The Sci-Fi Crime Novel That’s a Parable of American Society

From The Atlantic:

A few weeks ago, a long-ago conversation with a friend came to mind as I tried to bring some order to my bookshelves. My friend was not yet of a certain age, but he had, he confessed, crossed a line: He had made a transition from the curating stage of life to the editing stage. He was no longer collecting; he was deaccessioning. I lack his wisdom and maturity, and rather than editing as I sorted, I instead paused to thumb through and scan. And then I came across a book that made me stop and reread: The City & the City (2009), by the British writer China Miéville. It is a police procedural novel with a background environment that recalls Philip K. Dick. A crime needs to be solved in a society where two different cities—two separate polities, with separate populations, customs, alphabets, religions, and outlooks—coexist within the same small patch of geography. The names of the overlapping cities are Besźel and Ul Qoma.

When you engage with a book, personal circumstance is always your companion. John Gunther’s Death Be Not Proud is a knife to the heart of any parent. James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man might as well be scripture if you’re 18. And not just with a book. My mother took me to see Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead when it opened in New York in the late 1960s—her idea. Part of the thrill was realizing that she knew me and understood I would like it.

I first read The City & the City during the time of Obama. The novel was always a parable, but it could be enjoyed simply as a clever, at times mind-bending fantasy, and as a fantasy it earned many awards. When I reread the book a few weeks ago, the fun was gone. The moment—my zeitgeist companion—was one of deepening and well-founded worry over the cohesion of American society. “America Is Falling Apart at the Seams” (The New York Times). “2022 Is the Year America Falls Off a Cliff” (Globe and Mail  ). “79 Percent of Americans Say U.S. Is Falling Apart” (Futurism). If the traditional life cycle of commentary holds, the next stage will urge a long view of history. And it is true that perspective can provide a dulling comfort. There is a moment in Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending when Marshall, an apparently dimwitted student, is asked by his history teacher, “How would you describe Henry the Eighth’s reign?” Marshall, Barnes writes, “searched for possible hidden complexities in the question before eventually locating a response.

“‘There was unrest, sir.’”

Pressed to elaborate, Marshall summons his powers to the maximum: “I’d say there was great unrest, sir.”

But societies do fall apart, and there is no single reason why. One historian, years ago, decided to collect and enumerate all the scholarly explanations for the fall of Rome. He counted upward of 210 specific theories. Sometimes the dissolution of a society is rapid and startling—think of Yugoslavia after Tito. Sometimes it is so slow—as with imperial Rome—that entire lifetimes go by without anyone’s being aware. Centuries may elapse before someone gives dissolution a name and a date.

To turn the lens around, one can ask how cohesive some societies really were before they were seen to fail. The “United” Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland today shows signs of unraveling, but many Scots, Welsh, and Irish have opinions about how raveled it ever was. As for the United States, all the talk about exceptionalism doesn’t in itself make us exceptional. The colonies that formed the original union were protective of their autonomy and suspicious of federal power; in the 21st century, some of these states might as well be thought of as nations and are charting their own distinct directions. But separation isn’t only about lines on a map. Michael Harrington called his 1962 book about rural and urban poverty The Other America, implicitly acknowledging that it wasn’t about the America occupied by most of those who would buy and read his book. The Texas hill country known to Lyndon Johnson in the 1930s, as described in Robert Caro’s The Path to Power, has almost nothing in common with the urbane, martini-swilling world of The Thin Man, but they are exactly contemporaneous. A rhetorical question: Do most Black Americans and white Americans think of American history and experience in the same way? Do both feel they walk an equal distance toward one another to achieve a shared sense of ownership? Cohesion is easier to assert when questions like these are not asked, or even thought of.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Anyword – AI Copywriter

PG previously wrote a post about Rytr, an artificially intelligent copy creation program.

This post will be about Anyword, which styles itself as a program/service that offers “Data-driven copywriting for anyone.”

With Anyword, PG decided to try a different experimental approach than he did with Rytr.

He took the first three paragraphs from a site called Billy Penn that provides local news about Philadelphia. From the general style of the Billy Penn site, PG concluded that its writers had meaningful experience in writing short news stories (more detail about Billy Penn taken from the web site appears below).

PG took the same three Billy Penn paragraphs as a seed and ran them through Anyword. Anyword’s design made it easy to convert each of the three paragraphs into an Anyword generated ai paragraph covering the same topic.

If you don’t like the first paragraph Anyword produces, you can tell it to run the original text through its system a second time for a different version of the original. For his experiment, PG gave Anyword two tries at each of the three Billy Penn paragraphs and includes the one he liked the best below.

Anyword also offers to create a title and PG used that capability to create a title for the three Anyword paragraphs.

First, a bit more detail about Billy Penn:

About Billy Penn

Billy Penn at WHYY is a local news team that informs and entertains people living in Philadelphia, the greatest city in the world.

Our reader-powered nonprofit newsroom covers everything Philly, from breaking news to urban life to food and fun. Through original reporting, curation and (virtual) events, we help our community learn from and connect with one another. We are a proud partner in Resolve Philly’s Broke in Philly reporting collaborative.

Instead of your standard news site, we’re more like a friend who happens to be really knowledgeable about the city. Founded in 2014 as a startup, in 2019 we joined WHYY, the region’s NPR and PBS public media affiliate.

Time for the comparison.

Original First Three Paragraphs from BillyPen

The finale is near for longtime Center City staple Joseph Fox Bookshop, which is set to close at the end of January. Its shutdown aligns with a trend affecting many downtown retailers, but there’s a bright counterpoint: the recent rise of independent bookstores in Philadelphia neighborhoods.

Founder Joseph Fox started selling out of the basement at 1724 Sansom St. in 1951, and the store remained at the address for nearly three-quarters of a century.

Specializing in books on architecture, along with literary fiction and nonfiction, art, poetry, and music, the shop is now run by Michael Fox, who took over after his father’s death in 1998. Also known for its children’s collection and considerable attention to small press and international works, Joseph Fox’s curtain call spread rapidly on social media, leading to laments from patrons and supporters.

Anyword AI Generated Headline and First Three Paragraphs

Headline – Joseph Fox Bookshop’s Last Stand

The Joseph Fox Bookshop, Center City’s oldest bookstore and the namesake of its eponymous owner, will be closing its doors at the end of January after nearly 80 years in business. The store’s closure comes as the latest in a string of department stores, clothing retailers, and other long-running downtown Philadelphia businesses to shutter in recent years.

Joseph Fox traces its roots to 1935, when it was founded by Robert L. Brenner as a downtown Philadelphia bookstore. (The business was named after author Joseph Conrad.) In 1976, Ken Wells took over and expanded JoeFox’s footprint in what was then known as Rittenhouse Square; he and wife Susan purchased ownership in 1993. The current store at 18th and Sansom streets has been open since 2001, but Wells plans to close it for good after Jan. 30 to focus on running his publishing company.

The number of independent bookstores in Philadelphia is once again on the rise, if only slightly. Earlier in 2017, Inkwell Books reopened its doors on South Street and The Ripped Bodice joined East Passyunk Avenue’s thriving retail scene. Before them, greats like Atomic Books were well-known fixtures on Philly’s literary scene for more than a decade; recently-closed Joe’s Book Shop served as a community center for Old City residents for more than 30 years. Independent bookstores have been instrumental in shaping Philadelphia neighborhoods—locally owned retailers that aren’t just businesses but local meeting places where relationships are formed and ideas are shared.

One of the things PG noted about the paragraphs Anyword generated is that the program pulled extra information about the topic, presumably from the web. and incorporated that information in its output. Anyword is a web-based app PG accessed through his browser so it lives online.

Anyword also allows the user to create a short, medium-length or long paragraph. In each of the three instances shown above, PG chose a long paragraph to see how Anyword would add to the original seed paragraph.

PG admits to being impressed with the Anyword results.

PG also admits to thinking a bit about the fact that he started the process with material that was subject to Billy Penn copyrights.

He believes that the substantial differences between the original Billy Penn copy and the Anyword results clearly make the Anyword output at least a derivative work, if not an equivalent to a human copyrighter writing about the same subject, but expressing her/his thoughts in a different manner for which the second copyrighter, using Anyword or a more mundane word processor, would have her/his own copyright. (PG is happy to hear alternative opinions in the comments to this post.)

As far as the plagiarism detection software used by some universities and colleges at least in the United States, PG has substantial doubts that either the software or a human reader would be able to detect the content of each of the seed paragraphs after the ai program was finished with them.

PG will be interested in comments from the visitors to TPV.

PG was able to do all this work under the “Start for Free” option on the Anyword website, so visitors to TPV should be able to perform their own experiments should they desire to do so.

Russian politics

Basically, Trotsky believed that an international revolution should be initiated by the people, and that Communism wouldn’t succeed if it were only in one country surrounded by capitalistic states. Stalin countered that Marxism should be concentrated and strengthened under strong leadership in one country, which was the case in Russia. It didn’t help Trotsky’s cause within the Communist Party, when he contended that Stalinism in reality was “Tyranny disguised as Communism.”

Hank Bracker

The Mom-and-Popcalypse

From Slate:

To visit Philadelphia’s Joseph Fox Bookshop in the last two weeks of January was to attend a wake.

Tucked away on a narrow one-way street in the heart of Center City, the 71-year-old institution held a special magic. Its neatly curated selection of hip novels, architectural tomes, and children’s literature was framed by pleasantly tasteful interior decor and soothing lighting. Everyone behind the counter knew their stuff and would gladly recommend a gift, even if you were only half-sure about the recipient’s favorite novel.

So when rumors began to spread on Twitter that the beloved staple might soon close, a story soon confirmed by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the reaction was dramatic.

. . . .

“I wasn’t prepared for the outpouring of emotion,” says Michael Fox, 69, whose father opened the shop in 1951. “People were crying outside the book store, people were bringing us presents and food. There’s been this extraordinary outpouring of affection and sadness.”

Joseph Fox was thronged in those last weeks of business, its narrow rowhouse confines bursting with grieving loyalists. While locals mourned for one Philadelphia icon, however, there were also dark murmurings about a potentially much greater malady.

Is Center City experiencing a retail meltdown? Nearly two years into the era of remote work, are Philadelphia’s downtown, and other central business districts around the country, finally collapsing? The relatively high-end commercial corridors of Walnut and Chestnut streets—both hit hard by the shutdown and looting and property destruction in 2020—are still pocked with vacancies. Their counterparts on Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road, Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, and Manhattan’s SoHo all saw vacancy rates of 20 percent or higher in 2021.

“Walnut Street used to be this vibrant, thriving, amazing community of stores, all these big chain clothing stores—and they’re just not reopening,” says Fox. “At six o’clock when we close, there’s no one on the street. That’s a real indication that something changed. People are not in town, they aren’t working.”

. . . .

This is very specifically a downtown problem. At the macro level, the national retail market is proving resilient two years into the pandemic, with many of its weaker performers already culled by the “retail apocalypse” of 2018 and 2019. For the first time since 2014, the real estate analytics company CoStar Group tracked more store openings than closings last year.

Buoyed by unprecedented amounts of federal support for households and businesses in 2020 and early 2021, paired with increased savings due to inactivity earlier in the pandemic, Americans pounded down the doors of national retailers last year.

“Retail sales blew through the roof at a much higher rate than we would have ever expected and consumption hit all-time highs,” says Brandon Svec, national director of U.S. retail analytics with the CoStar Group. “The consumer was unleashed back into the world with vaccines in their arms and a couple extra trillion dollars in their bank accounts.”

That larger truth obscures inequities. The booming metropolitan areas of the Southeast and Southwest are outperforming more stagnant counterparts in the Northeast and Midwest. Rural regions continue to suffer from a dearth of retail activity, while suburbs are outperforming urban cores especially in older, denser cities like Philadelphia.

Michael Fox isn’t imagining things when he laments reduced foot traffic and boarded up storefronts. By the count of Philadelphia’s Center City District, a third of downtown consumers are still absent. In 2019, an average of 428,000 people walked the streets of central Philadelphia every day. In 2021, there were only 267,000—a gap almost entirely explained by the continued prevalence of remote work.

Link to the rest at Slate

A Literary Guide to Understanding Ukraine, Past and Present

From Electric Lit:

When I was approached to write this article, Ukraine’s battles for sovereignty were in the eastern parts of the country against Russian-backed separatists, where they have been since February 2014. In a few short days since, the Russian troops that had amassed around the border of Ukraine for months invaded the democratic country and initiated air strikes and attacks on Ukrainian forces and civilians—hundreds of lives have already been lost. The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy has refused to leave the capital of Kyiv, telling the United States government, “I need ammunition, not a ride.”

The world now watches as Ukrainian civilians take up arms alongside their army and hold “cocktail parties” where they make boxes of Molotov cocktails that will be used on Russian forces entering their cities. The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko and his brother, Wladimir, two boxing champions, have said they too will take up arms alongside the men and women, young and elderly, who are prepared to defend their homeland.

Ukrainians have long-prepared for this moment. Their rich land has been invaded many times before and their people have suffered innumerable losses for generations. The Ukrainian language and culture has nearly been eradicated at multiple points in their long history, and they’ve been fighting an active war for nearly ten years against a Russian president whose intent is erasure. Today, many people around the world are witnessing for the first time the immeasurable patriotism, loyalty, courage, and grit that makes Ukranians so singular.

In order to write I Will Die in a Foreign Land compassionately and correctly, I knew I had to become a de-facto scholar in Ukrainian history and culture. I started the first draft in 2016, two years after the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv and the Russian annexation of Crimea and Donbas. I relied heavily on the work of a few dedicated journalists and incredible documentaries. The deeper I went into the story, the more realized I was not going to be able to simply write about the Maidan events—I found I had a responsibility to contextualize Euromaidan and Donbas for an American audience that would be largely unfamiliar with Ukrainian-Russian relations

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Best Practices for Working with an Independent Editor

From Writers Helping Writers:

Before Your Edit

1. Agreements about the business details of your project protect you both. An agreement needn’t be a formal printed contract signed in person; an email constitutes a legal agreement. The agreement should define the scope of work, start and finish dates and other relevant deadlines, total cost and payment schedule, and a clear explanation of what happens if either party cancels or breaches the agreement.

2. New writers often mistakenly believe they need a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) to protect their material. Your work is legally copyrighted the moment you commit it to print, making NDAs cumbersome, unnecessary, and often a sign of professional mistrust.

3. Most editors require a deposit to get your book on their calendar, customarily ranging from a flat fee of $100 or more to the first half of the total fee. You can expect to pay your total editing bill in full before the editor releases the edited manuscript.

4. If you can’t or don’t want to use your editor’s preferred payment method, aren’t located in the same country as they are, or prefer a slow payment method like personal checks, ask if your choice will create any issues. Allow enough time to process payments without holding up the project.

5. Missing your editing date by even a day or two could leave your manuscript without time to fit into its scheduled slot, if the deadline is tight or your editor is busy. Communicate as soon as you suspect you may have a problem hitting your scheduled editing date.

6. The time it takes to edit a manuscript varies widely, depending on your manuscript’s needs, the type of editing, and the editor’s schedule and work practices. Developmental editing usually takes the longest. Line editing is slower than copyediting, and proofreading is the fastest editing service.

