Coronavirus Lockdowns Spark Boom in Online Learning for Adults, Too

Not exactly to do with books, but a possible way of making money by sharing knowledge included in a book or series of books through a different medium plus as a marketing tool to sell more books to help sell more books.

From The Wall Street Journal:

From her home in Portland, Ore., Peggy Dean perches her iPhone on a tripod and records five-minute lessons on subjects ranging from modern calligraphy to watercolor. Since the coronavirus struck, demand for her videos has soared, with viewing figures doubling from a year ago.

The business of selling skills online—from art to coding—has been booming during the pandemic. Online educators say adults are making time to learn during lockdown, joining millions of children and college students taking classes at home and adding to the raft of in-home activities gaining in popularity. Teachers say online learning was already growing, and lockdowns have accelerated that, but competition is coming from automated lessons powered by algorithms.

Ms. Dean, a former hair stylist, posts her videos along with roughly 6,000 other teachers to Skillshare Inc., a New York-based website that charges $99 a year for unlimited video classes. Ms. Dean, one of the site’s most-watched teachers, said she makes six figures from teaching online.

Daily viewers and time spent on Skillshare have more than tripled from last year, the company said. Revenue shared by teachers like Ms. Dean rose 12% between March and April, and the company expects it to rise again this month and next as free-trial users start paying up.

Last month, the site’s top teacher made $68,000 with videos about how to use Adobe software, said Skillshare, which has 500,000 paying subscribers. All teachers earn a cut of a royalty pool based on minutes watched, with the top 500 earning about $2,000 a month on average but most other teachers earning far less.

Ms. Dean, 33 years old, said she regularly speaks to other teachers on the site who say they are also getting more viewers. “We’re all seeing those minutes skyrocket,” she said, adding that her numbers have doubled to 475,000 minutes in April from last year.

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

“a life saving growth of 300% in our D2C e-commerce sales during lockdown” – Verso

From The New Publishing Standard:

While many publishers have this past decade continued to rely heavily on bricks & mortar bookstores as a buttress against Amazon’s dominance of the online print and ebook market, UK publisher Verso has long since put its efforts into building a D2C (direct to customer) relationship with its audience.

And that has paid off handsomely, not just with a 25% increase on global sales year on year, but a massive 300% increase in its e-commerce sales in 2020’s first quarter while other publishers were hit by lockdown closing bricks & mortar stores, distributors like Bertrams, Gardners variously operational or closed, and Amazon prioritising non-book goods distribution.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Marketing to kids in difficult times

From The Bookseller:

Many months ago, when we all sat in our meeting rooms, sipping coffee and bouncing campaign ideas around, I don’t think any one of us marketing folk could have predicted just how much our plans would be forced to change. The effects of the national lockdown on marketing campaigns and the publishing industry in general has been monumental, but when it comes to children’s books, there’s a whole extra layer of complexity. 

In the current climate, how can we ask parents to find the money to spend on books? What about those who don’t have time to read their kids a bedtime story? How can we reach kids and their parents in a sensitive, positive way? Many marketeers in publishing houses (or their own houses) will be wondering where to start. Here are some ideas for what seems to be working well right now.

1. Think audio

There are some new opportunities that have presented themselves during lockdown. Individuals are spending more time than ever with digital audio. Fun Kids Radio launched their ‘Stuck at Home’ podcast during the first week of lockdown, and have observed a 44% rise in streaming, with webpage views are up 126%. This is because they are creating useful, entertaining content for children, occupying them and which providing parents with a snippet of free time.

I’d highly advise creating an audio ad and distributing it across a network of interest-based children’s podcasts. Better yet, if you can get your author to record the audio (even on their smart phone) they can capitalise on their author brand, making the ad more sentimental and genuine. By utilising interest focused podcasts, you are sure to speak to your listeners at a time when they’ve chosen to engage. This is a tactical way to maximise on pester power.

Francesca Simon, the author of the wonderful Horrid Henry series, is also featuring on a podcast all about her title character. Her involvement will encapsulate children, those who are familiar with Henry’s adventures will relish in it, and the few that are yet to encounter his mischief will be begging their grown up to buy it for them.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Pamela DuMond v. Diversion Publishing Corporation, Farrah Reilly, Simon & Schuster, Inc., Emma Chase, LLC, Emma Chase and Simon and Schuster, Inc., Case Number: 2:2019cv08922, US District Court for the Central District of California

Note:

Some visitors to TPV have reported difficulties in seeing the embedded PDF documents in this post. PG first observed this problem this morning – Thursday, May 21 – (everything seemed to work as planned for PG yesterday) and managed to get the embedded PDFs to show up after refreshing the screen a couple of times. You may want to try holding down your Shift key when you refresh the screen.

As you can see below, PG has provided an alternate way for you to view the documents if the embeds don’t work/haven’t worked for you. PG apologizes for any aggravation this issue has caused.

Beginning Original Blog Post:

As observant visitors to The Passive Voice have noticed, PG included a post titled Plagiarism 2020 yesterday. Today, we’ll talk a bit more about plagiarism, focusing on filings in an interesting lawsuit pending in the US District Court in the Central District of California.

Here are the principal pleadings to date.

NOTE: If you have difficulty viewing any of these PDF documents in this post, following is a link to a shared Dropbox folder that contains all the documents, numbered in the order in which they were filed with the Court (You don’t need a Dropbox account to access this folder) https://www.dropbox.com/sh/562g9gujbnkapzc/AAAH0VLzlOXC8KS3znDq9kxya?dl=0

First-Amended-Complaint

Motion-to-Dismiss

filed_Opposition_MTD

Reply-Supporting-Defendants-Motion-to-Dismiss

PG will provide a bit of explanation and commentary. (You can page through each document by moving your cursor over any page, which will reveal up and down arrows plus a zoom feature.)

If you are easily bored and want to see the most interesting document PG found during his exploration of the Court’s files (which are public records), you can scroll way, way down to the end of this post to view Exhibit C to one of the documents you will read about if you don’t immediately jump to the end.

Exhibit C appears to be the result (perhaps only part of the results) of a computerized analysis comparing the entire text of each of the two books at issue in this case to determine the ways in which they are similar to one another – the core question in a copyright infringement case that does not involve actual copying of all or a substantial portion of a copyright-protected work.

If this type of analysis proves useful and is accepted by courts, the subjective opinions of various “experts” who compare each of the texts by reading them and creating conclusory lists or summaries of similarities or differences may be replaced by something that is more objective and can provide a basis for a more accurate and predictable standard for where the line is between “inspired by” and “copied from” lies.

The Complaint

The Complaint is filed on behalf of Pamela DuMond, an individual author.

The Complaint names four different defendants:

  • Farrah Reilly a/k/a Emma Chase (for those visitors to TPV from outside of the United States, AKA stands for “Also Known As”. PG assumes Farrah Reilly is a pen name under which Ms. Chase writes.)
  • Emma Chase LLC – It appears that Ms. Chase may operate a limited liability company which may or may not have rights to her book and/or receive proceeds from her book.
  • Diversion Publishing Corporation d/b/a (Doing Business As) Everafter Romance
  • Simon & Schuster, Inc. (a very large American publisher)

Per a later paragraph in the Complaint, Diversion Publishing published a print version of Ms. Reilly’s book and Simon & Schuster published an audio version of the book.

The Complaint is fairly self-explanatory and what PG would expect to see in a case like this.

Rule 8 of The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure describes what a complaint must contain

(a) Claim for Relief. A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain:

  • (1) a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction, unless the court already has jurisdiction and the claim needs no new jurisdictional support;
  • (2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and
  • (3) a demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the alternative or different types of relief.

PG also notes that the Summons (a court notice to Defendants that they have been sued) was issued in late October, 2019. In November, 2019, two attorneys entered an appearance on behalf of all the defendants except Simon & Schuster.

In January, 2020, these two attorneys withdrew and were replaced by the S&S attorneys, so all the defendants are currently represented by the same attorneys, originally hired by S&S.

The Motion to Dismiss

The second document is a Motion to Dismiss filed by the Defendants.

A few things caught PG’s immediate attention.

