Marlowe, A.I. for Novels

From The Book Designer:

I recently had the opportunity to evaluate Marlowe, Authors A.I.’s analytical software for novels. Created by Matthew L. Jockers, Ph.D., and his data team, Marlowe is an artificial intelligence that serves to help authors improve their novel before sending it off for professional editing. The goal of this software is to “help authors refine their manuscripts and identify new market opportunities for their works.” (Note: I searched their website but did not find any reference to helping authors “identify new market opportunities for their works.”)

Marlowe is relatively new—first released in January 2020—and so I was a little skeptical about the reliability of the algorithms, fearing its creators could still be working out the kinks. Also new is the Authors A.I. organization itself, a June 2019 venture.

The manuscript I submitted to Marlowe was the final manuscript for my latest novel Nineteen Hundred Days, a book in the literary fiction genre that had gone through three levels of professional editing:

  • manuscript critique
  • line editing
  • copy editing

The 24-page report I received for this manuscript includes 15 areas of analyses.

Plot Structure

This section of the Marlowe report is about narrative arc and major turning points in the story line. Below is the visual representation provided for my novel.

The dotted line running across the graph indicates emotional neutrality.

The purple line represents conflict and conflict resolution. Upward slopes mark instances of conflict resolution where the story takes a positive turn, and downward slopes indicate the story taking a darker turn or some level of complication.

The more peaks and valleys, the more of an emotional roller coaster the character(s) is going on, which could be an indication of how successful the novel is in engaging readers. If the purple line doesn’t veer away much from the dotted line, the story is likely flat and uninteresting.

According to Marlowe, a good story will result in this line vacillating between above and below the dotted line with highs and lows throughout. And it’s not just about the number of spikes, it’s also about the depth of each one.

The green line represents the narrative arc. Marlowe claims there is no optimal shape for the narrative arc, and they are working on obtaining some comps from bestsellers for future reference. But my experience is that fictional stories are best structured if they include these narrative arc components:

  • exposition
  • conflict
  • rising action
  • climax
  • falling action
  • resolution

When optimally included in the story line, these components form a definitive narrative arc.

My interpretation of this analysis for Nineteen Hundred Days is that it has a typical narrative arc (at least according to my knowledge and experience). With respect to the level and depth of conflict in the story line, I can only compare it to the sample report that Authors A. I. has on its website for The Da Vinci Code which has five peaks (compared to my six) with approximately the same depth and occurrences above and below the dotted line. While my novel is not in the same league as The Da Vinci Code, I can only feel good about this comparison.

. . . .

Pacing

Marlowe analyzes the story’s pacing by plotting where it thinks readers will turn the pages more quickly (peaks on the graph) and the slower moments (valleys) where there is likely scene setting and background information given, claiming that the most successful writers vary the pace of their story to provide variety.

When I saw this analysis for my novel, I immediately wondered what was going on at the 57% mark to cause such a prominent “valley.” So I looked at chapters 20 through 25 and found three significant events:

  • the protagonist’s best friend dies of cancer
  • he is asked by police if he can identify someone they are looking for
  • he learns of his mother’s jail sentence

I would not call these “slow moments,” so I am at a loss as to why the graph dips so low at the 57% mark.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

Get Me Out of Here

From Writer Unboxed:

If there’s a Church of Emotional Truth in Writing, I’m a founding member. “Write the truest version” is my mantra, and I’ve written novels exploring fear and loss and shame and passion and love and I’ve written essays on the importance of vulnerability in writing. Yet as I struggled with the start of a new novel recently, I realized that I don’t really want to write my emotional truth right now, because I am in a dark and difficult place, as many of us are. All I really want is to be somewhere, anywhere, else. Give me an escape.

Since mid-March, I have watched the entire Lord of the Rings extended edition movies all the way through (twice!). I’ve seen all three seasons of the British sitcom Miranda (also twice). I’ve read ten or more novels (who can keep track of anything these days?) that have taken me from 1960s Louisiana (Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half) to Narnia (yes, I re-read C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) to mid-20th-century New York (Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn).

But here’s the thing: escape has not dulled my need to create. “To make art is to wake up in a state of craving, a craving to discharge resentment, rage…And the making of art has a curative effect. A tension you are under disappears, dramatically.” (A comment by visual artist Louise Bourgeois, as quoted by writer Jamie Attenberg)

. . . .

So I am escaping, but I’m also creating. I’m writing poetry, a new discipline for me. I’m working on the opening pages of a novel that has elements of magical realism, a new genre for me. I’m cooking more frequently which, believe me, is an act of creation. All those things transport me someplace else. Is there value in escape? I believe so, for these reasons:

It provides perspective. Yes, these are hard times. But they are hardly the hardest times. Read (or write!) about the 1918 flu pandemic, the Civil War, or the plague (one of my favorite reads is Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, about a woman in 14th-century Norway). Stories of how people have faced catastrophe and endured or even bloomed are road-maps of a sort for all of us now.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Third person omniscient vs. limited vs. head jumping

From Nathan Bransford:

If a writing fairy popped out of an old typewriter and granted me the ability to fix one craft problem in all the unpublished manuscripts across the realm I would probably terrify it by how quickly I’d shout, “PERSPECTIVES! For the love of Melville fix the broken perspectives!!”

You probably know there are three main perspectives to choose from in a novel: first person, third person limited, and third person omniscient.

. . . .

Here’s the thing: If you’ve chosen one of the third person perspectives, you may not realize that you’re going about it all wrong.

That’s because people often confuse an omniscient perspective with the very common and extremely wicked gremlin of writing craft: awkward head jumping.

In this post I’m going to show you how to spot the difference between third person omniscient, third person limited, and head jumping, and give you tips on writing with a cohesive perspective instead of completely disorienting the reader.

. . . .

What is third person omniscient?

A third person omniscient perspective is often compared to a god’s-eye view because the narrative voice is able to show anything it wants the reader to see. An omniscient voice knows what’s happening in all places and can divine what every single character is thinking.

There are no limits to what can be shown by an omniscient narrator. We can zoom around to various locales and we can dip into characters’ heads as needed.

But while an omniscient perspective can see all thoughts, it is typically a consistent, unified voice, almost as if there’s an unnamed character (or sometimes even a named one) who is narrating the action and guiding the reader through the scene.

What is third person limited?

As the name implies, third person limited is more, well, limited. It’s typically tied to one character at a time. Even though it’s written in third person, there’s an anchoring character and we only see the events through their perspective.

This means that we only know what the anchoring character is thinking and only see what the anchoring character is seeing. Any other character’s thoughts have to be inferred through actions, gestures, or dialogue.

There can be multiple third person limited perspectives in a novel, but typically these are wholly contained within a chapter or section before the perspective shifts in a new chapter or section.

What is head jumping in a novel?

Here’s where the problems start. Sometimes people try to create an omniscient perspective through an assemblage of third person limited perspectives.

We see what this character is thinking, then we see what this character is thinking, then we see what this character is thinking. The reader is bopped around the scene willy-nilly as we bounce from character to character.

Often writers will even shift the perspective within the same paragraph or even the same sentence. There isn’t a unified single voice, but rather more like a cacaphony of voices.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Let the Words Flow

From veteran author and story doctor, Dave Farland:

One of the most important skills that any writers learns is to simply sit down and write. For some
people, this is as easy as sitting in a chair and typing. For others who are burdened with stresses,
distractions, or indecision, writing can be more of a challenge.

Learning to write every day is a skill that one develops. Just as a monk can learn to meditate for
hours, reaching a state where he controls his heartbeat and respiration, writers learn by practice how
to reach a meditative “flow state,” where words come out effortlessly and quickly.

There are other names for the “flow state.” If you’re writing and you are in a light meditative state, it
is sometimes called the “Alpha” state, but as you write for a couple of hours and get into a much
deeper meditative trance, it’s called the “Theta” state. It’s when you’re in this flow state that your
images, word choice, and plotting goals all mesh together seamlessly so that you hit the “writer’s
zone.”

Here is how to do it:

1) Prepare to write. For me to write, I need to know what scene I’m going to work on. That
means I need to know who the protagonist is, where and when the setting is, who else is in
the scene, what the major conflict is, what conversations will occur, and what the mood and
purpose of the scene will be.

Will my protagonist dare try to kiss the boy she’s attracted to, or will my hero fall off a horse
and break her neck? Will my scene consist mainly of an argument that elicits some disturbing
revelations? I find it helpful to have this information sketched out the night before, but I’m
perfectly capable of imagining a scene and writing it well on a moment’s inspiration.

2) Find a time and place where you have no distractions.

About Time: Most people discover that going to work at the same time every day helps them
reach a flow state quickly. Many writers like to work late at night or early in the morning. I
also like to have decent blocks of time. Since it takes me a bit to get into a deep trance, I want
something close to two hours as a minimum.

About Place: Create your “Sacred Writing Space.” Your writing space may be a special chair
in an office where you like to write, or perhaps it is in a coffee shop. Some writers seek out a
secluded cabin in the woods or a beach. I find that for some weird reason, I write very well
and easily in airports. I find that I can’t write in chairs that hurt my back, or in a room where
the air isn’t fresh. Having gorgeous scenery can also be a distraction. This technique is used in a variety of fields; whether you are studying for a test or learning an instrument, your environment is a breeding ground for productivity.

. . . .

3) Begin building the flow. This means you start writing. For most people, when they are
starting cold on a project, they’ve already outlined the opening scene.

If you’re in the middle of a project, say a novel, sometimes it is helpful to back up and edit
your writing for the previous two days. You don’t want to start at the beginning necessarily,
but you might simply review your last two days so that you can recall where you are and what
you planned to do. This helps you get re-grounded in the story so that you can effortlessly
move forward.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland, Story Doctor

The Churchill Complex

From The Wall Street Journal:

The special relationship—or, as they write it in Britain, the Special Relationship—between the United States and the United Kingdom is one of those partnerships that everyone talks about but few understand. Ian Buruma’s stimulating and highly readable “The Churchill Complex: The Curse of Being Special, From Winston and FDR to Trump and Brexit” is a brisk but thorough history of the relationship under the 13 American presidents and 16 British prime ministers in the postwar era. 

The special relationship as we know it today, Mr. Buruma argues, was an emanation from Winston Churchill’s fertile brain. Faced with the decline of the empire he loved, Churchill adapted the hoary idea of a deep bond between the British and the Americans to new conditions. Thanks to a unique ability to influence the United States, Churchill argued, Britain could continue to shape world events even as its power decayed. 

Churchill did more than establish the modern framework of Anglo-American relations, Mr. Buruma shows. In particular, the example of Churchill’s courageous stand against appeasement in 1938-40 haunts both presidents and prime ministers to this day. Whether Margaret Thatcher was standing firm in the Falklands or stiffening George H.W. Bush’s spine for the First Gulf War, she was channeling the Churchillian spirit.

The partnership has not always worked well. Churchill’s immediate successor, Anthony Eden, saw Egyptian president Gamal Nasser as a new Hitler and denounced any compromise over the Suez Canal as another Munich. In the resulting Suez Crisis of 1956, President Eisenhower forced Eden into a humiliating retreat.

Even after Suez, the idea of the special relationship was not something Britain was willing to discard. Harold Macmillan, Eden’s courtly successor, immediately got to work to rebuild the relationship, shifting his attentions from Eisenhower to Kennedy in 1961. Macmillan obtained access to American nuclear weapons research; from Kennedy, Macmillan’s artful sleeve-tugging obtained an agreement to give Britain access to the then-coveted Polaris missile system.

The discussion in Britain of both Churchill and the special relationship has become a battlefront in the debate over membership in the European Union—a debate that continues to rage even with Britain having formally left. For many in the Remain camp, the idea that Britain can still play a world role independent of Europe, and that the best way to do that is to double down on its relationship with the United States, is a Churchillian fantasy that paved the way to Brexit. Britain, critics of the Churchill mystique and the special relationship insist, must put these childish dreams behind it and come to terms with a sober reality in which the EU is its only real option.

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

PG claims no expertise concerning contemporary British politics, but will say that a great many Americans of his acquaintance feel closer to Britain than they do to any other European or Asian nation. Most also feel the same way about Canada.

For evidence of this feeling in contemporary US popular culture, PG will point out that Public Broadcasting in the United States would be a much less watched enterprise if it did not air so many British shows, including programs depicting various parts of British history.

For all of its attractions, culture, beauty, history and other virtues, France does not hold a similar place in American hearts and minds despite the fact that the French supported the American Revolution.

A Place at the Table

From Publishers Weekly:

Chef, restaurateur, and TV personality Marcus Samuelsson began working on his latest cookbook, The Rise (Voracious, Nov.), three years ago. A celebration of Black cooking, the book brings together chefs, food writers, and activists to share their stories and recipes, and emphasizes the diversity of the Black American experience. “There wouldn’t be American food without the contributions of Black people,” Samuelsson says. “[This book] is an opportunity to give authorship and recognition.”

The Rise arrives at a moment of racial reckoning in the U.S. more broadly, and in food media specifically. In May, cookbook author and Instagram star Alison Roman was placed on temporary hiatus from her New York Times column after mocking the achievements of Marie Kondo and fellow cookbook author Chrissy Teigen, both women of color. Weeks later, Adam Rapoport resigned from his position as editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit after a 2004 photo of him in brownface surfaced, which in turn opened up a public discussion about pay inequity in the magazine’s test kitchen. Subsequently, four on-screen personalities of color declined to participate in the brand’s popular video series, and the magazine’s only two Black editorial staff members quit.

“This moment is important; the world is watching,” says Samuelsson, who on August 17 was named Bon Appétit’s first brand advisor. “To be able to uplift Black stories of craftsmanship is important. I feel honored and privileged.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Aspen Institute Looks at a Publishing Industry Challenged to Embrace Diversity

From Publishing Perspectives:

As discussion in the world publishing industry accelerates around issues of diversity and inclusivity, the Aspen Institute has included a publishing-specific session in its series of “Changing the Narrative” programs.

. . . .

“There are few people of color who serve as publishing staff or literary agents, and even fewer who operate at decision-making levels.

“The recent Twitter protest #PublishingPaidMe exposed the major pay disparities in the industry between Black and other authors. As a result, Black writers struggle to receive the same marketing exposure, even as readers continue to find and demonstrate their enthusiasm for the titles that do get published.”

. . . .

In June, for example, we reported on the quite remarkable statement issued by the Association of University Presses, in which the organization denounced “the white supremacist structure upon which so many of our presses were built”—still perhaps the most searing self-indictment by a major sector made yet.