If there were such a thing as a typical editing rate among all these levels of service, it might run from 20,000 to 35,000 words per week. You get what you pay for. If all the editor has time for is a breakneck race through the manuscript, that’s precisely what you’ll get.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Susan Sontag, The Art of Fiction No. 143

From The Paris Review (1995):

Susan Sontag lives in a sparsely furnished five-room apartment on the top floor of a building in Chelsea on the west side of Manhattan. Books—as many as fifteen thousand—and papers are everywhere. A lifetime could be spent browsing through the books on art and architecture, theater and dance, philosophy and psychiatry, the history of medicine, and the history of religion, photography, and opera—and so on. The various European literatures—French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, etcetera, as well as hundreds of books of Japanese literature and books on Japan—are arranged by language in a loosely chronological way. So is American literature as well as English literature, which runs from Beowulf to, say, James Fenton. Sontag is an inveterate clipper, and the books are filled with scraps of paper (“Each book is marked and filleted,” she says), the bookcases festooned with notes scrawled with the names of additional things to read.

   Sontag usually writes by hand on a low marble table in the living room. Small theme notebooks are filled with notes for her novel in progress, “In America.” An old book on Chopin sits atop a history of table manners. The room is lit by a lovely Fortuny lamp, or a replica of one. Piranesi prints decorate the wall (architectural prints are one of her passions).

   Everything in Sontag’s apartment testifies to the range of her interests, but it is the work itself, like her conversation, that demonstrates the passionate nature of her commitments. She is eager to follow a subject wherever it leads, as far as it will go—and beyond. What she has said about Roland Barthes is true about her as well: “It was not a question of knowledge . . . but of alertness, a fastidious transcription of what could be thought about something, once it swam into the stream of attention.”

   Sontag was interviewed in her Manhattan apartment on three blisteringly hot days in July of 1994. She had been traveling back and forth to Sarajevo, and it was gracious of her to set aside time for the interview. Sontag is a prodigious talker—candid, informal, learned, ardent—and each day at a wooden kitchen table held forth for seven- and eight-hour stretches. The kitchen is a mixed-use room, but the fax machine and the photocopier were silent; the telephone seldom rang. The conversation ranged over a vast array of subjects—later the texts would be scoured and revised—but always returned to the pleasures and distinctions of literature. Sontag is interested in all things concerning writing—from the mechanism of the process to the high nature of the calling. She has many missions, but foremost among them is the vocation of the writer.


When did you begin writing?


I’m not sure. But I know I was self-publishing when I was about nine; I started a four-page monthly newspaper, which I hectographed (a very primitive method of duplication) in about twenty copies and sold for five cents to the neighbors. The paper, which I kept going for several years, was filled with imitations of things I was reading. There were stories, poems and two plays that I remember, one inspired by ÄŒapek’s R.U.R., the other by Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Aria de Capo. And accounts of battles—Midway, Stalingrad, and so on; remember, this was 1942, 1943, 1944—dutifully condensed from articles in real newspapers.


We’ve had to postpone this interview several times because of your frequent trips to Sarajevo that, you’ve told me, have been one of the most compelling experiences of your life. I was thinking how war recurs in your work and life.


It does. I made two trips to North Vietnam under American bombardment, the first of which I recounted in “Trip to Hanoi,” and when the Yom Kippur War started in 1973 I went to Israel to shoot a film, Promised Lands, on the front lines. Bosnia is actually my third war.


There’s the denunciation of military metaphors in Illness as Metaphor. And the narrative climax of The Volcano Lover, a horrifying evocation of the viciousness of war. And when I asked you to contribute to a book I was editing, Transforming Vision: Writers on Art, the work you chose to write about was Goya’s The Disasters of War.


I suppose it could seem odd to travel to a war, and not just in one’s imagination—even if I do come from a family of travelers. My father, who was a fur trader in northern China, died there during the Japanese invasion—I was five. I remember hearing about “world war” in September 1939, entering elementary school, where my best friend in the class was a Spanish Civil War refugee. I remember panicking on December 7, 1941. And one of the first pieces of language I ever pondered over was “for the duration”—as in “there’s no butter for the duration.” I recall savoring the oddity, and the optimism, of that phrase.


In “Writing Itself,” on Roland Barthes, you express surprise that Barthes, whose father was killed in one of the battles of the First World War (Barthes was an infant) and who, as a young man himself, lived through the Second World War—the Occupation—never once mentions the word war in any of his writings. But your work seems haunted by war.


I could answer that a writer is someone who pays attention to the world.


You once wrote of Promised Lands: “My subject is war, and anything about any war that does not show the appalling concreteness of destruction and death is a dangerous lie.”


That prescriptive voice rather makes me cringe. But . . . yes.


Are you writing about the siege of Sarajevo?


No. I mean, not yet, and probably not for a long time. And almost certainly not in the form of an essay or report. David Rieff, who is my son, and who started going to Sarajevo before I did, has published such an essay-report, a book called Slaughterhouse—and one book in the family on the Bosnian genocide is enough. So I’m not spending time in Sarajevo to write about it. For the moment it’s enough for me just to be there as much as I can—to witness, to lament, to offer a model of noncomplicity, to pitch in. The duties of a human being, one who believes in right action, not of a writer.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review (1995)

Given the situation in the Ukraine (Kiev is about 750 miles by air from Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina – another place most Americans couldn’t pick out on a map on short notice), PG thought the Sarajevo references in the OP were ironic.

As many of the visitors to TPV already know, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie were shot dead in Sarajevo on on June 28th, 1914, an event the precipitated World War I. Sarajevo is located on the Balkan Peninsula.

The Balkans are also the location of the first advanced civilizations. Vinča culture developed a form of proto-writing before the Sumerians and Minoans. The Tărtăria clay tablets found there date back to around 5300 BC. This area was claimed by the ancient Greeks, the Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire among many others.

The Balkans produce more history than they can consume.

Winston Churchill

The Naked Don’t Fear the Water

From The Economist

In the autumn of 2016 two young men were deposited in Moria refugee camp, a notorious detention centre on the Greek island of Lesbos. They had just braved a dangerous crossing in a dinghy from Turkey, on their way from Afghanistan to Europe. But the pair were not quite what they seemed. One was Afghan; the other was an undercover Canadian journalist, who was accompanying his friend on his perilous journey to a new life.

Both were shocked by the squalor they encountered, the result of a fire that had gutted the camp the previous week. As well as the grim conditions, the men had to contend with souring attitudes towards newcomers across Europe. More than a million migrants and refugees reached the continent by sea in 2015, but, a year on, countries were increasingly putting up fences and closing their borders. With public hostility outstripping sympathy, the road to asylum became more difficult, as the swelling number of detainees at the camp on Lesbos demonstrated.

Matthieu Aikins, a journalist partly of Japanese descent, had been working in Afghanistan for seven years when he agreed to make the trip with Omar, his pseudonymous companion. They had developed a close friendship during assignments on which Omar served as Mr Aikins’s fixer-cum-driver. But they came from drastically different worlds. As a child, Mr Aikins played ice hockey in a Canadian suburb; Omar grew up in exile in Iran and Pakistan. From a young age he had shined shoes, picked pistachios and taken construction jobs in the Iranian city of Shiraz to support his parents. His family moved back to Afghanistan soon after the American invasion of 2001.

By the time Omar left Kabul with Mr Aikins in 2016, his mother and father had already fled their war-torn country for a second time. Some of his siblings were already living in Europe; the rest of his close relatives were in Turkey, hoping to go west. His own trip had been delayed after he fell in love. He eventually sold his prized car, a gold Corolla, and steeled himself for the trials ahead.

The Naked Don’t Fear the Water”—the title is a Dari proverb—is a chronicle of the two men’s odysseys. Omar entrusts himself to smugglers and risks his life to cross mountains and seas; Mr Aikins, who assumes the name Habib as part of his disguise, is his companion for some, but not all, of the voyage. Unlike his friend, he does not enter Turkey from Iran. Instead, he attempts to fly in from Italy, but is denied entry at a time of heightened tension after an attempted coup. So Mr Aikins travels by bus to Bulgaria before illegally slipping across the Turkish border.

The hazards they share mask the gulf in their circumstances—up to a point. Mr Aikins, who passes as Afghan because of his “black hair” and “wiry beard”, knows that, when push comes to shove, his friend must rely only on his luck, while he can always fall back on his Western citizenship. The question of who has the right to travel across borders looms large in his courageous reporting. So do the dangers some people are obliged and willing to take along the smuggler’s route into Europe. Boys stow away in lorries, families board unseaworthy inflatable boats, men and women cross deserts. As they near their destination, a border guard’s snap decision can determine their future “in a heartbeat”.

Link to the rest at The Economist

In theory

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.

Benjamin Brewster

Is It Too Late to Start Writing?

From Write to Done:

Perhaps you’ve always wanted to be a writer but haven’t made it happen yet. 

There are so many reasons why you might not have made the leap from aspiring to write to actually starting to do it yet.

Maybe you doubt whether you’re good enough. Maybe writing has never seemed like an important enough priority to dedicate your time to. Maybe you think you’ve waited so long to start that it’s too late. 

No matter what your reason for not writing yet is, there’s one thing that’s certain. Your desire to write hasn’t gone away yet, has it? Even if you’ve waited decades to get started, or told yourself every reason under the sun why you’re not good enough, your dream is very much still alive. 

The fact that you still want to write is everything you need to know. No more excuses. It’s time to make it happen. 

Next time you find yourself doubting if it’s still possible for you to start writing, hold onto these four important facts.

You have more life experience 

Unlike a lot of ways of spending time, writing isn’t made worse by waiting. It’s actually kind of a tradeoff. 

The earlier you start to write, the more experience of the technical craft of writing you have. The repetition of sitting down and getting words onto a page is a valuable discipline and one it takes time to develop. 

But, counterintuitively, all the time you spent not writing has made you a better writer.

Unlike a lot of skills, good writing is a mixture of the technical competency of the person doing it and the blend of life experiences they’ve had up until that point.

All the time you spent on something other than writing was just preparation for getting started. Yes, you’ll need to spend some time sharpening your craft and the practical side of writing. But all of the things you’ve learned and experiences you’ve had will enrich your writing in a way that wouldn’t be possible if you’d started earlier. 

So when you next try to trick yourself into feeling like you’ve wasted however many years not writing, stop and remember the truth. You were making yourself a better writer the entire time. So don’t let all your training go to waste!

You can always do things differently

It’s easy to make the mistake of confusing what you do with who you are.

If you’ve spent years wanting to write but never taking the time to get started, you might confuse your lack of action with your identity. You might hold beliefs like “I’m not the kind of person who could be a writer” or “someone who should be a writer would have started by now”. In turn, those beliefs end up holding you back further. 

Instead of holding on to these limiting beliefs, take the time to see things in a more empowering way. Being a writer is as simple as committing to some form of writing and making it happen. If you commit to writing a single page and do it after finishing this article, you’re now a writer.

In truth, telling yourself that you’re not a writer isn’t really about writing at all. It’s actually about the fear of failure. 

It’s easier to stay in your comfort zone and tell yourself false stories about why you don’t write than it is to face the possibility of finding it tough. 

Once you recognize that you might be fearful of writing, you can take steps to reduce the fear you’re feeling. It’s important not to think too far ahead. Don’t think about whether your writing will be any good or if people will enjoy it or not. Be very easy on yourself and let action be your only measure of success. As long as you’re writing, you’re succeeding. 

Like so many things, starting writing is often the hardest part. Once you build even a little bit of momentum and progress a snowball effect will kick in. You’ll gradually gain confidence and competency until you couldn’t imagine being anything other than a writer. 

Link to the rest at Write to Done

What If Your Memoir Is Middle Grade?

From Jane Friedman:

Many of the adult memoir manuscripts that cross my editorial desk share one issue: They start too early. Usually, about 50 pages too early. The writer spends time establishing the quirky small town/neighborhood they were born in, the family experiences that shaped them, the early realizations that they—or their family—weren’t like everyone else, carefully setting up the clues for later revelations about divorce, addiction, illness or triumph.

The reader needs some of that information, yes, but not all of it. A concrete, well-timed detail can give a lot to readers without spelling it out. For example: I could fill you in on my family history of alcoholism, how it manifested in my grandparents’ daily “cocktail hour,” my own shying away from drinking because I don’t like the taste and I’m scared, what it was like living with a father who was drunk or at least buzzed most of the time—or I could tell you, I have a hard time telling when someone else is drunk. I think they just seem “jolly.” For an adult memoir about an adult experience in my life, and in context, that’s probably enough background.

But what if your childhood is the whole point?

While some adult memoirs successfully cover childhood in depth (notably Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club and Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle), there’s a whole new category out there, selling like hotcakes: memoir for young readers. Graphic-novel autofiction like Raina Telgemeier’s Guts and Jerry Craft’s New Kid and Class Act. Memoir in verse like Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming and Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again, both winners of the National Book Award and Newberry Honors, and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Shout, the memoir version of her bestselling novel Speak.

These memoirs fall into Young Adult and Middle Grade, but they don’t shy away from hard subjects. Anxiety. Racism. Immigration. Poverty. Sexual assault. They embrace beautiful writing while dealing with issues their readers experience, in vocabulary their readers can understand and apply to their own lives. Not everything ends happily ever after.

In an adult memoir, childhood is usually a chance for reflection, as in Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened:

By age seven I realized that there was something wrong with me, and that most children didn’t hyperventilate and throw up when asked to leave the house. My mother called me “quirky.” My teachers whispered “neurotic.” But deep down I knew there was a better word for what I was. Doomed.

Lawson takes us into the feelings of the child she was, but she’s processing her experiences through the reactions of the adults around her at that time, and her own knowledge now of her adult life. We know she survived—she wrote a memoir about it.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

When Science Fiction and Fantasy Envisions Life Beyond Capitalism

From Counter Craft:

In 2014, the legend Ursula K. Le Guin was given a Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation and delivered what I’ve heard (accurately) described as a barn burner of a speech. Perhaps the most memorable part was her call for imaginative literature that envisions other ways of living:

Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.


We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.

I know I’m not the only writer who has had these lines stuck in their head ever since. How can we create new ways of living in this world if we can’t imagine them on the page? Literature has many goals, of course, but one of them—especially in science fiction—has always been imagining new possibilities. Le Guin devoted her work to this, perhaps most notably in the 1974 novel The Dispossessed that imagines an anarcho-syndicalist society on the moon. But it is a theme throughout her oeuvre.

And a theme throughout all of science fiction. Star Trek is an obvious model, a show that pushed boundaries in progressive ways while imagining a more noble future. Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels famously take place in a post-scarcity anarchist utopia. The examples are really limitless.

And I think it is fair to combine the utopian impulse with the dystopian one. The writer of dystopias (which Le Guin was as well) is looking to display the cracks in the system. Certainly this was a goal of my novel The Body Scout, which imagines our current system running full steam ahead until the whole machine is at the point of bursting with steam shooting out of the seams and the gears beginning to break.

Utopia and dystopia are two sides of the same coin in this way. The flaws in the system and the possible ways forward. They are complimentary impulses that are often combined in the same work. See Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven for example. Of course, a novel is never going to bring down a system. Fiction is not activism really. Or at least not only that. Still, a first step to creating new society is being able to imagine it. “We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings,” as Le Guin said.

Link to the rest at Counter Craft

PG has always been a big fan of capitalism, mostly because it seems to work and continues to work over a long period of time. He would argue that this economic system has generated more material well-being for more people than any alternate system he is aware of.

When a good friend told PG a long time ago that “Socialism always fails,” he didn’t believe it but has come to regard that statement as accurate.

Some point to Sweden as an exception, but Sweden is a relatively small, culturally cohesive society. Yes, it has had socialized medicine for a long time, but it also has capitalist wealth-producing businesses like Volvo, Ericsson, and Skanska. According to Wikipedia, Sweden has 41 billionaires.

Out of a population of 10.5 million, that doesn’t sound a lot like, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” the slogan Karl Marx was so please with.