  • The names of three attorneys appeared on the motion, all from the same firm
  • One attorney was from the California office of the firm – the defendants needed an attorney admitted to practice in California to file the response and provide ongoing information about California civil procedure, etc.
  • Two attorneys are from the New York office of the firm and were permitted to participate in a California court case pro haec vice – for this case only.
  • The defendants’ law firm is one of the 100 largest in the United States, with offices in New York, Anchorage, Bellevue (suburban Seattle), Los Angeles, New York, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle (in addition to the office in Bellevue) and Washington DC.
  • PG concludes that Simon & Schuster is completely running the case via the attorneys they originally hired and who, thereafter, in January, 2020, undertook to represent the rest of the defendants..
  • A large firm like the one representing the defendants would almost certainly have competent IP litigation attorneys in California, likely in both the LA and San Francisco offices. However, they’re using two New York attorneys, Elizabeth A. McNamara, a full partner with more than 30 years of experience, with lots of litigation, in IP and media matters, and Kathleen Farley, an associate focusing on media in addition to an LA IP associate. PG suspects a 20-minute court hearing in California would generate a significant number of billable hours sitting on an airplane for the New York lawyers.

The Motion to Dismiss is a 28-page document. PG doesn’t know what the current large-firm New York City rule-of-thumb per-page cost for a serious litigation document is, but PG suspects we’re looking at a serious five-figure fee just for drafting this document. If the court sets oral arguments on the motion, PG suspects an additional five figures will be spent by Defendants if the New York lawyers show up.

The biggest question on PG’s mind is, “Why is Simon & Schuster spending so much money defending this case?”

PG doesn’t know how many audiobooks S&S sold before the Summons arrived, but the dollars it has received and would generate if the audiobook continued to be sold would seem to be much less than the costs of defense. PG has no inside knowledge about settlement discussions, if any, but PG bets that S&S could get a release from Pamela DuMond, the author/plaintiff for less than it’s spending on its New York and California lawyers.

However, the fact that S&S offered to have its lawyers represent the rest of the defendants as well is an indication for PG that S&S wanted to control the defense of the case and is likely in the battle for the long haul.

Back to the merits of the Motion to Dismiss.

As PG mentioned much earlier, under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a Plaintiff need only provide a “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief;

After reading the Complaint, PG thinks it’s pretty clear what Ms. DuMond thinks the Defendants did wrong. If the Defendants are seriously confused, the process of discovery – depositions, interrogatories, etc., etc., – will offer plenty of opportunity for Defendants to clear up any questions they may have.

The Defendants argue that the Complaint only mentions a few examples of plagiarism/copyright violations. PG thinks these are clearly identified as just some of the similarities, not all of them.

One thing the Motion to Dismiss does demonstrate is that S&S is going to attempt to make litigation expensive for the Plaintiff.

Plaintiff’s Opposition to Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss

For PG, this is where things became more interesting.

The copying and copyright infringement of the Defendants was
most likely the result of digital text spinning followed by a re-write and polish. Text
spinning — also called automatic paraphrasing — is performed by computer software
containing a built-in thesaurus.

While digital text spinning results in the alteration of the original work, it also results in nonsensical phrases, awkwardly constructed sentences, patterns, repetitions, and other anomalies — all of which exist in the Defendants’ Copy. What else could explain why the very unique word “Rome” occurs at exactly 67% of the way through the digital version of the Work and at exactly 65% of the way through the digital version of the Copy; and the very unique word “Beyoncé” occurs at exactly 95% of the way through the digital version of the Work and at exactly 95% of the way through the digital version of the Copy. Defendants will argue that the exact same word placement is a remarkable coincidence or that the word is not a form of protected expression.

As detailed below, the digital versions of the Work and the Copy show similarities
that are so striking as to preclude the possibility that Ms. DuMond and Defendant
independently arrived at the same result. The Appendix is replete with similarities that
are similarly placed in the Work and the Copy. This Court should employ a digital
analysis of the Work and the Copy, rather than the antiquated paper analysis urged by the Defendants.

But the Work and the Copy share more than striking similarities in names, stock characters, or trope – they share hundreds of copyrighted elements including written dialogue, written plot points,written character traits, and written scenes, to name a few.

Element WorkCopy
HeroPrince Nicholas Frederick Timmel  Prince Nicholas Arthur Frederick
Heroine / VillainessHeroine: Lucy “Lucille” TrabbicioVillainess: Lucy “Lucille” Deringer
Nicknames “Lizzie” “Livvy”
Good FriendTo Heroine, Lady EsmeraldaTo Hero, Lady Esmerelda
Royal GuardTomas Tommy 
Handsome ManChristophChristopher
Name of BarThe MadDog BarThe Horny Goat Pub
Penthouse CharacterOwner: David BillingsleyButler: David
Pie ReferenceMarie Callender’sMarie Callender’s
Famous ReferencesKardashian, Beyoncé, Brad Pitt, James BondKardashian, Beyoncé, Brad Pitt, James Bond
Words on one pagepenthouse, hand-painted, crystal, marble floorpenthouse, hand-painted, crystal, marble floors
Chapter 3 PassagePies, shop, open, chocolate, berries, counterPies, shops, opens, chocolate, berry, counter
Linda Blair Reference“swiveled his head toward me like Linda Blair”“Linda Blair Exorcist-head-spinning”

Computer Analysis of Similarities of the Two Works

If you’ve made it this far, PG congratulates you and suggests you may wish to apply to law school.

The following document is the one that interested PG the most. It is attached to the Plaintiff’s Opposition to the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss as Exhibit C and appears to be one of the products of a computer analysis of the two works – Ms. DuMond’s original book and the one she claims violates her copyrights – to determine how similar the two works are.

As with earlier embedded PDF files, if you can’t see this one in your browser, you can access it at the shared Dropbox folder – https://www.dropbox.com/sh/562g9gujbnkapzc/AAAH0VLzlOXC8KS3znDq9kxya?dl=0

Exhibit-C

Plagiarism – 2020

PG has been looking into contemporary plagiarism over the past several days and will be writing more than one post about the topic.

The problem is three-fold (or maybe more than three-fold. PG has learned about three elements):

1. When Amazon and others permit an author or plagiarist to self-publish books around the world in a large number of languages. How does an author even discover that plagiarism is taking place?

2. College and university professors (and some high school teachers) are increasingly likely to screen student papers use plagiarism detection software – Turnitin is one of the most popular tools. Some time ago, students learned that copying and pasting a paper or segments of various papers they found online was an easy shortcut to creating a paper to turn in by a class deadline. Sometimes the online sources even included footnotes formatted in proper academic form. Plagiarism detection software is designed to catch such activities.

3. Where there are electronic plagiarism weapons, almost inevitably, there will be electronic or other defenses that prevent detection of plagiarism – paraphrasing the plagiarized information is one tactic that has been used since well before Turnitin came into being. For further information, see, for example, How to Beat Turnitin in 2019 and Get Away with It

4. While many of the ways of beating academically-oriented plagiarism detection are focused on manipulating a student paper, other, more sophisticated computerized tools often referred to as “Spinners” or “Article Spinners” can be used to not only fool college plagiarism checkers, but also make it difficult for the author of a book to discover plagiarism and prove copyright infringement in court.

Article Spinners were developed for a period prior to Google’s search engines developing the intelligence they have today.

The goal for some search engine optimizers was to generate as many pages with key words of interest to Google and, thus, advertisers. The spinners were created to substitute various synonyms for parts of an article on a topic. Thus, “good” in the original article would be changed to “great” “super” “excellent”, etc., etc. Several different words would be spin-treated. Thus, one four paragraph article on fishing lures could be spun into a thousand articles about fishing lures, each seeming to be a different page to Google. If someone was searching for fishing lures, Google would rank the site with a thousand articles about fishing lures higher than a site with one article.

Google has become smarter, so spinning doesn’t work there any more, but spinning software is still around and has reportedly become more sophisticated. Pour the text of a romance ebook into spinning software and out comes another romance that has a similar plot but different character names, places, descriptions, etc.

PG understands that the products of current spinning software require a significant amount of editing, but, if you’re planning to sell an 80,000 word romance, it’s a lot less work to do a quick copy edit than to write a book, develop characters, etc., from scratch.

5. Artificial Intelligence software has become more and more sophisticated in the past couple of years and no one expects progress to stop. And it is currently being used to write stories. Bloomberg generates about half of its articles about public companies and their latest earnings releases using artificial intelligence.

From Forbes magazine in February, 2019:

How do you know I am really a human writing this article and not a robot?  Several major publications are picking up machine learning tools for content. So, what does artificial intelligence mean for the future of journalists?