Many inequities during the peak of the reactions to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis were brought into focus around a “Publishing Day of Action” in early June, when many of the findings of the Lee and Low study on the overall industry’s diversification status came into play.

Another profound moment of change was signaled when John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, established a company-guiding Trade Management Committee to lead the Big Five house’s efforts in diversity and inclusion.

. . . .

In Tuesday’s program, some of the issues under consideration are expected to involve ways the book publishing industry can use this moment of what many hope is a racial reckoning to bring more racial diversity to the field. How can the industry employ and publish more books by—and for—people of color?

Many are convinced that such changes have to come from the inside out. If the industry can’t offer the content that a consumer base that looks like its market needs and wants, there’s every chance that the staffing traditions—as the Association of University Presses courageously said—simply aren’t drawing on a workforce that reflects a way forward.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Racism – Yet another reason to avoid doing business with Big Publishing.

In Praise of Textbooks

From Slate:

When schools closed this spring, many parents, including me, felt overwhelmed and underwater trying to help our children participate in distance learning. Every day seemed to usher in a new way for my husband and me to fail at reading emails, managing logins, printing worksheets, troubleshooting tech problems, photographing assignments, and keeping track of class Zooms. Being an educator as well as a parent gave my experience a particularly nightmarish quality, as if I were somehow both the driver and pedestrian in this collision. As a teacher, I participated in a flurry of trainings on using various apps to make videos, find e-books, host meetings, use data, and share student work, but as a parent, I could not keep up.

It doesn’t have to be this hard. School closures brought a cascade of serious problems, from declining maternal workforce participation to child hunger, many of which will require broader government intervention to solve—but streamlining remote instruction is well within schools’ institutional capabilities. A viral video of an Israeli mom venting about the nonstop barrage of communications her kids were receiving from their school spoke to the frustrations many families felt trying to keep their heads above water in a fast-moving stream of assignments and online resources. That’s not a problem that is going to be solved by adding another app to the mix, but there is a tool that can help, one that works even if the internet cuts out and isn’t full of distractions a click away. It’s not new, and it won’t disrupt education as we know it, but in a time of upheaval, steep learning curves, and decision fatigue, there’s a lot to be said for the familiar. As districts invest millions in distributing Chromebooks and helping families secure internet access—a necessity for keeping kids connected to their teachers and to school—they should also make plans to invest in and distribute another essential learning tool: the textbook.

. . . .

For 150 years, the textbook was a mainstay of American classrooms. Their progenitor was the McGuffey Readers, of which an estimated 120 million copies were sold between 1836 and 1960. Written by frontier teacher and scholar William Holmes McGuffey, the original Readers contained literary selections that promoted Calvinist ideas about salvation and piety, while later editions were secularized in keeping with the nation’s changing mores. These days, the Readers are better known for their role in shaping American identity and culture than for how they changed teaching and learning. But although they seem stuffy and moralistic to contemporary eyes, the Readers represented an important pedagogical step forward in their time and spoke to the real needs of students McGuffey witnessed, first as a roving teacher who began working in schoolhouses at age 14 and later when he tested his textbooks with groups of neighborhood children in Ohio. The Readers were organized into levels across which students would progress over time, from phonics, through basal stories, all the way up to selections from Milton. Vocabulary was taught gradually by repeated exposure to words in context instead of being doled out in a list for memorization. Unlike their predecessor the New England Primer, which was designed to put the fear of God into children, the Readers were designed to be appealing to children, and incorporated helpful, clear illustrations.

Crucially, the McGuffey Readers also guided teachers, who at the time were often poorly prepared, educated only a year or two beyond their pupils, and working with large, mixed-age groups of students. The Readers embedded good pedagogy on the page by including questions for teachers to ask their students, and numbered passages so students could take turns reading aloud. Imagine—a year’s worth of assignments, compiled in an appealing edition, accompanied by instructions for what the poorly prepared adult in the room can say to help. Sure sounds like something that I, a woman who misled a 5-year-old on number bonds for three whole months, could have used this spring.

At their core, textbooks are a way to distribute the essential content of a class to a massive group of students in a way that is standardized and economical. A good textbook is clear, appealing, and organized in a predictable way. It’s not just paragraphs of text, but it also includes extratextual features such as reference materials, answer keys, sidebars, and key terms to aid students in their comprehension.

. . . .

For cash-strapped districts, cheap Chromebooks and software licenses are often less expensive in the short term than purchasing sets of hardcover books. It isn’t just wealthy districts that are making these investments in technology. But the phasing out of print textbooks in favor of online texts and learning software has been driven by ideology, too. Since 2015, textbook sales have declined year over year while the EdTech sector has ballooned into a $252 billion business. In 2019, Pearson sold off its textbook arm in order to focus on its more lucrative educational software business. In a 2012 article (which in hindsight reads as overly optimistic not only about online textbooks but about algorithms, the internet, and the future in general, but was very much in line with the zeitgeist in education at the time) Megan Garber writes of Apple’s e-textbooks, “They create a kind of kaleidoscopic experience: video, text, audio, all whirring and whirling into each other in a self-guided tour of history or chemistry or biology.” To my tech-fried pandemic brain, that seems like a bit much. In 2020, I’d like to pass on teaching sixth grade language arts—or helping my child understand second grade math for that matter—through a widening gyre of multimedia experiences.

Link to the rest at Slate

PG suggests that kids who are digital natives do just fine with ebook versions of textbooks.

He’s also skeptical about paper vs. screen comprehension studies that have been conducted using children who are not digital natives.

FWIW, PG’s own experience is that his comprehension for long-form texts is somewhat better with a Kindle Paperwhite screen than an iPad screen. However, he doubts his comprehension of textbook-style pages would vary in the same way.

Kuwait amends censorship law for books, but many questions remain unanswered

From The New Publishing Standard:

Prior to the new law a 12-member censors committee met twice a month and decided which books would be permitted or banned. Now books can be published first, and banned after. Previously banned books remain banned.

Amendments to Kuwait’s notoriously restrictive press and publications laws were passed by the Kuwait National Assembly this week, in what was described as “an important step in terms of increasing freedom with a balanced commitment to moral, legal and national controls (and) a gift to writers, intellectuals, creators and everybody involved in culture.”

Amendments include a condition that for imported books the importer will bear the legal responsibility for the ideas and opinions expressed in the publication.

. . . .

Kuwaiti activist Abdullah Khonaini told Gulf News:

The freedom of expression is already restricted in Kuwait on multiple levels, this law doesn’t fix it. The amendment shifts the power of censorship away from the executive branch and to the judicial branch. We still need to work on the prohibition section in the law, which needs a stronger political lobby and mature political and societal awareness.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Otherwise Occupied

Today, PG was unable to post as much as usual for a Saturday.

His only excuse is that he spent some time assisting Mrs. PG with a promotion for one of her already-published books and also assisted a bit with her preparation of her next book for publication.

The PG’s also went out to lunch and had a good talk, a bit about business, but mostly just chatting, which contributed greatly to their overall mental health and welfare.

PS: Mrs. PG just requested that PG join her in watching a Cary Grant movie, again for their mutual health and welfare. And PG readily agreed to do so.

Booksellers to America: Save the Post Office

From Publishers Weekly:

I recently did an experiment: I used my bookstore’s postage software to generate three quotes for shipping the same hardcover book to the same address. I knew how it would end up, but the results still shocked me. FedEx Home Delivery: $14.03. UPS Ground: $23.87. USPS Media Mail: $2.94. The results of my experiment are a clear reminder that without the United States Postal Service, independent bookstores have little chance of making it. The USPS enables the innovations indies need to survive.

My bookstore, the Raven, in Lawrence, Kans., has survived this far into the pandemic thanks to a few adaptations. One of the most crucial changes has been learning how to better ship books. While most of our business remains in eastern Kansas, without our long-distance orders we would have faced difficult decisions, like furloughing staff or cutting operations. Because we were ready to make shipping a bigger part of what we do, we’ve sent books to all 50 states. Even better, our team is intact and rent is paid. This would have been impossible without the USPS.

When the reality of the pandemic set in, the first thing the Raven did was offer free shipping on website orders. It was a desperate decision, one made out of fear and uncertainty. After it became clear our customers and community would follow us into a new bookselling reality, I ran a Twitter poll asking if people would be willing to pay $2.50 to cover shipping—99% of people said they’d pay. A poll asking people if they’d be willing to pay $15 for shipping would have had much different results.

Every decision we make at the Raven is informed by the fact that what we sell is available elsewhere at a cheaper price. In our new bookselling reality, we also have to consider that the monopolizing e-commerce competition offers free and fast shipping for those much-cheaper books. The widespread availability of free next-day shipping has permanently changed what consumers expect.

Amazon, the company largely responsible for these new expectations, can offer shipping as a loss leader. Amazon has also built its own shipping network from scratch. Independent bookstores can do neither of these things. Still, we have to somehow get a slice of the online book sales market without these cutthroat anticompetitive strategies. The USPS, by offering its inexpensive Media Mail option, provides independent bookstores a way out of this bind.

According to the office of the USPS inspector general, lower rates for educational materials originated in “the first federal postal policy, which recognized that disseminating newspapers at below-cost postage would advance the important social goal of educating the electorate.” In 1938, more than a century later, Morris L. Ernst, a lawyer and friend of President Franklin Roosevelt, ran a comparative-postage experiment not unlike my own. Ernst, working for the National Committee to Abolish Postal Discrimination Against Books, sent President Roosevelt two packages of equal weight. One contained books written by Shakespeare; the other contained “dirty magazines.” Shipping the Shakespeare cost 300% more. FDR was thereby convinced of the need for lower postage for books, and the book rate he subsequently implemented survives today as Media Mail. So Media Mail is more than just a cheap book rate; it’s the government’s show of confidence in the importance of well-read, well-informed citizens.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG notes that the US Postal Service is heavily subsidized by taxpayers, regardless of whether they use the service, how much they use the service or whether they don’t use it at all.

From the (US) Government Accountability Office:

USPS’s overall financial condition is deteriorating and unsustainable. USPS has lost $69 billion over the past 11 fiscal years—including $3.9 billion in fiscal year 2018. USPS’s total unfunded liabilities and debt ($143 billion at the end of fiscal year 2018) have grown to double its annual revenue.

. . . .

Further, USPS has missed $48.2 billion in required payments for postal retiree health and pension benefits as of September 30, 2018. This includes $42.6 billion in missed payments for retiree health benefits since fiscal year 2010, and $5.6 billion in missed payments for pension benefits since fiscal year 2014. If USPS does not make any more payments for retiree health benefits, the fund supporting these benefits is projected by the Office of Personnel Management to be depleted in fiscal year 2030. If the fund is depleted, USPS would be required by law to make the payments necessary to cover its share of health benefits premiums for postal retirees. However, current law does not address what would happen if USPS misses those payments. Depletion of the fund, together with USPS’s potential inability to make remaining contributions, could affect postal retirees as well as USPS, customers, and other stakeholders, including the federal government.

Without bearing any ill will toward the owner of the bookstore in question, PG notes that he is effectively celebrating the fact that other people and other business organizations are providing a substantial financial subsidy to his private business.

PG is reminded of a quote from a respected economist, Herb Stein.

If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.

Herbert Stein

5 Basic Rules of Social Media

From Social Media Just for Writers:

It’s so important to converse with readers, friends, and influencers in your sphere. If you don’t allocate time to chat, you are missing the point.

Because at its essencesocial media is social. So, to engage in social media and not allocate time to socialize, well, it’s antithetical to the very premise of social media.

. . . .

Be a social butterfly, in the best sense possible. Social media was never designed to be a broadcast messaging system the way radio and television are. Conversations are the backbone of social media, and that is what distinguishes it, and that is what has fueled its dominance in marketing. The beauty of social media for authors is that it allows you to converse with your readership in a manner that was never possible before Facebook was created. Indie authors have a powerful medium with which they can market their books, converse with their readers, answer questions in minutes, and further their relationships with their loyal readers, even though it’s all done virtually.

Don’t attempt to be the prom queen; strive to always be authentic and care about others. Don’t talk solely about yourself. Social media is an inclusive media. You will get further and do better if you help others, including helping other authors in your genre. You can interview your colleagues for your blog and share information about their promotions.

Link to the rest at Social Media Just for Writers

The 22-Year-Old Blogger Behind Protests in Belarus

More under the category, “There are worse things than Covid.”

From The Atlantic:

In the videos posted last Sunday from Belarus, thousands of people can be seen streaming into the center of Minsk, walking up the broad avenues, gathering in a park. In smaller cities and even little towns—Brest, Gomel, Khotsimsk, Molodechno, Shklov—they are walking down main streets, meeting in squares, singing pop songs and folk songs. They are remarkably peaceful, and remarkably united. Many of them are carrying a flag, though not the country’s formal flag, the red and green flag used in the Soviet era. Instead, they carry a red-white-red striped flag, a banner first used in 1918 and long associated with Belarusian independence.

It was a marvelous feat of coordination: Just as in Hong Kong a few months ago, the crowds knew when to arrive and where to go. They knew what they were marching for: Many people carried posters with slogans like leave—directed at the Belarus dictator/president, Alexander Lukashenko—or freedom for political prisoners! or free elections! They carried the flag, or they wore red and white clothes, or they drove cars festooned with red and white balloons.

And yet, at most of these marches, few leaders were visible; no one ascended a stage or delivered a speech into a microphone. The opposition presidential candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who probably won the contested election held on August 9, fled the country last week. How did everyone know exactly what to do? The answer, improbably, is a 22-year-old blogger named Stsiapan Sviatlou, who lives outside the country and runs a channel called Nexta Live on the encrypted messaging app Telegram.

On Sunday morning, Nexta—the word means “somebody”—posted a red and white invitation to the march. “Ring the doorbells of your neighbors, call your friends and relatives, write to your colleagues,” the message instructed them: “We are going EXCLUSIVELY peacefully to the center of town to hold the authorities to account.” The invitation also contained a list of demands: the immediate freeing of political prisoners, the resignation of Lukashenko, the indictment of those responsible for a shocking series of political murders.

People went to the Minsk march, and to dozens of smaller marches across the country, because they saw that message. On subsequent days, many went on strike because they saw another message on that channel and on channels like it. Over the past 10 days, people all across Belarus have marched, protested, carried red and white flags and banners, and gathered at factories and outside prisons because they trust what they read on Nexta. They trust Nexta even though Sviatlou is only 22 years old, even though he is an amateur blogger, and even though he is outside the country.

