Seasons in Love by Dave Malone
Poems rich in romance, life, and nature, Seasons in Love journeys through four seasons and through love that breaks and sustains us.
Ozark summer heat to winter blizzards, long-lasting love grips these poems. With words and language from southern Missouri hills, Malone takes us into the romantic backwoods of moon, creek, and mountain, but ultimately leads us to life — “it’s blue light, barely seen.”
Table of Contents
- Fraudulent Reviews: Beside the Point / Howse, Duns, Retzenbrink, Charman-Anderson, “Robin Reader”
- Publishers: Author Ego Services? / Eagar, Mayer, Shatzkin
- Disgrace: End of the Lehrer Line / Boog, Seife, Hansen, Moos, O’Leary
- Amazon: Announcements / Owen, Jesdanun
- Book: About the Book / O’Leary, McGuire
- Essays: Here’s Looking at Her / Friedman
- Self-Publishing: Oxford Blues / Morris
- Craft: Maass Upheaval
- Crafty: Moleskine- moderne / Harkaway
- Books and Conference Notes: Reading on the Ether
- Last Gas: Our Strange Addictions / Ingram, McCue, Hreha
A correction: In my original references in this item to a post at Dear Author, I incorrectly referred to that post’s dear author as the perspicacious Jane Litte. In fact, the post is by “Robin Reader,” as she’s known on the site — AKA “Janet.” I’ve updated references to her here on the Ether, with apologies for my initial oversight. And I’m delighted to see Dear Author now using bylines at the tops of stories, in part as a result of our chats on this point.
Calm down. Authors who give their own books glowing reviews are nothing new.
I’d hoped not to lead this week’s Ether with this fraudulent reviews business. But look at those two sentences above.
His take on the widening scandal reveals a peculiar division showing up in the industry! the industry! — not one we might have expected to see in a business already ragged with the disruption of the digital dynamic.
Here’s another snootful of his write:
This is “fraudulent and damaging to publishing”, say a small battalion of well-known authors – Joanne Harris, Ian Rankin, Susan Hill, and dozens more – in a letter to the Telegraph. Come off it. That is naivety taken to a self-deluding extreme.
Howse and those who agree with him seem to be bent on dodging and diminishing what others see as an outright crisis. The Howse camp uses lines such as “nobody trusts online reviews anyway” and “this has been going on for years” and “why are you so surprised?” And they seem surprised, themselves, to find others taking the problem seriously and talking of how it has defrauded readers, authors, and — as the largest retailer — Amazon.
These infractions can occur anywhere online, of course, but it is Amazon that has championed the consumer review as a substantial element of online commerce.
Indeed, as The Bookseller’s The Naked Book show went live Wednesday afternoon Eastern time (evening in London where it originates), it was frustrating to hear hosts Philip Jones and Sam Missingham have to punch their way through some of the paper-tiger arguments that continue to spring up around these issues.
The Naked Book was a much-improved event this week. A manageable two guests — not four — were on-hand to talk about the issue.
One of them is Cathy Retzenbrink of Quick Reads.
In an interesting moment near the end of the program, she proposed “a kind of amnesty” for authors who are participating in fraudulent review practices. It’s hard to know how much support she might find for such an idea.
The other is author Jeremy Duns, who has become something of a spokesman for an effort to get a handle on the fraudulent-review scandal.
Duns, author of May’s The Dark Chronicles: A Spy Trilogy, is the writer who has called out British author RJ Ellory for “sock puppetry” — the use of fake IDs to pose as a customer and write reviews. And Duns has helped put together the No Sock Puppets Here Please site that’s attracting the support of many writers who want to condemn these practices.
In her write at Forbes, Amazon Reviews: RJ Ellory Apologises for Fakery, Suw Charman-Anderson points out that in the UK, consumer protection laws put into place in 2008 do make the practice of leaving fake positive reviews illegal. It’s termed “astroturfing.” She writes:
Authors who astroturf, as the practice of leaving fake positive reviews is called, need to be aware that their actions are illegal in the UK and could result in an unlimited fine and up to two years in jail.