According to Matt Carlson, author of “The Robotic Reporter”, the algorithm converts data into narrative news text in real-time.

Many of these being financially focused news stories since the data is calculated and released frequently. Which is why should be no surprise that Bloomberg news is one of the first adaptors of this automated content. Their program, Cyborg, churned out thousands of articles last year that took financial reports and turned them into news stories like a business reporter.

. . . .

Forbes also uses an AI called Bertie to assist in providing reporters with first drafts and templates for news stories.

The Washington Post also has a robot reporting program called Heliograf. In its first year, it produced approximately 850 articles and earned The Post an award for its “Excellence in Use of Bots” from its work on the 2016 election coverage.

. . . .

The LA Times is using AI to report on earthquakes based on data from the U.S. geological survey and also tracks homicide information on every homicide committed in the city of Los Angeles. The site created by the machine called “Homicide Report” utilizes a robot-reporter with the ability to write drafts of stories that include that includes: the victim’s gender and race, cause of death, officer involvement, neighborhood and year of death.

. . . .

The AP estimates that AI helps to free up about 20 percent of reporters’ time spent covering financial earnings for companies and can provide better accuracy. This gives reporters more time to concentrate on the content and story-telling behind an article rather than the fact-checking and research.

Link to the rest at Forbes

Contemporary artificial intelligence is leagues beyond article spinners and detecting that the work of another author (or several other authors) as the source material for an AI writing romance or other types of book-length fiction or non-fiction may already be difficult or next to impossible.

PG is interested in this issue as it relates to copyright infringement in the 21st century and will have a few more posts

Signatures: A Nourishing Intellectual Feast

From The National Review:

There is a genre of book that constitutes the happiest — rather than guiltiest — pleasure for book-lovers: books about books. Books that seem to tap into the echt, the origin-pleasure of reading. Books that exemplify why reading remains the supreme vehicle for the transmission not just of facts or of history, but of memory.

Take an author who possesses the skill for capturing this essence and combines it with the spirit of a gentleman, the taste of a connoisseur, the eye of a gossip, and the knowledge of a historian, and you get near to what I think might be the perfect genre of book. “Belles lettres” may once have almost done justice to it, but, thanks to the sniffily pejorative ring of the term, I’m not sure it now does. Still, however you describe it, there remains a type of book that some of us dive for on the table as soon as we see it.

Whatever name you give this genre, David Pryce-Jones’s Signatures is a masterpiece in it. The premise is brilliantly simple. The author, a familiar presence to NR readers, selects 90 books from his considerable library, each signed by its author. Each book, of the many collected over the course of a long life, is awarded its own brief chapter, allowing Pryce-Jones to open his treasure chest of a memory, recall the circumstances in which he met or came to know the book’s author, and reflect on the author’s world and the impact this extraordinary cast had on their century.

The work forms more of a complement than a coda to Pryce-Jones’s 2015 autobiography, Fault Lines. As in that work, the cast is international, polyglot: British, continental, transatlantic, Middle Eastern, and more.

. . . .

There are figures from the world of literature, starting with people David met through his father, Alan Pryce-Jones (who had been the editor of the Times Literary Supplement), and progressing through many of his own contemporaries. So we have Cyril Connolly, Harold Acton, and W. H. Auden as well as John Fuller, Muriel Spark, and V. S. Naipaul. Not all his subjects are now remembered. Chapters such as that on Alasdair Clayre constitute moving tributes to friends now lost to a wider public. What unites almost all of them is that they are a reminder that there was almost no big subject of his day that Pryce-Jones did not apply his mind to.

The age of the dictators haunts the chapters on Svetlana Alliluyeva (daughter of Stalin), Arno Breker, and Albert Speer. The Cold War runs through the chapters on Oleg Gordievsky, Arthur Koestler, and Alexander Yakovlev. And of course the wars of the Middle East and their spillage run through the chapters on Mahmud Abu Shilbayah, Bernard Lewis, and Amos Elon. On each of these subjects Pryce-Jones has written books: Paris in the Third Reich (1981); The War That Never Was: The Fall of the Soviet Empire (1995); and The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs (1989). But Signatures allows Pryce-Jones to give us a backstage pass into these worlds he has written about. The view is not only suitably gossipy and anecdotal, but serious and occasionally devastating.

Speaking with Ernst Jünger in Paris several decades after the Nazis had vacated that city, Pryce-Jones posed a question about the First World War. How had Jünger been able to actually enjoy that war, as his classic memoir Storm of Steel makes it clear that he did? “Killing Frenchmen,” comes the reply. A verdict that seems in no way to blight Jünger’s enjoyment of post–Second World War Paris, or indeed of his Parisian girlfriend.

Link to the rest at The National Review

PG notes that one hundred years ago, 1920, the world had already seen a huge cataclysm, World War I. The beginnings of World War II were only seventeen years into the future.

The military conflicts during the 21st Century (the following come to mind), very fortunately, nothing has come close to equaling the enormous slaughter of the 20th Century.

  1. The Syrian Civil War – At least 470,000 deaths were caused directly or indirectly by the war. About 1 in 10 Syrians had been killed or wounded by the fighting.
  2. Darfur – At least 300,000 people nearly three million displaced.
  3. Afghanistan – 30,000 Afghan troops and police and 31,000 Afghan civilians were killed. More than 3,500 troops from the NATO-led coalition were killed.
  4. Iraq – 4,700 coalition troops killed; at least 85,000 Iraqi civilians were killed, possibly double that number
  5. Yemen and Ukraine – About 10,000 killed in each war

By way of horrendous contrast (without minimizing the losses of 21st Century wars) here is what the 20th Century looked like:

  1. World War I – 15-22 Million deaths (9-10 million military deaths, 8-13 million civilian deaths) plus 23 million wounded military personnel. Civilians wounded are unknown.
  2. World War II – Deaths directly caused by the war (including military and civilians killed) are estimated at 50–56 million people, while there were an additional estimated 19 to 28 million deaths from war-related disease and famine. Civilian deaths totaled 50-55 million. Military deaths from all causes totaled 21–25 million, including deaths in captivity of about 5 million prisoners of war. More than half of the total number of casualties are accounted for by the dead of the Republic of China and of the Soviet Union.
  3. Korean War – 5 million people died. More than half of these–about 10 percent of Korea’s prewar population–were civilians. 40,000 Americans died and more than 100,000 were wounded. South Korea – (217,000 military, 1,000,000 civilian deaths). North Korea – (406,000 military, 600,000 civilian deaths). China – (600,000 military deaths) (PG notes that these numbers don’t necessarily add up, but obtaining death and injury tolls for North Korea and China are impossible.)
  4. Vietnam – Total deaths – about 1.4 million. Allied military deaths 282,000, PAVN/VC military deaths 444,000, civilian deaths (North and South Vietnam) 627,000

Victorian novels to enjoy in lockdown

From The Spectator:

It’s the perfect opportunity to crack open those classics of 19th-century fiction you’ve always been meaning to read, and I am here to offer some recommendations. But there’s an immediate problem. Do I gesture towards the blindingly obvious? Or do I recommend a variety of obscure and arcane titles? The former strategy is liable only to insult your intelligence — of course you already know Jane Austen and Charles Dickens are worth reading — whereas the latter runs the risk of merely putting you off and making me seem pretentious. There is, though, a third way. What did the Victorians themselves reckon were the great authors of their age?

The answer, above all others, is Sir Walter Scott. I know nobody now reads him, but in the 19th century everybody did. It really is hard to overstate how popular he was. Henry Crabb Robinson, a friend of the great literary figures of his day, was, whatever else he was reading, always reading Scott — when he finished the last of the Waverley novels he would immediately start again with the first. Scott was the first international superstar of letters: the story goes that the Russian ambassador to London once asked whether Scotland had been named in his honor. That is why secondhand bookshops up and down the land carry complete sets of Waverley, a fact that indicates both his former ubiquity and the difficulty booksellers have nowadays in shifting him. I’m not sure I can think of another writer whose posthumous reputation has taken so precipitous a dive.

The reason people don’t read Scott anymore is that they think he’s prolix. They are right. There’s no getting around the fact: he’s a deeply prosy, long-winded writer. If the only thing that will hold your attention is a string of staccato action set-pieces you will surely struggle with him. But the secret to enjoying him is to accept this. Instead of impatiently yearning for things to hurry up, you need to surrender yourself to the prose, to sink into it as into a warm bath.

Critics sometimes recommend starting with the shorter, more action-filled novels such as the melodramatic The Bride of Lammermoor (1819), or the crusader romp The Talisman (1825) — uncharacteristic Scott, in other words. This is entirely to miss the point. Settle down instead to longer, steadier books such as The Antiquary (1816), Rob Roy (1817; not in the least like the Liam Neeson movie) or my personal favorite, The Heart of Midlothian (1818), the only novel to have a football team named after it. There’s nothing of soccer in this novel, mind you: it’s the tale of humble Effie Deans, accused of killing her baby, and of her remarkable sister Jeanie, who travels from Edinburgh to London on foot to seek her pardon. Know in advance that this novel is long and slow, but also that its very length and slowness build extraordinary emotional heft and momentum. Adjust yourself to its tempo. You’ll thank me later.

Link to the rest at The Spectator

Why book prizes matter more than ever

From The Bookseller:

The pandemic and lockdown have affected the book industry from the fate of distributors to the closure of independent shops to the drop in individual book sales, and many literary prizes have this year postponed their announcements. But the Desmond Elliott Prize, for the first time under aegis of the National Centre for Writing, is keeping to its schedule: the selectors read hundreds of entries, and presented the judges, Sinéad Gleeson, Sonia Sodha and me with ten new voices, from which we will choose a shortlist of three, and announce a winner in July. Going ahead may seem contrary, but a Prize is meant to help bring a book to readers, and so feels even more necessary while other important debut rites of passage are now being missed.

. . . .

Although all of this year’s longlistees were at pains to say that this moment is much bigger than them, current conditions will affect them and the reach of their work. As Love and Other Thought Experiments author Sophie Ward told us, “Everyone warned me that it is very quiet after a book comes out, but no one expected it to be as quiet as this!”

Those with more recent publication dates face even more challenges. Reviews for Jessica Moor’s Keeper ran the week the lockdown began – this would be tough for any book; but particularly for a debut. “People have other things on their mind now and that is absolutely as it should be, but I’m not going to be Panglossian about it – this wasn’t what I hoped for,” she explained. Meanwhile Abi Daré, author of The Girl with the Louding Voice, has not even had a chance to see her book in a bookshop yet.

Alex Allison (The Art of the Body), Oisín Fagan (Nobber) and Okechukwu Nzelu (The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney) are among those to have had events cancelled. For Alex this was particularly pertinent given the protagonists in his debut are a carer and their disabled client. Foyles was due to host a special event that would be free to careers and people with disabilities, but it had to be cancelled as these groups are more vulnerable to Covid-19.

. . . .

A work can only speak for itself if readers can find it, and while some of the longlisted writers are following advice from Leena Norms’ online seminar ‘How to Launch a Book During a Pandemic,’ and others are gaining endorsement from more established writers who support new voices online, not all use social media or have large followings to begin with.

Prize longlists create a natural cluster for book bloggers, or booksellers with online stores to consider: the same for virtual festivals that are being organised now. These more formal debut showcases can not only place writers with their fellow newcomers (helping to connect them to ‘a tribe’ in a highly competitive market-driven world) but also to scouts for other prizes and online events. In fact, the potential of virtual support might help these books reach more readers than discrete or ticketed events alone would.

Still, one of my favourite of all public book rites is signings. It seems impossible now, that one after another, complete strangers queue to buy your book then hand it to you; you sign it, and hand it back. Whether I am getting a book signed by a writer I admire or I am on the other side of the table, no matter how long or short the queue is, that moment of exchange is electric.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG isn’t an expert on the British retail book business, but Mrs. PG gave up bookstore signings a long time before she went indie. Too much time and effort for too little return.

For most authors, PG suspects signings are a waste of time. If they’re really good for sales, send someone from the publisher’s marketing department out with a bag full of tchotchkes and a cool rubber stamp with the author’s signature on it. You could even color-coordinate the ink color of the stamp with the cover.

For authors who are introverts, signings can feel like two hours of hell.

After spending several months buying books from Amazon online or borrowing ebooks from their local library online, some readers will undoubtedly be happy to return to physical bookstores.

However, PG suspects that Amazon has gained a lot of permanent customers who find the online purchasing experience satisfying and filled with a lot more information sources than any physical bookstore is.

Making a special trip to a physical bookstore may seem a bit more archaic than it does now.

20 Books to Read in Quarantine

From The Atlantic:

For many of those lucky enough to be able to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic, books have taken on a special meaning. COVID-19 book clubs have popped up to help readers feel connected to one another, group readings have brought new life to old poems, and—in this time of ambient anxiety—the value of losing yourself in a novel has never seemed more apparent. What follows is a selection of recommendations from The Atlantic’s culture writers and editors, with an eye toward stories that will resonate during a summer of continued social distancing and tentative reopenings. We’ve loosely grouped them according to literary cravings you might have: Perhaps you’ll decide on a breezy beach read to devour responsibly on your fire escape or a collection of nature essays that lets you explore the outdoors from your living room. Either way, stay safe, and happy reading.

If you Want to Get Lost in a Place

Wilderness Essays, by John Muir

For the past several years, my family has spent our summer vacations exploring America’s national parks. Acadia, Glacier, Badlands, Grand Teton, Yellowstone—they’re places as humbling as they are astounding, and our goal is to visit each one, eventually. When we canceled this year’s trip (hope to see you soon, Zion), I found some consolation in the writings of John Muir. And because the naturalist turned activist was so prolific—many of his writings were originally published in The Atlantic—I’ve been loving Wilderness Essays, a collection of the work he produced as he explored the western United States in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Muir had the eye of a scientist and the wonder of an enthusiast; in his observations, run-on sentences spill forth in adjectival ecstasies (“the vast forests feeding on the drenching sunbeams, every cell in a whirl of enjoyment”), nature transforms from a place into a character, and the whole tumult resolves in giddy benedictions. “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings,” Muir urges. “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.” — Megan Garber

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

How Booksellers Can Plan for an Uncertain Future

From Publishers Weekly:

Among the issues booksellers will need to address when they reopen their stores is the community-gathering role they play through author and book-related events. As the owner and event curator for Gramercy Books, located in Bexley, an urban suburb just east of Ohio’s state capital, understanding how our customers will return to bookstore gatherings is weighing heavily on my mind.

Like so many bookstores across the country, Gramercy Books is a place of connection, discovery, and inspiration, often through creative programming featuring newly published books. Like my peers, I’ve had to cancel events for many authors whose pub dates fell in the spring and summer. We’ve found new ways to showcase their books through our e-newsletter and, more recently, through livestreaming via Zoom. I’m rescheduling other authors into the early fall, at which time I’m hoping in-person gatherings will again be possible—albeit with reasonable safety protocols.

While a few of my bookselling colleagues have told me they don’t want to think about planning future in-store programs right now, I find that scheduling events down the road brings me some level of optimism, as it does for the authors and publishers we confirm. It suggests that the world, post-Covid-19, might resemble the one we had.

But I can’t help wondering how to approach this. I wonder about the event format, about how large of an audience I should allow and in what kind of space, about how to set up a seating area that allows for social distancing, and about the best ways to allay customer fears while inviting them to attend author events again.

The reality is that none of us know what our eventual regathering will look like. Several states have announced reopening of retail stores with a range of safety protocols that must be put in place. But when the moment of reopening occurs, I suspect there will exist a combination of pent-up demand and lingering fear. One thing I am asking myself is whether our loyal patrons will eventually return to in-store events where they have to sit next to people who are not in their immediate families.

For many customers, their bookstores likely seem safe. 

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

St. Augustine tells the story

St. Augustine tells the story of a pirate captured by Alexander the Great. The Emperor angrily demanded of him, “How dare you molest the seas?” To which the pirate replied, “How dare you molest the whole world? Because I do it with a small boat, I am called a pirate and a thief. You, with a great navy, molest the world and are called an emperor.”

St. Augustine thought the pirate’s answer was “elegant and excellent.”

Noam Chomsky

Enemy of All Mankind

From The Wall Street Journal:

On Sept. 11, 1695, a Mughal treasure ship found itself so shrouded in Indian Ocean haze that the lookout failed to sight an English vessel until she was only 5 miles distant. She was coming on very fast—possibly making 15 knots—but this didn’t worry the captain of the Ganj-i-sawai (Anglicized into Gunsway in the copious accounts that were to follow): His ship mounted 80 guns; he commanded 400 musketeers and had 1,000 men aboard.