PG also suggests that during the 20th Century, socialism had a certain habit of turning into communism, which has not only generated great income inequality, but also widespread poverty in a great many segments of its populations.

For PG, the biggest problem with socialism is that somebody has to enforce it, impose it on people who don’t necessarily like the idea. Suppose everybody is given the same amount of land. In that case, somebody will get the idea of planting tomatoes instead of potatoes and swapping them for some of his neighbors’ potatoes. Given enough plots of land, someone will discover gold, either actually or metaphorically.

Absent strict political or social controls, somebody will start hiring others to do things or purchase his neighbor’s potatoes and sell them for a profit before the next crop ripens. Then somebody else will figure out how to make vodka from potatoes and refuse to tell his neighbors how he did it but offer to sell them vodka for their celebrations.

Human beings are just so non-standard in their propensities, abilities, behavior and desires that treating them like machines is pretty dumb. It’s way easier to create identical machines, using some individual’s unique mechanical ability and rewarding them for their ingenuity.

Crave Rejection? 7 Never-Fail, 100% Guaranteed Tips for Raising your R-Score.

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

Here’s some advice for those who feel they are missing out on one of the basic building blocks of a successful author’s career: Rejection.

For those who feel they are not paying their dues.

For every writer who is not receiving an adequate, soul-satisfying number of rejections, try these pro tips to help you pump up your pathetic, wimpy R-score.

1)  Embrace the Jackalope.

From the gory, surgical details of a tummy tuck to the onslaught of grammar Nazis and an attack by vicious sabertoothed cave rats, you must heed the advice of everyone in your crit group.

By all means pay attention to advice from “experts” who know almost nada about your book or your genre.

For example — the James Bond fan who wants “more action” in your sweet, sensitive romance about disabled teenagers looking for love.

Or the James Patterson reader who wants shorter chapters in your elegant, carefully-considered literary deconstruction of Finnegan’s Wake.

Be sure to give in to the devastating ego destroyers whose nasty tone and censorious delivery cause you to go to bed for a week and even contemplate suicide. They must know what they’re talking about, don’t they, these hit-and-run drive-by “authorities” who aim right for your confidence?

Heed the amateur shrinks who want to know “motivation” of every character including the guy behind the counter at Dunkin Donut who serves a Double Chocolate Donut instead of the Boston Kreme Donut your adorable but scared alien from another planet ordered.

The counter guy must be suffering trauma cuz he screwed up the order. Or is he enduring an unhealed childhood wound? Or did he just get fired from the rotten job at DD he needs to pay the rent?

And what about the adorable but scared alien? Where is his family? His parents or grandparents? Does he have siblings? If so, where are they? What happened to them? If not, why not?

To guarantee producing an unreadable mess, and sure fire instant rejection, be certain to pay attention to every comment and your dreams of infinite rejection will come true.

. . . .

2) Write the Best Horror-Thriller-Mystery Ever Created — and Send it to the Wrong Agent.

Your villain makes Hannibal Lecter look like a pussycat.

Your victims are so vulnerable, defenseless and forlorn they will make a stone weep.

The prose sparkles.

Your grammar is of such flawless perfection a revision of Strunk & White is being published at this moment to acknowledge your excellence.

The whole manuscript has been edited so scrupulously it contains not one single typo.

Your use of the Oxford comma and the activating hyphen are impeccable.

You’ve worked for years, neglected your spouse and children, let your dog go hungry and unwalked.

You’re survived without food and sleep.

The time has come at last for submission.  Which lucky agent will get first look at the best horror/thriller/mystery ever composed in Word/Pages/Scrivener?

Still determined to bulk up your wimpy stack of rejection slips? The answer is obvious. What you want is an agent who specializes in — Ta Da! — Romance.


If you might just conceivably be interested in getting the best horror/thriller/mystery ever written actually published, why not do some research first?

Find out which agent(s) specializes in your genre. That agent will be up on all the latest developments in the market you’re trying to break into and will have close contacts with the editors who are looking for exactly what you write.

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

Lighter Blogging than Usual

PG expects that he is not the only person who hangs around on TPV who has been spending a lot of time reading about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

While this topic is one of many about which PG has no real expertise, he will observe from his reading in 20th Century history that there is a problem which often seems to affect almost all dictators, especially during wartime. Everyone who is close to the strong man is afraid to tell him that his pet project is a really bad idea.

That nearly constant failing has been the salvation of democratic nations for a very long time.

A man may have all the wisdom and learning of an Aristotle

A man may have all the wisdom and learning of an Aristotle, and yet be quite mistaken on a given point. The recognition of this fact tends to make us value conclusions more on their merits and less on the merits of those who advance them.

Alfred Sidgwick

Battle of the Books: When Historical Reassessments Collide

From Publishers Weekly:

Historians know the past is a battleground. History as studied and taught is part of a contest to control the present and alternative visions of the future. Today is different. The contest between fact and truth and fiction and lies is unique to this moment. Each of today’s “competing” visions is embedded in book form from a range of publishers.

The nondebate is encapsulated in false competition over the “origins” of the American experience—as if there were a single origin—between the Pulitzer Prize–winning, groundbreaking 1619 Project, led by the New York Times’ (now Howard University’s) Nikole Hannah-Jones and colleagues, and the alternative contentions of the 1620, 1776, and Texas’s 1836 Patriotic Education projects.

The 1619 Project, revised from its 2019 releases in the New York Times’ print and online editions, was published in November 2021 by Penguin Random House’s imprint One World. Peter Wood’s 1620 was published by Encounter Books (“for smart conservatives”) in 2020. The 1776 Project was published in book form in 2021 by Flag & Cross Store in regular, large-print, and coffee-table versions, and on the Project’s website. 1836 exists on a website.

Notice the repeated declarations of “project.” Despite misrepresentations, 1619 is a specific proposal to reorient American history by systematic inclusion of peoples of color whose first nonnative constituents arrived as enslaved persons in Virginia in 1619. Documented articles, lesson plans, and historical sources accompany it. Unlike other projects, 1619 readily admitted to errors of fact and emphasis when presented with evidence and arguments. The authors corrected and revised.

Despite distortions, the 1619 Project never claims to date all American history from 1619. It underscores the underacknowledged but singularly symbolic date for basic understandings of American history. The 1619 Project is subjected to unwarranted scrutiny, including entire books and trivial “fact checking.” It is called “racist” and “un-American,” when its foundations are the opposite.

By contrast, each competing “project” claims the status of new or substitute gospel. They presume to account for all American history, despite almost complete exclusion of racial and minority groups, most immigrants, and women.

The 1619 Project includes the work and testimony of professional historians as well as veteran journalists. The “alternatives” rarely involve trained scholars. There are claims but no record of contributors for the 1776 Project. The only exception is the historian of Southern slavery Peter Wood of Duke University. The contents of Wood’s 1620 are significantly less than the title implies; Massachusetts is not his specialty.

Wood proposes the founding of the white, Protestant, Mayflower Covenant as an alternative to 1619. That date and events are significant, but they do not compare in historical impact or symbolism to Black African slavery. Wood ignores the relationships of the Massachusetts Puritans to Indigenous peoples, and the bitter divisions among various English Protestant immigrant groups and other Christians.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

From The History Channel:

On the morning of November 11, 1620, when the Mayflower dropped its anchor off the coast of Cape Cod, the group of English Separatists later known as the Pilgrims fell to their knees and blessed God for bringing them safely across the “vast and furious ocean” to a new life in the New World.

Before they could begin this new life, however, they had to solve some very practical problems. Their solution was to draft an agreement, later known as the Mayflower Compact, that became a first in consensual government and ensured everyone in the new colony would abide by the same laws.

Back in England, the Separatists had signed a contract with the Virginia Company to establish a colony near the Hudson River, which at the time was part of Virginia. By its terms, the stockholders who financed the journey would share in the new colony’s profits.

In order to increase the voyage’s chance of success, the Pilgrims recruited a number of other people—ordinary merchants, craftsmen and workers, along with their families and indentured servants—to come along with them. These “strangers,” as the Pilgrims called them, had their own reasons for joining the journey, and didn’t share the goal of separating from the Church of England.

After bad weather during the Atlantic crossing pushed the Mayflower hundreds of miles further north, to Cape Cod, the “strangers” didn’t think they should be subject to the contract’s provisions anymore. As William Bradford later wrote in his famous History of Plymouth Plantation, some of them made “discontented and mutinous speeches” claiming that since they were not in Virginia, “none had power to command them.”

Before departing the ship, then, the Pilgrims decided to draw up an agreement to bind them and the “strangers” together, and ensure that everyone in the new colony would abide by the same laws. The result, a document drafted and signed aboard the ship by nearly all of the adult male passengers, would become known as the Mayflower Compact.

While they intended to form a government for their new colony, the Pilgrims and others aboard the Mayflower were not declaring their independence: The Mayflower Compact (though the Pilgrims never called it that) began with a clear statement of loyalty to King James of England, along with a commitment to God and to Christianity.

In settling the first colony in the “Northern parts of Virginia,” the document continued, the Pilgrims and the other Mayflower passengers would “covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politick.” As part of this united body, they pledged to make and abide by the same “laws, ordinances, Acts, constitutions, and offices” in order to further “the general good of the Colony: unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.”

In its form and content, the Mayflower Compact echoed that of earlier covenants that Separatist Christian groups had drawn up when they established their churches in England and Holland, to bind them to each other as well as to God.

The agreement also drew on the secular tradition of the social contract, the idea of covenants between men themselves, which went back to ancient times, but would later be made more famous by philosophers like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

According to a list printed by Bradford’s nephew, Nathaniel Morton, in his 1669 pamphlet New England’s Memorial, 41 of the adult male passengers on the Mayflower signed the agreement, including two of the indentured servants aboard. Soon after signing it, they elected John Carver as the first governor of the new colony, which they called Plymouth Plantation.

While 400 years earlier, the Magna Carta had established the idea of the rule of law, this had previously meant the king’s law. In the Mayflower Compact, the Pilgrims and strangers were pledging their loyalty to laws they would make themselves. As historian Rebecca Fraser wrote in her book The Mayflower: The Families, the Voyage and the Founding of America: “Plymouth Colony was the first experiment in consensual government in Western history between individuals with one another, and not with a monarch.”

The Mayflower Compact was clearly a religious document, in that it held that the people derived their right of self-government from God. But it did not mention a specific church, or method of worship, leaving it open for acceptance by both the Separatist Pilgrims, and the “strangers,” many of whom remained loyal to the Church of England.

Finally, as the first written constitution in the New World, the Mayflower Compact laid the foundations for two other revolutionary documents: the Declaration of Independence, which stated that governments derive their powers “from the consent of the governed,” and the Constitution.

In 1802, speaking at Plymouth, the future president John Quincy Adams underscored the lasting importance of the agreement signed aboard the Mayflower more than 180 years earlier, calling it “perhaps the only instance, in human history, of that positive, original social compact, which speculative philosophers have imagined as the only legitimate source of government.”

Link to the rest at The History Channel

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Leading

From Writers Helping Writers:

Debilitating fears are a problem for everyone, an unfortunate part of the human experience. Whether they’re a result of learned behavior as a child, are related to a mental illness, or stem from a past wounding event, these fears influence a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality traits. The compulsion to avoid what they fear will drive characters away from certain people, events, and situations and hold them back in life.

In your story, this primary fear (or group of fears) will constantly challenge the goal the character is pursuing, tempting them to retreat, settle, and give up on what they want most. Because this fear must be addressed for them to achieve success, balance, and fulfillment, it plays a pivotal part in both character arc and the overall story.

This thesaurus explores the various fears that might be plaguing your character. Use it to understand and utilize fears to fully develop your characters and steer them through their story arc.

. . . .


Leading is not easy. It means being responsible and accountable, making decisions that will have a wider impact, and facing scrutinization for certain actions taken. This fear can cause characters to avoid stepping forward when asked (or needed), resent having this role thrust upon them, and even affect those already in a leadership role.

What It Looks Like

Resistance to being in charge
Avoiding making a final decision
Not wanting to be responsible in bigger ways
Not wanting to speak out or speak one’s mind
Letting others decide
Being risk-adverse
Pointing out one’s flaws and lack of suitability to others
Self-sabotage (to prove to others they aren’t leadership material)
Avoiding conflict and arguments

. . . .

Common Internal Struggles

Wanting to hide from responsibility, but feeling cowardly to want that
Wanting to make things better, but only seeing one’s own shortcomings
Believing leading would be a disaster (if the character hasn’t taken on the role yet)
Wanting to do right by others but fearing one’s efforts will only disappoint
Feeling unworthy of the belief others have in their abilities
Feeling like an impostor
A desire to go back to simpler times
Taking criticism to heart
The misbelief that they are only capable of so much, rather than see personal shortcomings as temporary and subject to change
Over-focusing on mistakes and failures rather than successes

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

In Odessa

From The Paris Review:

“Buried in a human neck, a bullet looks like an eye, sewn in, / an eye looking back at one’s fate.” So writes the Russian-language Ukrainian poet Ludmila Khersonsky, born in Odessa. Now, President Putin claims he is sending troops to Ukraine in order to protect Russian speakers. What does Ludmila think about Putin?

A small gray person cancels
this twenty-first century,
adjusts his country’s clocks
for the winter war.

Putin is sending troops, and the West is watching as Ukrainian soldiers, and even just young civilians, take up guns in the streets to oppose him. There is no one else to help them. I’m rereading Ludmila:

The whole soldier doesn’t suffer—
it’s just the legs, the arms,
just blowing snow
just meager rain.
The whole soldier shrugs off hurt—
it’s just missile systems …
Just thunder, lightning,
just dreadful losses,
just the day with a dented helmet,
just God, who doesn’t protect.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Reading Aloud

Reading aloud with children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read.

Marilyn Jager Adams

Some Practical Notes for Publishers on Readers with ALS

From The Literary Hub:

I’m an avid reader with ALS—a bad combination. My reading was turned upside-down in 2008 by a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Without cure, its symptoms vary among patients, often including loss of finger dexterity. My symptoms began primarily as unexplained falls and growing inability to button shirts and coats. Only later did my wife, Deirdre, and I appreciate Lear’s deathbed plea: “Pray Sir, undo the button.” It’s now one of our favorite Shakespearian lines.

Much has happened since then. I’ve been writing all my life, but for half of my 86-year life, formal writing took a back seat to my 40-year library career, which included higher degrees in English (Wheaton College, Illinois); Library Science from Rutgers University; and a Ph.D. in History from Northwestern University. Along this journey I was fortunate to be appointed to increasingly responsible posts at The New York Public Library (clerk-typist to Assistant Editor of Library Publications); Librarian of Marlboro College (Vermont); Associate Librarian of the Newberry Library (Chicago); Milton S. Eisenhower Librarian, Johns Hopkins (Baltimore); a return to New York Public Library as the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Research Libraries of NYPL (1978-86), and finally before retirement, University Librarian of Syracuse University from 1986-98.

Significant before that time was two years’ service in the US Navy as a journalist, including many voyages in and about the Atlantic, a compelling visit to Antarctica, and a final assignment as librarian of the USS Galveston ashore in Philadelphia. The result was a lifetime obsession with the history of polar exploration, often in remission but seldom far from the surface. Retirement in 1998 brought liberation to read and write about what most mattered to me. With Deirdre’s collaboration, our work on reading in polar settings, Adventures in Polar Reading, was published by the Grolier Club in 2019, following our 2005 exhibition and catalog, Books on Ice. With many polar centennials occurring early this century, interest in the “Heroic Age” of Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton, and others mushroomed among the public and specialists in all aspects of polar history.

