To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish: That is the Question

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

Loads of people dream of becoming celebrated authors, seeing their books prominently displayed in bookstores and airports across the globe. It’s the fantasy equivalent of moving to Hollywood and becoming the next Julia Roberts, Scarlett Johansen, or Jennifer Lawrence; something that only happens for one person out of every hundred thousand hopefuls.

After writing my first book, I queried a slew of fancy New York City agents—only the best for me and my future literary stardom.

After receiving enough rejection letters to wallpaper my powder room (distastefully), I hooked someone. My agent submitted my romcom masterpiece to ten major publishers and one of them bit. Sadly, before my editor signed on the dotted line, she switched genres and moved onto something less mainstream like eastern religion or astrophysics—either way, it was as far away from chick-lit as you could get. After months of excitement, my dream was dashed. 

Despondent, I put my publishing pursuits on hold to try to get on with the business of starting a family. Four miscarriages and two babies later, I was ready to get back at it when my husband was diagnosed with stage-four tonsil cancer. Once we got him stabilized, I had a new drive to see my work in print. Life was short and I resolved to achieve my goal sooner rather than later. For me that meant self-publishing. 

I didn’t make much money on my first book. As a result, I once again longed to find a traditional publisher who would take over the copious non-writing related aspects of authordom. But in the meantime, I started to network with other writers. 

One such author reached out to me to gently suggest that my cover looked homemade and that if I wanted to be taken seriously, I should give my future audience a better image to first judge me by. We wound up forming something of a friendship and chatted on the phone a few different times.

This author, let’s call her Lizzie, told me that I needed to decide why I wanted to write and then make my decisions about traditional publishing accordingly. “What do you mean?” I wanted to know. “I want to write because I’m driven to tell stories.”

“But are you writing because you want to validate yourself by seeing your work in bookstores or because you want to make money?”

“Both,” I assured her. 

“That’s a tough one,” she’d told me. It turns out most traditionally published authors, without a history of already successful books, were lucky to get a five-thousand-dollar advance. It’s suggested that money be used to promote their book, and not spent on a fabulous Parisian vacation or new countertops. 

“Doesn’t the publisher pay to promote your book?” I was good and confused. My vision was for Random House (or some other big five publisher) to love my work, give me a six-figure advance and then immediately offer me another deal on a book that wasn’t even written yet. Apparently, that was not going to happen.

Lizzie said, “I’m in it for the contract. I don’t need the money, so it’s straight vanity for me.” She’d already self-published two books and spent thousands of dollars more than she’d made just to get them out into the world.

. . . .

I have a friend who is a New York Times bestselling author and her agent won’t allow her to blurb my books for me. There are book bloggers who soundly refuse to consider reviewing or promoting self-published books. It’s often an us vs. them situation that can leave you questioning your abilities.

Lizzie asked if I’d ever consider a traditional contract now that I’ve figured out what I’m doing. The answer is heck yeah! That’s always been the dream. The difference is that I know a lot about promoting books now, I have a good-sized fan base, and I’ve created a decent online presence. But I’m not signing on the dotted line for any five thousand dollars. 

Am I sitting on my hands waiting for such an offer? Nope. I’ve got my eye on several indie authors who are easily clearing seven figures a year, and I’m going to spend my time figuring out how. Onward and upward!

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

PG gently suggests that boarding the Titanic that is traditional publishing in 2020 is a poor business idea. The author that does so will be signing a poor contract that will last forever and likely be swapped around through multiple bankruptcy proceedings and/or mergers/acquisitions.

At some point in time, publishing contracts will be traded like distressed goods and Russian bonds and more than one “publisher” will send out all its royalty reports without any accompanying checks. Why spend money on bookkeepers when it’s cheaper not to worry about royalty payments at all?


Fake a Vacation

PG wonders if this could work as an alibi.

From Fake a Vacation:

Fake A Vacation with pictures. Make your friends envious of where you are and have them thinking of being where you are.

. . . .

Send us your images and we create your complete vacation package covering most famous attractions for the selected destination. Get the images professionally done from our team proficient in this domain. We ensure pictures look realistic.

. . . .

Link to the rest at Fake a Vacation

Appropriation or plagiarism? Booker novel poses difficult question

From The Guardian:

Writing in the Observer in 1980, Martin Amis took to task a young New York-based writer, Jacob Epstein, for plagiarising him. In Wild Oats, Epstein had taken not just plot structures or character ideas from Amis’s debut, The Rachel Papers, but had duplicated whole sentences. “The boundary between influence and plagiarism will always be vague,” Amis wrote – but Epstein had “decisively breached” that “hazy” line. Rather magnanimously, Amis went on to praise Epstein as a writer of talent; he simply believed that the similarities ought to be made public.

That boundary remains hazy. Among the 13 novels longlisted for this year’s International Booker prize, announced last week, is Red Dog by Willem Anker, translated from Afrikaans by Michiel W Heyns. It tells the story of Coenraad de Buys, a seven-foot agent of war who lived and died in the violent, fractured Cape Colony. When I reviewed the novel, unfavourably, in the Times Literary Supplement, my objections lay not just in what I found to be a derivative, repetitious and at times deeply unpleasant book, but in a few sections that bore a striking resemblance to those in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, which raised – as I wrote then – “some discussion about the nature and justification of plagiarism”.

Take the following passage, in which Buys leads his gang of outlaws into an attack “like a horde from Hell more abhorrent even than the fire and brimstone land of Christian Reckoning, skirling and shrieking, clothed in smoke like those phantoms in regions beyond certainty and sense where the eye wanders and the lip shudders and drools.”

Here: McCarthy, on a similar approach from a Comanche ambush: “Like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of Christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools.”

To discuss the concept of plagiarism in art is to grasp for something very slippery. Most crucially, it should be noted that a wide range of intertextual manoeuvres are fundamental to creativity. Mark Twain famously wrote to Helen Keller – who stood accused of plagiarising a short story – that “substantially all ideas are secondhand”. Curiously, the application of these tactics to prose literature is frequently deemed worse than when applied to poetry, music or the visual arts. Literary genius is oddly considered sui generis. In answer, we can take Jonathan Lethem’s marvellous essay The Ecstasy of Influence, which deconstructs ideas about originality by forging an argument made almost entirely from fragments, taking to the very limit a line from Montaigne’s essays: “I have gathered a posy of other men’s flowers, and nothing but the thread that binds them is mine own.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

What did it matter

What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now. Far more a part of it than Rusty Regan was. But the old man didn’t have to be. He could lie quiet in his canopied bed, with his bloodless hands folded on the sheet, waiting. His heart was a brief, uncertain murmur. His thoughts were as gray as ashes. And in a little while he too, like Rusty Regan, would be sleeping the big sleep.

Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

The Haunted California Idyll of German Writers in Exile

From The New Yorker:

You can visit all the addresses in the course of a long day. Bertolt Brecht lived in a two-story clapboard house on Twenty-sixth Street, in Santa Monica. The novelist Heinrich Mann resided a few blocks away, on Montana Avenue. The screenwriter Salka Viertel held gatherings on Mabery Road, near the Santa Monica beach. Alfred Döblin, the author of “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” had a place on Citrus Avenue, in Hollywood. His colleague Lion Feuchtwanger occupied the Villa Aurora, a Spanish-style mansion overlooking the Pacific; among its amusements was a Hitler dartboard. Vicki Baum, whose novel “Grand Hotel” brought her a screenwriting career, had a house on Amalfi Drive, near the leftist composer Hanns Eisler. Alma Mahler-Werfel, the widow of Gustav Mahler, lived with her third husband, the best-selling Austrian writer Franz Werfel, on North Bedford Drive, next door to the conductor Bruno Walter. Elisabeth Hauptmann, the co-author of “The Threepenny Opera,” lived in Mandeville Canyon, at the actor Peter Lorre’s ranch. The philosopher Theodor W. Adorno rented a duplex apartment on Kenter Avenue, meeting with Max

Horkheimer, who lived nearby, to write the post-Marxist jeremiad “Dialectic of Enlightenment.” At a suitably lofty remove, on San Remo Drive, was Thomas Mann, Heinrich’s brother, the august author of “The Magic Mountain.”

In the nineteen-forties, the West Side of Los Angeles effectively became the capital of German literature in exile. It was as if the cafés of Berlin, Munich, and Vienna had disgorged their clientele onto Sunset Boulevard. The writers were at the core of a European émigré community that also included the film directors Fritz Lang, Max Ophuls, Otto Preminger, Jean Renoir, Robert Siodmak, Douglas Sirk, Billy Wilder, and William Wyler; the theatre directors Max Reinhardt and Leopold Jessner; the actors Marlene Dietrich and Hedy Lamarr; the architects Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra; and the composers Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Seldom in human history has one city hosted such a staggering convocation of talent.