The British interloper, the Fancy, had a crew of only about 150, but she possessed 46 guns—an extraordinary weight of metal for a pirate ship—and a determined captain who had been waiting months for the Gunsway. The Mughal ship fired first and was at once beset by a scarcely believable run of bad luck. That initial shot burst the gun, killing its crew and leaving a swath of flaming wreckage; and the first broadside from the Fancy not only struck the Mughal’s 40-foot mainmast but knocked it right down to the deck in a tangle of spars and rigging. Amid the confusion, the Fancy ranged alongside; her men swarmed aboard the Gunsway in the smoke and, having subdued a far larger crew, made straight for her rich cargo.

This encounter, dramatic in itself, is the pivot on which far greater events turn and continue to reverberate down to this day, as Steven Johnson argues with verve and conviction in his thoroughly engrossing “Enemy of All Mankind.” “Most confrontations like this one, viewed from the wide angle of history,” he writes, “are minor disputes, sparks that quickly die out. But every now and then, someone strikes a match that lights up the whole planet.”

The man who struck this particular match was Henry Every, a Devon-born Royal Navy renegade who had turned pirate and, after stealing a fortune from the richest man on earth, became the first object of an international manhunt. On that one violent day in the Indian Ocean, he set in motion a chain of events that, as Mr. Johnson shows, did much to shape the modern world.

. . . .

The career that was to capture the world’s attention began blandly enough in 1694, when Every was hired by a group of British investors who had formed a company called Spanish Expedition Shipping to recover treasure from sunken galleons in the West Indies. They built a “ship of force” named the Charles II, which, with three consorts, got as far as Madrid, a voyage that should have taken a couple of weeks but, for reasons lost to history, consumed five months. And there they waited, without getting their promised pay, for some never-received orders, until Every, the first mate of the Charles II, seized the ship, renamed her the Fancy and set sail for the riches of India.

. . . .

Euphemisms notwithstanding, reports of the attack generated growing anger on a national level. One of the earliest, issued just days later by a local British official, held that “it is certain the pirates, which these people affirm were all English, did do very barbarously by the people of the Gunsway . . . to make them confess where their money was.” They seized a woman “related to the king, returning from her pilgrimage to Mecca, in her old age. She they abused very much, and forced several other women, which caused one person of quality, his wife and nurse, to kill themselves to prevent the husbands seeing them (and their being) ravished.”

. . . .

Mr. Johnson writes: “Against extraordinary odds, Henry Every had made his fortune. But he must have realized, listening to the screams echoing across the water from the Gunsway, that his men’s actions had now made him something else: the world’s most wanted man.”

And, surely against any desire he likely had, one of the world’s most influential ones. His attack took place during the vigorous infancy of the joint-stock company, which—then as now—allowed investors to diminish their financial risk by investing in the whole operation rather than gambling on a single voyage. The joint-stock company most crucial to Britain—really, almost an alternate, farmed-out government of its own—was the East India Co. It had already grown so important to England’s commerce that to assuage the Mughal emperor’s wrath the whole British government had to make amends by condemning the Fancy’s attack and its English captain. And, in condemning it, had to suppress piracy as a whole. A mere 30 years earlier Sir Francis Drake might plausibly be seen as a pirate operating under British protection. No longer.

Parliament passed new laws; the East India Co.—which came to have a navy of its own—enforced them, and in time it became clear that Henry Every’s profitable day had helped bring about a trading system that, despite the fall of empires and the rise of modern technology, has not in essence changed for three centuries.

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

Coronavirus Lockdowns Trigger Rapid Drop in Retail Sales

From The Wall Street Journal:

U.S. lockdowns to contain the coronavirus pandemic prompted record monthly drops in retail spending and industrial output, as consumers pulled back sharply on shopping and eating out and factories suffered a sharp drop in demand.

The Commerce Department on Friday said retail sales, a measure of purchases at stores, at restaurants and online, fell a seasonally adjusted 16.4% in April from a month earlier. The drop eclipsed a revised 8.3% drop in March sales, and marked the steepest month-over-month decline in records dating to 1992.

The Federal Reserve separately said industrial production dropped 11.2% in April, its steepest monthly fall on records dating back more than a century, as the coronavirus response closed factories, sapped demand and froze supply chains.

“They’re just dramatically weak numbers,” said Jim O’Sullivan, an economist at TD Securities. “We’re obviously in this big hole now.” He said a key question is how long it takes to climb out of it, which depends in part on the speed of reopening.

Social distancing, business closures, travel restrictions and other disruptions that started in mid-March have taken a particularly heavy toll on retail stores and restaurants, many of which remain closed or are opening gradually as states begin to reopen their economies.

Consumer spending in April was down more than 20% from the same month last year, and certain categories posted dramatic declines. Clothing-store sales in April were nearly 90% lower than a year earlier, while sales at department stores, bars and restaurants, and sporting goods stores were all down nearly half. By contrast, sales were up over 20% on the year for online retailers and up 12% at food and beverage stores.

Lower vehicle sales and spending at bars and restaurants drove last month’s decline in retail sales, but nearly every other category suffered too as commuters worked from home and malls remained shut.

The exception were sales at nonstore retailers, a category that includes internet merchants such as Amazon.com Inc. and which grew 8.4% month-over-month.

. . . .

Sales were weak across a range of categories, but nonessential businesses were particularly hard hit. Sales at furniture stores dropped 58.7% and electronics fell 60.6%. Clothing sales plummeted 78.8% from March.

. . . .

Consumer spending is the main driver of the U.S. economy, accounting for more than two-thirds of economic output, and retail sales account for about a quarter of all consumer spending.

. . . .

Workers also are losing jobs in record numbers because of the coronavirus pandemic, another factor hitting consumer spending. And declining consumer sentiment has economists worried about how quickly people will return to spending, as the economy opens back up.

. . . .

Some retailers are also unlikely to weather the pandemic and face permanent closures.

“2020 is going to be a year of rebalancing,” said Under Armour Chief Executive Patrik Frisk during an earnings call Monday. The athletic-apparel retailer reported that about 80% of global business has been at a standstill since mid-March, and revenue may drop as much as 60% in the second quarter.

Retailers on both sides of the Atlantic are “trying to figure out how fast they can open and how fast the consumer is going to come back,” Mr. Frisk said.

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

PG hasn’t seen any information from major business publications about Big Publishing, Barnes & Noble and other parts of the publishing establishment.

His guess, as mentioned previously on TPV, is that Barnes & Noble will experience a substantial financial impact and that its online business won’t be nearly large enough to materially offset the costs of cutting off its retail arm for an extended period of time.

At least some B&N stores located in malls will have problems if major mall tenants close and/or the foot traffic they generate is substantially diminished. If a mall shuts down, as many malls have done in the recent past, there is likely to be one fewer Barnes & Noble store in the vicinity.

A year from now, PG believes there will be substantially fewer Barnes & Noble stores than their were pre-corona. Ditto for a great many other physical bookstores. He suspects this is the type of major societal and financial upheaval that changes some habits and institutions on a permanent basis.

Unfortunately, PG believes a number of small traditional publishers won’t be able to reopen or will reopen with substantially reduced staff and much-reduced advances.

PG suspects that traditional publishing will see mixed results with bookstore declines offset to some extent by improved Amazon sales. It’s pure speculation on PG’s part, but he would guess that Amazon sales of ebooks from traditional publishing will have seen an uptick while the market share of hardcopy books may decline.

In the short run, an increased proportion of ebook sales, which involve no costs for warehousing, shipping or returns of unsold hardcopy books from physical bookstores may well increase the profit margins of traditional publishers even as, if PG is correct, gross sales revenues suffer steep declines.

Over a longer period of time, if readers under lockdown have sampled ebooks from Amazon or their local libraries to read on their own electronic devices (or devices purchased from Amazon for the purpose), PG suspects some proportion of this group will become permanent ebook aficionados.

It may be too much to expect, but PG would hope that those in traditional publishing with any business sense would put a stop to the childishly petulant attitude displayed toward Amazon by so many New York publishing drones and their associated literati. Absent Amazon or someone like Amazon, traditional publishing’s future would look a lot more like Barnes & Noble’s than is the present case.

PG predicts that, ten or twenty years from now, intelligent and informed individuals will have concluded that Amazon saved literature (and a bunch of jobs in the literature biz that don’t involve writing books) during this difficult time.

Children’s book wins Australia Book of the Year award for first time.

From The New Publishing Standard:

The Australian Book Industry awards, affectionately known as Abias, is hosted by the Australian Publishers Association to recognize excellent Australian writing, although of course with a bias towards sales rather than literary quality.

In that respect it was only a matter of time before a Bluey book came up for an Abias award.

Published by PRH Australia imprint Puffin, titles from the Bluey board book series were the 2nd, 3rd and 4th bestselling books in the country in 2019, and derive from the Emmy-winning Australian children’s TV series of the same name. Bluey being a dog, the antics of which have earned sales totaling over 1 million across 7 titles in the series.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG checked and Amazon (US) does appear to carry Bluey books.

Beating the Bounds

Not much to do with books and writing, but interesting history.

From JSTOR:

Maps are only one way of knowing the shape of a place. Before the borders of England’s parishes were definitively mapped, people learned the boundaries of their community by foot. Every year, a few days before the feast of the Ascension, the members of each parish would come together to walk the edge of their common lands.

The practice was called “beating the bounds,” and the purpose was to create a shared mental map of the parish, to ensure that neighboring communities couldn’t encroach on their land. They carried flags, sang songs, read homilies, and used slender willow-branches to swat the landmarks that separated one parish from another.

It was the responsibility of the older members of the community to remember the boundaries, and the responsibility of the younger ones to learn them, so that they could be preserved for another generation. Pain was used as an aid to memory, and the form of attack was determined by the landscape. If they came to a stream, the children’s heads might be dunked in it; if the boundary ran against a wall, they might be encouraged to race along it, so that they would fall into the brambles on either side. If they came across a ditch, they might be encouraged to jump across it, so that they would slip in the mud. And when they came to a boundary-stone, the children would be flipped upside down, to have their heads knocked against it. In some spots, though, more pleasant memories would be created, by pausing for a glass of beer or a snack of bread and cheese. Finally, they would finish with a party on the village green.

The most practical reason for this tradition was to create a living record of the parish’s boundaries, which could serve as evidence in disputes. In one case, for instance, a 75-year-old man testified that he knew exactly where the eastern boundary of the parish lay, because he had been thrown into a heap of nettles there sixty years ago, when he was a boy. Simply asserting that he remembered the boundary would not have stood up in court; it was the vivid, visceral nature of this memory, its connection to a dramatic experience, that helped his parish win the case.

The perambulation also served to bless the crops and to draw the people of the parish together. The poet and priest George Herbert wrote that the beating of the bounds was a time for “reconciling of differences” and that anyone who stayed home would be reproved as “uncharitable and unneighborly.” The parish came into being as its inhabitants walked it: both as a geographical space, and as a community.

But, in the sixteenth century, the common lands began to be enclosed and appropriated to the exclusive use of landowners. John Taylor writes bitingly of how landowners, through enclosure, enriched themselves at the expense of their neighbors:

One man in garments he doth wear
A thousand akers on his back doth beare
Whose ancestours in former times did give
Meanes for a hundred people well to live
Now all is shrunke, (in this vaineglorious age)
T’attire a coach, a footman, and a page.

Landowners employed professional surveyors to assess the value of each acre (which quickly led to hikes in the rent) and make maps of their properties. Rather than a space to be travelled through, the land was turned into an object that could be viewed at a distance and treated as a trophy. The common lands that the people had once considered part of their shared landscape were fenced off and surrounded with hedges, and the practice of “beating the bounds” was slowly suffocated.v

But the consequences of land enclosure were much more dramatic than simply destroying a colorful tradition. The common lands supported people in many ways: they were used for grazing, hunting, for digging sod, and for collecting firewood. Enclosure cut deeply into the ability of average commoners to support their families, and many were forced to uproot themselves and move to the cities, becoming industrial laborers.

Link to the rest at JSTOR, which includes a photo and an illustration

Late Start

Apologies for the late start on posting today.

Everyone’s healthy at Casa PG. This morning, PG felt an irresistible compulsion to kill some weeds infesting the grounds of the PG Estate. He was a veritable avenging angel of vegetative destruction.

If Home Depot ever stocks a herbicide for the Covid virus, PG will pick up some right away and start fumigating the world.

A Wrinkle in Time

About fifteen years ago, when I was fresh out of college, I taught middle school, sixth and seventh grade English. It was a trip. I knew nothing about anything, let alone the thematic depth of The Red Badge of Courage or all the things a noun can be (person, place, idea, emotion, name, et cetera). I spent my first year, as I imagine many novice teachers do, just trying not to drown. Mostly, I was terrified that my students would find out I barely knew what I was teaching them. I’d stay up late the night before, read a few chapters ahead, and then put together a weekly assignment sheet that suggested an authority I did not have. The next day, we’d go over their homework, and I’d stand at the front of the class sweating through my blazer and praying my voice wouldn’t break. Then I’d preview the coming unit as if I really knew the future, feigning confidence, meaning to reassure them. I could see the path ahead absolutely, could see it all the way to its glorious end in June.

When the lockdown began in Oregon, when it became clear that my five-year-old daughter would not be returning to school for the year, I thought back to those early teaching experiences. It seemed I was again in the same boat: unprepared, ill-equipped, drowning in my own ineptitude. My only option was to do as I had done before, to try as hard as possible. For a while, I really did. I made a schedule that transitioned her, every thirty minutes, from “educational” iPad games, to some kind of art-making, to free play, to basic math, and so on. That lasted one week. My own work piled up (I’m fortunate to be an instructor at a university, and my teaching, like everyone else’s, has gone remote). I decided very quickly to scale back, to ask one thing of her a day. I decided we would try, for the first time, to read a chapter book together.

We didn’t choose Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time for any other reason than it was already in our house. A friend had gifted my daughter the complete series for Christmas. My daughter can sound out words fairly well. The struggle is, of course, with patience, with seeing a new and unfamiliar term and not allowing its length and phonetic combinations to overwhelm her. The work is slow, and I remember from teaching middle school that I must marshal my own patience before I can help with hers.

Together, we attempt a chapter a day, often less. I ask her to read or sound out only four sentences during each session. If she does this, she earns a piece of sugarless gum as her prize, which she loves because she desperately wants to figure out how to blow bubbles. She can’t always sit still while I read, so she wanders about the room, touching scattered stuffed animals, rearranging LEGO sets, putting her model horses in a row and making them eat hay. I sometimes quiz her to see if she’s following along. She always is. She recalls everything without effort, and it startles me, the dynamism of her memory:

“Who’s Charles Wallace?” I ask.

“Meg’s little brother,” she replies.

“What does Meg’s mother do for a living?”

“She’s a scientist.”

“Where is their father?”

“He’s missing.”

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

This Person Does Not Exist

PG is not getting angsty, but a lot of people are. PG isn’t feeling particularly alienated, but a lot of people are.

So, what’s the ideal website for a person who doesn’t want angst or alienation cured, but would rather wallow a bit?

The title of the site is apt – This Person Does Not Exist.

First, a bit of lingo:

A generative adversarial network (GAN) is a class of machine learning frameworks

. . . .

Two neural networks contest with each other in a game (in the sense of game theory, often but not always in the form of a zero-sum game). Given a training set, this technique learns to generate new data with the same statistics as the training set. For example, a GAN trained on photographs can generate new photographs that look at least superficially authentic to human observers, having many realistic characteristics.

Wikipedia

So, you have two powerful computer networks in a constant duel that makes each one better at producing photographs of people who do not exist. If the two networks were located on a distant planet and had been adversarial competitors for millions of years with no contact with intelligent carbon-based life, you might have an interesting premise for a science fiction story.

Each one of these people is named a1.JPG

From This Person Does Not Exist:

You can prod the battling computer networks yourself by clicking on This Person Does Not Exist

Pestilences Have a Way of Recurring

Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world, yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.

Albert Camus, The Plague

The Comprehensive Guide to Finding, Hiring, and Working with an Editor

From Jane Friedman:

As an independent developmental/substantive editor, I field a lot of the same questions every day. What is an editor? What do book editors do? How do I find one? How do I hire one?