Or to put it more accurately, they trust Nexta because Sviatlou is only 22, and because he is an amateur who lives outside the country. In Belarus, the government is a kind of presidential monarchy with no checks, no balances, and no rule of law. State media are grotesquely biased: Memo98, a media-monitoring group, reckons that Belarus state television devoted 97 percent of all political news programming to Lukashenko in May and June, with only 30 seconds devoted to opposition presidential candidates. Political leaders in Belarus are routinely repressed, and their voices are muffled: Tsikhanouskaya was running for president because her husband, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, was arrested before he could start his own presidential campaign. Other candidates and politicians were also arrested, along with their staff. Some are still in prison. Human-rights groups have evidence of torture.

. . . .

Paradoxically, the Lukashenko regime is also the source of his unusual power. By suppressing all other sources of information, it has given him unprecedented influence. This also has its downsides. One member of the tiny but determined community of independent journalists in Belarus—I am leaving him unnamed because he remains in Minsk—pointed out that the administrators of Telegram channels outside the country (Sviatlou is one of several) have no way to check whether what they are publishing is true, and no way to coordinate what they are doing with anyone else. Although he does communicate with other channel administrators, as well as with coordinators in Minsk, mistakes are sometimes made. A couple of days ago, crosscurrents of information nearly led one group of opposition protesters into a public brawl with another.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Belarusian Writers Stand By Their People

From Publishing Perspectives:

As the Belarusian election protests expand, opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has spoken from her exile in Lithuania today (August 21). She is urging widening strikes, asking citizens not to be “fooled by intimidation,” as reported by the BBC.

Days before the now-disputed election of August 9, PEN International issued a joint statement–writing for the 24 PEN centers that stand in various parts of the world. That statement of concern is focused on what the Belarus PEN Center’s Sviatlana Aleksievič has said were two dozen political prisoners whose freedom of speech the center believed was being suppressed.

“Among them are bloggers and journalists, patrons of culture, Aleksievič wrote, “those who in 2020 awakened the Belarusian society, and for the first time in 26 years create serious competition for the authoritarian regime of Aliaksandr Lukašenka [longtime Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko].

“Today, Belarusian writers stand by their people as the story is being written in the streets and squares, not at desks.”

. . . .

Indeed, this morning (August 21), The Economist (which does not allow its writers bylines) has released a story describing, as other media have reported, how “prisoners were forced to kneel with their hands behind their backs for hours in overcrowded cells. Men and women were stripped, beaten, and raped with truncheons.”

“The repression was ostentatious,” The Economist piece continues. “Some victims were paraded on state television. By August 19, at least four people had been killed. The aim was both to terrorize citizens and to bind the regime’s officers by having them commit atrocities together, a tactic used by dictators and mafiosi to prevent defections.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Alert visitors will have noted that there are worse things than Covid.

How to Make Book “Sales Copy” Feel Like a Simple Conversation

From the Nonfiction Author Association:

You’ve put a ton of time into writing your nonfiction book and now you’re ready to sell a lot of copies, make a positive impact, and gain a loyal legion of fans.

. . . .

With all the social media platforms and digital marketing channels open to you these days, there’s no reason why this vision can’t come to fruition.

However, to achieve this goal you’re going to need an ongoing promotional campaign, the basis of which is strong “sales copy” for your book.

Now, I just put the term sales copy in quotes for a reason.

Over the last 12 years I’ve crafted marketing copy for over a hundred authors who’ve written books they intended to sell to people all over the world. However, many of them felt squeamish when they heard me use the terms “sales copy” or “persuasive sales copy” when talking about their marketing content.

The reason is terms like “persuasive sales copy” sound like a ploy you use when you want to trick or manipulate people into buying your books. And nobody wants to do that. The good news is that you don’t have to.

When written properly, persuasive sales copy can have the same feel as a friendly conversation you’d have in a coffee shop with a potential reader of your book. No hype. No fluff. No razzle-dazzle and no manipulation. Just straightforward honesty and authenticity.

. . . .

Today you live in a global economy that is tightly connected by social media platforms and video conferencing tools that enable you to speak with people around the world as if they were sitting right next to you.

This connectivity empowers you to sell your book to anyone, anywhere, any time. So, if you have a book that can energize, stimulate, enlighten, educate, or entertain, you need to let people know you have something valuable to share with them.

. . . .

In today’s online market it is easy to shy away from writing sales copy and simply substitute it with a large volume of blurbs, posts, articles, and videos that are intended to create “awareness” for your book.

Creating this content is definitely a sound strategy. However, at some point you also need to craft compelling sales copy that motivates readers to buy your book NOW …instead of later, or never.

. . . .

As I mentioned earlier, compelling book marketing copy can be written in the same tone as a casual chat between two friends in a coffee shop. When you understand this, then “persuasive sales copy” should no longer be a phrase that makes you apprehensive.

There is no doubt that marketing copy filled with hype, fluff, and unrealistic promises will turn people away. However, marketing copy with a casual, friendly tone can be highly effective if you lead people through a simple motivating sequence that 1) shows you have a precise understanding of what readers want, desire, or need; and 2) communicates the clear-cut benefits they’ll derive from reading your book.

It really is possible to do this by writing sales copy in a style that mirrors the tone and feel of a casual conversation you’d have with a good friend.

. . . .

To stand out in a crowded market, your book marketing copy needs to have a distinct voice in which it is written. The key here is to avoid writing your marketing copy in a “salesy” voice, and instead write it in a straightforward authentic voice that is true to your book.

For example, if you’ve written a self-development book that has a nurturing tone, write your marketing copy in a nurturing tone. If you’ve written a business book that has an authoritative edge to it, give your marketing copy an authoritative edge. If your book has a witty attitude to it, write your marketing copy with a witty attitude.

Chances are the voice and tone of your book is a direct reflection of you. So if you write your marketing copy through the same authentic voice as your book, it’s going to be much easier for you to give it a conversational tone that resonates with your readers.

. . . .

  • Avoid using worn-out clichés that don’t really mean anything like “second to none,” “cut above the rest,” or “to a whole new level.”
  • Stay away from basic general statements and popular buzz phrases.
  • Make sure your benefit statements are detailed, specific, and to the point.
  • Craft your copy as if you’re going to read it to a potential buyer while the two of you are drinking coffee together.

Link to the rest at the Nonfiction Author Association

10 Books About the Importance of the Postal Service

PG acknowledges that this does sound like a Covid story. He does, however, think the post-apocalyptic postal uniform on the cover of one of the books is intriguing.

From Electric Lit:

Given the recent news, we’ve been reminded just how vital the postal service is for our everyday life. With the June 2020 appointment of Louis DeJoy as the new Postmaster General, the USPS has seen a sharp decline into crisis; with the November presidential election rapidly approaching, many are concerned at what this means for mail-in ballots. Furthermore, for many indigenous, rural, and/or low-income communities, as well as incarcerated folks and people who need medication delivery, the USPS is often the only reliable source.

If this sobering turn of events has got you ruminating on the importance of mail delivery, below are ten books in which letters and the postal service—or lack thereof—play a crucial role. Ranging from academic studies about the diverse history of the USPS to a novel with original postcard artwork, these are books to write home about. (You should write home about them, and don’t forget to mail the letter!)

. . . .

The Postman by David Brin

In Brin’s dystopian vision for America, the USPS is painted as the only source of hope. In The Postman’s post-apocalyptic world, a man puts on an abandoned USPS uniform and tries to barter mail for food. However, his initial fraud snowballs, as he claims to work for the “Restored United States of America” and civilians cling to the idea of a centralized government’s return. Meanwhile, the U.S. is ravaged by bio-engineered plagues and a group of white supremacist, misogynist, and hypersurvivalist militia. The Postman, AI scientists, and other opposition groups must band together to fight for the future of civilization. Originally published in 1985, Brin’s sci-fi novel resonates uncomfortably true in our current-day society.

All My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad

In Masad’s debut novel, a woman does her own postal delivery (as we’ll probably also be forced to if things don’t improve). When Maggie’s mother dies abruptly in a car crash and leaves behind five letters, Maggie is determined to hand-deliver the sealed envelopes to each address. Although Maggie always thought her mother, Iris, had the picture-perfect marriage, she realizes there was much more to Iris’s past than she ever dreamed of. All My Mother’s Lovers is a warm-hearted and intriguing exploration of family, the imperfect nature of relationships, the intersections of sexuality, gender, and identity—and how much five letters can change someone’s life.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

The Vital Importance of Your Writing Community

From Writers in the Storm:

These last few weeks have been one of the most trying times of my life. Covid-19 has been this constant cloud that hovers over the most inane tasks of ordinary life. Heaped on top of this is the political divide happening in America and the ongoing fight for freedom and rights. Though these issues have weighed heavy on my heart the last few months, nothing has been as crushing as these last two weeks.

First, my twenty-two-year-old daughter became very ill. She had been living on her own and preparing to go back to school this fall. Since her illness began, she has been in the hospital five times and moved back home.

. . . .

Many people have had it much worse than us but my purpose in sharing this story is to illuminate the one thing that got me through with my sanity and soul intact: my writing community.

My Writing Community Is a Godsend

I needed help, and they responded. And I am so grateful. I was scheduled earlier this month to post a blog, and with a text, my good friend Jenny switched with me. I have had writer friends call me, write to me, send me letters, and Zoom with me. They shared the burden of my work and lent an ear when I needed it.

Creating a writing community around you helps you in so many ways because we are all in this together.

Our work is done inside our heads. Writing the words down is a consequence of the worlds we build in our dreams. Writers’ greatest accomplishments happen in total isolation. Because of this, we want…no…we need connections with others just like us.

Sure, I have a loving family and non-writer friends, and they often nod and do their best to support me. But they don’t always ‘get’ me. A writer understands the emotional angst of another writer.

In the middle of the night, I can send out a sentence I’m stuck on to a writer pal, and within minutes I receive a response. My own biological family doesn’t even do that!

Tips for Building a Writing Community

1. You offer yourself first. You ask what you can do for other writers you meet. They may not take your offer right away, but they will remember your generosity. One day, you will get an email, humble in its construction, asking for the help you offered months and even years prior.

2. You become active in the writing community. You show up and pay forward the help others have given you, whether it is writing on a blog like WITS or offering to look over someone’s opening lines. Being part of a writing community is about service and what you offer to others.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

You swallow hard when you discover

You swallow hard when you discover that the old coffee shop is now a chain pharmacy, that the place where you first kissed so-and-so is now a discount electronics retailer, that where you bought this very jacket is now rubble behind a blue plywood fence and a future office building. Damage has been done to your city. You say, ”It happened overnight.” But of course it didn’t. Your pizza parlor, his shoeshine stand, her hat store: when they were here, we neglected them. For all you know, the place closed down moments after the last time you walked out the door. (Ten months ago? Six years? Fifteen? You can’t remember, can you?) And there have been five stores in that spot before the travel agency. Five different neighborhoods coming and going between then and now, other people’s other cities. Or 15, 25, 100 neighborhoods. Thousands of people pass that storefront every day, each one haunting the streets of his or her own New York, not one of them seeing the same thing.

Colson Whitehead

A Confederacy of Authors

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

A few years back, I read an on HuffPo titled Sticks & Stones: The Changing Politics of the Self-Publishing by Terri Giuliano. She made the case that a) self publishing or, as it’s now known Indie Pubbing, is growing fast, b) some authors published by traditional houses resent this, c) sales for ebooks are climbing, d) sales of paperback books are declining, and e) a bunch of other points too numerous to detail here but they’re all in the original article.

While the article is well researched and full of juicy nuggets, it climbs like ivy all over the edifice that is publishing, making so many cases that it’s a bit like trying to identify one speck of dust in a maelstrom. But, among all the points tossed out for consideration, one struck me particularly and I’ll focus here only on that. It happens to be about a book I loved and found truly inspired. Here’s the salient paragraph:

In the old days, determined authors turned to self-publishing—or vanity presses, as they were called—as a last resort. Serious authors, concerned about being black-balled, dared not self-publish. As a result, talented authors like John Kennedy Toole, whose posthumously published masterpiece, “A Confederacy of Dunces,” won a Pulitzer Prize (1981), went to their grave believing their work did not measure up.

Now, I do not know what fast track the writer of this article had to author John Kennedy Toole’s conscious, unconscious, or subconscious mind but to state that he went to his grave believing his work did not measure up seems a bit overstated and presumptuous. Not to mention, since she uses the pronoun “their,” other [unnamed] writers who, similarly discouraged by the lack of a publishing contract in New York, did themselves in.

. . . .

Did Hemingway go to his grave believing his work just did not measure up? Or did Sylvia Plath? How about Virginia Woolf, Jack London, Hunter S. Thompson, Jerzy Kosinski, Anne Sexton, and many others, all of whom had publishers solidly in their corners. They also had public adulation and big bucks in their pockets. Yet they still went to their graves by their own hands.

Does this tell us something? Is there a clue lurking in these tales of despair? Is the writer of this article trying to say – in some veiled way – that not getting a publishing deal and recognition by some agent or editor in New York can kill a writer? OMG, hopes dashed, nothing left to live for, no agent likes my work.

Reading between the lines of Toole’s book, and taking a lot for granted in making certain assumptions, one could – let me rephrase – I could venture to guess that John Kennedy Toole, much like his protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly, felt very much the post adolescent outcast. Or at least he identified with that feeling enough to write about it in excruciating detail matched only, perhaps, by Holden Caulfield’s adolescent angst.

Ask any psychiatrist and you’ll find that adolescent brains are not fully formed and what’s there is kinda mushy (not especially technically accurate but apt I think). Anyone who’s observed a teen can see it. It’s not a great leap to imagine that Toole could have come out of his own adolescence severely depressed. No one who feels good takes his own life.

. . . .

It seems to me, at this point in our collective culture as writers, there are two kinds of authors, whether self published or traditionally published. 

The first is the group of writers who consider writing a profession like any other. Nuts and bolts, write because you have to make a living, satisfy a market niche, promote the hell out of your work, and deposit your checks somewhere safe because the work is too hard to risk the rewards on a hot stock.

The second is the group – Like Toole – who have something very personal to say, about themselves and the culture that influences and informs them. You won’t find them writing about vampires or shape shifters. You won’t find sex scenes every ten pages in their books. You won’t be inundated in their books by cutesy witches who fall in love with handsome hunks or lady detectives who wear provocative skirts and kick back with the boys in the squad room.

