- Bloomsbury Press: Ginna-rosity
- The Pew’s research: New eReading numbers
- Drums in Amazonia: Heat on the homefront
- Publishers’ quandary: Ditch the imprints?
- Authors quickly: Andrew Miller
- Authors quickly: Nathan Bransford
- ‘Social’ reading: I want to be alone
- Journalism: The once and future thing
- Radio Litopia: Popping corks at Pottermore
- Writing business: Serious moonlighting
- Writing craft: Great American suffering
- Writing craft: The mandatory and the ornamental
- Writing craft: Darker nights of the soul
- Creativity: No discounts
- Last gas: A later acropolis
He is the one publisher who has engaged.
I have worked at publishers large and small–two Big Six houses, a literary indie, a university press, and currently a house I’d describe as mid-size. Never, ever, at any of them, have I heard authors discussed with “loathing.” At all of them it was fully understood by editors, marketers, and management that the author is, in Jonny’s words, “the primary mover” in the publishing firmament. The whole enterprise would not exist without authors. To put it another way, as one of my colleagues says, “the author is our customer.”
And it’s London agent Jonny Geller’s Manifesto to which he’s responding. (The original essay is now released from a temporary pay-walled status so you can read it free of charge — my thanks to The Bookseller for this).
Delivered with all the assurance and precision Geller brought to his own piece, Ginna’s response cordially but firmly condemns bad practice in publishing where it occurs, and asserts that incidents of the wrong kind reported by authors are rare, regrettable and, at times, inexcusable.
I have made clear elsewhere on this blog that I’m fully aware publishers often fail authors (and themselves for that matter)–for all sorts of reasons. One is simply the tendency of any complex organization to screw up from time to time. Another is that most publishers are under-resourced. Trade publishing is a chancy and low-margin business, and there’s rarely enough money and man-hours to lavish on each title–on any title–as much as it deserves. In the hustle to get things done, there can be a temptation to take shortcuts–and one of the most ill-advised shortcuts is to discount the author’s input about jacket design, flap copy, or marketing ideas when they are at odds with the publisher’s. This does sometimes happen, and sometimes with the arrogant justification that “we’re the professionals.” I have no hesitation in saying this is simply bad publishing, and any author who experiences such treatment is right to resent his publisher for it.
It doesn’t get much more forthright than that, not in any profession.
As author Roz Morris tweeted quickly on reading Ginna’s piece, “You sound like a complete delight.” And as Ginna pointed out in his piece, Morris’ own indictment from her insider experience in publishing, Why do authors get treated so badly?, was even more severe than Geller’s.
Ginna’s willingness to spar with Geller and defend other publishers, not just himself — the fact that he cared enough to write this — makes me wish more of his colleague publishers step forward as he has. Their silence hardly becomes them.
Granted, major publishers today are on the receiving end of a blistering amount of bad news, relentless scrutiny, and loud condemnation, this is true.
But newly empowered authors — including traditionalists — can read in Ginna’s meticulous comments, as in Geller’s and Morris’, a way around what Steve Pressfield (later in the Ether today) calls “the role of a child.”
And here’s Ginna, going the extra mile to include his absent counterparts:
To the charge of disrespecting authors, on behalf of all the publishers I know, I plead not guilty.
Ginna’s words may not be earned by his peers but they’re needed by authors.
I’m grateful to him, Geller, Morris, and the many others whose comments on their articles have played into this two-week exchange, corps-à-corps…even as the wider, battered industry apparently is too caught up in its daily hysteria to mount anything but a passata-sotto, a dropping out of sight, an evasion, on the knotty issue of publisher-author relations.
Silence doesn’t pay. Not anymore. Maybe it never did. Ginna knows that. And since I don’t have that OEE to offer, let’s tweet him off the piste in style: #PorterEndorsed.
The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project titles its study The Rise of eReading and is led by the finding that one-fifth, 21% of Americans have read an e-book. Discussion from the summary reads:
In mid-December 2011, 17% of American adults had reported they read an e-book in the previous year; by February, 2012, the share increased to 21%.
Noting “a spike in the ownership of both tablet computers and ebook reading devices” in the holidays, Pew’s people get at a broader implication of just how fast digital-content consumption is growing by combining survey respondents who say they read books, news, and/or periodicals in digital formats of one-kind or another:
Altogether, 43% of Americans age 16 and older have read long-form writing in digital format as of December 2011 – either e-books or newspaper or magazine material in digital form.
