Writing on the Ether


By

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Bloomsbury Press, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Litopia, JK Rowling, TheFutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Craig Mod, James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Q2 MusicTable of Contents

  1. Bloomsbury Press: Ginna-rosity
  2. The Pew’s research: New eReading numbers
  3. Drums in Amazonia: Heat on the homefront
  4. Publishers’ quandary: Ditch the imprints?
  5. Authors quickly: Andrew Miller
  6. Authors quickly: Nathan Bransford
  7. ‘Social’ reading: I want to be alone
  8. Journalism: The once and future thing
  9. Radio Litopia: Popping corks at Pottermore
  10. Writing business: Serious moonlighting
  11. Writing craft: Great American suffering
  12. Writing craft: The mandatory and the ornamental
  13. Writing craft: Darker nights of the soul
  14. Creativity: No discounts
  15. Last gas: A later acropolis

Bloomsbury Press: Ginna-rosity

If I had an Order of the Ethereal Empire to confer around here, the OEE would go today to Peter Ginna, publisher and editor of Bloomsbury Press.

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.”

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Bloomsbury Press, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Litopia, JK Rowling, TheFutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Craig Mod, James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Q2 Music

Peter Ginna, Bloomsbury Press / Photo: DoctorSyntax.net

That’s Ginna in Publishing and Bad Publishing Are Not the Same Thing: A Publisher’s Response to “An Agent’s Manifesto.”

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).

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Bloomsbury Press, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Litopia, JK Rowling, TheFutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Craig Mod, James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Q2 Music

Jonny Geller / Curtis Brown

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.

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Bloomsbury Press, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Litopia, JK Rowling, TheFutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Craig Mod, James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Q2 Music

Roz Morris / rozmorris.wordpress.com

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.

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The Pew’s research: New eReading numbers

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%.

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Roz Morris, Bloomsbury Press, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Litopia, JK Rowling, TheFutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Craig Mod, James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Q2 Music, Pew Internet, Pew Research

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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:

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Roz Morris, Bloomsbury Press, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Litopia, JK Rowling, TheFutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Craig Mod, James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Q2 Music, Pew Internet, Pew Research

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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.

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Roz Morris, Bloomsbury Press, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Litopia, JK Rowling, TheFutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Craig Mod, James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Q2 Music, Pew Internet, Pew Research

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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.

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Roz Morris, Bloomsbury Press, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Litopia, JK Rowling, TheFutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Craig Mod, James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Q2 Music, Pew Internet, Pew Research

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As Andrew Albanese writes in Publishers Weekly’s write-up, E-book Consumers Read More Books Says Pew Report, the research for the survey was done in three segments:

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.

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Roz Morris, Bloomsbury Press, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Litopia, JK Rowling, TheFutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Craig Mod, James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Q2 Music, Pew Internet, Pew ResearchA 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.

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Drums in Amazonia: Heat on the homefront

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.

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Roz Morris, Bloomsbury Press, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Litopia, JK Rowling, TheFutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Craig Mod, James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Q2 Music, Pew Internet, Pew Research

This is the Seattle Times’ on-page listing of its story series on Amazon, “Behind the smile in Seattle.”

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:

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.

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.

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Publishers’ quandary: Ditch the imprints?

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.

As if to prove the point, Bransford has gone on to publish his series of MG books (the Jacob Wonderbar series) on the Dial imprint. I’ll save you the trouble — that’s Penguin.

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.

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Authors quickly: Andrew Miller

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Bloomsbury Press, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Litopia, JK Rowling, TheFutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Craig Mod, James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Q2 Music, Andrew Miller, Nathan Bransford

Andrew Miller / The Bookseller

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.

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Authors quickly: Nathan Bransford

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.

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‘Social’ reading: I want to be alone

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.

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Bloomsbury Press, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Litopia, JK Rowling, TheFutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Craig Mod, James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Q2 Music, Andrew Miller, Nathan Bransford, Jim Behrle

From Mathew Ingram’s article / GigaOm

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.

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Journalism: The once and future thing

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.”

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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.

Writes O’Leary:

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.

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Radio Litopia: Popping corks at Pottermore

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.