My passion for reading such books remains, but reading them has become increasingly difficult. ALS is an auto-immune disease which interrupts the nerve commands that flow through the spinal cord to the appropriate muscles. My case has primarily involved the upper body—the pervasive atrophy of the arm muscles and the loss of strength in muscle activity, especially in the fingers and arms. I can’t lift heavy books and I have difficulty turning pages, lifting my arms to turn off reading lamps, and shifting to more comfortable positions.

. . . .

Almost everything with ALS takes more time, often twice as much as before: bathing, drying, dressing, eating, walking, exercising, writing, typing, sleeping itself, even reading. The assault on our reading ability is insidious: it distracts our attention, harms our concentration, destroys the rhythm of the prose and poetry, and the frequent involuntary nap requires re-reading to find the place to resume after falling asleep. There are a number of other factors that affect my reading of words in physical form. It’s a personal list, though I suspect several factors are widely shared.

Weight: In this era of mega-tomes, weight is an obvious problem. I need help positioning some books, usually with a homecare aide resting the book on a pillow. My four devices for holding books open don’t work with heavy books. Contributing to the problem is glossy calendared paper, often used for lustrous illustrated books. Reflections on the page require constant adjustment of the head, the page, and often the book itself, depending on weight, binding, and openability. None of this makes any kind of note taking easy or possible. I am currently being introduced to the technology of eye control to compose both written and spoken speech. After two training sessions I confess to feeling overwhelmed but hopeful of speeding up a slow process.

Openability: I divide books into three categories: one-, two-, and three-fisted. The first can lie flat, or open on a reading device, with easy page turning. The pages remain open while taking notes by hand (if possible) or a computer, on which I can still type. The second requires two hands to hold the work open, and turning pages is harder. The third, and most typical book format, is impossible for people with my kind of physical disability: a tightly bound perfect binding. “Perfect” is a euphemism for books whose sections (signatures) are evenly cut at the inner margins by guillotine. Then the pages are reattached by adhesives at the reduced inner margins, creating a strong but unreadable volume.

Notes: Endnotes in two- and three-fisted books go unread. Footnotes are preferable and needn’t always follow the convention of smaller font.

Margins: For disabled readers who retain handwriting ability, wider inner margins are a boon.

Type size: For people with visual disabilities and older readers, type size affects readability. Presses increasingly want more words per page, using smaller typefaces with tight line spacing.

Technology: In this case, the eBook is no salvation. Having spent much of my life reading in bed, I now find my arms too weak to hold a Kindle for more than a few seconds. More important is that digitized works don’t facilitate citations for retrieval purposes, lacking pagination amidst their changeable fonts and type sizes. The exception is the immense data bases of the HathiTrust and similar collections with page images and digitized equivalents of millions of books, easily read and copied on the desktop. They have enabled me to continue work long after my personal “Use By date.”

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG went through the long decline associated with ALS a number of years ago. It’s a terrible disease that slowly removes muscle control and strength from a sufferer’s body. When PG’s friend was in the hospital, he required help to do everything. He couldn’t adjust his pillow or move his hand where he wanted it to be.

The ALS Association is an excellent charity focused on finding a cure for this disease.

Exclusivity in 2022 Part Two

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’ve owned a lot of businesses. I have some ethical issues that do not benefit me as a business owner. There are business practices that I do not like that, if I did them, would make me a lot more money than I am making right now.

Those practices are stupidly easy to do. They rely on the gullible side of human nature. People want to believe that the other people they’re doing business with are good-hearted and have their best interests in mind. Many business people do not have other people’s interest in mind. They only consider their interest.

So let’s look at exclusivity through that prism.

As a business model for a publishing or related industry, exclusivity makes complete sense. The more a business can bind an author to that business, the better off that business will be, particularly if the author is famous.

The problem with publishing businesses is that they don’t create anything. They buy other people’s creations and then put those creations in a form that can be distributed. Generally speaking, a writer or an artist who licenses their work to a publishing company is relying on that publishing company’s expertise in design, marketing, and distribution to get that book/project/writer out to as many readers as possible.

This is the deal writers make with traditional publishers. With the Big Five, and others that operate just like them, the writers have been brainwashed into believing those companies are the only route to distribution. And they were once, but ironically, they licensed fewer parts of the copyright in those days…when a writer, by necessity, had to be exclusive.

Now, though, there’s indie publishing and a million other ways for a writer to maintain their rights and distribute their work, if the writer is willing to run their own business. Which means that distribution companies, publishing companies, streaming companies, and others must up their game if they want bestselling writers in their fold.

. . . .

As long-time readers of this blog know, the writing business is not linear. Fortunes rise and fall. They never really go down to their lowest level. The rise always results in a much higher floor than the writer had before, but the rise itself is never permanent.

So, at some point the most popular writer in Company A will be superseded by some other writer who will sell more or whose product is fresher or more attuned to the moment. The original popular writer will still be popular, just not the Flavor of the Month. And slowly, ever so slowly, the original popular writer will be neglected.

Company A will still benefit from original popular writer’s latest releases, but original popular writer will run into new problems.

And that’s charitable. Sometimes original popular writer will fall off a cliff.

First, let me give you an example from my own business. And then, I’m going to show you some other ways that permanent or superstar or long-term exclusive can go horribly wrong.

My example has to do with Audible. Fifteen years ago, Audible was not just new(ish), but it was the only real digital audio player in the game. Unless a writer had access to a recording studio—and had the chops to read a book—the writer couldn’t even record their own work, let alone distribute it.

I’d had some audio books—on tape—from some of the best companies in the business…whose business soon got subsumed or at least offered through Audible.

Audible came to me with a great deal. I got up-front money on all of my books including backlist (under Rusch only at first, and then Nelscott, but never Grayson). In addition, I got paid a hefty bounty for each book sold, a bounty that did not get counted against that advance money. I got royalties and a bounty, and all of that translated into tens of thousands, and in one case hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I had my eye on it, though, and I had voice training. I knew that Audible would eventually get real competitors. One of my main priorities in setting up WMG was setting up our own recording studio, and we did it just as ACX got started. I was going to run the recording studio, but I got sick. We hired an audio director who turned out to be horribly unsuited for the work. (My fault: I thought she could grow into it. I was wrong.)

Had we followed my lead at that time, we would have had a lot of WMG-produced high quality audio that we could still market now.

But I was sick, the audio program fell apart, and so I relied on the money that Audible provided through the equivalent of its superstar program.

Which no longer exists. They use other incentives now.

My editor at Audible moved, a new editor got hired and then fired. He was replaced by one of those corporate employees who comes in as some kind of hatchet man—someone who wipes out all trace of the previous employees. I can’t even get my new editor on the phone or contact him by email.

Needless to say, Audible and I have parted company on new work. The old work has pretty good contracts—I can get out of them at any time—but that would make my backlist unavailable in audio, something I’m not currently willing to do.

It’s a mess, and it’s one I need to clean up.

Audible asked for exclusive, I granted it, and now, fifteen years later, I have a major mess to clean up. Part of that mess are my audio fans. There are a lot of listeners who don’t have time to actually read a book, so they listen on their commutes or whatever. And all that reaching, growing, and developing will fall by the wayside if I don’t do something in the next few years.

Yes, it’s on my ever-growing to-do list.

Here’s the thing: I benefited from Audible’s superstar program back in the day, but I’m paying the price now.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and here’s a link to Part 1 of her two posts.

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.

Looking for Answers to Paper Shortages

From Publishers Weekly:

If the early days of 2022 have been any indication, paper shortages and rising distribution costs are challenges that the industry will likely face throughout year. The seeds of the current problems were sown in the years of the pandemic, when sales of print books unexpectedly rose, increasing demand while people were leaving manufacturing jobs in droves that led to labor shortages in the printing and papermaking businesses.

. . . .

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I’ve never seen a market like this before.” While the paper market has always had cycles, Rojack said this is something different. “The paper business has been consolidating for years and will continue to consolidate,” he said, adding that the pandemic expedited the process.

Noting that book paper accounts for only about 5-7% of total paper market demand (including for catalogs and magazines), Rojack said that, despite an increase in demand by book publishers, overall paper demand has dropped 50% in recent years. To compensate for that drop, many mills converted to other products where they can make money—particularly the growing demand for corrugated boxes and other packaging materials. Giving current trends, Rojack said that the paper crunch for books is likely to get worse before it gets better, and he noted that plants that have spent millions of dollars converting their factories are not going to retool back to paper even if the packaging market becomes saturated—something some experts believe could happen.

Rojack said book publishers are going to need to make some tough choices. “We’ve been spoiled,” he said. “Too many trim sizes and too many colors, and simply too many options.” He added that publishers should be in constant contact with their paper and print providers, discussing the options that remain available and shouldn’t even bring up prices. Rojack pointed to a slide that he said summed up the situation the best, which noted that the way publishers chose a sheet of paper for their books in the past may need to change. “Price and look and feel will always be important, but they need to be balanced by what works best for your paper manufactures and your print providers. If those parties are not show how represented in your initial production meetings, they need to be,” he said.

Some solutions were offered and many of them involve longer term changes rather than short term band-aids. One involves automation and streamlining the process. “Historically, the goal was print enough books to get cheapest unit cost possible; then it became trying to get as much narrow focus on just-in-time delivery and having everything there,” Baehr explained. “Now with a supply chain crunch it’s about finding the best balance.”

One solution might be print-on-demand, which solves many inventory and time issues, though retains a high cost per unit. “This situation creates an interesting dialog with publishers because it assures that there will have to be a standardization of trim sizes, paper usage, cover stocks, and more,” Baehr said.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Out of the Blue, Too Good to Be True: Beware Soliciation Scams

From Writer Unboxed:

When I do presentations and Q&As, I’m often asked to name the most common scheme or scam writers need to watch out for.

Usually, I have to think a moment before I answer—not just because the universe of writer-focused predation is constantly evolving (for instance, there are far fewer fee-charging literary agents now than there were when Writer Beware was founded), but because the ways in which writers can be tricked and exploited are so many and various that it’s hard to choose.

These days, though, I can respond without hesitation. By far the most prevalent writer-focused scams are solicitation scams.

Solicitation scammers contact writers out of the blue with publishing-related offers that seem too good to be true. A literary agency is interested in your work! A prestigious publisher wants to acquire your book! A film producer wants to turn your novel into a movie! A marketing company can expose you to millions of potential fans!

You know the old adage, though: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In reality, these offers are not about boosting your career or raising your profile. Whatever enticing carrot a solicitation scammer may dangle before you, the real aim is to get your money.

Solicitation scams and schemes are not new. Back in the days of snail mail, costly print vanity publisher Dorrance Publishing was notorious for soliciting submissions from copyright registration and magazine subscription lists. (Dorrance has re-tooled itself for the digital age, so its solicitations now come via email.)

Profiteering contest and awards programs have also long been prolific solicitors (for instance, J.M. Northern Media, which runs multiple high-entry-fee “festivals”), as have bogus Who’s Who registries. Predatory author mill Omniscriptum regularly solicits submissions to its many imprints, and if you write nonfiction, you may have been contacted by Close-up TV News, a pay-to-play “news” program that has been chasing customers for nearly two decades.

Over the past three years, though, the volume of solicitations has exploded, driven by a huge rise in publishing-related scams from overseas, and also by the pandemic, as in-person networking and marketing opportunities for writers have dwindled and online activity has increased. Self-published and small press authors are the solicitors’ favorite marks. But any writer can be a target.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG says, in the era of the internet, if you don’t write a solicitation similar to ones mentioned in the OP, search for the publisher/author/festival/etc. online. If they don’t show up anywhere, you have your answer.

If you want to go further search on the name of the enterprise+scam or +beware or +warning, etc.

If you’re self-published and your book has a Best Sellers Rank on Amazon in seven digits, you especially need to hold on to your money.

Love triangles, from King Arthur to Beyoncé

From 1843 Magazine:

In love, three is a magic number. Depending on the circumstances, that adds up to lies and betrayal, or the possibility of a brave new romantic world. Noël Coward gave us perfect proof of both sums. The first, “Brief Encounter” (1945), revolved around Laura, an English housewife, alienated, unsatisfied and deep in a crisis she can’t quite articulate. The other parts of the equation were Alec, a serious young medic, unexpectedly in love with a married woman, and Laura’s husband, Fred, sitting at home with the crossword unaware that his wife was listening to her doctor friend make a speech about lung diseases as if he were telling her that he loved her passionately, devotedly, hopelessly – because he does, and he is.

The film is now the textbook three-hanky weepie, though the test audience was less enthusiastic. (“Why doesn’t he just **** her?” shouted one dissatisfied customer, according to one of the movie’s producers, Ronald Neame.)

The other sum is Coward sprawled on the sofa with actors Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt, is laughing the way they laughed a decade before, when they were struggling together in 1920s New York, and Coward promised that one day he would write a play for the couple. It was a clever promise: Fontanne and Lunt were so dependent on each other’s talents that, after 1928, they never worked separately again.

“Design for Living” (1932) is a battle report on the merry warfare between the combatants in a Bohemian ménage à trois comprising a painter, Otto (Lunt), his writer mate Leo (Coward) and Gilda (Fontanne), an interior designer who keeps both men close, but only so close. “It’s a gentleman’s agreement,” we’re told. The play produced such a crackle that parodies soon sprang up: “Duets are made for the bourgeoisie – oh, but only God can make a trio,” sang the cast of a Broadway revue “Life Begins at 8.40”.

The curtain of “Design for Living” falls on a scene much like the image above. What happens next? The play is coy about that. Such trios rarely get played through to the end. And if they are, as the following examples suggest, the final notes are often melancholy.

Sir Lancelot saves Guinevere

The Round Table didn’t have corners, but it did produce a triangle. It took a while, though. In the ninth-century versions of his story, King Arthur charged around, apparently carelessly single. Guinevere turned up in 1136, as a heroine of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain”, in which, disappointingly, her only job was to be a damsel, distressed by the villainous Mordred.

The Round Table was delivered in 1155, in Wace of Jersey’s “Roman de Brut”, with the customary, hr-approved explanation that meetings structured in this way encourage a feeling of equality. Then, a couple of decades later, Sir Lancelot galloped in – from a French source, Chrétien de Troy’s “Le Chevalier de la Charrette” (published around 1170) – to disrupt married life at Camelot. From this point, it all goes a bit “Jules et Jim”. By the time Thomas Malory produced his “Le Morte D’Arthur” (1485), the affair, with an emphasis on Guinevere’s unfaithfulness, had become so conventional that he spiced things up by adding another lover for Lancelot, called Elaine.

We needn’t worry about Elaine. Lancelot (virile, young, tempted), Guinevere (regal, untrustworthy), Arthur (ageing warrior, cuckolded) are the fixed vertices of this story. But Guinevere’s bad reputation should give us pause for thought. Much like Eve disrupting the bromance between God and Adam, the Queen of Albion is a very early example of a female figure who apparently makes alliances between men harder.

Not everyone used the Lancelot story to have a go at women. When Dryden and Purcell wrote “King Arthur” (1691), an allegorical work in praise of the joint sovereigns William III and Mary II, they dropped Guinevere and replaced her with a character of their own invention: Emmeline, a virtuous blind girl who gets lost in the forest. Casting aspersions on a mythical queen is one thing – implying to a real one that women aren’t up to the job of royal office has consequences.

. . . .

The Bloomsbury Group, said Dorothy Parker, lived in squares and loved in triangles. But some triangles have sharp edges, and some sexual radicals can be as hurtfully secretive as the generation they rebel against, as the life of mosaic-maker Angelica Garnett shows. In the summer of 1937, when she was 18, Angelica’s mother, painter Vanessa Bell, took to her one side and explained that her real father was not the critic Clive Bell, but her lover and Fitzroy Square neighbour, artist Duncan Grant. This information did not produce a great family realignment: Vanessa advised her daughter not to discuss it with Clive; Angelica never raised the matter with Grant.