Further elements of the report echo descriptions we hear of the “power ebook consumer. The emphasis here is mine, highlighting a couple of points of spending that are both dramatic and hopeful:
Those who have taken the plunge into reading ebooks stand out in almost every way from other kinds of readers. Foremost, they are relatively avid readers of books in all formats: 88% of those who read e-books in the past 12 months also read printed books.Compared with other book readers, they read more books. They read more frequently for a host of reasons…They are also more likely than others to have bought their most recent book, rather than borrowed it, and they are more likely than others to say they prefer to purchase books in general, often starting their search online.
Some other points from the survey, quickly:
As for the most recent book people read:
- 48% bought it. Owners of ebook readers and tablets were much more likely than others to have bought it.
- 24% borrowed it from family, friends, or co-workers.
- 14% borrowed it from a library.
- 13% got it from another source.
Device owners read more often. On any given day 56% of those who own ebook reading devices are reading a book, compared with 45% of the general book-reading public who are reading a book on a typical day. Some 63% of the e-book device owners who are reading on any given day are reading a printed book; 42% are reading an e-book; and 4% are listening to an audio book.
Device owners are more likely to buy books. Some 61% of ereading device owners said they purchased the most recent book they read, compared with 48% of all readers. Another 15% said they had borrowed their most recent book from a friend or family member (vs. 24% of all readers), and 10% said they borrowed it from a library (vs.14% of all readers).
Amazon’s Kindle Fire, a new tablet computer introduced in late 2011, grew in market share from 5% of the market in mid-December to 14% of the tablet market in mid-January. This change also grew as the overall size of the tablet market roughly doubled.
Among those who do not own tablet computers or e-book reading devices, the main reasons people say they do not own the devices are: 1) they don’t need or want one, 2) they can’t afford one, 3) they have enough digital devices already, or 4) they prefer printed books.
The first was a nationally-representative survey of 2,986 people ages 16 and older between November 16 and December 21, 2011. The overall survey has a margin of error of ± 2 percentage points. After that, a modest number of questions about tablets and e-book readers were asked in two surveys conducted in January, with a margin of error of ± 2.4 percentage points; and the final survey, on tablets and e-books in a survey, fielded from January 20-February 19, 2012, with a margin of error of ± 2 percentage points.
A sidebar: Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, has a book coming out with co-author Barry Wellman, on May 11, from MIT Press. Although it’s not yet specifically listed, Rainie has assured me when I asked him that Networked: The New Social Operating System will be released not only in its current pre-order hardcover but also, ahem, in Kindle format. For e-reading.
In two separate articles, the Seattle Times criticizes Amazon for its business practices and philanthropic efforts, calling it a “giant, silent neighbor.”
Laura Hazard Owen at paidContent writes up how Amazon Gets No Love From Its Hometown Newspaper and describes the unrest in Seattle. The Seattle Times‘ pieces ran with a timeline, How the fortunes of Amazon and Bezos have grown, running from Jeff Bezos’ birth in 1964 in Albuquerque and running up to “Amazon’s Q4 sales disappoint” in January 2012.
Owen is describing part of a four-part, nine-story series the newspaper has produced on Amazon.
Matt Asay was ahead of the series’ complaints about charitable giving, getting onto CNET on March 10 with Getting it wrong on Amazon’s charitable donations. In his commentary, Asay responds to an even earlier story which may have helped prompt the Seattle times, The New Scrooge, by Paul Collins at Slate.
Collins writes at Slate:
While Amazon.com is famously cheap in its prices, it’s also become infamously cheap to the community it lives in.
Asay at CNET, then takes the tack of correlating such criticisms on philanthropic grounds with similar complaints when corporations don’t make open-source contributions.
Corporations like Amazon have long contributed to charities to burnish their images in their communities, for preferential tax treatment, and for other benefits. Open-source contributions are equally self-interested, but arguably open-source contributions serve much wider communities, and to greater effect, even despite their self-interested motives.
Moving on with its series, the Seattle Times on Tuesday had staff writers Hal Bernton and Susan Kelleher report that Amazon warehouse jobs push workers to physical limit. They tell the story of 51-year-old Connie Milby, an Amazon fulfillment center worker for more than a decade at Campbellsville, Kentucky.
Milby, Bernton and Kelleher write, “has been part of the massive blue-collar work force required to fulfill founder Jeff Bezos’ ambitious vision of Amazon as a company that rivals Microsoft and Apple in technological prowess, but also offers one-stop shopping worthy of a Wal-Mart.”
