle: 30 Tokens * ($9.99/1100 Tokens – 0) * 50% = $0.1362

Link to the rest at Kindle Vella Reader Experience

Kindle Vella FAQ

Frequently asked questions

1. When will my story be available to readers?

Readers will be able to enjoy your stories when we make the Kindle Vella store available in the next few months. Learn more about the reader experience.

2. What happens if I publish an episode before the Kindle Vella store is available to readers?

With Kindle Vella, you can choose to publish your episode immediately or schedule publication on a future date. If you publish a story before Kindle Vella is available to readers, all stories in compliance with our content guidelines with a Live status will be ready and waiting when Kindle Vella stories become available. We recommend publishing at least 5-10 episodes before stories become available so readers can dig in right away.

If you’re not ready to publish or don’t want all your episodes to go live at once, we recommend leaving episodes in a Draft status, then publishing or scheduling publication after the Kindle Vella store is live for readers. Learn more about episode release dates.

3. What kind of content should I publish?

To provide the best experience for readers, Kindle Vella stories should be written specifically to be released in a serial format, one 600–5,000 word episode at a time. If you have a story in this format that is available elsewhere, you can also publish it with Kindle Vella. To ensure a good customer experience, Kindle Vella does not accept content that’s freely available. Learn more about our content guidelines.

4. How will I earn royalties through Kindle Vella?

You’ll earn 50% of what readers spend on the Tokens that are used to unlock your story’s episodes. You’ll also be eligible for a launch bonus based on customer activity and engagement. To make it easy for readers to find stories they love, the first few episodes of every story are free. The number of Tokens needed to unlock an episode is determined by the episode’s word count at the rate of one token per 100 words. 

Link to the rest at Kindle Vella

Kindle Vella – Content Guidelines

Existing content and metadata guidelines for eBooks apply for Kindle Vella content. In addition to our existing guidelines, we’ve listed new content guidelines related to Kindle Vella below.

Content

Kindle Vella is a serial reading experience. To protect readers from purchasing Kindle Vella content they have already read in a different format, you cannot:

  • Incorporate your Kindle Vella content into other long-form content (e.g., a book) in any language. If you wish to incorporate an episode or story into other content, you must unpublish all episodes of that story from Kindle Vella.
  • Publish in Kindle Vella content that is in the public domain or freely available on the web.
  • Break down your previously published book or long-form content into Episodes and republish in Kindle Vella, even if that book or long-form content is no longer available or is written in another language. If your Episode or Story is derived from another work you have authored (e.g., it continues the story from a book), you may include up to 5,000 words of content from the other work in the first Episode to bridge the story, provided you control the rights to do so.

Tags

You can add up to seven tags for each story. To ensure tags help readers get a feel for your story and make good purchasing decisions, please avoid:

  • Information covered elsewhere in your Story’s metadata (title, contributors, etc.)
  • Subjective claims about quality (e.g., “best”)
  • Time-sensitive statements (e.g., “new”)
  • Information common to most items in the category (“story”)
  • Spelling errors
  • Anything misrepresentative, like the name of an author who’s not associated with your Story. This kind of information can create a confusing customer experience. Kindle Vella has a zero tolerance policy for metadata that is meant to advertise, promote, or mislead
  • Amazon program names like “Kindle Vella”
  • Language promoting violence or intolerance
  • Sexually explicit language

Note all eBook keyword guidelines also apply to tags.


Author notes

This is a tool to build engagement on your story, so avoid including any links or prompting readers to leave the reading experience.

Link to the rest at Kindle Vella Content Guidelines

Kindle Vella – Publish an Episode

Share your story by publishing one short episode at a time.

. . . .

Publish an episode

After you create a story, you can publish episodes.

To publish an episode:

  1. Go to your Kindle Vella Library.
  2. Select the story to which you want to add an episode.
  3. Click Create episode or Continue episode draft.
  4. Type or import your episode text.
  5. Choose your release date.
  6. Click Publish.

Update an episode

You can edit a published episode at any time.

To edit an episode:

  1. Go to your Kindle Vella Library.
  2. Click Manage your story.
  3. Select the episode you want to edit.
  4. Click Edit Episode.
  5. Enter your changes.
  6. Click Publish.

Delete an episode

You can delete a Draft episode to remove it from your Kindle Vella Library. You can’t delete episodes that have been Live. After you delete or unpublish a story, that action can’t be undone.

To delete an episode:

  1. Go to your Kindle Vella Library.
  2. Click Manage your story.
  3. Go to episode you want to delete.
  4. Click Delete draft.
  5. Click Yes to confirm you want to delete the episode.

Tell us about your episode

Episode detailsDescription
Episode title (optional)Enter a name for your episode. An episode title isn’t required. If you don’t include a title, episodes will be titled by number. For example, Episode 1.

Note: We add episode numbers automatically, based on the order they’re created.
Episode contentImport your episode from a Microsoft Word document (DOC/DOCX) or type it directly in the online editor.

Episodes must be in English and between 600-5,000 words. At this time, Kindle Vella supports basic formatting, such as bold, italics, and underlines.