The standard myth of this great emigration pits the elevated mentality of Central Europe against the supposed “wasteland” or “cultural desert” of Southern California. Indeed, a number of exiles fell to scowling under the palms. Brecht wrote, “The town of Hollywood has taught me this / Paradise and hell / can be one city.” The composer Eric Zeisl called California a “sunny blue grave.” Adorno could have had Muscle Beach in mind when he identified a social condition called the Health unto Death: “The very people who burst with proofs of exuberant vitality could easily be taken for prepared corpses, from whom the news of their not-quite-successful decease has been withheld for reasons of population policy.”

Anecdotes of dyspeptic aloofness belie the richness and the complexity of the émigrés’ cultural role. As Ehrhard Bahr argues in his 2007 book, “Weimar on the Pacific,” many exiles were able to form bonds with progressive elements in mid-century L.A. Even before the refugees from Nazi Germany arrived, Schindler and Neutra had launched a wave of modernist residential architecture. When Schoenberg taught at U.S.C. and U.C.L.A., he guided such native-born radical spirits as John Cage and Lou Harrison. Surprising alliances sprang up among the newcomers and adventurous members of the Hollywood set. Charlie Chaplin and George Gershwin played tennis with Schoenberg. Charles Laughton took the lead in a 1947 production of Brecht’s “Galileo.”

. . . .

At first, many of the exiles fled to France. Few of them believed that Hitler’s reign would last long, and a trip across the ocean seemed excessive. Feuchtwanger and others settled in Sanary-sur-Mer, on the Riviera, where the Mediterranean climate offered a dry run for the Southern California experience. The onset of the Second World War, in 1939, instantly destroyed this temporary paradise. The fact that the émigrés were victims of repression did not save them from being thrown into French internment camps. Feuchtwanger captured the surreal misery of the experience in his nonfiction narrative “The Devil in France,” which has been reissued under the aegis of the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library, at U.S.C. The devil in question was the same shrugging heartlessness that later enabled the deportation of nearly seventy-five thousand French Jews to Nazi death camps.

When, in 1940, Germany invaded France, Feuchtwanger was in dire danger of being captured by the Gestapo. His wife, Marta, helped arrange an elaborate escape, which required him to don a woman’s coat and shawl. That September, a motley group that included Franz Werfel, Alma Mahler, Heinrich Mann and his wife, Nelly, and Thomas Mann’s son Golo hiked across the Pyrenees, from France into Spain. Mahler carried a large bag containing several of her first husband’s manuscripts and the original score of Anton Bruckner’s Third Symphony.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

No publisher

No publisher should ever express an opinion on the value of what he publishes. That is a matter entirely for the literary critic to decide. I can quite understand how any ordinary critic would be strongly prejudiced against a work that was accompanied by a premature and unnecessary panegyric from the publisher. A publisher is simply a useful middle-man. It is not for him to anticipate the verdict of criticism.

~ Oscar Wilde

Publisher’s Employee Walk Out to Protest Woody Allen Autobiography

From The New York Times:

Dozens of Hachette Book Group employees left work Thursday afternoon, protesting the company’s decision, which it announced earlier in the week, to publish an autobiography by Woody Allen.

The publisher said on Monday that Mr. Allen’s book, titled “Apropos of Nothing,” would come out under its Grand Central imprint on April 7. It described the book as “a comprehensive account of his life, both personal and professional,” that would cover “his relationship with family, friends and the loves of his life.”

But the announcement drew criticism because of the allegations that Mr. Allen molested his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow. He has denied the accusations and wasn’t charged after two investigations decades ago.

. . . .

An employee at Hachette who participated in the walkout estimated that more than 100 protesters eventually gathered in Rockefeller Plaza, outside the publisher’s New York offices. The employee said that while the protesters were outside, others at Hachette met with Michael Pietsch, the company’s chief executive, to make three demands of him: to cancel the publication of Mr. Allen’s book; to publicly apologize; and to recognize that Hachette employees have the ability to speak up about books they disagree with without fear of reprisal.

. . . .

One of the most vocal critics of the book deal was Mr. Allen’s son and Ms. Farrow’s brother Ronan Farrow, whose best-selling book “Catch and Kill” was published last year by Little, Brown, a Hachette imprint. On Wednesday, he slammed Hachette’s decision to publish Mr. Allen’s book and said he would no longer work with the publisher.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Exploring the Factors Leading to the Decline of the Writing Profession

From The Authors Guild:

The Authors Guild, the nation’s largest and oldest nonprofit professional association for published writers and journalists, today issued a report, “The Profession of Author in the 21st Century,” detailing the underlying social, economic and technological factors contributing to the ongoing decline of author incomes.

“For much of literary history, only the most privileged—those with wealth and leisure and education—could hope to publish. The 20th century created laws and practices, however, that allowed many [American] writers to earn a living, and as a result, an explosion of important books were published—by women, by authors of color, and others once shut out of authorship by financial need,” states Christine Larson, Ph.D., author of the report and an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Colorado, who studies the impact of technology on media workers and culture industries. “But the days of authors supporting themselves from writing may be coming to an end. The changing economy of publishing today means that reliable income and time—the metaphorical room for writing—are increasingly out of reach for many authors.”

. . . .

Below are four meaningful takeaways from the commissioned report:

  • It’s harder to make a living as an author now than in the past. Indeed, writing incomes have dropped by 24% since 2013. Three major factors account for this trend:
    • Fewer Americans read books than ever before, as consumers increasingly turn to screens for news and entertainment—just 53% of Americans say they read books for pleasure down from 57% in 2002 according to the NEA.
    • Amazon’s introduction of the Kindle, along with online physical book buying, precipitated a devaluing of books overall, while its current pricing practices eat into authors’ advances and royalties.
    • The mass shuttering of more than 2,000 U.S. newspapers, as well as the loss of print and online magazines and news sites, has resulted in fewer opportunities for authors and journalists to supplement their book earnings with short stories, essays, book reviews and other literary or critical content.
  • Half of full-time authors earn less than the federal poverty level of $12,488. Literary authors are the hardest hit, experiencing a 46% drop in their book-related income in just five years. Other relevant data:
    • 80% of all authors earn less than what most people would consider a living wage. Authorhood is not a conventional, salary-paying career. Most authors patch together other forms of income, from teaching to full-time day jobs in a wide variety of fields. The profession of author signifies the broader challenges of the “gig economy,” where more and more people juggle multiple part-time jobs and contract work and receive no employee benefits.
    • Authors of color earn half the median income of white authors (and the gap seems to have grown in the past five years).Taken together with the fact that 85% of editors are white, this finding has troubling implications for equality of voice in book publishing.
  • Authors are expected to do what publishers once did—market their own books. Authors spend a full day per week promoting their books, which takes them away from writing and results in longer stretches between new books being published and lean years for many writers.
  • Self-publishing income is growing rapidly, but still remains very small compared to traditional publishing. While the median income of self-published authors increased by 85% over the past four years, led largely by the success of e-romance novels, self-published authors still earn 80% less than traditionally published authors. Part of the problem is that supply far outstrips demand; Bowker reports more than 1.68 million self-published book titles in 2018, up 40% from the year before.

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

PG isn’t certain where TAG obtains its income information for indie authors, but PG knows far more than one author who was formerly traditionally-published who has switched to self-publishing because she/he could earn far more money from self-publishing.

Additionally, just like in traditional publishing, there are tiers of sales/income earned by books and authors in indie publishing. In traditional publishing, the authors in the top tier earn far more than those farther down the hierarchy, the same sort of distribution is present in self-publishing (as well as in a great many other human endeavors). The top 1% make a great deal of money, the top 10% make very nice money, the next 20% do pretty well and the bottom 70% don’t do quite as well.

. . . .

Source: United States Census Bureau

Organize Your Research with Notes at One Stop for Writers

From Writers Helping Writers:

Before I started using One Stop for Writers, I purchased The Emotion Thesaurus on Amazon, then The Positive Trait Thesaurus, and so on. After starting to use One Stop for Writers I fell in love with having all the thesauruses available to use online, but I ran into a problem: often, more than one entry applied to what I was working on, and in a given entry, only a few lines might apply. I ended up with multiple books lying open and half a dozen browser tabs open as I frantically flipped back and forth between all of them looking for the crucial details I knew were there. Little did I know that One Stop for Writers has a solution for this. It’s called Notes.

The Notes Feature at One Stop for Writers

When I first saw this feature, I thought it was just a place for me to add my thoughts to an existing entry. And this is possible; if you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for in a thesaurus entry, just scroll to the bottom and create a note for that entry that can be kept in your workspace. I also knew that I could highlight the details that I wanted to use from an entry and save it to a note (so I wouldn’t have to go back through the whole entry later to find it). 

What I didn’t know was that I could use a note to collect information from multiple thesaurus entries and save it to a specific project. This changed everything. Here’s how it works:

Collecting Info from Various Sources into One Note

Let’s say you’re doing some setting research. My current book contains a scene set in Highgate Cemetery in London, so let’s start there. First, head to the Setting Thesaurus and locate the graveyard entry. 