Sometimes the two groups overlap – Jack London comes to mind. So even though some writers, based solely on their writing, are more angst ridden than others, even the nuts and bolts genre writers can be depressed. But depression and suicide are not limited to writers. And I suspect that John Kennedy Toole’s problems pre-dated any rejections by New York publishing houses.

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

Can You Zoom Your Way Up The Bestseller Charts?

From IndieReader:

Tips for Hosting a Virtual Author Event

If you’re stuck indoors, like most of us are right now, it’s time to consider hosting a virtual event. It’s a simple way to market your book from home! I’ve done webinars on Zoom and similar platforms for years. I love doing virtual events and I jump at the chance to do as many as I reasonably can.

Even if you are unsure about virtual events, I encourage you to add this strategy to your repertoire of marketing tools because it’s a solid way to promote a book.

Yes, we absolutely love in-person events, and there’s nothing like meeting readers and attendees and shaking hands (can we still do that?). But in the absence of in-person gatherings – or if you don’t want to travel – virtual events can be really fantastic. So let’s dig into some of the how-to’s for these events, so you’re prepared to knock it out of the park!

1. Check Your Surroundings

Make sure the area behind you on camera is not cluttered! You don’t want attendees to focus on that stack of books on your desk instead of you. Ideally, get yourself a plain backdrop such as a wall or a lovely bookcase. You can even order fun screens from Amazon if you’re really eager to appear in front of a spiffy backdrop.

2. What’s Your Light Source?

The other extremely important element is lighting. You can easily check lighting on your phone by recording a video in the room where you’ll hold your virtual event. I love natural lighting, and I always try to keep the lighting as natural as possible. But if your room is devoid of a lot of natural light, you can try your existing lighting or get a ring light fairly inexpensively (again, on Amazon).

3. Be Sure to Smile!

. . . .

4. Where’s Your Camera?

It’s pretty easy to stare into your computer screen (I have done this a lot) but you really want to look at your camera because otherwise it seems like you’re gazing off and not paying attention. I have a small red dot by my camera to remind myself to pay attention to where the camera actually is.

It’s tricky at first because if we can see everyone, we’re inclined to look at them, but when you do that you really aren’t looking “at” them, if that makes sense. This takes a bit of getting used to, so don’t worry if you don’t get it on the first try. But put something by your camera so you’re reminded to look there. Maybe a big arrow!

Link to the rest at IndieReader

PG would add that it might be a good idea to do a practice run-through with a handful of friends as an audience and record it. Replaying the recording to see how things look and sound when you’re not in the middle of doing the online event can help identify issues you’re not aware of during the performance (and it is a performance).

Additionally, based upon PG’s experience doing presentations in meatspace, no matter how many or few show up online, be upbeat and enthusiastic about communicating with them.

Whether numbering 300 or 3, an audience will sense any disappointment you’re feeling if you don’t consciously plan to be and act upbeat. It’s a performance, not a conversation. (Yes, really. Even if you characterize the event as a conversation, if you perform poorly, it will be a bad performance and a bad conversation.)

If you communicate any disappointment to an audience, you’re communicating the idea that the people who are participating are not very important and/or that you feel like a failure.

An Inheritance of Loneliness

From The Paris Review:

Quarantine has made me a lonelier woman, but I’ve always held the inheritance of another woman’s loneliness. When my mother was in her early twenties, she left her mother’s house in Bangalore to move to New York City, where her new husband—my father— had been living for the previous few years. It was her mother, my grandmother, who arranged the match. My grandmother was thrilled to send my mother to America, even though my mother didn’t want to marry and didn’t idealize coming to America the way her mother did.

You can be happy anywhere, unhappy anywhere, my grandmother told her. The two of them had a mother-daughter relationship like something out of a Jamaica Kincaid novel: loving but contentious, fraught with discipline and warnings about the difficulty of being a woman.

My mother remembers her early life in New York as a kind of self-quarantine. While my father worked, she spent her days isolated in their tiny studio apartment, going stir-crazy, cooking and cleaning and staring at the clinical white walls. A gossipy relative back home had spooked her into believing she’d be assassinated if she opened the front door in America. Occasionally, she spoke to the women holed up in the neighboring apartments. But most of her downtime, my mother spent sleeping. She slept purposefully and often, trying to reenter her old life in her dreams: the long walks with college girlfriends to the pani puri truck, the yipping of a neighbor’s Pomeranian, the pulse of life as an unmarried woman, alive with vagary and freedom. My mother resented her mother for marrying her off. They spoke once a month, on an international call, during which they’d argue about fate. And then my mother would hang up, miss her mother, and sleep away some more of her time.

Experiences like my mother’s are commonplace for many women. They’re often fictionalized and folded into novels about immigrant experiences, novels many readers from immigrant communities have grown tired of. Can’t we tell stories other than the one about coming to America and assimilating? And yet, those narratives have a pull for me—they contain the stories about women’s loneliness that have always absorbed me.

I’ve read Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy over and over. It’s the novel I turn to when I crave the order of a book I have loved before. First published in 1990, Lucy is about a young woman who leaves her home in the West Indies to work as an au pair for Mariah and Lewis, a well-to-do white couple in the United States. At first glance, Lucy seemed to me like the kind of novel I am built to love: I had always wanted to be a woman rising, and so I liked stories about women rising. Lucy’s premise suggests a narrative about social ascendance—a young, wage-earning woman, a modern governess type who pulls herself up by her bootstraps. It seems, on the surface, to promise to be another immigrant bildungsroman, charting the arc of a young woman’s maturation into a society where things like bootstraps are celebrated.

But Lucy doesn’t care about ascendance or assimilation. Kincaid doesn’t concern herself with a woman becoming, but rather with a woman being. How does a person get to be that way? Lucy wonders, over and over again. What she wants to be—all she wants to be—is alone. She wants to isolate herself before society seizes the chance to isolate her. Solitude is an act of self-preservation, whereas loneliness can be an act of violence, and so every choice Lucy makes is in pursuit of solitude. She chooses to leave her island behind. She chooses to leave her mother behind, a mother who, for all the ferocity of her love, raised her daughter with the same patriarchal hand that had raised her.

Once in the States, Lucy ignores the stack of letters her mother sends her, all the notes of love and punishment and longing. She comes to love her employer, Mariah, like a mother figure, and the two form a bond despite the chasm of their class difference. “The right thing always happens to her,” Lucy says of Mariah. “The thing she always wants to happen, happens.” 

. . . .

As I sit, alone, through quarantine, it’s my fourth time rereading Lucy, but I still remember my first. I was in college, and my professor introduced each novel we studied with a chalkboard quote culled from another novel. For Lucy, that quote came from George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Eliot writes, and I have never forgotten:

If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow, and the squirrel’s heartbeat, and we would die of that roar that lies on the other side of silence.

The quote arrives at a point in Middlemarch when the heroine has just married. She’s crying on her honeymoon. Her new husband, of whom she wanted to be an equal, has relegated her to the position of an assistant. The heroine’s pain is visceral—the claustrophobic friction of a marriage, the realization that a man is what he always was—but it’s also ordinary, and Eliot’s shrewd narrator knows that readers don’t sympathize with ordinary pains. To sympathize with the ordinary would be impractical; it would mean feeling too much.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

PG thinks the author’s grandmother was correct, “You can be happy anywhere, unhappy anywhere.”

A lot of people are certainly unhappy everywhere during these days of confinement, but, PG suggests, that doesn’t mean a lot of people everywhere are unhappy all the time.

PG further suggests that, when some people are unhappy, they see unhappiness wherever they look. When he makes this statement, PG is making an observation about human nature as manifested in some people. Human nature also makes it possible for some people to be happy when they see unhappiness all around them. They are able to locate and experience happiness despite what they see everywhere.

PG realizes he is stating the obvious. By these observations, he is not implying any criticism of those who, for one reason or another, physical, emotional or situational, have a hard time feeling happy. He understands that, “If you act happy, you will be happy,” doesn’t always work or even, for some people, ever work.

However, for PG, none of these observations and factors mean that Grandmother’s saying was incorrect.

You can be happy anywhere, unhappy anywhere.

Trade-Published Romance Sees a Coronavirus Boost in the States

From Publishing Perspectives:

Since 2012, traditionally published romance has been in “a steady decline.” Much of this, of course, parallels the rise of self-publishers’ entry into the velvet-roped arena.

If there’s a category in which self-publishing can claim to have walked away with the goods, it’s in low-priced romance ebooks, consumed by enviably loyal readers often at a rate of several titles per week.

The COVID-19 lockdown stage in the United States, however, “helped to lift the category’s ebook sales,” McLean’s report says.

“Unit sales for romance ebooks,” she writes, “increased 17 percentage points from January through May 2020. In all, 16.2 million romance ebooks and print books were sold during this time period.”

Total romance book sales in the trade–which had declined 11 percent in January 2020 over January 2019–began trending upward in March.

The category showed strong growth through the acute COVID-19 shutdown period, with print and ebook sales closing slightly higher–0.1 percent–in May, because of an impressive rebound in ebook unit sales.

Those unit ebook sales rose 17.4 points from January through May 2020. This meant that ebooks made up 60 percent of romance category sales, and romance ebook unit sales increased 10 percent between January and May 2020.

. . . .

In breaking out growth subjects, McLean sees historical romance in the lead on a unit basis, both in print and ebook formats, “but top-selling ebook titles differed from print sales leaders.”

  • Golden in Death by JD Robb (Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press, February) led ebook sales in the overall romance category, followed by Hideaway by the dependable Nora Roberts (Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press, May) and Chasing Cassandra by Lisa Kleypas (HarperCollins/Avon, February).
  • Print sales were led by Window on the Bay by Debbie Macomber (Penguin Random House/Ballantine, February), followed by Every Breath by Nicholas Sparks (Hachette Book Group/Sphere, October 2018), and Country Strong by Linda Lael Miller (Harlequin, January).

In her comments, McLean says, “With brick-and-mortar retail bookstores closed in the States this past spring, ebook sales–which have always been stronger for romance than in other categories–really took off.

. . . .

“Print romance also rose slightly, as newly housebound readers looked for fun and immersive germ-free reads while waiting out the pandemic.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

May the 4th be with Star Wars Intellectual Property

From Suiter/Schwantz:

Since the first film of the Star Wars saga, released in 1977, George Lucas and Lucasfilm have become profoundly adept at dealing with legal matters concerning intellectual property. With 205 patents, 1,077 individual trademark applications, and 3,489 registered copyrights under the Lucasfilm empire, it is clear that Lucas and Lucasfilm have been nothing but persistent in protecting their intellectual property rights.

. . . .

As noted above, Lucasfilms owns over 1,000 individual trademarks. Furthermore, many of Lucasfilm’s trademarked phrases and words include registrations in multiple international classes, claiming protection in a wide variety goods and services. Unsurprisingly, Lucasfilm has trademarked the term “Star Wars” (U.S. Registration No. 1127229), which was issued December 4, 1979. Additionally, many Star Wars characters have been trademarked, including R2-D2, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, and Chewbacca. Lucasfilm uses the “Star Wars” and related Star Wars trademarks on a variety of goods, such as clothing, costumes, toys, and entire theme parks. To take its IP protection even further, Lucasfilm has even trademarked fun Star Wars-related phrases, such as “May the 4th be With You.” Additionally, a trademark application for Han Solo’s famous line “I got a bad feeling about this” is currently pending with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

George Lucas and Lucasfilm have even received trademark protection for the popular word “Droid,” a term coined by Lucas in the 1977 film Star Wars Episdoe IV: A New Hope when referencing R2-D2, C-3PO, and other automatons. Due to the fact that the term “droid” is protected by trademark, companies that wish to use the term in shows or films now have to pay Lucasfilm to use the word, or prepare to have possible legal action taken against them.

Lucasfilms has registered over 3,489 copyrights since 1978. The copyrights, a range of artistic expressions including scripts, sound recordings, and movie posters. Other copyrighted works include read-along story books with CDs, such as “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones,” adventure books, and chapter books. The copyrighted chapter book titled “Darth Vader and Friends,” a humorous title which plays on Darth Vader’s infamous sullen attitude and lack of many friends, explores the many friendships that have developed within the Star Wars saga.

Lucasfilm has even gone as far as to copyright movie taglines. For example, the tagline, “The next chapter in the Skywalker saga continues as Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers.” is from newest Star Wars film set to premier this Thursday, December 14th.

Link to the rest at Suiter/Schwantz

Pete Hamill

For those visitors to The Passive Voice today who think they may have wandered into a parallel universe, PG has several posts written by or about Pete Hamill, an up-from-the streets Irish New York City tabloid newspaper guy from the old school. Pete died on August 5 of this year.

PG gained his appreciation for big-city urban columnists when he attended college near, then lived in Chicago and read Mike Royko’s newspaper columns (Royko wrote over 7,500 daily columns during his career). Royko was entertaining when he wrote about the more idiotic mishaps of the Chicago political machine and various of its personalities, but PG liked Royko’s columns about people who lived and worked in the grittier ethnic neighborhoods of the city.

Among others, there were areas where Polish, German, Greek, Italian, Swedish, Ukrainian, Czech, Chinese and Lithuanian immigrants had congregated during the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries. At the time PG lived in Chicago, it was easy to locate and explore neighborhoods where most of the store signs were written in a foreign language and PG would seldom hear English spoken on the streets.

This was a new world for PG, who had grown up in tiny isolated towns that were nothing like Chicago. (Think Lake Wobegon).

As a result of these earlier experiences, PG developed a taste for the writing style of old-school urban tabloid journalists and Pete Hamill was one of the best.

Up the Stairs with Cus D’Amato by Pete Hamill

From The Village Voice:

In those days, you had to pass a small candy stand to get to the door of the Gramercy Gym on East 14th Street. The door was heavy, with painted zinc nailed across its face and a misspelled sign saying “Gramacy Gym,” and when you opened the door, you saw a long badly lit stairway, climbing into darkness. There was another door on the landing, and a lot of tough New York kids would reach that landing and find themselves unable to open the second door. They’d go back down the stairs, try to look cool as they bought a soda at the candy stand, then hurry home. Many others opened the second door. And when they did, they entered the tough, hard, disciplined school of a man named Cus D’Amato.

“First thing I want to know about a kid,” Cus said to me once, on some lost night in the ’50s, “is whether he can open that door. Then when he walks in, I look at him, try to see what he’s seeing. Most of them stand at the door. They see guys skipping rope, shadowboxing, hitting the bags. Most of all, they see guys in the ring. Fighting. And then they have to decide. Do they want this, or not? If they want it, they stay, they ask someone what they should do. Most of them are shy, for some reason. Almost all fighters. They whisper. You tell them to come back, and you’ll see what can be done. They have to spend at least one night dealing with fear. If they come back the second time, then maybe you have a fighter.”