@lizcastro How would you translate "sock puppet" into Spanish and Catalan?
— Julieta Lionetti (@JulietaLionetti) September 4, 2012
“Janet,” the blogger also known as Robin Reader at Dear Author, includes in The perils of paid-for reviews some commentary on the Federal Trade Commission and its latest update (2009) to guidelines on endorsements and testimonials. And she makes a great point about why things in this area can look murky:
Before the Internet, advertisements and product endorsements were more easily distinguishable from independent, critical reviews of products. However, online commercial venues like Amazon have complicated that distinction, because it can be difficult to tell whether the person writing the review is a disinterested user or a paid promoter.
But as she points out in her piece, the act of critical review is freighted with considerations of free speech — and this further complicates these issues.
Critical distance is good, not only because it encourages honest feedback on books, but also because it protects the freedom and integrity of book reviewing more generally. While authors and publishers might think of honest book reviews as marketing, at best that marketing is indirect, because there is a serendipitous commercial advantage to the word of mouth reviews can generate.
The sock puppet in the kitchen with a dagger | FutureBook http://t.co/XNkr9JRq
— CatherineRyanHoward (@cathryanhoward) September 5, 2012
Clarifying a few points: What is being discussed?
- The buying of bogus positive online reviews — this is the practice confessed to by US author John Locke, which we’ve Etherized here and here. As Janet (“Robin Reader”)clarifies in her new post — the first in a series — a paid-for review is “a commercial exchange on behalf of the author.”
- “Sock puppetry” in which an author poses as an online shopper to write positive reviews of her or his own work. This is the infraction Ellory says he has committed (detailed in Charman-Anderson’s write). In this case, the author has a material interest in seeing her or his work enhanced by self-generated reviews.
- And sock puppetry in which an author poses as an online shopper to write negative reviews of other authors, also admitted to by Ellery, whose faux account names are reported to have been “Jelly Bean” and “Nicodemus Jones.” In this case, the author has a material interest in seeing other authors’ work given negative notices, thus, one assumes, limiting competition.
The questions these three forms of fraudulent review bring us to, per Janet at Dear Author, are these:
At what point do book reviews become commercial speech and therefore subject to government regulation? At what point does the FTC decide that there is enough concern about the independent nature of reviews to step into the book blogging world and cast a shadow on the many honest, independent bloggers?
Depressed. My sock puppet finds my new book disappointing.
— Jack Klaff (@jackshebang) September 3, 2012
More clarification: What is not being discussed?
- Is the receipt of a free copy of a book by a reviewer wrong? No. This is common practice throughout the industry, and as long as there is no guarantee that the review copy will prompt a review (nor that such a review might be negative or positive), there is no problem with the review copy of the book being free. Newsrooms are flooded, in fact, with review copies sent strictly on the hope of a review, not the promise. It’s smart for a reviewer, whenever asked, “May I send you my book?” to clearly state that if an author does send a copy of the book, there’s no guarantee of a review or of what kind. But the use of free review copies is not involved here.
- Are Kirkus Reviews part of the problem? No. Again, both by tradition and by clarity of policy — a Kirkus review is paid for, but the crystal clear understanding is that there’s no guarantee the review will be positive.
— Guardian Books (@GuardianBooks) September 6, 2012
What is at issue, then?
Any form of commentary that might affect an online sale or ranking of a product when that commentary is not the free-will, no-relation (unbiased), unpaid-for comment that it appears to be represents a conflict of interest. The fear among many in the community is that such bad practice is so widespread that a major element of online commerce — and of readers’ participation in publishing, let’s face it — is damaged beyond salvage.
@jeremyduns Keep on witch hunting, Duns! It gets your name in the papers!
— JA Konrath (@jakonrath) September 8, 2012
Do you write reviews of books on Amazon?
Great. If you have a relationship of any kind with an author that might have something to do with what you say in your review — or that might appear to bias you (the “appearance of conflict of interest”) — you simply disclaim it right up top, very briefly.