When you find multisensory details that might work, highlight the line(s). A pop-up appears that says “Send to Notes.” 

. . . .

You’ll be prompted to create a new note for the highlighted details or add it to an existing note in your workspace. Then you can choose to save the note loosely in your workspace or add it to a project. The latter is a great way to keep all your research and materials for a story in one spot.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

As a sheltered recluse mired in the legal profession, PG had not heard of One Stop for Writers.

Is there any experience with this tool among the visitors to TPV?

The UK’s 2020 World Book Day: ‘Reading in Sharp Decline’

From Publishing Perspectives:

[T]he program this year is citing serious findings by the National Literary Trust.

Quoting from a summary of the new study’s findings:

“Research from the National Literacy Trust, published today, shows levels of daily reading among children and young people in sharp decline: just 25.8 percent of children said they read daily in their free time in 2019, the lowest level the National Literacy Trust recorded since it surveyed children in 2005.

“Levels of enjoyment are also down. More than half (53 percent) of children and young people said they enjoyed reading either ‘very much’ or ‘quite a lot’—the lowest level evidenced by the National Literacy Trust since 2013.

“The report, published on the National Literacy Trust website today, is entitled National Literacy Trust (2020) Children and Young People’s Reading in 2019. Findings from the National Literacy Trust’s ninth Annual Literacy Survey of 56,906 children and young people aged 9 to 18 in the UK in 2019.

“Frequency and enjoyment are two of the three key elements that make good readers, as defined by the National Literacy Trust’s Read on. Get On. (ROGO) Index, the third being cognitive reading skills.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The Other American Dirt Issue: Is Fear of Appropriation Fomenting a Culture of Censorship?

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

I was recently in the NPR studios in New York to participate in the show, 1A’s, panel discussion on the enduring American Dirt kerfuffle, specifically, “What The Controversy Over ‘American Dirt’ Tells Us About Publishing And Authorship.”

Seated in the studio with me was Vox culture writer, Constance Grady, and from two remote locations we were joined by Mexican-American translator, poet and author, David Bowles, and K. Tempest Bradford, a writer and the instructor of “Writing The Other” workshops.

All three had distinct and individual takes on the controversy over American Dirt, and the conversation, led by host Todd Zwillich, focused on two main issues: the publishing industry’s lack of diversity in both opportunity and representation of Latin voices (diverse voices in general), and the pushback against authors taking on stories and characters outside their own cultures.

. . . .

Why was I there? 

As the author of The Alchemy of Noise [She Writes Press, 2019], a novel centered on an interracial relationship struggling under the weight of culture clashes, familial acrimony, and the devastation of a violent arrest, my publishing experience had some relevance to the issues at hand: I was a white author diving into and exploring the lives of several and varied characters outside my own culture.

The bulk of the 1A conversation focused on three things: the lack of representation of Latinx writers in the publishing world, the hyperbolic support of a white author telling a Mexican story while Mexican writers are disproportionately excluded from those rarefied opportunities, and the opinion of many Latinx writers that “she got it wrong,” with stereotypical characters, inaccurate depictions of both country and culture, in a story written “for the white gaze,” as one Latinx author put it. 

Those angles, widely covered and outside my purview, still rumble today. David Bowles recently put a call out on Twitter: “If you’re Mexican, Mexican American, or otherwise intimately familiar with Mexico, I’m hoping you’ll ‘sign up’ below to look closely and critically at a single chapter,” rejecting the notion “that we’re blowing up a couple of inaccuracies to condemn the whole book.” 

I, however, was brought in to talk about the second issue of the debate: is the demand for #OwnVoices equity and the fear of “appropriation” fostering censorship and a growing concern amongst authors that they cannot venture anywhere outside their own cultures? To me, that’s as important an issue as the first, with the potential to have long-ranging impact on the artistic freedom of all writers.

. . . .

The questions asked of me specifically had mostly to do with my experience as a white author pushing a novel with diverse characters, an experience, I made clear, that was wildly divergent from that of Jeanine CumminsAmerican Dirt’s author. Not only was there no bidding war, no seven-figure advance; no intense publicity campaign, A-list endorsements, or Oprah pick, but even with two well-received and previously published (albeit, self—) novels, even with a story considered topical and relevant, even with accolades from a wide range of industry-connected readers, I could not—to use a phrase relevant to my story—get arrested. In a nutshell, I was repeatedly told, not by one but many agents from topline literary agencies, that I would be unable to get my book published: 

  1. “Your whiteness is kind of a problem,” one agent wrote: “This is a well written and serious novel that could not be more current but there may be an issue of whose voice gets to represent race.”
  2. Another admitted she “didn’t have the courage” to take on a book that “might stir controversy.”
  3. A third stated that her rejection was “because of all the concerns about ‘cultural appropriation’ these days. These are brutal times in fiction,” she wrote, “and I’m not comfortable representing a book, no matter how good or worthy, in which that issue is present.”
  4. A fourth (a white male) felt the black male protagonist “didn’t sound black enough.” I’ll just leave that one there…

But the overriding message was clear: I was a white author; I could not include black characters in prominent roles in my book and expect to be published. At a writer’s conference I attended in 2018, I heard that same admonition repeated to countless white authors with diverse characters and storylines. Not only did I find this appalling, but it was daunting to me on a personal level, having spent years writing, researching, interviewing, and fine-tuning a book that was vetted by a wide swath of writers, activists, readers, and opinion leaders from both the black and white communities, and deemed “right.”  

. . . .

But the question asked—whose voice gets to tell stories of race?—was left unanswered, and I wanted to answer it: 

Everyone’s voice.

From our individual, unique, and creative points of view, we each have a stake in chronicling the world in which we live or or the ones we imagine. Our cultures, our diverse experiences, the spectrum of characters we create cannot be monotone, homogenized, or “one cultured.” Our world isn’t; why should our stories be? 

My journey also differed from Cummins’ in the genesis of my story; Alchemy’s fictional narrative was extrapolated from personal experience. Years earlier I’d been in a long-term relationship with a man of color, intimately involved with the people in his life and the caustic experiences he endured. I possessed “learned-perspective,” a unique angle from which to dig into pervasive issues of race, and, given our culture’s continuing battles with white privilege, police profiling, and social injustice, the story remained painfully relevant. So I created characters to whom I gave many of the obstacles we had faced, and told the story as authentically, honestly, and sensitively as I could.

. . . .

Several of those who weighed in on American Dirt stated categorically that white authors—or any authors, for that matter—should be unlimited in who and what they can write about, but if they do venture into cultures outside their own, they’ve got to get it right: Do the work, check the work, vet the work; honor the nuances and sensibilities they’re writing about. This stance has been stated by many of the Latinx writers who took umbrage with Cummins (who, they felt, didn’t get it right), as well as countless black authors who’ve also addressed the tilt toward censorship in the drive for greater inclusivity and the right to tell their own stories. 

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

PG wonders who gets to be the expert about a specific fictional character who is designed to be unique and original?

The critiques come from those who claim the character of a different ethnic background from the author is not realistic. Setting aside the fact that the character doesn’t exist, she/he is fictional, aren’t all the authenticity critics projecting their own opinions and experiences and criticizing the book and author if the fictional character is different from them.

Does every Latino who crosses the border in the United States illegally have the same experiences? And does each of these individuals respond the same way to their life experiences? Is each one shaped and formed into an identical illegal Latino?

Is anyone permitted to be an individual, a combination of their background, culture, genetics, childhood, unique experiences and responses to those experiences? Is any fictional character permitted to be created out of their fictional background?

Authors have been appropriating from others who are much different than they are for a very, very, very long time. PG suggests it is impossible to identify the first author to have done this sort of thing.

Endless examples come to mind – Charles Dickens writing about Miss Havisham, Mark Twain writing about Huckleberry Finn, Pearl Buck writing about Chinese peasants, Margaret Mitchell writing about slaves and slaveowners in the Civil War era, Victor Hugo writing about the impoverished thieves of Paris.

PG also is not persuaded that there are a limited number of books and stories and that they are spread throughout humanity such that if an Anglo author writes about a black woman, somehow a black author somewhere won’t be able to write about a black woman because that story has already been written and no one wants to read more than one story about a black woman.

PG posits that political correctness in general is a weapon devised to silence those who some groups of people don’t like. PG doesn’t know when or where it began, but it certainly was a technique used by the Bolsheviks and the Nazis, among others.

It’s not just a matter of preventing a privileged Anglo author from writing about a fictional Asian individual, it’s about preventing an Anglo author from writing or speaking about a whole range of issues in order to avoid any sort of criticism. It has little to do with artistic or literary merit and everything to do with exerting control and dominating others.

Florida Lawyers Are TIKD with Traffic Ticket App

From Governing:

Who wouldn’t like the easy convenience of a smartphone app to deal with a traffic ticket?

Traffic ticket lawyers, that’s who.

They call the app unfair competition, saying the business of contesting traffic citations must be handled by licensed pros. But consumer advocates say the ticket firms are just mad the app threatens to take a cut of their profits.