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Bloomsbury Press, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Litopia, JK Rowling, TheFutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Craig Mod, James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Q2 Music

You know Who / paidContent

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.

This info comes from the fortnightly booksy Litopia broadcast our good TheFutureBook friends Jones and Sam Missingham. The show, still new, includes live chat nimbly hosted by Catherine Neilan.

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.

And we also heard from Christian Dorffer of Mindshapes’ Magictown. Here’s a quick archive of the 148 tweets we all moved during the course of the hour on the hashtag #TheNakedBook.

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.

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Writing business: Serious moonlighting

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.

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Bloomsbury Press, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Litopia, JK Rowling, TheFutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Craig Mod, James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Q2 Music

killzoneauthors.blogspot.com

Nobody knows the complications we’ve seen, and some of them involve an interesting issue taken up by James Scott Bell near the end of his post How Many Brands Can an Author Have?

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.

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But, then, Are You a Difficult Writer? That’s Carol Saller asking, not me — she’s also known as The Subversive Copy Editor. Saller writes:

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Bloomsbury Press, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Litopia, JK Rowling, TheFutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Craig Mod, James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Q2 Music

“Of Flames and Shadows,” by Markus Röncke / Chronicle.com

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.”

Or:

They inflate the value of their own outdated knowledge of grammar and style and misjudge their consistency in applying it to their own writing.

Or:

They are uncommunicative and dictatorial. Instead of engaging in a dialogue or negotiation with the editor, they simply write “Stet” or “No.”

 

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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?)

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Bloomsbury Press, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Litopia, JK Rowling, TheFutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Craig Mod, James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Q2 MusicFay is going on about what she calls a “run-of-the-mill romance novel” with “embarrassingly contrived descriptions, such as ‘My inner goddess is doing the dance of the seven veils.'”

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.

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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.

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Writing craft: Great American suffering

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.

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Bloomsbury Press, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Litopia, JK Rowling, TheFutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Craig Mod, James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Q2 Music, Andrew Miller, Nathan Bransford, Jim Behrle

From Jim Behrle’s write / The Awl

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.

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Writing craft: The mandatory and the ornamental

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.

K.M. Weiland continues her terrific series of posts on The Secrets of Story Structure, opening Part 6 with a three-stage study of what you don’t want to end up as flyover country in your novel.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Writing craft: Darker nights of the soul

Little may Behrle know that he’s running afoul of novelist A.L. Kennedy, who writes in the Guardian Books section Why I hate the myth of the suffering artist:

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.

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Creativity: No discounts

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.

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Roz Morris, Bloomsbury Press, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Litopia, JK Rowling, TheFutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Craig Mod, James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Q2 Music, Pew Internet, Pew Research

Jonah Lehrer / Amazon author page

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.

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Last gas: A later acropolis

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.

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pottermore, Harry Potter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Sony Reader, Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown, Roz Morris, Bloomsbury Press, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Litopia, JK Rowling, TheFutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Craig Mod, James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Q2 Music, Pew Internet, Pew Research

Alleyway above the harbor at Chania on Crete / Porter Anderson

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.

These excerpts are from Amalia Melis’ Sunday Morning, Pireos Street at Glimmer Train.

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.

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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.

Way ’nuff.

Key imagery: iStockphoto / CVMorgan


 

  • Bob Mayer

    I hear the people defending the way publishers treat authors and it’s the usual anecdata.  My anecdata for 20 years with four of the big six wasn’t that they loathe me.  It was that they just didn’t consider me important.  There were no discussions.  No phone calls.  No emails.  Just a production schedule.  I think that’s true of pretty much every author in the midlist.

    For someone to say they NEVER complained about authors while working at a publishing house is a stretch.  Hell, I’m an author and I complain about some authors.

    I agree with Pressfield– once you sign that contract, that’s it.  The problem was, that was pretty much the only option for a long time.  Take it or leave it.  Now there’s another way.

  • http://twitter.com/BloomsburyPress Bloomsbury Press

    Porter, thanks for this flattering shoutout to Dr. Syntax. I really didn’t feel I was a lone voice for “legacy publishers.” On the other hand, industry colleagues may not be hastening to join a conversation where what they say is characterized, as J. A. Konrath did this week of  John Sargent, Jamie Raab, Megan Tingley and Scott Turow, as “such jaw-droppingly stupid things that my gallbladder squirts bile when I read them.” 

    Bob Mayer, I invite you to read my full post at http://www.doctorsyntax.net. I did not say that publishers never complained about authors, in fact I admitted we do. Authors complain about publishers all the time–why should they have all the fun? 
    -Peter Ginna

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

    Glad to have something to shout about, Peter (@BloomsburyPress:twitter ), it’s too rare a thing to find a little push as well as shove in the debate. And yes, while I can understand finding the Kon-Wrathful Joe daunting, I do marvel at the projectile gifts of such a gallbladder, he must be very proud. 

    When the occasion arises, you might mention to those industry colleagues of yours that Writing on the Ether is here — has been for the better part of a year — and civilized voices on all sides of issues can be heard Etherside without fear of such insults. (I’d never say “jaw-droppingly.”)

    We’re particularly fond of intelligence, which of course helps ensure that the acrobatically bilious go elsewhere.

    So come back frequently and bring your friends. :)
    -p.

  • KathyPooler

    Thanks for another complete and enlightening recap,Porter. My two favorite lines this week “Remember,above all,write great books” by a master, James Scott Bell  and “we’re better writers when we approach our work as readers” by you ( master in your right ). All else in between offers a view of publishing and the craft of writing from many different perspectives. I’m glad you launched the Ether  this week with the author-publisher discussion among Peter Ginna, Jonny Geller and Roz Morris. They give authors a voice and are my heroes.  I am watching self-publishing take flight in my circles with Amazon being the vehicle of choice. More and more writers are tired of the rejections and lack of responses from agents and publishers and are opting for readily available channels of self-publishing. Sonia Marsh launched The Gutsy Indie Publishers Facebook page a few weeks ago and it has rapidly become a hot spot of discussion for writers and authors trying to get their work out there. Sarah Fay would call it a “hotspot of mediocrity” according to your report. That remains to be seen. I will add that most of the writers I know who chose to self-publish make the commitment to quality by hiring professional editors. I think James Scott Bell said it all “above all, write great books.” I appreciate these weekly stimulating discussions and musical sojourns. Every writer needs a good weekly whiff of The Ether to remain enlightened, inspired and stirred up. :-)

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

    Hey, Bob (@Bob_Mayer:twitter ), sorry for the delay in getting back, crazy day here. So glad to have you read and comment, always welcome.

    Here’s what I think: You’re right that the most ANY of us can offer is anecdata. This is why we get into trouble when we try to generalize the effects any one of us sees. Nobody’s experience quite matches anyone else’s, each of us works from one, and only one, perspective.

    That doesn’t negate the value of exchanging info, exchanging anecdata if need be. I really liked  @JonnyGeller:twitter and @DocSyntax:twitter of @BloomsburyPress:twitter  and @ByRozMorris:disqus exchanging some views.  Same as you and Peter Ginna having a little exchange here in the comments. I want more of that.

    Thanks again,
    -p.

  • Bob Mayer

     LOL– he said that?  I really think we’re taking things too far sometimes.  We all love books.  We all want to sell books.  We should, as we used to say at West Point, cooperate and graduate.  I did a post at Digital Book World titled Enemy Mine which covers some of this.

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

    Hey, Bob (@Bob_Mayer:twitter ), sorry for the delay in getting back, crazy day here. So glad to have you read and comment, always welcome.

    Here’s what I think: You’re right that the most ANY of us can offer is anecdata. This is why we get into trouble when we try to generalize the effects any one of us sees. Nobody’s experience quite matches anyone else’s, each of us works from one, and only one, perspective.

    That doesn’t negate the value of exchanging info, exchanging anecdata if need be. I really liked  @JonnyGeller:twitter and @DocSyntax:twitter of @BloomsburyPress:twitter  and @ByRozMorris:disqus exchanging some views.  Same as you and Peter Ginna having a little exchange here in the comments. I want more of that.

    Thanks again,
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

    Peter @BloomsburyPress , I wish people didn’t assume J A Konrath speaks for all of us. He tends to put me in bad humour.

  • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

    Thank you, Kathy – and thanks @porter_anderson for bringing this all together.
    What I especially like about P@porter_anderson:disqus rter’s column is that he never fails to remind us that what we do is centred around a fundamentally important thing – creating good books. Here, Porter has give a voice to the creatives alongside the marketers, the publishers, the businesspeople. It’s too easy for us to feel like we don’t count – and also that the reader doesn’t either.
     

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

    Thanks so much, Kathy!  ( @KathyPooler:twitter ) — I always find that I get something helpful out of your playbacks in comments a bit of what you’ve found on the Ether. It’s very helpful. (A bit as when Brian O’Leary was kind enough to tweet me earlier today to say, “You excerpt me better than I do,” lol, which was very kind but I know what he means, too.  It’s always a bit remarkable to find that things sound and look different when they come back to you through the filters of others’ perception.

    In terms of the questions you’re raising, good ones, about getting commitment to quality into the publishing effort (whether it’s self-publishing or traditional, as @DocSyntax:twitter  (Peter Ginna) helped us remember this week):  I don’t think the arrival of something like @GutsyLiving:twitter  is working on (Sonia Marsh) is necessarily a hotspot of mediocrity, not, at least in the work of authors who might be involved.

    I do think that we may be coming to a point in the Galapagos saga of publishing, at which the development of support “groups” (or “clubs” or “societies,” you choose a word) may, in fact, be the mediocre part … and, as such, a potential trap.

    The search for support, fellow-feeling, camaraderie is hard to resist in writing, of course, because it’s a solitary thing. But especially when the industry is blowing up, that scrounging-around for community gets even more popular. And yet — as I’ll be talking more about as we go on — I’m coming to think that “Gutsy Living” style gatherings online could (could, I emphasize) be a mistake, a rabbit hold down which we really need to quit going.

    What I think we’re going to learn is more important is the sort of collectives I’m starting to look at and consider with a few others, which are developed as business services to authors who own them. As you know, I went into this at @WriterUnboxed:twitter. The distinction I think we need to start looking for — now that we know we can get all the Gutsy Kumbaya Support we need here on line, day or night (and avoid getting much writing done in the process!) — is business.

    We just may need to trim our course a bit. Turn the ship a few clicks to port (that unexciting but badly important side of the brain that gets things done, as @JonahLehrer:twitter reminds us) and form our groups as market-supportive/sales-supportive/distribution-supportive — well, as publishing entities — more than as Loving Hands at Home groups. Before we burn down the place with our Kumbaya campfires, you know?

    Maybe we’ve done enough weeping about bravery, inner journeys, the glory of love and the joy of hugs. 

    When we’re holding hands to sing Kumbaya, we get no writing done. Because we need our hands free for the keyboard. :) 

    Which I know YOU understand. I’m not sure everybody does. And Gutsiness can become a big distraction to doing the job, not unlike continual conference-going among folks who never write a thing, as you and I have discussed in the past.

    These are just ramblings on how I think — still working on this — we need to start translating our support groups / attitudinal architecture, if you will, our Gutsiness and other initiatives into action.

    Hard to know, but interesting to ask: When does the collective psyche of the writing community-under-siege come to a lull, look up, and start thinking, “Hm, OK, we’ve clung together for safety and tweets for a few years now, and the digital revolution is starting to stabilize a bit … or we’re at least learning to go-guerrilla and handle the fray. So maybe it’s time we don’t need fellowship circles as much as we need e-Ink on readers, books out there. business under way.”

    Could it be time for authors to go back to work? :)

    We’ll keep talking, won’t we?” Thanks again, as always!
    -p.

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

    I’m interested in this imprint discussion. With the possible exception of specific genre fiction (romance comes to mind), I don’t believe the publisher (or self-publisher) is important to the reader. But, you know what you’ll get in a Silhouette romance is very different than an Ellora’s Cave book. What defines a Random House book to the general public?

    What’s ultimately important to the writer (this writer, anyway) is how do we reach the readers out there? When my daughter was very small, she chose books at the library and bookstore based on the cover art (so it’s not surprising she’s turned out to be an artist). Should we give more serious attention to cover art? Are we spending so much time online with other writers, that we fail to reach out to non-writer readers? Because those are the people who will read a book and recommend it, whether on GoodReads, Amazon, or in their playgroup.

    I like the touchy-feely stuff, Porter, you know that. ;) But I’m not writing for the hugs (although I never refuse a hug). It’s a business. And now that I’m comfortable with the production side, I need to be sure that my marketing and distribution are up to par.

    Well done, as always.

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

     OH, the books! That’s right, of course. Creating good books, that’s what we’re here for. :)

    Actually, it’s funny you say this, and too kind, Roz ( @twitter-329334210:disqus ) because I worry that, like everybody, I’m going to get sucked into the biz to such a degree that the literature just fades on away. Happens in so many professions, not just in writing.

    It’s one of life’s less fair features, really, that we need to so clearly understand the dynamics of our marketplace (which is in a shambles, as we know) more than ever now because of  Our Digital Revolution. And in doing so, we might forget what we came here to do.

    I hope to God that @JonahLehrer:twitter is about to send me a check for all the books I’m selling for him (Imagine: How Creativity Works), but I can’t stop coming up with excellent insights he’s passed on lately. One of the best is in the Ether above at http://ow.ly/a7Afo  — the theoretical physicist Geoffrey West tells Jonah that innovation-driven revolutions used to hit us every few thousand years. Now, we get them every 15 years or so. And exactly just such an innovation-driving revolution is what’s backing the car over us daily right now.

    I have to wonder if in , say, the Enlightenment, was it as hard to keep the goal in mind (better ideas, thought as value, the rise of intelligence and creativity)? Or even in that one, were those guys caught up in the apparatus of change, the political and emotional powerplays, the flying bits of dilettanteism and debris, as we are in our Digital Revo?

    We’ll never know, I guess. But yes. As I was just saying in response to @KathyPooler:twitter ‘s good note, I do think we’re reaching what should be a turning point, a time to get past the emotional wipe-out of it all and start focusing on producing again. As you and I have been discussing in terms of collectives — and will do so further.

    Our new message may have to be: Authors, the pageant is over. Back to work.

    Thanks again for being such an integral part of this dialogue we’ve carried on with for a couple of weeks. Predictably, I learned as much from who didn’t seem to find it important as from who did. :)

    -p.

  • KathyPooler

    You’re welcome,Roz @RozMorris. I appreciate the focus Porter @porter_anderson provides on getting our best work into the hands of the readers as well as the validation this discussion provides for the writers/authors.

  • KathyPooler

    Wow,Porter @porter_anderson, you bring up a valid concern here about tipping the balance (whatever that is) in the wrong direction. Social media  and community engagement while being  essential to marketing/publishing can also be a major source of distraction from our prime work of writing. This is a very important discussion. So how do we get back to work and still do justice to our platforms? Yes, let’s keep talking!

  • Jill Kemerer

    Late to the game this week but glad I stopped by!

    For Steve Pressfield to say that signing a contract puts an author in the role of the child is ludicrous. Does that mean if I accept employment, I become a child of the company? I worked as an electrical engineer for years, and I was hired because of my expertise. My employers never gave me a time-out or an arbitrary allowance, nor did they pat me on the head like a toddler. Contracts–for publication or for any job–bind two parties to perform services. If X does this, Y does that. Let’s not read more into it than that.

    Frankly, I’m a parent, and I treat my children better than any employee I could ever have. Parents want what’s best for their kids. We’re willing to sacrifice our own conveniences so they can have a future. So his implication is even more insulting.

    Have a terrific weekend, Porter!

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

    Hey, Viki (@Victoria_Noe:twitter ) and thanks, as ever for surviving the Ether and commenting!

    The questions you have all come under branding. And a couple of points relative to what you’re saying are accepted in this discussion on the wider scale:

    (1) Yes, SOME imprints work. They are largely lodged in two great genre areas — romance/erotica and science fiction. The publishers of those imprints were, for the most part, very early to digital (especially in the romance side, Ellora’s Cave having been the real pioneer in digital-first publishing, meaning books that come out as ebooks first, print as a secondary format … EC even has its own e-reader AND covers all e-formats out there very aggressively, and for that reason it enjoys terrific relations with Amazon and other major distributors).

    (2) Those are exceptions, however. And I can add one outside of such genre limitations I know of personally:  @Nan_A_Talese:twitter , for example, runs her imprint with such aggressive intelligence at Knopf that you can, actually, focus on her shop’s books and expect a consistently powerful read — this one is a name worth knowing http://ow.ly/a8nZ1 Beyond these, though, the use if imprints, as @nathanbransford:twitter and now @mikeshatzkin:twitter are arguing (rightly) has not worked for the public. It’s a useful departmentalization effort for publishers for many reasons. Not good for readers (who as TV viewers can’t even call out the seven biggest broadcast and cable networks, try asking them).

    (3) Mike is right that the majors, if they are to apply branding effectively on their spines, must regroup on a single name each (or two) and rigorously define for the public what they want those names to mean, then reiterate ad nauseum, as all focused marketing programs must, in order to seriously lodge any presence in the reading public’s mind.

    (4) The other line of thinking at this point (and I think Mike wouldn’t counter this, it’s just more tangential parallel than material) is that authors need to become their brands. The presonal contact/recognition factor we all have talked about so long that it’s sickening is in play and correct here. Readers will glom onto a personality, not a corporate name, they’ll remember an author’s work and dust-cover photo, not a publishing house. Not for nothing does Dial (not the soap, the imprint no one knows) have @JonahLehrer:twitter out on a TRUE book tour for a month for his new Imagine: How Creativity Works (which you should read, it’s #PorterEndorsed). Jonah is personable, presents incredibly well, and smarter than the next 400 people you’ll meet, a publicity department’s dream, Malcolm Gladwell with good hair. While it’s Mike’s job as a consultant and analyst to worry about what publishers need to do, it’s our job to worry about what authors need to do. We need to focus on that freaking personal approach, thus the author as brand, which is exactly what Dial (the brand that isn’t) knows to do with Jonah (the brand we’d all love to be — he debut-ed at #1 on the NYTimes’ lists…with a brainy science book).

    (5) I have a hope here that the type of writers’ collectives I started talking about at @WriterUnboxed:twitter http://ow.ly/a8ouD can over time offer a form of branding that accrues to the work of one or another “society of authors” — as has happened with Magnum Photographers, my example in that piece. If you tell me of a Magnum exhibition, I don’t have to know whose work is showing. Every Magnum photog is amazing, I’m going. That COULD occur with authors, in that their personal brands would all fund the wider brand of their collective (Remember, in these collectives, I’m talking a purely business co-op, not a touchy-feely “belieeeeeve in yourself” inpirational community but a funded corporate entity handling its authors’ publishing business.) The reason I think this could happen is that collectives would be formed by personalities for their shared needs of business support — these collectives would be hiring publishing people. Thus, the driving force would be the authors and their content, not the publishing services. Thus, in my “collectives fever,” I see the personalities of these authors combining to form something that can be sold to readers as a dependable source of good/specialized (if in one genre) work. “From the NoKumbayaHere Collective” then arrives after a lot of work and careful positioning as a new form of “brand,” a seal of approval stamped on the books of members of a given professional collective which has distinguished itself for a certain type and quality of work.

    (6) If not collectives, remember that in some way we will likely have to group authors for readers. Even authors whose good looks, charm, and great prose form wonderful personal brands? — how many of those can you hold in your head at any one time? In some way, salable branding has got to collate quality for the readership at large. So that’s what we’re looking for.

    How fevered am I? Who the hell knows?

    But this concept collectives — which I’m going to be exploring in Google Hangouts On Air sessions with others who are interested in exploring it — is an effort to go in two directions at once, perfectly comfortable for a Gemini like me:

    (1) We move TOWARD the author as the fundamental branding essential.
    (2) We move AWAY from the author as the lone maker of both the creative and the business aspects of the brand.

    I’m not convinced that we can expect authors working as single business agents to achieve and sustain the level of business clout we are losing when the major publishers collapse. We can platform our tails off — and must — but we still won’t have Big-Six capability (and neither will the Big Six eventually).