I wasn’t a fighter, but I came up those stairs almost every day in the late ’50s and early ’60s, and in some important ways I learned as much from Cus D’Amato as the fighters did. I was living then on 9th Street and Second Avenue, working nights at the Post, and I’d wake up around three in the afternoon and walk to 14th Street and hang out with the fighters. My friend José Torres was then the hottest young middleweight in the city and one of Cus D’Amato’s fighters. He had lost by one point to Laszlo Papp in the finals of the ’56 Olympics in Melbourne, and when he came to New York from Puerto Rico he placed his career in the hands of Cus.

“I didn’t know anything about New York,” he said. “I didn’t know very much about boxing. Most of all, I didn’t know anything about life. So I learned about everything then from Cus.”

Cus, who died last week at 77 after a long struggle with pneumonia, was one of the best teachers I ever met. He was a tough, intelligent man who was almost Victorian in his beliefs in work and self-denial and fierce concentration. For years he’d lived alone in the office of the gym, accompanied only by a huge boxer dog named Champ; there were books on the shelves (he loved the Civil War and essays on strategy and tactics and almost never read novels, although he admired W. C. Heinz’s The Professional) and a gun somewhere and a small black-and-­white TV set and a pay phone on the wall. After Floyd Patterson became champion in 1956, Cus took an apartment over a coffee shop on 53rd Street and Broadway and bought some elegantly tailored clothes and a homburg; but, talking to him, I always sensed that his idea of paradise was that room and the cot in the office of the Gramercy Gym.

“You can’t want too many things,” he said to me one wintry evening, after the fighters had gone, the speed bags were stilled, and we stood at the large gym windows while snow fell into 14th Street. “The beginning of corruption is wanting things. You want a car or a fancy house or a piano, and the next thing you know, you’re doing things you didn’t want to do, just to get the things. I guess maybe that’s why I never got married. It wasn’t that I didn’t like women. They’re nice. It’s nice. It’s that women want things, and if I want the woman, then I have to want the things she wants. Hey, I don’t want a new refrigerator, or a big TV set, or a new couch … ”

. . . .

He cherished great fighters — Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Sandy Saddler, Willie Pep, Tommy Loughran — but sometimes, late at night, sitting over coffee, he’d talk about the fighter that didn’t exist: the perfect fighter, the masterpiece. “The ideal fighter has heart, skill, movement, intelligence, creativity. You can have everything, but if you can’t make it up while you’re in there, you can’t be great. A lot of guys have the mechanics and no heart; lots of guys have heart, no mechanics; the thing that puts it together, it’s mysterious, it’s like making a work of art, you bring everything to it, you make it up when you’re doing it.”

. . . .

The Mob was all over boxing when Cus brought his first good fighters out of the Gramercy Gym. The hoodlums cut into fighters, arranged tank jobs, fixed judges. Frankie Carbo was called the underworld’s commissioner of boxing, a vicious punk who lived off other men’s sweat and controlled a number of managers. Carbo was friendly, sort of, with Jim Norris, a rich bum with a hoodlum complex who ran the IBC out of the old Garden on Eighth Avenue and 50th Street. There’s no room here to relate the details of Cus D’Amato’s sustained contest with Norris, Carbo, and the Garden. Certainly he was on the moral high ground, but the terrible thing was that his personal crusade also hurt his fighters.

We’ll never know how good Patterson and Torres might have become if they’d been fighting more often, battling those fighters who were controlled by the IBC and the Garden. Certainly Torres would have made more money. I remember one main event he had to take in Boston, when he was still a hot fighter in New York. The total purse came to $28.35. Joe Fariello said, “Joe, you take the $20, I’ll take the $8, and we’ll send the 35 cents to Cus.” Patterson did get rich, and Torres did become champion years later than he should have, and in the wrong division (he was one of the greatest middleweights I ever saw, but had to settle for the light-heavyweight championship in 1965). But the competitive fire of Shaw withered from lack of action; the others drifted away.

“It breaks my heart sometimes, thinking about those kids not fighting,” he said to me once. “But I don’t see any other way.”

Link to the rest at The Village Voice

Farewell to Fosse by Pete Hamill

From the Village Voice:

Fosse was dead and after the urgent calls and the logistics of death, there seemed nothing really to do about it except go for a walk along Broadway in the midnight rain.

This was the square mile of the earth Bob Fosse cared for more than any other. Up there on the second floor at 56th Street was the rehearsal hall where I’d met him years ago. Around the corner was the Carnegie Deli, where he’d have lunch with Paddy Chayefsky and Herb Gardner, trading lines, drinking coffee, smoking all those goddamned cigarettes. On the 11th floor of 850 Seventh Avenue, he and Chayefsky and Gardner had their separate offices, and from Paddy’s they would often gaze in wonder across the back courtyard of the Hotel Woodward, at the man in underwear who was always shaving, no matter what the hour. A few blocks away was the building where Fosse lived the last decade of his life.

And down the rain-drowned avenue was the sleazy hamlet I always thought of as Fosseville: all glitter and neon and dangerous shadows. This wasn’t Runyon’s fairy-tale Broadway; it was harder, meaner, as reliable in its ruthlessness as a switchblade. Yet even in his most cynical years, Fosse insisted on seeing its citizens as human, observing their felonies and betrayals not as a journalist or a sociologist but as the fine artist he was. “I see a hooker on a corner,” he said to me once, “and I can only think: there’s some kinda story there. I mean, she was once six years old … ” On this late night, I could see Fosse in black shirt and trousers, standing in some grimy doorway, looking out at his lurid parish; he had been young here and almost died here and sometimes fled from the place and always came back. In Fosseville the gaudiest dreams existed side by side with the most vicious betrayals; everything was real but nothing was true. And, of course, he believed in some dark way that all could be redeemed by love.

Nobody loved harder. He loved his wives: Mary Ann Niles, who danced with him in the last years of the nightclub era (and who died a year after Fosse), Joan McCracken, who died on him when they were both young, and Gwen Verdon, who was with him when he lay down for the final time on the grass of a small park in Washington. But Fosse wasn’t one of those men who can be married; the emotional core of his masterpiece, All That Jazz, is not so much the romantic attraction of death, but the impossibility of fidelity. There were simply too many beautiful women in this world, with their grace and style and intelligence and mystery; the demand of monogamy was like ordering a man to love only one Vermeer.

. . . .

But he loved other things too: almost all forms of music; nightclub comics; cheap vaudeville jokes (Q. “Do you file your nails?” A. “No, I throw them away …”); the New York Mets; good food (he spent hours cooking in the huge kitchen of the house in Quogue, bringing his perfectionism to the details of the simplest meal); Fred Astaire (there were no pictures of himself in the Quogue house and two of Astaire); air hockey; children; New York Post headlines; boxing and football; his daughter Nicole; good wine, margaritas, and brandy; his cat, Macho, a stray discovered beaten-up and bloodied in the Quogue grasslands and nursed to plump domesticity; and, of course, those goddamned cigarettes.

. . . .

After family and lovers, he admired writers more than anyone else. Among his friends were Gardner and Chayefsky, E. L. Doctorow, Peter Maas, and Budd Schulberg. Although he liked to affect the I’m-only-a-song-and-dance-man pose, Fosse was a careful, intelligent reader. His writer friends knew how high Fosse’s own standards were (whether he failed or succeeded, he never set out to manufacture crap) and they often responded to his subtle urgings that they do better. Some writers who worked with him were angry at the end, as he demanded from them what he could more easily demand from a dancer; those who didn’t work with him had easier friendships.

Yes, Fosse was competitive, and cared (perhaps too much) about the way he stood in relation to other directors. In 1974, after he had his first ferocious heart attack, Gardner and Chayefsky were summoned to Fosse’s hospital room to serve as witnesses to his will. There were two lawyers waiting. Fosse was in critical condition in his bed, silent and trapped in a ganglia of tubes and wires. The lawyers asked the two writers to sign the will; Gardner did so immediately. But Chayefsky insisted on reading the text. He discovered that Fosse hadn’t left him anything, so he turned to the silent Fosse and said: “**** you, live!” Fosse started to laugh; all measuring devices began to go wild; the lawyers blanched; a platoon of nurses arrived to save Fosse’s life. Finally, all was calmed down again. Chayefsky resumed reading the will while Fosse lay silent. Then Paddy came to a provision that reserved $20,000 for a party for Fosse’s friends. Hey, that’s great, Chayefsky said, it’s just what Josh Logan did. For the first time, Fosse spoke.

“How much did Logan leave for the party?” he said, in a thin weak voice.

“Twenty thousand,” said Chayefsky.

“Make mine twenty-five,” said Fosse, falling back, as Chayefsky and Gardner dissolved into laughter. That visit probably saved his life.

Quite simply, Fosse wanted to be the best at what he did. In that impossibly romantic quest, he drove dancers hard (although never harder than he drove himself) and kept demanding more from his stars. He worked hard at understanding actors, studying with Sanford Meisner, reading the basic texts from Stanislavski to Harold Clurman. And he developed his own ways to get his actors to do their best work.

“He could act incredibly humble when he wanted something from you,” said Roy Scheider, who believes his own best work was in All That Jazz. “When he met someone he wanted for the first time, he knew everything about you. He’d done research, he’d seen your movies or plays. He’d say, ‘You know, you were very good in that part, hey, wait, you got a nomination, didn’t you? You won.’ And there’d be a pause, after he did all this praising. And then he’d say how that was nothing compared to what lies ahead in your work with me. And he made you believe it. And then he did it … After three, four meetings you’d be thoroughly convinced that you were not capable of giving him what he wanted. And then he would begin to build your confidence, making you feel that your reflowering would take place in his show.” Scheider laughed. “You see, for him, it was always being done for posterity. Every time out of the chute, it was for history.”

Link to the rest at The Village Voice

Our Jack – Pete Hamill on JFK

From Irish America:

Somewhere in the shadowy land between myth and history lies the domicile of John F. Kennedy. The first United States president of Irish-Catholic descent, Kennedy was a man of many faces: war hero, orator, lover, creator, and visionary. He had it all, and it was all taken away, but in the end he gained immortality.

℘℘℘

That day I was in Ireland, in the dark, hard northern city of Belfast. I was there with my father, who had been away from the city where he was born for more than 30 years. He was an American now: citizen of Brooklyn, survivor of the Depression and poverty, one leg lost on an American playing field in the late 1920s, playing a game learned in Ireland, father of seven children, fanatic of baseball. But along the Falls Road in Belfast in November 1963, he was greeted as a returning Irishman by his brother Frank and his surviving Irish friends, and there were many Irish tears and much Irish laughter, waterfalls of beer, and all the old Irish songs of defiance and loss. Billy Hamill was home. And on the evening of November 22, I was in my cousin Frankie Bennett’s house in a section called Andersonstown, dressing to go down to see the old man in a place called the Rock Bar. The television was on in the parlor. Frankie’s youngest kids were playing on the floor. A frail rain was falling outside.

And then the program was interrupted and a BBC announcer came on, his face grave, to say that the president of the United States had been shot while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. Everything in the room stopped. In his clipped, abrupt voice, the announcer said that the details were sketchy. Everyone turned to me, the visiting American, a reporter on a New York newspaper, as if I would know if this could possibly be true. I mumbled, talked nonsense – maybe it was a mistake; sometimes breaking news is moved too fast – but my stomach was churning. The regular program resumed; the kids went back to playing. A few minutes later, the announcer returned, and this time his voice was unsteady. It was true. John F. Kennedy, the president of the United States, was dead.

I remember whirling in pain and fury, slamming the wall with my open hand, and reeling out into the night. All over the city, thousands of human beings were doing the same thing. Doors slammed and sudden wails went up. Oh, sweet Jesus, they shot Jack! and They killed President Kennedy! and He’s been shot dead! At the foot of the Falls Road, I saw an enraged man punching a tree. Another man sat on the curb, sobbing into his hands. Trying to be a reporter, I wandered over to the Shankill Road, the main Protestant avenue in that city long ghettoized by religion and history. There was not yet a Peace Line; not yet any British troops hovering warily on the streets, no bombs or ambushes or bloody Sundays. The reaction was the same on the Shankill as it was on the Falls. Holy God, they’ve killed President Kennedy: with men weeping and children running aimlessly with the news and bawling women everywhere. It was a scale of grief I’d never seen before or since in any place on earth. That night, John Fitzgerald Kennedy wasn’t “the Catholic president” to the people of the Shankill or the Falls; he was the young and shining prince of the Irish diaspora.

Link to the rest at Irish America

Remembering Pete Hamill, The Tabloid Man Whose Greatest Story Was His Own

From National Public Radio:

Pete Hamill was a tabloid man: a columnist and top name on the masthead, mostly for the New York Post and Daily News, who wrote punchy, passionate, lyrical chronicles of city life, often for people who had to read them while they held onto a strap, standing on the Number 7 train from Queens.

Pete Hamill became tabloid-celebrity on his own, switching in a New York second from rolled-up sleeves and loosened tie on his beat, to black tie for evenings-out, where he squired—that’s a good tabloid verb—Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Shirley MacLaine, Linda Ronstadt, and other women of achievement.

But those years in the 1960s and early ’70s in which Pete Hamill was making his name and telling stories from neighborhoods the more polite and laureled New York newspapers often overlooked, he also spent too many hours on a bar stool in the kind of places tabloids called “watering holes;” and with glitterati literati; and not enough time with his children.

One night Pete put down a drink, and never picked one up again. Some of you may know how hard that is, every day, every hour.

Pete Hamill left high school when he was fifteen, which is when he began to drink. But in sobriety he discovered, as he put it, “I had gained the time I once spent drinking and the time I needed for recovery. And I began writing as never before.”

. . . .

“The culture of drink endures because it offers so many rewards,” Pete Hamill wrote: “[C]onfidence for the shy, clarity for the uncertain, solace to the wounded and lonely, and above all, the elusive promises of friendship and love…In the snug darkness of saloons, I learned much about being human and about mastering a craft. I had, as they say, a million laughs. But those grand times also caused great moral, physical, or psychological damage to myself and others…I started writing this book when some of my friends from the drinking life began to die. They were decent, talented, generous, and humane. But as they approached the end, physically ruined by decades of drinking, I remembered more of their good times than they did. In a way, this book is about them, too.”

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

Remembering Pete Hamill

From Publishers Weekly:

I was sitting on the steps of a building on New York City’s Water Street, on lunch break from my first full-time job after high school, working at a bank that no longer exists. I was reading a copy of the New York Post. It was a different paper back then, in 1973, its pages filled with columnists who worked the streets for their stories instead of sitting inside their homes or office. It was on this day that I read my first Pete Hamill column.

It was the day after then vice president Spiro Agnew copped a plea and greased his way out of a stiff prison sentence, a bag man destined for the dust bin of history. Hamill’s column raged about injustice, how there was one rule of law for the powerful and connected and another for the poor and neglected. It was written with passion and with an elegance I had yet to come across in a newspaper, and I was hooked.

From a young age, I wanted to work on a newspaper. But after reading Hamill, I needed to work on one. From that day forward I read everything he wrote, studying the style that flowed so gracefully off the page, the rhythm of the words and the pace of the column. The stories were about people I knew, had grown up with—people who went to work in the dark and returned home when it was even darker. People who could never catch a break, always living behind the financial eight ball, one phone call or knock on the door away from ruin.

In 1976 I landed a copy boy’s job at the New York Daily News. A week after I started, Hamill and Jimmy Breslin came to the paper, each hired to write three columns a week. And with that, my writing education and friendship with Hamill began.

. . . .

During my nine months as a copy boy, I freelanced for any publication that would take my work. And when the occasional story was published, I would leave a copy on Pete’s desk. He would then take the time to make me a better writer, going over every line, practically every word, telling me what I did right and where I steered off the road. He taught me about the importance of the first and last paragraph, that my words should flow across a page and end on a strong note, similar to a jazz musician ending a riff.

He was at the height of his popularity, writing novels as well as columns, living with a movie star and later dating the wife of a former president. He, along with Breslin, were the true Princes of the City. There was even talk of his making a run for mayor. One afternoon, I asked Pete, “You thinking of doing it?”

“It would be a lot of fun,” he said. “But what if I won? What the hell would I do then?”

Pete introduced me to editors he knew and had worked with. One was Al Ellenberg, then the editor of the SoHo Weekly News. Ellenberg told me any story idea I gave him he would assign and pay $5 an article. “What about expenses?” I asked. “Take it out of the $5 I’ll never pay you,” Ellenberg said. “Pete sent you here to learn. Not to get rich.”

I went back to Pete’s office and told him about the exchange I had with Ellenberg. He laughed that loud, contagious laugh of his and said, “Welcome to newspapers.”

In those years, I did my best to copy Hamill’s style of writing, trying to capture the rhythmic beats of the words, the cadence, the strong opening and the even stronger closing paragraph. This was during the Son of Sam summer, and my friends at the Daily News nicknamed me “Son of Pete.”

I asked him if I was doing something wrong trying to copy the way he wrote. “You’re finding your way,” he said. “Going through the first of the four stages—imitate, emulate, equal, and surpass.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The OP mentioned that Hamill died on August 5.

PG was also a fan of Pete Hamill and include a few Hamill stories in various posts today.

Amazon wasn’t the first

Per yesterday’s post, US Publishers, Authors, Booksellers Call Out Amazon’s ‘Concentrated Power’ in the Book Market, one of the contentions of the coven of Big Publishers and Company was:

“as the subcommittee’s hearings have laid bare, the competitive framework of the publishing industry has been fundamentally altered in recent years—and remains at serious risk of further diminishment—because of the concentrated power and influence of one company in particular: Amazon.”

In response to a comment to that post, PG went off on a frolic in mid-20th Century book history and produced the following:

The contemporary framework of publishing was in the process of fundamental alteration before Bezos sold his first book.

Big publishers were sucking up small and mid-sized publishers like minnows on a trout farm. In the 1950’s and 60’s, there were dozens of independent publishers in New York and elsewhere, some of which were discovering important authors and different voices.

Here are a handful of books published by organizations no longer in existence:

Catcher in the Rye was first published by Little, Brown
Fahrenheit 451 – Ballantine Books
Lord of the Flies – Faber and Faber
Lolita – Olympia Press – in French (after the book was turned down by Viking, Simon & Schuster, New Directions, Farrar, Straus, and Doubleday)
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – Geoffrey Bles (UK)
On the Road – Viking Press
To Kill a Mockingbird – J. B. Lippincott & Co.
Slaughterhouse-Five – ‎Delacorte
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Viking Press & Signet Books
The Bell Jar – ‎Heinemann
A Wrinkle in Time – Ariel Books
The Godfather – G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Blade Runner, #1) – Doubleday
Dune – Chilton Book Company

I don’t think it would have all got me quite so down

I don’t think it would have all got me quite so down if just once in a while—just once in a while—there was at least some polite little perfunctory implication that knowledge should lead to wisdom, and that if it doesn’t, it’s just a disgusting waste of time! But there never is! You never even hear any hints dropped on a campus that wisdom is supposed to be the goal of knowledge. You hardly ever even hear the word ‘wisdom’ mentioned!

J.D. Salinger

But if you tell folks you’re a college student

But if you tell folks you’re a college student, folks are so impressed. You can be a student in anything and not have to know anything. Just say toxicology or marine biokinesis, and the person you’re talking to will change the subject to himself. If this doesn’t work, mention the neural synapses of embryonic pigeons.

Chuck Palahniuk

The Medieval University Monopoly

From History Today

(not really to do with books, but PG found it interesting):

In June 1686, a small family – a clergyman, his wife, and their daughter – disembarked from a ship at the docks of Boston, Massachusetts. They had just finished a long journey of a month or more across the Atlantic, escaping from England. The clergyman, a scholarly, 60 year old named Charles Morton, was fleeing prosecution. His crime? Teaching students – or, more specifically, teaching students in north London.  

From 1334 onwards, graduates of Oxford and Cambridge were required to swear an oath that they would not give lectures outside these two English universities. It was a prohibition occasioned by the secession in 1333 of men from Oxford to the little Lincolnshire town of Stamford. They were escaping the violence and chaos which often attended medieval university life – the frequent battles between students, and between students and other communities within the town – the same conditions, in fact, which had led an earlier generation of scholars to up sticks and leave Oxford for Cambridge. But their action now threatened both universities, and so the Stamford experiment had to be suppressed. The sheriff of Lincoln, the lord chancellor, even the king, Edward III, were all called into play and the result became known as the ‘Stamford Oath’; an oath which Oxford and Cambridge graduates continued to swear until 1827.

It is true to say that Charles Morton was unusually unlucky in being prosecuted for breaking this oath by establishing his own academy at Newington Green in London. His evident success in recruiting numerous and impressive students, like Daniel Defoe, was part of the problem, as were his staunchly Presbyterian religious beliefs and his radical, republican political views. But the depressing effect of the Stamford Oath was undeniable and its symbolism inescapable. Repeated at each graduation and reinforced by successive revisions of both universities’ statutes, it made their determination to preserve a duopoly in higher learning absolutely plain.

This was in sharp contrast to the European experience. Just as Oxford and Cambridge were establishing and policing their unique right to produce graduates, ever growing numbers of universities were being founded across the Continent. In the 14th century new institutions appeared in towns from Pisa to Prague; from Kraków to Cahors. In the years that followed, the gap in numbers between English universities and those on the Continent grew even greater, with over 100 founded or refounded in Europe after 1500. Oxford and Cambridge remained the only universities in England. Indeed, even as Morton’s teaching career began in the mid-17th century, universities were springing up in such unlikely places as the small towns of Prešov in Slovakia and Nijmegen in the Netherlands. The English experience was also very unlike that of the Scots, who acquired five universities between 1451, when Glasgow opened, and 1582, when Edinburgh was established.

. . . .

In the first place, there is the question of why it was that Oxford and Cambridge were so keen to suppress other universities. Secondly, there is the question of how they succeeded. Finally, just as importantly, and perhaps even more interestingly, there is the question of what changed to make them reverse this position so comprehensively in the years after 1827.

In some respects, the question of why Oxbridge was so jealous of its status seems the easiest to answer. In the most general terms, it makes sense for the providers of an exclusive product – a university degree, say – to take action to preserve their exclusivity. Universities were originally little more than a sort of trade guild, a separate group of masters and their students, who controlled admission, regulated quality and negotiated with the local authorities. Just as butchers and bakers sought to restrict the supply of their skills, so masters within the university hoped to protect their distinctive rights. These privileges were threatened by rivals. Oxford and Cambridge continued to act like guilds long after they lost or forgot their origins. Thus it was that even in the 17th century they fought off attempts by places as various as Carlisle and London, Ripon and Shrewsbury to establish their own institutes of higher learning. Thus it was that they crushed the nascent Durham University in 1660. And thus it was that they pursued poor Charles Morton.

. . . .

The answer is control. Just as the two universities wanted to control the supply of teachers and students, so the English Church and state wanted to control the universities. Universities could be – indeed, were – the source of dangerous heresies, where people learnt to think the wrong things. Oxford gave birth to the reforming, proto-Protestant Lollard movement in the 14th century. Cambridge was home to an alarming nest of evangelicals – humanist-inspired converts to church reform like the martyrs Robert Barnes (c.1495-1540) and Thomas Bilney (1495-1531) – 200 years later. With only two universities it was easier to control theological debate and even to use one of the institutions to oversee the other. It is no coincidence that the Cambridge-educated bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, together with the Cambridge-educated archbishop Thomas Cranmer, were sent to loyalist, Catholic Oxford to be tried and burnt in the 1550s.

 

Link to the rest at History Today

Be very careful with dreams and hallucinations in novels

From Nathan Bransford:

Writers are often tempted to pen dream sequences and hallucinations. And for good reason! Reading a novel itself feels a bit like a dream, and writers want to take full advantage of the medium, which allows us to get inside a character’s head in an unparalleled way.

But you should proceed with the utmost caution.

Once you start undermining the reality of a novel it becomes difficult for the reader to assume anything is real. After a dream sequence, from that point on the reader is going to have in the back of their mind: “Is this a dream? Is the character hallucinating?”

. . . .

To be totally honest with you, most dream sequences and hallucinations tend to feel pretty self-indulgent. They are often writing for writing’s sake and authors often use them as a chance to flex their writing muscles.

They almost always fall into an awkward nether region akin to the problem with including intentional symbolism. If it’s super obvious what we’re supposed to take away from a dream sequence the reader might feel a bit beaten over the head, and if it’s not obvious what we’re supposed to take away… well, we’re not really taking anything away.

. . . .

Unless you’re writing something along the lines of magical realism, where the boundaries between waking and dream life are intentionally blurry, in order to avoid disorienting the reader you should try to keep the dream/hallucination tightly bound and contained.

Basically: It’s clear the reader was asleep/out of it, now it’s clear they’re awake/lucid.

This means avoiding “rug pulling” techniques where the dream exists solely to trick the reader. These tend to be pretty cheap plot devices on TV shows, but they’re even worse in novels because of how much harder it is for a reader to suspend disbelief and get into a flow losing themselves in the world of the novel.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Fiction in the Time of Plague

From Writer Unboxed:

Six months into the worst pandemic in a century, we’ve passed five million cases with more than 170,000 dead, more than 30 million out of work, and the economy collapsing faster than it did during the great depression. Our politics have grown even more divisive, making it harder for us to act together. The world is changing around us in ways that we can’t possibly understand because we’re right in the middle of it.

So let’s talk about how this affects your current work in progress. That is, assuming you’re actually working on your novel instead of binge watching or binge baking or binge eating or binge drinking or crying quietly into your pillow every night. Or all of the above.

Of course, if you’re just starting out on a new manuscript, the virus offers all sorts of opportunities for drama. Covid is the ultimate A Stranger Comes to Town, upending peoples’ lives, putting them under strain, and revealing their true character – think Shane in virus form. But there’s something you’ve got to watch out for if you do decide to work Covid into your story — we still don’t know how the pandemic is going to end. Stuff could easily happen in coming months that will eclipse anything you might use as a background now, leaving your story feeling dated before it’s even finished.

Probably the best solution is to keep the disease as far in the background as possible and focus your story on how it affects your characters. I’ve written before about how to create tension when your story takes place against a background where readers know what’s coming – if your characters are passengers aboard the Titanic, for instance. You can use a lot of the same techniques when you don’t know what’s coming but your readers will by the time they see your story.

Mrs. Miniver started out as a newspaper column and then a book about everyday life in the country, which grew darker as the war approached. But most of us are more familiar with the movie. It was released in 1942 but was set earlier, at the height of the battle of Britain, when the outcome was anybody’s guess and the United States hadn’t yet joined the war effort. The story is still gripping today because the focus is entirely on how the war transformed Mrs. Miniver and her one small corner of Britain, where the big excitement used to be the annual flower show. Mr. Miniver takes the family pleasure boat to Dunkirk. Mrs. Miniver is threatened by a downed German pilot. Kay is killed in a raid. The suffering is set against a historic backdrop, but it is all very personal.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

US Publishers, Authors, Booksellers Call Out Amazon’s ‘Concentrated Power’ in the Book Market

From Publishing Perspectives:

In a letter provided to Publishing Perspectives this morning (August 17), three leading American publishing industry professional organizations tell the House of Representatives’ Antitrust Subcommittee that “a few tech platforms in the digital marketplace” wield “extraordinary leverage over their competitors, suppliers, customers, the government, and the public.

“Regrettably,” they write, “as the subcommittee’s hearings have laid bare, the competitive framework of the publishing industry has been fundamentally altered in recent years—and remains at serious risk of further diminishment—because of the concentrated power and influence of one company in particular: Amazon.”

The letter is written to Rep. David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island, who chairs the subcommittee, which is housed under the House Judiciary Committee.

The hearings referenced in the letter brought Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Google’s Sundar Pichai into the line of fire. And as Joe Nocera wrote in his commentary for Bloomberg on the hearings, “Preventing abusive monopoly practices by today’s dominant technology companies has proved to be difficult in part because antitrust law never anticipated the business models that have made Google, Facebook and others so powerful.” And Amazon, which of course famously based some of its retail development originally in book sales, has been the main target for years of many in publishing.

“Together,” the letter dated today reads, “our organizations—the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, and the American Booksellers Association—represent thousands of authors, publishers, and booksellers in the United States who serve the democratic exchange of ideas by creating, publishing, and selling books. Our members rely upon a level playing field in the marketplace of ideas to reach, inform, and transact with customers for the delivery of books, whether in physical or digital form.”

. . . .

The Seattle-based giant sells more books than any other single retail outlet in history. In December, analyst Benedict Evans saw Amazon controlling some 35 percent of US e-commerce. But in adding in the fact that the company competes with physical retailers, not just with online rivals, he wrote, “Amazon’s real market share of its real target market is closer to 6 percent.”