. . . .

All the fuss started after a Coral Gables firm called TIKD started an app and website three years ago.

Motorists in Miami-Dade, Broward and other counties were invited to “spend two minutes or less” taking a photo of the ticket, uploading it, and paying a fee based on the fine amount.

“Get on with other things while TIKD hires a qualified attorney on your behalf to challenge your ticket,” the website explained.

It wasn’t long before traffic-ticket goliath The Ticket Clinic filed an “unlicensed practice of law” complaint with The Florida Bar, charging that TIKD’s founder isn’t a lawyer.

The Bar investigated and agreed TIKD needed to be stopped.

It petitioned the state’s highest court in early 2018, arguing the app advertised its traffic ticket defense as the “equivalent of or a substitute for the services of an attorney.”

Lawyers representing TIKD fired back that its leader, Christopher Riley, “is not, and has never claimed to be, an attorney.”

. . . .

“Deploying innovative technology, TIKD provides a consumer-oriented solution to a common problem: resolving traffic tickets,” wrote Christopher M. Kise, a lawyer for the company and Riley.

Earlier this year, TIKD scored a victory when Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Teresa Mary Pooler issued a report rejecting the Florida Bar’s arguments.

“TIKD furthers the consuming public’s interest by providing a speedy, efficient and relatively painless way to deal with traffic tickets,” Pooler wrote, recommending that the Supreme Court dismiss the claims against TIKD.

The judge explained the app clearly doesn’t tout itself as a provider of legal services.

Pooler called the app convenient, because, “Just looking for an attorney can be confusing and overwhelming. The internet is full of traffic ticket lawyers and some traffic ticket lawyers even send out letters to drivers who have tickets offering representation.”

. . . .

In support of the Florida Bar, The Ticket Clinic joined other traffic ticket attorneys from around the state in sounding an alarm over the app.

They say that allowing TIKD would lead to disaster in the practice of law.

“Anyone will be able to hang up a shingle and sell legal services, even though he or she is not a member of The Florida Bar,” two lawyers wrote on behalf of the ticket attorneys. “In this new world, it will be permissible for legal services to be sold not just by non-lawyers, but also by … disbarred lawyers … individuals with criminal records, and anyone else who desires to do so.”

But TIKD has its backers, too. Two consumer-protection groups joined in a brief filed July 29.

One is Consumers for a Responsive Legal System, a national nonprofit that says it works to “make the civil legal system more affordable, accessible, and accountable to the people.” The other is Center for Public Interest Law, based at the University of San Diego School of Law.

They believe the Florida Bar’s fight against the app comes down to money. The petition to stop TIKD “reflects the legal profession’s fear that this technological revolution will usurp attorneys’ market share and dominance of the legal-services market,” wrote Raoul G. Cantero, a Miami attorney, representing the interest groups.

The consumer groups say the app’s new business model should be embraced by the legal community

Link to the rest at Governing

PG sides with the app developer on this one.

Law firms like The Ticket Clinic, mentioned in the OP, typically hire lots of non-lawyers filling in blanks on computer-based document assembly programs to fill in forms and grind out the usual traffic ticket defense documents, probably in a manner very similar to the way TIKD goes about its business..

The 16 Best Writing Apps to Boost Your Writing in 2020

From the Reedsy Blog:

Whether you’re writing an email, a blog post, or a full-on novel, you’ll likely find the task impossible without the right tools. Which raises the question: what are the best writing apps to help you with everything from basic composition to firing-on-all-cylinders productivity?

This blog post sets out to answer that question. 

. . . .

Writing apps for creative writing

While Google Docs and Microsoft Word are more-or-less fine, a dedicated writer like yourself deserves something more substantial. Here are seven writing apps designed specifically for creative writing, with various organizational tools to take your work to the next level.

1. Reedsy Book Editor

Price: Free
Runs on: Web
Best for: Authors seeking a web-based, budget-friendly writing and formatting solution

The Reedsy Book Editor is a first-rate choice for the modern author on a budget, offering a sleek interface and easily navigable formatting options. You can drag and drop chapters, insert images, and even track changes and look at past versions of your work — a function that even many paid creative writing apps don’t possess.

You won’t find story templates here, but we think the formatting options more than make up for it. The RBE enables you to create intricate front and back matter for your book and export it as a clean, professional file that can be uploaded to any ebook retailer immediately. If you’re looking for an all-in-one writing and formatting tool to help you publish your book ASAP, look no further than the Reedsy Book Editor. You can check out the RBE for free right here.

. . . .

3. Ulysses

Price: $4.99/month or $39.99/year subscription
Runs on: Mac and iOS devices
Best for: Writers who want to productivity-hack their formatting

At first glance, Ulysses looks a lot like Scrivener, but closer inspection reveals that they cater to different experience levels and interests. While Scrivener is known for its steep learning curve, Ulysses offers several tutorials alongside its features. This is especially useful because Ulysses uses “Markdown” rather than manual formatting — for instance, in Ulysses, you’d type # to create a header, or > to create a blockquote.

While it may seem inconsequential now, writers who familiarize themselves with Markdown will likely find that it helps them keep their “flow” during a writing session, and it also makes editing much easier. Other than this, Ulysses is a fairly standard writing app; it’s not as outline-friendly as Scrivener, but you’ll have no trouble staying organized with keyword labels, split view capability, progress tracking, and all your projects lined up neatly in the sidebar.

. . . .

5. yWriter

Price: Free
Runs on: Windows
Best for: Authors who like to break their stories into bite-sized pieces

Pivoting to the non-Apple side of things, we have yWriter, an app designed for Windows in a similar vein to Scrivener. yWriter boasts a well-organized interface that divides your story into scenes rather than chapters, which is less stressful for easily intimidated writers. This app is also great for tracking your progress, with features like a storyboard to review your narrative arc, and reports you can generate about your daily word count, the state of your draft, etc.

But perhaps the best thing about yWriter is that it’s a free writing app — astounding in light of all it provides. The only “missing” feature is story templates, which experienced writers can disregard anyway. However, we’d caution users not to disregard yWriter’s intended platform, as the Mac trial is pretty glitchy and unreliable.

. . . .

Writing apps for editing

All writing is rewriting, as they say. If you’re ready to take on the “rewriting” stage of your project — or if you prefer to edit as you write, either because you’re a perfectionist or you just want to save yourself the work later — these five apps will let you revise to your heart’s content.

8. Grammarly

Price: Free
Runs on: Web, including browser extension
Best for: Writers who want to carefully check short pieces, such as articles and emails

Grammarly is the writing world’s go-to spelling and grammar checker outside of standard word processors. Like any good editor, it underlines the errors and weak phrases in your writing — but Grammarly also goes above and beyond by providing a label and detailed reason for each correction, so you’ll actually learn from your mistakes

On top of these notes, Grammarly has a number of nuanced features to ensure your writing accomplishes exactly what you want it to do. You can “set goals” in terms of your audience, formality level, and tone (happy, confident, urgent, etc.) and analyze your text for factors like clarity, engagement, and delivery.

All this makes for a very well-rounded writing experience. However, we will say that Grammarly, with its goal-oriented interface and meticulous suggestions, is better for short-form copywriting than long-form storytelling.

So if you write a ton of emails, Grammarly could be perfect for you! But if you write books, you might benefit more from the tools to follow.

. . . .

12. NaturalReaders

Price: Free
Runs on: Web, Mac, and Windows
Best for: Writers who need fresh eyes — or rather, ears — for editing

Reading one’s work aloud is a great way to catch awkward phrasing and typos. But what if you’re already so accustomed to your own prose that, when reading to yourself, you skim right over these issues?

That’s when you can turn to NaturalReaders, the best text-to-speech reader we’ve found this side of an actual person. To use it, simply copy/paste your writing into the text box, choose a voice and reading speed, and follow along with the magnified text at the bottom. You can pause, rewind, fast-forward, and change the other settings at any time; it’s all incredibly easy and conducive to comprehension. (Just make sure you’re actually listening, not zoning out.)

We’d recommend NaturalReaders for anyone with a short piece to proofread, as it may not be practical to feed your entire book through the app. Then again, if you’ve got the time, have at it!

. . . .

Writing apps for focus and organization

. . . .

15. Evernote

. . . .

Price: Free basic plan, $4.99/month for premium
Runs on: Mac, iOS, Windows, and Android
Best for: Multitalented writers who want a single space to collect all their thoughts

Another one of the best free writing apps out there, Evernote takes written organization to a whole new level. With dozens of templates for everything from classroom note-taking to personal planning to structuring a novel, Evernote makes admin not only easy, but fun!

Besides abundant organizational templates — again, all for free with the basic plan — Evernote also lets you tag everything in specific categories, share your notes with collaborators, and even chat with them in-app. One of its coolest features is the Web Clipper, which you can use to save any excerpt of web content that appeals to you. More than anything, Evernote is a work-saving app designed to be adaptable and accessible for all kinds of writers and their projects.

16. Reedsy Prompts

Price: Free
Runs on: Web
Best for: Writers who just need a spark of an idea to get started

Okay, this one’s not exactly an app, at least not yet. But after comparing Reedsy Prompts to similar writing inspiration apps like Writing Challenge and The Brainstormer, we can honestly say it has much more to offer. For one thing, you’ll get five new prompts every single week — and not just on the Reedsy Prompts page, but sent straight to your email inbox. And if you write a short story based on one of those prompts, you could win $50 in our weekly contest!

That said, if you’re not inspired by the prompts of a particular week, you can explore the infinite possibilities of the 700+ prompts that already live on the Reedsy Prompts page. Though you’ll only be able to enter the competition with one of the five featured prompts for that week, we’re always excited to see what our users create… so if you write a story based on any of the available prompts, make sure to let us know.

At the end of the day, that’s what writing is all about: creating something wonderful and unique to share with others, whether it’s an informative article, a personal essay, or a 300-page book. Whatever your writing project, we hope these apps can be of use to you — and indeed, of service to everyone who gets to enjoy your work.

Link to the rest at the Reedsy Blog

Although PG doesn’t generally use Evernote as a tool in his legal writing, he is a giant Evernote fan and uses it to simply keep track of the zillions of interesting things he encounters that he wants to remember, as in, “What was that macro keyboard app you saw sometime before yesterday that does things that AutoHotkey can’t handle?”

(For those who haven’t the slightest idea what AutoHotkey is, it’s an ancient (started in 2003) open-source scripting language that can do just about anything that takes several keystrokes with many fewer keystrokes.)

As a simple example, at the end of any excerpted item he posts on TPV you will find “Link to the rest at the (”. When PG types ltr and then the Space bar, Autohotkey types “Link to the rest at ” and waits for PG to insert the name and URL of the OP. See here and here for more info. (User Warning: It’s a geek thing, better to be privately appreciated than discussed at parties.)

PG just checked and he has over 200 AutoHotkey macro scripts that he has concocted over the years for the purpose of saving keystrokes during his daily activities. As a result, PG has typed more documents than any person under 100 years old has ever created and his fingers feel like they’re still 23 (except on cold days when they’re 49).

If there were only an AutoHotkey open-source project for his back (which, along with the rest of PG’s body, was riding a motor scooter that collided with a car during his college years) PG’s life would be sublime.

IngramSpark introduces new quality rules for self-published authors

From The New Publishing Standard:

Intent on preserving its reputation for quality, IngramSpark, the print-on-demand arm of Ingram that targets self-published authors, sent out notice today that new rules would come into play in April 27, and that some authors may find their titles removed from sale.

IngramSpark is taking a necessary stand to uphold the integrity of and reduce bias against independently published works. To align with our industry’s needs for content integrity, we will actively remove print content from our catalog that does harm to buyers and affects the reputations of our publishers and retail and library partners.

Among the offending products that were previously tolerated will be:

  • Summaries, workbooks, abbreviations, insights, or similar type content without permission from the original author.
  • Books containing blank pages exceeding ten percent, notepads, scratchpads, journals, or similar type content.
  • Books or content that mirror/mimic popular titles, including without limiting, similar covers, cover design, title, author names, or similar type content.
  • Books that are misleading or likely to cause confusion by the buyer, including without limiting, inaccurate descriptions and cover art.
  • Books listed at prices not reflective of the book’s market value.
  • Books scanned from original versions where all or parts contain illegible content to the detriment of the buyer.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

The Book of Kells redux

PG decided to show a few more pages from The Book of Kells.

The Book of Kells
First page of the Book of John
via Wikimedia Commons
The Book of Kells
The Four Evangelists
via Wikimedia Commons
The Book of Kells
The Carpet Page
via Wikimedia Commons
The Book of Kells
The Madonna and Child
via Wikimedia Commons

Renewable Books Leads Industry with Green Initiatives

From The Millions:

Random House parent company Bertelsmann recently announced the admirable goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. We here at Renewable Books applaud the initiative, though we would also like to take this opportunity to highlight our revolutionary advancements in eco-publishing.

Renewable Books prides itself on being the greenest publishing house in the world. Our books are printed domestically, we use only post-consumer waste paper, and Greta Thunberg responds affirmatively to 95 percent of our blurb requests. But that’s not all: Renewable’s devotion to the environment extends to all facets of the publishing process.

. . . .

Renewable Books publishes daring works of literary fiction, environmental noir, and composting erotica.

As we are of the opinion that the current threat posed by climate change more than justifies a principled rejection of copyright law, we actively encourage our authors and editors to recycle plots, characters, and dialogue from previously successful books.

. . . .

While we value and advocate for transgressive literature, we prohibit the following material: scenes in which a car is needlessly idling; plot twists involving GMOs; any expression of lustful feelings for an offshore driller.

. . . .

We at Renewable Books feel that typos, misspellings, and consistency issues are vital components of a sustainable literary ecosystem, and that pencil-wielding humans should in no way tamper with the written word’s thriving biodiversity. This policy has saved us from needlessly printing millions of errata slips over the past decades.

. . . .

Being part of a green literary community means doing your part. To that end:

Renewable Books encourages readers to enjoy our books on public transport or at home with all the lights turned off.

In an effort to cut down on polluting chemicals and colorants, we have developed a patented ink-conservation technology that prints every other word of the text, omissions that you shouldn’t notice if you take our suggestion to read in the dark.

Link to the rest at The Millions

A Billion-Dollar Scandal Turns the ‘King of Manuscripts’ Into the ‘Madoff of France’

From The New York Times:

A letter from Frida Kahlo, signed and twice kissed with red lipstick, fetched just over $8,800. A page of scribbled calculations by Isaac Newton sold for about $21,000. A 1953 handwritten speech by John F. Kennedy took in $10,000.

“Adjugé!” said a gray-haired auctioneer, over and over, as he gaveled away nearly every one of the 200 lots for sale at Drouot, an auction house, in Paris in mid-November. The sale generated $4.2 million, which might sound like a triumph.

Actually, the sale was a fiasco, or, more precisely, one part of an ongoing fiasco. All of the items came from a now-defunct company, Aristophil, which starting in 2002 built one of the largest collections of rare books, autographs and manuscripts in history — some 136,000 pieces in all.

The buying spree turned the company’s founder and president, a stout 71-year-old named Gérard Lhéritier, into a celebrity. He opened the stately Museum of Letters and Manuscripts in a pricey neighborhood in Paris, and surrounded himself with French luminaries. They included former presidents, authors and journalists, who crowned him the “king of manuscripts.”

Today he’s widely known by a less flattering name, “the Bernie Madoff of France.”

Six years ago, the French authorities shut down Aristophil and arrested Mr. Lhéritier, charging him with fraud and accusing him of orchestrating what amounts to a highbrow Ponzi scheme. As he bought all those rare manuscripts and letters, he had them appraised, divided their putative value into shares and sold them as if they were stock in a corporation. Those shares were bought by 18,000 people, many of them elderly and of modest means, who collectively invested about $1 billion.

. . . .

Owning a stake in a Marquis de Sade scroll or a letter from Gandhi proved irresistible, in large part because that stake was supposed to grow. The wording of Aristophil’s contracts left investors with the vivid impression that after five years, the company would buy back their shares for at least 40 percent more than their original price. Lawyers for Mr. Lhéritier say the contracts never made any such a promise.

Some investors who wanted to cash in found that Aristophil would not pay out. In 2014, their complaints, along with a growing number of skeptical articles in the French media, prompted a police investigation, which concluded that Aristophil was sustained only by a regular flow of new investors and thus was doomed.

The authorities seized the entire collection and hired a company to catalog and auction off all 136,000 pieces, a process that will take years and hundreds of sales, just like the one in November. The hope is to return as much money as possible to investors, which, based on the more than two dozen auctions already held, will amount to perhaps 10 cents on the dollar.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Smithsonian Releases 2.8 Million Images Into Public Domain

Culture connoisseurs, rejoice: The Smithsonian Institution is inviting the world to engage with its vast repository of resources like never before.

For the first time in its 174-year history, the Smithsonian has released 2.8 million high-resolution two- and three-dimensional images from across its collections onto an open access online platform for patrons to peruse and download free of charge. Featuring data and material from all 19 Smithsonian museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives and the National Zoo, the new digital depot encourages the public to not just view its contents, but use, reuse and transform them into just about anything they choose—be it a postcard, a beer koozie or a pair of bootie shorts.

And this gargantuan data dump is just the beginning. Throughout the rest of 2020, the Smithsonian will be rolling out another 200,000 or so images, with more to come as the Institution continues to digitize its collection of 155 million items and counting.

“Being a relevant source for people who are learning around the world is key to our mission,” says Effie Kapsalis, who is heading up the effort as the Smithsonian’s senior digital program officer. “We can’t imagine what people are going to do with the collections. We’re prepared to be surprised.

Link to the rest at The Smithsonian

As PG has said before, cultural and scientific archives providing open access online with rights to do just about anything with the contents of the collection is a wonderful modern trend that has taken wing within the last several months.

Ralph Cross Johnson
The Girl I Left Behind Me
ca. 1872
The Girl I Left Behind Me, invoking an Irish ballad that was popular with both the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.
Frederick Douglass
From The National Portrait Gallery
The Death of Cleopatra
by Edmonia Lewis
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Historical Society of Forest Park, Illinois
carved 1876

Publisher Bob Dees on selling books in foreign market

From The Globe and Mail:

Selling the rights to publish books in other countries is one of the great subterranean aspects of the Canadian publishing business, adding as much to bottom lines as it does to international reputations. There’s a whole government agency devoted to giving publishers a leg up, and international book fairs happen every month, from New Delhi to London to Beijing to the biggest of them all each October in Frankfurt. We asked Bob Dees, the publisher of Toronto’s Robert Rose Books, about his experience getting one of his books into the German market. Do you try to sell foreign language rights for all your books? No. There are certain titles that are clearly North American.

. . . .

You Are What Your Grandparents Ate [by former Globe and Mail columnist Judith Finlayson] had not just an international market opportunity, but it had a market opportunity in Europe that was larger than in North America because of a greater awareness of the subject matter of epigenetics [the study of biological mechanisms that turn genes on or off]. We came across a recent German edition of National Geographic devoted to the anniversary of the Dutch Hunger Winter and how it was still influencing the descendants of those who lived through it, subjects that are integral to You Are What Your Grandparents Ate . Our foreign language rights manager at the time, Nina McCreath, went online to find German publishers who specialized in this intersection of health and science and found four, and based on their responses, she booked appointments for Frankfurt 2018. Then what happened? We had sales materials prepared, about eight or 10 pages to give an indication of the design, which in this case is unique, and its capacity to attract a readership to the subject. And we had one edited chapter that we were able to share with them both in hard copy and electronic copy. We’re fortunate that English tends to be the language business is done in, even in Frankfurt. Even so, not everyone comes with an equal level of English, and we were even more fortunate there because Nina speaks fluent German. We were able to use that as a tool to create a more successful relationship with these potential publishers. Many publishers may use an agent who speaks the language in question. Having a foreign sales agent with at least a couple of extra languages is incredibly valuable.

. . . .

How did this one get done so quickly? We try to be an easy publisher to deal with for foreign language agreements. Big name publishers have a reputation for being difficult to deal with. It doesn’t mean we don’t try to get the best deal, but sometimes the legal departments can be problematic, some will take three or four months to do an agreement, and some publishers don’t want to wait that long. It took us probably about two or three weeks.

Link to the rest at The Globe and Mail

You Are What Your Grandparents Ate takes conventional wisdom about the origins of chronic disease and turns it upside down. Rooted in the work of the late epidemiologist Dr. David Barker, it highlights the exciting research showing that heredity involves much more than the genes your parents passed on to you. Thanks to the relatively new science of epigenetics, we now know that the experiences of previous generations may show up in your health and well-being.

Many of the risks for chronic diseases — including obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and dementia — can be traced back to your first 1,000 days of existence, from the moment you were conceived. The roots of these vulnerabilities may extend back even further, to experiences your parents and grandparents had — and perhaps even beyond.

Yet Another Mysterious Murder

Mrs. PG has released the second book in her series featuring an Oxford professor (she is probably too young to be a Don or a Donna) named Catherine who seems to be involved in more murders than one might expect from someone teaching proper young women (mostly) at Somerville College in the mid-1930s.

Despite the regular occurrence of deadly crimes wherever she goes, Catherine is still popular with a variety of local males who are not policemen. This is occasionally helpful because the Oxford constabulary is still mired in the traditional habit of thinking that the only proper role for a woman is as a murder victim, not as a murder detective regardless of the gender of the suddenly deceased.

In this particular book, Murder in the Jazz Band, Catherine displays a heretofore-undiscovered talent (at least among the Dons and Donnas) by singing with a jazz band that is performing in Oxford. Of course, somebody gets murdered and the constabulary goes down the wrong path, so Catherine has to intervene.

Mrs. PG’s first book in this series, An Oxford Murder, has sold very nicely and she has high hopes for its sequel.

Worried a Robot Apocalypse Is Imminent?

From The Wall Street Journal:

You Look Like a Thing and I Love You

Elevator Pitch: Ideal for those intrigued and/or mildly unnerved by the increasing role A.I. plays in modern life (and our future), this book is accessible enough to educate you while easing anxieties about the coming robot apocalypse. A surprisingly hilarious read, it presents a view of A.I. that is more “Office Space” than “The Terminator.” Typical insight: A.I. that can’t write a coherent cake recipe is probably not going to take over the world.

Very Brief Excerpt: “For the foreseeable future, the danger will not be that A.I. is too smart but that it’s not smart enough.”

Surprising Factoid: A lot of what we think are social-media bots are almost definitely humans being (poorly) paid to act as a bot. People stealing the jobs of robots: How meta.

. . . .

The Creativity Code

By Marcus du Sautoy

Elevator Pitch: What starts as an exploration of the many strides—and failures—A.I. has made in the realm of artistic expression turns out to be an ambitious meditation on the meaning of creativity and consciousness. It shines in finding humanlike traits in algorithms; one chapter breathlessly documents the matches between Mr. Hassabis’s algorithm and a world champion of Go, a game many scientists said a computer could never win.

Very Brief Excerpt: “Machines might ultimately help us…become less like machines.”

Surprising Factoid: As an example of “overfitting,” the book includes a mathematical model that accidentally predicts the human population will drop to zero by 2028. Probably an error, but better live it up now—just in case.

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

The Best Fonts for Books

From Ingram Spark:

Believe it or not, there is a science behind choosing the best fonts for books. Think about all the places you see type today. Whether it’s a phone, a computer screen, a book, an ad, a magazine or a menu, almost every minute of the day is spent reading something. And—other than the menu at your favorite restaurant perhaps—much thought has gone into which font to use.

Generally speaking, there are two main reasons for caring about the best fonts for books, or for anything that will be read. They are:

  • Readability
  • Being “on message.”

In the following paragraphs, we’ll explore each of these reasons, plus the best fonts for books, both for body text and headings. Then we’ll talk about where to buy fonts if you are formatting the book yourself.

. . . .

Factors that determine the readability of a typeface include the spacing between letters, the height and thickness of letters, and the size of the serifs.

Serif fonts help with readability, and are therefore preferable in the body of a book. The “serif” is the decorative stroke that finishes each end of a letter (think Times Roman). Serif fonts are easier on the reader’s eye than sans-serif fonts; the stroke leads the reader’s eye from one letter to the next. Serifs help pull the text together, making it easier for the eye to move and recognize one letter to another, helping the eye to speed through long passages of text.

As the name “sans serif” indicates, these are fonts without the decorative flourish (think Helvetica or Arial). Reading a line of text printed in sans serif is more tiring. For this reason, sans-serif fonts should be reserved for headings or other limited uses. Yet, how many books have you seen with a sans-serif font in the main body because the author preferred it that way?

. . . .

What message is your book trying to send? What do you want the reader to feel?

In addition to being readable, the author wants the text to look inviting and welcoming. Depending on the book’s genre and topic, there may be other messages, such as mysterious, romantic, cheerful, transformative, business-like and more.

For both print and digital books, the typeface is part of the message. Book designers will study a manuscript to get a feel for the tone of the writing before choosing a text font. The right text font for a book can complement the author’s message. If it’s a good fit, the reader probably won’t even notice; the reading will feel easy and just “flow.” In contrast, the wrong choice of typeface can feel jarring.

Imagine a book meant to evoke the reader’s emotions, and the body text is Helvetica! Talk about cold! The reader will sense that the message is wrong, and probably won’t even know why. These are the reasons why companies spend so much money on getting print ads “just right,” ensuring that they are sending the message that will encourage consumers to buy.

. . . .

We polled our book designers, and one of the top choices for the body of a book is the friendly and warm “Caslon.”

Screen Shot 2019-12-02 at 11.16.44 AM

Caslon refers to a family of fonts first designed in 1722 by William Caslon I, an English type engraver. It was used extensively by the British Empire and throughout the American colonies, and was in fact used to set the Declaration of Independence! Caslon continues to be one of the most popular fonts today, with multiple offshoots, versions and interpretations. When used in body text, this font conveys an inviting and readable feeling. It gives a feeling of a human touch, with warmth and familiarity. Caslon is a good choice not just for historical novels, but also anytime a solid and dependable feeling is desired.

Link to the rest at Ingram Spark

May Wedderburn Cannan

Mrs. PG is finishing up a new book set in Britain during the years following World War I.

PG (and many others) are familiar with the names of many male war poets who wrote about their experiences – Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon will immediately come to the minds of those who are still interested in this sort of thing.

Mrs. PG was interested in female war poets, however, and found one that PG had not discovered, May Wedderburn Cannan.

Ms. Cannan was born in Oxford, England to an intellectual family. Her father was a publisher and scholar, and Cannan and her sisters created a family magazine, even publishing their own anthology The Tripled Crown (1907), with an introductory poem by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, professor of English at Cambridge, editor of the Oxford Book of English Verse, and family friend.

During World War I, Cannan volunteered with the Oxford Voluntary Aid Detachment and helped publish government propaganda with Clarendon Press. She spent a month in Rouen, France in 1915 volunteering at a railway canteen for soldiers, an experience that inspired her most famous poem, “Rouen.” When the Armistice was declared, Cannan was working for MI5 in Paris.

Cannan published three books of poetry: In War Time (1917), The Splendid Days (1919), dedicated to her fiancée Bevil Quiller-Couch who died in the influenza pandemic of 1919, and The House of Hope (1923).

August 1914


The sun rose over the sweep of the hill
    All bare for the gathered hay,
And a blackbird sang by the window-sill,
    And a girl knelt down to pray:
          ‘Whom Thou hast kept through the night, O Lord,
          Keep Thou safe through the day.’

The sun rose over the shell-swept height,
     The guns are over the way,
And a soldier turned from the toil of the night
    To the toil of another day,
          And a bullet sang by the parapet
          To drive in the new-turned clay.

The sun sank slow by the sweep of the hill,
     They had carried all the hay,
And a blackbird sang by the window-sill,
    And a girl knelt down to pray:
          ‘Keep Thou safe through the night, O Lord,
          Whom Thou hast kept through the day.’

The sun sank slow by the shell-swept height,
    The guns had prepared a way,
And a soldier turned to sleep that night
    Who would not wake for the day,
          And a blackbird flew from the window-sill,
          When a girl knelt down to pray.
Source: In War Time (1917)



April 26—May 25, 1915

Early morning over Rouen, hopeful, high, courageous morning,
And the laughter of adventure, and the steepness of the stair,
And the dawn across the river, and the wind across the bridges,
And the empty littered station, and the tired people there.

Can you recall those mornings, and the hurry of awakening,
And the long-forgotten wonder if we should miss the way,
And the unfamiliar faces, and the coming of provisions,
And the freshness and the glory of the labour of the day.

Hot noontide over Rouen, and the sun upon the city,
Sun and dust unceasing, and the glare of cloudless skies,
And the voices of the Indians and the endless stream of soldiers,
And the clicking of the tatties, and the buzzing of the flies.

Can you recall those noontides and the reek of steam and coffee,
Heavy-laden noontides with the evening’s peace to win,
And the little piles of Woodbines, and the sticky soda bottles,
And the crushes in the “Parlour”, and the letters coming in?

Quiet night-time over Rouen, and the station full of soldiers,
All the youth and pride of England from the ends of all the earth;
And the rifles piled together, and the creaking of the sword-belts,
And the faces bent above them, and the gay, heart-breaking mirth.

Can I forget the passage from the cool white-bedded Aid Post
Past the long sun-blistered coaches of the khaki Red Cross train
To the truck train full of wounded, and the weariness and laughter
And “Good-bye, and thank you, Sister”, and the empty yards again?

Can you recall the parcels that we made them for the railroad,
Crammed and bulging parcels held together by their string,
And the voices of the sargeants who called the Drafts together,
And the agony and splendour when they stood to save the King?

Can you forget their passing, the cheering and the waving,
The little group of people at the doorway of the shed,
The sudden awful silence when the last train swung to darkness,
And the lonely desolation, and the mocking stars o’erhead?

Can you recall the midnights, and the footsteps of night watchers,
Men who came from darkness and went back to dark again,
And the shadows on the rail-lines and the all inglorious labour,
And the promise of the daylight firing blue the window- pane?

Can you recall the passing through the kitchen door to morning,
Morning very still and solemn breaking slowly on the town,
And the early coastways engines that had met the ships at daybreak,
And the Drafts just out from England, and the day shift coming down?

Can you forget returning slowly, stumbling on the cobbles,
And the white-decked Red Cross barges dropping seawards for the tide,
And the search for English papers, and the blessed cool, of water,
And the peace of half-closed shutters that shut out the world outside?

Can I forget the evenings and the sunsets on the island,
And the tall black ships at anchor far below our balcony,
And the distant call of bugles, and the white wine in the glasses,
And the long line of the street lamps, stretching Eastwards to the sea?

When the world slips slow to darkness, when the office fire burns lower,
My heart goes out to Rouen, Rouen all the world away;
When other men remember, I remember our Adventure
And the trains that go from Rouen at the ending of the day.
Source: In War Time (1917)

After the War


After the war perhaps I’ll sit again
Out on the terrace where I sat with you,
And see the changeless sky and hills beat blue
And live an afternoon of summer through.

I shall remember then, and sad at heart
For the lost day of happiness we knew,
Wish only that some other man were you
And spoke my name as once you used to do.
Source: In War Time (1917)

N. K. Jemisin’s Dream Worlds

From The New Yorker:

Several years ago, N. K. Jemisin, the fantasy and science-fiction author, had a dream that shook her. In her sleep, she found herself standing in a surreal tableau with a massif floating in the distance. “It was a chunk of rock shaped like a volcanic cone—a cone-shaped smoking mountain,” she recalled. Standing before the formation was a black woman in her mid-forties, with dreadlocks, who appeared to be holding the volcano aloft with her mind. She was glaring down at Jemisin and radiating anger. Jemisin did not know how she had triggered the woman’s fury, but she believed that, if she did not ameliorate it quickly, the woman would hurl the smoldering massif at her.

Jemisin awoke in a sweat and jotted down what she had seen. “I need to know how that person became who she is—a woman so angry that she was willing to move mountains,” she told me. “She was angry in a slow burn, with the kind of anger that is righteous, enough to change a planet. That’s a person who has been through so much shit that she has been pushed into becoming a leader. That’s an M.L.K. I needed to build a world that would explain her.”

Jemisin’s writing process often begins with dreams: imagery vivid enough to hang on into wakefulness. She does not so much mine them for insight as treat them as portals to hidden worlds. Her tendency is to interrogate what she sees with if/then questions, until her field of vision widens enough for her to glimpse a landscape that can hold a narrative. The inspiration for her début novel, “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” (2010), was a dream vision of two gods. One had dark-as-night hair that contained a starry cosmos of infinite depth; the other, in a child’s body, manipulated planets like toys. From these images, Jemisin spun out a four-hundred-page story about an empire that enslaves its deities. The book established her as a prominent new voice.

Jemisin is black, in her mid-forties, and wears her hair in dreadlocks. In her author photo, she gazes sternly at the camera, as if ready for literary combat. In person, she is much warmer, but she likes the picture. Typically, at the center of her fiction, there is a character with coiled strength. Jemisin, who has a degree in psychology, is interested in power and in systems of subjugation. In her books, the oppressed often possess an enormous capacity for agency—a supernatural ability, even, that their oppressors lack—but they exist in a society that has been engineered to hold them down. Eventually, the world is reordered, often with a cataclysm.

. . . .

J. R. R. Tolkien once argued that the creation of an imaginary world was the highest form of artistic expression, but that it was also easily undervalued. If it is done well, much of the labor remains off the page. Before Tolkien wrote “The Lord of the Rings,” he invented a mythology, a history, and even languages for Middle-earth; he explained to a friend, “I wisely started with a map, and made the story fit (generally with meticulous care for distances). The other way about lands one in confusions and impossibilities.” It annoyed him that people “stupidly and even maliciously confound Fantasy with Dreaming, in which there is no Art.” He wrote about elves. He wanted to be taken seriously, too.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Can Nielsen BookScan Stay Relevant In The Digital Age?

From Forbes (January 2013):

When Colleen Doran, an author and artist who has worked with luminaries such as Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis, recently compared her Nielsen BookScan sales figures with her actual sales figures, she got a bit of a shock.

Nielsen’s BookScan is one of the publishing industry’s key metrics service, providing book sales numbers for the US, UK, Australia and other countries. It does this by collecting sales information from retailers every Saturday night, aggregating them, and then selling the results. Without an expensive subscription to BookScan, it used to be impossible to see your own figures, but now BookScan feeds its data into Amazon where authors can access it through Author Central.

When Doran did the maths on her BookScan numbers, she found that for some of her books, Nielsen was underreporting by quite a bit:

OK, so let’s have a look at one of my books published after Amazon linked to Bookscan. I am not going to tell you what this book was, just that it is a book from a major publisher.

According to Bookscan, it has sold 542 copies in hardcover. Ouch. What a bummer! This is accurate as of yesterday.

Except I got a royalty statement on this thing. And according to my royalty statement, this book sold 7181 copies by end of the accounting period, which was last summer. As of now, it has sold over 10,000 copies in hardcover. Respectable numbers. Not tearing up the charts, but enough to issue a new edition.