Link to the rest at 1843 Magazine

1202.09(a) Names and Pseudonyms of Authors and Performing Artists

From Trademark of Examining Procedure, July 2021:

Any mark consisting of the name of an author used on a written work, or the name of a performing artist on a sound recording, must be refused registration under §§1, 2, and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§1051,  1052, and 1127, if the mark is used solely to identify the writer or the artist. See In re Polar Music Int’l AB, 714 F.2d 1567, 1572, 221 USPQ 315, 318 (Fed. Cir. 1983); In re Arnold, 105 USPQ2d 1953, 1957-60 (TTAB 2013) ; In re First Draft, Inc. 76 USPQ2d 1183, 1190 (TTAB 2005) ; In re Peter Spirer, 225 USPQ 693, 695 (TTAB 1985) . Written works include books or columns, and may be presented in print, recorded, or electronic form. Likewise, sound recordings may be presented in recorded or electronic form.

However, the name of the author or performer may be registered if:

  • (1) It is used on a series of written or recorded works; and
  • (2) The application contains sufficient evidence that the name identifies the source of the series and not merely the writer of the written work or the name of the performing artist.

In re Arnold, 105 USPQ2d at 1958.

If the applicant cannot show a series, or can show that there is a series but cannot show that the name identifies the source of the series, the mark may be registered on the Supplemental Register in an application under §1 or §44 of the Trademark Act. These types of marks may not be registered on the Principal Register under §2(f).

1202.09(a)(i)    Author or Performer’s Name – Evidence of a Series

In an application seeking registration of an author’s or performer’s name, the applicant must provide evidence that the mark appears on at least two different works. Such evidence could include copies of multiple book covers or multiple CD covers that show the name sought to be registered. See In re Polar Music Int’l AB, 714 F.2d 1567, 1572, 221 USPQ 315, 318 (Fed. Cir. 1983). A showing of the same work available in different media, i.e., the same work in both printed and/or recorded or downloadable format, does not establish a series.

The identification of goods need not reflect that the applicant is using the name on a series of works (either written or recorded). It is sufficient that the record contains the evidence of a series.

1202.09(a)(ii)    Evidence that the Name is a Source Identifier

The use of the author’s or performer’s name on a series of works does not, in itself, establish that the name functions as a mark. The record must also show that the name serves as more than a designation of the writer or performer, i.e. , that it also serves to identify the source of the series. See In re Arnold, 105 USPQ2d 1953, 1959-60 (TTAB 2013) (holding BLATANCY fails to function as a mark because it merely identifies the name of a performer featured on applicant’s musical recordings, and finding the evidence relating to control over the mark and the nature and quality of the goods conflicting and of uncertain meaning); In re First Draft, 76 USPQ2d 1183, 1191 (TTAB 2005) (holding pseudonym FERN MICHAELS identifies only the author and does not function as a mark to identify and distinguish a series of fictional books because the “evidence of promotion” was “indirect and rather scant,” despite applicant’s showing that the name had been used as an author’s name for 30 years; that 67 separate books had been published under the name, and approximately 6 million copies had been sold; that the book jackets listed the titles of other works by Fern Michaels and promoted her as a bestselling author; that the author had been inducted into the New Jersey Literary Hall of Fame; and that there was a website); In re Chicago Reader Inc., 12 USPQ2d 1079, 1080 (TTAB 1989) (holding CECIL ADAMS, used on the specimen as a byline and as part of the author’s address appearing at the end of a column, merely identifies the author and does not function as a trademark for a newspaper column).

A showing that the name functions as a source identifier may be made by submitting evidence of either: (1) promotion and recognition of the name as a source indicator for the series (see TMEP §1202.09(a)(ii)(A)); or (2) the author’s or performer’s control over the name and quality of his or her works in the series (see TMEP §1202.09(a)(ii)(B)). In re Arnold, 105 USPQ2d at 1958.

1202.09(a)(ii)(A)    Promotion and Recognition of the Name

To show that the name of an author or performing artist has been promoted and is recognized as indicating the source of a series of written works, the applicant could submit copies of advertising that promotes the name as the source of a series, copies of third-party reviews showing others’ use of the name to refer to a series of works, or evidence showing the name used on a website associated with the series of works. See In re First Draft, 76 USPQ2d 1183, 1191 (TTAB 2005) , citing In re Scholastic Inc., 23 USPQ2d 1774, 1777 (TTAB 1992) (holding THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS functions as a mark for a series of books, where the record contained evidence of use of the designation displayed prominently on many different book covers, as well as evidence that applicant promoted the term as a series title, that others used the designation in book reviews to refer to a series of books, and that purchasers recognized the designation as indicating the source of a series of books).

1202.09(a)(ii)(B)    Control over the Nature and Quality of the Goods

Alternatively, an applicant may show that the name of an author or performing artist functions as a source indicator by submitting documentary evidence that the author/performer controls the quality of his or her distributed works and controls the use of his or her name. Such evidence would include license agreements and other documentary or contractual evidence. See In re Polar Music Int’l AB, 714 F.2d 1567, 1572, 221 USPQ 315, 318 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (holding the name of the musical group ABBA functions as a mark for sound recordings where a license agreement showed that the owner of the mark, ABBA, controlled the quality of the goods, and other contractual evidence showed that the owner also controlled the use of the name of the group).

In In re First Draft, 76 USPQ2d 1183, 1191 (TTAB 2005), the Board found that the applicant failed to meet the Polar Music test, noting that:

[W]e have neither any evidence bearing on [the question of applicant’s control over the quality of the goods] nor even any representations by counsel regarding such matters. This is in stark contrast to Polar Music, wherein there was detailed information and documentary (i.e., contractual) evidence regarding the relationship between the performing group ABBA and its “corporate entity,” as well as evidence of the control such corporation maintained in dealings with a manufacturer and seller of its recordings in the United States.

If the applicant maintains control over the quality of the goods because the goods are published or recorded directly under the applicant’s control, the applicant may submit a verified statement that “the applicant publishes or produces the goods and controls their quality.” In re Arnold, 105 USPQ2d 1953, 1958 (TTAB 2013) .

Link to the rest at Trademark of Examining Procedure, July 2021

From reading this, one might presume that the services of a trademark attorney might be useful. PG has done some trademark work in the distant past, but is not interested in doing any in the future. You’re looking for an intellectual property attorney who has registered trademarks before.

PG would be interested in the experiences of any authors who have gone through the process of trademarking their name.

What You Need to Trademark Your Personal Name

From The Balance – Small Business:

Want to trademark your name? It can be done, but first, ask yourself why you want to spend the money – and time – to trademark your name. You must also meet specific requirements to trademark your name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

A trademark is a piece of intellectual property that allows you to “brand” something so that no one else can copy or use it. It distinguishes your company and its products from everyone else. Don’t confuse a trademark with a copyright; copyrights are for works like books, movies, and videos.

Trademarking your name gives you an additional brand and keeps others from using your name.

. . . .

People trademark their names all the time. Actors, authors, sports figures, and other celebrities often trademark their names.

For example, IPWatchdog used the example of Sarah Palin, who has trademarked her name (actually it’s a service mark, not a trademark), The category is “Educational and entertainment services, namely, providing motivational speaking services in the field of politics, culture, business, and values.”

Small Business at says, “A person’s name can only be registered as a trademark if it is widely recognized in commerce.”

. . . .

Registering your name can provide you with added protection against cybersquatters (people who pick up domain names to confuse people and get money).

Of course, the best reason to trademark your name is to prevent others from using it. For example, Morgan Freeman trademarked his name to prevent it from being used by a company to market its products. Freeman’s trademark is listed in the category “Entertainment services, namely, live, televised, and movie appearances by a professional entertainer.”

Link to the rest at The Balance – Small Business

Before you get all excited, check out the post which follows this one chronologically.

How sensitivity readers corrupt literature

From UnHerd:

What did the sensitivity readers say? And did I care? Of all the aspects of the recent attempt to cancel my work, the one that seems to fascinate most people is the moment when my publishers sent my Orwell Prize-winning memoir, Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, to be assessed by experts who would detect and reform its problematic racism and ableism.

Of course I cared. I’m horrified that people found prejudice and cruelty in my book. And I went into the process willingly: I’ve always enjoyed and benefited from editing and saw this as an extension. I did an initial rewrite — there were many things I was eager to change — in the autumn of 2021 and sent it off full of interest and optimism. I received the reports on it before Christmas. They were never formally used and I share the content here — anonymously, of course — because sensitivity reads are being used more and more widely, and mine gives a valuable insight into how they might work with non-fiction and memoir.

There are several reports — Picador did a thorough job — and they are varied. The novelty of the whole field is reflected in the fact that the Readers use different titles — sensitivity and authenticity — and different methods, too. Some write A4 reports, others use the comment button on Microsoft Word or an Excel sheet, still another presents a simple list of headings, done very possibly with a word search. More than one grades infractions, 1-3. They have of course special areas of expertise — Islam, blackness, disability — but these emerge through inference, not announcement.

Their scopes vary, too. One Reader fusspots around single words: I should not use “disfigure” of a landscape (infraction level 3, as presumably comparing bings — spoil heaps — to boils might be harmful to acne sufferers). Nor should I use “handicap” in its ordinary sense of “impede” (infraction level 2, serious); and I should prefer the acronym “SEN” to its origin phrase, special educational needs, because it is more inclusive (infraction level 2).

Others have grander ambitions: paragraphs, sub-sections and even entire chapters should be revised. Still others focus on issues around the presentation of the book. One suggests the authors of endorsements containing the words “love” and “humanity” might want to “rethink their stance”. To add to the cacophony, the Readers contradict each other freely, even praising and disparaging the same passages.

Given this diversity, it seems reasonable to start with areas of agreement. These mostly occur in the first part of my book, which is set in the Nineties. Perhaps this is because all of the Readers seem to be experts on sexuality and gender, and resisting homophobia is one of my themes. There is even a particular passage, the only one in the book, on which the whole Reader crowd comments and concurs.

The setting is London, 1992. After end-of-term drinks, a favourite student, Liam, comes out to me and then asks me to take him to G.A.Y — because, he says, no one else in his world would know where it was. I was very worried about doing this at the time; even though Liam had just left school, I still felt like his teacher, and I worry even more now, when teachers no longer take 18-year-olds to the pub and are much more aware of influence and consent.

None of these sensitive issues, though — raised at length in the book — worry the Readers. They are concerned, rather, that I might be boasting about helping a young gay person: “Straight white saviour trope”, suggests Wordsearch List, “could be problematic”. And they set up a chorus about what I feel and say after Liam hits the dance floor and I note:

… a new kind of pain, a physical, chesty anxiety that I was not to experience again until I watched my own children walk along ledges or cross a busy road. What would happen to Liam among all those strong bodies? What would happen to his body? He was too young to understand you only got one. Fortunately, it was only twenty minutes or so before he came back out of the crowd and grasped his beer.

‘Liam,’ I said, ‘I love you. You have to promise me to always use a condom and never get AIDS.’ 

I make, my Readers agree, a “reductive” and “rogue” remark. The preceding passage “comes across as homophobic” and is an LGBTQ infraction Level 2. But in 1992, people were still dying in large numbers from AIDS, and I would have urged all young people to use condoms. Excel Reader is kind enough to acknowledge this — “the author has chosen to reproduce contemporary dialogue which may not … reflect brilliantly on her” — but the other Readers seem to concur that the past should match an idealised present, in the same way that Anne of Green Gables, say, got a gay best friend when she went on Netflix.

There are similar injunctions throughout the text. I am enjoined not to quote from My Ántonia by Willa Cather, as it is “an old novel”; nor to state that homosexuality has historically been taboo in Nepal, as homophobia comes from colonialism; nor to mention that the Taliban were terrorists. Extending the principle of sunny improvement into the present, Wordsearch List breaks out of their list to make the helpful suggestion that I should remove references to terrorism from across the book, as it “over-sensationalises such a heavy topic, especially with minors involved”.

. . . .

But Some Kids isn’t a novel, nor written for children. Adults are able to put books down if they upset them, so their books may safely contain difficult ideas. I don’t, for example, agree with my Readers that the references to looks, attraction and sexuality in my book should be removed in case readers are hurt by a metaphor as a child might plausibly be. I think adults can endure bings being compared to boils. I also believe that physical human beauty empirically exists, is enormously important for adolescents, and that I can observe its currency and often destructive power, especially for young women, in the classroom. I make an explicit argument about this, which readers may disagree with.

. . . .

I struggle with all this. I baulk, besides, perhaps snobbishly, at their language: the imprecision of phrases such as “feels like the kind of saying that could be deemed insensitive these days”, or “white knight tone/verve” (verve?). I snarl when Excel helpfully suggests I have made a typo with e. e. cummings, and lost his capital letters. It upsets me in particular, when so many of their criticisms depend on it, that none of the Readers deploy the word “irony”, but use “sarcasm”, “jocular aside” and “subtlety” instead, always as negatives. Comment Button condemns my entire chapter on Prizes as “it shows none of the adults involved in a good light”. Indeed it doesn’t. They are being satirised, even though one of them was me.

Link to the rest at UnHerd

The OP gave PG an idea for another standard paragraph writers should put into their publishing contracts:

Phony Provision for Sensitivity Review

Publisher will not utilize “sensitivity readers” to review and comment on Author’s Work without the prior written consent of Author. In the event that Publisher desires to have one or more sensitivity readers review and comment on Author’s work and Author consents, Publisher shall immediately pay Author an additional sum equal to the advance Publisher paid Author at the time Author executed the Publishing Agreement with Publisher.

The purpose of this additional payment is to compensate Author for the additional time that Author will require to review the comments and recommendations of the sensitivity readers.

Author can reject some or all of the recommendations or make some or no modifications as suggested by all, some or none of the sensitivity readers.

In the event Publisher is not satisfied with Author’s response to the comments and suggestions of the sensitivity readers, either Publisher or Author may terminate this Agreement. Upon such termination, Author shall repay the advance received from the Publisher but shall be permitted to retain the additional payment received due to the use of sensitivity readers as described above. Upon receipt of Author’s returned Advance payment, Publisher shall give Author a document executed by an officer of Publisher, certifying that Publisher has relinquished all rights to Author’s Work.

Without the advance written consent of Author, Publisher shall not disclose the reason why the Publishing Agreement with Author was terminated nor any information regarding the sensitivity analysis, its findings and/or recommendations nor shall Publisher reveal the identities of any of the sensitivity readers to any third parties or, by acting or failing to act, reveal any information about the sensitivity analysis to any third party without Author’s advance written consent in writing in each case.

Publisher shall require that each employee, agent or representative of Publisher who has or had any information about the sensitivity analysis of Author’s Work to sign an an agreement to keep this information confidential under the same terms and conditions which limit Publisher’s disclosures above.

In the event that Publisher or any employee, agent or representative of Publisher discloses any information that it or they have agreed to keep confidential, the parties agree that the discovery, calculation and/or proof of the amount of damages incurred by Author will be difficult or impossible for Author to fully discover and prove.

Accordingly, in the event of any breach of the provisions of this Sensitivity Review provision by Publisher or anyone who is under obligation to maintain the information relating to the Sensitivity Review as described described above, Author shall be entitled to liquidated damages for such breach in the amount of Author’s Advance multiplied by ten. By way of example and not limitation, if Author’s advance for the Work is $10,000, the amount of liquidated damages Publisher shall pay to Author for breach of this agreement shall be $100,000.