In print books, however, Amazon has a generally recognized 50 percent or more of the American market “and at least three quarters of publishers’ ebook sales,” Evans wrote.

In ebooks, it sells “at least three-quarters of publishers’ ebooks” and “also has its own ebook publishing business, for which it has never disclosed any data.”

. . . .

[from the letter]

“Amazon’s scale of operation and share of the market for book distribution has reached the point that no publisher can afford to be absent from its online store.

“A year ago, The New York Times reported that Amazon controlled 50 percent of all book distribution, but for some industry suppliers, the actual figure may be much higher, with Amazon accounting for more than 70 or 80 percent of sales. Whether it is the negative impact on booksellers of Amazon forcing publishers to predominantly use its platform, the hostile environment for booksellers on Amazon who see no choice but to sell there, or Amazon’s predatory pricing, the point is that Amazon’s concomitant market dominance allows it to engage in systematic below-cost pricing of books to squash competition in the book selling industry as a whole.

“Remarkably, what this means is that even booksellers that avoid selling on Amazon cannot avoid suffering the consequences of Amazon’s market dominance.

“The ongoing COVID-19 crisis is exacerbating the problem: it continues to threaten the financial well-being of authors, publishers, and booksellers, some of whom will not survive the year.

“Amazon, by contrast, with its ever-extensive operation and data network, has grown only more dominant, enjoying its largest-ever quarterly profits during April, May and June.”

The organizations go on to criticize “the astonishing level of data that it collects across its entire platform,” writing. “The result is that Amazon no longer competes on a level playing field when it comes to book distribution, but, rather, owns and manipulates the playing field, leveraging practices from across its platform that appear to be well outside of fair and transparent competition.”

. . . .

“Amazon employs non-transparent data algorithms and recommendation engines to steer consumers toward Amazon’s own products, or even toward infringing products without disclosing to consumers that it is doing so. It has required suppliers to agree to most-favored-nation provisions (MFNs) that stifle the emergence and growth of competitive alternatives in the book distribution marketplace.  And it manipulates suppliers and rivals by tying the purchase of distribution services to the purchase of its advertising services.”

. . . .

  • Prohibit Amazon from leveraging data from the operation of its online platform to compete with and disadvantage the suppliers doing business there
  • Prohibit Amazon from tying distribution services to the purchase of advertising services
  • Prohibit Amazon from imposing Most Favored Nation and other parity provisions
  • Prohibit Amazon from using loss-leader pricing to harm competition

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG will summarize/criticize the OP:

  1. Amazon has disrupted the traditional publishing establishment and caused problems for publishers, bookstores, agents, associations comprised of the aforementioned parties and various other hangers-on. Amazon has disrupted the world of physical retailing as well. You can add competitive cloud computing companies to this group (although they’re not psychotic about Amazon). These people don’t like Amazon because, in the form of a question, “Whose goose is Amazon cooking?”
  2. Other than those people and compulsive cranks, everybody else loves, loves, loves Amazon.
  3. Particularly when things get tough because of Covid, everybody loves Amazon because they can shelter in place and still get the stuff they want, including, in many places, food.
  4. Per the OP, English majors are complaining because Amazon uses math. That’s inherently unfair. If English majors understood how good cloud computing is at math, they’d complain about that, too.
  5. Is there any retailer on the planet that does not watch the sales of its goods, note purchaser behavior and adjust placement and pricing based upon the behavior of its customers? Does Random House keep track of what books Barnes & Noble is buying? (Note that PG did not ask, “Does Random House do a good job of keeping track of what Barnes & Noble is buying?)
  6. Is there any retailer or manufacturer that doesn’t offer some of its products below cost in order to incentivize prospective purchasers to acquire them? See Remaindered Book, Barnes & Noble Seasonal Promotions and 50% Off Thousands of Items in Stores.
  7. See also, Loss Leader Strategy and Customer Lifetime Value, but those are business school strategies which constitute unfair competition when used to harm English majors.
  8. It’s not antitrust, but, in 2020, the overall quality (and social virtue) of a business organization usually includes an assessment of how it treats its employees, particularly those on the lower rungs of the organization chart.
    1. Amazon starts its warehouse workers at $15 per hour with fringe benefits, including “comprehensive healthcare from day one, 401(k) with 50 percent match, up to 20 weeks paid parental leave, and a flexible Ramp Back Program and Leave Share Program that allows employees to share their paid leave with their spouse or partner. For associates reaching their one-year employment mark, Amazon offers warehouse employees a Career Choice Program, which pre-pays 95 percent of tuition for courses in high-demand fields.
    2. What’s the starting salary of worker bees at a publisher? Do those stats include unpaid interns?What are their fringe benefits? Ditto for a bookstore?

Let’s take a moment to consider the underlying memes that pop up in complaints from traditional publishing and its enablers, outliers and posse members.

!!!!Evil Big Company!!!!

Amazon is a really big company. However, such was not always the case.

Concerning evil and illegal behavior, eight years ago, in 2012, when Amazon was a little fish who wasn’t behaving itself, most prominently, by selling ebooks at way too low a price, and discounting printed books, five evil big publishers and Apple got together to force Amazon out of the ebook business.

Starting some time in 2011, the CEO’s of Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster, had been secretly meeting for dinner on a regular basis in a private dining room in Manhattan to discuss a common problem: Amazon. Amazon’s sin was selling books to readers at a price that was too low. Readers loved Amazon’s prices and were buying more and more books. Barnes & Noble and other bookstores were complaining that readers were buying too many books from Amazon.

Apple was getting ready to introduce a new iPad with a new feature, iBooks, an online bookstore.

Apple didn’t like it when anyone tried to discount its products and kept a tight rein on non-Apple retailers and anyone else to prevent price discounts. Steve Jobs and his executives did not like Amazon’s discounting of ebooks because discounts were not the Apple Way. Premium prices for premium products was the Apple Way and Apple had made a lot of money with this policy.

Jobs sent Eddy Cue, his right-hand guy, to New York City, to take care of the Amazon pricing problem. After meetings with Cue and (PG thinks) one or two more private dinners between the publishing bigshots, the deal was made. The publishers would use a joint boycott to force Amazon to raise its prices for their books to the suggested retail price, the same price Apple would charge on iBooks.

After the launch of the new iPad and iBooks, a Wall Street Journal reporter asked Jobs how Apple was going to deal with the lower prices Amazon was charging for ebooks. Jobs gave a short answer to the effect that there wouldn’t be a problem because ebook prices on iBooks and Amazon would be the same.

Apple and the Price-Fix Five were guilty as hell. This was not a gray area in the antitrust and related laws. It was straight-out price-fixing, a criminal offense under Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Amazon’s net sales for F2011 were $48 billion, but its net income was only $631 million.

Apple’s net sales for F2011 were $108 billion and its net income was $25 billion, almost 400 times the size of Amazon’s net income at the time. There was no question which company was financially more powerful.

The United States Department of Justice sued Apple and the five large publishers for illegally conspiring to fix prices for ebooks. At the time the suit was filed, the US Attorney General said, “As a result of this alleged conspiracy, we believe that consumers paid millions of dollars more for some of the most popular titles.”

Each of the publishers fessed up to violating the law and paid a big fine. Apple appealed its losses all the way the the U.S Supreme Court, lost and paid a $450 million fine.

PG concludes in the Evil Big Companies competition, Big Publishing has admitted to being far more evil than Amazon.

Speaking of Big Companies

Big Amazon vs. little New York publishers is not quite right, either.

Each of the current five largest trade publishers in New York is owned by a very large parent company with deep pockets.

PublisherOwnerOwner’s Annual Revenue
(most recent year available)
Owner’s Annual Profit
(most recent year available)
Penguin Random HouseBertelsmannPrivately held. In 2019, the company reported “Revenues exceed €18 billion” – approximately $21.41 billionPrivately held. In 2019, the company reported “€1.1 billion” in Group profit.
Hachette Book GroupLagardère Publishing€6.936 billion in 2019 – approximately $8.251 billionProfit before finance costs and tax was €411 million
Harper CollinsNews Corp,$10.07 billion in 20192019 Net Income – $228 million
Simon& SchusterViacomCBS Corporation$27.812 billion in 20192019 Operating Income – $4.273 billion
MacmillanGeorg von Holtzbrinck GmbH & Co.Privately held. Releases almost no financial data.
2005 estimate of €2.1 billion – approximately $2.48 billion – by an unrelated third party.
2018 estimate of €1.494 billion – approximately $1.79 billion – by an unrelated third party
Privately held. Releases almost no financial data.

Amazon is a Big Bully That Exploits the Peons

As long as we are discussing allegedly shameful corporate behavior, let us consider the way the major publishers (which effectively control the Association of American Publishers) treat their small independent contractors AKA authors as compared with Amazon’s treatment of this same group. PG posits that Amazon treats 99.9% of authors much better than traditional publishers do. (James Patterson is a special case.)

Big PublishingAmazon
Royalty CalculationsOpaque to the max. You have to hire an accountant to conduct an audit if you have any concerns or even want to find out what’s really going on. If the principal publisher has entered into agreements for the publication of the book in other countries, opacity is doubled (at least, sometimes tripled or quadrupled).Straightforward and easy to understand. Calculations are laid out in detail in online terms and conditions. Author Dashboard shows daily reports of units ordered overall and as broken down by 13 different country sites. For ebooks enrolled in KU (Kindle Unlimited) and KOLL (Kindle Owners’ Lending Library), the author can see how many pages were read each day. (This is for the legacy dashboard. The beta version of the new dashboard is even more informative and easier to understand.)
Royalty PaymentsTwo times per year with payments delayed for a period of time following the close of the 6-month period for which royalties are to be paid. Amount of payment may be reduced by a reserve for returned books as determined solely by the publisher and calculated in a manner unknown to the author. The size of the royalty payment is always a surprise to the author. No interest is paid to the author to compensate for the use of funds belonging to the author for a half-year.Monthly. The Author Dashboard shows how much the payment will be.
Costs Deducted from Author’s Royalties15% (occasionally higher) for an agent’s fee. Submission of a manuscript without an agent means a virtually certain rejection.No agency fee. Plus, no lost time waiting for traditional publishing contracts, production, etc. When you finish your book, format it yourself or hire someone to format it, the book goes up to Amazon and is on sale worldwide within a day or two.
How Often Can You Publish?Unless you are James Patterson, likely no more than one book every year or two.No lost time waiting for traditional publishing contracts, production, etc. When you finish your book, format it yourself or hire someone to format it for you, and get a cover, the book goes up to Amazon and is on sale worldwide within a day or two.
Ebook Royalties25% of publisher’s net receipts70% of list price if price is $2.99-9.99 in a long list of countries, including all major English-speaking countries.
35% of list price is price is below $2.99 or above $9.99. For 70% royalty, a small digital delivery fee is subtracted from royalty (PG thinks it’s usually 10-25 cents, but the size of the ebook will impact that.)
Amazon ebooks can also participate in other Amazon programs that will pay the author and provide additional online promotion tools under KDP Select.
Trade Paperback7.5% of cover price (may vary, but almost never over 10%)60% of the list price for books sold on Amazon, less printing costs (which depend upon the number of pages in the book, the market in which it is sold and whether colored inks are necessary). Amazon offers an online calculator to determine actual royalties paid based upon the number of pages in the book. Suffice to say, PG has never seen Amazon POD royalties as low as those paid by traditional publishers.

Literary world overwhelmed by 600 books to be published on one day

From The Guardian:

Over the summer, novelist and screenwriter David Nicholls has been something of a hero. With a humorous nod to the less glamorous aspects of publishing life – hastily defrosted canapés and eked-out warm white wine – the author of One Day and adaptor of the Patrick Melrose novels has thrown a series of Twitter book launches, amplifying new releases from writers including (but far beyond) the big names who will automatically elicit review space and window displays. The responses from the authors, especially the debutants, to gaining the imprimatur of a much-loved and huge-selling colleague, and from readers to discovering books to connect with in a time of such immense disconnection, has been powerful and touching. It’s a particularly nice example of someone paying it forward.

Nicholls’s virtual launches have been held every Thursday, the day new books are traditionally published in the UK, but this week’s will be his last. Quite possibly, his publishers have reminded him that the paperback edition of his own book, Sweet Sorrow, needs some love, or perhaps he wants to get on with writing another.

It’s fortunate for him – although arguably less so for the world of books – that he’s bowing out before 3 September. On that day, in a development that has provoked anguish among booksellers, editors, reviewers and readers, almost 600 new books will be published, an increase of about a third from last year. There is such a thing as a crowded market, and then there is this: an avalanche of words that no retailer or media outlet could hope to accommodate. Even Waterstones Piccadilly, the chain’s flagship London store, is feeling the strain, one of the team writing on Twitter: “We are big and I doubt we’ll stock them all. No one has enough space for this.” They added: “We’ll do what we always do. Choose the books we think our Piccadilly customers will love most and those that we can honestly recommend.”

Why the surge? Largely, of course, it’s the pandemic: with bookshops closed and literary festivals and events cancelled or significantly shrunk and moved online, publishers moved swaths of their publication dates to later in the year. Festivals are still in abeyance, albeit with virtual events, but publishing houses – and their authors, many in extreme need of their publication payments, which usually represent a third of their advance against royalties – had to do something. To shift entire programmes to next year, its landscape still highly uncertain, would be to kick the can down a highly congested road.

But 3 September – just the first of a series of similar days throughout the autumn – is a problem. Waterstones Piccadilly has vast premises, but others – including the independent bookshops attempting to weather 2020’s storm – must rely on heavily curated selections and hard choices. For an industry that has suffered a series of shocks – including the collapse of wholesaler Bertrams, owing £25m to its creditors – autumn will be tough. For literary editors presiding over fewer pages for book reviews the issues are similarly intractable.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to DaveMich for the tip.

Perhaps PG didn’t read the OP carefully enough, but he doesn’t see a lot of author nurturing going on with this plan.

Why I Actually Prefer Stories With Prologues

From Writer Unboxed:

I’ve been thinking about how many readers say they dislike prologues; how they routinely skip them or even refuse to read them. Are you one of these readers?

I’ve been thinking about how damn near everyone recommends against including a prologue when you’re trying to sell your story. If you’re wondering why prologues have been on my mind, well, I suppose I ought to get it out in the open, right at the top. The newest version of my WIP has one.