The following formatting is not currently supported:Indented paragraphsImagesChartsTablesSpecial charactersEmojis
Author Notes (optional)Add Author Notes to share additional details or behind-the-scenes thinking with your readers. This is your opportunity to communicate directly with readers in your own voice.

You can use Author Notes to:Give insight to readers on your writing processShare details on a character’s developmentShare teasers to get readers excited for the next episodeThis is a tool to build engagement with your story, so avoid including any links or prompting readers to leave the reading experience.

Author Notes appear after the episode and can’t exceed 200 words. These notes are not included in your episode word count.

HTML is not supported.

Author Notes must comply with our content guidelines.

Preview episode

View your episode as it will appear to readers. To create a consistent reading experience across all Kindle Vella episodes, we’ll remove paragraph indentations and add a line space between paragraphs during publishing.

If you want to make changes after previewing your episode, make them directly in the online editor or in your original Microsoft Word document and import the new file.


Tokens

Readers can unlock episodes by purchasing and redeeming Tokens. Readers can read the first three episodes in your story without redeeming Tokens. For later episodes, the number of Tokens required to unlock an episode is set automatically based on word count. You can see the number of Tokens a reader needs to unlock an episode on the Episode setup page.


Release date

To keep the story reading experience sequential, we can only release an episode after you’ve released all previous episodes. You can publish your episode immediately or schedule publication on a future date. After your episode goes Live or is Scheduled, we’ll send you an email.

  • Release now. Publish your episode immediately. After we open the Kindle Vella store to readers, we’ll make all content in compliance with our content guidelines with a Live status available.
  • Schedule release. After we open the Kindle Vella store to readers, we’ll make all scheduled episodes available on the scheduled release day. Scheduled episodes go live at midnight Eastern Standard Time on the selected release date.

Episode status

Your episode status appears in your Kindle Vella Library. After we open the Kindle Vella store to readers, we’ll make all content in compliance with our content guidelines with a Live status available and publish Scheduled episodes on the scheduled release day.

StatusDescription
DraftYour episode is created, but not published.
In ReviewYour episode is under review to ensure it meets our content guidelines.
Failed PublishingYour episode failed publishing due to a possible technical issue. Please try republishing.
Action RequiredYour episode requires changes before it can move to Live status. Check your email for instructions.
PublishingYour episode passed review and will move to Live status shortly.
ScheduledYour episode will be available in the Kindle Vella store after we open the Kindle Vella store to readers on the release date you scheduled.
LiveYour episode is ready and will be there for readers when Kindle Vella stories become available to them.
Live with Unpublished ChangesYour episode is ready and waiting for readers, but you have made changes that haven’t been published yet. Publish your updates to make them available to readers after the Kindle Vella store becomes available.
BlockedYour episode is unavailable for further editing due to a violation with our content guidelines. Check the email you use to access your KDP account for details.
UnpublishedYour episode (and story) will no longer become available in the Kindle Vella store at reader launch.

Link to the rest at Kindle Vella Publish an Episode

Perhaps PG missed it in the various links and sub-links, but he didn’t see anything that looked like a typical Amazon Terms & Conditions section that looked like it had been written by Amazon’s legal department.

PG has had prior dealings with Amazon’s in-house attorneys and they have impressed him as being very competent. What passes for terms and conditions in the various Kindle Vella sections is more than a little scattered and vague. He suspects that either Kindle Vella was put together without any legal assistance or Amazon’s legal department had just returned from an offsite meeting that involved a few hallucinogens during the breaks.

If any visitors to TPV locate something that looks like the T’s&C’s for Kindle Vella, PG would appreciate a link either in the comments or via the Contact PG link in the top menu bar.

Kindle Vella

PG hasn’t checked the Terms of Service to see what Amazon’s royalty structure is for Kindle Vella.

How the romance genre found its happily ever after

From The Washington Post:

It started with a happily ever after.

In 1972, Avon Books published “The Flame and the Flower,” by Kathleen Woodiwiss — a hefty historical romance that traded chastity for steamy sex scenes. It arrived in the thick of the sexual revolution, and readers loved it: It was an instant bestseller that’s credited with birthing the modern romance genre.

There had been romances before, of course, mostly by British publisher Mills & Boon (which was later acquired by Harlequin). But Woodiwiss ushered in a new era, inspiring an American publishing boom that propelled the romance genre to smashing success.

. . . .

There was one constant in those early years: “Kathleen Woodiwiss wrapped everything up with a nice pink bow, and that’s something romance writers still talk about today,” says Carrie Feron, a longtime executive editor for Avon who edited Woodiwiss’s later books. “The HEA. A happily ever after. Because that was a promise romance books made to the reader.”

Here, a dozen people — authors, editors, agents, cover artists and one mononymous male model — recount how the modern romance industry came together and took off.

. . . .

Early romance novels were sold at grocery stores and drugstores — they were by women, for women and about women, available where women shopped. At first, they were mostly big historical romances, followed by slimmer romances, which were published sequentially.

Author Loretta Chase: I feel strongly that the women who were first writing, like Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers — it was a tremendous breakthrough, what they did. The explicit sexuality in the books allowed women to express their own sexuality. And a heroine could have sex and not die at the end of the story.