“I am a colleague of several years of Author XYZ and we are frequently in touch on social media. I consider Author XYZ a friend.” You’re done. Now write your review. No need to go on about how your friendship isn’t going to have any impact on what you say — you’re human, and it’s fine to have relationships. You’ve just need to state them, giving your review reader a chance to decide how to evaluate your review.
- It cheats readers, first of all: they need every chance to make good decisions about whether to buy and read authors’ work.
- It also cheats authors: they need a chance to have the rankings and positioning that can be affected by reviews work as cleanly as possible.
When you game any system, someone is getting the short end. The folks saying, “There’s no victim in this” are wrong. We’re all victimized by it, whether buying books or toasters.
And that gets us to the last point we need to mention here on this: the retailer. Some are pessimistic that Amazon and/or other online retailers will try to address this, stepping up fake review detection, moving against violators of their terms of service, etc. Others are optimistic.
For Duns’ part, he tells of being disappointed in his initial efforts to be in touch with Amazon about his experiences. And in the Naked Book discussion, he states the question cleanly: “What is the point of having policy guidelines if they’re not actually enforced?”
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Back to Table of Contents
Kobo Unveils New E-Readers, Glo and Mini, and Arc Tablet,by Jeremy Greenfield/DBW http://t.co/1AuOTGEI
— Jose Afonso Furtado (@jafurtado) September 6, 2012
Writers light up when other people are willing to pay money up-front, dote upon, handle boring details, and sing the praises of their books. The ability to provide this type of assistance and stroke the author ego gives publishers legitimate power.
The piece is headlined What’s the Point of Publishers in a Digital Age? As Eagar has it:
What’s the point of publishers? To exist and thrive by keeping the author ego healthy and alive.
And traditional publishers, Eagar says, massage the author ego in three areas:
- Advances (because “authors want to get paid for their work”).
- Details (because “authors hate dealing with the details”).
- Readership (because “authors want everyone to read their books”).
Eagar goes on:
Digital self-publishing and e-books represent wonderful new opportunities. But, the power of new technology is no match against the power of human nature.
By which he means that ego will out. A superior ability to serve the cravings of the writerly ego means that “publishers need not fear extinction.”
No white pants after Labor Day! Or before, if you have any self respect.
— rob delaney (@robdelaney) September 5, 2012
And as the weekend coals were being lit, a few comments did come in on this piece.
Most of the commenters do two things:
- They reject the ego-stroking benefits of traditional publishing as being available to only the few top-ranking authors who get white-glove service; and
- They reject much of the rest of Eagar’s material as, to quote reader PA Wilson, “another post that paints traditional publishing like a bus we self-publishers could have just boarded.”
“Retrograde vision,” writes Linton Robinson.
“Egos are mighty,” writes Andy Holloman, “but so is humility and I question whether the huge bulk of writers are anywhere close to hav(ing) the chance to have their ego stroked by big publishing houses…. today, a very viable alternative exists and it is working.”
Eagar left a single comment, summarily responding to his readers:
As the author of this piece, I’m amused by the response. Everyone who commented proved my point precisely that authors have big egos – especially indie authors. Traditionally-pubbed authors moan about dealing with legacy publishers, and indie authors moan about not getting accepted by legacy publishers.
He notes the new DBW eBook Best-Seller List’s indications that Big Six ebooks are the chief sellers. Then:
I’m both a self-published and traditionally-published author – and made six figure revenues in both categories.
Author-publisher Bob Mayer weighs in with post of his own, What’s The Point of Publishers in a Digital Age: Response. Mayer’s points tend to be aligned with the commenters':
Publishers do indeed help the author ego, if that author happens to be in the top 5% of the ranks at their publisher. Below that, the experience is often the opposite. The midlist is usually the living hell of getting blown off by harried editors, being promised promotion just so you don’t call or email any more and when the book actually arrives, there is no promotion, and the reality is that when you don’t earn out, you are in essence going to get ‘fired’ by not getting renewed.
This was my experience over 42 titles with 4 of the Big 6. Even when I sold over a million books for Random House, they could (not) have cared less. I didn’t see much ego stroking going on for most authors.
