The Passive Voice – A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Pub and Traditional Publishing

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Whatever made her happy made me happy

Whatever made her happy made me happy—except the time she thought divorcing me would make her life happier. That didn’t do much for me.

Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer
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When you’re in jail

When you’re in jail, a good friend will be trying to bail you out. A best friend will be in the cell next to you saying, ‘Damn, that was fun’.

Groucho Marx
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There is nothing noble

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.

Ernest Hemingway
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Trial Ends in Government Challenge to Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster Merger

From The Wall Street Journal:

A Justice Department lawyer delivered closing arguments Friday in an antitrust challenge to Penguin Random House’s planned acquisition of rival publisher Simon & Schuster, a test for the Biden administration’s aggressive approach to challenging corporate mergers.

“The merger will reduce the number of players in this market,” Justice Department lawyer John Read said, “and will clearly exacerbate the risk of coordination in the market.”

Lawyers for the publishers countered that the merger would benefit authors and consumers and that the government has failed to prove its case.

“It’s a good deal for all involved, including authors,” said Stephen Fishbein, a lawyer for Simon & Schuster, during closing remarks on Friday.

U.S. District Judge Florence Pan in Washington oversaw the three-week nonjury trial. She hasn’t said when she will rule on whether the publishing merger, valued at more than $2 billion, should proceed.

German media company Bertelsmann SE, which owns Penguin Random House, agreed in November 2020 to buy Simon & Schuster from ViacomCBS, now called Paramount Global.

The Justice Department sued a year later to block the deal, saying it would give Penguin Random House—itself the result of a 2013 merger—too much control over the industry.

Penguin Random House is the country’s largest consumer book publisher; Simon & Schuster is the fourth largest as measured by total sales.

In a pretrial brief, the Justice Department said the combined company would have a market share of 49% of what it described as “anticipated top-selling books,” which the government defines as titles that command advances of at least $250,000.

In his closing argument, Daniel Petrocelli, a lawyer for Penguin Random House, said no one in the industry views “anticipated top-selling books” as a distinct market. The government is focusing on this narrow slice of the industry because it can’t show the acquisition would harm consumers, Mr. Petrocelli said.

The defendants, in their pretrial brief, estimated that only 1,200 books a year, or 2% of the books published by commercial publishers, sell for advances of $250,000 or more.

Famed horror writer Stephen King testified during the first week of the trial, saying he opposed the sale of his publisher, Simon & Schuster, to Penguin Random House.

“Consolidation is bad for competition,” Mr. King said. “That’s my understanding of the book business. And I have been around it for 50 years.”

Mr. King testified that years of consolidation in the publishing industry and the failures of other independent publishers had combined to make it “tougher and tougher for writers to find enough money to live on.” He cited a 2018 survey that found full-time writers were earning an average of slightly more than $20,000 annually, which he described as “below the poverty line.” Mr. King has had a highly successful publishing career, having testified that he has written between 60 and 65 bestsellers.

Mr. King also said writers enjoyed specific benefits by signing with one of the country’s five largest publishers, a group that includes Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. Mr. King noted that the largest publishers can pay huge advances, raise awareness of new titles by sending out advanced copies to reviewers and orchestrate sophisticated media campaigns.

“Not every book is successful because of that, but when a publisher really gets behind a book, particularly a big publisher, the chances are that that book is going to probably succeed on some level,” he said.

Mr. King wasn’t cross-examined by an attorney for Penguin Random House.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

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How an Antitrust Trial Could Reshape the Books We Read — and Who Writes Them

From The Authors Guild:

The outcome of an antitrust trial currently underway in Washington could reshape the kind of books Americans read — and who writes them.

Last November, the Department of Justice sued to stop the proposed merger of two of the country’s largest publishers, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. At the time, U.S. Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland said: “If the world’s largest book publisher is permitted to acquire one of its biggest rivals, it will have unprecedented control over this important industry.” The consolidated company, according to Garland, would control half the market for top-selling books.

The Authors Guild, America’s oldest and largest association of published writers, opposes this merger. As we argued to the Justice Department in January 2021 — a position it adopted in its complaint — less competition in the industry, particularly allowing one publishing house to dominate all others, will be bad for authors and readers in general, and it could harm the free flow of ideas in our democracy.

Agents seeking a publisher for a book by one of their authors, especially those with commercial or other potential, often offer the manuscript up for auction to publishing houses, which bid against each other to acquire the right to publish it. When I first entered the publishing world 30 years ago, an auction might attract bidding from eight or nine major publishers.

Over the years, consolidation and mergers have reduced the pool of dominant bidders to five — known to insiders as “the Big Five.” The merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster would not only reduce that to four, it would create a company larger than the other three publishers in the Big Five combined. This could lead to further mergers, as publishing houses consolidate in reaction to their growing competitors in a kind of self-reinforcing cycle.

Fewer bidders for books, and fewer books that attract more than one bid, will likely drive down advances for authors. As Macmillan Chief Executive Don Weisberg testified: “Less competition is going to change the dynamic. Two of the major players becoming one — the prices, the advances, the type of competition at the auctions — I think it’ll have impact across the board.”

As an example, an author advance of $250,000 or more — which is higher than the majority of advances offered — often represents the total compensation for a book that took several years to write and usually has to cover the writer’s research, travel costs and other expenses. The Justice Department’s attorney asserted in his opening statement that testimony would show the average advance for top-selling authors would go down $40,000 to $100,000 should the merger go through. As bestselling writer Stephen King pointed out in his testimony, book authors have already experienced severe declines in writing income, partly due to fewer publishers bidding for books.

But what should concern all Americans — not just authors — is the potential harm the merger might do to diversity in the marketplace of ideas. Fewer publishers would mean fewer voices — including marginalized voices — being published. It means a reduction in political and cultural viewpoints, which especially can have an impact on authors with unusual, unpopular or controversial ideas, whose books tend to be more of a financial risk for publishers.

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

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Trade bodies warn new data mining copyright exception will have ‘severe negative impact’

From The Bookseller:

Trade bodies including the Publishers Association have warned the government that its decision to introduce a new copyright exception will “seriously undermine the UK’s intellectual property framework”.

Text and data mining encompasses techniques used for computer-based analysis of large amounts of data, and is often used in AI. The exception, announced in June following a consultation, would allow any entity, based anywhere in the world, to mine copyrighted text and data for free, for commercial use.

In a letter addressed to secretary of state Kwasi Kwarteng, signatories including Publishers’ Licensing Services, the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers and the Independent Publishers Guild warn “the government’s decision to create a broad copyright exception will seriously undermine the UK’s intellectual property framework, conflict with international law, and… unintentionally provide international rightsholders and non-UK based research organisations with a competitive advantage.”

It continues that the proposed exception would “have a severe negative impact on UK rightsholders” and create an unfairness that benefits those using content for text and data mining.

“The immediate consequences of the exception will be that, without the ability to licence and receive payment for the use of their data and content, certain businesses will have no choice but to exit the UK market or apply paywalls where access to content is currently free,” it says.

“The UK’s world-leading copyright framework is fundamental to the success of the UK publishing industry, as well as the wider creative economy. It empowers people and businesses from across the country to invest in and create a wealth of different products, from novels to academic journals, from databases to newspapers.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

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Aphantasia: Writing Fiction With No ‘Mind’s Eye’

From Writer Unboxed:

Aphantasia: Writing Fiction With No ‘Mind’s Eye’

I’d been writing fiction for more than a decade before I encountered the term “aphantasia,” which describes a rare inability to see mental images in the mind’s eye.

I’d been instructed many times to visualize an image to meditate, relax, remember or write, but when I tried, I saw nothing. Over time, I assumed that “visualize” and “mind’s eye” were figures of speech. I didn’t know other people could literally generate images in their minds without a real-life image to look at.

Media reports suggest aphantasia affects about 2% of the population, or one of every fifty people. The condition may be genetic or the result of trauma. By their own reports, my parents see mental images; my sibling doesn’t.

People with aphantasia learn to substitute other mental processes to work around the lack of mental images to some extent. Instructed to “picture a lemon,” I can think of the color yellow and the classic shape of a lemon. Asked to “picture the letters of the alphabet,” I can sketch them in my mind’s eye, in monochrome, up to about the letter “h,” then I get a vicious headache and have to stop.

Aphantasia may be complete or partial, on a spectrum. The Aphantasia Network offers information and a self-assessment questionnaire.

As a fiction writer, my ignorance of aphantasia proved problematic and frustrating.

Conversations with my writing instructors typically went like this:

Me: I’m struggling with writing descriptions.

Instructor: Picture the scene in your mind. Write what you see.

Me: Huh?

Instructor: Justpictureit.

Me: …?

So, how have I worked around aphantasia to write fiction?

Whenever possible, I visit my settings in real life and write notes about what I observe.

In writing my Fantasy novel, I stuck with Contemporary Fantasy — our world, our time — rather than write about an imagined world. Setting the story where I live, in Ventura, California, gave me plenty of places to see in real life. I scheduled time to visit my settings during the same season and at the same time of day as my characters.

When I’m unable to visit a setting, I rely on library books with pictures, Google Images, Google Earth, YouTube videos and other visual online resources as references to write descriptions. To create the fictional island in my novel, I relied in part on a U.S. Park Service video, I developed these strategies without knowing about aphantasia or having any idea why descriptions proved so difficult for me to write.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

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The Best Ebook Subscription Services for Every Kind of Reader

From Wired:

EBOOKS HAVE NOT swept away traditional tomes the way streaming services for music, movies, and TV shows have slashed sales of discs. Physical book sales are booming, but ebooks and audiobooks have a dedicated, appreciative audience. If you love to read, an ebook subscription service is a great way to discover new titles, find recommendations, and read more indie books. We tried out several of the most popular options, delving into their available libraries, apps, and features to determine the best ebook subscription services and audiobook subscriptions for different people.

. . . .

What to Consider

How to Choose an Ebook Service

While an ebook subscription might sound ideal, you should take some time to consider the pros and cons of each one. These digital reading services are often billed as the equivalent of Netflix or Spotify for books, and there are similarities, but ebook subscriptions also have some unexpected restrictions.

Content: All ebook subscription services offer limited libraries of ebooks. (This is where the Netflix comparison is useful.) They may boast more than a million titles, but that total doesn’t necessarily include any works by your favorite authors; none of the services we tested had a single title by Cormac McCarthy, for example, though some had audiobooks of his works.

The big five publishers (Penguin Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster) dominate the bestseller charts in the US but have had limited dealings with ebook subscription services so far. Current best-seller lists are not well represented, and the modest list of mainstream hits that appears mostly comprises older titles. Whatever service you are considering, we advise browsing the available library of ebooks and audiobooks before you commit.

Reading Habits: If you only read one or two books a month, you might be better off buying popular titles, recommendations from trusted friends, or works by your favorite authors. That way, you get to choose the best ebooks and keep them. With ebook subscriptions, you lose access the moment you stop subscribing, and the library of available books can change at any time without notice.

Voracious readers who are happy to try new and unfamiliar authors will likely get the most value from ebook subscriptions. But while these services are typically described as unlimited, they often do have hidden limits. This is where they differ from services like Spotify and Netflix. With Scribd, for example, the available library is reduced when you hit opaque limits.

Support: Make sure the devices you like to read on are supported. Most ebook subscription services offer apps for Android, iOS, Windows, and Mac, at a minimum. Languages, accessibility, and extra features like search vary, so do your research to make sure the app supports your needs. Sadly, many ebook readers, like Kindles, are not compatible with ebook subscription services other than their manufacturer’s offering.

Audiobooks: Unlike ebook subscription services, some audiobook services offer a monthly credit system that allows you to buy audiobooks you can keep, even if you stop subscribing. Others offer apparently unlimited access to a streaming library, but there are often hidden limits that narrow your choice for that month after you’ve listened to an audiobook or two. Consider also the maximum bitrate for audio streams, as this differs from service to service and can impact the quality of your audiobook.

. . . .

Best Overall


With an enormous, varied library, Scribd is the best ebook subscription service for most people. You can read or listen via your browser on any device or use the Android or iOS apps, which are clearly laid out, fully configurable, and make for a pleasant reading experience. I had no trouble finding intriguing titles, and there’s a solid mix of classics, best sellers, indie books, and even some Scribd Originals. Progress syncs across devices, so you can pick up where you left off. You can download ebooks to read offline. Scribd also includes podcasts, magazines, and a document section enabling people to upload whatever they like. Even after a recent price hike, Scribd is an attractive package that comes bundled with perks, which currently include Curiosity Stream and Peak Pro subscriptions.

On the downside, there are limits to your monthly reading. Frustratingly, the rules are not clear. If you hit the limit, access is restricted to a smaller subset until the next month begins, and some titles are labeled Available Soon. While the formatting for ebooks is generally good, some magazine formatting is poor.

Cost: 30-day free trial, then $12 per month

★ Another Alternative: Bookmate boasts a large library of ebooks, audiobooks, and comics for $10 per month and is easy to use, but the choice and extras aren’t as varied as with Scribd.

Link to the rest at Wired

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The Friend of Contingency

From the Sydney Review of Books:

The release of John Keane’s brief history took place between the Australian federal election, the war in Ukraine, and China’s ‘security’ agreement with the Solomon Islands. So, within a few weeks of its publication, The Shortest History of Democracy achieved dramatic salience. Not quite prepared for this new chapter, its tone addressed an earlier Zeitgeist, in which many were disengaged from democracy by Trumpian politics and EU in-fighting.