In the event that Publisher refuses to promptly pay liquidated damages as provided herein and Author hires legal counsel to enforce Publisher’s obligations under this Agreement, Author shall be entitled to recover Author’s reasonable legal expenses and costs from Publisher in addition to the Liquidated Damages to which Author is entitled under this agreement.

NOTE: This is purely an exercise by PG to demonstrate how a Sensitivity Review provision might be constructed. PG has not conducted any research to determine whether such a provision would be enforceable under US or state laws or the laws of any other country in the world.


You obtain legal advice by consulting an attorney, not by reading a blog post. PG is not your lawyer.

If you want to try to accomplish something that is similar to what is described in PG’s fanciful Sensitivity Review, you really and truly need to hire a competent attorney to advise you. Failure to do so could result in a giant legal mess, a huge bill and untold sleepless nights.

I Wrote a Book with GPT-3 AI in 24 Hours — And Got It Published

From Medium:

In early 2021 I signed up for the GPT-3 beta program to see how good it is. A few days later I had co-authored Aum Golly — a book of AI poems on humanity. A few months later it was published. This is what it means for writers and publishers.

On January 30, 2021, I realized I was the weak link.

I had been working with GPT-3, the autoregressive language model from OpenAI for 2 hours. I was tired. My creative juices were running low. We had maybe 5 poems ready — out of the 60 or so poems we needed for the book.

I stared at the blinking cursor. GPT-3 was patiently waiting for my input.

To finish the project in the 24 hours I had given myself, I realized I had to change the way I wrote. I had to lean more into GPT-3. Let it do the heavy lifting.

Let go of my ego.

And that’s when things started to get a lot easier.

. . . .

AI for writers: the hype and the reality

Every hype cycle someone says: “This time it’s different.”

Aum Golly, co-authored by GPT-3 and myself, was published in Finland in April 2021. GPT-3 came up with the themes, the title, and the 55 poems themselves.

Having seen what GPT-3, the latest in generative language models, can do, I too am inclined to say: “This time it’s different.”

GPT-3 has been hailed as the newest generation of language models capable of generating text that you can’t tell from something written by a human. For the first 5 minutes of using GPT-3 I was hyped: it really was eerily good, most of the outputs really could have been written by a human.

But what struck me most was how versatile GPT-3 was: it could summarize text, come up with title variants, write introductory paragraphs based on a title… and it could write poetry.

Link to the rest at Medium

Only 27% Of Texans Trust Politicians’ Judgement of School Books

From Book Riot:

Following Texas lawmaker Matt Krause’s circulation of a list of 850 books he would like to see removed from schools, the Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler conducted a February 2022 survey of 1,188 registered voters (33% Democrat, 41% Republican, 26% neither) about various topics of Texas politics, including book bans.

In response to the question “How much do you trust the judgement of elected state leaders in reviewing what books are controversial and should be removed from K-12 schools?”, 27% replied that they either had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust. 27% said they had “not too much,” 38% had “no confidence,” and 8% said they didn’t have enough information.

In contrast, 45% had either a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in librarians and school officials in this same review process. 24% said “not too much,” 23% said “no confidence,” and 7% said they didn’t know enough to answer.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

For visitors from outside the United States, there is more than a little turmoil in some US schools about new curricula that teach American history in ways substantially different than has been customary in the past. The primary motivation for the changes in curriculum materials in many cases is to teach about slavery in a different way than it has been taught before.

Traditionally, American history traditionally acknowledged that the principal cause of the American Civil War (1861-1865) was the attempt by the elected national representatives of states that prohibited slavery (Maine, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, California, Nevada, and Oregon, collectively, the “Union”) to force the states that permitted slavery (Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, collectively, the “Confederacy”) to abolish this practice.

In addition to the Northern States and the Southern States, there were also Border States (Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri). The Border states were located between the Northern and the Southern States and included some slaveholders, but also many residents who opposed slavery. None of the border states supported President Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 election, but none seceded from the Union as did the Confederate States.

Many of the battles between the North and the South were fought in the Border States, particularly early in the war. In some of the border states that did not have North/South battles between the armies of the two combatants, there were extensive and destructive armed clashes between those who supported one side or the other. At times, these clashes were effectively a guerilla war that made little distinction between combatants and non-combatants.

The Northern states had a combined population of 22 million people. The Southern states had a combined population of about 9 million. The Northern states also included most of the industry in the country at the time while the Southern states were generally agrarian.

The disparity of wealth between the North and South was substantial. Farming which utilized slaves generated a great deal of wealth for the relatively small percentage who were slave-owners, but whites and former slaves who had been freed by their owners. While the Northern states had plenty of farmers, they were well along a path to employing a great many people in industrial companies.

The average per capita income in the North was about double the average per capita income in the South.

In short, if a non-involved individual from another country clearly understood the relative strengths of the Union and Confederacy prior to the war, there would have been little doubt about the military outcome.

As PG has mentioned before, the disproportionate cost in wealth and both military and civilian casualties resulted in the impoverishment of the Southern states and a significant share of their residents. This impoverishment continued for over one hundred years after the war and still remains in significant parts of the Southern and Border states.

Out of the 15 poorest states (ranked by the percentage of the population living in poverty) in 1999, 13 were former members of the Confederacy. Out of the 15 wealthiest states, 14 were former members of the Union and one, Maryland, was a deeply-divided border state which did not secede from the Union but did permit slavery.

While the definition of “racism” has become much more fluid during the past several years, PG suggests that the Civil War, which resulted in far, far more deaths and non-death causalities than the US suffered during the great wars of the Twentieth Century, is, ultimately, a definitive statement that the roots of the nation are built upon the idea than no persons, by virtue of their race, should be discriminated against or oppressed.

Amazon Sues ‘Fake Review Brokers’ Who Attempt to Profit From Generating Misleading and Fraudulent Reviews

From Business Wire:

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has filed lawsuits against fake review brokers who orchestrate the posting of incentivized and misleading product reviews, in exchange for money or free products.

The lawsuits aim to shut down two major fake review brokers, AppSally and Rebatest, who helped mislead shoppers by having their members try to post fake reviews in stores such as Amazon, eBay, Walmart, and Etsy. This legal action is one part of Amazon’s comprehensive and proactive efforts to ensure a safe and trustworthy shopping experience for its customers and extensive opportunities to create thriving businesses.

“Fake review brokers attempt to profit by deceiving unknowing consumers and creating an unfair competitive advantage that harms our selling partners,” said Dharmesh Mehta, VP of WW Customer Trust & Partner Support, Amazon. “We know how valuable trustworthy reviews are to our customers. That is why we are holding these review fraudsters accountable. While we prevent millions of suspicious reviews from ever appearing in our store, these lawsuits target the source.”

Amazon strictly prohibits incentivized or fake reviews and uses a combination of machine learning technology and skilled investigators to detect, prevent, and remove them. In 2020, Amazon stopped more than 200 million suspected fake reviews before they were ever seen by a customer. A nefarious industry has emerged in recent years, in which fraudsters facilitate fake or inflated reviews in exchange for money or free products.

Amazon’s legal action comes after an in-depth investigation into these review brokers, which taken together claim to have more than 900,000 members willing to write fake reviews. Fake review brokers attempt to hide their activity and evade detection. For example, the fake review site AppSally sells fake reviews for as low as at $20 and instructs bad actors to ship empty boxes to people willing to write fake reviews, and to provide AppSally with photos to be uploaded alongside their reviews. The fraudulent scheme run by Rebatest will only pay people writing 5-star reviews after their fake reviews are approved by the bad actors attempting to sell those items.

Today’s legal action shows Amazon’s determination to shut down fake review brokers. Amazon has previously won dozens of injunctions against fake review brokers, compelling them to provide information about who is paying for these fraudulent services. Most recently in late 2021, two major fake review sites in Germany and the UK were closed down following successful legal action by Amazon in those countries.

Amazon has more than 10,000 employees around the world protecting its store from fraud and abuse, including fake reviews. Amazon receives more than 30 million reviews each week, and uses a combination of machine learning technology and skilled investigators to analyze each review before it is displayed.

Link to the rest at Business Wire

PG just checked and it appears that the sites offer their services to a wide range of online retailers other than Amazon.

Do Blurbs Actually Work?

From CounterCraft:

“Luminous, sui generis, and above all brave. This newsletter is a work of startling originality.” – The New York Review of Newsletters

“Counter Craft is like the bastard child of William Shakespeare, Franz Kafka, Toni Morrison, and Jane Austen all mixed together.” – Steven King (no relation)

“A tour-de-force triumph equal parts haunted and haunting.” – The New Substacker

Blurbs. Few parts of the publishing process cause more anxiety for writers. As a blurb requester, it’s stressful and a bit pathetic to beg for praise from writers you may have never met. As a potential blurber, the number of requests can be overwhelming and blurbing is always time consuming. Hell writers have been complaining about blurbs since the dawn of, well, blurbs. In the 1930s George Orwell said:

Question any thinking person as to why he ‘never reads novels’, and you will usually find that, at bottom, it is because of the disgusting tripe that is written by the blurb-reviewers…Novels are being shot at you at the rate of fifteen a day, and every one of them an unforgettable masterpiece which you imperil your soul by missing.

While blurbs might suck, it doesn’t follow that blurbs are unimportant or don’t work. About every month I see a writer—sometimes an emerging writer, sometimes a well-published and acclaimed one—ask, “Do blurbs ACTUALLY work?” Typically this is followed by a sentiment like “I’ve never picked up a book in a bookstore and bought a book based on a blurb.” (Note: I wrote a draft of this newsletter, including the above paragraph, a few weeks ago before today’s twitter blurb discourse. This newsletter is not subtweeting anyone specific.)

Do Readers Actually Buy Books Based on Blurbs?

Yes, sometimes. I myself have bought books thanks to blurbs now and then. Recently, I was browsing a translated literature table and saw The Houseguest by Amparo Dávila. I’d never heard of the author, but the book had blurbs from Carmen Maria Machado and Julio Cortázar so I thought, hell, let’s give this author a try! I’m glad I did.

Whenever blurb discourse heats up, plenty of readers say blurbs are a factor. So yes, they can sell books.

At the same time, yes, it is perhaps true that blurbs are rarely the deciding factor. Most likely a potential reader has heard word of mouth recommendations, read reviews, or simply seen the cover all over the place before they even pick up the book to see the blurbs. But that’s actually the point. Most of the work that blurbs do happens long before a customer sees the book on the table.

The blurbs might be what put the book on the table in the first place.

How Blurbs Sell Books

The thing one always has to remember about publishing is that the sheer number of books published each year is enormous. Even ignoring the countless self-published books, there is an avalanche of traditionally published books each month. It’s unending. Because of this, everyone—readers, reviewers, booksellers, etc.—has to find ways to winnow the number down to something manageable. There is simply no possible way a human could read every book published to “decide for themselves” what’s worth reading or promoting or placing on the bookstore shelf. It’s just impossible.

Take for example the “most anticipated” lists that appear in every magazine every year. How are those books picked? It’s not because the list writer has read 100,000 forthcoming 2022 books and picked the best. It’s not that they’ve read 10,000 or even 1,000. They’re reading a tiny fraction of what’s forthcoming and sometimes include books they can’t possible have read because they aren’t in galleys yet.

Blurbs help winnow down the flood. They are only one of many winnowing factors, but they are one of them. To use publishing speak, blurbs especially help with “positioning” a book. Is a debut novel literary horror fiction? A commercial thriller? Meditative autofiction aimed at millennial readers? Blurbs help signal where a book fits in the marketplace and the reader’s shelf. Maybe they aren’t an objective measure of quality, but they’re actually a pretty good measure of a book’s milieu.

Link to the rest at CounterCraft and thanks to Elaine for the tip.

Do We Really ‘Lose Our Filter’ as We Age?

From Neuroscience News:

Many of us will have experienced some unexpected honesty from the older people in our lives. Whether it’s grandma telling you your outfit is unflattering or grandpa saying he doesn’t like the meal you’ve prepared, we often explain it away by saying “Oh, don’t mind grandpa, he’s just lost his filter”.

But do we really have a “filter”, and do we lose it as we get older?

What do we mean when we say ‘filter’?

When someone has no “filter”, it means they say things without thinking about their audience. They may blurt out something rude, inappropriate, or unkind, without considering the likely consequences.

“Filters” are an important part of our everyday social interactions. A brief Monday morning chat with your boss is more complex than it may seem. For example, you might stop yourself from telling them they smell awful after their morning bike ride into the office and should’ve showered before your meeting. You might consider telling them about the fungal infection you discovered on your toenail over the weekend but decide against it. Of course, what you do or do not say also depends on how well you know them and what’s considered socially acceptable in your workplace.

Your “filter” relies on cognitive processes such as inhibitory control, which stops you from saying the first thing that pops into your mind. It also relies on social cognition, which refers to the ability to understand and predict other people’s behaviours, thoughts, and intentions. This helps us to recognise what behaviour is appropriate in a particular social setting and to adapt our behaviour based on this.

The prefrontal cortex, which is located within the frontal lobes of our brains, acts as our “filter”, helping us say and do things in a socially appropriate way. When this part of the brain isn’t functioning properly, we might act as though we’ve lost our “filter”.

What happens to our ‘filter’ as we age?

As we get older, our brains start to shrink. This is a normal part of the aging process known as brain atrophy. It affects how well our brain cells can communicate with one another. Importantly, brain atrophy doesn’t happen to all areas of the brain at once. It is particularly noticeable in the frontal lobes.

Researchers have linked age-related shrinking in the frontal lobes with declines in inhibitory control and social cognition. Studies have also found older adults respond differently to socially awkward situations than younger adults.

For example, older adults have more difficulty recognising when someone’s said something embarrassing or tactless, and show poorer understanding of sarcasm.

So as we get older, normal aging processes in our brains may make it much easier for things to slip out through our “filters”.

Link to the rest at Neuroscience News

PG thought this might be of assistance to those who are building an older character.

The Emotion Thesaurus

From Wordnerdopolis:

A writer’s ultimate goal is to connect.

… with the reader
… with a topic
… with a place, era or event.
Many writers accomplish this goal of connecting, through the lives of their characters. The words on the page are ink made flesh and suddenly, through the characters’ actions, quirks, mannerisms, dreams, appearances and dialogue readers can connect. As the writers of this book state in the introduction: “We read to connect with characters who provide entertainment and whole trials may add meaning to our own life journeys.” But creating this connection is no easy feat.

The single best took I have found to help me in this endeavor is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, created by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, the two brainiacs behind the website Writers Helping Writers. This book (as well as the others in the series) have been my number one recommended writing book for the past five years. I bring them to every writing retreat and my students can tell you they show up in class at least once a semester.

Here’s how they work. The thesaurus lists an emotion and then lays out several ways a writer could clearly convey this emotion to their reader. In the original edition of the book, this meant listing physical manifestations of the emotion, internal sensations, mental responses, acute or long-term responses to the emotion, escalations of the emotion, signs the emotion is being suppressed in your character and finally a writer’s tip on how to best put this information to work in your writing. It’s pretty dang amazing.

. . . .

The thought that these authors would go back and improve a prior publication [by writing a second edition]… even though it was selling well enough on its own… even though they undoubtedly had other projects on their list… even though it was already fantastic, fills me with ADMIRATION for them. Knowing what I know now, I’ve often thought about doing this for one of my early books. I think, “I could make that so much better NOW”. But I haven’t pulled the trigger yet. I admire these ladies for digging deep, for pushing themselves, for following through and for presenting an even more thorough resource.

. . . .