Mayer goes on to answer Eagar point by point, ending:
Ego doesn’t pay the mortgage…I submit that the point of publishers in a digital age is to partner with authors in a fair royalty scheme so that all the players in the business are committed to getting books from the content creators, authors, to the content consumers, readers.
And it falls to industry consultant Mike Shatzkin, as everybody heads back to work, to move the debate past the sandy “not my ego” stage and into a post called Full-service publishers are rethinking what they can offer.
The term “full service” is the lunchtime wisdom of HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray, Shatzkin tells us.
It would be disingenuous to suggest that publishing organizations were deliberately created as service organizations for authors. They weren’t. In fact, as we shall see, the service component of a publisher’s DNA was developed in service to other publishers.
And in this lengthy post, drawing on his and his father’s decades of experience in the business, Shatzkin recounts the rise of complex publishing houses built on “the idea that they knew what books would sell.”
Judge Approves E-Book Pricing Settlement Between Government and Publishers: http://t.co/B7qxRTRR
— New York Times Books (@nytimesbooks) September 6, 2012
Scaleability — and where it lies amid the panoply of services in a major, traditional publishing house — becomes, today, a critical concern, as Shatzkin demonstrates.
The way (HarperCollins’) Murray sees it, a major publisher applies a synthesis of market intelligence and skills that can only be delivered by publishing at scale.
But if what’s needed is unbundled services available to smaller clients, how does the corporation cope?
The scale challenge for trade publishers to collaborate with what I’m envisioning will be an exploding number of potential partners is to find ways to deliver the value of the synthesized pool of knowledge and experience efficiently to smaller units of creativity and marketing.
Those “smaller units,” of course, may be authors. And Shatzkin notes efforts at houses including Penguin (Book Country and the widely criticized acquisition of Author Solutions), Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, Scholastic, etc.
And he ends this comprehensive write with the kind of observation about Amazon that some in the business never like to hear:
One of the reasons that Amazon has been so successful in our business is that our business is not the only thing they do. One of the elements of genius they have applied ubiquitously is that every capability they build for themselves has additional value if it can be delivered unbundled as well.
The lesson is there to be learned, Shatzkin explains:
Publishers were comfortable with that idea for the relatively low-value things that they do long before they ever heard of Amazon. It is a good time to think along the same lines for functions which formerly seemed closer to the core.
Wired magazine has ended its relationship with author Jonah Lehrer after an investigation into his writings turned up “inexcusable” problems.
It’s a bit like the big blast of fireworks at the end of the show.
Boog also reminds us that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt — which laid on an impressive bookstore/speaking tour and press blitz for Lehrer on the publication this spring of Imagine: How Creativity Works — now is offering to refund readers for the book until December 31. (If you bought an electronic copy, you’re to contact the retailer in question for a refund.)
Why is this report at Slate, not at Wired, which asked Seife to vet the material?
Seife covers that in the piece:
Wired.com decided not to publish my full analysis of my findings, but given the importance and prominence of the Lehrer case, Slate stepped in to fill the gap.
The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Evan Hansen, writes this in a separate statement — Violations of Editorial Standards Found in WIRED Writer’s Blog — posted on the template of the “Frontal Cortex” blog Lehrer once wrote. Hansen:
Although Frontal Cortex posts were not edited or fact checked, we expect those whose work appears on our site to follow basic good journalism practices. Lehrer’s failure to meet WIRED editorial standards leaves us no choice but to sever the relationship…As we’ve said previously, we have found no issues to date with Lehrer’s magazine articles, which were subject to the usual thorough fact-checking process.
While Wired has declined to carry Seife’s full report, Hansen’s statement does include a linked list of Lehrer posts that have been annotated to indicate where Seife found problems.
At Poynter, Julie Moos provides a useful Timeline of Jonah Lehrer plagiarism, fabrication revelations, from Jim Romenesko’s initial June 19 report to the August 31 termination by Wired.
Then Moos follows with a fine summation, interviewing Seife and helping set the agenda we all need to consider primary here. I hope you’ll find a little time to read her in Wired.com investigator on latest Jonah Lehrer plagiarism: ‘I think the safety net has eroded.’