The questions make sense—like book editing itself, an understanding of the editorial process happens almost exclusively in private author-editor interactions, and the specifics are rarely transferable between writers or projects. What’s an author to do? 

For anyone embarking on a search for your first, next, or best editor, may this article be your comprehensive guide.

What an Editor Is

Much confusion about editors and editing begins right here, at the meaning of the word editor. Consider the following sentences:

  • “I’m working with an editor to turn my keynote speech into a book.”
  • “The editor said I should delete my entire fourth chapter.”
  • “My editor caught all my typos.”
  • “The editor did a final proof yesterday.”

Editor means something (and someone) different in each of those examples. It used to confuse me, too, and that’s because we use a catch-all term when we shouldn’t. We employ the word editor to describe anyone who has anything to do with preparing words for publication, and we don’t realize that editors, in this umbrella sense of the word, don’t actually exist. Nobody out there is just an editor—there’s always a descriptive word that comes before (or instead) to describe where that individual sits on the continuum of the book-editing process. For both traditionally published and self-published authors, the continuum looks like this:

Developmental Editor → Substantive Editor → Copy Editor → Proofreader

Practically speaking, what this means for authors is that you need to know the lingo that editors use to describe the work we do. Looking for “an editor” to “edit your book” won’t get you very far because no one knows what that means—editors included. I’m sure the copy editors are working on that, and maybe that will be funny later.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Maxing Out Your Readership

From Dave Farland, Story Doctor:

Certain books don’t just sell well, they sell far more copies than there it would seem that they have audience members. They aren’t just hits, they become a “phenomenon.” You know their names: Harry Potter, Twilight, 50 Shades, etc.

Before Harry Potter was released, I’d read an article talking about the Goosebumps novels. Analysts believed that there were 2.5 to 3 million fans of middle-grade novels. But Harry Potter “broke out” of the middle-grade bestseller list and was read by adults and teens and even kids who were younger than the intended audience. As a result it sold 130 million copies worldwide—and garnered an audience 50 times larger than logic dictates it should have.

It happens over and over. We eve know how that happens. Sometimes an influencer, someone like Oprah, will champion a book. Bill Clinton will walk into a press conference with the book in hand, or a superstar actress will be spotted reading it on a beach, and suddenly a novel like The Alchemist gets extraordinarily wide press coverage and surges into the “phenomenon” range on the bestseller lists.

Most of the time, it happens when publishers pay large bookstore chains to make nice displays of a book in their store windows, and the displays attracts wide attention from avid readers.

On other occasions, critics and reviewers on television take notice and create a hullabaloo, promoting the books with news articles.

Once a book gets enough sales, it will often glean Hollywood interest and get a movie tie-in, and the publicity for the film—which may be worth tens of millions of dollars–drives millions of more fans to the books. Thus you get a hit like Lord of the Rings that has great sales, but sold a hundred million more copies after the movies based on it came out. The same thing happened with Game of Thrones.

That’s the way that it has been done in the past, but I’ve been thinking about how we might create a phenomenon novel for Indie writers now, or in the near future. It wouldn’t be as expensive as some of the traditional ways, but it would be completely possible.

. . . .

The big problem with authors is that our books are so inexpensive, we don’t have enough profit margin for big advertising campaigns. It’s not quite like we’re selling yachts or cars.

But there are a number of ways to get inexpensive advertising—enough to create a big enough hit to justify expanding the campaign in stages. So you focus on going onto Goodreads, then creating a fanbase on Twitter or Facebook. Maybe you start a channel on Twitch, or put up some videos YouTube.

Many authors develop what we call “Street Teams” to help in such efforts. These are fans who help advertise on platforms where they have a presence, and I don’t know a really successful author who doesn’t have a couple of heroic fans who help out in that way. Of course, as an author you don’t want to take advantage of other people’s goodwill, but there are ways to thank your Street Team without paying huge sums of money.

Authors who don’t grow their audience may soon find that they have a shrinking audience, and most of us usually come to realize that the best way to grow our audience is to write another book.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

Bookshop, a new startup, is offering publications bigger kickbacks than Amazon

From Nieman Lab:

The pitch is simple. “They get to feel good about themselves. They get to diversify the revenue. And they don’t have to take a financial hit because we’re able to deliver the sales that they want.”

. . . .

The Rebel Alliance to Amazon’s Empire. A David taking on Goliath. Any way you want to put it, the new ecommerce site Bookshop has attracted a lot of attention for challenging Amazon on its original turf. (What, did you forget Amazon launched as “Earth’s biggest bookstore”?)

Bookshop, which was founded to support independent bookstores, distributes earnings through a pooled fund and provides digital storefronts that let local stores keep the profits on any sales they generate. Launched in late January, Bookshop has served as a lifeline for indie booksellers during a pandemic that has forced many of them to shut up shop. Here in Massachusetts, for example, local favorites like Harvard Book Store, Brookline Booksmith, and Porter Square Books — not considered “essential businesses” — have closed and suspended curbside pickup. This could change after May 18, but until then, online orders are keeping them afloat.

There’s something in it for publications that cover books, too.

If a publication refers a sale to Bookshop, the site will kick back 10 percent of the book’s price. That’s more than twice the going rate — 4.5 percent for physical books — through Amazon’s affiliate program.

. . . .

News organizations have seen ecommerce as an attractive way to diversify their revenue streams for a while now. The concept is straightforward (even if the ethical questions aren’t): An outlet publishes an affiliate link — in a review or gift guide, maybe — and earns a small percentage of any sales.

Back in 2016, The New York Times paid more than $30 million for the product review site Wirecutter, a major investment that now seems like a bargain. (The Times doesn’t break out affiliate revenue in its financial reports, but we noted a 20.9 percent increase in “other revenue” back in 2017 that was largely credited to referral revenue. That category has grown in the years since, though the latest earnings report credited revenue from The Weekly and Facebook licensing.) Wirecutter often points readers toward Amazon, which runs the largest, best-known affiliate revenue program. But, as the book publishing industry learned early on, it’s not smart to be overly dependent on the whims of a tech giant. Just last month, Amazon cut commission rates across several categories, which can’t have been welcome news for digital publications like BuzzFeed and New York magazine that regularly publish shopping guides to drive affiliate revenue. The company is also delaying shipping on some items — including books.

By providing an alternative, Bookshop offers an opportunity for publications that rely on ecommerce to diversify at least part of their payouts.

For all the galaxy-sized metaphors in the press, Bookshop isn’t trying to beat Amazon at its own game — just loosen its vice-like grip on bookselling. (More than 90 percent of ebook and audiobooks sales and about 42 to 45 percent of print book sales happen on Amazon, according to industry tracker BookStat.) Part of the solution, concluded Bookshop CEO Andy Hunter, was developing an affiliate program that worked for publishers but supported many independent stores instead of one trillion-dollar company.

Link to the rest at Nieman Lab

An open letter to newspapers and other media outlets from the Authors Guild and the National Book Critics Circle

From The Authors Guild:

Media outlets in particular have been hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis, with many losing virtually all their advertising revenues overnight. This has forced many newspapers, websites and other media outlets to lay off or furlough staff and cut back on freelance assignments.

As one response to this revenue crisis, some outlets are reducing or eliminating book reviews. While we understand and truly sympathize with the grave financial pressures behind these decisions, we believe maintaining book coverage now will benefit readers, authors, reviewers and media outlets themselves. We encourage those outlets to continue to make space for the vital conversation around books in their coverage.

With many other forms of arts and entertainment inaccessible for now, more people than ever are looking for good books to read. Many bookstores and libraries are operating online only and unable to hold public events, and book festivals are being postponed or cancelled. 

As a result, authors with new books coming out face an unprecedented challenge in connecting with readership. Many of them have responded in innovative ways, such as virtual book events and streaming interviews. 

Still, authors depend, perhaps now more than ever, on book reviews, and readers look to the media for reviewers’ voices. Strong literary arts coverage not only benefits authors, but nourishes the entire literary ecosystem, including freelance reviewers, publishers, bookstores, libraries, literary agencies, editors, designers and everyone who contributes in one way or another to the world of books.

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

Barking Dog Nocturnal

From The Offing:

I come from the country, from a home in the woods where nights are filled with cricket chirps and coyote howls. My most persistent childhood memory is my mom guarding the front porch, one hand on her bottle and the other holding her 12-gauge as she fired into the dark.