There are a few breaks in the clouds, as when the two reporters write:
In an industry that often offers scant benefits, Amazon provides full-time employees with stock shares after two years on the job, a matching 401(k) and health insurance. Temporary workers, such as those hired during the holiday rush, can buy medical coverage through staffing agencies.
For the most part, though, the story — well worth a read — stresses what one subhead terms the “relentless efficiency” required by Seattle of its 15,000+ regional-warehouse staffers. Going into extensive detail on claims of job-performance pressure and push-back, the piece ends on the note that Milby, the worker with whom the piece started, has been fired for “low productivity.”
“Milby said her 10 years there left her with a bad foot from too many hours on the concrete floors.” The implication here is, of course, that this is a worker worn out and then tossed aside by a company that, according to this same report, works tirelessly to maintain high safety standards, including using financial incentives for good safety practices.
Simply reading the names of the four parts of the Seattle Times’ series on Amazon suggests a negative tone in the approach:
- Part 1: Behind the smile in Seattle
- Part 2: A hammer on the publishers
- Part 3: Pushing back on sales taxes
- Part 4: Worked over in the warehouse
However fair-minded may be the intention of journalists involved in this series, the tone of negative assumption set by such phrasing tends to seed doubt in any thinking reader’s mind.
In other Amazon stories of note:
- Agent Richard Curtis, writing in the Digital Book World Expert Publishing Blog, has a statement from the Authors Guild and quotes it in a post headlined, In Quarrel with Amazon, B&N Backs Down for the Sake of Authors:
Barnes & Noble has agreed to our (the Guild’s) request to bring (Amazon-owned) Marshall Cavendish children’s books back to their stores’ shelves. By our count, more than 250 authors and 150 illustrators have been affected.
- Michael Cader reports at Publishers Lunch in Amazon Asserts the Power of Exclusives
- Amazon issued another of their periodic press releases underscoring how the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library “not only generates additional revenue from loans for authors, but actually increases customer purchases of authors’ work as well”… and detailing the money made by self-published authors who elect to epublish exclusively with the company. The new statistic is that “16 of the top 100 best-selling paid Kindle books in March are exclusive to the Kindle Store.”
Amazon.co.uk, Britain’s biggest online retailer, generated sales of more than £3.3bn in the country last year but paid no corporation tax on any of the profits from that income – and is under investigation by the UK tax authorities.
- Dianna Dilworth at GalleyCat reports 24% Of Kindle Readers Who Borrowed ‘The Hunger Games’ Bought ‘Catching Fire’:
According to Amazon, being able to borrow eBooks leads to sales. The company reported today that in March, every time a customer borrowed an independently-published book from the Kindle Lending Library, the author earned $2.18.
Consumers can’t keep dozens of imprint names straight in their heads, but they can learn the names of six big houses, particularly if they’re starting with names they already know. Like the possibility that Random House should preserve the brand equity in Knopf in addition to building Random House as the general trade imprint, there are nuances to consider in other houses to best implement this strategy.
This is an interesting write from Mike Shatzkin in which he questions the value of imprints as we watch readers, not retailers and distributors, become the “customer” in the world of digital publishing. In Should trade publishers start ditching their B2B imprints for a B2C world?, Shatzkin echoes what so many people have said — that readers rarely are driven by imprint on a book buy any more than TV viewers are following networks. As TV viewers follow shows and actors they like, readers follow authors.
America’s biggest consumers of books can readily remember a few company names to signify “quality”, and perhaps a few more to mean premium content. Knowing a book comes from an established company with a long list of previously-published titles that book readers are familiar with is the kind of signal people need to be persuaded to part with a few additional bucks for an otherwise unknown author. But that’s all we can ask the brand to do: signal professionalism and quality.
One of the firmest appeals for this logic came last September when former agent, now author Nathan Bransford wrote Publishers Are Squandering Their Cachet On Imprints:
What’s an imprint? Basically it’s the name on the spine of a book, usually a division or a group within a larger publisher. The major publishers are made up of literally dozens of imprints, and they’re not all ones that most people know. People have heard of Penguin. They’ve heard of HarperCollins. They know Random House and Knopf and Doubleday and Harlequin and a few others.
Shatzkin sums it up:
The much more nuanced distinctions that the imprint names have been intended to communicate within the trade can’t possibly be delivered cogently to the public at large. And since the public is now the brand target that matters, it is time to align brand strategy and the brands themselves to that reality.
As a longtime reader of Andrew Miller’s extraordinary novels, I’ve been put off by the transAtlantic delay of his new Pure — available since June in the UK from Sceptre, but not due in the States until May 29 (per both Amazon and Barnes and Noble). And even then there’s only a paperback listed for pre-order– no US Kindle or Nook editions showing, though a Kindle edition is selling in the UK.
Miller is shortlisted, we learn from TheBookseller‘s Katie Allen, for the £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction for the new book — which will barely reach the States two weeks ahead of the award.
There was the time shortly after the split when LinkedIn suggested I connect with my ex’s new boyfriend. There was a time when Facebook kept surfacing “remember this moment?” photos of me and my ex from my mom’s profile. I hid and changed my relationship status in the dead of night so as few people as possible would notice the change and ask me about it.
Nathan Bransford / blog.nathanbransford.com
As former agent Nathan Bransford was publishing the first of his Jacob Wonderbar series of kids’ books last year, he also was going through what he succinctly describes as “an unexpected divorce.” And if that alone isn’t enough to send a pang of fellow feeling through you, read his remarkable post, Divorce in the Internet Era.
Worst of all is Gmail, which has one of the most maddening “features” to confront anyone going through a breakup. Nearly every time I wrote an e-mail to friends this past year, Gmail oh-so-helpfully suggested I include my ex-wife in the e-mail. And you can’t turn this off. It still happens, despite my pleas to Google to make it optional. (Google obviously doesn’t employ enough divorcees.)
I don’t scout around online for personal information on my colleagues and acquaintances, myself. So, unlike many people who have followed Bransford’s creative work and move to CNET, I wasn’t aware of what he was going through at the time in his homelife. I look back now on the adamant happiness with which the first Jacob book needed to be presented, and I’m even more impressed with Bransford than before for pulling off that project in such circumstances.
What he does now is share some badly poignant revelations of what the online life does to someone who’s trying to ease some personal pain and move forward.
To move on emotionally after a divorce or a breakup, you have to forget…The relationship eventually feels like a strange dream you once had, and you move on. That’s how we heal. But the Internet doesn’t forget. It has a perfect memory. And, what’s more, it’s constructed to force memories on you with the assumption that the experience will be pleasant.
And while I like to think most of us aren’t dealing with something as traumatic as Bransford has experienced, what he writes here rings so true that it hurts a little to contemplate it. I really appreciate this piece, which he points out was hard to write. No shit. Strong guy, this Bransford. I’m thanking him for this.
There’s barely such a thing left as a personal life anymore. Your life is preserved in Facebook status updates, Google searches, public records, and it’s impossible to erase the past. Whether that’s a good or terrifying thing is beside the point. It just is. I could keep it ambiguous online, or just clear up the mystery. I could continue to dodge questions about my wife, or I could just come out and say I’m divorced. I’m divorced. There’s no hiding from it in the social media era.
Before we put our e-books back on their chargers, a word from Mathew Ingram at GigaOm, in Is making books social a good thing or a bad thing?
Whenever social features come up, I hear friends say that they have no interest in making their books more social, and some even say they prefer reading on a Kindle or Nook because it just has text, and therefore they don’t get distracted by other things while they are trying to read. But surveys of younger users show that many don’t like reading on e-readers precisely because they *aren’t* social, and social media has become a way of life for them.
Ingram is responding here to his colleague Clive Thompson, who predicts a future, Ingram writes, “in which books become just as social as other forms of writing, with comments and conversations integrated into them or revolving around them — but is that what readers want?”
In the end, Ingram writes, the demand for social reading seems to be lagging the interest of proponents such as Thompson.
Some even say they prefer reading on a Kindle or Nook because it just has text, and therefore they don’t get distracted by other things while they are trying to read…I’m surprised we are still so far away from the future that Thompson envisions.
The calamitous newspaper industry, where some 13,400—about one-fourth—of newsroom jobs were lost between 2006 and 2010, according to Pew’s State of News Media 2012 report. As that carnage continues, consumers remain steadfast in their refusal to pay for news online—and news outfits are left scrambling to figure out a profitable future.
In her look at Bloomberg and Reuters: The Future of News, Adweek’s Lucia Moses gets at the growing pains the two news-service giants have encountered at times, trying to bring together such disparate elements of the spectrum as journalists and analysts (the Bloomberg Government project for lobbyists).
I found myself touching on similarly uneasy pairings when I spoke with Jane Friedman’s media ethics class at University of Cincinnati this week about my own experiences in watching marketing and editorial forces brought together under corporate orders. As Moses writes:
“Journalists despise the analysts,” says one Bloomberg staff member. “Reporters felt they had to correct a lot of stuff the analysts got wrong.”
And similarly, advertising people and news people have at times found themselves starkly unhappy bedfellows in merging ownerships, as entertainment-based corporate forces overtook news outlets.
As wrenching as some of the efforts Reuters and Bloomberg have made in this direction, Brian O’Leary points out in The future of news that those have usually been geared toward packaging content consumers would want to pay for.
O’Leary disagrees with voices that insist no user wants to pay for news, and he suggests that journalistic media might have done better for themselves over the past decades if they’d taken early signs of subscriber displeasure as prompts to repackage.
It’s more than useful to distinguish between what we value as publishers and what consumers are willing to pay for. For sixty years, long before online news, consumers were slowly defecting from newspaper subscriptions. That was the time when we should have been asking why.
Earlier today, because I am an evil SEO-milking blogger, I wrote a post with the title One week in, how are the Harry Potter e-books selling? — then went on to say that it’s tough to gauge because they won’t appear on Kindle or Nook bestseller lists. But now there’s an actual figure for ya.
That’s the “SEO-milking” Laura Hazard Owen ‘fessing up to her “evil” ways at paidContent, and reporting Pottermore sales in excess of £1 million (some US$1.58 million) in the first three days of the ebook store’s launch.
Journalist Philip Jones has more:
The number means that the digital versions of the Harry Potter titles may have out-sold their print equivalents during that launch week.
According to Nielsen BookScan, the seven Harry Potter print books brought in £36,000 (US$ 57,200) in sales across bookshops that week, with total spending on the books so far this year at £588,000 (US$ 934 273, but the worldwide figure would be much bigger. In the UK in 2011 the backlist titles brought in sales of £4m (US$ 6.35 million), from sales of 530,000 individual books sold. In the US Nielsen BookScan measured 1.6m units of the Potter books sold in 2011.
It was great to lobby Anna Rafferty of Penguin for a head-to-head Beatrix-vs.-Harry (Potter) virtual-world smackdown. (Although Redmayne, whom we heard on tape, cautioned everyone that @Pottermore is not a virtual world — it’s an “experience.” Ahem.
You can get in on this. The next live wireless transmission from London (calling) is on April 18 and, Daylight Saving Time (not “savings time,” damn it) being what it is on our two continents, the show is at 3pEDT / 2000 BST / 1900 GMT. You can listen and chat at the Radio Litopia site. Or you can amaze your friends with your digital derring-do and listen via iTunes — Litopia is there under the News / Talk Radio section of free online radio there. The Twitter hashtag is always #thenakedbook.
Publishers who make an investment in an author do deserve consideration and protection. They deserve the author’s best work (non-diluted by overwriting). And they are entitled not to wake up one morning to find their author selling a novel in the same genre for 99¢. Authors need to appreciate the harsh business reality of traditional publishing.
You want to read this post, in part, for his five-paragraph litany of the many traditionally and self-published projects that make up his career — which is executed at Starbucks — both under his name and with pseudonym.
But also get Bell saying to publishers that authors need a break from non-compete clauses (and out-of-print) to be able to fairly make their best moves and float everybody’s boat. Keep your agent handy.
I see no reason…for publishers to resist sitting down with author and agent and hammering out contractual language that is fair to both sides on this matter.
Let me point out that difficult writers are often good writers. Reasonably protective of their prose, they unreasonably see editing as an assault. They are defensive. They read the editing with “No” at the ready. Unwilling to consider why a particular change might be helpful, and unable to read objectively to find the problem in the original, they assume that they know best, and that the editor is meddling.
When nobody’s snooping over your shoulder, just scroll down Saller’s piece at Lingua Franca — arm’s length — to be sure you couldn’t be misconstrued as such a creature, no, no, no. Saller’s talking about the kind of writers who:
…are passive-aggressive or rude. On Page 354, where the copy editor failed to correct an instance of something she has been correcting throughout, instead of simply marking it or querying, they force a confession of incompetence: “I fail to see how this is different from the examples you changed on Pages 3, 43, 67, and 112.”
They inflate the value of their own outdated knowledge of grammar and style and misjudge their consistency in applying it to their own writing.
They are uncommunicative and dictatorial. Instead of engaging in a dialogue or negotiation with the editor, they simply write “Stet” or “No.”
And if you’re having trouble with Saller’s meditation, have a look at Sarah Fay’s article, After ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ What’s Next for Self-Publishing?, for The Atlantic. (Personally, I like to pronounce that title “Fitty Shades” — it has the effect of pulling its pants down, know what I mean?)
In reality, self-publishing offers anyone with a manuscript and a credit card the opportunity to publish, and the success rate is less than one percent… Self-published books have yet to offer the quality and originality sometimes lacking in books produced by mainstream publishers. Instead, it’s been a hotspot for mediocrity. The Celestine Prophecy. The Artist’s Way. And now, the 50 Shades trilogy.
Fay is getting at the gee-whiz, root-for-the-underdog appeal of self-publishing stories, especially for people who like to call these writers “indies.” She warns “don’t be surprised if no new Whitmans (he self-published) appear anytime soon.”
When we publicize and blog about self-published authors we should note that at least right now they fascinate us not because of their talent but because they’re underdogs, writing risqué books, and achieving unheard-of monetary success…Perhaps the digital age will produce e-editors, e-agents, and e-publicists that specialize in bringing e-literature, rather than just e-books, to a reading public ready for more.
Here’s a possibility: Steve Pressfield is thinking about all this in Betting on Yourself, Part Two as he prepares to self-publish Turning Pro — “coming soon from a publisher (very) near you” — a follow-up to The War of Art:
We’re tired of being in the role of the child. The writer who signs a contract and cashes the check forfeits all right to complain. Whatever evils may befall him or his book, he has enabled those evils himself. It’s not the publisher’s fault. The writer has no one to blame but himself.
Pressfield’s point is that in traditional publishing, the house assumes the financial risk.
But there’s a price to be paid for evading that risk. The price is that we become the child, and the studio/label/publisher becomes the adult.
It’s a pure Pressfield play.
We’re putting it out in the hope that it might inspire other artists and entrepreneurs to bet on themselves in the same or similar ways.
Obviously Katniss Everdeen should have dated both those dudes in the book rather than suffer the guilt and sorrow of having to choose just one. Let’s stop living in the 20th Century, with all its bullshit morality and monogamy. Hot people can do whatever the hell they want. Those two whatstheirnames would be like, “Aw, Katniss, but I love you so much.” And she’d be like, “If you truly loved me you’d make out with each other.” And then they would and then everything would be awesome.
Jim Behrle, apparently ready for a lot of people to cut to the chase, gets into The Awl with How To Write The Great American Novel. He starts by ordering, “Move out of Brooklyn.” He later requires you to “Stop writing in Starbucks.” (Do not tell this to James Scott Bell, with whom I’m creating the Balzac Blend.)
Then he gets into a topic in which we all love to wallow. I thought I’d bring some of it to you. As Behrle has it:
When your old teachers won’t even remember your name or recognize you on the street you come to the horrible realization that even sunlight is an illusion. Suffering is a key essential to great writing. But there’s probably enough suffering in your life already—or suffering will come on its own. If you feel like paying someone to teach you to be a writer…PayPal me $100,000 after reading this here article.
So there it is. That suffering business. We’ll get back to that shortly.
Beginnings and endings are tough to get right, but at least we have a checklist of things to accomplish. The middle of the story, on the other hand, is a yawning blank…Fortunately, if we pay attention to solid story structure, we’ll find that the middle of the story has a checklist all its own.
When you make income as a writer, the taxes will not be taken from those checks before you get them. It’s up to you to pay the tax. And I guarantee that you won’t have the money when April 15th rolls around if you don’t set it aside, plus the IRS will assess penalties if you wait that long. You should probably file estimated taxes on a quarterly basis.
With an eye on the calendar, agent Rachelle Gardner goes over financial issues for authors in Writers and Taxes, and points out that — as with the job of developing a manuscript — there’s usually no better advice than getting professional help.
I worry that what we’re seeing is the next, misguided generation of “magazines.” The idea is that you pay a small amount for a 5,000-word piece, stuff it onto your e-reader for later, and then don’t read it. Rinse. Repeat. I also worry that what they mean by “long form” is long-winded, interesting only to a chosen few and valued by nearly none. The idea of long form reeks of a sort of schoolmarmish attitude that all of the short form content we are consuming is junk. Arguably, this is often true, but it’s not anyone’s place to tell us what to consume, right?
In TL;DR, John Biggs gets himself moderately exercised over the question of long-form work online, recent efforts to promote it, and what he sees as an underlying assumption that shorter-form work is less valid. A crafty thinker of a piece.
Type designers have used this extra capacity for lots of things, mostly to expand the number of accented letters and international symbols available, so Open Type fonts can be used in many languages. But other designers have been more whimsical, and included type ornaments in their fonts.
In 5 Favorite Fonts with Hidden Type Ornaments, Joel Friedlander at The Book Designer brings to light the virtual “Easter eggs” that lie tucked away in many fonts’ listings. The “ornaments” may best be known to many as elements found in Wingdings, for example, but may be designed into many other font families with matching subtleties.
Facebook demands consideration from nearly everyone, because choosing to stay off it means stepping away from the social sharing and conversation of 800+ million people. Yet choosing to play the game as an author or marketer—and use Facebook as a means to an end—can spell immediate failure if your friends and followers feel used.
Jane Friedman, host of the Ether and hashtag unto herself, goes over 5 Principles for Using Facebook — which, she points out, is hard to advise on “because it keeps changing—in structure, functionality, and effectiveness.”
And speaking of functionality and effectiveness, we’ve had the news this week of Friedman’s appointment to a newly created Web Editor seat at Virginia Quarterly Review (VQR), based at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
As much of a loss as she’ll be to the University of Cincinnati, this is a master stroke by VQR, just as it pulls down a triple nomination for American Society of Magazine Editors awards and waves off longtime editor Ted Genoways. Journalist Donovan Webster steps into the VQR Editor position in the interim, with a national search to follow, coordinated with publisher Jon Parrish Peede.
The mounting focus on VQR’s life online embodied in Friedman’s appointment coincides with an essential self-reinvention of this prestigious 87-year-old journal — while it’s still pulling down multiple award nominations in a pool that includes The New Yorker, Wired, New York Magazine and GQ.
You don’t last from the year The Great Gatsby was published to the year a black president runs for a second term without staying ahead of your own curve. VQR clearly is ready for Friedman’s trademark “Electric Speed” and intends to throw off new sparks of its own.
Keep an eye here on #JaneFriedman.com for developments. And stand by to pitch in on moving day. I’ll supervise heavy lifting.
I can say very firmly that in my experience, suffering is largely of no bloody use to anyone, and definitely not a prerequisite for creation. If an artist has managed to take something appalling and make it into art, that’s because the artist is an artist, not because something appalling is naturally art.
So keep Jonah Lehrer out of sight while A.L. Kennedy plays through, will you? Kennedy’s now collaring “young and new writers” whom he finds are “intent upon suffering, rather than writing”:
It can seem that wearing black, moping, engineering car-crash relationships and generally being someone nobody wants to sit beside on the bus could be a shortcut to writing success.
OK, thanks, Kennedy. But let me turn now to something of an opposing view. It’s found in Lehrer’s new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, just given a strong welcome by Michiko Kakutani in the Times, a review headlined How To Cultivate Eureka Moments.
There’s a stumble at the top of her review in which Kakutani asks, “What makes the cartoon light bulb of creativity go off over someone’s head?” Surely she meant the light bulb goes on, not off. But she presses on to correctly observe that Lehrer “largely avoids the sort of gauzy hypotheses and gross generalizations that undermined (Malcolm) Gladwell’s 2008 book, ‘Outliers.'”
She doesn’t, however, take on some of Lehrer’s most interesting work, in which he focuses on “the striking correlation between creativity and depressive disorders.”
The enhancement of…mental skills during states of sadness might also explain the striking correlation between creativity and depressive disorders. In the early 1980s, Nancy Andreasen, a neuroscientist at the University of Iowa, interviewed several dozen writers from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop about their mental history. While Andreasen expected the artists to suffer from schizophrenia at a higher rate than normal—“There is that lingering cliché about madness and genius going together,” she says—that hypothesis turned out to be completely wrong. Instead, Andreasen found that 80 percent of the writers met the formal diagnostic criteria for some type of depression.
What Lehrer describes is Andreasen’s “cognitive style” in writers and other artists, as a result of a dogged, long-term effort which “often requires years of careful attention as the artist fixes mistakes and corrects errors.”