Seife found problems in 17 of the 18 blog posts he reviewed. In three of those posts, Lehrer plagiarized from other writers, in five he used verbatim portions of press releases, and in 14 posts he recycled his own writing from previously published pieces.
Seife defines three major criteria of improper conduct by Lehrer in his report — “recycling” (the re-use by Lehrer of his own material), plagiarism, and fabrication.
“Unfortunately for Lehrer, recycling was not the end of the story,” writes Seife, who is the author of Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception.
And it is the combination of those elements that creates, for Seife, a picture of an untenable approach.
Let me flag again the revelation in Hansen’s statement: Wired was editing — at least fact-checking — its magazine material. The blog posts on its site, which readers would naturally expect to maintain the same standards at the magazine? — not checked, not edited.
While Seife made no excuses for Lehrer, he also expressed concern about a journalism industry that missed the signs for so long and whose evolving culture may be enabling future Lehrers.
— Kristen McLean (@BKGKristen) September 7, 2012
Although some voices have questioned whether Lehrer’s self-plaigirism is a big deal, I’ve yet to see anyone else question what the editors at Wired, the New Yorker and elsewhere were doing while Lehrer recycled material on their watch.
And this, thanks to Moos, Seife, and O’Leary, is where we all need to go in this discussion.
The gossipy Schadenfreude around Lehrer’s two-and-a-half-month dive into ignominy isn’t the point. The work, and what’s happening to it, is the point.
“The recycling went way back to 2007-2008, something like that, so when you think about how many people have seen the work and the fact that nobody said something. … It means there wasn’t enough attention paid on some level,” said Seife. “The media as a whole is cutting it kind of close when it comes to plagiarism.”
“I think the safety net has eroded,” he said. “Fact-checkers are disappearing, the editorial staff is getting threadbare. The mantra of do more with less is taking its toll.”
It’s disappointing to learn that we don’t hear from Lehrer, himself, on all this, now that he has ended up without his Wired or New Yorker jobs. Lehrer is badly discredited now, yes, but he’s also articulate. I hope we still might have a chance to get some thoughts from him on this. Slate and/or Seife offered the writer a chance to speak, but apparently without results.
I interviewed Lehrer for an hour and a half to get his reaction, but I am unable to publish his comments. Unfortunately, in the setup to the interview, Wired.com, which set the ground rules for the interview, didn’t make sufficiently clear that the discussion was not solely part of an internal investigation and that it could be made public. As a result, I can’t quote Lehrer or even paraphrase what he told me.
Whoa. @amazon just introduced Kindle Serials. Get ready for "And wait until you read the next chapter…next Friday night at 8:00PM!"
— Gavin Purcell (@gavinpurcell) September 6, 2012
Seife’s overall assessment from that interview isn’t promising:
What I can say is that a number of his responses to my questions made me suspect that Lehrer’s journalistic moral compass is badly broken…In short, I am convinced that Lehrer has a cavalier attitude about truth and falsehood.
And, as glad as we all can be that a long summer’s rude awakening seems largely understood now, it’s critical that we not just call this “Jonah Messed Up” in our collective busy-ness and rush onward into the next sinkhole of bad surprises and flagging faith in such media as Wired.
That comment from Seife’s story at Slate is just fine, as far as personal taste goes. Even funny. And also beside the point.
At the end of his piece, Seife writes about his own experience — which matches mine — of having had his work “scrutinized by layers upon layers of editors, top editors, copy editors, fact checkers…before a single word got published.”
The fast fading world of journalistic apparatus that some of us rattle on about now didn’t just protect readers and publishers from the ignorance and follies of young people learning — it also gave younger journalists a chance to be saved from their own screw-ups by internal process. Some strong people were salvaged this way. And now, we learn, we can’t even expect a magazine on the order of Wired to be handling its online content with the same care it does its magazine work.
Last word goes to Seife:
Lehrer…rose to the very top in a flash, and despite having his work published by major media companies, he was operating, most of the time, without a safety net. Nobody noticed that something was amiss until it was too late to save him.