I adore the practical approach this book takes to the complex art of clearly conveying emotion. The introduction claims the book is a “how to cocktail” of writing emotion. I can tell you, proven by the magnets on my fridge, that anyone who can use a cocktail metaphor in their writing, has won my ADORATION for life.

. . . .

The 2nd Edition of the Emotional Thesaurus includes power verbs. For example, the emotion EAGERNESS lists these words.

Excerpt from, The Emotional Thesaurus, 2nd Edition
Excerpt from, The Emotional Thesaurus, 2nd Edition

. . . .

My absolute favorite parts of the Emotion Thesaurus are the Writer’s Tips. At last, the secrets are revealed! At the end of each emotion entry, the authors spell out how exactly you can put these characteristics and traits into action. No smoke and mirrors behind the writing craft techniques here. The transparency will leave you feeling EUPHORIC, at least, that was the result for me.

Link to the rest at Wordnerdopolis

Mrs. PG recently discovered this after receiving a recommendation from one of the PG offspring who just finished the first draft of her first book. PG has looked through parts of it. It seems like quite a nice reference work for authors.

Why Do Some Authors’ Books Get a Branded Look?

From Eye on Design:

When Charlotte Strick and Claire Williams Martinez of Strick&Williams were invited to design Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy, Strick was already intimately familiar with the work. As the designer of The Paris Review, the magazine that serialized Cusk’s first book in the series, Strick had already acquainted herself with the roving narrative, which traces the journey of a woman enroute to Greece and the strangers she meets along the way. As three books, hatched one after the other like eggs, it only made sense to design Outline, Transit, and Kudos as a trio, with a “spare but evocative” vibe, as Strick put it, which bridges together each part of the whole.

While designing one cover or jacket requires the designer to conjure a single visual solution, crafting a cohesive look for such a project creates an added challenge. Each cover must encapsulate the story within while simultaneously maintaining some coherent iconography that can run through every title—not unlike a magazine design. And that design challenge and opportunity is magnified to the extreme when all of an author’s books take on a clearly defined aesthetic, which Cusk’s eventually did with work by Farrar, Straus & Giroux creative director and designer Rodrigo Corral.

Such comprehensive cover design initiatives tap into the same power as branded objects. It might seem dismal to compare an author to a brand. The writer—the literary purveyor, if you will—is indispensable, and each book they produce is a unique object. To group them together in a branded package like bottles on a drug store shelf can seem reductive, dystopian even, at its face. But this is essentially what publishers do when they commission several books by one author to be designed in a similar fashion. It’s a way for the publisher to associate a particular writer with a visual identity. And ultimately, despite any venal ambitions on behalf of publishers, the designs they require can be demanding and gratifying artistic projects for book designers.

Corral’s covers are the ones Cusk is perhaps now most well-known for. They’re white, modern—brutalist almost—with one slightly oversaturated, often metaphorical photo in the center of each. Amid the swirl of illustrated covers as of late, it seems unique to find photos on the covers of novels. While it sometimes risks narrative misinterpretation, as in Peter Hujar’s enigmatic photo on the cover of A Little Life, for Cusk’s books, it works, perhaps because her writing tends to take on broad philosophical questions. “So much of the [Outline trilogy] takes place in transit and on planes,” Corral explains. “The reading experience is quite similar to eavesdropping. You cannot stop listening or reading.” Fittingly, the image on the third installment of the Outline series is the contemplative view one experiences when peering out an airplane window.

Link to the rest at Eye on Design

I think I could turn and live with the animals

I think I could turn and live with the animals, they are so placid and self contained;
They do not sweat and whine about their condition;
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God;
Not one is dissatisfied-not one is demented with the mania of owning things;
Not one kneels to another, nor his kind that lived thousands of years ago;
Not one is responsible or industrious over the whole earth.

Walt Whitman

We patronize the animals

We patronize the animals for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they are more finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other Nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

Henry Beston

Bookstore Sales Rose 28% in 2021

From Publishers Weekly:

Riding strong gains in the second half of the year, bookstore sales increased 39% in 2021 over 2020, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales were $9.03 billion, compared to sales of $6.50 billion in pandemic-ravaged 2020.

The rebound was not quite enough to bring 2021 bookstore sales back to 2019 levels, falling 1% below 2019 sales of $9.13 billion.

Consumers apparently did buy books early and often in the fourth quarter of 2021. December bookstore sales increased 33.6% over December 2020, rising to $1.20 billion from $900 million in December 2020. The December increase followed sales jumps of 53% in October and 43% in November.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Why Amazon’s New LGTBQ+ Children’s Category Matters

From Publishers Weekly:

“The addition of this category is certainly something to celebrate. It also raises the question: why was queer representation an afterthought?”

As the marketing director for a small publisher, I’m very familiar with the power of Amazon categories. Although I am Team Bookstore, not Team Bezos, Amazon is not just a reseller—it has become the search engine for books.

Amazon has more than 10,000 book categories to choose from—including subjects as niche as woodworking and Arthurian folktales. Choosing the right category affects a title’s discoverability and even credibility with bestseller lists.

Which is why it was surprising when an author I work with, Julie Schanke Lyford, noticed something missing from the Amazon page for her children’s book, Katy Has Two Grampas: there was no LGBTQ+ category for kid lit.

This felt like an oversight—Amazon is known for its sophisticated algorithm. Many general categories have children’s books counterparts, such as physics, Renaissance history, and disaster relief and preparedness. Classification gets granular: fiction vs. nonfiction, print vs. Kindle, and even paid vs. free e-books. But representation for queer kid lit was noticeably missing.

“The hardest thing was having LGBTQ+ still thought of as something other than family,” Lyford explained. Her picture book, which she coauthored with her father, Lambda Literary Award finalist Robert A. Schanke, is one of the few picture books to depict married, gay grandfathers as part of the family unit.

So beginning in December 2020, Lyford contacted Amazon’s support team via emails, phone calls, and even snail mail. Sometimes representatives expressed surprise that the category didn’t already exist. Other times they recommended that she choose an existing children’s category, like Growing Up and Facts of Life.

But Lyford was persistent. And the LGTBQ+ Families children’s book category launched just a few days before January 2022. [Amazon declined to comment for this article.]

“Amazon adding this category is a huge win for the LGBTQ+ community,” says Alaina Lavoie, program manager at We Need Diverse Books. “Many people intentionally seek out children’s books that include LGBTQ+ parents and families. This makes it much easier to find these books as the category grows.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG will remind one and all that he does not agree with everything he posts on TPV.

That said, although PG is and has always has been a throughgoing heterosexual, he had a couple of college friends who were in and out of the closet over a period of years. Their problems were significant during that era and each had a tough, closeted life until reaching their 30’s.

Thereafter, one took the path toward homosexuality and the other was eventually married to a member of the opposite sex. PG has only heard about them and not seen them since leaving college, but he has always wished them well and respected them as intelligent, kind and capable human beings.

Animals think, therefore…

From The Economist

IN 1992, at Tangalooma, off the coast of Queensland, people began to throw fish into the water for the local wild dolphins to eat. In 1998, the dolphins began to feed the humans, throwing fish up onto the jetty for them. The humans thought they were having a bit of fun feeding the animals. What, if anything, did the dolphins think?

Charles Darwin thought the mental capacities of animals and people differed only in degree, not kind—a natural conclusion to reach when armed with the radical new belief that the one evolved from the other. His last great book, “The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals”, examined joy, love and grief in birds, domestic animals and primates as well as in various human races. But Darwin’s attitude to animals—easily shared by people in everyday contact with dogs, horses, even mice—ran contrary to a long tradition in European thought which held that animals had no minds at all. This way of thinking stemmed from the argument of René Descartes, a great 17th-century philosopher, that people were creatures of reason, linked to the mind of God, while animals were merely machines made of flesh—living robots which, in the words of Nicolas Malebranche, one of his followers, “eat without pleasure, cry without pain, grow without knowing it: they desire nothing, fear nothing, know nothing.”

. . . .

For much of the 20th century biology cleaved closer to Descartes than to Darwin. Students of animal behaviour did not rule out the possibility that animals had minds but thought the question almost irrelevant since it was impossible to answer. One could study an organism’s inputs (such as food or the environment) or outputs (its behaviour). But the organism itself remained a black box: unobservable things such as emotions or thoughts were beyond the scope of objective inquiry. As one such “behaviourist” wrote in 1992, “attributing conscious thought to animals should be strenuously avoided in any serious attempt to understand their behaviour, since it is untestable [and] empty…”.

By then, though, there was ever greater resistance to such strictures. In 1976 a professor at Rockefeller University in New York, Donald Griffen, had taken the bull by the horns (leaving aside what the bull might have felt about this) in a book called “The Question of Animal Awareness”. He argued that animals could indeed think and that their ability to do this could be subjected to proper scientific scrutiny.

In the past 40 years a wide range of work both in the field and the lab has pushed the consensus away from strict behaviourism and towards that Darwin-friendly view. Progress has not been easy or quick; as the behaviourists warned, both sorts of evidence can be misleading. Laboratory tests can be rigorous, but are inevitably based on animals which may not behave as they do in the wild. Field observations can be dismissed as anecdotal. Running them for years or decades and on a large scale goes some way to guarding against that problem, but such studies are rare.

Nevertheless, most scientists now feel they can say with confidence that some animals process information and express emotions in ways that are accompanied by conscious mental experience. They agree that animals, from rats and mice to parrots and humpback whales, have complex mental capacities; that a few species have attributes once thought to be unique to people, such as the ability to give objects names and use tools; and that a handful of animals—primates, corvids (the crow family) and cetaceans (whales and dolphins)—have something close to what in humans is seen as culture, in that they develop distinctive ways of doing things which are passed down by imitation and example. No animals have all the attributes of human minds; but almost all the attributes of human minds are found in some animal or other.

Consider Billie, a wild bottlenose dolphin which got injured in a lock at the age of five. She was taken to an aquarium in South Australia for medical treatment, during which she spent three weeks living with captive dolphins which had been taught various tricks. She herself, though, was never trained. After she was returned to the open sea local dolphin-watchers were struck to see her “tailwalking”—a move in which a dolphin stands up above the water by beating its flukes just below the surface, travelling slowly backwards in a vaguely Michael Jackson manner. It was a trick that Billie seemed to have picked up simply by watching her erstwhile pool mates perform. More striking yet, soon afterwards five other dolphins in her pod started to tailwalk, though the behaviour had no practical function and used up a lot of energy.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Phantom Plague

From The Wall Street Journal:

In 1992, a blue-ribbon panel commissioned by the Institute of Medicine published “Emerging Infections: Microbial Threats to Human Health in the United States.” The report was a broadside aimed at the “complacency of the scientific and medical communities, the public, and the political leadership of the United States toward the danger of emerging infectious diseases and the potential for devastating epidemics.” A stream of like-minded books followed—Laurie Garrett’s “The Coming Plague,” David Quammen’s “Spillover.” But the risks were hard to calculate, and despite some near misses (including Ebola and SARS-1), the possibility of a new plague seemed remote from day-to-day life. The warnings went unheeded.

The Institute of Medicine report mentioned tuberculosis, which had started a resurgence by taking advantage of patients suffering from AIDS. In the years since, a chorus of voices has been gathering strength, warning us of a looming microbial threat that can seem as esoteric and far away as bat viruses once did: multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB).

Add Vidya Krishnan’s “Phantom Plague” to the chorus. Covid-19 is a new infectious disease, but old foes have not gone away. Antibiotic resistance by the tuberculosis bacterium represents a continuing evolutionary arms race between biomedical science and one of the great killers of all time. In the middle are millions of victims, mostly poor, caught in the ancient vice grip between destitution and disease.

Tuberculosis—“consumption,” the “white plague”—could rightfully claim to be the great infectious disease. Bubonic plague, smallpox and influenza were more explosive, but only malaria can contend with tuberculosis for the steady, relentless toll taken on our species. The keys to TB’s success are tenacity and stealth. Most of history’s notorious germs cause acute infection—short and dramatic. TB is one of a handful of really successful agents of chronic infection. It lurks inside the immune cells meant to protect us, then patiently grinds down its victims.

TB is primarily a disease of the lungs, spread via the respiratory route. It thrives where human hosts are crowded together in squalor. Probably no infectious disease has killed more humans throughout history, but as Ms. Krishnan vividly reminds us, TB is not a disease of the past. Up to one quarter of the global population carries the bacterium in a latent state. Every year, some 10 million people fall sick, and in 2020 more than 1.5 million died of a disease that is preventable and treatable. Indeed, the TB bacterium was the deadliest microbe on the planet before it was dethroned by SARS-CoV-2. It is a safe bet that TB will soon resume its place atop the rankings.

. . . .

As we have recently learned, the bacterium that causes TB has not existed time out of mind. Both ancient bacterial DNA recovered from archaeological skeletons and massive data sets of modern DNA are allowing us to piece together the hidden back story of TB (and so many other human pathogens). The TB bacterium is only 4,000 to 5,000 years old, a product of the Bronze Age. It emerged when humans first built cities and long-distance trade networks, and it has opportunistically thrived on human progress ever since.

. . . .

When bubonic plague, smallpox and typhus were brought under control, TB was left to claim a larger share of the victims. Children, especially of the working classes, suffered most. Thomas Malthus gave voice to the widespread recognition that the “closeness and foulness of the air” in places like London was especially “unfavourable to the tender lungs of children.” In the early 19th century, TB came to account for upward of one third of all deaths in industrial cities, an almost unfathomable share.

The decline of TB in the West was late but miraculous; accomplished between about 1870 and 1940, it has been the subject of one of the most resonant debates in the history of health. Mortality from TB was reduced thanks to a combination of three factors: improved living standards that liberated people from desperate poverty; public health measures (such as bans on spitting, a government-driven behavioral change that Ms. Krishnan colorfully narrates); and biomedical interventions (from the BCG vaccine to antibiotics).

. . . .

What makes Ms. Krishnan’s book worth the price of admission is the tableau she paints of the current plague. She writes with authority about the current state of TB globally, especially in her native India, which is the epicenter of the disease today. A 20-year veteran of medical journalism, Ms. Krishnan is a powerful storyteller, and her accounts of frustration, suffering, grief and resilience are moving.

There is the case of 11-year-old Piya, whose ankle bone was infected with an extensively drug-resistant form of tuberculosis. Her disease presented as a limp, which eventually led to a diagnosis that upended the lives of everyone in her family. For Piya, it meant a daunting regimen of ineffective pills that turned her teeth yellow and her face flush red. The side effects only added to the stigma and shame of the disease itself. Meanwhile, she had to undergo excruciating debridement surgeries, in which infected tissue is scooped out. Fortunately for Piya, her plucky father flew to Tokyo and managed to arrange an audience with Otsuka, the Japanese pharmaceutical company that sells delamanid, one of the two relatively new drugs used to treat the hardest cases. Against the odds, he was able to have his daughter qualified for a compassionate-use case, and she has recovered.

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

Artificial Intelligence – Images

Here’s another example of artificial intelligence creating original images:

This was created by using the following prompt to the AI: Gothic Victorian London with harmonic colors created by subtle brush strokes.

This was created using, which provides online creation of images via artificial intelligence. The site offers some rudimentary images at no charge, but if you want to get faster results and more detail, you’ll need to pay them some money.

Here’s a link to a variety of AI images on the website.

Confusing details can pile up quickly (page critique)

From Nathan Bransford:

Now then. Time for the Page Critique. First I’ll present the page without comment, then I’ll offer my thoughts and a redline.

. . . .