In light of that disclosure, you might think I’m biased. But in thinking about prologues—how many say they don’t read them or say not to include one when submitting—I still came to this simple conclusion:

I don’t just love prologues. I actually prefer stories when they begin with them.

. . . .

Perhaps we should start with a definition, so we’re all on the same (first) page: A prologue is a separate introductory section of a literary work. Simple enough, right?

My conclusion regarding my preference began with a quick survey of my own shelves. Even I was surprised by how many of my favorite books and series begin with a prologue. Or at least some version of one. Not all of them are labeled as prologues, so for the sake of my survey, I went back to our simple definition of a “separate introductory section.” For me, being “separate” implies that the story itself does not rely on the content of a prologue in order to begin or to reach its resolution. In other words, the story would make sense without them. Often, prologues take place in another place or time than the story’s starting point. Often without the protagonist present.

Let’s look at a few of the examples from my shelves that helped me reach my conclusion. My survey included (but was not limited to):

*The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien—Labeled as a prologue, this is really nothing less than a twenty page dissertation “On Hobbits,” and oh, how relatable they become. All one has to do to understand its importance is imagine having no idea what a hobbit is (not so easy for those of us raised after the books achieved popularity). Tolkien manages to make hobbits so much more than fairies, gnomes, or any other preconception of fantastical “little people.”

. . . .

*The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan—The series-starting prologue features a dystopian cataclysm, from the POV of a character whose identity and relevance is not fully revealed for several books! We have no idea if it’s a glimpse at a distant past or a terrifying future.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

How Studying Psychology Has Influenced My Writing

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

This is a ‘what came first – the chicken or the egg’ kind of question for me, or as my daughter asked me last week – the seed or the tree? Did my study of psychology influence my writing, or did my love of stories and characters develop into a love of psychology? 

Even as a child I was fascinated by both. When I was around seven or eight years old I designed a quiz that I gave to everyone who came to the house. It was only basic questions like favourite colour, best friend, dream job, but I loved reading the answers. I found it interesting that people in the same family, who lived in the same house, were so different. And when I wasn’t designing quizzes, I was either devouring every book I could get my hands on, or I was filling notebooks with my own stories about children who could fly, orphans starting new schools, and evil witches. 

. . . .

A few years (OK a decade) after I’d finished my degree, I had an idea for a novel about a distraught widow (Tess) and her young son, and what happens to them when a charismatic grief counsellor comes into their lives. I knew immediately that this was a novel that would need me to draw on my psychology degree. I dug out my old text books from the loft and poured through them for days on end, reminding myself why I loved the complexities of the human mind so much. This idea became my debut, The Perfect Betrayal

I wanted to pull the reader into Tess’s daily struggles with her grief and depression and I wanted them to feel the full range of emotions that we can feel for those around us experiencing mental illness. Feelings like sympathy, pity, desperation, exasperation, and frustration.  There were times when I was writing the book when all I wanted to do was tell Tess to snap out of it. Unfortunately it’s never that simple with mental illness. 

With my second novel, One Step Behind, I once again pulled out my psychology books and delved into the murky waters of what drives obsession, and how even the most moral person can be driven to cross the line if pushed far enough. The main character, Jenna, is a doctor who has dedicated her life to saving others, but when she is asked to save the life of the man responsible for destroying hers, will she do it?

I write these stories because the themes fascinate me, but one thing that studying psychology has instilled in me is the need to do the behaviours of my character’s justice. Readers are a savvy bunch, and won’t buy into an anxious character suddenly not caring anymore. While we are complex individuals, we all have certain traits that guide our behaviour. Equally, if I’m going to write about a character struggling with a mental illness then it’s important to me and the readers that I portray that illness as realistically as I can. With Tess and her depression in The Perfect Betrayal it was important to me that she didn’t get a little bit better every day. She had some good days but they were often followed by bad ones. 

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

How to use simple psychology and basic common sense to sell more books

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

Do you dream about creating a group of Superfans who will buy every book you write?

Yes? Well, then, do you make it easy for readers to become your Superfans?

. . . .

I want you to keep the idea of “Superfans” in your mind as we talk about today’s topic. To create these Superfans, we need to make sure that we don’t do anything to frustrate our readers. In fact, our job is to make purchasing/following/subscribing as easy as possible.

In order to do that, there are three simple steps:

  • Create content in a reader-friendly format
  • Use simple psychology to help guide readers
  • Harness what we know about e-reader technology to make it easier for readers to find us — and buy more of our books

. . . .

I’m a science grad who became a science prof – so when someone from the publishing industry (in 1995) suggested that textbooks would be converted to electronic format, I jumped for joy!! After decades of lugging around massive science reference texts, the idea of tucking a computer disk into my bag was pretty exciting!

. . . .

Because the first Kindle wasn’t released until 2007, the idea of reading electronic textbooks was still over a decade away at that point. At the time, though, fresh out of university and thinking I knew everything, I was excited, but my fellow profs – who turned out to be smarter than I was – expressed concern about the differences in reading style. Honestly, back then, know-it-all me thought they were over-reacting.

Over the years since, I’ve done quite a bit of research into the differences between how people read via a paper source, like a paperback book, versus how people read via an electronic source, like a Kindle or e-reader.

. . . .

To sum up, people don’t actually read material presented electronically. Instead, they scan.

People “read” in a non-linear, non-continuous fashion. They will allow their eyes to take breaks between paragraphs. They will make use of headlines, graphics, bold text, italic text or lists to guide the movement of their eyes.

Another key finding from the existing research is that the more a person reads on electronic sources, the more they exhibit this scanning type of “reading.” This finding implies that scanning behaviour, or non-linear reading, is more pronounced amongst younger readers than older readers.

. . . .

The “Jars of Jam” study involved creating two different types of displays of jam in grocery stores. One display had many different flavors of jam, number of jars, size and shape of jars and varying prices. The second display typically had 2 flavors of jam and one size of jars, all at the same price. This experiment was carried out in different types of stores and in different locations within the store.

The second display (the simpler display) always sold many more jars of jam than the first.

Some feel this result is counter-intuitive. Wouldn’t people appreciate having more choices? Or are they, in fact, overwhelmed by too many choices with the result that they don’t make any purchase? The research indicates that they are, and that the sale is lost.

What’s the connection between the bread, jam jars, and turning readers into Superfans?

Look at the menu-line of your website. Do you provide numerous alternatives for a reader to choose from? Or do you use the menu structure to nudge people in the direction you want them to go?

For authors, the “Jars of Jam” theory applies in two critical places:

  • Website design – especially with respect to the menu-line and buy links
  • Promotional platforms and & newsletters – think BookBub

Which one below would you think is better for readers to find information?

Example #1

Example #2

If you answered example 2 you would be correct!

Why does BookBub sell so many books?

BookBub is one of the most successful promotional newsletters. Do you think the psychology behind the “Jars of Jam” correlates with the limited number of suggested books in each newsletter?

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

Library Supporters Urge Action as Senate Recesses Without Relief Bill

From Publishers Weekly:

The Senate formally adjourned for its August recess on Thursday without a second pandemic relief package. And with Congress now on break until after Labor Day, ALA officials are urging library supporters to keep the pressure on their Senators to strike a deal—and to ensure that deal includes support for the Library Stabilization Fund Act (LSFA), a bill that would earmark $2 billion for public libraries.

. . . .

“At a time when budgets of local governments have been decimated, America can’t afford to dismiss a national infrastructure of 117,000 libraries nimble enough to offer relief and advance recovery,” said American Library Association President Julius C. Jefferson Jr., in a recent statement, adding that the LSFA represents “the comprehensive federal response needed to keep our nation’s libraries safely in operation.”

The ALA website is currently offering resources for library supporters wishing to contact their senators and representatives to urge them to support the LSFA. Additional resources—including a one-page explainer on LSFA, sample social media posts, and a sample letter for state and local library associations and boards of trustees—are also available on the ALA site.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Why Organizing Workers in the Book Industry Is So Damn Hard

From Jacobin:

Workers in the book industry often suffer poor conditions and low pay, but are supposed to feel grateful for the privilege of working near books. Casting off such illusions is the first step to organizing publishers and booksellers, and fighting the exploitation that thrives in the hallowed culture industry.

. . . .

As book industry workers around the world experience destabilizing changes to their employment because of COVID-19, we’re reminded of how fragile workers’ rights can be in industries that are yet to properly organize. In Australia, when book industry workers need collective action more than ever, organizing even the smallest workplaces has proven difficult.

Compared to other creative or retail industries, union membership in the book industry has been slow, with the lack of union support placing workers in vulnerable positions. But why is organizing the book industry such hard work?

Along with the suppression and stigmatization of unions in the book industry, one of the steepest barriers to organizing is the myth of “doing it for the love of books,” which employers perpetuate to create the illusion that publishing workers are somehow exempt from the inherent exploitation of wage labor. Add to this the exclusivity of jobs in publishing and bookselling, and you’ve got yourself a submissive workforce that is largely averse to rocking the boat.

. . . .

In 2019, Penguin Random House (PRH) achieved the first union-negotiated enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) in publishing, facilitated by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), while in 2018, workers at bookshops across Melbourne successfully won a landmark protection of penalty rates and higher health and safety standards through the new but militant Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU).

As union delegates in these cases, we learned firsthand what the barriers to unionizing the book industry look like, and how they might be overcome.

. . . .

Wage stagnation nonetheless reflects the relative weakness of the modern union movement which is especially pronounced in the publishing industry where salary secrecy is rampant and wage theft obscured.

Meanwhile, bookshop workers are subject to the same issues of wage theft, unsafe working conditions, and precarity as their comrades in other retail work. Some Melbourne bookshop workers are among a group of retail, fast food, and hospitality workers who recently won protection of their penalty rates — despite a 2017 ruling by the Fair Work Commission allowing employers to reduce them — and this was only achieved because they unionized.

. . . .

At PRH, management actively repressed past efforts to organize, fostering a culture of secrecy that left staff feeling understandably anxious about criticizing workplace culture because of fear of retribution.

As Australian writer and book editor Samantha Forge wrote in 2018, “There is a sense among well-meaning, book-loving publishing workers that to ask for more, collectively, would be to imperil literary culture itself.” This atmosphere holds back discussion about the actual issues workers are facing.

Because organizing itself is considered so taboo, workers trying to build a movement are often stuck making the most elementary argument: that a union is necessary or helpful at all.

. . . .

We found that one simple but powerful method for overcoming this was to privately ask our comrades at work to describe their frustrations in their own words. At PRH, staff had made repeated requests for increased wages and paid overtime, using all the “appropriate” channels, but were stonewalled.

After inviting colleagues to speak openly about their conditions, delegates could then point to union action as the next reasonable and effective avenue for making improvements. Hardie Grant likewise refused workers’ demands for negotiations and set up a “suggestion box” instead — which members flooded with suggestions that management come to the table.

The same dynamic was apparent in bookshops, where we had to rapidly educate ourselves — and, very often, management — about our legal rights. To our knowledge, no Australian bookshop has successfully organized and negotiated an EBA with a union. The book industry has little literacy about how organized labor interacts with management, which can cause initial confusion about which union to join, what to expect, or how formal negotiations work.

. . . .

Perhaps the most persistent canard in the book trade — and one of the biggest obstacles to organization — is the idea that the work itself is pleasurable enough to justify low wages and precarity.

Bookshops in particular glamorize themselves and present shop work as something other than the alienated labor it truly is. Anyone who has worked in a bookshop can attest to the typical comments made by customers about how they would love to spend “all day reading.”

As James Daunt — the millionaire CEO of Daunt Books, Waterstones, and now Barnes and Noble — said last year, in response to the campaign waged by Waterstones’s staff for a real living wage, “To retain the best and most talented booksellers, we have to reward them, and we reward them as well as we can with pay, but we mainly reward them with a stimulating job.”

This is not to overstate the difficulty of bookshop work compared to any other kind of shop work — but rather to stress that it is just that: shop work, requiring the worker to sort, shelve, and sell products.

Daunt’s attitude is emblematic of the ideological mystification employed in the culture industry to disguise this fact. In the words of one former Waterstones employee, the fact that “many staff members didn’t put themselves in the same category as McDonalds staff or Tesco checkout assistants” undermined their last attempt at unionizing.

Link to the rest at Jacobin

Once again, a reason for right-minded people to avoid physical bookstores altogether.

Anna and Her Children

From The Wall Street Journal:

In 1873, soon after abandoning a novel about Peter the Great, 44-year-old Leo Tolstoy wrote a friend that he had begun drafting the book that would become “Anna Karenina” and that he expected it to be finished within two weeks. A year later he had made so little progress that he was still able to tell himself he was composing a trifle: “I think it will be good, but it won’t be liked and it won’t be successful because it’s very simple.” But by the summer of 1874, his attitude had darkened and he wrote that an admirer “got me interested in my novel again, but I just dropped it. It is terribly disgusting and nasty.” November, 1875: “My God, if only someone would finish A. Karenina for me. It’s unbearably repulsive.”

There is a happy ending here, as the novel did of course come to be written, but that was little comfort to Tolstoy, who by 1881 was back to his old song: “Concerning Karenina, I assure you that for me that abomination does not exist.”

This catalog of gripes comes from Bob Blaisdell’s entertaining micro-biography, “Creating Anna Karenina” (Pegasus, 414 pages, $29.95), which focuses on the years 1873 to 1878, when Tolstoy was writing, or more often not writing, the novel many consider to be the greatest of all time. “In about thirty of those fifty-three months” he spent on “Anna Karenina,” Mr. Blaisdell notes, “he doesn’t seem to have done a lick of work on it.” The book is a chronicle of distractions and peevish excuses that also shows how the consuming labor of procrastination became a crucial part of the novel’s texture.

. . . .

He was also addicted to buying land and horses, a fortunate obsession because, as Mr. Blaisdell notes, it was a need for money that pushed him to begin serializing “Anna Karenina.” But as he tried again to focus on the novel, a new obstacle arose. A few years later, in his “religious-philosophical” work “Confession,” Tolstoy would write about the depression that overwhelmed him during the mid-1870s: “It had come to this, that I, a healthy, fortunate man, felt I could no longer live: some irresistible power impelled me to rid myself one way or other of life.”

. . . .

Virginia Woolf observed that, unlike Dostoevsky, Tolstoy wrote from the “outside inwards.” The details of life absorbed him, despite his growing desire to be more spiritually centered. In “Creating Anna Karenina,” Tolstoy’s endless side projects seem at first like nuisances deterring him from the single-minded production of art, yet it’s in the daily minutia, and the passionate convictions his characters could inject into it, that we find his great novel’s soul.

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