Wired fires Jonah Lehrer after admitting it did not edit or factcheck his work and just assumed it'd be cool. http://t.co/BEvSd076
— Evan Hill (@evanchill) September 1, 2012
The biggest difference between the Kindle Paperwhite and the front-lit devices from Barnes & Noble and Kobo, though, is battery life. Jeff Bezos said during Thursday’s press conference that Amazon expects people to leave the light on all the time, even in bright rooms.
Having live-blogged the Amazon news conference from Barker Hangar, Laura Hazard Owen’s then wrote up the results with straightforward understanding of their importance.
I recommend her piece Why e-readers evolved a lot today: Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Glo and the live blog itself, Amazon unveils four new Kindles, Kindle Serials.
There’s also a good piece from John Chan at CNET on the Paperwhite: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite comes with built-in light.
It was a big week for gadget announcements as Amazon, Nokia and Motorola all tried to generate interest in their products before Apple’s expected announcement of a new iPhone next Wednesday.
The piece then includes a walk-through of each company’s position in the mix.
Inventive and practical, Hugh explained the book plainly: “If you were going to start a book publishing company today, this would be the owner’s manual.” He meant it in terms of a world view, not a business plan. Hugh being Hugh, he also really wanted it to be a manifesto.
That’s Brian O’Leary, who has collaborated with Hugh McGuire on Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto. Built over many months’ time and available in segments as they became ready, it feels as if this title has been with us a long time. But that’s also thanks to the universality and vision of many of its contributors’ essays.
For his part, McGuire — the instigator who has used this anthology as a rolling proof-of-performance as he developed the WordPress extension Pressbooks — puts it this way in Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto – Available Everywhere:
The “idea” of this book was to explore “the idea of a book.” We wanted to get away from the abstract or philosophical, and make a practical guide for the publishing world — for someone just starting a publishing enterprise today, for people in the business already, and for authors and self-publishers who want to think beyond “upload my book to Kindle.”
What’s new, as O’Leary writes in The Owner’s Manual, is the third and final section of the book.
From the outset, Hugh divided the book into three sections:
- The set-up: Approaches to the digital present
- The outlook: What is next for the book?
- The things we can do with books: Projects from the bleeding edge
Throughout the project, contributors have been among some of our leading observers and commentators on the digital dynamic. The new third section holds up its end well in that regard. Here, for example, are:
- Valla Vakili of Small Demons in Exaggerations and Perversions
- Peter Collingridge of Safari Books Online in The Surprising Power of “Little Data”
- Jacob Lewis of Figment on The Forgotten Consumer
The various views represented, as O’Leary notes, “are not always fully consistent…leaving a wide range of views on the table.”
And that’s as it should be, he writes:
That’s as it should be. If there’s a common theme, it is this: “The world has changed. It’s time that we changed with it. And here’s how.”
I have found myself to be the rare advocate of opening up a big bottle of alcohol to see how fast I can lose my precious “self.”
If the kind of peace Jane Friedman has with herself comes from a bottle? I’ll have what she’s having.
The fear of losing ourselves is a curious one. How could we ever be anything but ourselves, in every thought and action…To accept my shadow, I’ve had to stop defending and start opening. Drinking helps me open more.
These are bits of her essay, Drinking as a Genuine Vocation. It’s in the Santa position — the last and best float in the parade — in the new anthology, Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up, edited by Caren Osten Gerszberg and Leah Odze Epstein.
Some people drink as a method of defense and refuse to open. If not prepared to gaze upon the layers of sweetness and stench, you can use drinking as a method of total self-annihilation.
Friedman is the former publisher of Writer’s Digest and media prof at University of Cincinnati, now doing great things at Charlottesville’s Virginia Quarterly Review as its online editor — and, of course, she’s the host of the Ether here at JaneFriedman.com.
I’m wary of people who swear off drinking. It’s like swearing off the experience of life and holding on too tight to the illusion of control.
No, I didn’t drive her to drink. Booze preceded gas.
There are exceptions, of course, the most obvious being people who’ve had trouble with drinking in the past.
What I love in this essay, and in Jane’s experience of drinking, is that she’s so far beyond any concept of guilt about it that the word doesn’t even make an appearance in her essay. For a PK, this is a revelation. In the South Carolina Methodist Conference, we didn’t even get the stuff for communion. A shot glass of Welch’s grape juice! No wonder I’m a mess!
Drinking has the added bonus of easing the human preoccupation with self-awareness. This awareness is problem and a burden, and what F. Scott Fitzgerald must have been suffering from when he said, “My stories written when sober are stupid…All reasoned out, not felt.”
This is the best writing I’ve seen Friedman produce. It’s completely serious, but not without a swig or two of the humor I get to see more frequently in her than folks who know her simply through her excellent material for writing. Watch for her wry summation of an anecdote involving “a 750-millileter bottle of Chimay.”
If other essays in Drinking Diaries are of this caliber, then Gerszberg and Epstein have a VSOP collection on their hands, just out from Perseus’ women’s imprint Seal Press.
And from our colleague who writes:
I don’t hesitate to keep drinking, wandering through darkness and light. Because, as Hesse says, each person has only one genuine vocation: to find the way to himself.
I became a self-publisher by necessity. It wasn’t initially as a positive choice, just the only way to get my work to an audience who were increasingly curious about it.
Author Roz Morris is a former sponsor of the Ether and is working on a third novel under her own name (as opposed to ghosting others).
My experiences and the recent shifts in the industry have changed the way I think about my role as a writer.
Invited to Oxford to explain that new thinking to the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) Morris drafts a monograph with a familiar refrain: “no one would publish it.” She gave her speech last week. It’s titled a generous From last resort to new career – how I self-published and how it’s changed my outlook as a writer.
An early self-publisher of her Nail Your Novel writing-advice book, and a best-seller eight times as a ghost-writer for other authors, Morris told the SYP:
I still wanted a deal for my fiction. It wasn’t respectable to self-publish fiction – especially if you’d secured an agent.
Morris frequently makes the point that she has two agents. She had worked in nonfiction at a small publisher. Just getting past print was a leap for her.
Three years ago when I brought out NYN (Nail Your Novel) I’d never seen an ebook. I had a house full of print. I’d worked with print and I wasn’t convinced that making an ebook was worth the fuss.
One day Lulu deleted a bunch of Amazon listings and then bickered with Amazon – and its authors – about whose fault this was. My book, which was generating a buzz, vanished from sale for several weeks – and so did my reviews. The links from bloggers who’d written about it went to dead ends.
That crisis precipitated such a change in Morris’ approach that she not only learned to get her how-to book into a Kindle edition — “it spent a long time in the Kindle Top 10 for books on writing, and it’s still in the Top 50″ — but she also went the other way, using Amazon’s CreateSpace to put out a new print edition, herself.
I sincerely miss the days of sitting in a London pub, discussing politics with my mates from both sides of the political divide RATIONALLY!
— Carrie LaMarr (@carrielamarr) September 6, 2012
A number of novelists were daring the unthinkable – they were going indie. They were writing articles explaining why, many describing exactly my predicament – too unusual for the market.
And Morris would eventually self-publish her own novel, My Memories of a Future Life, in a four-part serial release.
A couple of points make her account for the SYP particularly useful, not least the simple usefulness of a step-by-step mapping of revelations that led a formerly traditional books worker to self-publishing.
What makes her tale of a putting a “duck-billed platypus of a novel” on the market most valuable, though, is her lack of partisanship.
While Morris can be tough on the shortcomings of traditional publishing at times, she’s much more focused here on conceding that everything was a leap for her, confessing:
I began to see why publishers passed in favour of something easier.
This is not, then, the speech you’d hear from a self-publishing evangelist.
Before you worry this will become a strident call to arms, let me say this – the ‘empowerment’ of writers works both ways. Level-headed, professional authors are also learning what we want help with.
Morris has a warning for publishers: “Don’t throw away your competitive advantage” at a time when newly empowered authors (even if by accident, like her) are moving better and faster. The problem for publishers, she tells SYP in Oxford, is too many shots being called by Marketing.