Title: Discover
Genre: YA Fantasy

Astral was one tail-flick past the boundary, one metre beyond safety. By now most Mers would have drifted into the rooms they were meant to be in, and only rushing servants and nobles too proud to bolt would remain in the Castle’s sprawling corridors. He listened for the sounds of guards: the scrape of weapons against fish-hide and metal, a bored laugh, the swoosh of their assured tail sweeps. It was either sound that could alert him or the invisible, silent messages Mers created when they swam and moved the water. More accurate, but it did not allow him to ‘see’ as far as sound permitted.

Haughty muttering sounded out two passageways behind him, accompanied with aggressive sweeps of a membrane-ridged tail. They must be a Royal; only they could manage to curse through their gills and still retain that precise air of superiority. What are you doing out so late? He swam to one side and pressed himself against the chilled marble surface of the Castle’s halls, shivering when the cold bit into his skin. Even with a layered jacket and floors heated by magma tunnels, the chill of winter still numbed him.

Astral placed one of his two sensors, a long and skinny strand of muscle ending in a leaf-like shape that grew from the side of his tail, on the corner so it could sense the nearly imperceptible movements of the water made by the approaching Mer.

. . . .

Here’s my redline:

Title: Discover
Genre: YA Fantasy

Astral was one tail-flick past the boundary to [whatever boundary is being referred to], one metre beyond safety from [whatever he’s safe from]. By now most Mers, [explain what a Mer is], would have drifted into the rooms they were meant to be in [be more specific. Why do they need to be in a particular room?], and only rushing servants and nobles too proud to bolt [bolt from what?] would remain in the Castle’s sprawling corridors.

He Astral listened for the sounds of guards [If he’s listening, it goes without saying that he’s listening to the sounds of whatever you say he’s listening for]: the scrape of weapons against fish-hide and metal, a bored laugh, the swoosh of their assured tail sweeps. It was either sound [I don’t understand what this is referring to] that could alert him [Alert him to what?] or the invisible, silent messages Mers created when they swam and moved the water [How does one swim without moving water?]. More accurate, but it did not allow him to ‘see’ as far as sound permitted. [I don’t understand what this is referring to]

He heard Haughty muttersing sounded out two passageways behind him [Struggling to visualize where we are. Weave in clearer physical description], accompanied with by the aggressive sweeps of a membrane-ridged tail. They must be a Royal [explain what a Royal is]; only they could manage to curse through their gills and still retain that precise air of superiority.

¶What are you doing out so late? [This question feels like a non-sequitur] He swam to one side [one side of what?] and pressed himself against the chilled marble surface [If he’s pressing himself against something it goes without saying it’s a “surface”] of the Castle’s halls, shivering when the cold bit into his skin. Even with a layered jacket and floors heated by magma tunnels, the chill of winter still numbed him.

Astral placed one of his two sensors, a took the long and skinny strand of muscle ending in a leaf-like shape that grew from the side of his tail and ended in a leaf-like shape, and placed it on the corner [on the corner of what?] so it could to sense the nearly imperceptible movements of the water made by the approaching Mer. [Extremely convoluted. Read the original version out loud]

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Artificial Intelligence – Text to Speech

Amazon has a website as part of its Amazon Web Services site that demonstrates various applications of artificial intelligence:

One of those sites is for the demonstration of Amazon Polly, a text-to-speech program. PG understands that Polly has multi-lingual capabilities, but it appears PG is not located in a region that has access to more than English.

Here is a speech file with Polly translating a written quote from Helen Keller in one of its many female voices:

Here is a speech file with Polly translating a partial quote from the Declaration of Independence in ont of its many male voices:

Here is Polly translating the Declaration of Independence quote using a younger male voice. You will notice that the recorded translation to the younger male voice is a few seconds longer than the adult male voice above.

Here’s a link to Amazon Polly

Artificial intelligence challenges what it means to be creative

From Science News:

When British artist Harold Cohen met his first computer in 1968, he wondered if the machine might help solve a mystery that had long puzzled him: How can we look at a drawing, a few little scribbles, and see a face? Five years later, he devised a robotic artist called AARON to explore this idea. He equipped it with basic rules for painting and for how body parts are represented in portraiture — and then set it loose making art.

Not far behind was the composer David Cope, who coined the phrase “musical intelligence” to describe his experiments with artificial intelligence–powered composition. Cope once told me that as early as the 1960s, it seemed to him “perfectly logical to do creative things with algorithms” rather than to painstakingly draw by hand every word of a story, note of a musical composition or brush stroke of a painting. He initially tinkered with algorithms on paper, then in 1981 moved to computers to help solve a case of composer’s block.

Cohen and Cope were among a handful of eccentrics pushing computers to go against their nature as cold, calculating things. The still-nascent field of AI had its focus set squarely on solid concepts like reasoning and planning, or on tasks like playing chess and checkers or solving mathematical problems. Most AI researchers balked at the notion of creative machines.

Slowly, however, as Cohen and Cope cranked out a stream of academic papers and books about their work, a field emerged around them: computational creativity. It included the study and development of autonomous creative systems, interactive tools that support human creativity and mathematical approaches to modeling human creativity. In the late 1990s, computational creativity became a formalized area of study with a growing cohort of researchers and eventually its own journal and annual event.

. . . .

Soon enough — thanks to new techniques rooted in machine learning and artificial neural networks, in which connected computing nodes attempt to mirror the workings of the brain — creative AIs could absorb and internalize real-world data and identify patterns and rules that they could apply to their creations.

Computer scientist Simon Colton, then at Imperial College London and now at Queen Mary University of London and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, spent much of the 2000s building the Painting Fool. The computer program analyzed the text of news articles and other written works to determine the sentiment and extract keywords. It then combined that analysis with an automated search of the photography website Flickr to help it generate painterly collages in the mood of the original article. Later the Painting Fool learned to paint portraits in real time of people it met through an attached camera, again applying its “mood” to the style of the portrait (or in some cases refusing to paint anything because it was in a bad mood).

. . . .

During this era, Colton says, AIs began to look like creative artists in their own right — incorporating elements of creativity such as intentionality, skill, appreciation and imagination. But what followed was a focus on mimicry, along with controversy over what it means to be creative.

New techniques that excelled at classifying data to high degrees of precision through repeated analysis helped AI master existing creative styles. AI could now create works like those of classical composers, famous painters, novelists and more.

One AI-authored painting modeled on thousands of portraits painted between the 14th and 20th centuries sold for $432,500 at auction. In another case, study participants struggled to differentiate the musical phrases of Johann Sebastian Bach from those created by a computer program called Kulitta that had been trained on Bach’s compositions. Even IBM got in on the fun, tasking its Watson AI system with analyzing 9,000 recipes to devise its own cuisine ideas.

But many in the field, as well as onlookers, wondered if these AIs really showed creativity. Though sophisticated in their mimicry, these creative AIs seemed incapable of true innovation because they lacked the capacity to incorporate new influences from their environment. Colton and a colleague described them as requiring “much human intervention, supervision, and highly technical knowledge” in producing creative results. Overall, as composer and computer music researcher Palle Dahlstedt puts it, these AIs converged toward the mean, creating something typical of what is already out there, whereas creativity is supposed to diverge away from the typical.

. . . .

True creativity is a quest for originality. It is a recombination of disparate ideas in new ways. It is unexpected solutions. It might be music or painting or dance, but also the flash of inspiration that helps lead to advances on the order of light bulbs and airplanes and the periodic table. In the view of many in the computational creativity field, it is not yet attainable by machines.

In just the past few years, creative AIs have expanded into style invention — into authorship that is individualized rather than imitative and that projects meaning and intentionality, even if none exists. For Colton, this element of intentionality — a focus on the process, more so than the final output — is key to achieving creativity. But he wonders whether meaning and authenticity are also essential, as the same poem could lead to vastly different interpretations if the reader knows it was written by a man versus a woman versus a machine.

Link to the rest at Science News and thanks to F. for the tip.

PG suggests that it may be difficult for many individuals to distinguish between “true creativity” and derivative works based on prior creative projects.

I have always been a reader

I have always been a reader; I have read at every stage of my life, and there has never been a time when reading was not my greatest joy. And yet I cannot pretend that the reading I have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child. I still believe in stories. I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same. Books are, for me, it must be said, the most important thing; what I cannot forget is that there was a time when they were at once more banal and more essential than that. When I was a child, books were everything. And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of books. It is not a yearning that one ever expects to be fulfilled.

Diane Setterfield

Long-standing literary magazines are struggling to stay afloat. Where do they go from here?

From CNN:

The Believer was once at the top of the literary magazine game.

A leading journal of art and culture, The Believer published the work of icons like Leslie Jamison, Nick Hornby and Anne Carson. It won awards, it launched careers — it created a home for off-beat, quirky writing. When the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada bought the magazine, observers spoke of Las Vegas as a potential new hub for literary arts.

Then, in October of last year, the college announced it was shutting the magazine down in early 2022, citing the “financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.” In a statement explaining the decision, the dean of the school’s College of Liberal Arts called print publications like The Believer “a financially challenging endeavor.”

The news came months after an incident where the editor in chief exposed himself during a video call with staff and subsequently resigned. Staffers’ complaints about him were also detailed in a Los Angeles Times report.Still, the announcement caused ripples throughout the literary world — Jamison, known for her book of essays, “The Empathy Exams,” tweeted that she was “heartbroken” over the news when it was announced.The Believer’s shuttering isn’t isolated. Across the country, universities are slowly, quietly, cutting funding and shutting their literary publications down. Even magazines not connected to universities are closing their doors or changing publication strategies — a trend made worse by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Colleges everywhere are cutting lit mags

Literary magazines aren’t exactly flashy — they aren’t covered in photos of beautiful people draped in designer clothing; they don’t contain the latest celebrity tell-all.But in the world of literary arts, they’re essential. For early-career poets, essayists and fiction writers, these magazines are a way to get publi

shed, find an agent and get paid. They serve as a stepping stone — no one, after all, just jumps into a book deal. Credits through literary magazines present a pathway.

In Jamison’s tribute to The Believer, for example, she thanked the magazine for publishing her landmark essay “Empathy Exams” when nobody else would. (CNN reached out to staff at The Believer and Black Mountain Institute for comment, but did not receive a response.)

It’s not just about career building, though. The magazines are a runway, where new literary styles are tested and emerge. New voices break through. If only large, established magazines continue to exist — like The Paris Review or the New Yorker — the diversity of the literary world will suffer, as Alaska Quarterly Review co-founder and editor-in-chief Ronald Spatz told CNN.

Link to the rest at CNN

PG gently suggests that the world passed by literary magazines some time ago.

He felt the slightest twitch of nostalgia when he read the OP, but it was strictly an old guy response to days long past. He doubts many ambitious young authors today would bother with a medium so antiquated.

If you’re a good writer and want to write literary magazine material, start a blog, tell all your friends about it and see who shows up.

Draft2Digital to Acquire Smashwords

From Draft2Digital:

We’re betting that’s a headline you never expected to see, and we’re already anticipating the chatter this will cause in the indie author community!

We know this is going to feel a bit unexpected and out of the blue, but we’re very excited to make this announcement, and even more excited about what this means for you and the rest of the author community.

Since Draft2Digital was founded, in 2012, we have always believed that Smashwords was a vital and integral part of the self-publishing community. In many ways, Smashwords ultimately built the very industry in which we all work and thrive. Their work laid the foundation, and we’ve all been building on that foundation ever since.

And though Draft2Digital and Smashwords have always been cast as rivals in this little drama, the truth is it was, at worst, a friendly rivalry. In the end, we share the same goal: Empower self-published, indie authors and publishers to build and grow their publishing careers.

. . . .

So, what does this mean for our authors?
In terms of the service and resources you’ve come to expect from both companies, nothing really changes. At least, not right away. We will continue to offer the best author support there is, to all our combined authors, worldwide. And over time, authors and publishers will gain all of the advantages from both platforms, with a unified author dashboard and user experience.

The good news is that with our combined powers, all of us at Draft2Digital and Smashwords see myriad opportunities to build even more and even better tools and services, to help you build and grow your author career in ways you might never have imagined.

Among other things, the acquisition means:

  • Draft2Digital now serves 250,000+ authors
  • We now distribute 880,000+ ebooks and 11,000+ print books
  • D2D authors will also gain access to exclusive book marketing tools from Smashwords, including Smashwords Coupons, the patent pending Smashwords Presales tool, Author Interviews, and self-serve merchandising in the Smashwords Store

D2D authors and publishers can expect to gain access to:

  • The Smashwords Store
  • Smashwords Coupons
  • Smashwords Presales
  • Self-serve merchandising
  • Author Interviews
  • D2D erotica authors will also gain access to the Smashwords erotica certification system

Smashwords authors and publishers can expect to gain access to:

  • Simpler publishing tools; tools for automated end-matter
  • Books2Read Universal Book Links (UBLs), Author Pages, Book Tabs, and Reading Lists
  • D2D Print for POD paperbacks (Visit to be included in the beta)
  • D2D Payment Splitting for co-authors and collaborations
  • New payment options, including direct bank deposits
  • With the integration of the Smashwords storefront—combined with our Books2Read Universal Book Links (UBLs), Author Pages, Book Tabs, and Reading Lists, as well as D2D Promotions—the opportunities to help our authors market and promote their books, and to find more new readers worldwide, just went off the scale.

And of course, we’re still dedicated to our core services—providing the easiest and best way for authors to automatically format and distribute their work to an ever-growing catalog of retailers and libraries.

Link to the rest at Draft2Digital and thanks to H. for the tip.

PG has been a fan of D2D ever since he had some interactions with the founders when the company was just getting started.

Since then, D2D has seemed, from PG’s outside-looking-in perspective, to be a quality organization that treats indy authors well. He wishes them the best of luck in the integration of two of the early pioneers in author-empowered publishing.

Things I Wish I Knew Before I Published: Part II

From Writers in the Storm:

I love being an independent author-publisher. Being in control of my business gives me a great deal of satisfaction. It also gives me a lot of responsibilities and a heck of a lot of things to know. In part one of this series, I discussed some of the big picture things I wish I knew before I published. Part II continues with big picture things.

Know Your Motivation

You are a writer. You already know how much self-discipline it takes to write a book from first idea to polished product. Applying the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair may not be a problem for you when you’re writing. That kind of motivation is a big picture motivation. But what about the other stuff that a successful author must do?

Motivation for the Traditionally Published

A traditional publishing company will create deadlines relayed to you by your editor. Revisions are due on this date, approval of copywriting is due on a different date. Motivation to complete those tasks cannot be the money or the hope of publishing fame. It takes a distinct set of self-discipline skills to finish creative tasks in a certain time frame. Your publisher may dictate other things as well. Your contract may dictate where and when you make appearances. It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel like it. It’s part of your contract. 

These situations and time-frames do not have to be negative. Many authors have very pleasant and lucrative relationships with traditional publishing. Educate yourself on what to expect. Ask authors published by that company what their experience has been like. Know what your contract obligations are. Understand yourself, your self-discipline, and your expectations. Be prepared and you won’t lack motivation.

Motivation for the Independent Author-Publisher

When you’re self-employed, no one will yell at you if you’re late to work or even skip a day. You have no boss to remind you of your deadlines. You must be self-motivated enough to glue your butt to the chair to get the work done. 

Winging it isn’t the path to success. Have a plan. Have tools ready to help you stay on track. You also will need tools to get back on track when you’re depressed or after a hurtful review or an illness. When you are self-employed, you have to be worker bee, cheerleader, and taskmaster, sometimes all at once.

What I Wish I Knew About Motivation

I do not lack motivation to write. I love the entire process, from idea creation to rough draft to editing and polishing. What I wish I knew from the beginning was that I needed a system to ensure all the other tasks get done. I also wish I’d found the motivation to learn self-promotion techniques earlier.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm