How a book goes from acquisitions to bookstore shelves

From Nathan Bransford:

[Let’s discuss] the journey from the contract to bookstore shelves.

It’s a longer journey than you might think! One common misconception about publishing is how fast books come to market or go on-sale. People are often surprised that this process typically takes a year or more. (There are exceptions for books that may be newsworthy and have to be rushed out, which is called a “crash” schedule.) 

Why does it take so much time? Well, a lot is happening behind the scenes over the course of many months to set up the book to give it its best shot to attract a readership. 

The editor’s job is to oversee and coordinate all the facets of that process. In this post, I’ll walk through those steps: 

  • Determining the publication date
  • Editing
  • Launch meeting
  • Production
  • Marketing, publicity and sales
  • Book promotions and publication

For ease, let’s give the book that’s winding its way to readers’ hands a title. How about HOT NEW BOOK?  

Determining the publication date

As soon as HOT NEW BOOK is under contract, one of the first things the editor and his/her colleagues must do is to determine the optimal time to publish it. (Fun fact: all books go on sale on Tuesdays). 

Publishers work in spans or seasons, typically three of them: Summer (books that go on-sale between May and August), Fall (books that go on sale between September and December) and Spring (books that go on sale between January and April.) 

So the editor looks into the future and decides the right season/timing for the book. Different types of books come out at different times. For example, in the Fall, you often have your big franchise writers like John Grisham, or big new cookbooks–offerings that might be good for the holiday gift giving season. In the Spring, you might have prescriptive books that go along with our desire to be better, thinner, more productive people at the start of every year (with mixed results. Just me?). Summer you have your beach reads or escapist thrills. 

There are always exceptions, but that’s a rough idea of how publishers think about the publishing calendar and then look very far ahead to slot books in. Right now (late summer 2021), publishers are gearing up to start planning for books being published next summer (2022). 

Let’s say HOT NEW BOOK is an exciting debut, commercial suspense. A lot of those books have been coming out in Spring, so the editor might tentatively schedule the book for Spring 2023.

Editing

First priority, of course, is making sure HOT NEW BOOK is the best book it can be. This may involve months of editorial work. The editor will do a very, very close and comprehensive read of the manuscript and offer detailed edits on the page: line edits of individual sentences and also bigger picture suggestions about characters, plot points, scenes, etc. that will be outlined in an editorial letter. 

The author of HOT NEW BOOK will digest that feedback (after lots of deep breaths and maybe a stiff drink) and then embark on a revision. The editor will read that revision, offer more notes and suggestions to the author, who will revise again and so on until both the author and the editor are happy that the book has reached its fullest possible potential.

Here’s another related question I get a lot: Do editors *really* edit?  The answer is an unequivocal: depends!  

It’s true that some editors are less “on the page” than others. Because of their workload, they might not find it feasible to do rounds and rounds of intensive edits. But the majority of editors do want to have a strong hand in shaping a book. 

. . . .

Launch meeting

And now the work to set up the book begins. First up: publishers have a launch meeting. These happen three times a year to correspond with the seasons.  

At this meeting, the editor gives a presentation about HOT NEW BOOK to the whole publishing team (sales, marketing, publicity, etc.)–what it’s about, what’s special about it, about the author, and why it’s guaranteed to be a success. 

The editor’s job here is to get people in the company excited about that book and eager to read it.  After the meeting, the teams responsible for producing and marketing  need some time to read HOT NEW BOOK (along with all the other books being published by the imprint–another reason it takes time).

. . . .

Production

The art department designs an arresting jacket for HOT NEW BOOK. The first step here is for the editor and art designer to brainstorm about the vision for the cover. The editor will supply examples of comparative jackets that he/she and the author like and then the designer goes off to create.  

The designer will create about 8-12 different options and the whole team (publisher, associate publisher, department heads, editor, etc) will gather in a cover/jacket meeting (usually held weekly) to discuss reactions. Sometimes there’s a clear winner, sometimes none of the options work. Most often some people like some jackets, some people hate some jackets and that’s where it gets fraught. Because everyone has strong opinions about jacket designs/visuals and it’s so subjective. 

After some discussions, usually the team will agree on 1-2 options to show the author.  Whatever the editor’s feelings about the jacket that emerges as the “winner” from this meeting, his/her job is to “sell” it to the author. The message: this is the jacket that the publisher loves, so you should love it too. Alas, that persuasion doesn’t always work and the author and agent may not like the jacket, in which case the whole process starts again.

. . . .

And yet, the jacket is so important to get right, with the whole judging a book by its cover thing!  So it’s worth taking the time. And the deep breaths. 

While that’s happening, the hard-working (and too often unsung) production department is seeing the manuscript through the nitty gritty of copy-editing, proofreading (the book will be proofed about three times), and designing what the interior of the book (the font and page layouts).  

Here’s another fun fact.  Did you know that all books have a page count that is a multiple of 16, 304, 320, etc.? It’s because of the way they cut, bind and print paper at the printer. 

Publicity, marketing, and sales

The publicity team starts strategizing about how to drum up excitement in the media and with events. This involves pitching the book to talk shows, magazines, podcasts and reviewers to get them to cover HOT NEW BOOK. That’s how readers are going to know it even exists!  One of the tools they use is called an ARC (Advance Readers Copy) or galley. These are early versions of the book that look like paperbacks. Months before the hardcover is printed, these are shared with media folks and others to drum up excitement.  

Meanwhile, the marketing team is at work, too. Their job is to promote the book on social media, via advertising, and to drum up excitement with booksellers and librarians. (There is a whole team dedicated to academic marketing too targeting schools, libraries, etc.). Marketing people also send out ARCs/galleys and sometimes they send along little gifts to help HOT NEW BOOK stand out. So if the novel is about a murder at a winery, they might send a mini bottle of wine or a fancy corkscrew along with the galleys. Yes, bribery.  

And now, enter the all important Sales team. There are individuals assigned to work with each of the major retail accounts, i.e. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, Target, Hudson, etc. These reps go to these accounts and tell them all about the books the publisher has forthcoming, like HOT NEW BOOK, and urges the retailers to buy a lot of copies (called stock) because the book is sure to be a hit with their customers. The goal for publishers here is to drive up the print run, that’s the initial amount of copies that will be printed and shipped to stores across the country. The higher that number, the more money the publisher makes. 

These accounts buy stock months ahead of time, which requires planning far ahead. And remember bookstores have finite space, so it can be competitive to get them to buy a book and then promote it.

Book promotions and publication


What does promoting mean? That means putting HOT NEW BOOK in front of stores, or featuring it in a newsletter blast, or singling it out as special (remember Borders Discover Picks?  RIP Borders sigh.) All of those promos help customers find HOT NEW BOOK, so the publisher is very keen to get retailers on board. 

The publisher might send the author of HOT NEW BOOK on a tour too, though publishers have become more conservative about book tours.

. . . .

It doesn’t make sense to fly an author from New York to LA, and put him or her up in a hotel only to have four people show up to hear the author read. So publishers are strategic about what events will get a good turnout, via the store’s or the author’s own personal network.  

Of course, most events have been virtual since the pandemic began, which is a very cost effective and convenient way to have events, and will likely continue into the future for that reason.

The goal is that people fall in love with HOT NEW BOOK every step of the way so word of mouth and excitement spreads, with the editor cheering the loudest of all.  

All of this involves an enormous amount of manpower and resources. There are so many books being published and it takes ingenuity, passion, relationships (and a little luck doesn’t hurt) to break through the clutter.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

And then they load cases of HOT NEW BOOK in boxcars and a steam engine takes them to the end of the rail line where they’re taken out of the boxcars and put on wagons pulled by oxen for delivery to the bookstores, hopefully before the winter snows close all the wagon trails.

PG didn’t notice much of anything 21st century about the process described in the OP. It was industrial-age from one end to the other, little changed from the way that Ernie Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald’s books were produced and launched.

In earlier lives, PG was involved in the creation, promotion and release of commercial software and electronic products delivered online. (PG notes that ebooks are pure software products and POD books can be printed at a variety of locations, including locations close to where they will be sold.)

If PG had ever proposed a product launch structured in the manner described in the OP, he would have justifiably been fired on the spot.

Writing for audio made me a better writer, period

From Amazon Author Insights:

When Audible came to me looking for an original audio-first novella, they showed up at just the right time. I had an idea for a story I’d been rolling around in my head for a while, and it was just about to drop: something about a world in which people who were murdered came back immediately (and were pretty annoyed at what had happened to them). I pitched the story that would become The Dispatcher (they said yes), and off I went to write.

So far, so good. Except that I usually write stories for print first, and this one was going straight to audio.

Does that make a difference?

Well, the basic storytelling is the same. You have a protagonist (in this case a fellow named Anthony Valdez) with an interesting job (he’s a dispatcher, whose job description is “licensed therapeutic murderer”), who finds himself in the middle of a plot crisis (a friend of his has disappeared, and Anthony must help find him), and there’s a ticking clock (if the missing friend’s not found soon, things are going to get grim). Set up the pins, knock them down, and add a few twists and turns—everyone’s happy.

This classic storytelling mode works whether the medium is print, audio, or screen. It’s nice and hardy. Reliable, even.

But there are things unique to the audio medium that you have to pay attention to while writing. Like the fact that the audience’s first experience with the story will be through their ears. Which means you need to write the story to be spoken. Which means you have to try to put yourself in the shoes of a narrator: Is what I’m writing going to be something the narrator is actually going to be able to read effectively?

If the narrator is having fun, there’s a good chance the listener is going to have fun too.

Now, a moment of appreciation here for audiobook narrators. These people are pros. No matter what you throw at them, there’s a very high chance they’ll make it work. They’re actors; they’re used to having words put into their mouths and then speaking them out to thrilling effect. They can take a jumble of exposition and give it drama, which is a hell of a thing. In my career, I’ve been blessed with excellent narrators—William Dufris, Tavia Gilbert, Wil Wheaton, and for The Dispatcher, the awesome Zachary Quinto—and I know at times they’ve made my prose sound better than it might otherwise.

Even so, I try not to make their lives any harder than they have to be. So I write with speaking in mind: Naturalistic dialogue. Exposition that is conversational. A rise and fall in story and scene so they can vary their delivery so readers won’t get bored. And here and there, a bravura scene that they can really have fun acting. If the narrator is having fun, there’s a good chance the listener is going to have fun too. And it’s good for the story, anyway. So make the narrator’s job easier, and make the narrator happy.

Another audio-first consideration: getting rid of writerly things that have the potential to throw the listener out of the story and the flow of narration—things like dialogue tags. In print, having “he said” and “she said” at the end of dialogue makes good sense—it helps direct traffic and pacing. Dialogue tags can get repetitive, but most readers eventually gloss over them—they know the tags are there, but their brains start processing them more like punctuation than like words. They see the tags, but they don’t sound them out in their heads.

But in audio, every “he said” and “she said” is spoken out loud by the narrator. I was never more aware of how much I used dialogue tags than I was while listening to one of my audiobooks. It became so obvious to me, in fact, that after I started regularly selling my books to audio, I started reducing dialogue tags even in work that was going into print first. And for The Dispatcher, I tried to keep them to an absolute minimum.

This had the effect, I think, of making my writing better overall. Dialogue tags are useful, but they can also be a crutch. I had to find other ways of making it clear who was talking—and a lot of that came down to making sure the voices of all characters were well defined even before a narrator gave them separate voices. Writing for audio improved my writing, period.

Link to the rest at Amazon Author Insights

Long ago in the octagonal gloom

Long ago in the octagonal gloom of the Battistero di San Giovanni he had been baptized twice, as was customary, once as a Christian and again as a Florentine, and to an irreligious bastard like Ago it was the second baptism that counted. The city was his religion, a world as perfect as any heaven. The great Buonarroti had called the Baptistery doors the gates of Paradise and when the little baby Ago emerged from that place with a wet head he had understood at once that he had entered a walled and gated Eden. The city of Florence had fifteen gates and on their inner faces were pictures of the Virgin and various saints. Voyagers touched the gates for good luck, and nobody starting on a journey through those gates did so without consulting astrologers.

Salman Rushdie, The Enchantress of Florence 2008

This is the fairest picture

This is the fairest picture on our planet, the most enchanting to look upon, the most satisfying to the eye and the spirit. To see the sun sink down, drowned on his pink and purple and golden floods, and overwhelm Florence with tides of color that make all the sharp lines dim and faint and turn the solid city to a city of dreams, is a sight to stir the coldest nature, and make a sympathetic one drunk with ecstasy.

Mark Twain, Autobiography 1892

Among the four old bridges

Among the four old bridges that span the river, the Ponte Vecchio, that bridge which is covered with the shops of Jewellers and Goldsmiths, is a most enchanting feature in the scene. The space of one house, in the centre, being left open, the view beyond, is shown as in a frame; and that precious glimpse of sky, and water, and rich buildings, shining so quietly among the huddled roofs and gables on the bridge, is exquisite.

Charles Dickens, Pictures from Italy 1846

Hurts So Good

From The Wall Street Journal:

A few years ago, an Australian scientist was bushwhacking through the wilderness when he felt a twig snap against his leg. Or so he thought. He’d actually been nipped by an Eastern brown snake, one of the most venomous serpents on Earth. Oblivious, he walked on and even went swimming in a nearby river before blacking out and nearly dying.

We’ve probably all heard similar stories, about athletes or warriors who suffer serious injury but power through without realizing they’re hurt. What’s surprising is what happened next. Nothing if not intrepid, the scientist plunged back into the bush six months later for another hike—at which point he again felt something snap against his leg. He crumpled to the ground in agony, writhing and screaming.

But this time, it really was just a twig. Identical sensation, completely different reaction. “There is no grievous injury . . . just a very powerful memory of last time,” explains science writer Leigh Cowart about the story. “The basic sensory processing is the same, but the cognitive understanding of the pain differs.” All of which goes to show that, for something so basic to human experience, pain remains a highly subjective and even slippery phenomenon.

There’s possibly no one alive more qualified to write about pain than Leigh Cowart, who uses the pronoun they and prefers the Mx. honorific. A self-described “gorehound,” the author has been, at different points in life, “a ballet dancer, an overexerciser, a serious bulimic and self-harmer, a tattoo aficionado” and a hard-core BDSM enthusiast. This eye-opening book, “Hurts So Good: The Science and Culture of Pain on Purpose,” explores why so many people pursue painful activities like these, and especially what people get out of pain when they encounter—or achieve—it. “Many people engage in the ritual of deliberately feeling bad to feel better,” the author notes, “and once I started looking for the pattern, I saw it everywhere.”

. . . .

Beyond plumbing their personal past, the author also engages in what might be called gonzo science writing. They dive into one excruciating situation after another (a polar bear plunge, a chili pepper-eating contest), and things go hilariously awry. The mush from one superhot pepper (2.2 million Scoville units; jalapeños max out at 8,000) burns the author’s mouth like “Dante’s gazpacho.” In their stupor, they then rub some into their eye. The author is especially good at describing escalating pain: just when you think a passage has reached a crescendo, Mx. Cowart ups the ante with some new turn of phrase. More than once, I found myself sucking in my breath and feeling my feet tingle as some new horror unfolded on the page.

I especially enjoyed the chapter on extreme running, which covers the fiendish Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra in Tennessee. Every hour, the contestants in this ultramarathon have to complete a four-mile circuit. Doesn’t sound too bad, except that the race sometimes continues all day and all night for nearly three days, with zero breaks. Quite literally, the last person standing wins. Overall, the chapter is a beautiful reflection on the capacity for human endurance, and for pushing yourself beyond what you thought possible. It’s also wickedly funny. God help me, but I still laugh at one poor soul who, 40-some hours in, pitched forward in exhaustion and crashed asleep atop a mailbox.

Yet this running chapter does highlight a problem with the author’s objective to find masochists everywhere they looked. Before the Tennessee race, the organizer initially revoked the author’s press pass because he objected to the pastime being characterized as masochism. As he wrote, “like many sport[s], there is discomfort involved, but it is a cost of competition, not an objective.”

The author objects to that distinction, but I think the organizer is right. For most runners and ballet dancers, pain is a byproduct of their ultimate goal—to run fast or dance beautifully.

. . . .

[T]his book makes a far better case for the importance of pain in dance or athletics than I expected. Imagine you could win an Olympic marathon without enduring any pain. You’d still have to train, but you could sidestep all the misery—the soreness, the burning lungs, the bloody blisters, the toenails falling off. Would you accept this deal? Many of us probably would; suffering stinks. But the author makes a strong argument that the medal would mean far less to you than to someone who suffered for it. Suffering creates meaning, and the joy of victory is sweeter for having suffered.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

Potential predatory scholarly open‑access publishers

From Beall’s List of Potential Predatory Publishers:

Instructions: first, find the journal’s publisher – it is usually written at the bottom of the journal’s webpage or in the “About” section. Then simply enter the publisher’s name or its URL in the search box above. If the journal does not have a publisher use the Standalone Journals list.
All journals published by a predatory publisher are potentially predatory unless stated otherwise.

Link to the rest at Beall’s List of Potential Predatory Publishers

In the sidebar, you will find links to other sites, including the following:

​List of journals falsely claiming to be indexed by DOAJ

DOAJ: Journals added and removed

Nonrecommended medical periodicals

Retraction Watch

Flaky Academic Journals Blog

PG notes that vanity publishers don’t just prey on would-be commercial authors. They also fool academics into paying for publication of their works in legitimate-sounding professional publications that won’t do much for the academic’s “publish or perish” requirements.

The Uses of Portraiture

Agnolo Bronzino: Portrait of Eleanora di Toledo with Her Son Francesco, 1541

From The New York Review of Books:

It is hard, looking at the young Alessandro de’ Medici in Jacopo da Pontormo’s painting of 1534–1535, not to empathize. Long-nosed and tender-eyed, he has a moody Adam Driver gravitas. Though he is looking at us, his hands emerge from his vast black cloak to fiddle with stylus and paper, where a faint female profile can be seen. Reputedly the illegitimate son of a Medici grandee and an African servant, Alessandro had been declared the first duke of the Florentine Republic at twenty-one. At twenty-six he was dead, murdered by a cousin.

The dukedom was the collaborative invention of Emperor Charles V and the Medici pope Clement VII, who may or may not have been Alessandro’s father. A painting of Clement by Sebastiano del Piombo hangs close to Alessandro’s in the Metropolitan Museum’s engrossing exhibition “The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512–1570.” Clement cuts an impressive figure in his papal robes, but his hooded eyes slide evasively to the side, and the expression on his lips seems close to a sneer. He looks like someone who would kick his dog, not out of rage, just to make a point.

But history argues otherwise. Another illegitimate son of another assassinated Medici, Clement had the ill luck to be named pope as the Reformation gathered force, and was unable to avert the sack of Rome. (As an outward sign of mourning for this catastrophe, he never shaved again, as later portraits show.) His chief failings seem to have been indecisiveness and a tendency to underestimate his enemies. Meanwhile, the seemingly soulful Alessandro was reported to be “an amoral libertine…so debauched that neither daughters of patricians nor nuns in convents were spared his depravity,” as Linda Wolk-Simon summarizes various sixteenth-century sources.

The detective in Josephine Tey’s novel The Daughter of Time so prided himself on being able to read a face, he was piqued to find that a picture he thought showed “someone too conscientious” was actually a portrait of the nephew-murdering Richard III. Doubling down on the side of the portrait, he sets about proving that the historic accounts of Richard’s villainy were fiction. (Unsurprisingly, the book is popular among art historians.) Whom to trust? History is written by the victors, but a portrait too is an argument as much as it is a document.

Standing in a museum, pondering people and city-states that no longer exist, the question may seem academic, but consider: in 2005 a group of psychologists at Princeton published a study that looked at how voters evaluated candidates on the basis of campaign photographs and how those evaluations correlated to election outcomes. The unsettling conclusion was that, while perceptions of likability and charisma had little to do with who got elected, estimations of a candidate’s competence formed after a one-second exposure to a head shot “suffice to predict the outcomes of actual elections” about 70 percent of the time.

Link to the rest at The New York Review of Books and PG apologizes for the pay wall, but here is a link to more history which includes the following portrait of Cosimo de Medici, one of the most important, successful and nastiest of the monarchs that made Florence a wealthy and beautiful city:

Honest Broker

I do not regard the procuring of peace as a matter in which we should play the role of arbiter between different opinions…more that of an honest broker who really wants to press the business forward.

Otto von Bismarck

Supply Chain Woes…Traditional, Indie, And More

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

This morning, a regular reader of my blog forwarded a tweet to me from a bookseller and writer about supply chain issues for books. He then suggested I blog about those issues.

I had planned to, but I had a vague hope that they would improve. The bookseller’s tweet disabused me of that notion.

The tweet is below. Read the thread, and note that she does have a book coming out. In fact, I had initially thought she was a writer, not a bookseller and this had happened to her. (That’s what I get for reading things early in the morning.)

Well, it had happened to her, but her as a bookseller, not her as in her current release.  Here’s the link to the tweet.

For those of you who won’t bother to read the thread, she goes on to say that this is extreme red alert territory, because the book comes from Random House. Others chimed in with knowledge about other books going through similar issues or the way that they’re dealing with this.

I know some of you live under rocks and/or have decided not to pay attention to anything right now (and boy, do I relate), but surely even you all have noted the supply chain issues.

Your favorite grocery store doesn’t stock the same things it used to. My cats’ usual cat food has been discontinued (after years) because it includes some kind of tuna that’s no longer available. (Every supplier I know suggests I get them chicken, but Cheeps loathes chicken. I know. He’s not really a cat.) Fortunately for the cats, I found a variety pack of other food that they like better (even though that has supply issues as well), so all’s well that ends well there.

But half of what I usually buy, whether in person or online, has had some kind of delay due to some missing part. In 2020, we bought a new living room set, and that included 2 ottomans. The couch and loveseat were in stock, but the ottomans weren’t. It took four months for those to be delivered.

So, when we bought another new furniture set because of the move, we instructed the poor sales person to show us only items that they had in their warehouse. That took forever, because most sets had only one or two items in the warehouse, not everything.

We also somewhat optimistically partnered with another company on a game for a 2020 Diving Kickstarter. The game manufacturer went to China for his product, which hadn’t been a problem in the past. Then…well, you know. After a year, we will be refunding the game money. We’ll do the game when we have it in our hot little hands and not before.

The game manufacturer is dealing with this kind of delay on many of his products. I can’t imagine what that’s doing to his bottom line.

The New York Times had a pretty good article on the supply chain issues. (I’m sure you can find others.)

Paper books are no exception. In fact, Ingram sent out a series of warnings about the problems it anticipates in the Fourth Quarter. As those of you who follow several indie publishers on social media probably already know, one of those changes that Ingram Sparks has implemented are price increases, effective on November 6, 2021.

These increases are not small. The U.S. market will see a 6% increase, and the U.K. and Australia will see a 3% increase. As one publisher noted, that will make some of his hardcovers $40 or more. Ingram helpfully adds that they will be “We will also be identifying titles that will move into negative publisher compensation because of these price changes…”

In other words, they’ll let publishers who are going to lose money with the new pricing structure know before the new structure hits.

That’s just one way this is impacting publishing. There are other ways.

Let’s start with traditional first, because traditional publishers are making some amazing and difficult decisions. I actually have some empathy for them, because they’re not built to absorb this problem. Then I’ll move to indie, which can deal with the problem, with patience and a bit of creativity.

Traditional publishing, as I have written many times, is built on the velocity model. Books must sell quickly out of the gate, and then taper off later. Sometimes books that sell quickly sell faster than expected, and the demand is higher than originally thought.

In the past, the solution (though not ideal) worked well enough: the moment it became clear that the traditional publisher would blow through their inventory, they would sent in an order for reprinting. In the unlikely (but joyful) event that the first reprinting wasn’t enough, there would be a second, third, fourth and fifth.

Those days are now gone. As you can see from the tweet above, a book published two weeks ago has sold very well, but the publishing representative, talking to the bookstore that wants more copies, had the unenviable task of telling the store the book would not be reprinted.

At all.

Sounds like a stupid thing to do, right? And it is. If traditional publishing had a different business model, they would simply tell booksellers to be patient. The reprint would come eventually.

But that’s not happening.

This is because traditional book publishers must reserve time with their printers. Because everything is new, new, new, the new books get the most attention. Their printings are scheduled months in advance—a practice that has been part of traditional publishing forever.

Because of the supply chain problems and worker shortages and driver shortages and a whole bunch of other things that have an impact on paper books, there is less time to be reserved from printers, not more. That means that traditional publishers are pretty much guaranteed to get their first printings on their latest releases…and nothing else.

Even those first printings are delayed. As Ann Trubeck of Belt Publishing noted, it used to take two weeks to get a book printed. In July, it was taking her eight weeks.

Ingrams is encouraging booksellers to stock up early on the “hot” books of the season (whatever you guess they might be). But Ingrams is also encouraging publishers to print more books than usual, so that they will have books on hand, rather than run out.

But that traditional publisher, Ann Trubeck of Belt Publishing, included something quite savvy in her post. She wrote,

It is entirely possible to lose money by selling more copies than anticipated because an algorithm or overoptimism or “just in case” caution leads to large orders that force publishers to print more copies, only to have that demand evaporate, and all those freshly printed, last minute copies are sent back to the warehouse in a tsunami of bruised, tired cardboard boxes.

Remember, in traditional publishing, returns get eaten by the publisher. Booksellers who over-order can send books back for full credit, if they do so in the right amount of time.

So the traditional publisher put a lot of money into the product and find that they can’t sell it.

This is hard enough for the publisher. And Trubeck isn’t the only one dealing with this, quite obviously. If you read through that thread on Twitter, you’ll see Random House authors mention that their first printing sold out in 2020, they were promised a reprinting, and it never happened.

It won’t happen.

There’s not enough room in traditional publishing right now. I like Trubeck’s voice, so I’ll show you once again her publishing perspective. She notes that on Ingram, many of her books show no copies available. But readers can order from her directly because they have copies stashed at the office. (I have no idea how big her offices are or how many direct sales she makes. Probably not enough.)

Here’s what she says about that:

It’s as scary to anticipate losing sales as it is to be too late with an additional print run, but we will have books available for those who do an extra google search. This line of thinking leads, of course, to this thought: “boy I hope CBS News does NOT cover our October release, and nothing is nominated for a major award this fall!”

Now imagine that from the traditionally published writer’s point of view. They believe they hit the jackpot. Their book came out and got reviewed positively in every single mainstream publishing venue. Their book is the book of the moment—the kind of book that gets a crapload of attention, like so many political books got last year. Suddenly everyone wants to read that book, so folks who like paper order paper…and are told the book is out of print.

Then the book gets nominated for every single major award in publishing (that the book is eligible for). There’s no way, with a minimum of an eight-week delay on printing and time reserved ahead for the new, new, new, that their book will ever be reprinted in time to catch the wave.

Their publisher, who has been around the block a few times, knows that. Knows it very well in fact. So well, that after all the early COVID returns in 2020 (for full credit from closed bookstores) and because of all the supply chain issues and everything else, the publisher won’t even try to reprint.

The publisher will pat the author on the head, congratulate them for a job well done, and move to the new, new, new.

And the writer’s big perfect and wonderful launch—in which everything went right according to the traditional publishing gods—will result in a ruined career, because the books will not sell because there are not enough copies of the book to sell.

Worse, the people who read ebooks don’t like ebooks priced over $10. So, ebook readers will hear about this book, click on it, see that the price is $14.99 and will not buy. The paper book buyer will pick up the ebook, if forced, but will look at the price and think, “What the hell am I getting for my $14.99? I want something to put on my shelf. Ebooks should be cheaper.”

As a result, the ebook sales will increase, but not enough to cover the lost print revenue. Not by a long shot.

(And if you think I’m exaggerating the ebook prices of traditional books, I’m not. I did a spot check on books released this month—books that I preordered in paper from traditional publishers—and the cheapest one I found (from a non-bestseller) was $11.99.)

Sadly, this pandemic and the supply chain problems that will be with us, according to one estimate I saw, until early 2023, will tank a lot of traditional writers’ careers.

Yes, traditional publishers will know that a book that came out in 2021 will have lower print sales than a book that came out in 2019, but honestly, they won’t care. Because there are always new, new, new writers lining up to be fleeced. I mean, traditionally published.

Sigh.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

How I Became the Honest Broker

From Substack:

I rarely talk about my workaday life before I settled into music and writing. Those days are far too strange and confusing to convey without writing a whole book about them. And I’ll never write that book because a lot of it I’d rather forget.

Other people in the creative economy have day gigs, but they are usually simple to describe—waiting on tables, tutoring school kids, driving a taxi, would you like fries with that, mister? But my work wasn’t anything like that. I took on projects that sent me into unfamiliar terrain all over the world, and thrust me into odd and unpredictable situations. The deliverables were always high stakes, the work often secret, surrounded by confidentiality agreements and cautionary warnings, and the agenda rarely going according to plan.

I’ll admit it: I was like a person with a split personality in my twenties. I was obsessed with music, working to advance my piano skills, and digging deeply into the research that would eventually result in so many later books and articles. But I also had to pay the bills, and I possessed a few highly marketable skills. I had an ability to analyze complex social, political and economic situations, a way of navigating through turbulent waters, a knack for making the right move at the right time. These skills caught the notice of powerful people, and they would put me to work to solve their problems.

And, oh man, did they have problems. They would thrust a plane ticket in my hand, and send me packing—off into situations that might involve everything and anything.

The good news: My bosses paid well. What they wanted was never simple or straight-forward. But if I could pull it off, I got rewarded with enough money to cover my costs during long stretches solely devoted to my music and writing.

I have little desire to dwell on the details. Many of them are still confidential, and telling too much could get me into trouble. Much of it is a blur any way—Bangkok, Medellín, Cannes, Shanghai, Prague, Copacabana, Macau, Paris, Tasmania, Jakarta, Tijuana, Frankfurt, Krakow, Tokyo and all other places I went on my various missions.  So many cities, so many crazy days and long nights.

But I need to remember it, if only because I have to tell you about the Honest Broker.

This particular project brought me to China. I was trying to set up an operation in a remote province, far outside my comfort zone, and couldn’t seem to figure out how to maneuver among the various interests and stakeholders. My patron was one of the wealthiest men in Hong Kong, and by using his contacts, I gained access to people who normally operate behind layers of intermediaries and gatekeepers. But even these contacts led me on an endless runaround. My sources gave me  conflicting advice and confusing directions. Everything felt wrong and nothing seemed quite on the level.

I knew I needed help, but had run out of options. Then I met the drunk Australian.

He wasn’t a contact on my list, and I can’t even remember his name. This was a chance encounter in a hotel bar late at night. But this hard-drinking Australian was talkative and had interesting things to say. He had spent most of his life bouncing around the capitals of Asia, and was a high-level operator in his own spheres. He bragged about his insider’s knowledge, and claimed—with some accuracy, as I came to discover—that he knew how to maneuver in China better than the clueless Westerners who were now appearing on the scene. He had traced the secret paths to power and knew all the dangerous mistakes amateurs always make.

He reeled off a list of them. “You go into a province or city and flash around some money, then expect the local officials will help you? Forget it. They’ll rob you blind, and even make you bribe them for the privilege. Same goes for the party leaders. From each according to his ability, and all that, my friend. And forget about lawyers—the legal protections here are like this”—he held up his empty glass, then flipped it over as if to emphasize the nothingness of what he was offering to the gods of Marx and Mao. “As for the bankers, you might as well call them wankers.”

The empty glass was also a sign that I needed to order another round of the local brew, and I quickly complied. My new friend fell into a meditative silence until further libations arrived. Finally, after another sip on the stomach-destroying glass of baijiu that passed for spirits at our watering hole, I asked the obvious question.

“So what do I do? Who can I trust?”

“That’s easy, mate. You need to find the Honest Broker.”

This sounded appealing enough, but I had zero idea what my new acquaintance was talking about. He might just as well have told me to go to Oz and consult with the Wizard.  

“Who, exactly, is this Honest Broker?”

“There’s at least one in every city. But don’t expect their business cards to say ‘Honest Broker’—that’s just what I call them. But that’s exactly what they are. Sometimes they don’t even have an official position. But they are the key to everything.”

He proceeded to explain how Honest Brokers play a hidden but vital role in communities without a history of legal protections and stable institutions. Their influence and power is built solely on a reputation for straight talk and trustworthy dealings. “They are true brokers, intermediaries between others. They aren’t going to participate in your deal, no matter what it is. They are go-betweens, really. But do not underestimate the power of this kind of brokerage. Whatever you need—a loan, a building permit, political influence, a place to land a private jet, whatever—they will introduce you to the right people and steer you away from the sharks.

“And they do this for a very simple reason: their prestige is enhanced by making these connections. In many cases, they don’t even want to be paid. Or let me put that differently—you repay them by becoming a trusted contact for them in future dealings. The Honest Broker may help you for free right now, but don’t be surprised to get asked for assistance on something completely different months or even years later. You Yanks have a hard time grasping it, and are always looking for shortcuts. But the Honest Broker plays the long-term game, mate.

“Find your Honest Broker, and your problems will be solved.”

This proved to be valuable advice, worth far more than the cost of drinks. Over the next few weeks, I changed my approach completely. I made inquiries, compared notes, and finally found my Honest Broker—who did solve my problems, just as promised. My mission accomplished, I returned back home to California and tried to forget all about it.

I put my passport out of sight. My world shrank back to manageable dimensions, and my days were spent at the two keyboards, the piano and the word processor. I was getting back into my music groove again.

A long time went by before I realized the real importance of what I had learned in China, and how it applied to the other half of my split and fractured life. I was putting energy into a new sphere now, music criticism, and trying to create a rule book for how to make it sizzle.

Yet criticism seemed such a degraded form of writing at that juncture. I had already seen the collapse in literary criticism—in fact, I had lived through it as a student at Stanford and Oxford. The whole enterprise had turned into a circus sideshow over the course of just a few years. Critics now aspired to quasi-celebrity status, and they exploited their roles as arbiters of taste to engage in the worst sort of strutting and preening. The more outlandishly they sold out their craft, opting instead for self-aggrandizement, the larger the rewards they received. This blight took root first in France but quickly spread elsewhere.  And now the taint seemed to be seeping into other forms of criticism as well. Whether the subject at hand was a movie or a meal or a TV wrestling match, the critics were the real stars, and everything else subservient to their self-serving deconstruction of anything in their path.

Music reviews seemed to occupy the lowest rung of all, with their own distinct set of vices. I saw critics who just regurgitated record label press releases. Or took all sorts of freebies from power brokers in return for—well, just guess—without a tinge of hesitation or guilt. Or used their influence to get close to stars, churning out favorable coverage in exchange for access. Or announced the arrival of some new savior of the music every month, hyping short-lived trendsetters in a never-ending process of spin. Exaggeration and hipper-than-thou pretension were the calling cards of the field. With an ample supply of those, and a backstage pass, nothing could stop you.

I admit, with some shame, that all this appealed to me in my twenties. The idea that I could adopt a pose as a critic, and launch myself into some higher sphere of coolness—and maybe even hang out with superstars as part of the deal. . . . Well, that was why you picked this vocation in the first place. Wasn’t it? There were compromises, sure, but didn’t they exist in every field? I soothed my conscience by recalling what Hyman Roth tells Michael Corleone in The Godfather II: “Michael, this is the business we’ve chosen.” You get to swagger like a wiseguy, and grab whatever you can get your hands on, just so long as you’re willing to dispose of a few bodies along the way.

I could play this game, was even good at it. I got published and started receiving some recognition for my talents. But I was troubled nonetheless. This didn’t feel right. It didn’t add up. Was this really the right way to do it?

And that’s when I remembered the Honest Broker.

The Honest Broker now reappeared in my psyche as an inner voice, an avenging angel whispering in my ear. Remember me? The Honest Broker puts forthright expression and straight dealing above everything else. The Honest Broker doesn’t look for direct benefit in any endeavor. The Honest Broker is just an intermediary, not a beneficiary. 

But all that seems foolish—because what do you get out of it?

Day by day, the whispering got louder, turned into a constant drone. Do not underestimate the power of this kind of brokerage…the Honest Broker plays the long-term game, mate. Over time, that scrupulous fidelity and reputation for trustworthy advice beats out all other strategies. The Honest Broker is irreplaceable, and all the more so when other guides have become unreliable.

Again and again, I asked myself the same question: Could the Honest Broker be a role model for me as a critic? Even more to the point, did the Honest Broker represent an entirely different model for criticism? Precisely the correcting course we need at this juncture in cultural history?

And here I must make another shameful admission. My initial reaction to this line of thinking was to resist it, and even ridicule it—and for the simple reason that it didn’t gratify my ego. The critic as celebrity was much more appealing on every level. Even the title of “broker” was a huge letdown, especially when I considered the other options. Stanley Crouch had just released a book of critical essays entitled Notes of a Hanging Judge—now that sounded cool. The Hanging Judge? How could I get a nickname like that? I tried saying out loud: Notes of an Honest Broker.

Hell’s bells, it just didn’t have the same ring.

Even so, I saw my approach to writing change over the next few months. Without even consciously admitting it to myself, I was taking on the persona of the Honest Broker. I began measuring my own methodologies against ideal standards of fairness, and nagging myself when I strayed from them. I started paring away at exaggerations and posturing in my prose, and worked to find other ways of imparting color and vitality to my sentences. Above all, I started worrying about my reader—because, after all, wasn’t the reader the real person I was supposed to serve? Wasn’t the reader the beneficiary of my brokerage services?

This too was alarming. Pleasing musicians or editors brought more tangible rewards. What did I get out of serving some lousy, anonymous reader? The ingrate wouldn’t even recognize my noble sacrifice.

Then I reached the most abject level in this whole process of self-abasement. I started worrying about whether the reader would actually enjoy the music I was recommending.

This was a whole new consideration, one that had never dawned on me before. And I could tell by consulting various cutting edge critics, that this issue hadn’t got on their radar screens either. They didn’t give a rat’s ass for the reader’s musical pleasure. Or, if they did, they made sure to hide it at every pass. I started reading  music reviews just looking for the words: enjoyment, pleasure, delight. They had gone missing in action. Why didn’t anyone talk about them? Shouldn’t enjoyment be a make-or-break part of the deal? Yes, a critic expands the readers’ horizons, informs and educates, but also guide them to pleasure. After all, wasn’t that why I listened to music? Wasn’t that what brought me to my vocation in the first place?

Lost in this maze, I started recognizing all the other priorities that people had who wrote about music. And the more I mulled over the ecosystem, the more polluted it seemed. I saw smart people who wrote entire books about music with the aim of securing tenure from their elder colleagues in a college music department. I saw others twisting themselves into all sorts of contortions in order to win a grant or please an editor or curry favor with some institutional power broker. I even read reviewers who wrote with the apparent goal of ingratiating themselves with other reviewers. Talk about the blind leading the blind!

Link to the rest at Substack

How the AP Stylebook Considers Language on Disability

From Publishers Weekly:

I’m a Canadian writer but, beyond that, I’m a disabled journalist. The style bible in use north of the border is called the Canadian Press Style Guide, or CP Guide for short. The initialism for my disability, cerebral palsy, is also CP. I often joke with colleagues that I was almost certainly born to do this if the naming conventions of the industry are anything to go by. In fact, this tiny connection is one of the only things, in journalism or in the wider publishing industry, that I am sure of. As always, the goalposts move. Sometimes, even in the right direction. This was true for a recent revision of the Associated Press Stylebook.

On April 23, the AP announced what it called a “revision and expansion” of its guidelines for writing about disabled people. The advice highlighted the need to stay away from old tropes relating to disabled people—that we are just sad objects of pity who need to be doted on via the written word; that we are suffering, or bound, or afflicted. Given this update, one might think that the disability community felt triumphant. However, the joys of being 20% (or thereabouts) of the population is that we are not a monolith and neither is how we identify.

The AP was quickly criticized for its advice surrounding person-first vs. identity-first language. The news agency noted that some people prefer identity-first language, like I’ve used thus far in this piece—disabled followed by identifier. I use identity first because disability permeates every part of my lived experience. My brain damage is not going away, and I don’t need the small reminders that I’m a person.

The other option, person first—e.g., “a journalist with CP”—is used in some circles, but is largely deployed outside of the community by people who feel icky about the word disabled. Like they might catch something or, importantly for writers, like we’re not seen as fully fledged human beings in wider society. Imagine that.

After noting that these distinctions exist, the AP decided—in line with the National Center for Disability Journalism’s guidance at the time (I’m unsure if they collaborated on this decision)—to make its stance, “In describing groups of people, or when individual preferences can’t be determined, use person-first language.” To which many disabled Twitter users, to put it mildly, disagreed. Three days later came a Tweet welcoming readers to give the AP feedback. The NCDJ revised its guidelines this month, removing the suggestion that newsrooms use person-first language automatically.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Active Protagonists are a Tool of the Patriarchy

From Writer Unboxed:

I feel like I’m committing a grievous writerly sin by even typing these words, but I must speak my truth:

I would like to see more passive protagonists in fiction.

While the title of this post is tongue-in-cheek, I do think that passive protagonists are unfairly maligned in part because of the unspoken association between passivity and femininity. I’ll get into why I think so a little later, but let’s discuss what “passive protagonist” means first.

The importance of intent

Passive protagonists are the antithesis of what we’re told makes a good story. A good story, says common wisdom, is driven by the choices and desires of the main character. Passive protagonists, on the other hand, do not drive the plot through their choices and actions, but rather have the plot inflicted upon them. Without goals and desires, and without challenges to overcome toward those goals and desires, what are the stakes? Where is the tension?

Such a story can absolutely be boring and frustrating to read.

But common wisdom also tells us that the choices made by an active protagonist must build toward a climax. In her craft book Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative, Jane Alison argues that the traditional path through fiction in the Western world has been the dramatic arc: the wave that rises to a climax, then falls. There are variations on that wave or triangle pattern, of course, but by and large, storytellers are told that things must build and build until they come to a head, then be resolved in a way that denotes to the reader that the story is complete.

As Alison says, “Bit masculo-sexual, no?”

If written compellingly, passive characters have a lot to teach us. That’s easier said than done, of course. Getting a reader to bother caring about someone who doesn’t seem to want anything is difficult, which is why passive characters are hard to write well. It’s much easier to tell a compelling story about a character striving to get what they want. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Active characters make for great stories. I don’t want to knock active characters, or argue that everyone should only write passive ones. This is more of a plea for more diversity—of all kinds—in fiction. Passive protagonists have as much to teach us as active protagonists, and can make for stories that are just as interesting.

The difference between a “good” passive protagonist and a “bad” one boils down to what causes many writing problems: purpose. Not the character’s purpose. I’m talking about whether the author has written a passive protagonist intentionally or not. As Matthew Salesses says in Craft in the Real World, “Everything is a decision.”

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG is reminded of his problems with masculine and feminine genders in long-ago language classes during the height of the Roman Empire.

Just as it was difficult for him to recall the masculine/feminine characteristics of different groups of words and he thought they were more than a bit foolish, he doesn’t think that active or passive protagonists have any connection with women and men in real life.

Anyone who thinks that females are in any way inherently passive due to societal pressures or otherwisee hasn’t met PG’s wife, mother or a long list of female friends PG has had in his life.

He is reminded of a group conversation involving females and males of many years ago when one of the females addressed one of the males (not PG) by calling his name, then said most emphatically, “Be a man! Just be a man!”

The recipient of this strongly-worded advice blinked, bucked himself up, and, at least in the short term, acted in a manner more consistent with this strongly-worded advice.

Ebooks Are an Abomination

From The Atlantic:

Perhaps you’ve noticed that ebooks are awful. I hate them, but I don’t know why I hate them. Maybe it’s snobbery. Perhaps, despite my long career in technology and media, I’m a secret Luddite. Maybe I can’t stand the idea of looking at books as computers after a long day of looking at computers as computers. I don’t know, except for knowing that ebooks are awful.

If you hate ebooks like I do, that loathing might attach to their dim screens, their wonky typography, their weird pagination, their unnerving ephemerality, or the prison house of a proprietary ecosystem. If you love ebooks, it might be because they are portable, and legible enough, and capable of delivering streams of words, fiction and nonfiction, into your eyes and brain with relative ease. Perhaps you like being able to carry a never-ending stack of books with you wherever you go, without having to actually lug them around. Whether you love or hate ebooks is probably a function of what books mean to you, and why.

When discussed in the present tense, ebooks means Amazon Kindle ebooks. Competitors are out there, including tablets such as the iPad and the various software that can display books in electronic format. Precursors are also many. Ebooks appeared on Palm handhelds in the late ’90s. Microsoft made a reader for its equivalent, Windows CE. The first commercial e-ink reader was made in 2004 by Sony, not Amazon, although you’ve probably never heard of it. Barnes & Noble still makes the Nook, a Kindle competitor that seems like the Betamax of ebook readers. Before all of these, it was always possible to read on computers, portable or not. Adobe’s PDF format, first released in the early ’90s, made it easy to create and share print-formatted documents, viewable on any platform with a PDF reader. And you have been able to scroll through Word (or WordPerfect or WordStar or plain text) documents for as long as computers have existed, even if few would call such an experience reading.

Stop and reread that last clause, because the key to understanding why you love or hate ebooks is pressurized into it. Agreeing that books are a thing you read is easy enough. But what it means to read, what the experience of reading requires and entails, and what makes it pleasurable or not, is not so easy to pin down.

. . . .

Reading is a relatively useless term. It describes a broad array of literacy practices, ranging from casually scanning social-media posts to perusing magazine articles such as this one to poring over the most difficult technical manuals or the lithest storytelling. You read instructions on elevators, prompts in banking apps, directions on highway signs. Metaphorically, you read situations, people’s faces, the proverbial room. What any individual infers about their hopes and dreams for an e-reader derives from their understanding of reading in the first place. You can’t have books without bookiness.

Bookiness. That’s the word Glenn Fleishman, a technology writer and longtime bookmaker, uses to describe the situation. “It’s the essence that makes someone feel like they’re using a book,” he told me. Like pornography or sandwiches, you know bookiness when you see it. Or feel it? Either way, most people can’t identify what it is in the abstract.

Fleishman and I took a swing at defining bookiness anyway. A book, we decided, is probably composed of bound pages, rather than loose ones. Those pages are probably made from paper, or leaves akin to paper. These pages are likely numerous, and the collection of pages is coherent, forming a totality. The order of that totality matters, but also the form of bound pages allows a reader random access to any page, via flipping and fanning. Books have spreads, made of a left (verso) and right (recto) side. You can look at both at once, and an open book has the topology of a valley, creating a space that you can go inside and be surrounded by, literally and figuratively. Some books are very large, but the ordinary sort is portable and probably handheld. That held object probably has a cover made of a different material from the leaves that compose its pages. A stapled report probably isn’t a book; a coil-bound one with plastic covers might be. A greeting card is probably not a book; neither is the staple-bound manual that came with your air fryer. Are magazines and brochures books? They might be, if we didn’t have special terms for the kind of books they are.

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

In my first publication

In my first publication I might have claimed that I had come to the conclusion, as a result of serious study of the literature and deep thought, that valuable antibacterial substances were made by moulds and that I set out to investigate the problem. That would have been untrue and I preferred to tell the truth that penicillin started as a chance observation. My only merit is that I did not neglect the observation and that I pursued the subject as a bacteriologist. My publication in 1929 was the starting-point of the work of others who developed penicillin especially in the chemical field.

Sir Alexander Fleming

I couldn’t stop writing fake Dear Prudence letters that got published

From Gawker:

Sometime at the tail end of 2018, shortly after abandoning yet another draft of what was supposed to be my fifth Young Adult novel, I took up a different form of fiction: I started writing fake letters to Dear Prudence, Slate’s long-running advice column.

Part of the reason for this change was that I was getting too old for young adults. As the sun set on my twinkhood, the teenage characters in my unfinished drafts had become suspiciously middle-aged in their preoccupations. They were jaded about sex, fretful about the effectiveness of their skincare routines, and clumsy in their use of emojis. Maybe worse, in the time that I had been writing YA, the once pleasantly eccentric corner of book publishing had become a stronghold for cynical opportunists and people who seemed to despise the very idea of literature. It was all fucking with my head, and while I couldn’t imagine giving up on fiction entirely, I was starting to think that what I had spent my career doing wasn’t working anymore.

Writing fake letters to advice columns could not be considered a good career move; after all, it was unpaid and I wouldn’t even get a byline out of it. On the other hand, it was easy and creatively fulfilling. In my anonymous, fabricated letters to Prudence, I could follow the most demented threads of my imagination without having to anticipate the omnivalent flavors of opprobrium that might rain down on me from YA’s brigade of cultural revolutionaries.

The world of “agony aunts” was not new to me. In my childhood, I would take the Washington Post and the local Montgomery Journal with my after-school snack, and while I’d tried to cultivate an interest in the news of the day, the advice columns were what really spoke to me. Part of this was personal. It was family legend that my grandmother had been published in the 1970s by Ann Landers, sincerely asking if she should divorce my grandfather for his secret smoking habit. Ann had advised her to chill, and they remained married, so I felt that in some way I owed her for my existence. (Then again, my grandfather eventually died from the cigs, so maybe Ann was to blame for that too.) In my pre-teen mind, Ann Landers and her sisters (Dear Abby was, in fact, her actual sister!) were figures similar to the Fates. To contemplate the ways in which their pronouncements had altered the course of history was to stare down a dizzying kaleidoscope of Quantum Leap what-ifs.

I was also intrigued by the question of fakes, for which Ann was always on alert. She operated under the thinking that Yale undergrads were the most common perpetrators of fabulist letters, and, for a time, refused to publish any letter bearing a New Haven postmark. This suggested to me an erotic glamor: I imagined dormitories full of muscular undergrads lounging around in their undies and collaborating on phony scenarios before hitting the showers together to celebrate their labor. It was with this dream in mind that I approached my task.

Over the next couple of years, I used burner email accounts to submit around 25 letters to Dear Prudence, at least 12 of which were answered on either the printed column or the podcast.

Though Dear Prudence has run in Slate since 1997, the role of Prudie was assumed in 2015 by Daniel Lavery — co-founder of the feminist website The Toast and author of a book about famous literary characters texting — who transformed the column into something of a tribunal, doling out po-faced judgment to guilty white cishets for crimes of allyship. Was it wrong for a letter-writer to call the cops when she saw a home invasion taking place on her street? (“You can’t go back in time and undo what you did, of course,” an unamused Prudie tsked.) Would it be morally acceptable for another to steal their parents’ phones and secretly delete objectionable content from their Facebook feeds? (“Go ahead and unsubscribe them with my blessing,” Prudie advised.)

More than being an heir to Ann and Abby, this incarnation of Prudie felt like an heir to Judith Martin’s Miss Manners, whose adjudications on minor questions of polity were, in their own way, more titillating than the seamier stuff offered up in more generalist columns. But rather than looking to Emily Post, Lavery’s Prudie was guided by the convoluted pieties of Twitter. This was fertile soil for the themes that I was interested in, which included Disney monomania, semantic disputes in queer relationships, and paralyzing anxieties around Brooklyn-style social mores.

Link to the rest at Gawker and thanks to D for the tip.

But nothing of a nature foreign to the duties of my profession [clergyman]

But nothing of a nature foreign to the duties of my profession [clergyman] engaged my attention while I was at Leeds so much as the, prosecution of my experiments relating to electricity, and especially the doctrine of air. The last I was led into a consequence of inhabiting a house adjoining to a public brewery, where first amused myself with making experiments on fixed air [carbon dioxide] which found ready made in the process of fermentation. When I removed from that house, I was under the necessity making the fixed air for myself; and one experiment leading to another, as I have distinctly and faithfully noted in my various publications on the subject, I by degrees contrived a convenient apparatus for the purpose, but of the cheapest kind. When I began these experiments I knew very little of chemistry, and had in a manner no idea on the subject before I attended a course of chymical lectures delivered in the Academy at Warrington by Dr. Turner of Liverpool. But I have often thought that upon the whole, this circumstance was no disadvantage to me; as in this situation I was led to devise an apparatus and processes of my own, adapted to my peculiar views. Whereas, if I had been previously accustomed to the usual chemical processes, I should not have so easily thought of any other; and without new modes of operation I should hardly have discovered anything materially new.

Joseph Priestley

Publishers, Amazon Move to Dismiss Booksellers’ Antitrust Suit

From Publishers Weekly:

In separate motions this week, Amazon and the Big Five publishers asked a federal court to dismiss the latest iteration of a potential class-action price-fixing claim filed against them on behalf of indie booksellers.

According to court filings, the booksellers’ Amended Complaint, which was filed in July, accuses Amazon and the publishers of illegal price discrimination under the Robinson-Patman Act. But in their motions to dismiss, both Amazon and the publishers insist there is no illegal agreement to fix or otherwise restrain prices, and that the amended complaint is legally deficient and must be tossed.

“The Complaint recites that Amazon is a leading book retailer, takes issue with ordinary price competition, and tries to illogically and conclusorily claim that Publisher Defendants conspired with each other and with Amazon to confer a monopoly on Amazon, despite Publisher Defendants resisting Amazon’s growing position in the market for decades,” reads the publishers motion to dismiss. “This is simply not plausible. After realizing its originally pled Sherman Act conspiracy claims had no basis, Plaintiff tried to repackage them in its Complaint and bolster them with a price discrimination claim under the Robinson-Patman Act. The Complaint, however, is fatally deficient under either statute and must be dismissed.”

In its motion to dismiss, Amazon lawyers also insist that there is no conspiracy with the publishers, no evidence of illegal collusion, and that its bargaining for lower print book prices is simply good business—and good for consumers.

“Bargaining between buyers and sellers is one of the most commonplace, precompetitive actions that can occur in any market,” the Amazon brief states. “As the Supreme Court has stressed repeatedly, it would do great damage to competition and consumers alike if the [Robinson-Patman Act] were misconstrued as having outlawed competitive bargaining.”

The suit was first filed in March, 2021, when Evanston, Ill.-based Indie bookseller Bookends & Beginnings teamed up with the law firm currently leading a sprawling class action price-fixing suit against Amazon and the Big Five publishers in the e-book market to file an antitrust lawsuit on behalf of a potential class of booksellers accusing Amazon and the Big Five publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin Random House) of a conspiracy to restrain price competition in the retail and online print trade book market.

Similar to the claims made in the in ongoing e-book price-fixing case, the initial complaint turned on Amazon’s use of Most Favored Nation clauses in its contracts with the Big Five publishers, which, lawyers for Hagens Berman claim, have “the intent and effect of controlling wholesale prices of print trade books and preventing competition with Amazon in the retail sale of print trade books.”

But in their motion to dismiss, Amazon lawyers note that the factual basis for much of the booksellers’ initial complaint—the use of MFN clauses—simply does not exist. And, Amazon lawyers insist, the price discrimination claims in the amended complaint are ill-conceived.

“The premise of Plaintiff’s Complaint was that [the use of MFN] clauses prevented other retailers from competing to ‘gain market share’ by negotiating better wholesale prices for themselves,” the Amazon motion notes. “Plaintiff withdrew its Complaint after Defendants demonstrated that there was no factual basis for Plaintiff’s core allegation: those agreements do not and never did contain any such MFN clauses. Rather than dismiss its claims, however, Plaintiff pivoted dramatically to allege effectively the opposite theory, that Amazon violated [The Robinson-Patman Act]…by negotiating for discounted wholesale prices and passing those savings along to consumers by charging ‘comparatively lower retail book prices’ to improve its market position…Plaintiffs new theory, in other words, attacks the very essence of robust and healthy competition that the antitrust laws overwhelmingly seek to promote. Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint is baseless and should be dismissed.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

7 Novels For Living Out Your Cottagecore Fantasies

From The Literary Hub:

Growing up, I fell in love with the cottagecore coziness of Bilbo Baggins’ Bag End, the Weasley’s ramshackle and magical Burrow, and the eclectic Victorian ephemera in Sherlock Holmes’ 221B Baker Street. I agonized endlessly over design choices in The Sims, using cheat codes to get the much-needed Simoleons for my champagne tastes. But in the last couple of years I’ve seen more of my own four walls than I ever thought I would. And like many of us, I’ve found myself reaching for refuge in joyful, light-hearted books more than ever before.

Maybe it’s counterintuitive that I’m still so drawn to cozy (and not so cozy) houses in fiction, but it’s hard to not recognize the power that “home” has over us. I take comfort in the solace (and, sometimes, menace) they represent for the main character. In my new novel, The Shaadi Set-Up, it should be no surprise that a house plays a pivotal role: two exes have to work together to flip a gorgeous, if slightly tumbledown, beach house on a little island off the North Carolina coast. The renovated house, just like their relationship, is built stronger the second time around.

No matter which is your cup of tea, I hope you’ll find at least one fictional abode here that makes you want to kick up your feet and linger for a while.

Sarah Hogle, Twice Shy

The main character inherits a once-grand house in the Smokies that she must share with a co-beneficiary. Even amidst all the clutter, the house represents their hopes and dreams for the future in an utterly charming, totally wholesome way. Secret rooms, treasure maps, and a vast property to explore: a property like this would be a dream for weathering the pandemic.

Talia Hibbert, Act Your Age, Eve Brown

A woman reluctantly accepts a job as a chef at a storybook-charming bed and breakfast in the picturesque Lake District after accidentally injuring the B&B’s grumpy owner… and then falls in love with him. This book is a perfect staycation read, set in a house you’ll never want to leave. 

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Can Salman Rushdie and Substack Revive Serialized Fiction?

From The New Republic:

Salman Rushdie, the Booker Prize–winning novelist, insists that he is not, like so many media members before him, going to Substack—at least not full-time. He won’t be publishing his next book on the newsletter platform. Instead, he’s taken an advance from the company to fool around with “whatever comes into” his head. This will apparently include a serialized novella. “I think that new technology always makes possible new art forms, and I think literature has not found its new form in this digital age,” Rushdie told The Guardian. “Whatever the new thing is that’s going to arise out of this new world, I don’t think we’ve seen it yet.”

“People have been talking about the death of the novel, almost since the birth of the novel,” he continued. “But the actual, old fashioned thing, the hardcopy book, is incredibly, mutinously alive. And here I am having another go, I guess, at killing it.”

Rushdie isn’t wrong. The physical book has, somewhat improbably, maintained its supremacy in the digital age. Unlike the DVD or CD, nothing has truly emerged to threaten the analog; the printed page hasn’t yet had to make a “vinyl comeback.” At the same time, the book has hardly adapted to the internet age at all. Whatever the genre, books are simply not at all different than they were a few years ago, and no one seems particularly bothered about it. Not too long ago, there was a brief push to embrace things like QR codes to unlock digital supplementary material, but readers weren’t interested; the Kindle, meanwhile, is dominant among e-readers in large part because it so eerily replicates the feel of reading a physical book.

Yet it’s highly unlikely that Rushdie—or Substack—will plot the novel’s, let alone the book’s, next act. For years, people have been predicting that the internet would radically upend the future of literature, and yet, stubbornly, literature has refused to change. One reason for the book’s continued relevance is that it remains a surprisingly robust and effective piece of technology in its own right—every effort to find its future only ends up reminding everyone about what it already does better than other mediums.

Less than 10 years ago, the consensus within much of the publishing industry was that the physical book was on its way out. Just as Napster had killed the CD and Netflix the DVD, Amazon’s Kindle, unveiled in late 2007, heralded a seismic change for a medium that had held sway for more than 500 years. The book had been slowly falling in the public’s estimation ever since people ran out of a movie theater, in 1896, thinking that a train was going to kill them.

By the late 2000s, the reasoned thinking was that the book was an inferior communication technology, about to be left behind by the startling array of digital entertainment options.

It didn’t seem like such a bad bet: Digital books would soon outpace physical ones. This change would, in turn, bring about a dramatic change in form. Writers were limiting themselves when thinking only in text: Why not explore audio and video? Why not turn the book into an immersive experience? Why not allow readers to interact with the story itself, turning any book into a Choose Your Own Adventure experience?

There were two big problems with this thinking. The first was that what many of these theorists were describing was not, in fact, a book. In many instances, what they were describing was closer to a video game: an experience in which readers guided a narrative with audiovisual dimensions. The oddest thing about reading many fevered imaginings of the future of the novel was that they had been played out in things like Metal Gear Solid. (My own favorite game series, The Witcher, is a rarity in the game world, as it’s based on a series of Polish short stories, suggesting that the literature-to-game pipeline is being curiously underexploited.) There was, moreover, no evidence that readers truly wanted to be overwhelmed by audio and video while reading: Many, in fact, were turning to books precisely to escape the information overload that defines life in the twenty-first century. As Lincoln Michel argued on his Substack, it turns out that people just like books, and print books in particular.

The second error that these media futurists made was overestimating how vulnerable the book was to digital technology. Many people, when they listen to music, like to jump around between artists: The iPod allowed them to do so seamlessly. Movies are consumed in one two-hour period, and most people don’t know what they want to watch before they sit down on the couch, a problem solved by Netflix. But most people read one book at a time—no one was lugging an entire library to the beach. A Kindle can store thousands of books, but who cares? Having an ocean of literature at your fingertips is neat, but it doesn’t change the time-tested user experience of reading in a dramatic way.

Link to the rest at The New Republic

Needless to say, PG disagrees about ebooks vs. printed books.

As he’s mentioned before, he will occasionally purchase a printed book for one reason or another, but always regrets it later. Even a single not-very-fat printed book is more trouble for him than an ebook. A 600-800 page printed book is a horror to read.

Happily for the overall welfare of humanity not everybody is like PG.

PG himself would not like to live in a world of other PG’s. He cherishes the amazing variety of people he interacts with and is quite happy that they are different, even much different than he is.

Plus, the idea of a female PG makes him shudder.

Nine Years Ago, I Speculated that Dewey’s Days Were Numbered. How Far Have We Come?

From School Library Journal:

Almost a decade ago, my colleagues and I wrote an article for SLJ entitled “Are Dewey’s Days Numbered?” in which we made the argument that the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system had lost its relevance. We took a bold stance, and the backlash was swift. Fellow librarians would wait outside the rooms I was speaking in at conferences, backing me into corners to demand that I stop talking about alternative systems.

At the time, we focused on creating better, more fluent access for children and modernizing a system that was created in the 19th century. It seems appropriate that today, an era when the status quo has been turned upside down by COVID and the racial justice movement, I find myself once again looking at the Dewey system. In this time that has highlighted the vast inequalities and injustices in our country, are we going to continue to use a cataloging system that is steeped in the values and worldview of a racist, misogynistic anti-Semite?

In 2019, ALA approved a resolution to take Melvil Dewey’s name off of one of the organization’s top awards for librarians, because of his known history as a racist, anti-Semite, and sexual predator. The reason: “the behavior demonstrated for decades by Dewey does not represent the stated fundamental values of ALA in equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

It is impossible to ignore that these ideas are ingrained in the system. Just look at a few examples: African American culture and history is located in groups of people (305), not American culture and history (973). In fact, any activist from suffragettes to environmentalists are classified in social sciences, history.

It is impossible to ignore that these ideas are ingrained in the system. Just look at a few examples: African American culture and history is located in groups of people (305), not American culture and history (973). In fact, any activist from suffragettes to environmentalists are classified in social sciences, history.

What message does that send our students? Are we suggesting that these groups of people can only be studied in relation to others, that their own history is not enough to stand on its own? Christians make up approximately 30 percent of the world’s religious population, yet they make up 90 percent of the 200s (religion.) The Dewey Decimal System is a perfect example of systemic racism, and we as librarians are perpetuating this harmful worldview in our libraries.

In a recent article in SLJ, many librarians commented about how weeding their collections allowed them to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion. Collection development is the natural focus of many librarians when thinking about how to make our libraries more diverse. But how inclusive can we be if the system itself is exclusionary? Most of us put a lot of effort into collecting diverse, informative books that provide windows and mirrors. When we put those books on the shelf in an outdated system, it negates those very principles. Students searching for the 16 official languages of India find out that they are shoved into 495.9 (miscellaneous languages of southeast Asia.) There are twice as many people living in India as in all of Europe, but the message we send is crystal clear to our children that white, European people and their culture are the most important. Kids looking for LGBTQ+ nonfiction books find out that they are shelved next to prostitution and pornography. The understanding that their thoughts, their very identity, is wrong and immoral comes through loud and clear no matter what we might say to the contrary.

It’s striking to me that librarians aren’t applying our rigorous weeding criteria to the system itself. Dewey is outdated and obsolete, it is difficult to use, and it doesn’t resonate with our patrons, our values, or the world around us. The system codifies and upholds a white, male, Eurocentric, Christian, heteronormative, abled perspective.

Link to the rest at School Library Journal

The Top 10 Party Girls in Literature

From Electric Lit:

From an age that was often too young to be anywhere, I found myself in closed-off rooms. They ranged from green rooms at concert halls to back rooms at parties. By the time I was 21, I had known my purpose in those spaces, how and why I was invited into them, and what was expected of me. I was a seasoned party girl who flitted in and out of metropolitan cities with seemingly few resources. People had seen me around. They would say, “Oh her, I’ve known her forever!”

The politics of the Party Girl have always been of interest to me, simply because of the way she moves within a world that warns her to be careful. To watch her behavior, her tone, her drink. She exists on a precipice of seeking out fun, when also too much fun, she’s warned, is dangerous. The prevailing image of the Party Girl has historically been white—of course, non-white Party Girls have existed, but how much space do we lend them in its canon? How much fun are they allowed to have? My characters come from a lineage of flappers, demimondaines, and society girls, where what unifies these archetypes is how they attempt to rise ranks with charm as their only currency.

. . . .

Mr. Right is Dead by Rona Jaffe

The titular novella in this collection follows a playgirl named Melba Toast who gathers men and gifts without a touch of malice, “She takes quick flights of fancy and quick flights across the country in quest of someone she had two dates with a month before.” The narrator is a willing accomplice to Melba’s schemes and comes to the realization that though she makes it look easy, a playgirl’s life is often hard work. 

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

This list would be amiss without Holly Golightly. The glamorous call girl who left men wanting more. She has some of the best Party Girl pedigree—a secret marriage, a mob connection, and a casual grasp of French. I often find myself repeating her aperçus—“Certain shades of limelight wreck a girl’s complexion.” 

. . . .

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

After a long-term relationship detonates, Queenie Jenkins careens around London in a never-ending spiral of bad decisions and sexual foibles. Wrestling her mental health, heartbreak, and a prudent Jamaican British family, Queenie attempts the clumsy journey of trying to achieve independence through sexual encounters.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

What is the Easiest Font to Read?

From The Book Designer:

If you’ve never formatted a book before, you might not know exactly how much work goes into it. It might seem easy and uniform—it just needs to look like a book, right?—but you’d be surprised just how many decisions you’ll need to make if you’re formatting on your own. Among the most important of these will be the font you choose for your book. 

Think of it like this: picking a bad font for your book is much like picking a bad cover. Even if you’ve got the best content in the world, a reader is much less likely to buy or read it if it looks cheaply or badly made. 

Let’s talk a little about fonts, why they matter, and how to pick the perfect one for your project. 

. . . .

What is the easiest font to read in a book?

So, before we talk about exactly which fonts to use, let’s go over some terminology. The first choice you’ll need to make is serif v. sans serif. What does that mean? 

Serif Fonts:

Serif fonts are those fonts with little ridges on them. Think Times New Roman or Georgia—the little feet and embellishments on certain letters make the words flow together in a way that isn’t confusing. It keeps the eye moving, basically. 

Sans-Serif Fonts:

A sans-serif font does exactly the opposite. These fonts don’t have these details on them, making the letters smooth and unconnected. Think Arial or Calibri. The space between letters makes each letter clearer, which can enhance readability. 

Generally, books are written in serif fonts because of how they lead the reader’s eye. Because the space between letters helps readability, sans serif fonts are generally reserved for large text editions of books. 

While there’s no solid consensus on exactly which font is the best for your book, a few popular choices are: Georgia, Tisa, Merriweather, and Rooney.

. . . .

You don’t want to stick out

When you’re picking a font for a book, you don’t want something that the reader is going to notice. You don’t want it to stick out as a strange choice—in something like a logo, you might want a memorable, notable font, but in a book, you want it to blend in.

Sometimes, on the copyright page of a book, the font will be listed with the other publication info. Check for this the next time you’re reading a physical book and see if you notice any patterns. Do fantasy books tend to stick to a certain font family? Do nonfiction books? Keep that info in mind when you go to pick out a font for yourself, so you’re picking something that will blend in without the reader even realizing it.

You want to stay on-theme

Picking a neutral font, or a font you’ve seen before, shouldn’t be a choice you make at random. While you don’t want your choice to be overt to the reader, you also want it to be intentional. 

We rarely think of words and letters as ‘images,’ but they are! And the way you choose to present your words will impact the way a reader thinks about the text, even if only in a very subtle way. You know how some people get flashbacks to college papers when they see Times New Roman? We want to avoid that. 

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

The Publishing Ecosystem in the Digital Era

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

IN 1995, I WENT to work as a writer and editor for Book World, the then-standalone book-review section of The Washington Post. I left a decade later, two years before Amazon released the Kindle ebook reader. By then, mainstream news outlets like the Post were on the ropes, battered by what sociologist John B. Thompson, in Book Wars, calls “the digital revolution” and its erosion of print subscriptions and advertising revenue. The idea that a serious newspaper had to have a separate book-review section seems quaint now. Aside from The New York Times Book Review, most of Book World’s competitors have faded into legend, like the elves departing from Middle-earth at the end of The Lord of the Rings. Their age has ended, though the age of the book has not.

Nobody arrives better equipped than Thompson to map how the publishing ecosystem has persisted and morphed in the digital environment. An emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Cambridge and emeritus fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge, Thompson conducts his latest field survey of publishing through a rigorous combination of data analysis and in-depth interviews. Book Wars comes stuffed with graphs and tables as well as detailed anecdotes. The data component can get wearisome for a reader not hip-deep in the business, but it’s invaluable to have such thorough documentation of the digital publishing multiverse.

. . . .

One big question animates Thompson’s investigation: “So what happens when the oldest of our media industries collides with the great technological revolution of our time?” That sounds like hyperbole — book publishing hasn’t exactly stood still since Gutenberg. A lot happens in 500 years, even without computers. But for an industry built on the time-tested format of print books, the internet understandably looked and felt like an existential threat as well as an opportunity.

Early on in his study, Thompson neatly evokes the fear that accompanied the advent of ebooks. The shift to digital formats had already eviscerated the music industry; no wonder publishers felt queasy. As Thompson writes, “Were books heading in the same direction as CDs and vinyl LPs — on a precipitous downward slope and likely to be eclipsed by digital downloads? Was this the beginning of the end of the physical book?” That question has been asked over and over again for decades now, and the answer remains an emphatic No. (Note to pundits: Please resist the urge to write more “Print isn’t dead!” hot takes.) But publishers didn’t know that in the early digital days.

The words “revolution” and “disruption” get thrown around so often that they’ve lost their punch, but Thompson justifies his use of them here. He recalls the “dizzying growth” of digital books beginning in 2008, “the first full year of the Kindle.” That year alone, ebook sales for US trade titles added up to $69 million; by 2012, they had ballooned to $1.5 billion, “a 22-fold increase in just four years.”

Print, as usual, refused to be superseded. Despite their early boom, ebooks didn’t cannibalize the print market. Thompson uses data from the Association of American Publishers to show that ebooks plateaued at 23 to 24 percent of total book sales in the 2012–’14 period, then slipped to about 15 percent in 2017–’18. Print books, on the other hand, continue to account for the lion’s share of sales, with a low point of about 75 percent in 2012–’14, bouncing back to 80­ to 85 percent of total sales in 2015–’16. (Thompson’s study stops before the 2020–’21 pandemic, but print sales have for the most part been strong in the COVID-19 era.)

For some high-consumption genres, like romance, the ebook format turned out to be a match made in heaven; Thompson notes that romance “outperforms every other category by a significant margin.” But readers in most genres have grown used to choosing among formats, and traditional publishers have for the most part proved able and willing to incorporate those formats into their catalogs. That’s a net gain both for consumer choice and for broader access to books.

. . . .

Thompson quotes an anonymous trade-publishing CEO: “The power of Amazon is the single biggest issue in publishing.”

It’s easy to see why. With its vast market reach and unprecedented access to customer data, Amazon has made itself indispensable to publishers, who rely on it both to drive sales (often at painfully deep discounts) and to connect with readers. For many of us, if a book’s not available on Amazon, it might as well not exist. “Given Amazon’s dominant position as a retailer of both print and ebooks and its large stock of information capital, publishers increasingly find themselves locked in a Faustian pact with their largest customer,” Thompson writes.

That pact has proven hard to break. “Today, Amazon accounts for around 45 percent of all print book sales in the US and more than 75 percent of all ebook unit sales, and for many publishers, around half — in some cases, more — of their sales are accounted for by a single customer, Amazon,” Thompson points out. That’s staggering.

Does Amazon care about books? Not in the way that publishers, authors, and readers do, but that doesn’t change the power dynamic. Amazon derives its power from market share, yes, but also from what Thompson calls “information capital” — namely the data it collects about its customers. That gives it an enormous advantage over publishers, whose traditional business approach prioritizes creative content and relationships with authors and booksellers.

Workarounds to Amazon exist, though not yet at scale. Just as authors have learned to connect with readers via email newsletters and social media, so have publishers been experimenting with direct outreach via digital channels. Email feels almost quaint, but done well it remains a simple and effective way to reach a target audience. Selling directly to readers means publishers can avoid the discounts and terms imposed on them by Amazon and other distributors.

. . . .

Authors can now sidestep literary gatekeepers, such as agents and acquiring editors, and build successful careers with the help of self-publishing platforms and outlets that didn’t exist 20 or even 10 years ago. Self-publishing has become respectable; we’ve traveled a long way from the days when book review editors wrote off self-published books as vanity press projects. Newspaper book sections have mostly vanished, but book commentary pops up all over the internet, in serious review outlets like this one and in the feeds of Instagram and TikTok influencers. It’s a #bookstagram as well as an NYTBR world now. To me, that feels like a win for books, authors, and readers.

. . . .

Some authors hit the big time in terms of sales and readers without relying on a traditional publisher. Thompson returns several times to the example of the software engineer-turned-writer Andy Weir, whose hit book The Martian (2011) got its start as serialized chapters published on his blog and delivered to readers via newsletter. (Newsletters represent another digital-publishing trend unlikely to disappear anytime soon.) “The astonishing success of The Martian — from blog to bestseller — epitomizes the paradox of the digital revolution in publishing: unprecedented new opportunities are opened up, both for individuals and for organizations, while beneath the surface the tectonic plates of the industry are shifting,” Thompson writes.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

The Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics

From The Wall Street Journal:

In the United Kingdom, there is a tradition of printing 100-page books—booklets, really—from lectures given by notable judges and lawyers. The Hamlyn Lecture series, for example, has featured such distinguished talks as Lord Denning’s “Freedom Under the Law” (1949), Professor Arthur Goodhart’s “English Law and the Moral Law” (1953) and Dean Erwin Griswold’s “Law and Lawyers in the United States” (1964). The primers are collectible, memorable and quotable.

Now Harvard University Press has perhaps embarked on a similar plan for Harvard Law School’s annual Scalia Lecture series, instituted in 2013. This year the program turned to Justice Stephen Breyer, who has thought deeply about judicial power, the rule of law and the role of the judiciary in the American polity. Perhaps these three subjects are in the nature of a trinity: three that make up one. In any event, their position in the U.S., when compared to the rest of the world, has been enviably secure. Yet insiders know that, here as elsewhere, the institution is perennially precarious.

In April Justice Breyer spoke from a lectern to a Zoom audience, and now his speech is preserved in book form. Those wishing to know Justice Breyer’s thoughts can choose either to read the book or to watch the two-hour speech on YouTube. You’d feel edified in doing either.

Quoting Cicero, Justice Breyer argues that the only way to ensure obedience to the Supreme Court’s pronouncements is to convince people that the Court deserves obedience because itsdecisions are just. That means an observer must assess not the justness of each individual decision, but the justness of the Court’s decisions collectively and in general.

In support of this thesis, Justice Breyer gives a mini-lecture on American constitutional history and on the struggle, when interpreting the Constitution, for judicial supremacy. He explains how Chief Justice John Marshall, in Marbury v. Madison (1803), decided the case in a most unexpected fashion—pleasing President Thomas Jefferson with the specific result but only by establishing the Court’s ability to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional. That all but guaranteed acceptance of the Court’s power, at least in that case, while establishing the doctrine of judicial review.

Nearly 30 years later, when the Supreme Court declared that the State of Georgia had no rightful control over Cherokee lands there—lands where gold had been discovered—President Andrew Jackson and the state of Georgia both ignored the decision. There was no enforcement. As a result, the Cherokee Nation was driven to Oklahoma on the infamous Trail of Tears.

After that outrage, adherence to the principle of judicial review was, reassuringly, mostly re-established. Yet even as late as the 1950s, with Brown v. Board of Education, it wasn’t at all clear whether the Court’s decision would be enforced by the Executive Branch. Some today may have forgotten that, to enforce Brown, President Eisenhower sent 1,000 parachutists from the 101st Airborne Division into Arkansas. Central High in Little Rock would no longer be white-only. In taking that bold action, Eisenhower ignored the advice of James Byrnes, the South Carolina governor who had once briefly served on the Supreme Court, before returning to the Roosevelt administration to aid the war effort. At the time of Brown, Byrnes advocated taking the Jacksonian stance of doing nothing to enforce the Court’s decree. The U.S., in other words, came perilously close to a 20th-century trail of tears—one that would have resulted from reducing the Brown decision to empty words on a piece of paper.

. . . .

If the events of the past year have taught us anything, it’s that the established institutions of the United States are more fragile than almost any of us had previously thought. We used to believe, for example, that strongman coups were exclusively in the domain of Third World countries. Now we know that the potential is also here on our shores.

Meanwhile, judicial institutions are under attack once again. We can’t say “under attack as never before,” because Justice Breyer shows us that such attacks are a persistent problem. Although he abjures speaking directly about the current Court-packing proposals, the author wants to “ensure that those who debate these proposals also consider an important institutional point, namely how a proposed change would affect the rule of law itself.” His voice is a powerful one, and the brevity of this book, together with its readability, should ensure its lasting influence. Like anyone else, Washington leaders can absorb its message in a single evening.

. . . .

The central question is whether courts should interpret legal documents by giving them a fair reading of what they denoted at the time of adoption, or whether courts can interpret those texts according to their broad purposes (not getting too caught up in grammar and historical dictionaries) and even the desirability of results. As Justice Breyer puts it: “Some judges place predominant weight upon text and precedent; others place greater weight on purposes and consequences.” As the popular mind conceives it, conservatives do the former, and liberals do the latter. And the latter approach, according to Scalia, leads inevitably to appointing judges who will vote for outcomes they personally favor. Hence the process becomes more politicized the further judges stray from the text.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (This should be a free link, but, if it doesn’t work, PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

The United States Constitution includes only a broad overview of the US court system. Here is all that document says about courts:

Article III.

Section. 1.

The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

Section. 2.

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;—to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;—to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;—to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;—to Controversies between two or more States;— between a State and Citizens of another State,—between Citizens of different States,—between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.

Section. 3.

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

Unlike any other public office mentioned in the Constitution, federal judges at all levels serve until they voluntarily retire or die.

The specific language is:

The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

The “good Behavior” language means that federal judges can be removed from office only via an impeachment process.

The House of Representatives impeaches a judge and the Senate holds a trial to determine whether removal is justified. A simple majority vote in the House is required to impeach and a two-thirds majority is required in the Senate to convict the judge of the charges laid in the impeachment and remove the judge from office.

Only one Supreme Court justice has ever been impeached, Samuel Chase, who was appointed an Associate Justice in 1788 by George Washington.

President Thomas Jefferson was upset at several federal judges who had held some of his legislative initiatives to be unconstitutional. Jefferson and his supporters in the House and Senate repealed the Judiciary Act of 1801, under which federal courts subordinate to the Supreme Court were established, thus abolishing the federal courts and, effectively terminating their lifetime appointments as provided in Article III of the Constitution.

Thereafter, Chase severely and publicly criticized this action. For this, he was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1803. Following a trial in the Senate, several votes were taken, but the required 2/3 majority voting for Chase to be removed from the bench could not be attained. Chase continued to serve on the Supreme Court until his death in 1811.

See Wikipedia for more information about Chase. This Wikipedia article includes lots of links to third-party information regarding Chase and his trial.

Research And Learning And Blogging

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I spent the morning researching things like BookTok and NFTs for writers and Substack. I was going to write about each, but you know what? I don’t want to.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been blogging now on the publishing industry—the indie publishing industry in particular (which some folks still insist on calling self-publishing)—for 12 years now. Which makes me a relic.

When I started blogging, it was something that everyone did because that was the way to attract readers to your fiction. You could make a living by writing a blog.

The rule of thumb for writer-bloggers was never write a blog longer than 500 words. Yeah, you see how that worked for me. I never write a blog that short.

But folks were making a small fortune blogging about topics not being covered by the mainstream media. Eventually, though, that niche went away or it disappeared behind a paywall like Patreon. Now that paywall includes Substack, which I am truly interested in.

Honestly, though, if I blog about it, it really isn’t fair to you all. My knowledge of Substack is an inch deep, which is an inch deeper than my knowledge of NFTs, and two inches deeper than my knowledge of BookTok. I haven’t even been to TikTok, although I’ve seen some great vids designed for TikTok.

I had planned—weeks ago—to learn all of this in depth, so that I actually could cite articles and experts and do a good analysis of the changes happening in the digital sphere.

I didn’t do any of it, I thought for lack of time. But I managed to research some other things which are important to my career and I also managed to learn some new skills that I will continue delve into. So really, lack of time isn’t the issue.

Lack of priority is.

And I realized, that’s where the blog is, as well as the end of this particular series of posts.

When I started blogging in 2009, the indie world was small and contained. I wrote about that in the previous blog. In indie publishing, rather like traditional publishing, we were all doing the exact same things, because there wasn’t much more to do.

New things came on the scene, and we all analyzed them. Sometimes we made group decisions about them (you have to try BookBub!) and sometimes we did our own thing, after a lot of analysis. But we were talking about the same programs or opportunities.

As new things proliferated by 2014 or so, those of us in the blogosphere tried to keep up. The problem was that many of those new things would disappear shortly after we researched them. I got paid $4000 by an app developer around that time so that he would design an app based on my Fey books. And then he literally disappeared. He paid me, said he started, and poof! gone as if he had never existed. (And he paid me by check, so he wasn’t trying to get my bank account information.)

Stuff like that happened all the time. And eventually, I started to tune out some of the new. It was either keep up or get my writing done. For some reason, I preferred writing.

A friend of mine who makes part of their living off online work advising people what to do with their indie publishing opted to do something different. They just interviewed everyone about every bit of new tech. My friend did not investigate the tech or even use most of it. The upshot of it was that my friend knew about the newest latest thing, but rarely used it themselves.

That put them in almost reportorial mode even though they had started off only interviewing things they recommended. And, let me say as a former journalist, the problem with reportorial mode is the one that I mentioned above. Journalists are, by definition, generalists. Their knowledge of damn near everything is only an inch deep.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

Rethinking productivity

From The Bookseller:

Are you feeling the pressure? As we start a ‘new term’, post-restrictions, I know many authors are feeling compelled to start or continue at a certain pace. But we are still in or recovering from trauma, so before you think about what it is possible for you to achieve, please think about how you are and how you can look after yourself and others more.

There is a lot of advice circulated about maximising productivity, but what do we really need to get decent work done? It is lovely to have an office or a dedicated room, but if circumstances demand that you work at your kitchen table, or on your lap, so be it. If you wait for those perfect circumstances, you will never start, so always go with what you have. I write at the kitchen table and am frequently interrupted. I go with it and use headphones for busy times. Remember that genius exists in the finest library, but also at a scruffy kitchen table. If you think you must assemble ideal terrain before you start, then you are deferring your creativity to fate. You may feel down, sad or grieving. But you can write in rage and sadness, too. Maybe not yet, but you will. Sometimes, little bits of story unfurl within your own sad tale; cling to them, because they are still precious. I have spent the pandemic home schooling, guiding, Skype teaching, being ill, but, most of all, under the pressure of caring for a very poorly offspring with little external support. This has forced me to adjust my notions both of what productivity is and of the conditions in which it is sustained.

And what about the adage of writing every day? Pah! Tremendous if this is you, but I cannot do it, and you mght not be able to either, for a whole host of reasons. This does not mean you cannot produce a book. Again, go with what is available to you. Thinking, reading, listening; you may not have committed words to the page, but a process is still ongoing. Stay in your lane; understand that comparison is futile. Your situation is unique to you and wondering if someone else is doing better will simply erode energy and confidence.

Pondering is the writing, too. The work.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Amazon Dangles a New Perk in Fight for U.S. Workers: Free Bachelor’s Degrees

From The Wall Street Journal:

The battle for hourly workers is escalating beyond minimum wage across the U.S., as retailers, restaurant chains, garbage haulers and meat processors increasingly dangle the prospect of a free college education as a way to lure and retain staff.

Amazon.com Inc. on Thursday plans to announce that it is expanding its educational benefits by offering more than 750,000 U.S. hourly employees the chance to enroll in a fully paid bachelor’s degree program after 90 days of employment. The e-commerce giant says employees will be eligible to get degrees through educational institutions nationwide.

Amazon is trying to attract job seekers in a tight labor market and reduce turnover among some hourly workers. The company has hired 400,000 employees during the pandemic, but it is looking to bring on tens of thousands of additional hourly staffers to work in its fulfillment centers and delivery network over the coming months. Employees working as little as 20 hours a week will be eligible for the college benefit, though Amazon will pay 50% of the college costs for part-time staffers.

“Career progression is the new minimum wage,” said Ardine Williams, a vice president of workforce development at Amazon, who notes employer-funded training can help people prepare for a career that interests them. “Most adult learners don’t have the luxury of quitting their jobs and going to school full-time.”

The stepped-up perks also reflect what executives say is a reality across the corporate sphere: Even $15 an hour, Amazon’s base wage, is no longer enough to attract many workers. As more employers and cities have raised minimum wages, large companies have aimed to differentiate themselves through additional benefits, such as greater time off, more reliable scheduling, access to emergency child care and, increasingly, a path to a broader education and new skills.

Many of America’s biggest companies strengthened educational initiatives this year, or rolled out programs essentially matching the benefits offered by their competitors.

Walmart Inc., one of Amazon’s chief rivals, in July said it would fully subsidize college tuition and books for 1.5 million part-time and full-time employees in the U.S., dropping an earlier requirement that employees pay a $1 daily fee toward their education. Walmart employees can enroll in the program on their first day of employment. The retailer has expanded the number of educational partners over time, adding Johnson & Wales University and the University of Arizona, among others, this summer.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (This should be a free link, but if it doesn’t work, PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG has become increasingly concerned about inflation hitting the US economy with so much government spending, current and proposed.

The rationale for this spending is to help the economy recover from the effects of the Covid shutdowns, but PG is worried about overheating the economy. For him, the challenges Amazon, Walmart and others are having with recruiting at minimum wage is an indicator of inflation. Additionally, he understands that real estate and auto prices (both new and used) have also experienced significant increases.

The last period of major inflation in the US was in th3 1980’s, about forty years ago. This means that the only adults who actually experienced this inflationary period is in their 60’s. He worries that those in their 40’s making government economic policy have only a theoretical understanding about how damaging inflation can be to an economy and to individuals trying to deal with this serious impact on their finances.

Seven Surefire Ways to Weaken Your Writing

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

You undertook the grand adventure of writing and publishing a book. And now you’ve either learned, or will shortly learn, that the final page of your book is not the end of writing, but the segue from writing the book into writing about the book. Today’s publishing market is a media-content glutton. Whether you’ve written a novel or a nonfiction book, you’ll find yourself churning out essays, blogposts, presentations, interview questions and answers, newsletters, and memes.

Regardless of audience and format, your credibility is everything. You want your words to ring strong, true, relevant, and original. That’s how you grab and hold a reader’s attention, how you make them want to read more from you, how you build an ongoing readership—how you become an established author with a following.

Nothing will stamp you as unoriginal, bland, and of dubious authority as will the use of cliches that cast aspersions on your creativity and believability. Here are seven to avoid.

  1. “I’m not gonna lie”

A pediatric dental hygienist once told me, “The worst thing you can say to your child is, ‘don’t worry, it won’t hurt.’ Chances are your child wasn’t worried about pain until you brought it up.”

The same goes for telling your reader you’re not gonna lie. Before you qualified what you’re about to say by suggesting there are times when you do lie, your readers assumed you to be a trustworthy source. Now they wonder why you felt you had to say that, and whether it means that statements you don’t preface with “I’m not gonna lie” are untrue.

Gotta love one of Urban Dictionary’s definitions of the phrase: “A term that when prefixed to a statement does more damage than good.”

Whether you’re trying to establish credibility for your opinion, reveal an endearing vulnerability, or defend yourself against an unpopular stance, a strong standalone statement will have more impact on your readers. 

And beware of doubt-casting cousins like “I’ll be honest,” “In all honesty,” and “Truth be told,” and  . . . 

  1. “Trust me”

There’s good reason why writers are admonished to show, not tell. If you have to fall back on “Trust me” to gain the compliance or confidence of others, you haven’t taken actions or provided the information or perspectives that instill trust. Show us. You have to earn trust; it’s never an entitlement. We show, not tell, as demonstration of integrity and engagement. There’s no shortcut directive for that.

  1. “ . . . of all time”

The Big Bang was more than 13 billion years ago. And even that’s not all of time, because what about the moment before the Big Bang? Time is infinite, human recorded history is only a few thousand years. How infinitely silly it sounds classify something like television shows, football players, mobile apps, and running shoes as the best “of all time.” 

If you’re talking about a favorite something, it needs no qualification. “Cherry Garcia is my favorite ice cream” is quite clear. If you must qualify, “Atticus Finch is the greatest hero in film history” carries more weight than a film “of all time” when film has been around less than 150 years.

  1. “Let that sink in.”

The use of this junk phrase means you either didn’t use language clear enough to make your point, or you believe your reader lacks the intellect to know when you’ve made an important point. 

It’s condescending. Let that si . . . see what I mean?

A clear, succinct statement needs no command tag, but if you just can’t let go of the sinking-in idiom, you can take the conceit out of it by flipping it onto yourself: 

When I let that sink in, I was able to take a step back and look for solutions.

I let that sink in, and how very troubling it was. Now what?

Letting something that heavy sink in took a while.

Now your reader is empathizing with you rather than feeling irritated or patronized.

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

8 Critical Thinking Fallacies You’re Likely Falling For on Social Media

From Zarvana:

You may think that scrolling endlessly through social media is a harmless way to decompress after a long day of work and let your mind relax. And the latest research on the mental and emotional effects of sinking hours into social media suggests that it has a relatively limited effect on your well-being.

While social media may not be the cause for the increasing youth depression rates, it does have a perhaps, more insidious effect on our critical thinking skills. The average adult spends 2 hours and 24 minutes every day on social media. It’s impossible to spend that much time doing a single activity in your day without the repetitive behaviors associated with that activity carrying over into how you do other activities.

How Social Media is Undermining Your Critical Thinking Skills

Said another way, the way you engage with social media is, likely without you knowing it, training you how to think when at work, when interacting with friends and family, and when running into strangers on the street. Patricia Greenfield, UCLA distinguished professor of psychology and director of the Children’s Digital Media Center in Los Angeles, puts it this way: “the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilized, characterized by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathize and a shaky sense of identity.”

When you thumb through Instagram or Twitter posts, you’re building cognitive habits around how you process and make sense of information. And research suggests that our habits for processing information on social media are far from exemplary. We know this because many people fail to identify fake or false information from true information. In one study, 44% of millennial participants failed to correctly identify whether information was true or false in at least four of nine questions.

The more time people spend on social media, the more likely they are to fall prey to false information. A study sponsored by the Reboot Foundation found that 36% of people who check social media hourly or more frequently held at least one wrong belief about COVID-19, while only 22% of people who checked social media once a week held at least one wrong belief.

Our use of social media limits the development of robust critical thinking skills. Professor Greenfield explains that the visual media we consume on screens “do not allow time for reflection, analysis or imagination — those do not get developed by real-time media such as television or video games.”

While identifying fake news is a key critical thinking-related challenge when it comes to social media, there is another challenge that goes beyond deciphering fact from fake. This is the challenge of determining whether the reasoning that underlies a post or article is rigorous and rationale. Unfortunately, social media is littered with posts that contain critical thinking fallacies. We must learn to identify them or we will fall prey to them not just on social media, but in every area of life.

Here are some examples of common critical thinking fallacies.

Examples of Critical Thinking Fallacies on Social Media

Our goal is not to convince you of any particular point of view found in the examples. Critical thinking doesn’t care about the answer. It only cares about the rigor behind the support for the answer. As we’ve explained, critical thinking is providing a robust answer to a question.

Undermining the Messenger Fallacy:

Many times, people on social media immediately dismiss an idea because of the person sharing it. This is a cognitive shortcut that leads to lazy thinking. There is no law of logic or nature that dictates that if people made statements that are wrong or false in the past, they can no longer make any statements that are right or true.

When you discredit ideas because of their source, you operate out of “stereotype thinking.” Stereotype thinking says that because a certain condition has been statistically probable in the past, it is true in the present. While stereotypes can help people make snap decisions when absolutely necessary, they create significant problems as we can clearly see from the stories of racial inequity that are becoming more visible.

Because most people fall prey to this fallacy, those arguing on social media often resort to a cheap and often irrelevant strategy for dismissing the ideas of those with whom they disagree. Rather than engaging in a debate around the idea shared by their opponent, they simply hurl personal attacks at the opponent. The goal is to discredit the messenger so that we will automatically dismiss the idea.

Here’s a simple, but common example:

@JoeBiden, you & your son Hunter are #MadeInChina  pic.twitter.com/0Z3eSM0Bpp— Marla Hohner (@marlahohner) July 1, 2020

The other consequence of this fallacy is that we are much more likely to reject an idea posed by someone we dislike even if we would have supported the idea had it been presented by someone we like – and the opposite is true, we are quick to support ideas shared by our friends even if they aren’t rigorous enough to warrant our support.

Correlation vs. Causation Fallacy

This is a more well-known fallacy that is beat into the head of every statistics student: correlation doesn’t mean causation. Just because two events trend together doesn’t mean that one caused the other. For example, let’s imagine hypothetically that you found data asserting that people drive slower in urban areas when it rains. The conclusion that most people would jump to is that the presence of rain causes people to drive more slowly. If your job is to eliminate the slow-downs, you might try to solve this problem by requiring drivers to go through rain driving training or increasing regulations on tire conditions during vehicle inspections.

However, it’s easy to see that a third factor may be the cause of reduced driving speeds. When it rains, more people in cities are likely to drive (rather than walk, bike, or take public transport and get wet), creating more traffic, which, in turn, could cause people to drive more slowly.

You can see how the tendency to believe that correlation equals causation can cause you to arrive at very different conclusions.

The logic used in this Twitter thread is that Democrats are the cause for riots and racist police brutality because the leadership in those cities and states are largely Democratic. While this could be the case, the data shared in this tweet only establishes correlation, not causation. There are many other possible explanations for how both of these facts can be true without one causing the other.

. . . .

Wrong Denominator Fallacy

Dividing the incidence of an event by a denominator helps achieve what statisticians call normalization of the data. For example, imagine you take a test that has 200 questions and you get 20 wrong and your friend takes a test with 100 questions and gets 11 wrong. If you simply compare the number of wrong answers, you would think you did worse. But you answered more questions than your friend, so you have to divide the number wrong by the total number of questions:

  • 20/200 = 10% wrong
  • 11/100 = 11% wrong

When you normalize the data by dividing by the right denominator, you can see the that conclusion is reversed: you did better, not worse.

Sometimes people run into critical thinking fallacies because they don’t normalize the data; that is, they don’t divide by a denominator. But a more subtle fallacy is dividing by the wrong denominator.

Link to the rest at Zarvana

How to stop writing a novel

From Nathan Bransford:

For the last year and a half, I’ve written nearly a dozen drafts of a novel. I wrote (or rewrote) 1,000 words every day, cancelled plans to work on my novel, and dreamed of publication. 

Recently, I decided to put my novel in the drawer and move on. It was gut-wrenching, but I know it was the right thing to do.

In this post, I’ll talk about why I came to that decision, how to mourn an unfixable novel, and how to move on. 

About six months into the writing process, I knew my novel wasn’t going to work. 

My plot was boring. I would re-read the story and find myself tuning out after the first third of the book. If reading it was boring, you can imagine how boring it was to write; I had to bribe myself with cookies to finish chapters. 

A boring plot is not necessarily the final death knell of a novel-in-progress. So I re-plotted individual chapters and added more spice, ultimately writing five more drafts and about 100,000 more words. 

Unfortunately, my characters were grieving (there’s a lot of death in the book), so a more energetic plot didn’t match their motivations. I was adding surface-level excitement to a fundamentally uninteresting story arc. The book was just a series of emotionally intense but pointless scenes. 

It wasn’t until I took a step back and evaluated the story itself — not how I told the story, but what the story was — that I realized that I didn’t have the energy to fix the novel. 

This is the key question you need to ask yourself if you’re deciding whether or not to put a novel aside: Have you lost the drive to keep pushing forward? Have you already wrestled with it for multiple drafts, to no avail? Are you in the throes of revision fatigue or are you more genuinely burned out with this novel?

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Sunk Cost Fallacy

From The Decision Lab:

The Sunk Cost Fallacy describes our tendency to follow through on an endeavor if we have already invested time, effort or money into it, whether or not the current costs outweigh the benefits.

. . . .

Imagine that you bought a concert ticket a few weeks ago for $50. On the day of the concert, you feel sick and it’s raining outside. You know that traffic will be worse because of the rain and that you risk getting sicker by going to the concert. Despite the fact that it seems as though the current drawbacks outweigh the benefits, why are you still likely to choose to go to the concert?

This is known as the sunk cost fallacy. We are likely to continue an endeavor if we have already invested in it, whether it be a monetary investment or effort that we put into the decision. That often means we go against evidence that shows it is no longer the best decision, such as sickness or weather affecting the event.

. . . .

Individual effects

In economic terms, sunk costs are costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered.1 In the previous example, the $50 spent on concert tickets would not be recovered whether or not you attended the concert. It therefore should not be a factor in our current decision-making, because it is irrational to use irrecoverable costs as rationale for making a present decision. If we acted rationally, only future costs and benefits would be taken into account, because regardless of what we have already invested, we will not get it back whether or not we follow through on the decision.

The sunk cost fallacy means that we are making irrational decisions because we are factoring in influences other than the current alternatives. The fallacy affects a number of different areas of our lives leading to suboptimal outcomes.

These outcomes range from deciding to stay with a partner even if we are unhappy because we’ve already invested years of our lives with them, to continuing to spend money renovating an old house, even if it would be cheaper to buy a new one, because we’ve already invested money into it.

Systemic effects

The sunk cost fallacy not only has an impact on small day-to-day decisions like attending a concert. It also has been proven to impact the decisions that governments and companies make.

A famous example of the sunk cost fallacy impacting large-scale decisions was coined the Concorde fallacy. In 1956, the Supersonic Transport Aircraft Committee met to discuss building a supersonic airplane, the Concorde. French and British engine manufacturers and French and British governments were involved in the project that was estimated to cost almost $100 million dollars. Long before the project was over, it was clear that there were increasing costs and that the financial gains of the plane, once in use, would not offset them. However, the project continued. The manufactures and governments followed through on the project because they had already made significant financial investments and dedicated a lot of time to the project. Ultimately, this led to millions of dollars being wasted, and Concorde operated for less than 30 years.

If governments and large companies like those involved in the Concorde project are susceptible to cognitive fallacies like the sunk cost fallacy, it is easy to see that significant amounts of money, time and effort are wasted because the sunk costs would never be recovered regardless of whether the project was abandoned. Since governments are sometimes using tax-payers’ money for projects, their adherence to the sunk cost fallacy can negatively affect us all.

Link to the rest at The Decision Lab

Zorba

Not much to do with writing and PG isn’t going on another video binge, but he learned that Greek composer and politician Mikis Theodorakis died last Thursday at 96. Theodorakis composed the music for the 1964 film, Zorba the Greek.

Will a Traditional Publisher Republish My Self-Published Book?

From Janey Burton, Publishing Consultant:

One of the most common questions I’m asked is about whether it’s possible to get a traditional publishing deal for a book that has been previously self-published.

In general, traditional publishers want to buy first publishing rights. They don’t want to republish material that’s already been published, as quite often it is thought the market for the work has already been served.

Historically, there are exceptions, usually for work that has fallen out of print but is thought to have the potential for a new life if put in front of a new audience. Persephone Books would be an example of the kind of publisher that works this way.

These days there are also some agents and publishers who will consider previously self-published work, although in limited circumstances. Carina Press, a digital-first imprint of Harlequin, is an example.

. . . .

You can’t sell your rights to a traditional publisher if they are still controlled by a hybrid publisher. You will need to have the rights reverted to you if you have not retained them. Getting your rights back may not be completely straightforward . . . .

. . . .

The difficulty with previously self-published work, for a traditional publisher, is that very rarely is there an untapped market for it. It isn’t like publishing a debut author, who is brand new to the market.

When an author whose work has sold poorly asks whether they would do better with a traditional publisher, the answer is ‘No’. The poor sales show that the buying public has had the opportunity to buy and read the book, but not taken it up. That suggests it has a limited market, which has already been served.

. . . .

Let’s assume the reason for low sales is the marketing of the book, and not the quality of the book. In the event this is true, it may be that the wider reach of a traditional publisher would result in good enough sales to make republishing the book worthwhile. But then again it may not, and why should they risk it?

Traditionally published authors still need to do a lot of the marketing of their books, they can’t sit back and rely on the publisher to do it all. If an author is unable to achieve sales with their own marketing efforts, the problem might well be that the book is not good enough to attract an audience, and in which case a traditional publisher who takes it on will merely be throwing good money after bad.

BUT 50 SHADES OF GREY WAS SELF-PUBLISHED AND THEN REPUBLISHED, AND IT WASN’T GOOD!
Some books are outliers, and their success becomes a talking point because it’s unusual, not because it’s usual. That means they’re not a great basis for comparison. Don’t pin your hopes on replicating one of these rarities.

In fact, there was a clear case for Vintage Books to republish that previously self-published work. They saw the potential for sales to many more readers, and so were able to take the books from a minor hit, which relied almost entirely on word-of-mouth recommendations, to a worldwide phenomenon.

Link to the rest at Janey Burton, Publishing Consultant

Critical Attrition – What’s the matter with book reviews?

From N+1:

THE CONTEMPORARY READER IS UNHAPPY. What troubles him? It’s the critics: they are lying to him. He encounters them on the back cover of every new book, promising the world. “An exhilarating debut, poignant and thrilling” . . . “A much-anticipated return, necessary and trenchant” . . . “Dazzling sentences” . . . “An unforgettable voice” . . . “Words that will rend your garments and kiss you on the mouth, that’s how good they are!” The reader trusts the critics. He buys the book. But from page one it is trash: listless, forgettable, unnecessary. He is outraged! He thought false advertising was illegal.

He considers giving the book one star on Goodreads (would you give a lawn mower four stars for being “promising”?), but such overwhelming praise from bright literary lights makes him second-guess his judgment. He opens Twitter. “Is it just me,” he writes, “or does this book suck?”

“It sucks!” someone agrees. “Overhyped [garbage emoji],” says another. A lively exchange is underway when a partisan arrives, here to defend the dignity of the author. It’s only a first novel, he says. It’s chronologically disjointed on purpose. He paraphrases Henry James: We must grant the writer his idea, his subject, what the French call the donnée“Judge the book he wrote,” concludes the partisan’s thread, “not the book you wish he had written.”

But what about all those critics blowing smoke on the book jacket? our reader asks. Did they read the book?

“Those aren’t real reviews,” says the partisan. “Everybody knows you can’t take them seriously.

Everybody? thinks our reader. He is stung to learn that he is not “everybody,” which is to say, not anybody.

. . . .

UNFORTUNATELY FOR THE READER, the contemporary book critic does not have one job. In fact, she has no jobs. This is a freelance gig.1 The pay? Maybe $250 for a shorter piece or if she’s lucky, $600 or more for something longer. If she’s never been a staff critic (and odds are she hasn’t), and if she cares (and of course she cares!), she will undoubtedly toil for a poor wage-to-labor ratio. For starters, she has to read the book — or books, if she’s assigned more than one to cover in the review. Then there are the author’s previous books, and if she’s really thorough, reviews of the author’s previous books, as well as interviews, early work, and other miscellany. For a 1,200-word review, it could take a week to write, maybe two if she tends to over prepare. For a career survey, or a review essay in one of the big publications, it could take months or a year to finish (and to get paid). Then factor in self-employment taxes, the unreliability of assignments, delays in payment, and cost of living. Before you know it you’re declaring bankruptcy.

. . . .

The contemporary American book review is first and foremost an audition — for another job, another opportunity, another day in the content mine.

Link to the rest at N+1 and thanks to C. for the tip.

PG notes that one of benefits traditionally-published authors sometimes mention is that their publishers are able to get their books reviewed in various publications.

Banned Hashtags You Should Avoid In 2021

From Kicksta:

Hashtags are an important part of any business’s Instagram strategy, but it’s important that you monitor which ones you’re using. You don’t want to accidentally use a banned hashtag, as it can derail your entire Instagram marketing plan. If you’ve been using many different hashtags and other organic Instagram growth strategies and your account hasn’t been growing much (or at all), you might be accidentally using banned hashtags.

. . . .

Banned hashtags are hashtags that Instagram users have reported because the posts using them go against Instagram’s guidelines. This means that any post that uses that hashtag will be hidden, which will only hurt your organic reach and growth efforts.

Banned hashtags are always changing, based on community reports and Instagram’s investigations. Unfortunately, Instagram doesn’t publish a list of the currently banned hashtags.

. . . .

Instagram bans hashtags because of reports from users. Typically it happens because people are posting inappropriate content and using certain hashtags. Some of the hashtags that are banned, though, are ones you wouldn’t necessarily expect, like #beautyblogger. Sometimes, though, close alternatives are still okay. In this case, #beautybloggers, with an “s” on the end, is not banned and works just fine.

Link to the rest at Kicksta

As a disclaimer, PG claims no expertise with respect to Instagram, including Instagram hash tags.

As a further disclaimer, PG is not a #beautyblogger or a member of a group of #beautybloggers and, although PG is somewhat hesitant to predict the future in absolute terms, he has a very high degree of confidence that he will never use a hashtag like #beautyblogger for anything he does online.

In the interest of scientific inquiry, he checked out a list of banned Instagram hashtags at the OP to see if #book or #books were prohibited. Visitors to TPV will be relieved to learn that, as of the date and time PG made this post, both #book and #books appear to be just fine in the opinion of the Instagram Hashtag Police (#hashtagpolice).

However, you will want to make certain that, in addition to #beautyblogger you don’t use any of the following hashtags beginning with the letter “B” lest you be “shadowbanned” from Instagram:

  • #besties
  • #bikinibody
  • #boho
  • #brain

Remember, you can always rely on TPV for the latest updates on all things online because PG (AKA #bikinibody) is constantly on the alert.

Writers Who Make Hard Choices

From Publishers Weekly:

When Ellen Bass and I published The Courage to Heal, a book that helped launch the incest survivor empowerment movement, it was 1988 and I was 31 years old. I was shocked when the book became a grassroots bestseller, catapulting me to fame for the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

During the years Ellen and I were writing the book, I was terrified about how my family would react. My fears were justified. When I outed my grandfather as my perpetrator, my already volatile relationship with my mother exploded, and I became estranged from her side of the family. Holidays and Mother’s Day became painful reminders of the price I’d paid for writing the truth.

But my fierce, dramatic mother and I shared something in common: a stubborn insistence on working our way back into each other’s lives. It took years, but we ultimately succeeded, in part by agreeing to disagree about the hot-button issue that had driven us apart. Grandchildren helped bring us together, and I rewove threads of connection with estranged relatives. I wrote books about other things.

Over the next two decades, I built a career as a writing teacher, and my own writing faded into the shadows. I never stopped writing, but I didn’t publish. To keep the peace, I had to avoid writing and publishing about the subjects closest to my heart. I didn’t want to lose my family again.

Yet the epic story of my mother and me still thrummed inside. When the reconciliation I thought we’d achieved was challenged a dozen years later by her sudden announcement that she was moving across the country to my town for the rest of her life, I was faced with caring for an 80-year-old woman whose developing dementia pushed every button I had. Could I possibly rise to the challenge of becoming the daughter she needed me to be?

Millions of people are in this position, caring for parents who in one way or another betrayed them; this story needed to be told. So, as I sat with my mother in doctor’s offices and hospital rooms. As we played 500 rummy in her tidy mobile home, I scrawled bits of dialogue on random scraps of paper. Late at night, I wrote the truth about being a caregiver for a parent whose proximity had never equaled safety.

As the pages piled up, I told myself, “I’m just writing this for myself. I don’t have to publish it.” That was the safe container I had to create for myself, because lurking on the edge of my consciousness were the relatives who’d rejected me the first time I’d entered this territory. How could I tell our mother-daughter story without once again writing about the sexual abuse, the conflict that had sundered us the most?

It wasn’t until my mother and the rest of her generation died that I seriously considered publishing The Burning Light of Two Stars

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Unusual Governments to Take Inspiration From

From SFWA:

Often, speculative fiction relies on common government types, like monarchies and republics, because they’re familiar to readers. History, however, offers other examples of sociopolitical systems. They can be a gold mine for worldbuilding ideas that stretch beyond the mainstream.

Informal Governments

Many societies worked just fine without strict hierarchical leadership. Power can come from more informal sources than “voting versus inheritance.” It can be shared in unstructured or ambiguous ways even within a single culture.

In fact, societies and cultures sometimes have incredibly diverse leadership structures even within their own region. We see this in modern-day America, with some states legislating via referendum and others preferring a more indirect method of democracy. When Europeans arrived in Polynesia, they found a series of islands where people had wildly different political systems, despite having similar ethnicity, economies, and religions. For example, one chief was technically the king’s subject but had such a strong personality that he was the one actually in charge. Another island had a more  formal system, with two co-equal kings à la Sparta or post-Diocletian Rome. Gallic polities were similarly diverse, ranging from a chief’s despotic and unrestricted power to the complex systems of checks and balances commonly found in aristocratic republics.

Pre-colonial Igbo society also had a complex political system. Priests were very important. Village councils of elders could consult and debate key issues. Merchants, male and female, could get rich and become prominent voices in the community. Although “kings” (called Eze) existed in this era, their amount of power and influence varied wildly. Scholars are still trying to figure out how inheritable the title was, what the limits on their power were, etc. At least one source says that if an Eze died it could be up to seven years before he was replaced, which certainly implies that the society could function well with power left in the hands of informal leaders. 

Informal governments, where the question of who is in charge is not always easily answered even by people within the culture, can offer a lot of opportunities for an author. 

Cycling Governments

Age-sets are a sociopolitical system common in East Africa. Among Kenya’s Nandi people, each ibinda (age-set) corresponds to a stage of the life cycle. Boys and girls from each region would be initiated into their age-sets during a series of mass ceremonies.  As an analogy, consider a series of nearby communities gathering children into one centralized boarding school then transitioning them out of school and into the lifestage of young adults marrying and being busy with young children, after which they would return to the workforce before finally amassing the experience to lead the community as political figures. 

In the Ethiopian Highlands, this sort of cycling age-set system, known in some places as gadaa (for men) or siqqee (for women), led to the development of a republic with democratic elections and the peaceful transfer of power, which took roughly eight years to accomplish. It is not the “democratic republic” as described in ancient Greece. Men were bound to their neighbors by the bonds of shared experiences, handling infrastructure projects for the whole region. In some places, this led to peace. In others, expansion of the length of time men spent in the warrior stage meant an increase in raids and conquest. 

Among the Oromo people, balancing representation of all clans, lineages, regions, and confederacies via the age-set system allowed for the development of a strong culture surrounding the selection of wise, clever, knowledgeable, and talented leaders—instead of despots and war chiefs. This system began as a religious institution and evolved into a more comprehensive political, legal, religious, and social system around the 16th century. 

Real political systems are changeable, inconsistent, and messy. Part of creating fiction, especially commercial speculative fiction, is streamlining and exaggerating for effect—but a political system that is too rigid can represent a missed opportunity for social conflict.

Link to the rest at SFWA

(perhaps PG’s computer has been possessed by demons (again), but, after he finished his excerpt from SFWA, when he clicks on anything to do with https://www.sfwa.org/, he gets an empty download instead of a website. He tried a different browser and had the same experience. He will defer to greater expertise than his to explain whether this is some sort of hack or if PG used up his daily allotment of SFWA clicks when he went to the OP)

Politics and the English Language

PG usually places his comments after whatever he excerpts, but he’s making an exception in this case.

Politics and the English Language, an essay written by George Orwell, was first published in 1946, largely in response to what he saw happening both before World War II and during a post-war period in which Russian-backed Communism appeared to be gaining power and influence and a rapid pace. After all, the end of the war left Central and Eastern Europe under Russian control, so from the viewpoint of someone wishing to build an empire, the peace deal was a big gain for the Soviet Union.

One of the common practices of Communist governments and their supporters during this period was to manipulate language in a manner which was, unfortunately, quite effective in influencing large numbers of people.

Here’s a quote that encapsulates much of Orwell’s assessment:

Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

Animal Farm was published shortly after the war ended. 1984 was published in 1949.

To be clear, Orwell doesn’t limit his cautions to Russians or Communists. He points out all sorts of different groups and individuals who distort language for political purposes in order to gain and keep power over others.

In the TPV post immediately before this one chronologically, the CEO of The American Booksellers Association described the shipment of a book to a large numbers of bookstores as a “serious, violent incident.”

Quite an accomplishment for a small stack of dried pulp from a dead tree.

Since PG has dozens of such dangerously violent objects just outside his office door, he will have to tread very carefully the next time he goes to refill his glass with Diet Coke.

From The Orwell Foundation:

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language – so the argument runs – must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad – I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen – but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:

1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien (sic) to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.

Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression).

2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder.

Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossia).

3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?

Essay on psychology in Politics (New York).

4. All the ‘best people’ from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic Fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.

Communist pamphlet.

5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as ‘standard English’. When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!

Letter in Tribune.

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged.

Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes ontake up the cudgels fortoe the lineride roughshod overstand shoulder to shoulder withplay into the hands ofno axe to grindgrist to the millfishing in troubled waterson the order of the dayAchilles’ heelswan songhotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

Operators, or verbal false limbs. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are: render inoperativemilitate againstprove unacceptablemake contact withbe subject togive rise togive grounds forhave the effect ofplay a leading part (roleinmake itself felttake effectexhibit a tendency toserve the purpose of, etc. etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as breakstopspoilmendkill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purposes verb such as proveserveformplayrender. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard tothe fact thatby dint ofin view ofin the interests ofon the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved from anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desiredcannot be left out of accounta development to be expected in the near futuredeserving of serious considerationbrought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.

Link to the rest at The Orwell Foundation

American Booksellers Association Apologizes for Accidentally Promoting Candace Owens Book

From Yahoo News:

In a statement published to the Shelf Awareness blog Monday, American Booksellers Association CEO Allison Hill apologized for an incident in which Candace Owens’s Blackout was accidentally featured in lieu of a social-justice-oriented book with the same title by Dhonielle Clayton and other authors.

An employee subbing for the employee who is normally responsible for curating the best-seller list, Hill said, unknowingly selected the wrong cover image for the book. A second employee new to copyediting also failed to cross-check the photo and recognize the error before mailing the list out to members.

Apologizing for the employees’ mishap, Hill wrote, “It was a terrible mistake with terrible racist implications. However, based on our investigation and the demonstrated diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) commitment of these individuals, we have no reason to believe the action was malicious in intention.”

Hill’s statement followed an official inquiry into the episode and an audit of all ABA procedures and programs in collaboration with the organization’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.

“The employees are very apologetic and very committed to vigilance going forward. They have been held accountable and have agreed to training, both on procedures as well as on DEI, and we have added layers of checks and balances to this process,” she continued.

Coinciding with the time of the Blackout mistake was another event in which Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage was included in a box mailing to 750 eligible bookstores, eliciting outrage from ABA leaders and members. In her Monday apology, Hill also clarified the details around that book’s shipment, which an earlier ABA statement called a “serious, violent incident.”

The premise of Irreversible Damage is that there is a social contagion effect of young girls rushing into invasive transition surgeries and medical interventions for gender dysphoria that they are likely to regret later.

“Publishers pay ABA to include titles in the box, and ABA sends it to eligible bookstores. Until now, no one has ever reviewed or screened the titles submitted by publishers. It has been a pay-to-play program,” she said. “The policy to not review or screen titles submitted is in line with many members’ preference to not have ABA decide what books they have access to, preferring to review books themselves to determine what they read, buy, sell, and promote.”

Hill said that many members expressed to her that they still value having autonomy over book choices, “despite being horrified by this book.” She added that the ABA Board of Directors may implement a new permanent policy to prevent the kind of injurious oversight that let Owens’s book slip through the cracks.

Link to the rest at Yahoo News

Should MFA Programs Teach the Business of Writing?

From Jane Friedman:

Anyone who knows me even a little can guess my answer to this question. I even wrote a book, The Business of Being a Writer, that’s meant to be used in university writing programs to help students understand the publishing industry and what it means to earn a living from writing. My perspective is informed by my work in the publishing industry, as well as being someone who has a degree in writing. A few background details:

  • I earned a BFA in creative writing and an MA in English. My undergrad education led to some school loans; my graduate degree was funded entirely through an assistantship.
  • I was employed at a mid-size publisher while I earned my master’s. I really had no choice—I needed the money. I decided not to pursue an MFA in creative writing for a variety of reasons, but primarily because I couldn’t afford to take time off work or enroll in a low-residency program. Neither was I eager to step away from my publishing career, which was teaching me far more about writing than I ever learned in school.
  • I was an AWP member for many years and attended AWP’s annual conference first in 1998, then every year between 2004 and 2018. Often I was a panelist or speaker. (More on this later.)
  • I’m a regular speaker at MFA programs around the country, both in person and virtually, and moreover I hear the concerns of early-career writers daily via email and social media.
  • Several years ago, I was hired by Southern New Hampshire University to help develop the curriculum for their online MFA program, which includes a strong professional development and publishing education component. Their goal: to graduate writers who learn the fundamentals of craft while also understanding what it takes to publish professionally and successfully.

Despite the books I’ve written, the keynotes I’ve delivered, and the courses I’ve taught, I’ve never laid out, in a public forum like this, why I think it’s problematic when MFA programs or professors argue that the business of writing lies outside their purview. Why? Well, the type of person often attracted to the MFA likely believes the same and I don’t see my role as persuading the unconvinced or barging in where I’m unwanted. Rather, I am here if people see the need, as I do, for writers to understand the business they’re entering.

However, I think times are changing, for many reasons which I won’t delve into here, but part of it has to do with the gig economy and/or creator economy and the greater variety of writerly business models we now have than we did twenty years ago. More writers are ending up in undergraduate and graduate writing programs who need and want this information. I also believe writers should leave degree-granting programs prepared for the pragmatic and professional issues they will face as a writer. They’re often working alone, with limited or bad business guidance, confused about what’s “normal.” The anxiety and confusion is apparent at every AWP conference I attend. 

Writers should focus on craft first, business later.

It can appear boorish or second rate to suggest that business could or would ever be as important as art, craft, or technique. Because art is everything, right? Without quality work, there is no business—right?

(Let’s put aside the fact “quality” is subjective and MFA programs tend to be concerned with the kind of quality that’s of less interest to publishers than you might think.)

This “craft first” argument has a big assumption behind it: that art and business are antithetical to each other or can’t be in conversation. This belief is so ingrained in the literary writing community that few even question it.

Just look at the stories we tell about great writers, which all generally sound the same: we focus on the development and discovery of their literary genius. Business conditions rarely enter into it, much less business acumen. George Eliot is celebrated as a great moral novelist, but she also left her loyal publisher for another house that offered her a bigger advance. The bestselling work of Mark Twain—a novel that funded his career—was sold door-to-door in a very low fashion instead of properly, in a bookstore. (Today’s equivalent might be selling your ebook through Amazon rather than the print edition through your local independent bookshop.)

Why don’t we share these business stories? Because it is typically taboo to produce for the market or to be too good at business, lest you get pilloried by your peers and accused of selling out. Amy Lowell met this fate: she was criticized by T.S. Eliot for being a “demon saleswoman” of poetry. Even one of the earliest successful authors, Erasmus, was pitied by his peers for taking money from his publisher. (No self-respecting author at the time took money for their work; you were supposed to be above that.)

What a bind: writers get shamed if they’re not successful but also get shamed if they are too successful or overly concerned with success. How to Reform Capitalism wisely notes, “There remain strict social taboos hemming in the idea of what a ‘real’ artist could be allowed to get up to. They can be as experimental and surprising as they like—unless they want to run a food shop or an airline or an energy corporation, at which point they cross a decisive boundary, fall from grace, lose their special status as artists and become the supposed polar opposites: mere business people.”

The prevalent belief, at least in the literary community, is that “real writers” don’t worry themselves with commercial success or with how the sausage gets made. That’s someone else’s job, that’s for the agent or publisher to worry about. In fact, if one is good at art, then good business will follow or take care of itself.(won’t it?). Quality will make it or cream will rise to the top (right?).

. . . .

Business and art are often portrayed as antithetical because we think of business in terms of cartoon caricatures. But business is just as a complex and creative as any “pure” art form. Just ask a book publisher.

. . . .

This brings us to the next argument often trotted out by MFA programs: that it’s a time and place to focus on one’s writing and not be distracted by the outside world/real world or commercial concerns.

. . . .

It’s true that writers can potentially get distracted by submissions protocol and agent etiquette and all the secret handshake stuff they think exists, but that’s another reason the business needs to be taught. There is no secret handshake and a lot of what the business of writing is—well, frankly, it’s boring. The more quickly that writers can start seeing agents and editors not as mystical beings who anoint them and make their careers, but as average and flawed business people, the better.

Also, we’re not talking about MFA programs switching over to half-craft, half-business curriculum. (Or I’m certainly not.) The basics could be covered in a single required course. There might be a series of optional business-related courses for those who are interested.

I don’t think there is a downside to teaching business if we assume (and we must) that MFA students can be treated as mature adults. Safeguarding them from business talk is infantilizing them and making them vulnerable to bad actors and bad deals if they don’t know what standard business practices are.

And might I suggest that the only students who can afford to not consider the business side of the writing life are those who already have money or a safety net.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG notes that Jane has produced an epic discussion of the huge number of people who claim to teach students about writing, but don’t really deliver on their promises.

If graduate programs were required to abide by the same truth-in-advertising that applies to people who make and sell laundry detergent, there would be a vast change in how they’re presented and pitched.

In the United States, we have a seemingly endless number of federal and state agencies devoted to protecting consumers from being defrauded by unscrupulous businesses.

We have The Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to name just two federal agencies. We have a large U.S. Department of Education, presided over by a cabinet secretary, with an Office of the Inspector General tasked with investigating violations of Federal laws, rules, and regulations pertaining to ED programs and funding, including complaints involving ED employees, recipients of ED funds, schools, school officials, other educational institutions, contractors, lending institutions, collections agencies, or public officials.

Absent a very large trust fund, it is almost certain that students pursuing an MFA will borrow substantial amounts of money in the form of government-insured student loans.

MFA and similar graduate programs have a very poor record of graduating students who are able to find jobs that allow them to repay their student loans (and PG guarantees one and all that MFA programs, particularly at “elite” institutions, pile on the student loans).

From Inside Higher Ed:

[T]he A.R.T. (American Repertory Theater) Institute at Harvard was placed on the Department of Education’s naughty list for running afoul of the department’s gainful employment metrics for its “debt to earnings” ratio.

As compiled by Kevin Carey at The New York Times, those ratios are indeed grim. 

  • Two year tuition is $63,000
  • Average borrowing is “over $78,0000
  • Average graduates earn $36,000/year

As Carey says, “After accounting for basic living expenses, the average Harvard A.R.T. Institute graduate has to pay 44 percent of discretionary income just to make the minimum loan payment.”

Yikes.

The news is particularly embarrassing given that Harvard’s endowment is over $35 billion, and the American Repertory Theater is a nonprofit with a board that includes a Who’s Who of American music and theater music mixed with some really rich folks.

. . . .

Some desire a career in academia with the MFA as a terminal degree. Some are already planning for a PhD. Some want to make connections to help get a book deal. Some are just looking for time and space to pursue their passion with little care or concern about future publication or employment. Some just want the opportunity to work closely with a particular mentor or even live in a particular place.

Some feel like they’re not sure about their prospects as a writer, but they’re definitely writing-curious, and graduate school sure beats your soul-killing job.

. . . .

There are approximately 3,000 newly minted MFA holders each year. It is a good thing that many are not interested in academic positions because the Academic Jobs Wiki for creative writing this year listed a sum total of 102 tenure-track jobs across fiction, poetry, non-fiction, open, and mixed categories. Even presuming equal chances (which would be silly), the odds of landing a tenure track job are vanishingly small. The vast majority of those positions will go to people who are many years post-MFA with significant publications.

. . . .

At a place like Columbia, which boasts a faculty that includes Paul Beatty, Richard Ford, Leslie Jamison, Hedi Julavits, and Ben Marcus, among many other luminaries, the full-cost tuition for the two-year program is $120,000. Those students are also living in New York City.

Yikes.

When it comes to tuition and funding and student outcomes and what all that means, I think it’s worth programs asking some questions and seeing what kind of answers emerge:

Can we charge tuition?

Should we charge tuition?

Must we charge tuition?

In the case of, “Can we charge tuition?” the answer for the vast majority is “yes.” Even with so many programs, the demand for slots exceeds supply. According to AWP, the average number of applicants to full-residency programs is 56 while acceptances are 18.5.

But just because you can charge tuition doesn’t mean you should, at least if we’re looking at doing right by students.

The A.R.T. Institute at Harvard is a great example of where we may draw this distinction. The gateway to success that its students are trying to squeeze through is so narrow, I’m betting they could charge even more in tuition and still find plenty of qualified and willing applicants. When it comes to people pursuing a career on Broadway, the heart wants what it wants.

. . . .

The questions are more complicated for creative writing fine arts programs, however, as they are not strictly pre-professional. Using a heavy bureaucratic hand to police programs would likely do far more harm than good.

. . . .

What’s happening to those students post graduation? Here’s some of the questions I think programs could answer:

  • % of students in stable, full-time academic positions
  • % of students who have published with commercial, independent, or university press
  • % of students who work in writing or publishing-related field
  • Debt at graduation/Debt at 5 years/Debt at 10 years/Debt at 20 years/Average time to debt free

Link to the rest at Inside Higher Ed

What would a clear warning statement concerning an MFA program in creative writing look like?

  1. Do you understand that this course of study will not prepare you to become a professional writer? Y/N
  2. Do you understand that none of your professors or instructors are or ever have supported themselves exclusively from their earnings as professional writers? Y/N
  3. Do you understand that, for the last three years, the average graduate of the MFA creative writing program has graduated with a total student loan debt of $200,000?Y/N
  4. Do you understand that the MFA student loan debt described is in addition to any student loan debts you incurred prior to applying to enter the program? Y/N
  5. Do you understand that the average salary of an MFA graduate from our school is $44,000 per year, provided that the graduate lives in New York City? Y/N
  6. Do you understand that the cost of living in Manhattan is over 250% of the average cost of living in the United States? And that the median price of a home is $1.2 million? Y/N

Just so visitors don’t think PG is piling onto MFA students, he will reveal that virtually every law student of his generation (and quite possibly, subsequent generations) had a professor/dean, etc., tell her/him that law school was going to teach him/her to “think like a lawyer.”

This lazy/hazy description made lawyers seem like some sort of leisure class who sat around and focused on thinking about various and sundry legal theories.

PG would have suggested, “Work like a lawyer” or “become a successful lawyer.”

Book Wars

From The Wall Street Journal:

In 2000 the RAND Corporation invited a group of historians—including me—to address a newly pressing question: Would digital media revolutionize society as profoundly as Gutenberg and movable type? Two decades later, John Thompson’s answer is yes, but not entirely as predicted. And our forecasts were often wrong because we overlooked key variables: We cannot understand the impact of technologies “without taking account of the complex social processes in which these technologies were embedded and of which they were part.”

Mr. Thompson provides that context in “Book Wars” (Polity, 511 pages, $35), an expert diagnosis of publishers and publishing, robustly illustrated with charts, graphs, tables, statistics and case studies. An emeritus professor at Cambridge University, Mr. Thompson published an earlier dissection of that industry, “Merchants of Culture,” in 2010, but now he finds that capitalist landscape radically transformed.

Not long ago everyone thought (or feared) that ebooks would sweep the ink-and-paper book into the recycle bin of history. But they peaked in 2014 at just under 25% of U.S. book sales, then settled back to about 15% in the U.S. and roughly 5% in Western Europe. It turned out that the printed book had unique advantages (easy to navigate, no power source needed, works even if you drop it on the floor). Another consideration is that bookshelves stocked with physical books serve the essential purpose of advertising our literary tastes to visitors. And far from devastating the publishing industry, ebooks boosted their profits even as their revenues remained more or less flat. (Compared to printed books, they are cheaper to produce and distribute, and they don’t burden publishers with warehousing and returns.)

For anyone bewildered by the transformation of the book world, Mr. Thompson offers a pointed, thorough and business-literate survey. He tracks the arcane legal battles surrounding the creation of Google Books, and explains why the Justice Department filed an antitrust suit against Apple and the Big Five publishers, but not (so far) against Amazon. He rightly regrets the shrinkage of newspaper book reviewing: the first decade of the 21st century saw newspapers from Boston to San Diego pull back on book reviews. That said, Mr. Thompson could have devoted more attention to the rise of reader-written online literary criticism, a populist substitute for the Lionel Trillings and F.R. Leavises of the past.

In spite of worries that small independent booksellers would disappear, they are still with us. But they were challenged in the 1960s by the shopping-mall chains of B. Dalton and Waldenbooks, which were superseded by Barnes & Noble and Borders superstores. These in turn were eclipsed by Amazon (founded 1994), triumphing largely because it sold all books to everyone, everywhere. Though we romanticize corner bookstores, they were numerous only in the largest metropolitan centers. In 1928, a city like Cincinnati had seven bookshops. Small-town America bought books at department stores, at pharmacies, or nowhere.

Mr. Thompson insists that “the turbulence generated by the unfolding of the digital revolution in publishing was unprecedented. . . . Suddenly, the very foundations of an industry that had existed for more than 500 years were being called into question as never before.” I would be careful with the word “unprecedented.” Print-on-demand has been with us for some time: the Chinese did it for centuries with woodblocks. The modish practice of crowdsourcing to finance books has a precursor in 18th-century subscription publishing, as readers pledged in advance to buy a forthcoming book. Amazon today dominates bookselling, but Mudie’s Lending Library enjoyed an equally commanding position in Victorian Britain, and raised in its day serious concerns about corporate censorship. (Mudie’s puritanical acquisitions policies meant that novelists like George Meredith were penalized for honest treatment of sex.)

In fact, the 19th century witnessed a transformation of the book business as dizzying as our own: New reproduction technologies dramatically drove down the price of books and increased print runs by orders of magnitude, creating for the first time a global literary mass market, bringing Walter Scott to Japan and Harriet Beecher Stowe to Russia. Today, the absorption of family-owned publishers by conglomerates has raised questions about whether there is still a home for literary and controversial authors with limited popular appeal, but that change was complete before the full impact of digital media. If you’re worried about media concentration (and you should be), the fact remains that all the great Victorian novelists were published by a half-dozen London firms. The desktop computer has vastly expanded opportunities for self-publishers, but there were plenty of them in the past: think of Martin Luther, Walt Whitman, Leonard and Virginia Woolf or countless job-printed village poets and memoirists.

. . . .

While Mr. Thompson is entirely right to conclude that the transformation of publishing in the past 20 years has been bewildering, that’s nothing new. In a dynamic capitalist economy, the dust never settles.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (This should be a free link to the WSJ original. However, PG isn’t sure if there’s a limit on the number of times various visitors to TPV can use the free link and whether the link is geofenced for the US, North America, etc. If the link doesn’t work for you, PG apologizes for the WSJ paywall.)

And thanks for the tip from G and several others.

PG agrees that there have been several disruptive technology changes that have impacted the book business in the past.

However, he doesn’t think that the WSJ reviewer gives adequate attention to the difference between the development of ebooks vs. the various disruptions of the printed book world that preceded it.

No prior technology change immediately opened up the potential audience for a particular book or a particular category of books like ebooks has.

Absent Amazon’s establishment of different book “markets” – US, Canada, Britain, etc., etc., anybody in the world can buy and download an ebook from from anyplace else in the world.

There’s a legal reason (among others) for Amazon’s multiple home pages for books in different countries – the right to publish and sell under an author’s copyright can be sliced and diced by national market. I can write a book and use a UK publisher to publish to the UK market and an American publisher to publish to the US market with each publishing agreement setting bounds on where the publisher can publish and sell the book.

Side note: A long time ago, PG went through the process of signing up for an account on Amazon UK and did so with no problem. He never used the account, but wandered around among the British-English product descriptions and Pound-based prices enough to believe that, particularly for electronic goods, he could purchase and receive anything he liked there. From prior trips to Britain, PG knows his credit cards work just as well for spending pounds as they do for spending dollars.

All that said, any indie author knows how easy it is to simultaneously publish an ebook every place where Amazon sells ebooks.

Other ebook distributors also offer an even broader publish-everywhere feature. PG just checked and Draft2Digital allows an indie author to publish all over the world, through D2D because D2D has agreements with Rakutenkobo, Scribed and Tolino for them to sell an indie author’s book to the zillions of places they’re available.

Rakutenkobo lists its markets as Turkey, United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, Philippines, Taiwan and Mexico and PG bets readers in other countries can also access the company’s websites, so an indie author has a very easy path to publishing ebooks in each of those places.

So that’s why PG thinks the ebook revolution can’t be easily compared to any prior technology disruption that involved printed books.

Continuing on, after PG read the WSJ review of Book Wars, he immediately went to Amazon to buy the ebook.

BOOM!

Idiotic corporate publishing screwed everything up.

The hardcover edition of the book lists for $29.30 on Amazon and the ebook edition sells for $28.00!

$28 for an ebook!

The publisher is Polity Publishing.

Per Wikipedia, Polity is an academic publisher in the social sciences and humanities that was established in 1984 and has “editorial offices” in “Cambridge (UK), Oxford (UK), and Boston (US)” plus it also has something going in New York City. In four offices, Polity has 39 employees (no mention how many are student employees or part-time contractors).

PG took a quick look via Google Maps Streetview at Polity’s Boston office, located at 101 Station Landing, Medford, Massachusetts. Streetview showed a photo of a multi-story anonymous-looking modern building that could be an office building or an apartment building. PG had never heard of Medford and doesn’t know anything about the community, but on the map, it doesn’t look terribly close to the parts of Boston with which PG has a tiny bit of familiarity.

So, PG doesn’t know how Mr. Thompson, the author of Book Wars chose his publisher, but, in PG’s extraordinarily humble opinion, he made a giant mistake.

A Wall Street Journal review of a book like this should send sales through the roof. Per Amazon, Book Wars is currently ranked #24,220 in the Kindle Store.

Imagine how much better it would sell if it was offered at a reasonable price.