Writing on the Ether


By

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, JK Rowling, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader Table of Contents

  1. Message from Pottermore: It’s the content, stupid
  2. Message from Pottermore 2: It’s the author’s content
  3. Authors and publishers: Reverse royalties?
  4. Selling it, Part 1: The word on blurbs
  5. Selling it, Part 2: Pro-motion
  6. ‘Social’ media: Keep your hands off my face
  7. ‘Social’ media: Body and soul, ‘face’ and ‘book’
  8. Apple & the Publishers: Agency pricier
  9. Writing craft: Romancing remuneration
  10. Next to last gas: Son of a daughter
  11. Last gas: John Paul Wiggin’s son in SC

Message from Pottermore: It’s the content, stupid

 

Well. Tuesday was certainly a blogger’s pants-wetter, wasn’t it? With your kind permission, I offer the mildest caricature of the ‘sphere…

  • 6:47 a.m. … The Pottermore store is open early!…
  • 7:40 a.m. …damned DST, it’s April in England already…
  • 8: 17 a.m. …Pottermore ebooks are being sold DRM-free…
  • 8: 25 a.m. … it’s encrypted up to a hog’s wart on my Kindle…
  • 10:05 a.m. … who put that watermark on Harry’s forehead?…
  • 10:40 a.m. … whoa, look at Barnes & Noble empty out…
  • 10:45 a.m. … BN is sending its Harry Potter fans to Pottermore to get their Nook-ish editions of the ebooks…
  • 10:55 a.m. …Zou bisou bisou…
  • 11:03 a.m. …Sony Reader Store same thing…
  • 11:20 a.m. … wait, not Amazon, too! Jeff Bezos is  sending his customers away to Pottermore. Say it ain’t so…
  • 11:21 a.m. … why not sell himself a handbag and go to hell in it…
  • 11:26 a.m. … that’s how the English witch Rowls…
  • 11:27 a.m. … and all Yahoo shall be her parking lot…
  • 11:32 a.m. … it’s another British invasion…
  • 12:20 p.m. … I saw Goody Rowling with the Devil…
  • 12:22 p.m. … whites of their eyes, Bezos…
  • 1:08 p.m. … into a toad under a cabbage in Seattle…
  • 2:04 p.m. … wait a minute, wait a minute…
  • 2:07 p.m. … she’s taken away the Buy buttons…
  • 2:25 p.m. … look out, she’s got a wand!…
  • 2:26 p.m. … duck, you snitch!…
  • 2:49 p.m. … she must have side-swiped Shatzkin, his hair doesn’t always stand on end like that, does it?…

Writing his second article in as many days for TheFutureBook on it, Philip Jones — to my mind our lead reporter on this big story — captured the uproar nicely in The Guardian’s How Pottermore cast an ebook spell over Amazon and, here, in TheFutureBook’s  Pottermore gets its wand on:

Having been briefed on how the Harry Potter e-books would come to market last week, even I have been surprised by the reaction—particularly among the digerati who have spent the past 24 hours unpicking the nuances. It was never going to be easy to match expectations, particularly for a brand such as Harry Potter which has to worry about fans as young as six and seasoned publishing observers as wise as Mike Shatzkin.

And speaking of Mike Shatzkin, without overreaching about the mechanics, he went to work as the news developed to get some industry-dynamics context onto the moment before it was frittered away in speculation about the technology used. Here he is in What’s the greater fear for publishers? Amazon or piracy?

In a refreshing change from recent history, the content owner was able to present Amazon with a “take it or leave it” proposition. They decided to “take it”. They were wise. The game was changing either way.

Shatzkin hit every mark, as he usually does, for his audience — people whose main perspective is that of the publishing core and its business operations.

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And for them, for everyone, even those not considered central to the industry, the salient points of what has happened are these:

  • author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, JK Rowling, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader

    At Pottermore: Harry Potter ebooks await.

    Pottermore’s unprecedented agreement with the major retailers except Apple succeeds in breaking Harry Potter buyers free of those sites and tractor-beaming them in to Pottermore.

  • There, the author collects those readers’ money. Now, in one write, this is all you’d think Pottermore got from this extraordinary setup. Leigh Beadon at TechDirt delivers a those click-weary, whining reception: Harry Potter And The Missing Middlemen: Where The Pottermore Store Goes Wrong. Pottermore, Beadon pouts, means “the fans suffer” from having to open a Pottermore account. That’s a point: The poor things have to type in their first and last names and address and everything, you know. Beadon sobs on:

The only advantage is that Rowling makes a little bit more money from each sale—but not all the money, because despite being a direct-to-fan model, her publisher apparently still gets a cut, and the partner bookstores will be paid affiliate fees.

  • Actually, the advantage, I’d say, is data. More than money, a bit of which Rowling already has. Now, she gets all that ID and contact data, data, data, rich, fresh, live, crawling data on all those “suffering fans” we’re weeping for because they’ve had to, quoting Beadon again, “jump through hoops for an electronic version.”
  • Make that eight copies of “an electronic version.” Those “suffering fans,” once through those dreadful hoops, get eight copies of a book. Formatted as they wish. Eight copies, count ‘em, eight.
  • Pottermore allows its “suffering fans” to link their eight copies up to the devices they choose (i.e. Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, etc.) to use in reading the Scriptori Potteria.
  • And what departs from Pottermore, if you will, is DRM-free. If you get an ePub version, it will be watermarked. A digital watermark might, for example, indicate that your copy was uploaded to a pirate site. But is not the same as DRM.
  • DRM goes onto a Pottermore book only when it is formatted for you by, say, Amazon for your Kindle, B&N for your Nook, etc. — not by Pottermore but when it’s “wrapped” for you by the company behind your selected device.
  • In case you’ve heard confusing language saying that Pottermore was “asking” retailers to DRM copies, a bit of info from Jones on a private e-mail chain will help you. I’m quoting him here with his permission:

It is right that Pottermore requested that DRM be applied to these files, but that was because they (Pottermore) never touch the file and can therefore not watermark them. This applies to all those partners, including Google and Sony.

And that’s as far as I need to go on the tech issues because there’s so much out there. At my last check, a Google search gave me 1,019 news hits on Pottermore.

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Note Laura Hazard Owen on paidContent with Pottermore, Day 2: Here Come The Complaints. She enumerates some of the inevitable nay-saying that follows a coup of this order.

One qualm about Pottermore in her list holds water. It was first mentioned first to me by Guy LeCharles Gonzalez and then written up well in ‘Pottermore’ Breaks All Retailers and Rules (Except Apple’s and Region Restrictions) by Tim Carmody at Wired. JK Rowling’s site won’t sell you the original British versions of her books if you’re in the States. As Carmody stresses:

I can buy or borrow the U.S. versions of the Harry Potter books anywhere. I can’t get the U.K. versions, the ones the author wrote, at the author’s own site…Even the most radical, tectonic-plate-shifting experiments in digital publishing are still part and parcel of the world of books we’ve inherited: its assumptions, its economics, and its encumbrances.

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I’d also recommend Mathew Ingram’s assessment from about 3 p.m. ET on Tuesday. By that time, much good info was in place, and he made a stable assessment of the action: What book publishers should learn from Harry Potter at GigaOm.

While not casting the question as a pivot with Amazon as Shatzkin does, Ingram gets us to the same basic question: how long will our publishers chatter on about piracy when, as Brian O’Leary would surely remind us (see A Pirate’s Dilemma), abundance, not limitations, is what wins the day?

You get eight copies in any formats you like from Pottermore when you buy a book. Here lies abundance. 

They never were dumb, those Brits.

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Message from Pottermore 2: It’s the author’s content

 

Having reclaimed the fields of Pottermore here then, if only briefly, from the gabbling blog-fest, let’s talk about it from the real heart of the story. Because the only thing the readers know is the story. The only thing that makes Pottermore the slam dunk it is? — those readers who bond with that story. That content. Plenty of great marketing over plenty of years, absolutely, kudos to the publishing and studio people who have positioned the Potter oeuvre. But it’s the oeuvre, that suite of stories, that has grabbed both younger and adult readers. Content. By an author.

I like this question from one of my favorite colleagues in Dublin, the humanist Eoin Purcell. I’ve obtained his permission to use it here. The “she,” of course, is Ms. Rowling:

What if she starts selling the technological platform and offering paid-for consultancy to other big-brand authors on how to do what she’s done?

Now, we’re talking the revolution.

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No, of course the Pottermore setup isn’t replicable by other authors. But there are parallels with the case of Amanda Hocking. While she and her DIY “vampyre” shtick also stand as unique among writers, her example of self-publisher-invited-in-from-the-cold changes authorial thinking. It’s the same with Rowling: anything but your everyday success, and yet, she has changed things.

Where many see a story about branding, I see an exceptional story about an author and her content.

In his post, Author, Niche & Power Shifts: What Pottermore MIGHT Point To, Purcell remembers there is an author driving this powerhouse — not a disembodied brand. He writes, underline mine:

I’ve long felt that the power balance between authors and publishers has shifted and will shift further as digital change drives home a point I made most clearly in my essay No New Normal: The Value Web:

All of this will happen despite, or perhaps because of the fact that, the actual slice of value captured by each player changes in size and shape. Publishers will be forced to cede more revenue to authors, the idea that 25% Net is a defensible long-term ebook royalty rate is a farce best forgotten about quickly.

A bit more:

If publishers hope to use author brand and scale to attract readers direct then they need to persuade the authors to work with them.

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This gets me back to some discussions I had over the weekend around my post at Writer Unboxed, ‘Social’ Media: And the Boat We Rowed In On.

author, authors, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, An Agent's Manifesto, book, confab, conference, critic, criticism, critique, DBW, Digital Book World, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Roz Morris, James Scott Bell, Kathy Meis, Pappus, Serendipite Studios, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Inge Morath, Tampa, Garrison Channel, curator, curation

Crew on Garrison Channel at Port of Tampa / @Porter_Anderson

In it, I’ve brought up the Magnum Photos collective of world-class photographers started in 1947 in Paris by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Still a force today, with editorial offices in New York, Paris, London, and Tokyo, Magnum may be a point of reference for collectives of authors. No, it’s not the United Artists model of Hollywood. The photographers of Magnum — like authors — work as free agents, singly, not together in collaborative projects as film people do. In this format, the central collective provides the business services, such as  publishing and distribution, that a committed, engaged, and exclusive group of authors might need to direct their own careers.

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, JK Rowling, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader

Image from MagnumPhotos.com: Magnum Contact Sheets is an exhibition of Magnum photographers’ work running through May 6, 2012, at the Intl. Center of Photography, 1133 Ave. of the Americas, NYC. Info: 212-857-0000

Magnum photographers send their new work to the collective’s editorial offices for processing, archiving, and distribution with rights management provided by its staffers. In a similar setup, authors could utilize what publishing and/or management services they needed from the collective’s staff of specialists, generating branding for themselves, as Magnum photographers do, if they chose to.

Nor does such a collective have to stand at the height of the Magnum artists’ careers to be effective. Rowling is Magnum class, easily, yes. But cooperatives can be configured to handle any group’s level of sophistication and clout.

The real point isn’t in forming a collective anymore than it’s in DRM and watermarks. The real point is in the “power shift” Purcell is seeing — authors taking the wheel.

As I wrote at Writer Unboxed, “What if a group of authors acquired a publisher?”

Far-fetched? Compare it to: “What if a major author made Amazon send its customers to her to buy her books?”

I’m not a Potter fan, myself, although in the books I’ve read of the series, I surely see the appeal and I honor Quidditch well-played. As far as I’m concerned, this author’s best magic has been deployed here in real life. I’ll give JK Rowling a lift in my Prius any day that broom fails her.

Update on Potter ebooks from Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch: Potter eBooks Now Available to Libraries:

As of Thursday morning, the Harry Potter ebooks and digital audio recordings are available to libraries through OverDrive, as previously promised. Participating libraries can be found via www.overdrive.com/harrypotter. OverDrive is providing EPUB files, and library patrons can borrow Kindle-format files in the US.

Update on Potter library ebooks from paidContent’s Laura Hazard Owen at 9 a.m. Thursday:

If you want to borrow a Harry Potter e-book from the library, place a hold now. At the New York Public Library, there are 78 holds on the ebook version of the first title in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The NYPL bought 50 copies.

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Authors and publishers: Reverse royalties?

 

This might be too radical, but if a book hasn’t earned out, and isn’t earning much, the publisher could consider restructuring the contract with the author.  Erase the advance, and work out a profit sharing model that gives the author incentive to seriously promote.  Right now many authors are locked into contracts where they have a disincentive to promote in the vain hopes they might get their rights back.  Or offer the authors a chance at buying their rights back with reverse royalties.

This is Bob Mayer at the Digital Book World Expert Publishing Blog, in another angle on author-publisher relations, in The Untapped Potential of Backlist.  He’s talking about backlists trapped in a profitless netherworld.

I really think publishers have to change their attention from distribution and work hand in hand with authors. The investment has already been made in these books. Now a little investment in time and a rethinking of contracts could yield great benefits.

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Selling it, Part 1: The word on blurbs

 

First, I was getting more manuscripts and galleys than I could possibly have read, even if I did nothing else, even if I were a certified graduate of Evelyn Wood’s speed-reading school…Nor did I want to be stuck with the choice of saying something nice about a book I didn’t care for or indicating my dislike of the thing to its editor or author. The only way to avoid that particular no-win situation is to steer clear of the whole business. Hence, no blurbs.

In No, I won’t give you a blurb. Here’s why: at his site, Lawrence Block looks at the whole back-scratching party, explains a couple of notable exceptions, and ends up reiterating a policy many authors may want to consider.

This is a stance many writers adopt sooner or later. A rush of blurbish generosity is a not uncommon response to success, and both Stephen King and Mario Puzo were at one point accused of never having met a book they didn’t like…but just as the new media facilitates the requests in the first place, so does it make it easy to respond. I always do, and I always say no.

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Selling it, Part 2: Pro-motion

 

What if authors started thinking about promotion as part of their creative lives? What would a writer’s life look like if creativity and promotion were blended? …Authors who incorporate promotion into their creative lives are having a lot more fun, becoming better writers, building longer-term relationships with their readers, and selling more books than those who keep these two responsibilities separate.

This is Kathy Meis at Creative Flux in The ART of Book Promotion with examples featuring Colin Falconer, Roz Morris, and the good Dr. Harrison Solow to explicate what she’s proposing:

I’m suggesting that when we put the “art” back in book promotion, both authors and readers benefit. Let’s start by taking a look at a few examples of this “blending” done well.

 

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‘Social’ media: Keep your hands off my face

 

In March 2010, only 17.2 percent of users hid their friends list. By June 2011, more than half (52.6 percent) did so. Researchers at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University got their data by crawling 1.4 million Facebook profiles from New York City two times, 15 months apart. Then they checked to see how people’s behavior on the site had changed during that interval.

Here’s Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic with new survey data about The Unsocial Network: Privacy Is Staging a Comeback on Facebook. Madrigal reports the survey’s staffers noting that women tend to be “more private than men” and young and middle-aged people tend to be “more private than older users.”

In sum, Madrigal writes, we’re seeing not just a change in how people are using the platform but also of the platform, itself:

On Facebook, to change the way one uses the service is to change the service itself. And that’s exactly what’s happening as users get more sophisticated about their privacy. A Facebook page used to be a sort of personal homepage for everyone on the web; now, that way of using the service is in steep decline.

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‘Social’ media: Body and soul, ‘face’ and ‘book’

 

This means that if you use the word “book” on the Internet in a way that Facebook or its lawyers deem unsavory, the social network can decide to sue you. This is not a joke.

That’s Adam Clark Estes at The Atlantic Wire making it un-Like-ably clear just how grotesque it is that Facebook Now Claims to Own the Word ‘Book.’

As ArsTechnica’s Jon Brodkin ellaborates:

Facebook is trying to expand its trademark rights over the word “book” by adding the claim to a newly revised version of its “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities,” the agreement all users implicitly consent to by using or accessing Facebook.

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How do Zuckerberg’s people try to pull off something like this? It’s worth reading, just for the Orwellian cast it throws over the whole so-called Facebook “service.”  Here’s the precise mechanism, per Brodkin, of just how Facebook asserts trademark on word “book” in new user agreement — emphasis mine;

If you view the current Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, you’ll find this sentence:  “You will not use our copyrights or trademarks (including Facebook, the Facebook and F Logos, FB, Face, Poke, Wall and 32665), or any confusingly similar marks, without our written permission.”

32665 is the number allowing Facebook users to update their pages through text message. The newly revised user agreement reads as follows:

“You will not use our copyrights or trademarks (including Facebook, the Facebook and F Logos, FB, Face, Poke, Book and Wall), or any confusingly similar marks, except as expressly permitted by our Brand Usage Guidelines or with our prior written permission.”

So now remind me — which company is it we like to call “evil,” here in the publishing industry?

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Apple & the Publishers: Agency pricier

 

The DoJ’s investigation and a related civil lawsuit touch on issues bigger than rising e-book prices or even collusion between publishers. The cases are also about who has the right to sue e-book publishers, the nature of publishers’ bilateral interactions with Apple and other retailers, and whether it’s even possible for a true agency model to exist for virtual goods like e-books.

Tim Carmody at Wired, in Bigger Than Agency, Bigger Than E-Books: The Case Against Apple and Publishers, lays out perhaps the most thorough reading I’ve found yet of the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation into allegations of collusion between Apple and five of the Big Six publishers.

This is not an easy read. The subject becomes more complex, not less, as you get the differences in “hub-and-spoke’ conspiracy and “conscious parallelism,” for example. But Carmody takes the time and goes to the trouble to make it clear that “The real issue…isn’t the agency model, but secret agreements between competitors.”

A useful, clarifying read:

There are three major points of law at stake in both the class-action suit and the Justice Department investigation against Apple and the five publishers:

  1. Whether and how the agency model applies to virtual goods;
  2. Whether Apple and publishers engaged in a “hub-and-spoke” conspiracy or simply “conscious parallelism”;
  3. The status of the “most-favored nation” clause, common to many legal contracts today, which Apple used to ensure that books could not be sold elsewhere at a lower price than in the iBooks store.

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Writing craft: Romancing remuneration

 

As I was writing this series on making a living as a writer, it occurred to me that maybe the most important key, beyond volume or variety or acknowledging the challenges, is this: that in order to make a living as a writer, we have to stop romanticizing it.

In the third part of her Making a Living as a Writer series, agent Rachelle Gardner  finds her way to the other side of the dream.

At some point we have to stop saying “I write because I have to” or “I write for the pure joy of it” and change the inner mantra to something like, “I’m aiming to make a living from doing what I love, and that means treating it like a business. I can still love it, even if it’s a business.”

In that business, agent Donald Maass writes in Entertainment vs. Truth:

Entertainers often are unashamed. The harder they insist on their purpose, though, the more likely it is that I’ll find their stories formulaic and their characters stereotypical.

And what of their clear-eyed brethren? Maass continues, at Writer Unboxed:

The truth tellers, by the same token, can be equally uncompromising. Yet the more they avow their disdain for commercial success, the more I know I will find their manuscripts small and chicken-hearted.

He’ll easily be able to tell those manuscripts’ inciting incidents from their key events, however, if those entertainers and truth-tellers have taken to heart K.M. Weiland’s advice in her Secrets of Story Structure, Part 5:

The key event is the moment when the character becomes engaged by the inciting event. For example, in most detective stories, the inciting event (the crime) takes place apart from the main character, who doesn’t become involved with it until the key event, when he takes on the case. The key event is the glue that sticks the character to the impetus of the inciting event.

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Myth buster Roz Morris writes about the popular idea of banging out two and three novels per year, in Some novels should be written slowly.

A thriller designed as an airport read is probably not going to get much better if you spend a year honing every paragraph. Series are faster too – you know your characters and where you’re going, so half the work is done for you already. A more literary, thoughtful work takes discovery. I sometimes worry that all I’ve got is muddle, and no model to tell me how to put it together. But with time, it comes.

I also like Jane Friedman’s The Marketing Paradox: Start Small To Get Big at Writer Unboxed, in which she points out the kind of ambitions so many writers have of reaching millions without ever having targeted a market. Beware, Friedman writes, thinking along the lines of:

  • My book has a broad audience and could be enjoyed by anyone.
  • I don’t want to be pigeon holed—I want to attract all types of readers.
  • If my book could get promoted on [big-name TV show], everyone would see how widely appealing my work is.
  • When extra-terrestrials land, they’ll become a new audience for my book!

And then there’s Steve Pressfield, my favorite warrior, going at the money of the whole thing in Betting on Yourself. I love this:

If I have $10,000, should I put it in the stock market? Or should I use that cash to back my own dream?

My stuff has crashed and burned 90% of the time. But always when I find myself with money, I use it to buy time—time for me to work.

I bet on myself.

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Next to last gas: Son of a daughter

 

No trend that I’ve ever noticed has seemed quite so pervasive as the daughter phenomenon. Seriously, once you start noticing them, they’re everywhere. A recent issue of Shelf Awareness had ads for both The Sausage Maker’s Daughters and The Witch’s Daughter. I’m Facebook friends with the authors of The Hummingbird’s Daughter, The Baker’s Daughter, The Calligrapher’s Daughter, and The Murderer’s Daughters, and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

Author Emily St. John Mandel is such an adroit essayist at The Millions. It’s always a pleasure to find one of her pieces laid out with its numbered sections (normally five, I believe), an argument’s logic gone modular.

Here, from Part 4:

From “The ____’s Daughter, Emily St. John Mandel, The Millions

I was curious to see if women were more likely to end up with a The __’s Daughter book than men, either because they chose the title themselves or because their editors chose the title for them. This called for a pie chart.

In The ___’s Daughter, Mandel spots peculiar trends in which daughters seem to turn up in these titles more frequently than others.

The daughters of artists and artisans— lace-makers, musicians, painters, calligraphers — were particularly well-represented, as were the daughters of people connected to royalty (dukes, kings), and magical and/or supernatural entities (devils, centaurs, demons).

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, JK Rowling, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Emily St. John Mandel, The Millions

Image: The Millions

Busy curatorial cuss that I am, I dashed into Amazon to see about those “_____’s Son” books, and found that the figure changes. I retrieved many more “Son of ____” than “The ____’s Son.” No, not all referencing the she-dog, either.

There’s Son of Stone, Son of Neptune, Son of Hamas, and then we parallel with the daughters — The Enemy’s Son, The Orphan Master’s Son, The Governor’s Son, For the Love of a Son, The Second Son, Sons and Lovers…but this is Mandel’s show:

There’s a large group of parents that’s villainous and/or on the wrong side of the law (The Outlaw’s Daughter, The Killer’s Daughter), followed by a group employed as laborers (The Miner’s Daughter), and a group that’s affiliated with the military (The Admiral’s Daughter, The Colonel’s Daughter). A lot of them work with animals (The Rancher’s Daughter), are possibly metaphorical (The Sun’s Daughter), work in medicine (The Emergency Doctor’s Daughter), or are employed in retail (The Merchant’s Daughter).

As Mandel notes, even if your eyes are glazing over, son or daughter, she has a handy graph showing a breakdown of many literary daughters’ parentage.

And with a tip of the hat to ↬ Matt Mullin, we found our way to Rachel Fershleiser’s “You Rach You Lose” Tumblr site, where the eponymous Fershleiser proposes a reason for the fondness of _______’s daughters:

Ultimately this kind of title does a lot for a book, so it’s easy to understand why it’s used so often. You get a character (if not two), a profession (which can include the historical time frame), a relationship or hierarchy, and an element of mystery or tension, all in three little words.

Sometimes there’s analysis so quickly.

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Last gas: John Paul Wiggin’s son in SC

 

The parent of a 14-year-old at Schofield Middle School complained to school officials and the police after a teacher at the school reportedly read to his class from the novel. The parent described Ender’s Game as “pornographic”, local press reported, and complained about its subject matter.

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, JK Rowling, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Emily St. John Mandel, The Millions, Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card, Aiken, South CarolinaThat’s Alison Flood at the Guardian writing up the incident in Aiken, South Carolina, in which a middle-school teacher was put on administrative leave and investigated by the police because he read to his students from Orson Scott Card’s famous novel — one of the American Library Association’s Top 100 for young adults.

The story, Parent files police complaint after teacher reads Ender’s Game to pupils, tells us the complaints came from the parent of a 14-year-old at Schofield Middle School. The teacher was suspended for readings from Ender’s Game and from Agatha Christie’s Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case, and from The Devil’s Paintbox by Victoria McKernan, the story of two orphans journeying through the frontier west. Fortunately, subsequent reports say the teacher has been exonerated, charged with nothing. this reaction is laughable.

If it weren’t a matter of a teacher being punished for reading from an important book to his lucky students, this incident would be laughable.

A statement from the school said its investigation centered around the report “that the books in question being utilised by the teacher had curse words and terms that might not be age appropriate.”

I’m sure we all remember those curse words in Dame Agatha’s work.

I’m from South Carolina and have visited relatives in Aiken many times. My family seat is on the coast, in Charleston, not in the conservative base of the inland towns.

Maybe when the coming film of Ender’s Game opens about a year from now, I should get back home and see how the Launchies land among the Carolinians.

[blackbirdpie id="184975026943049728"]

 

And I hope you’ll crank the Q2 Music player I’m dropping here for you. 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 (hence Roz Morris’ series on Undercover Soundtracks). Their music, fed by the popular world as much as by classical training, simply sounds like a writer’s thoughts and feelings at work. Let me know what you think.

Way ’nuff.

     Key imagery: iStockphoto / JazzIRT

  • http://twitter.com/Victoria_Noe Friend Grief

    Ah, Porter, much to digest as always. But I’m in Atlanta, getting ready for my presentation and have only one comment (to begin). That’s to take issue with Guy’s Albert Pujols (or He Who Must Not Be Named, as we call him in Cardinal Nation) example. I think the better example – and one which fits JK better – would be Pujols’ performance in a game at Wrigley Field. He hit a massive home run out onto Waveland Avenue in his first at-bat. Next at-bat, he did the same thing (only it went farther). Third at-bat, he was intentionally walked (a cowardly act on the part of any pitcher). So Albert responded by hitting a third home run in his final at-bat. That’s more like JK to me. More later.

  • Jill Kemerer

    Hmm, I’m a fan of unique practices in any industry, so your coverage of Pottermore made me sit a little straighter. Maybe it won’t revolutionize the way all authors get their content to readers, but it does make professionals (including publishers and writers) pause before deciding they “have no other choice” than whatever road they’re taking. It’s great to see a big player–J.K. Rowling–standing firm with her vision.

    Also, what the heck is “conscious parallelism?” Or do I even want to know? Ha!

    The post you quoted from Jane Friedman intrigued me. I’m off to check it out. Thanks so much for another insightful round-up!

  • florence fois

    Porter, speaking of content, this is yet another stellar example of why I carve out the time to read, often re-read all of your posts. The cliche of “I have no other choice,” attached to why I must, am drawn and can’t live without writing brings another worn cliche to mind … “Use it or lose it.” Like what I wanted to write would fade while I had two careers, raised two kids and decided it would be my last “career.” The first two were also what I loved, but the kids would not have understood if I didn’t make enough to feed us. I don’t think I have a calling, I have the ability to fashion a story I want people to read. I would not give it away anymore than I would have tried to support my family with a volunteer job.
    Conversely, it doesn’t mean that buying into the latest, greatest marketing expert advice to network yourself, create platforms and brand yourself makes any sense if those stories you were “compelled” to write are boring, hacked and sound like ten thousand other stories. (Which sadly, many of them do.)
     
    Do the work and stop worrying about branding, tweeting, networking and talking mostly to others who are doing the same thing. How to reach your readership? Well duh. Write a good book. Don’t stop by the roadside and congratulate yourself for a year. Write another good book. Write ten damn good books. Get one of them published. Who the hell knows when and if traditional publishers will come around? No one knows the answer to that question. Get creative with what you want in a contract. Build escalations that are tied to future performance. Decline advances no one wants to pay anyway. Try to make inroads and write another book.
     
    If you respect your readers you will fashion stories that make them want to read more. If you have nothing to say, but what a thousand others already said (HEA doesn’t always make for good reading), the only people who will read you are the members of your writing group.
     
    Sorry, this is becoming as long as your post and I’ve only spoken to one issue. To end the rant, I love all of your content, but as you can see, it would not be prudent to speak to them. This issue I can speak to and it’s the reason I love to read Rachelle. At least she and a rare few agents are taking the gloves off and speaking to what writers need to hear. The truth is … write a good book!

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Well, thanks for setting us straight on that one, Viki (@Victoria_Noe:twitter ) and I’m sure Jo Rowling will agree next time she’s up at-bat, sounds right to me. :) Hope the presentation goes well in Altanta, home of CNN World Headquarters and Delta Air Lines (yes, three words — keeps everybody on their toes).
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Hey, Jill! (@JillKemerer:twitter ) — thanks for reading and commenting again this week! You’re saying that well, too, about professionals realizing they may have more choice than they thought. The Rowling case is unique, I can think of very, very few other writers who could replicate this set of circumstances and negotiating power. Nevertheless, as I say, when one of these anomalies occurs (and we’re seeing them more as the industry fractures and old structures weaken), there’s simply that odd effect of widening the frame of possibility a tad. usually too subtle to notice. So it’s not that we can say, “Hey, another author can do just what Rowling’s done,” but more being able to say, “Hey, we’ve seen a writer create some content so powerful that she could stare down the biggest retailers in the world (something the biggest publishers canNOT do), and create a structure for her own controlling interest.  As Guy Gonzalez and I were just saying, only time can really tell what we’re seeing here.

    As for conscious parallelism, that’s actually pretty easy. It’s a form of corporate action in which one or more rivals may do the same thing — and be aware they’re doing the same thing — but not be in collusion about it because they’re not talking to each other.  Under antitrust legislation, getting together in the back room and saying, “Let’s both do this bad thing that will help us undercut the other guys’ prices” is collusion. But if two companies both know they could undercut that other guy’s prices AND know they’re each doing this, too, they’re not in collusion if they haven’t orchestrated it together. Instead, they’re “paralleling” each other “consciously.”

    And yeah, great post from Jane, you’ll get a lot from it. Thanks again, Jill, have a really super weekend. –
    -p.

  • Anne R. Allen

    Loved your piece at Writer Unboxed, which I missed this week. The writers’ collective is a brilliant solution to the no-respect problem writers face with contemporary publishers. I hope it happens. (Not that the disrespect is a new problem. There’s a very old Hollywood joke about the blonde starlet who was so dumb she slept with the writer.) Thanks for recapping this week’s exciting episodes of the Pottermore drama and all the rest of the stuff we’d know if we didn’t waste so much time writing books .  Thanks, as always for the elegant recap.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Anne ( @annerallen:twitter ), thanks, as ever, for such a kind note, and DO keep writing the books, lol, I’ll be here slinging the hash (sometimes corned beef ) for everybody, lol. Love the joke about the starlet. I’ve been remembering the awfuil jokes the jazz guys tell about the singer. Punch lines always end up with her knocking at the door because she’s “lost her key and doesn’t know where she comes in,” lol.  That’s about how I think the publishing core jokes about writers (and probably the cleanest version of it, too, lol).  And yeah, Pottermore. Maybe in five years, we’ll know how all this worked out for everybody.  If not, I want a Cloak of Invisibility. :)
    -p.

  • KathyPooler

    Porter, Once again, you have pulled me into The Ether with yet another lively, jam-packed recap this week. Publishing truly is the “Wild West” these days with the likes of Pottermore setting an alternative model for downloading ebooks.And no matter what the fray of the week is, it always seems to boil down to what the author has to offer. Rowlings certainly has done her job attracting readers through compelling content and therefore can face down Amazon with a take-it-or-leav- it-proposal. She is the exception but we can take our lessons from her successes by concentrating on putting out our best work while building a strong platform. No doubt the tide is changing and authors have the opportunity to “take the wheel” in all the confusion and chaos. I also enjoyed Kathy Meis’s post on Creative Flux about extending our creativity into book promotion and actually having fun doing it! So much to comment on, but will leave it at that and thank you also for the music accompaniment. :-)

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  • http://twitter.com/Victoria_Noe Friend Grief

    Thanks, Porter, it went well. Really well. The whole day went well. Atlanta is not my kind of town, though. Next year’s conference is in Hollywood, and I’ve already penciled it in. You won’t be surprised to hear that as a mere audience member, I ignited a firestorm of a discussion. Yeah, good day. And great Ether, as always. ;)

  • http://twitter.com/jimhamlett Jim Hamlett

    Well, Porter, two bags of baby carrots (organic) this time around. You’re still good, and I’m getting better. So, you’re a South Carolinian? I live in Greenville, have good friends in Aiken and Charleston. Fly into the coast often. Give a holler next time you’re in the neighborhood, and we’ll go get some shrimp and grits and a glass of sweet tea!

  • http://www.porteranderson.com Porter Anderson

    Hey, Kathy, and thanks so much for the super comment, as well as reading, as always!

    You’d enjoy a book I’m reading, it’s very new: Imagine: How Creativity Works. It’s by Jonah Lehrer (his third book) and it has a lot to do with the odd ways the mind has of handling its creativity. Really instructive, you might want to try a sample and see if you like it. Here is the book on Amazon: http://ow.ly/9YfRm and here is a great article Jonah just did at Wired (from his book tour, currently in California), “The Cost of Creativity”: http://ow.ly/9YfU9

    Yes, btw, you’re putting your finger on something important for authors to hold on to right now. I’ve had quite a bit of pushback (in tweets and other messages — they don’t do comments, lol) from non-authors who are eager to look at Rowling’s success as a complete anomaly, nothing that could ever have any effect on the wider industry. Which is bogus, of course. While it would take a Stephen King or Suzanne Collins to rival the Rowling level of pop acclaim, as I’m trying to say in the Ether, these anomalous events, while not strictly replicable, do move our thinking, our concepts forward. Few of us will be going to the moon any time soon, but the fact that a few guys have done it cracks open our thinking a bit and leaves us newly susceptible to possibilities we hadn’t thought of.

    So I see Pottermore as a win for a lot of us, a great snapshot of an author utterly behind the wheel. Many in the publishing establishment are making it their business to resist change right now — we’ll just let them do that and send them a postcard from down the road. :)

    Thanks again!
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Hey, Jim ( @JimHamlett:twitter   ) – my family was in Greenville for four years, graduated from Wade Hampton High (class of 1732). We must all tell our good friends in Aiken to wake up and stop suggesting that Ender’s Game is pornographic. Don’t they have enough horses to race there anymore, or what? ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Atlanta is a farm with sidewalks, Viki ( @Victoria_Noe:twitter ), and there are some terrific people there tilling the highways. 

    Not a bit surprised that you ignited things there. I’m alerting Hollywood so they can prepare fire routes on the proper dates next year. 

    Cheers,
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Hey, Kathy ( @KathyPooler:twitter  ), and thanks so much for the super comment, as well as reading, as always! — I’d done this reply in the CMS and for some reason it didn’t get out here on the post, sorry it’s taken so long to show up: 

    You’d enjoy a book I’m reading, it’s very new: Imagine: How Creativity Works. It’s by Jonah Lehrer
    (his third book) and it has a lot to do with the odd ways the mind has
    of handling its creativity. Really instructive, you might want to try a
    sample and see if you like it. Here is the book on Amazon: http://ow.ly/9YfRm and here is a great article Jonah just did at Wired (from his book tour, currently in California), “The Cost of Creativity”: http://ow.ly/9YfU9

    Yes, btw, you’re putting your finger on something important for
    authors to hold on to right now. I’ve had quite a bit of pushback (in
    tweets and other messages — they don’t do comments, lol) from
    non-authors who are eager to look at Rowling’s success as a complete
    anomaly, nothing that could ever have any effect on the wider industry.
    Which is bogus, of course. While it would take a Stephen King or Suzanne
    Collins to rival the Rowling level of pop acclaim, these anomalous events, while not strictly replicable, do
    move our thinking, our concepts forward. 

    Few of us will be going to the
    moon any time soon, but the fact that a few guys have done it cracks
    open our thinking a bit and leaves us newly susceptible to possibilities
    we hadn’t thought of.

    So I see Pottermore as a win for a lot of us, a great snapshot of a rare author utterly behind the wheel. Many in the publishing establishment
    are making it their business to resist change right now — we’ll just let
    them do that and send them a postcard from down the road.

    Thanks again!

    -p.

  • http://tweetspeakpoetry.com/blog Llbarkat

    “If I have $10,000, should I put it in the stock market? Or should I use that cash to back my own dream?

    I bet on myself.”Ha! Love it. I just said this very same thing to my sister about a month ago—about investing in ourselves instead of the stock market. The stock market can be great, if you know how to follow it, but most people do it because they are trying to live someone else’s dream of how to become financially set. Yes, I bet on my own business.The other key here is to remember that just like the stock market… it takes investment. Rare is the business person who makes money without spending money. Or maybe, non-existent is the business person who makes money without spending money.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Hey, Florence ( @FlorenceFois:twitter ), forgive my slow response here — a bit of travel has had me in and out over the last couple of days.

    First, if you’re able to read and re-read the Ether, you’re stronger than most of us. :)  And thanks.  

    Second, I get your frustration with what can seem an endless preoccupation for so many with myriad details of promotion, career strategies, as you say, “branding, tweeting, networking.” 

    Where I get crazy is with the “inspirationals,” the people who can’t drag themselves to the keyboard without reading a few of these self-styled “motivational” types. My line on that is pretty hard, I guess: If you need inspiration and motivation to do your writing, then writing is not for you. The writing IS your motivation and your inspiration. 

    So yes, indeed, I appreciate, as you do,  @JaneFriedman:twitter (hashtag unto herself) and @RachelleGardner:disqus  for exactly this reason — they ignore the funny-hat/fantasy-and-fairies hand-wringers, the reluctant platformers, the sobbing alarmists, and the weeping Daughters of Dickinson. They just cut to the straight info. So valuable. 

    I think the people in the publishing community who need the more emotional approach are the “army of amateurs” I keep going on about, the Internet invasion of the industry. They’re the ones who dive into these therapeutic blogs that offer something very close to my pastor-father’s “daily devotionals” —  the ones in which the blogger inevitably starts with some mildly self-deprecating confessional premise (“I made the same mistake you’re making, in fact, I was a terrible wretch, until I realized…”) and brings you out humming the Battle Hymn of the Republic. 

    The only area in which I’d caution you, based on your good comment, is in thinking that writing well is going to get you where you need and deserve to be. That army of amateurs is really big, and they’re overwhelming the system. Not for nothing did #JaneFriedman tell a podcast host in Chicago during the insanely overcrowded #AWP12 that yes, today even Ernest Hemingway would have to put together his little WordPress site.  Unimaginable, isn’t it?  Faulkner tweeting. Fitzgerald’s fan page on Facebook. Sherwood Anderson sticking crap onto Pinterest? My career passes before my eyes. 

    But this is what we’ve come to. Unless this pig moves on through the snake (meaning we disillusion enough of these amateurs for whom the advent of the Net means “I must write a book”), you cannot really just write a good book anymore and expect it to find its place in the world. Alas, you need to figure out how you’re going to get that good writing to the right readers. It won’t find them for you. 

    So keep an eye on the commercial possibilities. And keep a whiff of Ether near you. :)

    Thanks again for writing. Keep the faith. Avoid the inspirationals. Vodka is more dependable.
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Good for you, @Llbarkat:twitter ! The understanding that you have to break some eggs to make mayo, alone, puts you far out ahead of the crowd. You start to notice that the most fearful jitterers are the ones who hesitate to invest in their writing careers (although they want the rest of us to believe in them) and they get very glazed over when you mention the outlay at the beginning of any big adventure worth doing.

    Thanks for reading the Ether and leaving such a fine comment (as well as many generous tweets, all appreciated!). 

    There is still a place for brinkmanship in this world. I’m right behind you. :-)

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  • http://www.thefourorders.com Terre Britton

    Porter,
    thanks for skillfully opening the kimono of the publishing industry on a weekly
    basis. The content and comments are always rich and smart. I also appreciate the
    kind mention of Kathy Meis’ piece on Creative
    Flux—her marketing perspective is one that surely speaks to all writers. Thanks!

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