One of a series of ‘Shortest Histories’ from Black Inc, it follows the format of an amiably-written generalist’s book from a scholarly author – John Keane is professor of politics at Sydney University. At times it is admirably succinct. ‘Democracy heightens awareness of what is arguably the paramount political problem: how to prevent rule by the few, who act as if they are mighty immortals born to rule?’, he writes.

What Keane calls the problem of titanism – ‘rule by pretended giants’– threatens democracy even in peacetime. It’s hard to watch the populace in the Philippines vote in the son of a tyrant; or, in the Solomons, the four-times Prime Minister take his country close to tyranny to shore up his own hold on power.

Democracy has always had rival methods of distributing power. From monarchy and empire to tyranny and despotism, history in Keane’s account is a litany of successive political arrangements. None except democracy retain at heart a principle of egalitarian rule. He writes that ‘democracy is exceptional in requiring people to see that everything is built on the shifting sands of time and place, and so, in order not to give themselves over to monarchs, emperors and despots, they need to live openly and flexibly.’

Democracy, Keane tells us, is the friend of contingency. He provides in 240 pages an instructive taxonomy – from ‘assembly’ to ‘electoral’ and ‘monitory’ democracy, each arrangement a response to different contingency.

Keane writes eloquently of democracy’s beginnings. Early forms of assembly democracy, with public gatherings of citizens debating and deciding matters for themselves, appear first in Syria-Mesopotamia and move east to the Indian subcontinent and west to Phoenician cities. Democracy settles famously in Athens. There, assembly democracy allowed for a direct form of self-government, and citizens made an artform of speaking to the assembly, striving for a political consensus. But Athens, notably, didn’t enfranchise everyone. Women and slaves underpinned the freedom of Athenian citizens without sharing in it. And perhaps this foundational injustice led to the anti-democratic impulse that was Athens’ eventual undoing, according to Keane – the building of Empire. When the Macedonians finally defeated Athens in 260 BCE, they dismantled its democratic ideals and institutions, which had become fatally tainted by the lure of imperial wealth and its attendant militarisation of political life.

Democracy caught on in the Atlantic regions from the twelfth century, as a more ‘electoral’ form of democracy emerged. Church governance and early forms of parliament were seen from Spain to Iceland, instituting the choice of delegates from a constituency who were empowered to make decisions on its behalf. In each case, a solution short of violence was found for sorting different interests and for moderating power.

The electoral method of democracy differed from the assembly method by allowing for the adjustment of differences rather than the determination of consensus. In this lay a great virtue of democracy: the peaceful resolution of conflict while sustaining pluralism. For all the talk of ‘the People’, no such unified will existed in practice. Keane shows that, despite the rhetoric of the People’s sovereignty, the new strength of electoral democracy was in its capacity for finding vectors out of division through power-sharing.

It took until the twentieth century for the theory and practice of electoral democracy to mature and flourish, but after the Second World War it reached a high watermark in the governance of nations, as Keane outlines. There was an explicit belief in the possibility that the democratic form of government, taken as a global precept, could protect the world from the catastrophe of war in an age of weapons of mass destruction.

Ukraine, a modern European democracy, was invaded by its imperialist autocratic neighbour in February this year. It came as a dramatic existential shock to the globalised West, even as Putin had massed troops on the border for months, and even in the wake of earlier aggression like the annexing of Crimea and the fighting in Donbas.

In Europe, the horrible face of war had been shrouded for eighty years. Despite hiding in plain sight, shown nightly on television ­– ‘and a warning this footage contains images of war’; in no particular order, Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Georgia, Syria – it took the conflict in Ukraine for Europe to look its ravaged visage in the eye. People one day sitting in cafes drinking coffee, their children playing on swings in playgrounds, their ageing parents sitting in apartment lounge rooms with the TV on. The next, huge holes blown in those apartments, tearing the windows out, exposing the décor like so many dolls’ houses. Playgrounds dismembered by exploded shells now lying on the ground beside the play equipment.

People shown wearing familiar brand names on their sweatshirts or on their backpacks, in puffer jackets, scrambling onto trains and buses, clasping shopping bags and wheelie suitcases of what possessions they could grab as they run from their homes. Running for their lives. Or worse, unable to leave, stranded in basement bomb shelters and underground railway stations without food and water and power, let alone clean clothes, hot showers, fresh air and creature comforts.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a forcible reminder that the long years of peace following the world wars were not a global default position. There is no ‘end of history’, despite Francis Fukuyama and other political theorists who trumpeted a tale of ‘how the West won’ in the wake of the Cold War.

. . . .

Scepticism and cynicism about democracy arise from the evil of centralised and despotic power to the other extreme, the scattering of political will in exaggerated diversity, he argues. In defence of monitory democracy, against the ‘morbid critics’ of democracy no less than the cynical promoters of ‘phantom democracy’, Keane recommends it as the form of government devised for the safeguarding of contingency.

. . . .

Keane reflects on a despondency and loss of faith in democracy, especially by younger people and especially in India and South America, as shown in several global studies. He points to the development of an unhealthy ‘managed democracy’ in many places, where corporate industry interests seize control of government with the help of commercial media and demobilise and shepherd the citizenry.

It is obvious to Keane that democracy, at least in the West, has been disfigured by the triumphant power of business, banking and conservative neo-liberal policy. He writes: ‘State policies of “saving capitalism“ have weakened trade unions, promoted deregulation of public services and spread the culture of consumption fuelled by private credit and the belief in the sanctity of the unobliged individual.’

His critique goes further, toward what he warns is a ‘new despotism’. Monitory democracies are facing a new global competitor: the regimes in Russia, Turkey, Hungary, the United Arab Emirates, Iran and China ‘with top-down political architecture and the capacity to win the loyalty of their subjects using methods unlike anything known to the earlier modern world.’

Link to the rest at the Sydney Review of Books

PG didn’t include parts of the review that objected to capitalism and glorified trade unions, many of which, at least in the United States, are more than a little corrupt and as deeply entrenched in their business niche as any corrupts capitalist.

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Categories Non-Fiction, Non-US 6 Comments

Is Publishing About Art or Commerce?

From The New Yorker:

On the afternoon of August 10th, in the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse, the Department of Justice trial to block Penguin Random House from acquiring Simon & Schuster had hit a midweek lull. The courtroom itself—as well as the overflow room, where journalists were permitted Internet access—was a few booksellers shy of crowded. But the first witness for the defense, the mega-agent Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, was intensely present, and seemed thrilled to be testifying. (Penguin Random House was paying her a quarter of a million dollars.) In a rippling cream-colored blouse and gold jewelry, her hair loose around her shoulders, Walsh painted a picture of publishing as a labor of love. Agents, she said, are in the business of fairy-tale matches between author and editor—mind meldings that span decades, shape careers, and win prizes. Walsh even had a magic wand, she added, that was given to her by the novelist Sue Monk Kidd. When the judge Florence Y. Pan asked if agents had a fiduciary duty to secure their writers the highest possible advances, Walsh responded in the negative. “More isn’t always more,” she said. “We’re not always looking to take every single dollar out of an editor’s pocket.”

The exchange exposed the core question of the day, and of every day in a trial that has riveted the publishing industry since proceedings began on August 1st: Is publishing about art or commerce? The answer, of course, is “Both”—as with any creative business—but watching each side wrestle with that ambiguity has been instructive. Penguin Random House, itself the product of a merger between Penguin and Random House in 2013, is the biggest of publishing’s so-called Big Five. (The others are HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette.) If the acquisition goes through, the new company will dwarf its nearest rivals. This is one of the first high-profile antitrust suits to be brought by President Biden’s Department of Justice. It may, along with the recent appointment ofLina Khanas chair of the Federal Trade Commission, indicate a new direction for the country’s regulatory climate. But, to people who care about books, what’s gone most conspicuously on trial is publishing itself. In the course of two weeks, an image of publishers as savvy and data-driven has vied with a tenderly drawn (auto-)portrait of gamblers, guessers, and dreamers. At times it has felt reasonable to wonder whether the industry should be characterized as an industry at all.

The spectacle has been curiously entertaining. Publishing executives have had to initiate federal employees into a dialect of “backlists,” “advance copies,” and “BookTok influencers.” Onlookers have been treated to piquant performances, from the cheeky verve of Simon & Schuster’s Jonathan Karp to the C-suite solidity of Brian Murray, of HarperCollins, who seemed to quietly deflate under a round of pointed questioning. On Tuesday, the horror maestro Stephen King popped up to testify that “consolidation is bad for competition” and that the disappearance of “idiosyncratic” imprints from the publishing landscape has made it “tougher and tougher for writers to find enough money to live on.” King, who wore sneakers and introduced himself as a “freelance writer,” wanted to advocate for younger and less established peers—those for whom a book deal might mean the difference between creating art and waiting tables.

And yet King’s championing of struggling artists felt tangential to the specifics of the trial.

Government lawyers have built the heart of their case around a relatively narrow category—“anticipated top sellers”—where the threat of monopsony is greatest. The plaintiff defines these as the small fraction of books for which authors receive advances of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars or higher. They are also the books that tend to fly off shelves and the books with which publishing houses pay their bills. The Justice Department is claiming that a Penguin Random House–Simon & Schuster merger would suppress competition for top sellers, driving down advances and ultimately lessening both the number and the diversity of the titles. The defense has countered that “anticipated top seller” does not designate a real market—merely a “price segment.” One cannot “anticipate” a blockbuster, lawyers have implied; the publishing gods are fickle, and whether a book will sell at all—much less go supernova—is anyone’s guess. Moreover, Simon & Schuster’s authors would benefit from access to Penguin Random House’s superior distribution and sales teams. Other houses would need to compete even harder to lure them away.

One by one, soberly dressed executives mounted the dais to frame publishing as a game of chance—a “business of passion,” in the words of the departing Macmillan C.E.O., Don Weisberg. “Everything is random in publishing,” Markus Dohle, the C.E.O. of Penguin Random House, testified on August 4th. “Success is random. Best-sellers are random. That is why we are the Random House!” Acquiring books, Brian Tart, the president of Viking, testified on August 3rd, “is as much an art as a science.” To illustrate his point, he described passing on Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and the current No. 1 New YorkTimesbest-seller, “Where the Crawdads Sing,” by Delia Owens. Judge Pan observed that profit-and-loss statements “are really fake.” Tart enthusiastically agreed. On August 2nd, Karp, the C.E.O. of Simon & Schuster, testified that gloating over a best-seller is like “taking credit for the weather,” and wryly recalled the eagerness with which he’d promoted a manuscript by a prominent spiritual guru. “Unfortunately,” he said, “his followers didn’t follow him to the bookstore.”

The rogue’s gallery of industry figures presented a stark contrast to the government’s expert witness, the economist Nicholas Hill. Soft-voiced and physically imposing, with broad shoulders, thick silver hair, and a square chin, he was there to reinforce the idea of an “anticipated top seller” market. Writers behave differently around the two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar threshold, Hill alleged. They’re “making different choices.” His most memorable contribution, though, was a series of Gross Upward Pricing Pressure Index (guppi) models, which he’d crafted to theorize about the market share that a joint Penguin Random House–Simon & Schuster might capture.

Theguppis proved a matter of tense dispute. If Hill embodied the Justice Department’s academic approach, Mark Oppenheimer, an attorney in the defense, appeared intent on casting him as theCasaubonof economic consultants. A meandering cross-examination summoned impressions of mystifying esoterica, as Oppenheimer’s attempt to refute Hill’s methodology morphed into a ritual hypnosis, a ceremony to stupefy the courtroom. The lawyer, gentle and avuncular, dramatized his own inability to keep “monopoly” and “monopsony” straight; he paused to rifle through his notes, asked repetitive questions, and referred Hill to such destinations as a table’s “last column, fifth line”—or was it the “sixth line”? Several times, Judge Pan challenged Oppenheimer’s path of inquiry, and at one point pleaded with him to move on. When the court recessed, a clutch of ashen reporters staggered out of the overflow room. “Guppies,”Publishers Weekly’snews editor John Maher, who’d been valiantly live-tweeting the trial, whispered. “All I see are guppies.”

The entertainment value of Hill’s models aside, his larger case was persuasive. Big Five publishers possess advantages that render them uniquely attractive to literary stars: reputation, breadth of distribution, breadth of marketing, and—perhaps most important–extensive backlists that generate enough revenue to offset potential losses. New companies, such as the bantling publisher Zando, “can’t expand to mitigate the anticompetitive effects of the merger,” Hill said, because they lack such backlists, which grow over decades, like oaks. Yes, publishing is a risky endeavor; yes, the elusiveness of a good formula for success means that small presses and self-published authors all have a shot at producing a best-seller. But, year after year, the Big Five churn out the vast majority of profitable books—and this is precisely due to their ability to manage risk. Success in the publishing industry is not being able to publish a single hit; it’s being able to publish many hits over a long period of time. Here, the larger publishers eat their competitors’ lunch.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker and thanks to C. for the tip.

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Categories Big Publishing, Legal Stuff 11 Comments

They are just really stupid people in Hollywood

They are just really stupid people in Hollywood. You write them a script, and they say they love it, they absolutely love it. Then they say, ‘But doesn’t it need a small dog, and an Eskimo, and shouldn’t it be set in New Guinea?’ And you say, ‘But it is a sophisticated romantic comedy set in Paris.’

P. J. O’Rourke

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Welcome to Philip K. Dick’s dystopia

From Unherd:

Philip K. Dick, whose novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? inspired the film Blade Runner, did not live to enjoy his Hollywood success. He died on March 2, 1982, three months before the film was released.

In the years since, the novelist once dismissed as a gutter pulp sci-fi weirdo has steadily climbed the ladder of posthumous literary reputation. The case for Dick’s genius has never rested on his dystopian vision of technology, which he shared in common with masters like HG Wells and Stanislaw Lem, and with hundreds of sci-fi writers since. Good science fiction — as opposed to fantasy novels set on other planets — is defined by a quasi-philosophical examination of interactions between men and machines and other products of modern science. It is part novel and part thought-experiment, centered on our idea of the human.

What made Dick a literary genius, then, was not any special talent for predicting hand-held personal devices or atom bombs the size of a shoe which might have led him to a job in Apple’s marketing department. His gift was for what might be called predictive psychology — how the altered worlds he imagined, whether futuristic or merely divergent from existing historical continuums, would feel to the people who inhabited them. Dick’s answer was, very often: “Not good.”

Dick’s dystopian-psychological approach marks him less as a conventional science fiction writer than as a member of the California anti-utopian school of the Sixties, whose best-known members include Robert Stone, Thomas Pynchon, Ken Kesey, Joan Didion and Hunter Thompson. Seen from this angle, Dick was perhaps the most powerfully and sweepingly paranoid of a group of writers whose stock-in-trade was conspiracy and paranoia, the hallmarks of a society marked — at that moment, and this one — by violent street crime, drug-induced psychosis, and visionary promises gone terribly wrong. Of his anti-utopian peers, Dick’s sci-fi genre background made him the only one who had any particular feel for the proposition that technology was inseparable from, and would therefore inevitably alter, our idea of the human.

Technology was and is perhaps the most Californian aspect of the American mythos. The idea that the universal constants of human nature were at war with the mutilating demands of technology-driven systems was a very Sixties Californian conceit, to which Dick’s fellow anti-utopians each adhered in their own way: In Kesey’s showdown between man and the castrating nanny-state; in Didion’s emphasis on the vanishing virtue of self-reliance; in Pynchon’s degenerate Ivy League Puritanism; in Thompson’s drug-addled primitivism; and in Stone’s Catholic idea of devotion to a God that might somehow salve the wounds of the survivors once the great American adventure goes bust.

What Dick saw, and what his fellow anti-utopians did not, was that human psychology and technology are not separate actors, and that whatever emerged from the other side of the future would be different to the human thing that entered it.

Link to the rest at Unherd

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Hundreds of authors expected to take part in mass readings of Rushdie’s works

From The Bookseller:

Authors including Andrew Solomon, Gay Talese and Paul Auster are set to gather and read from Salman Rushdie’s works in a show of solidarity with the author, who was attacked last week, with hundreds expected to take part by live-streaming the NYC event and hosting their own readings.

The Satanic Verses author, aged 75, was stabbed on stage at a literary event being held in New York on 12th August and has suffered “life-changing” injuries.

On 19th August, one week after the attack took place, PEN America, the New York Public Library and Penguin Random House have organised a gathering of Rushdie’s friends, fellow members of the literary community, and readers to share selected parts of his work.

Taking place at the Stephen A Schwarzman Building in New York as well as being live-streamed, participating authors will include Auster, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Tina Brown, Kiran Desai, Andrea Elliott, Amanda Foreman, A M Homes, Siri Hustvedt, Hari Kunzru, Colum McCann and Douglas Murray.

The description for the event reads: “Writers worldwide stand in solidarity with Salman Rushdie and celebrate his extraordinary literary accomplishments, undaunted courage, and tireless advocacy for the freedom of expression and the plight of imperilled writers everywhere.”

It has been modelled on a public reading of The Satanic Verses (Viking) held a few days after the 1989 fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death was announced. That event was attended by more than 3,000 people.

Tony Marx, president of the New York Public Library, said: “We at The New York Public Library were shocked to hear about the attack on Salman Rushdie. Rushdie has always been a devoted advocate for freedom of expression, and his wide range of writings, from novels to children’s books to non-fiction essays, provide the world with invaluable insight into our shared humanity… As our world grows ever more divided, it is critical that writers, like Salman Rushdie, feel safe to share their perspectives and make their voices heard.”

Link to the rest at The Book Seller

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The Divorce Colony

From The Wall Street Journal:

In 1867, the Dakota Territory’s legislature reduced its requirement for legal residency to 90 days, an acknowledgment of the peripatetic nature of life on the American frontier. While the three-month rule granted eligible settlers the right to vote and other privileges, it also had an unintended consequence: Women began traveling west to take advantage of what was, at the time, the quickest path to a legal divorce.

April White tells the tale in “The Divorce Colony,” an entertaining and edifying account of the divorce industry that emerged in Sioux Falls, S.D. Sioux Falls became the go-to destination for those looking to escape a marriage—it was easily accessible by train and boasted an upscale hotel, the Cataract House, that was palatable to the East Coast elites who could afford to wait in luxury.

While some men traveled to Sioux Falls to dissolve their marriages, Ms. White reports that in the second half of the 19th century, nearly two out of three divorce-seekers were women. In addition to outnumbering the men, the women attracted much fiercer interest. As the author observes, “a man who expected his freedom was not as outlandish as a woman who demanded hers.”

Accordingly, along with dozens of law firms and various shops and restaurants catering to the city’s new high-end female clientele, the divorce industry supported a steady stream of newspaper correspondents. They hung around the Cataract hoping to break the news of the latest high-society wife to decamp to Sioux Falls from, say, New York, where the only path to divorce was proof of adultery, or Rhode Island, which required a full year of residency in order to petition to end a marriage.

Ms. White, a writer and editor at online travel magazine Atlas Obscura, benefits from the period’s fascination with the would-be divorcees, quoting liberally from lurid tabloid reports of their travails. She acknowledges that most of the Dakota divorces were quiet, mutual proceedings, but her book ends up being skewed toward the salacious cases. While they might not be representative, they surely make for more enjoyable reading.

The narrative is divided into four parts, each focused on a woman whose divorce featured prominently in the headlines at the turn of the 20th century. Maggie De Stuers, a descendant of John Jacob Astor, married a Dutch baron low on funds. She accused him of attempting to have her institutionalized so he could gain control of her fortune.

Mary Nevins eloped at 19 with Jamie Blaine, the dissolute 17-year-old son of the former senator and secretary of state, James G. Blaine. Her mother-in-law opposed the match, practically locking Jamie in the family home to keep the two apart. Mary arrived in Sioux Falls, charging her husband with abandonment. When the judge granted her divorce, he declared that Jamie’s family was to blame—“especially his mother.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

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Giving money and power

Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.

P. J. O’Rourke
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In the UK: 16,000 Books for Young Ukrainian Refugees

From Publishing Perspectives:

Another effort in getting books to refugee children being displaced in Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war on Ukraine, the United Kingdom’s Publishers Licensing Services (PLS) collective licensing agency Publishers’ Licensing Services (PLS) and the printing firm Halstan have announced a partnership to pay for and produce 16,000 Ukrainian-language books for young readers in the UK.

And among the many “without borders” operations in the international sphere, one called “Books Without Borders” has been organized by the Ukrainian embassy in London to engage in these efforts, with Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, as its patron.

An event was held Thursday (August 11) at the British Library to recognize the effort, in which Ukrainian publishers provided layouts and permission for 16 picture books and novels for ages 3 to 17.

England’s Halstan did the printing in the UK because much of Ukraine’s printing capability has been halted. Zelenska made a digital appearance during that program by remote video, doing a bit of a reading for some of her country’s displaced children in the course of the meeting.

Such efforts as these, as our readers know, have been replicated across many parts of Europe, most recently in our reportage in Germany, Poland, and Italy.

In this case, production of the books was funded through substantial donations by Publishers Licensing Services (formerly Publishers Licensing Society) and Halstan, with additional material support provided by Canon Commercial Print Division and Premier Paper.

. . . .

In her comments on the program’s work, Zelenska said, “Books not only entertain and educate us. They also unite us and bring us back to a feeling of home. This project is our victory on the cultural front, and it brings our primary victory closer.

‘We can bring the homeland to Ukrainian children in the form of books. We called this project ‘Books Without Borders’ as Ukrainian books can travel with Ukrainians to any country where they’re needed. The embassy of Ukraine to the UK, together withHalstan, Publishers’ Licensing Service, and other benefactors, have printed 16,000 books.

“I’m grateful to everyone who has contributed to this project. Displaced Ukrainian children will now be able to enjoy a mini-library at home.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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Get in Front of Readers’ Doubts and Objections

From Jane Friedman:

This is the one. This is the book that will help me help me solve my problem, get what I want, feel less alone, gain the advantage I need. This is the book that will help me finally do the thing.

When readers dive into a prescriptive nonfiction book, they have high hopes—and a healthy dose of skepticism.Will this book deliver on its promise? Will this work for me? Does this author know what they’re talking about?

As readers learn new concepts, gain knowledge, and consider acting on the author’s advice, doubts can grow into objections.

I don’t think this author gets it—or me. These ideas are outdated. This approach is not doable.

And when unaddressed doubts and objections stack up, they can become spoken criticisms of the book and the author.

“This book is a total disappointment. The author is out of touch. I’m better off using Google to get the answers I need.”

Ouch. So what happened to the readers’ hopes?

At the heart of nearly all reader doubts, objections, and criticisms isself-doubt.

I could do the thing! Can I REALLY do the thing? I don’t think I can do the thing.

In my work with authors, I emphasize the importance of putting the reader first at every stage of the writing and editing process, in every chapter and on every page. This includes considering and respecting the readers’ journey through the book. What is it like to learn these concepts for the first time? Where might they freak out? Where have I asked too much of them—or too little? Then, authors edit the book to address doubts, manage objections, and prevent criticisms. This helps a reader feel seen and understood. They start to trust the author. They keep reading. And they are more likely do the thing.

When readers do the thing, they get results. When they get results, they tell everyone about your book. And this time they say, “I love this book. You have to read it. I feel like this book was written for me.”

The best time to get in front of readers’ doubts and objections is during the editing stage, after you have a complete first draft. If your reader is an earlier version of you, start by thinking about how you felt going through the same process you share in your manuscript. For example, in his book,Profit First, Mike Michalowicz asks readers to complete an “Instant Assessment” of their business finances. After we wrote that section, I asked him about the first time he looked at his numbers in the same way. Mike said, “It felt like someone dropped a bucket of cold water on my head. I wanted to give up.”

If Mike wanted to give up after looking at his Instant Assessment results, the reader might feel the same. So we wrote some content that acknowledged the experience could be a shock, shared Mike’s own experience with it, and lifted them up with some “arm over the shoulder” encouragement. If we had left the task in the book as-is, without getting in front of readers’ potential doubts and objections, many of them would put his book down—forever. More importantly, they would not get the promise his book delivers, the thing they wanted most.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

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“Award-Winning Author:” What Does It Mean—and Does It Matter?

From Writer Unboxed:

Who wouldn’t love to win a prestigious award? The National Book Award. The Booker Prize. The PEN/Faulkner. The Women’s Prize for Fiction. The Pulitzer and Nobel.

Few authors will achieve that level of recognition, but there are many “smaller” awards that are far more accessible. And if you win one of them, you still get to call yourself an “award-winning author,” right?

Hmm. Let’s talk about it.

First, some facts. These “facts” are not meant to imply that award contests are a scam or that one shouldn’t enter them. Rather, they’re meant to offer a realistic context in which each of us can make informed decisions that suit our individual goals, budget, and vision.

Fact #1. While the “big” awards may include a monetary prize for the winning author, the majority of smaller awards do not—instead, the author mustspendmoney to enter. Entry fees range from $60-95 per title, although the actual cost can be much higher if you enter multiple categories, since each has a separate fee. More about that below.

It’s not unethical to charge a submission fee. There are overhead costs to the host organization, including the staff time it takes to process the thousands of entries that each program receives, but it’s good to be prepared. Some organizations offer an “early bird” discount. Others, like the Lambda Literary Award for LBGTQ authors, have different submission fees for authors with large publishers and those with small or independent publishers.

Fact #2.Awards operate in different ways, including who can apply. While some contests (like the National Book Award) are open to all authors, regardless of publishing path, others (like the Booker) will not allow authors to submit their own work; only publishers may submit, which means that self-published authors are excluded. There are also regional awards, limited by where you live, as well as awards for specific genres such as science fiction, romance novels, Christian fiction, and so on. In general, the wider the eligibility net, the more competition and the greater the prestige; thus, national and international awards tend to viewed as more significant than local or regional ones.

Many contests are specifically for “indie authors”—authors who have published with a small, university, or hybrid press, or have self-published. Titles from the large publishing houses are not eligible. “Small press” usually means fewer than forty titles a year, no advance paid to the author, and possibly a print-on-demand arrangement. However, these distinctions vary. The Nautilus Awards, for instance, separates books by “large” and small” publisher, regardless of whether the press is independent or traditional. Thus, a Nautilus win by an indie author with a “large” publisher means that she has competed against authors from the Big Four.

Fact #3.Awards can be a big business. This is especially true for the independent book award programs, which also solicit winners with offers to purchase seals or stickers for their books, and to “take advantage” of special advertising opportunities to increase their visibility. These promotions can be aggressive and hard to resist.

Among the best-known of these independent awards are:

Best Indie Book AwardEric Hoffer AwardForeword INDIES Book of the YearIBPA Ben Franklin AwardsIndependent Publisher Book Awards, also known as the IPPYsNational Indie Excellence AwardsNext Generation Indie Book Awards.Readers Favorite Awards

There are certainly others (such as the American Book Fest, Chanticleer, and International Book Awards); the list above is not meant to imply that all other awards are less legitimate.

For sure, there are alotof awards aimed at independent authors. Having observed this phenomenon up-close—personally, and through conversations with other authors—I’d say that it’s because indie authors are a good fit for these contests. We’re used to taking book promotion into our own hands, since we don’t expect a big publishing house to do that for us. We’re also looking for ways to increase our status, and have accepted that we’ll have to spend our own money to do so.

The question is how to discriminate and spend that money wisely. We want to know:

Which awards are “worth” applying for?How many award contests should I enter?Should I focus on “high prestige” awards, or awards that I think I have a chance of winning?Do these awards really matter?

Like nearly everything in the publishing business, the “answers” are subjective. It depends on the kind of book you’ve written, your goals, budget, and priorities.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

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That Was My Idea! How Hollywood Is Avoiding Story Theft Claims

From The Hollywood Reporter:

A ragtag group of misfits, each with their own unique skill, bands together to pull off a high-stakes con. Depending on your preferences and streaming subscriptions, the film that comes to mind could be the 1955 classicRififi, this year’s DreamWorks animated comedyThe Bad Guysor any of the dozens of other heist movies likeThe Sting,Reservoir Dogs,Ocean’s Eleven,Now You See MeandBaby Driverthat were released in between.

Tropes aren’t specific to the heist genre, and by definition they’re not uncommon. Yet, that kind of similarity is often enough to spark an idea theft claim — and in the peak content era, there’s more opportunity than ever to file such suits. Ideas are generally not protectable absent an agreement, so the cases usually manifest as claims for copyright infringement (“I sent an agent my script and another writer copied my particular expression of the idea”) or breach of contract (“I had a pitch meeting and a producer used my idea but didn’t pay me”).

“From a contract perspective, the question is whether or not an agreement is reached,” says Stephen Doniger of Doniger Burroughs, a litigator who often represents plaintiffs in intellectual property cases. “People pitch things all the time in hopes someone thinks they’re brilliant and wants to work with them. That doesn’t create an automatic agreement for payment if they use that idea.”

Entertainment litigator Bryan Sullivan of Early Sullivan reiterates that the idea has to be pitched to someone with the intention of them buying it. “I think that’s the number one misunderstood aspect of this claim,” he says. “If you pitched it to them looking for feedback, like ‘Hey, what do you think of this idea,’ you don’t have any right to sue them if they go off and are hugely successful with the expression of the idea.”

Copyright claims aren’t any easier, as plaintiffs must prove the projects are substantially similar and that the defendant had access to their work. With the ubiquity of social media, access looks different than it did a decade ago. Instead of mailing a treatment to an agency or production company, an aspiring writer can send an idea through a direct message or via email.

TV writer-producer (and formerTHReditor) Marc Bernardin (Star Trek: Picard,Castle Rock) sayshe politely shuts downany followers who ask him to hear a pitch. “Nobody is trying to be a dick,” he says. “Everybody is trying to protect themselves from litigation and protect aspirants from disappointment. Blowing up somebody’s DMs with PDFs of scripts is not going to do anybody any favors.”

Doing people favors is actually what sparks many idea theft disputes, according to litigator Greg Korn of Kinsella Weitzman, who regularly represents clients defending against these claims. “Someone knows an agent and asks, ‘Can you look at this screenplay by a friend of mine?’ Then later that person sees something that has come out with vague similarities and they fantasize that there must have been some Machiavellian scheme to exploit their idea without them,” says Korn. “It feels like the ultimate injustice. It becomes a matter of principle and pride even when it looks like [a lawsuit] will go badly, and frequently it does.”

Talent lawyer Matt Johnson of JSSK, who works with some of the industry’s most prolific creators, is dealing with two active claims. “One was a blind submission to the friend of my client, and the other sent it to the agency that the person is represented by,” he says. “A good half the time these claims come from someone who’s not connected who’s trying to create a nexus. If it’s not from a trusted source, the number one piece of advice is not to open it. You can prove something wasn’t opened digitally. If something is received in the mail, the same philosophy applies. Return it, unopened, and document it.”

The attorneys consulted byTHRsuggest that industry reps should follow similar protocol. “I get five to ten submissions a day,” notes talent lawyer Linda Lichter of Lichter Grossman. “They don’t send me the script. They say, ‘I have a great story for client so-and-so,’ and they describe it and ask me to pass it along.I used to reply to every one and say, ‘We don’t accept submissions,’ but now they get sent to spam. It’s too much. Of course, I worry that if they’ve sent it to me and my client happens to do something similar, they’ll say, ‘I gave it to the lawyer, so the client had access.’”

The most recent idea theft case to make headlines came from a self-described aspiring writer and performer who claims ABC’s Emmy-nominatedAbbott Elementaryis a rip-off ofThis School Year, her mockumentary-style comedy set in an inner-city school. In a July 12 lawsuit, Christine Davis says she pitched the show to two execs at Blue Park Productions, an incubator for Black female creators, who she believes then took her idea to Hulu. There’s no further detail in the complaint, other than an allusion to connections at the streamer, but Blue Park has no ties toAbbott Elementary.

Link to the rest at The Hollywood Reporter and thanks to S. for the tip.

Before he was a lawyer and when he started working for a large advertising agency, PG recalls being briefed by an agency lawyer with a couple of other new hires about how to handle unsolicited ideas.

As PG remembers it, the drill if an employee of the agency received an unsolicited idea for a commercial or advertisement, she/he was instructed to stop reading it as soon as they discovered what it was, draw a line where they stopped reading, labeling the line with something like, “I stopped reading here,” put it into an envelope and send it to the agency’s attorney.

For the record, PG has never received such a letter, email, etc., and doubts he qualifies as a juicy target for anyone to sue these days.

If Mrs. PG or a friend of PG’s received such a letter, PG would be inclined to follow the general pattern described in the OP, send it back with a letter or email saying you don’t accept ideas from anyone, send the original back and keep a copy of your letter or email somewhere (but this is not legal advice).

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Categories Copyright/Intellectual Property, Legal Stuff 1 Comment

Calculating Women

From The Wall Street Journal:

Early in 1946, the U.S. Army was ready to make a big announcement: Scientists had created the “world’s first general-purpose, programmable, all-electronic computer . . . at least a thousand times faster than any other computer on Earth,” the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC.

Its development—how it was built, troubleshot, programmed, checked again—involved years of careful work by mathematicians, physicists and engineers. And its eventual ability to perform faster calculations than anyone had ever dreamt of—“5,000 additions in a second and 500 multiplications in the same second, not to mention lightning-fast divisions and square roots”—owed a surprising debt to a cohort of young women who started the war punching numbers into mechanical calculators to figure out ballistic artillery trajectories.

Their story was all but lost. When Kathy Kleiman was a Harvard undergraduate in the mid-1980s, researching women’s role in the history of computing, she ran across a puzzling photograph—it showed enormous metal machines tethered by cables and adorned with switches and plugs, the famous ENIAC. Two of the men in the photo, its co-inventors, were named, but the women in the room weren’t. She determined to find out more. In “Proving Ground,” her history of the young women who became the ENIAC 6, Ms. Kleiman pulls together a worthwhile record of their work.

The cast of characters could have come from one of those diverse rosters beloved of war movies: Kay McNulty, the Donegal-born math major whose first language was Irish; her quiet classmate Fran Bilas, one of the smartest girls at Chestnut Hill; the lively and imaginative Betty Snyder, who foreshadowed her problem-solving ability by fact-checking lipstick-sales statistics; Marlyn Wescoff, discouraged from looking for teaching jobs because of anti-Semitism; Ruth Lichterman, who turned down a job at Jewish summer camp to take the computing job; and Jean Jennings of Missouri, who could hoe corn as well as her brothers and was so good at math that her professors thought of her when the Army job notice came around.

By summer 1942, the Army was “looking for women math majors” for specialized jobs that would previously have been men’s. In Philadelphia, they were hiring Computers—the human sort—to calculate all sorts of variables that affect trajectory, from wind direction and humidity to shell weight. Kay and Fran joined early, and the others came later, working long hours to identify and synthesize pertinent information. (For example, calculations for the North African desert take into account that the ground is softer than in France, so recoil changes, and the air is drier and less dense.)

On the first floor of the same building, at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, “Project X” got underway. The time it took to calculate trajectories was still so great it might affect military readiness. John Mauchly, Herman Goldstine and J. Presper Eckert Jr.—a physicist, a mathematician and an engineer—began to work together on a project using vacuum tubes and electricity, developing what eventually became the hardware of the 80-foot ENIAC. It was to work at “the speed of electrons, not the turtle’s pace of electromechanical switches,” and they put it all together almost as quickly.

Still needed, though, were people to give the device its instructions: programmers. The women in the ballistics project combined intelligence with diligence and imagination and were already familiar with the problems ENIAC would have to solve. So the project leaders brought the six women into Project X—partway. They didn’t have clearances even to enter the ENIAC room, so they were given plans to study, diagrams showing what went where and did what. The ENIAC 6 divided up the homework and taught each other what they figured out. If they had questions, they buttonholed their male colleagues in the hall.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

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The Weirdest Quotes From the Penguin Random House Trial

From Book Riot:

As you may or may not know, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing to prevent Penguin Random House (PRH) from acquiring/merging with Simon & Schuster, on the grounds that it will lose authors money. Unlike many antitrust suits, it is not concerned with monopoly (not enough sellers) but monospony (not enough buyers). I explained in more detail when the trial was first announced.

. . . .

Right out the gate, while defining terms, PRH’s lawyerdescribed“backlist” as meaning “Books that were published a very long time ago.” (Backlist is anything more than a year old by most definitions, but it can mean anything that isn’tbrandnew.)

. . . .

“My name is Stephen King. I’m a freelance writer.”

This is the tweet heard round the world, isn’t it? First a brief explanation: all witnesses are asked to identify themselves this way, by name and (relevant) occupation. So he didn’t do anythingwronghere.

Now back to snark. Imagine being Stephen King and introducing yourself this way. Actually, imagine being Stephen King and introducing yourself the way “freelance writer”suggests. “My name is Stephen King. I can’t afford health insurance.” “My name is Stephen King and I work in coffee shops.” “My name is Stephen King. Will do novels for food.” “My name is Stephen King and last month I made negative 73 dollars.”

. . . .

Simon & Schuster CEO Jon Karp said quite a few outrageous things, most of which involve his testimony contradicting his earlier deposition. None of them are particularly quote-worthy without context (read the thread!) but I was delighted that the DOJ lawyer apparently hurt his feelings by saying, “I should have guessed you’d have a big vocabulary, as head of a publishing house.”

Karp also called self-publishing “more of a threat than I thought” in reference to Brandon Sanderson’s $50 million Kickstarter — something that literally no other self-published author is capable of achieving, yay — and, in defending the idea that publishers don’t guarantee a marketing budget, said, “It’s like taking credit for the weather. You can’t promise success to the author.”

. . . .

The quote heard round the world, part two: $100,000 is,according to Karp, a “fairly small advance.”Lilith Saintcrow breaks down whythat is a lie — and the implications.

. . . .

Actual Jon Karp quote: “I’m not a game theorist, but….” Honestly, the man is hilarious. Asked if he has calculated Amazon’s market share: “I haven’t. I wish somebody would!” Govt isn’t taking the bait, but Karp is definitely pushing buttons.

. . . .

From PRH CEO Markus Dohle: “Everything is random in publishing. Success is random. Bestsellers are random. So that is why we are the Random House!”

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG thinks the CEO’s didn’t listen to what their lawyers told them about their demeanor on the stand and how to answer a question. Judges tend to become upset at witnesses that can’t restrain themselves from being flippant in court. Among other things, the judge is constantly assessing whether these guys are telling the truth or not and whether their opinions are reliable.

PG reminds one and all that, although Karp and Dohle carry CEO titles, their companies are owned by very large business interests which strongly desire for this merger to be approved. If the big bosses decide their hired hands contributed to losing this antitrust case, Karp and Dohle will be out on the street tout de suite.

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Categories Big Publishing, Legal Stuff 1 Comment

Writer Friendships

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

For the longest time I sat in my office diligently typing, inwardly moaning because writing is a solitary process. And I’m an ambivert with strong extrovert leanings.

But as it turned out—just this one time—I was wrong.

Writing is not solitary. You may technically be alone when you write (although it can feel pretty crowded in my brain as my characters chatter) but the best writers have strong connections. Good writersneedstrong connections. Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, nobody can produce in a vacuum. Well, I don’t know…maybe Stephen King can. I think he could produce in a vacuum, a washing machine, or a microwave.

It doesn’t matter where you live—small town, mega-city, or foreign country—as long as you have internet access, you can experience a writing community. Your community can be small and intimate or large and boisterous. You can get it via Zoom meetings, phone calls, emails, texts, and even snail mail. You can find people on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, websites, blogs, and TikTok.

Just like those dating sites allow people to meet each other, writers can instantly hook up with other writers. We can find our tribe without even leaving our couch/desk/table. All we have to do is a smidge of research to see what sites suit us best.

I can’t remember now how my critique partner Susan and I met but her friendship has proven invaluable. She helps me add sizzle and polish to my writing, think about what’s missing (it’s usually tension), and catch errors. An incredible encourager, she always finds something positive to say about my writing. And, I fully admit, I enjoy hearing the positive.

It was Susan who encouraged me to submit to the publisher who will release my novel in June 2023. Which led me to another fabulous community—the people who share my publisher. This is especially helpful because I’m a debut author. I not only ask them about their experiences traveling the long road to publication, but I also glean invaluable advice on marketing.

Through Women’s Fiction Writers of America I’ve met more friends. I especially enjoyed being matched with three other writers for a critique group. What a boon that has been.

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

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How to Painlessly Generate Dozens of Blog Ideas

From Writers in the Storm:

Writers ask me what to blog about all the time.

Recently, I was brainstorming story background (world-building) ideas with a writer. We were having a lot of fun just playing with the story. She stopped and stared at her screen full of ideas. “These are all great blogging ideas!” Her gasp of surprise was delightful.


“But … why didn’t I see this before?”

The answer is in that pesky word —blog— and in our subconscious understanding of what that means.

We imagine the movieJulie and Juliaplaying in our heads. Or maybe we think about a writer rambling on in a self-indulgent manner, and we self-sabotage our creative process.

Here’s the trick: each author’s blog should be as unique as the writer and their story.

Let’s re-defineblogfor writers

Merriam-Webster says:

Definition of blog

1computers:a website that contains online personal reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks, videos, and photographs provided by the writer

also:the contents of such a site

2:a regular feature appearing as part of an online publication that typically relates to a particular topic and consists of articles and personal commentary by one or more authors

//a technologyblog

— Dictionary, s.v. “blog,” accessed August 2, 2022,

Blogis short forweblog.

Let’s focus on the second definition:

a regular feature appearing as part of an online publication that typically relates to a particular topic and consists of articles and personal commentary by one or more authors

Sounds a little like a magazine or newspaper column, right?

Think “Dear Abby” or any other feature article that you’ve loved to read over your lifetime. Yes, cartoons absolutely count. Why? Because cartoons tell a story. Like a serial radio drama, cartoons unveil a story slowly over time. Blogs can do the same thing.

. . . .

The #1 qualification for being a stellar blogger is that you need to have skill as a writer.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

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Don’t threaten me

Don’t threaten me with love, baby. Let’s just go walking in the rain.

Billie Holiday
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DOJ v PRH: Agents Have Their Say

From Publishers Weekly:

Thursday’s proceedings in the Department of Justice’s efforts to block Penguin Random House’s acquisition of Simon & Schuster started with the remainder of testimony from Norton’s John Glusman and ended with the testimony of literary agent Gail Ross of Ross/Yoon. In this first full day for the defense, a great deal of time was spent on the submission and acquisition processes in publishing and how these affect book advances, from the perspectives of publishers (Glusman, and later Putnam’s Sally Kim), authors (Charles Duhigg), and agents (Elyse Cheney, Ross, and Andrew Wylie).

Glusman, who in Wednesday’s testimony said he didn’t believe the merger would hurt advances, quipped that the Big Five “regularly overpay for books” and that Norton is impacted directly “because we end up losing authors. We don’t overpay for books. We pay on the basis of what we project for sales.” In his opinion, midlist authors will be harmed by the proposed merger.

Next,The Power of Habitauthor Charles Duhigg took the stand, testifying that he did not start writing books for advances, but instead “to sell millions of copies… because that’s what allows you to make money,” adding: “You make so much money from things beyond the advance.” While Duhigg acknowledged the importance of money to a writer’s career, he also spoke at length about the power of “the right editor.”

In his case, the editor is PRH’s Andy Ward, and Duhigg also talked about the importance of author support from all members of an imprint and publishing house. “These people worked tirelessly [for my book],” said Duhigg in reference to everyone from PR teams to sales staff. “If this merger goes through,” he said, “I believe PRH wants to make the world a better place for writers. The thing I know about Andy Ward and PRH is that they love authors and want to give us the freedom to write what we want to write.”

Next on the stand was Sally Kim, senior v-p and publisher of Putnam, who has been in acquiring roles for 25 years. The defense took Kim through a long back-and-forth about the acquisition process, but Kim—like others in this trial—said that when it comes to predicting sales, “things can’t be calculated exactly.” “How common is it for different imprints to value the same book differently?” the defense asked; Kim replied, “Very different.” And, again like other who appeared before her at the trial, Kim spoke of publishing as “a relationship business,” between publishers, editors, and agents.

During its cross, the government asked Kim why she is always thinking about Putnam’s reputation, and she answered: “Because we want to be known for publishing… books of prestige and of quality, books that people are still going to be reading 10, 20 years from now.”

Despite more questions about the acquisition process that involved advance payments and proportion of books won by and lost to PRH and S&S, all witnesses for the defense, including the three literary agents who testified Thursday afternoon, emphasized matters of literary prestige, taste, experience, and “nuance.” Elyse Cheney said, “I want to go to an editor who’s going to get the best book out of my client.” She also told the government, when asked about pricing a deal, that she cares less about advances and marketing spending than about reputation overall: “In general, PRH has made a real commitment to books over a long period of time,” said Cheney. “Whereas a company like S&S that is a shareholder driven cannot develop the same tools as a company like PRH, and could post-merger.”

The judge asked if Cheney was saying “competition doesn’t matter in book publishing because you are hand-selecting these editors?” and Cheney replied that competition is not the primary thing.” Her authors, she told the defense, are “very sophisticated clients, and the editor who can help them make the richest, most robust project? It’s huge. How that editor communicates what that book is about, is essential to success of a book.” She wants “ very particular people” when she’s submitting a manuscript. “Of course, everybody wants to make a lot of money, I do as well, but that doesn’t mean I suggest everyone take the largest advance.”

Next, Andrew Wylie of the Wylie Agency told the defense that his agency “doesn’t conduct auctions” and he is satisfied that he’s getting the best deal for his clients because “I’ve been doing it 42 years and I can predict with a high degree of accuracy whether it might be best to do a multiple submission or a single submission.” He believes a merger would have “a positive result” for his clients and that the highest advances he’s negotiated have been with Big Five publishers “because I think they have the broadest talent editorially, they are generally well financed, and their production and distribution is expert.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG notes that any agent who didn’t toe the Big Publishing line would be out of business well before the inevitable appeals of the trial court’s decision in this case are over.

He also wonders how Judge Florence Pan, who is hearing the case without a jury, feels about “competition is not the primary thing” and “literary prestige, taste, experience, and ‘nuance'” being at the heart of an agent’s daily concerns when dealing with publishers.

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A history of jazz’s relationship with organised crime

From The Economist:

“Strange fruit,” writes T.J. English, is “the seminal jazz song.” This haunting ballad, written by a Jewish high schoolteacher, Abel Meeropol, in 1937 and burned into the collective cultural memory by Billie Holiday two years later, portrays the crime of lynching as central to the brutal history of the United States. “It is generally agreed that jazz as a new musical art form began to take shape in the early years of the 20th century. It is not generally commented upon that jazz, in its origins, was a response to the horror and reality of lynching in America.”

Mr English makes the persuasive argument that the birth of jazz, rooted in the African-American experience, was “nothing less than an attempt to achieve salvation through the tonal reordering of time and space.” But jazz could not scrub off the stain of violence. “Dangerous Rhythms” is not a book about music as an art form; it is instead a nuanced account of how, in the 60 or so years between the introduction of Prohibition and the enforcement of the rico Act—which brought the mafia to its knees in the 1980s—the development of jazz was facilitated by some of the most notorious criminals of the 20th century.

Music brought business to the mobsters’ speakeasies. The most renowned names in jazz history, including Count Basie and Duke Ellington, are linked with the names of the gangsters who fostered their careers. Louis Armstrong got his start in the seedy clubs of Louisiana: “One thing I always admired about those bad men when I was a youngster in New Orleans is that they all liked good music,” he said.

The criminal underworld was a male-dominated place, yet some female performers learned to navigate it. Mary Lou Williams, a pianist and composer, was managed by Joe Glaser (who also represented Holiday and Armstrong); Glaser had helped run Al Capone’s prostitution scheme in Chicago. Williams was under no illusions when it came to the jazz scene in the 1930s: “Everyone was like a hoodlum.”

Mr English—a journalist and author who has written several books on gangs in America and Cuba—chronicles the privileges of white supremacy. Black artists found protection where they could in a society built on injustice. The second half of the book turns to the career of Frank Sinatra. His ties with organised crime are hardly a secret, but Mr English lays out those brazen connections with clarity.

Link to the rest at The Economist

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‘Straits’ Review: Magellan Maligned

From The Wall Street Journal:

If you ask most people to name the first person to circumnavigate the globe, they will likely answer Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese mariner who sailed on behalf of Spain in 1519. But Magellan never even attempted the feat, and he didn’t live to see it accomplished by members of his crew. As we approach the 500th anniversary of their achievement next month, Felipe Fernández-Armesto, a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame and author of contrarian works such as “1492,” “Amerigo” and “The Spanish Armada,” takes exception to the “tradition of hero worship” that persists around Magellan. In “Straits: Beyond the Myth of Magellan,” he launches his broadside.

Magellan was born to an aristocratic family around 1480 on Portugal’s rocky coast. As a boy, he served as a page in the court of Manuel I in Lisbon, where he absorbed the chivalric ethos of the times and prepared for a military career. Starting in 1505, he joined campaigns to India and Africa, as Portugal claimed a share of the fantastically lucrative spice trade.

After falling out with King Manuel, Magellan defected to Portugal’s archrival, Spain, and in 1519 launched his celebrated voyage, destined for the fabled Spice Islands in present-day Indonesia. Because the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas had divided the world into two zones of influence, with Portugal claiming everything east of a line drawn in the Atlantic Ocean and Spain everything to the west, Magellan would approach Asia via the Americas.

On Sept. 20, 1519, the fleet left Spain with five ships, some 240 men and boys, provisions for two years and a stock of trade goods. From the start, as Mr. Fernández-Armesto relates, the company was rent by tension between its Spanish and Portuguese members, and a power struggle between their captain and his second in command, the Spaniard Juan de Cartagena. After a stormy two-month crossing, the flotilla sighted Brazil and veered southward, probing for a rumored strait through the continent.

In April 1520, Magellan ordered winter quarters in the harbor of San Julián, in eastern Patagonia. Faced with months of freezing weather and dwindling rations, a faction of Spanish officers mutinied, demanding to return home. Magellan quashed the uprising with characteristic decisiveness and brutality, killing a pair of the offenders, torturing others and marooning two, including Cartagena, on a deserted island. Also that dismal winter, one ship, the Santiago, was lost when it ran aground in a storm.

In August, with the approach of spring, the expedition continued to reconnoiter the forbidding coast. Nearing the tip of the continent, they finally discovered the channel that today bears Magellan’s name. But to negotiate its 350 miles of treacherous shoals and devilish currents required more than a month, not to mention fortitude, superb seamanship and outright luck. For commercial utility it would never rival the routes already established by the Portuguese.

While still in the strait, another band of mutineers seized the armada’s largest ship, the San Antonio, and bolted for Spain, carrying essential provisions as well as reports of their captain’s cruelty and recklessness. The three remaining vessels entered the Pacific, which Magellan named for its initially gentle seas, then caught the trade winds and rocketed westward. “But,” Mr. Fernández-Armesto writes, “the benignity of the weather was like a villain’s smile,” luring the fleet into an ocean immense beyond their comprehension. Over nearly four months, as their numbers declined from starvation and scurvy, the men sailed for more than 7,000 excruciating miles without landfall until, on March 6, 1521, they spied the islands of Rota and Guam, in the Marianas. When some islanders made off with a skiff and other goods, Magellan retaliated mercilessly, killing several villagers and burning scores of houses and boats.

Later that month, the fleet reached the Philippines, which Mr. Fernández-Armesto, in one of the many contrarian arguments he makes throughout the book, suggests was Magellan’s secret destination all along. The strangers were well received on the island of Cebu, but imposing himself in a conflict between rival chiefs, Magellan made an ill-advised attack on neighboring Mactan, where he and several of his men were slain in battle on April 27, 1521.

Although it seems to run counter to the fierce determination that Magellan had shown throughout the expedition, Mr. Fernández-Armesto believes that the captain, preferring to die a hero rather than return a failure, “crafted his death to suit a narrative he composed in his own mind before the event, imagining a knightly consummation in a battle sanctified by crusading ideals.”

Taking stock of their situation, the survivors scuttled the Concepción for lack of crew and, under the command of the Spaniard Juan Sebastián Elcano, steered their remaining two vessels to the Moluccas, where they loaded the hulls with precious spices. The Trinidad was captured by the Portuguese, whose zone of influence the expedition had violated, but the battered Victoria navigated the treacherous waters around the tip of Africa and arrived in Spain on Sept. 6, 1522, with 18 of the 240 souls who had sailed three years before.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

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Should “data” be singular or plural?

From The Economist:

For more than a millennium after the fall of Rome, educated Europeans were distinguished by their knowledge of Latin. One of the three subjects of the trivium—the basic tier of a classical education, itself based on a Roman model—was Latin grammar. Europeans have long since stopped writing primarily in Latin, but learned people are still expected to be able to deduce that to “decimate” means to destroy a tenth of something (a mutinous legion was punished in this way), or sprinkle annus mirabilis and mutatis mutandis into their speech.

It is not for lack of knowledge of, or affection for, Latin that The Economist marks a change this week. The reform involves one of the most curiously polarising issues an ending on a foreign word has ever generated in English. We will now allow singular use of data alongside the plural. Specifically, when considered as a concept—as in data is the new oil—the singular will be acceptable, as well as when the data in question is considered as a mass (the data on this mobile-phone plan is insufficient). However, when data points are considered as a group of pieces of information, the plural should still be used: data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicate the hottest summer of all time.

Data, as every child at a grammar school once knew, is the plural of Latin’sdatum, “something given”. Originally that plural sense was carried over into English. But already in 1702, the Oxford English Dictionary records, came the first appearance of singulardata, in an astronomy textbook. This was almost 60 years after pluraldatawas first recorded.

The rise of computing has changed the balance. While an 18th-century scholar’s data might be a single column of numbers, today’s computers quickly manage billions of bytes. Data points begin to seem like the water molecules in the ocean and so, in such contexts, to be perceived as a mass. Singular data is now more common than the plural in books, and far more prevalent on the web.

Data is hardly the first foreign word to undergo grammatical change in English. The nearest equivalent is agenda, an old plural of agendum, “something to be acted on”. Once those collected agenda started being thought of as a list, the English singular was born. (Candelabrastamina and insignia were all Latin plurals, too.) The Economist’s style guide prescribes a list of Latin -um words in English that pluralise with -a (memorandastrata), but many more that violate Latin grammar and take -ums (forums, stadiums, ultimatums). It demonstrates that those words are now English; Latin rules need not apply.

Those who oppose singular data argue that the word refers to a set of numbers. Yet the properties of the thing itself are not a reliable guide to a term’s grammar. Go to a shop where dried goods are sold from barrels and note rice (a singular) next to lentils (a plural), and wheat (singular) next to oats (plural). Head to the pasta section and see what happens to other languages’ words in English: spaghetti and lasagne, both Italian plurals, are singular when served up in English.

Link to the rest at The Economist

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The job

The job isn’t to catch up to the status quo; the job is to invent the status quo.

Seth Godin
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You can’t sell anything

You can’t sell anything if you can’t tell anything.

Beth Comstock
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Nothing says yawn

Nothing says ‘yawn’ more than an interminable text-based email or 50 slide attachment. Including a video within a brief email and delivering content in multimedia formats can help drive response rates, improve information retention, and make your company or offer more memorable

Andy Zimmerman
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TikTok Has Changed Everything, Especially Book Publishing

From Observer:

TikTok, it has become almost hard to remember, began a few short years ago (2016) as an app for sharing videos of yourself lip-syncing music and dancing. The extremity of its success (it reached one billion users in September and has been the world’s most downloaded mobile app since early 2020, with nearly half of its American users occupying the coveted under-twenty-five demographic) owes something to the universal seduction of music, and quite a bit to a concert of small technical features that make it very easy and effective to use, but most of all to its famously irresistible recommendation algorithm, which measures minutely what you respond to and trawls through its vast bank of freely surrendered videos to serve up for you what you may not even be aware you like. Digital advertising has long sought you out for characteristics you inadvertently disclosed in your online life; TikTok does the work ahead of time by hiving you into ever-more-specific niches. In contrast to previous social media platforms, which were, by definition, social, encircling you with the decisions of people you had chosen to surround yourself with, TikTok opens the tiny window in your hand to the entire inexhaustible world.

TikTok bills itself as an entertainment platform, setting out to “make your day,” and when we start to fault it for not doing other things I am reminded of how, for instance, the novel was for centuries disparaged as a low (women’s) form. All the ways we communicate operate on a continuum between pleasing and substantive, and sometimes real culture comes to us in the form of fun. Currently many artistic forms previously considered pop or commercial—comic books, genres like science fiction and romance, gaming—are getting their day in the sun as ways of communicating their own unique truths, often truths of people left out of the more prestigious mediums. TikTok’s accessible reward of virality does make it a very democratic form, unlike other platforms that multiply the benefits of already being famous: Tech writer Nathan Baschez memorably called it “by and for randos.” It invites people to craft a publicly irresistible face with the promise of a waiting public, and people rocket to visibility out of nowhere.

That TikTok is addictive and fun and confined to what it is doesn’t necessarily make it “bad,” but its ubiquity demands attention, and because tech always chases the next new thing, its signature characteristics are spreading beyond its little frame. Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta, which has achieved dominance in part by copying and coopting rivals, has characteristically in the last few weeks modified its main two platforms, Facebook and Instagram, to mimic TikTok’s strengths. In Facebook’s case, there will now be internal competition for the posts of your “friends and family” (which within memory Meta devalued news in order to prioritize—in a different kind of bid to keep your attention) via posts from strangers that promise virality. Instagram is now nudging you in the direction of seeing and lingering on more viral content from strangers, a measure it cycled back somewhat this week after complaints from Instagram tycoon Kylie Jenner (who makes a lot of money from her Instagram “friends”) and others. Cal Newport in The New Yorker interestingly pointed out what the social media giants have to lose if they surrender their carefully assembled social connections assets for these agglomerations of strangers.

Link to the rest at Observer

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Where Are Mass Market Paperbacks Headed?

From Publishers Weekly:

No matter which way you look at it, sales of mass market paperbacks have been in steady decline since 2017. NPD BookScan data shows that unit sales fell 31.5% in 2021 compared to 2017, while the Association of American Publishers put the decline in dollar sales at a more disturbing 42.7% in 2020. Both data sets show more declines occurring in 2022.

To be sure, the mass market paperback format has experienced ups and downs in the past. The last time PW wrote about the prospects for mass market paperbacks, in October 2014, the format was trying to recover from the shock it suffered due to the explosion of cheap e-books, especially in such important areas as romance and science fiction and fantasy. (Asked last week, during the DOJ’s trial to prevent PRH from acquiring S&S, whether he had made reductions in title output following the Random House–Penguin merger in 2013, PRH CEO Markus Dohle pointed to adjusting the number of mass market paperbacks published by Berkley/NAL in response to the flood of 99¢ and $1.99 self-published e-books that hit the market, luring away readers of genre fiction.)

Low prices have always been one of the most important attractions for readers to mass market paperbacks, and that continues to be the case, according to Craig Swinwood, CEO of HarperCollins’s Harlequin subsidiary and CEO of HC Canada. The most recent research, conducted by the company after the worst of the pandemic was over, found price accessibility and portability to be the first- and second-ranked reasons that consumers buy mass market titles.

Jennifer Long, v-p, deputy publisher of Gallery Books Group, the home to Simon & Schuster’s mass market Pocket Books imprint, said pricing is a “very important consideration” for some readers. “As long as those consumers who want mass market continue to support it, we will continue to publish into it or risk losing them as readers.”

All mass market publishers are aware of the price sensitivity around the format, and even as a few publishers have increased the trim size of mass market paperbacks, they are reluctant to go beyond the $9.99 price point. The so-called price cap, especially in a time of rising costs, puts pressure on margins, acknowledged Swinwood, who noted that sales of mass market paperbacks for the company are generally flat, though they still account for about 49% of the publisher’s revenue, down from 59% a few years ago.

The pricing limit is one reason mass market publishers have cut back on their output. Kristin McLean, analyst for NPD BookScan, said a factor in the drop in both mass market title output and sales is the steady migration of what she calls “the next generation” of major romance and mystery/thriller authors from mass market to trade paperback, a format that has had “tremendous growth” since 2017. One author who has undergone such a transition, McLean added, is Colleen Hoover.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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The Unlikely Author Who’s Absolutely Dominating the Bestseller List

From Slate:

This has been the summer of Colleen Hoover, a recent viral TikTok announced, editing together clips of young women at the beach reading books by the Texas novelist. Furthermore, just a couple of months ago we had a Colleen Hoover spring and before that a Colleen Hoover winter and before that a Colleen Hoover fall. On any given week for more than a year now, the 42-year-old Hoover has had three to six books on Publishers Weekly’s top 10 bestseller list. Currently three of the top five titles on the New York Times’ combined print and e-book fiction list are Hoover’s. The most popular of these novels, It Ends With Us, isn’t even new. It was published six years ago. A forthcoming sequel to that novel (or possibly a prequel, it’s not yet clear), It Starts With Us, will be published in October, its perch at the summit of both lists guaranteed.

Observers typically attribute Hoover’s success to BookTok, the segment of TikTok dedicated to authors and readers. And Hoover—known as CoHo to her fans, who call themselves Cohorts—is indeed the queen of BookTok, an adept TikToker herself, as well as the subject of countless videos in which young women appear clutching huge stacks of candy-colored CoHo paperbacks and proceed to rank their favorites among her 24 titles. But while Hoover might just be the ideal author to preside over TikTok, the platform is only the latest online vehicle she had ridden to fame and fortune. She sometimes presents herself as surprised by her own virality, but Hoover has been a savvy self-promoter since 2012, when she distributed free copies of her first, self-published YA novel, Slammed, to influential book bloggers. She was big on BookTube (the YouTube book community) and big on “Bookstagram” well before TikTok came along. Furthermore, her story—social worker and mom transformed into blockbuster author via whatever new technology of the moment is ostensibly revolutionizing the book business (self-publishing, blogging, Instagram, TikTok)—is catnip to traditional news outlets.

But a new technology can’t make readers love a book. It can only persuade people to read it. What is it about Hoover’s work that makes it so popular, so infectiously recommendable? Her novels do seem particularly well-suited to the currently ascendant TikTok because the platform favors big, grabby displays of emotion, as opposed to the tasteful lifestyle curation of Instagram, formerly touted as the hot new way to sell books. CoHo fans on TikTok record themselves sobbing, screaming, gasping in astonishment, and pressing her books to their hearts in winsome displays of adoration. Often, actual words are superfluous to communicating the reader’s response—in fact, they may be more of a hindrance than a help. Above all, BookTok conveys that Hoover’s fiction delivers power jolts of unadulterated feels.

Hoover’s books are more varied than the work of many bestselling novelists. You pretty much know what you’re getting when you grab a James Patterson thriller before boarding a long flight. But Hoover has written YA, romantic comedies, a ghost story, a gothic suspense novel, problem novels exploring such difficult issues as domestic violence and child sexual abuse, and steamy romances like Ugly Love, a novel about an affair between a nurse and an airline pilot that I estimate to be about 70 percent sex scenes. Not all of the Cohorts adore all of her books, but they’ve shown themselves to be willing to follow her into relatively uncharted territory and to appreciate what they find there. (Note to anyone reading further: There will be spoilers.)

Romance of one kind or another plays a role in every Hoover novel, and to judge by her TikTok fans, they speak to an audience with a well-developed awareness of the romance genre’s established—not to say shopworn—tropes.

Currently three of the top five titles on the New York Times’ combined print and e-book fiction list areHoover’s.

Link to the rest at Slate

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Categories Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Bestsellers, Video 1 Comment

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Not Fitting In

From Writers Helping Writers:

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

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

This thesaurus explores the various fears that might be plaguing your character. Use it to understand and utilize fears to fully develop your characters and steer them through their story arc. Please note that this isn’t a self-diagnosis tool. Fears are common in the real world, and while we may at times share similar tendencies as characters, the entry below is for fiction writing purposes only.

Fear of Not Fitting In


As social creatures, we all have a basic human need to be loved and accepted by others. This requires us to be able to fit in with the people around us. When your character is unable to do this or they worry about failing in this area, their need to be accepted—in general or by a specific group—can become an obsession.

What It Looks Like

The character allowing people to mistreat them if it means being part of the group
Using self-deprecating humor
Sharing personal accomplishments to impress others
Hiding ideas or beliefs that wouldn’t be popular with the group
The character changing their personal habits (clothing, food preferences, the music they listen to, etc.) to fit in
Over-preparing to be sure everything is perfect
Mimicking the actions, speech patterns, and habits of others
Struggling to say no
Telling people what they want to hear
Laughing or smiling at things the character normally wouldn’t approve of
Putting others down if doing so pleases the group
The character being pressured into doing things they don’t agree with
Seeking out like-minded individuals
Being a loner
Being quiet, withdrawn, and content to stay in the background
Proactively rejecting others before they can reject the character

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

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Librarian sues for defamation after conservative activist attacks over LGBTQ books

From The Hill:

A librarian in Louisiana filed a lawsuit against two men and a conservative organization alleging they defamed her when they attacked her for supporting the teaching of books involving the LGBTQ community.

Amanda Jones, a middle school librarian and the president of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians, alleged in the lawsuit that a “public campaign” against her started after she spoke out against removing certain books from the Livingston Parish Library system at a board meeting.

The lawsuit states that Citizens for a New Louisiana posted on its Facebook on July 20, the day after the meeting, criticizing “anti-censorship folks” who opposed moving “sexually explicit and erotic materials targeting eight to ten-year-olds” to the adult section of libraries.

A second post from July 22 specifically referred to Jones, asking why she was “fighting so hard to keep sexually erotic and pornographic materials” in the children’s section. The lawsuit notes that a photo of Jones in the post is surrounded by a red circle with a white border, arguing it appears similar to a target.

Michael Lunsford, who leads the group, commented on the post that Jones was on the “public payroll” and was “’advocating’ for having erotica in the kids section.”

Link to the rest at The Hill and thanks to T. for the tip.

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The upheavals [of artificial intelligence] can escalate quickly and become scarier and even cataclysmic. Imagine how a medical robot, originally programmed to rid cancer, could conclude that the best way to obliterate cancer is to exterminate humans who are genetically prone to the disease.

Nick Bilton
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AI-Assisted Inventions Could Spur New Patent Litigation Wave

From Bloomberg Law:

The amount of human involvement needed to secure a patent when artificial intelligence is used to create an invention remains up in the air after a Federal Circuit decision shutting down the possibility of solo AI inventorship.

Patent attorneys expect more litigation on the use of AI in inventions to follow the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s ruling last week that artificial intelligence systems can’t be the sole inventors on patents. The three-judge panel noted that the decision was confined to the question of whether computer scientist Stephen Thaler’s creativity machine could be the only inventor listed on a patent application, not whether inventions “made with the assistance of AI” are eligible for patent protection, according to the precedential opinion.

The opinion left unresolved how some provisions of the Patent Act should be interpreted when AI is involved and what constitutes sufficient human contribution for the person to qualify as an inventor, attorneys said. As the US Patent and Trademark Office grants such patents, courts will start having to grapple with new legal challenges surrounding AI inventions across industries.

. . . .

Thaler’s loss last week marked his latest setback in his quest to convince jurisdictions around the world that his creativity machine called DABUS is the rightful inventor on two patent applications. The Federal Circuit sided with courts in Australia and Europe that found only humans can be inventors under existing statutes. Thaler said he plans to appeal the Federal Circuit’s decision to the US Supreme Court.

It would be up to Congress to change the Patent Act to allow for non-human inventors, but until then, there’s “no ambiguity,” Judge Leonard P. Stark wrote in the opinion.

More challenges to patents created with the help of AI will follow, said Susan Krumplitsch, a partner at DLA Piper, though they likely won’t center on whether the AI should be allowed to be the inventor, as Thaler argued. When inventions rely on machine learning and neural networks, it’s not clear how important the person was in the creation of the invention, she said.

“These issues haven’t been explored,” Krumplitsch said. “I would expect in the coming years, as these patents come up, and we see them in court, and they’re pulled apart, we’ll see more of a focus on who was doing what, and was the human contribution enough to be an inventor contribution.”

If the artificial intelligence system did all or most of the work, the humans involved in the inventions may not be able to take the oath required by the patent office that they are the rightful inventors, said Christopher S. Schultz, a partner at Burns & Levinson LLP in Boston.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg Law

As PG mentioned in earlier posts, it’s only a matter of time until the AI/author copyright question arises as well.

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Categories Copyright/Intellectual Property, Legal Stuff 5 Comments

What is Your Character Hiding: The Power of Secrets

From Writer Unboxed:

In Kate Atkinson’sWhen Will There Be Good News?Joanna Hunter, whose mother, sister, and baby brother were murdered by a lunatic when she was six years old, explains to a police officer why she tells no one about this: “People look at you differently when they know you’ve been through something terrible. It’s the thing about you that they find most interesting.”

Most people, however—and characters—do not harbors secrets out of fear of being “interesting.” On the contrary, what we choose to keep hidden, and why we do so, says a great deal about what we fear, if exposed, will undermine or even destroy our standing among our friends and family, community and peers. That fear may be unreasonable, out of all proportion, but that’s far less important than that it exists—especially for writers.

Secrets provide writers with an intrinsically valuable way of conjuring depth in a character—there is automatically an inside and an outside, what is concealed and what is revealed. And the tension created by the character’s decision to conceal something about themselves provides an immediate dramatic payoff—we can’t help wondering what they’re hiding, why they’re hiding it, and what will happen if the secret is revealed.

Secrets also provide an economical way to depict vulnerability—the very fact a secret is being kept means the character fears being exposed.

That threat—of being exposed or “found out,” and therefore ostracized or abandoned—is one of the key dreads of existence. In a sense, our secrets hint at the isolation we associate with death, and our keeping them hidden is part of the magical thinking we perpetuate as part of the ritual of life.

The mask we call our ego or persona is crafted on the premise of concealing our fears, our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities—our secrets. Instead we display to the world our confident, competent selves—with some allowances for self-effacing humor and sociable humility.

A great deal of modern drama is premised upon the peeling away of the mask concealing our secret selves, and the struggle to summon the courage and honesty to deal with the consequences of being known more authentically, more completely.

It may be that there is no such thing as living without a mask, and that the stripping away of one simply predicates the donning of another. It may be that what I think of as my honest self is really just a different one: slightly less dishonest, defensive, deluded. But it remains true that whatever mask I wear, its purpose isn’t mere concealment; it’s also protection.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

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What we gain from independent publishers and bookstores

From Nathan Bransford:

The antitrust trial over Penguin Random House’s proposed acquisition of Simon & Schuster is now in its third week. There’s a whole lot of coverage and smaller bits to chew on, and if you want a deep dive, Publishers Weekly and Publishers Lunch ($ link) have comprehensive coverage.

Just two of the eyebrow-raisers yesterday came when agent Andrew Wylie testified that he doesn’t do auctions, and when author Charles Duhigg asserted that authors don’t want advances higher than they can possibly earn out. (Um, yes they very much do).

But I also wanted to touch on two articles that discuss the impact on authors and the independent publishing ecosystem. Bookseller Richard Howorth argues in the NY Times that industry consolidation threatens the number of quality midlist books that get published, and Nicole Chung writes about the need for independent publishers to survive so they can nurture authors.

. . . .

It’s not personal, but it can really feel like that sometimes. Jillian Medoff talks about breaking up with her agent.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Lots of links in the OP.

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You don’t want to dwell on your enemies

You don’t want to dwell on your enemies, you know. I basically feel so superior to my critics for the simple reason that they haven’t done what I do. Most book reviewers haven’t written 11 novels. Many of them haven’t written one.

John Irving
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Categories Reviews 2 Comments

Them’s the Breaks

From Daily Writing Tips:

Including an extract from Boris Johnson’s recent resignation speech, a reader suggested that a post on the expression “them’s the breaks” might be in order.

I was a bit puzzled, considering that the expression is quite common. I was surprised that the out-going British Prime Minister, a classical scholar, graduate of Oxford’s Balliol College, would use such an informal expression—an Americanism at that—in such a formal context.

It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore a new prime minister. … I know that there will be many people who are relieved and perhaps quite a few who will also be disappointed. And I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world. But them’s the breaks.

Following the speech, a flurry of tweets expressed confusion as to what the retiring Prime Minister had meant by saying, “them’s the breaks.’”

A BBC article included some of the pleas for an explanation:

What does them’s the breaks even mean?? I’m lost on that one.

I missed the ‘thems the break’ thing and now everyone is saying it. Please can someone explain what it means?

Hi I’m from Colombia and I have no idea what ‘thems the break’ means. Can someone explain? Please, I’m so lost.

Thems the breaks?? What does that mean I don’t understand British English.


“Them’s the breaks” comes from the game of pool.

As the game begins, the balls are racked in a triangular frame. The frame is removed and one of the players takes the first shot. This is called “the break.” The balls go rolling around the table and land in random positions. The players must then make do with where the balls have landed.

Sometimes, the balls are lined up in such a way as to make it easy to take the desired shot. But if the balls are not in favorable positions, there’s nothing a player can do to change them.

The idiom describes a situation in which something not only does not go according to hopes or expectations, but is afait accompli, a done deal. One can only accept disappointment and move on.

Still, I remain surprised that Johnson’s expression caused such a media uproar.

As may be expected of an American slang term, it has a wide use in the US. For example, a TV comedy series calledCon Manhas an episode called, “Them’s the Breaks.” A former Disney series calledThe Owl Househad an episode called, “Them’s the Breaks, Kids,” and there’s a song by John Robert Matz with the same title.

But the phrase is not unknown outside US English. I have seen it used in the sports pages of the British newspaper,The Guardian.

Them’s the breaks, I suppose, but we can more than hold our heads up high, considering we were the only team in the whole competition to come from outside the respective countries’ top tiers.

The New Zealand Film Commission has produced a dramatized documentary titled, Them’s the Breaks, based “on the experiences of a group of young Māori women in New Zealand.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

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Amazon moves to block website it says sells fake 5-star feedback

From The Seattle Times:

In another effort to crack down on fake reviews for products on its digital store, Amazon has sued a Massachusetts company that it says sells fake 5-star “verified feedback” and creates accounts for sellers who have been suspended.

The lawsuit comes weeks after Amazon sued the administrators of more than10,000 Facebook groups for allegedly coordinating fake product reviewsin exchange for money or free products. Amazon is ramping up ongoing legal activity against fake review brokers, the company said. The most recent lawsuit is the first aimed at stopping fraudsters who are posting fake seller feedback, which is separate from productreviews.

“Every day, millions of consumers who shop in Amazon’s stores use customer product reviews or seller feedback to assist with purchasing decisions,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in King County Superior Court and firstreportedby Axios. “The bad actors who pay for product reviews and seller feedback erode that customer trust, compete unfairly with the millions of honest entrepreneurs who sell in Amazon’s stores and tarnish Amazon’s brand.”

In this case, Amazon sued Trey King, a Rhode Island resident, and his company, Auction Sentinel, as well as Sentinel Solutions, a corporation organized in Massachusetts.

Auction Sentinel bills itself as the “#1 marketplace for third party sellers” and offers services for people selling their goods on Amazon, eBay, Etsy and Walmart. “If you want to sell and profit in E-com [e-commerce], you need a coach who has been in the game for a while and not just a glorified Instagram or YouTube personality who flashes luxury cars,” King wrote in a pitch for Auction Sentinel’s services on its website.

Amazon claims Auction Sentinel creates fake 5-star “verified feedback” for sellers on its platform in order to “artificially inflate” a seller’s ratings. One package offers 10 feedbacks for $200 and another promotes up to 100 for $700.

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

PG to Amazon: Keep up the good work! Your lawyers already have copies of their pleadings ready to add other phony review sites with a simple cut and paste.

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Filling Your Writing Life

From Writer Unboxed:

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could pick up a manual on “Best Writing Practices” and follow its advice all the way to publishing success? Reality is, though, we writers are each wonderfully and necessarily unique, and how we spend our days will reflect that. Because new opportunities and changing priorities have caused me to revisit the components of my diminished writing life, a recent episode of THE HAPPINESS LAB, a podcast hosted by Dr. Laurie Santos, clarified my issues by offering up a commonsense image of how to envision time in my overfull life. I share it here in case it might help you, too.

A professor placed a big, clear jar on his desk and then filled it with golf balls. When he asked if the jar was full, the students nodded. Then he poured pebbles into the jar, which filtered in between the balls. When he asked if the jar was now full, the students nodded with knowing smiles. Then he poured sand into the jar, which filled in even smaller gaps. When he asked if the jar wasnowfull, the students said yes.

He said, “This jar is your life. The golf balls are the things that really matter to you. The sand is all the thoughtless ways we spend our time. If we put that in first, the important things won’t fit.”

. . . .

If you could spend your day exactly how you wanted, what would you do to be happier?

The podcast guest who shared the golf ball story,social psychologist Cassie Holmes of UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and author of the forthcomingHappier Hour,had something to say that will be relevant to the writer who has fantasized about clearing eight hours day to finally nail their novel: psychologically, that might not be the best solution.

For an optimal sense of fulfillment, Holmes’ research suggests we seek a sweet spot of 2-5 discretionary hours per day to invest in activities that will make our lives feel fulfilling. So while there is such a thing as having too little discretionary time, there is also such a thing as having too much: on the regular, her data shows that having more than 5 hours per day of discretionary time results in a decreased sense of life satisfaction.

If you were to dump the contents of your jar, which activities would you add back in to foster the most fulfilling creative life?

Our answers will have much in common, since writers have little discretionary time. Writing itself requires a handful of golf balls right off the bat. Publication adds more. Many golf balls may well be devoted to the reliable paycheck that supports our writing habit.We must continue our education, be that reading novels or craft books, researching, or giving/receiving critique.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

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Sex, drugs, celebrities, vampires – Just another day in the Regency

From The Austen Connection:

Lately we’ve been thinking way too much about the real life of the Regency.

And what’s got us thinking about this is not only the recent discussions about what’s historic and what’s not in the recent Persuasion film, but also a big book – Robert Morrison’s history The Regency Years: During which Jane Austen writes, Napoleon fights, Byron makes love, and Britain becomes modern.

It appears, friends, that in Jane Austen’s real times it was of course (we know this, but we forget!) not just manners and romance among the privet hedges but also was an awful lot of chaos, and violence, and injustice based on gender, on race, on class, on ability, and on whom we chose to love.

. . . .

Here’s our list of some serious Real Regency things – just a few – that you can often see in the subtext of Austen but that you might not find in the bold glare of the screen version of your favorite Jane Austen adaptation.

. . . .

Lady rakes! 

We have on the side of the Rakes, not only Willoughby, Wickham and Henry Crawford breaking hearts, but we also have Lydia Bennet, and also: Mary Crawford, who in this day and age we’re always tempted to like! We have lady rakes!

Other Real Regency Lady Rakes, to list just three obvious ones, include Lady Libertines like:

Real-life Lady Caroline Lamb, and her novelGlenarvonReal-life Duchess of Devonshire, and her novelThe SylphReal-life Claire Clairmont, half-sister of Mary Shelley, who labored away pursuing Percy Shelley in a love triangle with Shelley and Shelley, and then pursued Byron, with whom she had a child, Allegra.

Yes, the Lady Libertines might have more at stake and more suffering at hand than their male-identifying counterparts – but like their Libertine male cousins, they do operate from a position of privilege that powers their carelessness.

It’s a class thing: Rakes and Privilege

And Austen for one is not here for any of it.

These rakes like Byron, Shelley, and the Prince Regent himself were able to simply ignore social strictures of their day. They “reveled in almost unfettered sexual freedom” of the “libertine creed,”writes Morrison.“The Regency era was the last great brazen huzzah for rakes”before the Evangelical forces won out for the Victorian age.

Yes these rakes are present in the adaptations, but in the Real Regency they were a dominant force, and part of the power base.

So next time you are enjoying your Austen adaptation’s rolling bucolic countryside drive into an English Great House like Mansfield Park, just remember that Austen was de-fanging, parodying, and turning upside down the immense powers of rakery, privilege, exploitation, and carelessness exemplified by the gentleman sitting on top of it all – whether it’s Mansfield’s Henry Crawford, or the Prince Regent himself, chief rake of the Regency.

Link to the rest at The Austen Connection

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Categories Romance 6 Comments

Multi-factor Authentication

Is anyone other than PG aggravated by websites that require multi-factor authentication these days?

PG’s least favorite is Google, which makes PG enter his ID and Password, then insists that he pick up his cell phone, load Gmail and tap another button, except when Google requires that PG tap another button, then choose one of three numbers that he has to use his cell phone yet again.

Google offers a checkbox that is supposed to allow PG to opt out of the extra authentication process, but, although PG has checked that box many times, he’s still not opted out.

Then, of course, there are the times when PG wants to quickly check something, but has left his phone in another room on another floor of Casa PG.

PG has used long random passwords for years and none of his accounts has ever been successfully hacked via guessing his password.

FYI, he’s not a fan of various authenticator applets either. They never seem to work right the first time.

PG moved into adulthood centuries ago and has been actively using computers for longer than many Google programmers have been alive, so he demands the right to opt-out of these sorts of “improvements” in his user experience.

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Categories Books 13 Comments

I know

I know I am but summer to your heart, and not the full four seasons of the year.

Edna St. Vincent Millay
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The Wondrous and Mundane Diaries of Edna St. Vincent Millay

From The Nation:

On April 3, 1911, Edna St. Vincent Millay took her first lover. She was 19 years old, and she engaged herself to this man with a ring that “came to me in a fortune-cake” and was “the symbol of all earthly happiness.” Millay had just graduated from high school and had taken charge of running the household while her mother worked as a traveling nurse. She fixed her younger sisters dinner, washed and mended all their clothes, and entertained their guests. Her lover had no name and no body; he was a figment she’d conjured up to help her get through the stress and loneliness of being a teenage caretaker. This first lover, her “shadow,” is not often recounted among the many others she later had, but Millay had various ways of making these exhausting days of her early adulthood endlessly charming and alive. In one note to her lover, she describes the chafing dish she served her siblings’ dinner on, which she called James, and jokes, “Why don’t you come over some evening and have something on ‘James’—doesn’t that sound dreadful—‘have something on James’!”

Millay’s imaginary lover is the only one mentioned in great detail in the pages of her diary, collected for the first time asRapture and Melancholy. The editor of the collection, Daniel Mark Epstein, ventures that “few, if any, serious reputations” in American literature “have so quickly arisen and burned so brightly” as Millay’s: In 1923, only 12 years removed from her days as a surrogate mother, she became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and in her highly publicized life she also became known for her many flesh-and-blood lovers in the literary world as well as her fatal addiction to morphine.

But her diary doesn’t include these things, and it often skips over the most dramatic events in her life. The Millay who emerges in these entries is not the famed poet, performer, and lover but another Millay, whose inner world helps situate the story of her life anew. She embraces the mundanity of the non-writing life, that part of every literary artist’s existence unseen by critics and readers, and finds moments of rapture in the melancholy of these pages.

. . . .

In 1912, while she was still living at home in Camden, Me., the 19-year-old Millay submitted her poem “Renascence,” which she had begun writing the year before, to a prestigious poetry competition. It was a favorite among the judges, and Millay came home from picking blueberries for supper one day to find a letter from a New York editor informing her that her poem had been selected to be published in a volume called The Lyric Year. Critics raved about her poem, and soon people began to court her.

Caroline Dow, the dean of the YWCA Training School in New York, used her connections to find Millay sponsors who would fund her studies at Vassar College; Charlotte Bannon, who knew the head of the English department at Smith College, promised to arrange for a full scholarship if Millay were accepted there. Millay chose Vassar, with a preparatory semester at Barnard College. She boarded a sleeper train and arrived in New York City at the age of 21, in pigtails, having lost her comb on the journey. Her fame, by then, preceded her.

In New York, Millay had to take English, French, and Latin courses to make up for her shortage of high school credits; she balanced her mounds of homework with high teas and luncheons and mixers at the Poetry Society (with “celebs, more or less,” as she mentions in one entry) and regular meetings with her patrons to give them updates. She was expected to keep her grades up and to continue to write her verse. For the most part, these details are mentioned only in passing, often in the same breath with more domestic matters: ironing and discussing Horace; sending out laundry and writing poems in the library.

At Vassar, Millay was untouchable. She negotiated her first book deal, which would lead to the publication of Renascence, and Other Poems in 1917, published poetry in magazines, and took part in college theater productions. She got in trouble constantly for skipping classes, smoking and drinking in the dorms and in the cemetery, and sneaking off campus to go for a drive with her friends up the Hudson River. On at least one occasion, she spent the time allotted for a geometry test writing a letter to a friend. “Perhaps I’ll be expelled,” she quips, but she couldn’t be; though she was suspended just before graduation, she was given a special exemption to receive her degree. While at college, she also developed a relationship with the poet and playwright Arthur Davidson Ficke, an affair that would lead to a lifelong friendship and more than a decade of regular letters, but he doesn’t make a single appearance in her diaries until long after the affair has ended.

Millay’s diary animates the world around her, as she turns everyday objects into a cast of characters. Her new hat is “a dear,” and the faucet in her new room gives her a “feeling of comradeship” because the hot water comes out where the cold water should. When she goes to Paris a few years later, she writes about the Seine (“a French river. It speaks no English”) and little pleasures like tavern desserts: brown pears “squat & twisted as quinces…. I wondered if they had not ripened near a wall, maybe, in a thorny garden, where in the summer-time go walking of an afternoon an old blind woman & a little boy in bright blue apron.”

These were not quiet times for her. The same day she bought her lovely new hat and expressed relief in her diary that she did not have an ulcerated tooth, she mentions offhand, in the same breath, “Saw something about me in the April Bookman.” It was a review of “Renascence” by William Aspenwall Bradley, who called the poem “a more remarkable production” than any of the other poems in the collection it originally appeared in, but Millay does not mention that. Nor does she mention that her reason for going to Paris was to get away from the tangle of her messy love life, which by then encompassed Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop, whose work and friendship were strained by their common romantic interest.

These diaries reveal a moment-by-moment kind of life, in which the secret history of a squat brown pear or a rogue faucet or a chafing dish may be just as significant as the public life of the writer. The Millay of these diaries, then, reveals a different kind of writer: less engaged with an audience, with her readers, editors, or fellow writers, and more engaged in the distinctly private pleasure of simply taking in the world. A famous writer’s letters are written with the knowledge that they will be read—certainly by the recipient, but also perhaps eventually by the general public. Diaries, on the other hand, are motivated by a much more ambiguous impulse. Only in diaries does a writer have the true freedom to be no one but a witness to the world, the freedom tonottell a story or make a point. It seems to me that being interested in writers’ lives necessitates being interested also in the nothingness that often fills those lives; we want excitement, but reading the private observations of a writer’s largely static surroundings can perhaps excite us about the world as it is, and not as it promises to be.

Link to the rest at The Nation

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How Are Books Adapted for the Screen? Two Agents Demystify the Process

From Jane Friedman:

Over the last couple of years, it’s been tough not to notice the increase in dramatic rights deals in the book industry. A quick search on Publishers Marketplace reveals a new film or television deal almost every week. Publishers Weekly’s “page-to-screen” news feed is equally active, and The Hollywood Reporter recently ran a piece on How the Publishing World Is Muscling In on Hollywood Deals.

These deals don’t appear to be limited to a particular genre or category. Streaming services and film producers are expressing an interest in a wide range of book properties—fiction and nonfiction for both adult and children’s audiences. And from the outset, it looks as though they are inviting authors—bestselling and debut—to take part in the adaptation process, at least to an extent.

During a PEN America event I attended a few months ago, Your Option on Options, one of the speakers noted that the rise in streaming companies, coupled with the pandemic, has made today a golden age for IP content. Curious to find out if this is true, I reached out to Allison Hunter of Trellis Literary Management and Jennifer Weltz of Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, both of whom represent authors whose work has been or is being adapted for the screen. As with all my literary agent Q&As, neither knew the other’s identity until after they provided their answers to my questions below.

Why don’t we start by defining what a book-to-screen option is. Is it correct to say that this is an agreement whereby a producer is granted the rights to adapt an author’s book for television or film?

Is there a standard fee, term, or renewal process for options, or do these vary widely in the same way that book advances vary?

How does an option differ from a shopping agreement, and what is more common today?

Allison Hunter:Yes, an option is an exclusive right to shop the book to producers, studios, directors, writers, and actors to see if anyone is interested in turning the book into a movie, TV show or limited series. Pre-pandemic, options were usually for a 12-month period, but now we’re seeing more 18- and 24-month options, as it’s taking longer to get projects made. Option fees do vary widely, from the very low (a few thousand dollars) to the high (hundreds of thousands).

A shopping agreement similarly asks for exclusivity but doesn’t offer any payment in exchange. It’s a way to test the waters to see if there is any interest in the property without a financial commitment. Shopping agreements are generally for a shorter time period than option agreements (often six months), because there is no money offered. They are becoming more and more common, especially when it’s not a competitive situation.

Jennifer Weltz:Yes, that is correct, and there are no standard fees, terms, or renewal processes for options. These vary even more than book advances. But I would say that terms usually aren’t shorter than three or six months and aren’t longer than 24 months; they can be 6 months, 9 months, 12 months, 18 months. It’s more important to ask: How new is the book? How desired is the book? And if a producer wants to have it for a long period of time, how is the author getting compensated for that exclusive time with the book?

A shopping agreement has become more and more popular with producers because this involves no or little money. Also, the producer is already attached to the project, which gives them the safety of knowing you can’t cut them out of the deal. If you’re doing a shopping agreement, I would encourage you to do it for as short a period of time as possible. It’s basically saying that the producer has limited time to make the magic happen, and if not, you both part ways.

Does your agency partner with television and film co-agents, or do you pitch books directly to producers, production companies, studios, or streaming services?

Do you attempt to sell dramatic rights for all the books your agency represents, or only those that seem well suited for adaptation? In what cases, if any, would the publisher retain and exploit these rights?

AH:We partner with co-agents, who have the relationships in Hollywood that we do not. Our goal is to find co-agents for all narrative projects, fiction and nonfiction. We never allow the publisher to retain film rights. We consider those rights extremely valuable, and only in very rare cases can a publisher make a better deal for film rights than our co-agents can. We want to give our authors as much input and control in potential film adaptations as possible, which is why we always prefer to handle those rights.

JW:We do both. We work with some amazing co-agents, but we are an agency that’s almost 45 years old with a huge list of books, and not all co-agents are aware of some of our books. For example, just today, I had somebody contact me about a series of books from the late eighties or early nineties that had reverted, and they wanted to know if rights were available for film. We deal directly with producers who contact us directly, and we negotiate our deals in-house. But if we’re pitching them a book, we have wonderful co-agents we refer them to.

The publisher does not retain film rights. If a publisher is attempting to obtain film rights, question whether you should be doing a deal with that publisher. Sometimes that’s your only option and they have you over a barrel. Obviously, there are exceptions to every rule, such as publishers who have a first-look deal with a studio; there’s nothing wrong with this if it doesn’t bind you to the terms. But we retain film rights for almost all the books we have ever done in 45 years.

We sell dramatic rights for all our books, but not all books lend them themselves to film. The ones that we actively go out and try and sell tend to be ones that might lead to a series or to a film documentary. This means fiction as well as nonfiction books work well for the screen.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

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Categories Movies/TV 1 Comment

NPD Books on July’s US Print Market: 6 Percent Lower, Year to Date

From Publishing Perspectives:

The United States’ market’s print book sales declined by 1.6 million units in July by comparison to the four weeks prior, according to data from the NPD Group’s NPD BookScan update from Kristen McLean.

In her discussion, McLean writes, “Losses in July are historically normal and were a little shallower this year, resulting in 1-point year-to-date gain. July ended 6 percent lower for the year to date on a total print volume of 414 million units, which is 26 million units under 2021 but 51 million units over 2019.”

The upshot, then, is a steady field, “pretty consistent trends across the first seven months of the year,” McLean says. “I don’t expect any major change of course before Labor Day; it seems increasingly likely that we’ll see incremental market movements heading into Q4, and at the moment the larger economic volatility isn’t hitting too hard.”

. . . .

As far as bestseller charts, July’s bestsellers in the States were all fiction, McLean points out, and nine of the Top 10 were adult fiction.

Four of the Top 10 were frontlist titles—again, a point being carefully watched in the American market. The four frontlisted titles have their titles in blue below. Only one of those bestsellers is in hardcover.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes that nine out of the Top Ten were trade paperbacks which typically have lower royalty rates than hardcovers and ebooks (and earn less for the publisher on a per-unit basis).

Amazon’s top sellers are hard to match with a monthly trade publishing top ten list because, to the best of PG’s knowledge, Zon updates its charts in close to real time. If Amazon posts a monthly top-ten list, PG doesn’t know about it.

However, here is Amazon’s list of the Top Ten Best-Selling Paper Books for the week ending July 24:

Where the Crawdads SingVerityIt Ends with UsReminders of HimUgly LoveThings We Never Got OverPortrait of an Unknown WomanThe Seven Husbands of Evelyn HugoThe 6The Hotel NantucketClick to Tweet/Email/Share This Post
Categories Bestsellers, Big Publishing Leave a comment

Not Legal Advice

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Whatever made her happy made me happyWhen you’re in jailThere is nothing nobleTrial Ends in Government Challenge to Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster MergerHow an Antitrust Trial Could Reshape the Books We Read — and Who Writes ThemTrade bodies warn new data mining copyright exception will have ‘severe negative impact’Aphantasia: Writing Fiction With No ‘Mind’s Eye’The Best Ebook Subscription Services for Every Kind of ReaderThe Friend of ContingencyIs Publishing About Art or Commerce?They are just really stupid people in HollywoodWelcome to Philip K. Dick’s dystopiaHundreds of authors expected to take part in mass readings of Rushdie’s worksThe Divorce ColonyGiving money and power

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