“Why do you do that?” I asked, a little girl as frightened of the sound as I was of my mother’s reddening eyes.

“To keep the coyotes from getting close,” she slurred.

If a coyote ventured near the porch, my mother would point the gun at its howling mouth. She never fired, but I could see her itch to kill as the twitch in her trigger finger.

“Why do we hate coyotes?” I asked on another dripping hot night. I was just old enough to ask questions with no grammatical inconsistencies and old enough to shoot the BB gun if I wanted. I often fired unloaded pops into the air during daylight hours. I’d seen a coyote slinking in the sun once: mangy red-orange fur and pointed ears, like a wolf and a fox in one body. “They’re beautiful,” I said.

“Beautiful things are wild,” my mother said. “In packs, coyotes don’t care for fear.”

“What’s fear?” I asked.

“Fear is what keeps us safe.” She ran her finger over the safety, waiting for the howling in the distance to come closer. “Fear is what separates us from chaos.”

I knew nothing more about chaos than that it was the word that sprung to mind when I snuck peeks into my mother’s liquor cabinet: half-drunk bottles of liquor in every color imaginable, a cityscape of differently-sized alcohol glasses, and a clutter of little umbrellas she utilized to placate me when I cried about her drinking.

. . . .

Around that time I developed my routine. On Tuesdays I pulled all the clothes out of my closet and forced myself to put each shirt, each dress back one-by-one, arranged by color. On Wednesdays I wiped down every drawer in the house with a wet rag folded in quarters. On Thursdays I tossed scraps of paper from my desk into the recycling bin then promptly emptied it. On Fridays I plucked stray hairs from my face. I kept these tasks arranged on a calendar I hung on my wall. But there was only so much order I could enforce in a house where I wasn’t the only occupant.

My mother scolded me for staying up too late, but she had a front porch to defend and a cabinet of vodka bottles to empty, and as such didn’t follow through on her threats to punish me if I stayed up again.

I moved out after high school graduation and rented an apartment with its own drawers. But there was only so much order I could enforce in a house where I hadn’t been the only occupant. The dust on the baseboards seemed a type of permanent that no amount of Wednesday scrubbing would erase. The cracks kept me awake. I imagined them opening, swallowing me into the dusty walls. On TV I watched the news of mass shootings, endings messy and terrible in their gore, and worried that one day the opening of a gun would swallow me into its gunpowder-dusted shaft.

I spent my work days in a real estate office yawning and dozing off on bathroom breaks, waking with my pants around my ankles. I struggled to remember where and who I was. On Saturdays I scrubbed at old mold stains in my bathroom until my fingers bled. On Sundays I brushed over inconsistencies in the apartment’s paint until sunlight crept through the windows.

Link to the rest at The Offing

Shanghai’s Past, Hong Kong’s Future

From Public Books:

Sometimes, when a city changes, residents are suddenly forced to ask themselves hard questions: Should we stay, or cut our losses and leave to start afresh somewhere else? Will this place still be enough like the community we love in a year or a decade to make it worth sticking it out? If we don’t leave now and things get worse, will we still be able to get out? Even if we’re okay now, what about our children? And all these personal questions boil down to bigger ones: What does it mean for a city to be free? What happens when a free city loses its freedom? And when does that occur?

Seventy-one years ago today, these questions were being asked by many residents of the most cosmopolitan city on the China coast: Shanghai. Some had considered leaving in 1937, when the Japanese took over all Chinese-run parts of Shanghai, and again in 1941, when the city’s two enclaves of foreign privilege, the International Settlement and the French Concession, fell to Japan. But they had stayed, only to face a choice early in 1949, when the Red Army advanced toward the great metropolis of the Yangtze Delta. While many locals welcomed the Communist Party’s arrival, others, Chinese and non-Chinese alike, feared that their way of life would be dramatically changed once Mao Zedong’s forces took over, and changed for the worse. As the first battles outside the city began on May 12, 1949, those who had remained surely wondered if they’d made a mistake.

Seven decades later, the same questions are being asked again, but in Hong Kong. In the Pearl River Delta’s most cosmopolitan city, the people asking the questions today might have pondered leaving in 1984, when Beijing and London made the deal that would change a British colony into a part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). They also might have considered leaving at other, later points, including before July 1, 1997, the day of the Handover. Today—as the mainland government warns that it is losing patience with locals seeking to defend the liberties and legal protections that make their city markedly different from all mainland ones, protesters battle with police after nearly a year of struggle, and the novel coronavirus disrupts daily life and the economic activities that make the city’s unique lifestyle possible—Hong Kong residents may be wondering again if they’ve made a mistake.

Hong Kong and Shanghai are connected by more than just history: they have long competed for the crown of the China coast’s most worldly, wealthy, and cosmopolitan city (even during eras when racism and segregation limited the freedoms of many of their residents). And each one’s successes have been matched by the other’s downturns. For a time, Shanghai was an open and prosperous city far outstripping its sleepy colonial counterpart—before 1949. But as Shanghai suffered under Maoist rule, Hong Kong prospered. Both have triumphed when they remained open to outside finance and outside cultures; both have turned stagnant when denied access to the world.

Therefore, the story of Hong Kong and Shanghai isn’t simply a defining story of the last two centuries of Chinese history. It is really the story of all world cities around the globe today: how they thrive and how they decline.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Alice Munro, The Art of Fiction

From The Paris Review:

There is no direct flight from New York City to Clinton, Ontario, the Canadian town of three thousand where Alice Munro lives most of the year. We left LaGuardia early on a June morning, rented a car in Toronto, and drove for three hours on roads that grew smaller and more rural. Around dusk, we pulled up to the house where Munro lives with her second husband, Gerry Fremlin. It has a deep backyard and an eccentric flower garden and is, as she explained, the house where Fremlin was born. In the kitchen, Munro was preparing a simple meal with fragrant local herbs. The dining room is lined floor to ceiling with books; on one side a small table holds a manual typewriter. It is here that Munro works.

After a while, Munro took us to Goderich, a bigger town, the county seat, where she installed us in the Bedford Hotel on the square across from the courthouse. The hotel is a nineteenth-century building with comfortable rooms (twin beds and no air-conditioning) that would seem to lodge a librarian or a frontier schoolteacher in one of Munro’s stories. Over the next three days, we talked in her home, but never with the tape recorder on. We conducted the interview in our small room at the hotel, as Munro wanted to keep “the business out of the house.” Both Munro and her husband grew up within twenty miles of where they now live; they knew the history of almost every building we passed, admired, or ate inside. We asked what sort of literary community was available in the immediate area. Although there is a library in Goderich, we were told the nearest good bookstore was in Stratford, some thirty miles away. When we asked whether there were any other local writers, she drove us past a ramshackle house where a man sat bare chested on the back stoop, crouched over a typewriter, surrounded by cats. “He’s out there every day,” she said. “Rain or shine. I don’t know him, but I’m dying of curiosity to find out what he’s up to.”

Our last morning in Canada, supplied with directions, we sought out the house in which Alice Munro had grown up. Her father had built the house and raised mink there. After several dead ends, we found it, a pretty brick house at the very end of a country road, facing an open field where an airplane rested, alighted temporarily it seemed. It was, from our spot, easy to imagine the glamor of the air, the pilot taking a country wife away, as in “White Dump,” or the young aviation stuntsman who lands in a field like this in “How I Met My Husband.”

Like the house, like the landscape of Ontario, which resembles the American Midwest, Munro is not imposing. She is gracious, with a quiet humor. She is the author of seven books of short stories, including the forthcoming Open Secrets, and one novel, Lives of Girls and Women; she has received the Governor-General’s Award (Canada’s most prestigious literary prize), and is regularly featured in Best American Short Stories (Richard Ford recently included two Alice Munro stories in the volume he edited), and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards; she also is a regular contributor to The New Yorker. Despite these considerable accomplishments, Munro still speaks of writing with some of the reverence and insecurity one hears in the voices of beginners. She has none of the bravura or bluster of a famous writer, and it is easy to forget that she is one. Speaking of her own work, she makes what she does sound not exactly easy, but possible, as if anyone could do it if they only worked hard enough. As we left, we felt that contagious sense of possibility. It seems simple—but her writing has a perfect simplicity that takes years and many drafts to master. As Cynthia Ozick has said, “She is our Chekhov and is going to outlast most of her contemporaries.”

Link to the rest at The Paris Review