LaVyrle Spencer, whose first book was published in 1979: I bought “The Flame and the Flower” with $2 that my mother sent me in a birthday card. A paperback cost $1.99. When I started to write — with a ballpoint pen and spiral notebook — I always thought, I wonder if Kathleen Woodiwiss would read it. In 1978, she was autographing at a B. Dalton bookstore, and I was almost too chicken to go. She was my idol. I had this long letter about what she meant to me and how I had written a book, and when I stepped up to her, I burst into tears. I don’t remember exactly when she told me she would read my manuscript, but we arranged a meeting for her to get it at a restaurant in the Twin Cities. When I got there, I thanked her, thrust the manuscript toward her, turned around and ran. Two days later, she called and said — and I remember this quote precisely — “I read until my eyes were red, white and blue. And your manuscript is on the way to New York to my editor.”

Steven Axelrod, a New York-based literary agent: Harlequin was the absolute dominant romance publisher, and it was distributed in the U.S. by Simon & Schuster. In 1979, Harlequin decided to distribute without Simon & Schuster, whose response was to start Silhouette Books and provide some competition. It didn’t last more than two or three years, and then Silhouette was sold to Harlequin. But it created a lot of attention and improved conditions, including advances.

Chase: I wanted to write a novel, but my attempts at writing literature went nowhere. I realized I needed some kind of structure and that genre fiction would give me that structure. As soon as I recognized that, I knew it had to be a romance — and I did not have a high opinion of romance at that time. I was an English major, and those days if you told a faculty member there were actually going to be seminars on romance, they would have laughed themselves sick. But the thing I knew about romances was that you had a happy ending, and love conquered all. That connected for me — it had bothered me that the most interesting women in stories often came to a bad end.

Author Jayne Ann Krentz: In those days, because we got so little respect, there were no rules. We really flew under the radar. If you weren’t writing to a certain set of conventions in other genres, you didn’t get published. I’ve never felt confined by the genre because I’ve never run into anything I couldn’t do in the genre, and that has been true since the first of my career.

Editor, agent and mentor Vivian Stephens: I joined Dell in 1978 as an associate editor. Dell had done romances before, but they did maybe one or two every couple months. It was considered the bottom of the barrel. My budget for books was between $1,500 and $3,000, and I had to buy so many — so I had to find writers. One day, [my boss] came to me and said I had to go to the SouthWest Writers conference, where writers came from all over the country to meet publishers. I got there, and when it was my turn, I introduced myself and said what I did: that I bought romance novels. I told these women what the stories should be — that they were about 60,000 words and called category romances because they followed a pattern. It was like a recipe.

. . . .

Throughout the late ‘70s and ‘80s, most romance novel covers featured a clinch: a couple in a passionate embrace, often barely clothed.

Freelance cover artist John Ennis, who illustrated more than 1,000 covers: In the very beginning of my career, they would send me a manuscript, and then eventually just a synopsis of the book. There was a studio in New York City that specialized in shooting reference photography for book cover illustrators, and I would call this guy and say, “I need an hour on Tuesday, here are the two models I need.” And then I would call the costumer and have them send appropriate period costumes over. I’d take pictures and then go home and create a painting using that reference.

Feron: Many of the early covers were aimed at the male gaze, and a lot of the authors hated them. They understood the point of them, but that’s not how they saw their characters.

Ennis: I worked for all the paperback publishers in New York, doing two covers a month. In the early years, men were in charge. The focus was on getting a beautiful woman: busty, big lips, big eyes, flowing hair. And then the guy would just kind of be part of the cover. But over the course of the ‘80s, women started getting promoted to become art directors, and then Fabio appeared on the scene. From that moment on, muscular men became the main focus of the covers, and the heroine became the supporting element.

Romance cover model Fabio Lanzoni: Sometimes I would do 16 [cover shoots] in a day. I had no idea what they were doing with these pictures — I never saw the books around. A year later, I’m in Miami, going to a club with some friends. These girls see me and freak out: “Oh my god, you look like the guy in our books.” And I’m like, wow, that’s original. It’s a really good pick-up line! And one of the girls said, “Listen, I live very close to here.” She runs home, and half an hour later, she shows up with her books, and that was the first time — I was like, “Yeah, that’s me.” It was a lot of fun. It was an easy job. You worked with beautiful girls, and you got paid. And then the beautiful dream came to an end because all of a sudden, they discovered if they put me by myself on the cover of a book, it was selling 60 or 70 percent more. I’m showing up for a shoot, and I’m waiting for the pretty girl to come out, and it’s like, no pretty girl! And the reason was, the woman reading the book, she wanted to be the one. She didn’t want to see another pretty woman; she was imagining herself with the hero of the book.

Ennis: There was one time when the two models had actually been on a bad date. The woman was doing everything she could to make this guy know that she couldn’t stand him. I had to pull her aside, and I said, “Look, I don’t care what transpired between the two of you, but in this one hour, for the $150 or whatever it is I was paying, you have to perform, and you have to look like you’re in love.”

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

As a writer

As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.

Ernest Hemingway

It’s none of their business

It’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.

Ernest Hemingway