There is nothing romantic about this kind of creativity, which consists mostly of sweat, sadness, and failure. It’s the red pen on the page and the discarded sketch, the trashed prototype and the failed first draft. It’s ruminating in the backs of taxis and popping pills until the poem is finished. Nevertheless, such a merciless process is sometimes the only way forward. And so we keep on thinking, because the next thought might be the answer.
Note: More on Jonah Lehrer and his work in the next section.
Note: More on Jonah Lehrer and his work in the previous section.
Of course, the only solution to the problem of human innovation is more innovation. After a resource is exhausted, we are forced to exploit a new resource, if only to sustain our craving for growth.
Sticking with Jonah Lehrer, there’s a jarring charm to his Wired “Frontal Cortext” essay The Cost Of Creativity, written from the road. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has Lehrer out on a long book tour — not a blog tour, a book tour, a real one, in which you move your body physically across the land and actually meet readers and booksellers, can you Imagine?
“The best part of book tours,” Lehrer writes, “are the questions.” And it’s a fourth grader’s question he’s coping with here: “Isn’t it possible that humans are too creative?”
We clear-cut forests, and so we turn to oil; once we exhaust our fossil-fuel reserves, we’ll start driving electric cars, at least until we run out of lithium…So here’s the paradox: creativity is the only solution to the very real problem of creativity.
Then Lehrer shows you why his book has debuted at the top of the Times’ charts, basically answering the question with a depth that will revisit that fourth grader many times in his life:
Because our lifestyle has become so expensive to maintain, every new resource now becomes exhausted at a faster rate. This means that the cycle of innovations has to constantly accelerate, with each breakthrough providing a shorter reprieve. The end result is that our creativity isn’t just increasing the pace of life; it is also increasing the pace at which life changes.
The theoretical physicist Geoffrey West tells Lehrer that innovation-driven revolutions which once arrived “every few thousand years” now are coming along at roughly 15-year intervals. As Lehrer puts it, “such revolutions aren’t fun. They’re unsettling and disruptive.”
Publishing’s digital revolution comes to change-weary mind, doesn’t it?
Such upheavals, writes Lehrer:
…appear to be the inevitable downside of our ceaseless ingenuity, for creativity comes with a multiplier effect: new ideas beget more new ideas. The treadmill is going fast. And it’s getting faster.
I know I should pack my own bags and get out of this country before it collapses on itself but I am unable to. Perhaps the photo I have sent you of my daughter and me taken at her middle school graduation at the American Community School shows one of the reason why I stay, why I write, why I feel so much pain. I wanted her to grow roots here.
If you haven’t traveled in Greece, it’s hard, I know, to understand the rugged hold the country gets on your heart. I’ve spent so much time there, from Agios Pavlos on Crete’s wild underside to Macedonia’s Thessaloniki. Long ago, I could pick up mail from my Stateside parents at the American Express on Syntagma Square in Athens and live for weeks on the islands with the check they enclosed. Now, as Frangoulis sings, “our letters stay sealed.”
I sneak a bag of food and give it to him. He cups my hands into his and shakes them tightly to thank me. I cannot look him in the eyes. He could just as easily be sitting at a chic Kolonaki neighborhood cafe. That is the look he has and from the tight handshake I can tell he has just fallen through the cracks.
I don’t know if it is my right to pass the hold Greece has on me to my child. I might be able to create stories or poems or sculptures out of what I feel, but I cannot tell her with straight-laced logical words why we are here, why we remain, why it is important not to abandon ship at this time.
I have good friendships in Greece, and news colleagues from CNN International. I hear one of them, John Psarapoulos, sometimes on Morning Edition telling our necktie-knotting workaday nation in his patient, Hellas-rounded English about corruption and punishment in the shadow of the Pnyx.
It’s damned hard to feel such concern for a place, for people, and be able to do nothing.
Greece is more than a place; it is where my roots are, a primal memory woven inside me with passion, hunger, and a fleeting sense of peace I extract momentarily. Location, translation, creation, colliding cultures inspire me and allow me to fly away with my pen. It is the only way I know how to breathe.
Before you leave (or while you read the Ether), give this Q2 Music player a spin. Q2 is an NPR-affiliated free 24/7 stream of music I like to offer to writers. These are living composers, many of whom write for Hollywood as well as for the international concert stage. Let me know what you think.
Key imagery: iStockphoto / CVMorgan