    We’re looking for a hybrid that capitalizes on the human source of good branding — the author — to generate a corporate insignia of literary excellence — perhaps through the rise of a collective, perhaps in something else, the Mass is ended, go in peace.

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

    As usual, Kathy ( @KathyPooler:twitter ), you’ve got all the right questions and I have none of the answers. :) 

    Seriously, I have high hopes for some format for helping authors handle the business burden of their careers that’s under their own control (meaning they hire publishers instead of publishers hiring them).  That’s why I’m starting discussions on the collectives idea http://ow.ly/a8ouD with some good people to see if we can start hammering out a new format under which we might, yes, get back to work.

    We face two masterful impediments right now:
    (a) The business of publishing has blown up in our faces.
    (b) The emotional shock, which, granted, was huge, and especially among creative workers (closer to emotional energies than others). But the emotional shock is done. We now know it all blew up in our faces. We have to get over it now, and figure out how to do something about it.

    So. Call me back when you have all the answers. :)
    -p.

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

    You’re both too nice, @KathyPooler:twitter and @ByRozMorris:twitter . We’re all just doing our best to figure out how to make a writing life livable After the Fall here, and yes, the work itself has to be central. Now that the industry has had a good cry, we have to sort out how to get back to work. Look out for the debris of collapsing publishers and write for your life, that’s my best advice today. :)

  • KathyPooler

    Porter @porter_anderson:twitter , This is a very timely discussion. Thanks for the link to the collectives. I am looking forward to participating in the ongoing discussions . Hopefully, together , we will come up with some answers :-)

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

    Thanks for the comment, Jill ( @JillKemerer:twitter ), and for coming by, as ever , no worry about the timing, the Ether never sleeps. :) 

    Not able to speak for Steve ( @spressfield:twitter ) and his intent with his commentary in his blog, I’d say head over there and drop him a comment. Sounds to me as if you have plenty of valid points about why the concept of being treated as a child may not be the best possible choice. But as I read his piece, it’s hardly meant as a condemnation of good parenthood or of all employee-employer relations. He goes to some length to point out that if he felt in the position of a “child” vis-a-vis a publisher in the past, it was his own fault for putting himself into that predicament. And I do think that at its most generalized levelk, the stereotypic relationship of traditional publisher to author has likely been a good deal more parental, particularly paternal, than, say, that of an employer and an electrical engineer. And I’m damned glad, for your sake. :)

    Might be worth checking out Steve’s post http://ow.ly/a9zxr just to get his idea in greater detail. And if you disagree, do tell him, he’s a great soul, always glad to take on new thinking.

    Thanks again, so much, for making the effort to get to the Ether, hope your weekend was grand!
    -p.

  • Jill Kemerer

    Ah, Porter, I occasionally like to mount my high horse and run around with righteous indignation–without taking the time to verify my sources. I just read the full article, and I agree, the post wasn’t inflammatory. I still say we’re all adults, though!

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

    Well good for you for going back and reading the whole thing, Jill! (@JillKemerer:twitter ) I can’t tell you how many people won’t do that much. In fact, I’m contemplating a segment of the upcoming Ether in which I talk a little about how to read tweets because so many people take me on in response tweets for something that (a) I didn’t say (I’m quoting others) and (b) they don’t understand because they won’t click on the link and read the post.  So brava to you for checking it out, that’s absolutely fantastic of you, and the sort of thing we all have to do sometimes, especially after a high-horse ride (which I’m known to take sometimes, we all are.

    AND you’re right, we’re still all adults, which I take to be Steve’s point in saying that if we feel like children in the hands of traditional publishers, we have to remind ourselves that we asked for that form of publication. What’s more, he’s saying by reduction that his own decision to publish himself (with the great help of Shawn Coyne, @CallieOettinger:twitter and the rest of his team) will remain his, too … and he may need to be quite the adult when the results are known.

    Lots of growing up for all of us. At times, the “squirt table,” as we used to call where the kids sat at lunch in Charleston, starts to look pretty good.  :-) 

    Thanks again!
    -p.

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