It’s widely recognised that BookScan doesn’t and cannot count every single book sold in every single outlet, but it’s usually assumed to capture a decent percentage, anywhere up to 70 80 (see update below) per cent of US sales to 95 per cent of UK sales, according to one British publisher who wished to remain anonymous. He went on to explain Bookscan’s major limitations:

[In the UK] BookScan has almost complete coverage of the major indie and high street booksellers, Amazon and supermarkets. But it doesn’t capture specialist retailers [such as] the specialty comics trade. For most books that’s not an issue, but in science fiction, which is sold into specialists like . . Page 45, we had very good sales but they weren’t visible to Bookscan.

. . . .

Ottaviani, whose recent book, Feynman, debuted at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list for graphic novels, started out in non-fiction self-publishing in 1997. Both Feynman and his upcoming book, Primates, are published by First Second, a division of Macmillan. He told me:

Most publishers, both within comics and in the prose world, had no idea what to do with my books at the time. So I published them myself; I’m glad I did, and that the comics world — from readers to distributors — has always been more accepting of self-published work than the rest of the book trade.

In my discussion of numbers I’m talking mainly about that self-published work, and I know that sales numbers for those books put me squarely in the so-called midlist author range.

And midlist authors are the most vulnerable, not quite successful enough to guarantee a continued relationship with their publisher, but not bombing to the point where they know they are going to get dropped regardless. For a midlist author, their career could go either way and so large discrepancies in how their sales are reported to the industry are frustrating and alarming. No one wants the world, or the industry, to think their book is underselling when in fact its doing quite well.

For tech author Tom Hughes-Croucher, the key problem with BookScan is that it doesn’t count ebooks:

For technical books, ebooks greatly outweigh physical books now, and I think that’s an increasing trend everywhere. I’ve also noticed that my publisher, O’Reilly, sell a fair amount of e-books directly because it means they deliver it in more formats than just Kindle.

According to the British publisher I spoke to, digital sales are now expected to be between 25 and 55 per cent for general trade fiction, which is a huge problem for BookScan.

Link to the rest at Forbes

Can Amazon Finally Crack the Bestseller Code?

From The New Republic:

As the last decade concluded, book publishers breathed a sigh of relief. The 2010s were characterized by a series of Amazon-related shock waves—the growing power of the retail behemoth, the rise of e-books, a related Department of Justice antitrust lawsuit, and the decimation of bookstores both large and small. But publishers had survived. Once viewed as competitors to physical books, e-books and audiobooks were now considered just two formats among many. Indie bookstores saw a dramatic rebirth during the decade’s final years, while Barnes & Noble appeared to be in the early stages of a resurgence.

Amazon remained an existential threat, but it was one that publishers had learned to live with. Sure, adult fiction sales were cratering, but who cares when you’re raking in cash selling books about the president?

But the conventional wisdom that now governs book publishing—that things are, for the first time in a long time, not that bad—is wrong. At the very least, it overlooks the fact that Amazon has spent the last decade accumulating yet more power and leverage, and that its ambitions have since moved past simply being the world’s largest bookstore. On Tuesday evening, The Wall Street Journal surveyed one of the most important recent developments in the industry: Amazon is finally publishing work by some of America’s biggest authors.

Dean Koontz and Patricia Cornwell’s Amazon-published books won’t be found in most bookstores—they are being blacklisted by many booksellers, in protest of the company’s market dominance and rapacious business practices. The books are, however, available on Amazon, which is integrating every stage of the publishing process: It is acquiring and publishing books, then marketing and selling them to customers. It is creating a marketplace that omits publishers altogether.

The deal between these authors and Amazon would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Amazon’s early forays into blockbuster publishing were a disaster. In 2011, the company hired industry vet Larry Kirshbaum to helm its first publishing venture. He inked expensive deals with actress Penny Marshall and wellness guru Tim Ferriss, but their books failed to meet expectations, with Marshall’s memoir becoming one of the decade’s biggest flops. (Kirshbaum left Amazon after being accused of sexual assault in 2013.)

In response, Amazon’s publishing arm turned to a Moneyball approach. Rather than compete with traditional publishers for authors, it targeted areas overlooked by the industry, such as commercial fiction in translation. Over the 2010s, Amazon became the largest publisher of translated works in America and, in doing so, learned how to market its books to its gargantuan audience.

. . . .

Publishers felt that this line of business—which is to say, the actual work of publishing—was the one area where Amazon didn’t really scare them. Amazon, many believed, didn’t understand the difference between a book and a dishwasher—to its founder, Jeff Bezos, both were widgets to be sold on its platform. As the novelist Richard Russo wrote in 2014, “Amazon has never clearly and unequivocally stated (as traditional publishers have) that books are different and special, that they can’t be treated like the other commodities they sell.”

Only publishers had the know-how to make books that sell. Amazon had the platform, sure, but it was missing the magical human touch of editors and publicists. Bestselling authors would never abandon big publishers, because doing so would ultimately doom their work.

. . . .

Authors might wander, but they did not stray for long. Books published by Amazon, meanwhile, continued to struggle to reach mass audiences, thanks in large part to the bookstore boycott.

That appears to be changing. The deals with Koontz and Cornwell suggest that book publishers may finally be losing their monopoly on editing and marketing. “We had seven or eight offers, but Amazon offered the most complete marketing plan, and that was the deciding factor,” Koontz told The Wall Street Journal.

. . . .

Cornwell’s latest work, Quantum, isn’t selling particularly well in hardcover—only about 6,000 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan—but Amazon is insistent that its digital muscle makes print sales irrelevant. Quantum, a representative told the Journal, has “reached approximately 600,000 readers across print, audio, and digital sales and downloads.” This is hype worthy of Netflix, whose numbers are routinely inflated, but it underscores an important point: Amazon owns Kindle and Audible, which effectively control both the audio and digital book markets. Combine that with its ever-growing video offerings, which could result in lucrative tie-in deals, and Amazon has a big selling point for famous authors.

To a large extent, book publishers have themselves to blame. Despite arguing that they provided necessary intangibles to the book-publishing process, they have spent the last decade gutting their marketing and editorial departments. It is increasingly common for publishers to work with freelance editors, many of whom recently left or were pushed out of prestige imprints, on projects. The layoffs were a cost-cutting move as conglomerate publishers consolidated imprints, but it has inadvertently leveled the playing field. Dean Koontz no longer has to go to a big publisher to have his needs met; Amazon and Bantam, his former publisher, are drawing from the same talent pool.

Link to the rest at The New Republic

PG was tempted to go on a rant about the OP, but anyone who thinks Nielsen BookScan (which has been NPD BookScan since 2017 in the United States) is a better indicator of overall sales and profitability than Amazon Salesrank doesn’t understand the current book market, at least in the United States. See the article from Forbes that is immediately adjacent to this post.

Downtown Seattle Barnes & Noble store to close Saturday

From The Seattle Times:

The Barnes & Noble bookstore in downtown Seattle’s Pacific Place shopping center is closing this weekend. A sign inside the store announces: “This Barnes & Noble is closing on Jan. 18. Thank you for your patronage over the past 22 years.”

This is the second Barnes & Noble location in Seattle to close within the past 12 months: The West Seattle store, in the Westwood Village shopping center, shut down in January 2018. The once-mighty Barnes & Noble chain has struggled nationally in the age of Amazon; in the past decade, it has closed more than 150 stores. Its University Village location closed in 2011. Barnes & Noble was acquired by Elliott Management, a hedge fund, last summer.

The closure leaves downtown Seattle without a general bookstore.

Link to the rest at The Seattle Times and thanks to D. for the tip.

HUK staff challenged by Quercus guide to confront white supremacy

From The Bookseller:

Quercus is giving a copy of the workbook Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad to every member of staff at Hachette UK this month, challenging employees to spend 28 days reflecting on manifestations of white supremacy, including white privilege.

Billed as the book to read after Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (Bloomsbury Circus) when it was announced last year, Me and White Supremacy started out as a self-published workbook that was downloaded 75,000 times in the first three months. In the expanded and updated book, which Quercus will publish in February, readers are asked to start taking personal responsibility for their “life-long anti-racism work” by spending each of 28 days focusing on a different manifestation of white supremacy, including white privilege, cultural appropriation and tokenism.

Staff who have already taken on the challenge include members of Quercus and Changing the Story, Hachette’s HR department and c.e.o. David Shelley, who said of the challenge it was “powerful, thought-provoking and, at times, quite tough”.

Shelley said: “It opened my eyes in all sorts of ways and I would unequivocally recommend this book and recommend doing the challenge. I know Quercus have big plans to get the book to as many readers as possible and I fully back that, as I think it could be an important catalyst for change.”

Quercus’ Jane Sturrock, who acquired the book, said: “Working our way through Me and White Supremacy as a group has really brought the book to life. I can’t think of another book that has generated as much self-reflection and challenging discussion among my colleagues and I hope that will inform not just the way in which we publish Layla’s book, but the rest of our publishing from here on.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

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