Obviously there’s no simple answer, but this pressure is squeezing out the original, unusual books written by people who dared to be different, the game-changing novels that will be the classics of the future. This is bad for our art form. It’s bad for everyone who likes a good read. It’s ghetto-ising our next generation of original writers, who 10 years ago would have had a chance to build a career.
If authors are going to self-publish, anyway, she asks publishers, “why not get involved?”
While reading a well-reviewed novel, have you ever felt both awed and bored? You know the feeling. This is soooo beautifully written… when is something going to happen?
If you tried to apply all the guidelines agent Donald Maass offers — in his Writer Unboxed columns as a colleague-contributor of mine, as a teacher of his various workshops, and as a writer of how-too books — you’d never get your manuscript out the door.
This is soooo beautifully written… when is something going to happen?
The guy has a seemingly bottomless supply of cogent, pertinent, reader-driven insights into what an author needs to address.
Authors are at high risk of provoking that feeling when they write stories that essentially rely on delay. Novels in which the main character’s primary need is to get over it, grow, heal, hit the road or in some other way become unstuck are especially prone to this pattern.
The antidote to delay is change. In plot-driven novels that isn’t automatically generated by action. In character-driven novels it isn’t delivered by stunning rendered reality.
Gripping change is change that happens within….In terms of novel construction that means capturing Inner change as it happens scene by scene. Why include a scene unless it changes a character in some way?
See how that lands? Like good therapy. It feels totally logical as soon as you hear it. That’s good advice, especially in writing. It rings true. You get that.
82 Computer crash! House fire! Your WIP is gone, all backups fried. Write why your story matters, give that passage to your MC. #Maass
— Donald Maass (@DonMaass) August 30, 2012
Author Nick Harkaway has done a good bit of thinking about things-digital and things not.
His book The Blind Giant, released in May, is subtitled “Being Human in a Digital World,” an idea I’m willing to applaud on most days of the week.
Just in time, it turns out, for the Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine, releasing later this fall. Using special dotted ruling (or squares) as a pattern on the Moleskine page to correct skew, the new notebooks’ pages are to be photographed by the Evernote Page Camera — an iOS version for iPhone and iPad.
I’ve been pretty forthright about how I think the present implementation of the ebook concept sucks and we should demand…better design. This is, potentially, the beginning of that.
Well, it’s also a bit like a QR code, as people whip out their cell phones and try to take pictures of symbols-on-page. And we all know how popular QR codes are.
What Evernote and Moleskine are doing is technologically unremarkable on the face of it (though actually making it work is probably pretty nifty coding) but it feels like the start of something exciting.
It’s a step, he says, and in the right direction:
The Holy Grail of ebooks is the gorgeously tactile physical object which can be any book on Earth, or a notebook; which fits in your pocket and unfolds into a laptop; which is both beautiful and supremely functional. Maybe it will never actually happen.
Well sure, I always get amped up for football with No Doubt. Great idea, NBC.
— Don Linn (@DonLinn) September 6, 2012
For an updated list of planned confabs, please see the Publishing Conferences page at PorterAnderson.com. You’ll see that the upcoming F+W Media conferences have opened registration for Digital Book World in January (in New York).
Frankfurt-bound folks may want to give special consideration to the Tools of Change (TOC) Metadata Goes Global program with Brian O’Leary and Laura Dawson, and a very promising-sounding Publishers Launch event from Mike Shatzkin and Michael Cader.
The books you see here have been referenced recently in Writing on the Ether.
I’m bringing them together in one spot each week, to help you recall and locate them, not as an endorsement. And, needless to say, we lead our list weekly with our fine Writing on the Ether Sponsors, in gratitude for their support.
- Seasons in Love by Dave Malone
- My Call to the Ring: A Memoir of a Girl Who Yearns to Box by Deirdre Gogarty with Darrelyn Saloom (Glasnevin)
- My Memories of a Future Life by Roz Morris (Red Season)
- Prophecy, An ARKANE Thriller by J.F. Penn (The Creative Penn)
- The Prodigal Hour by Will Entrekin (Exciting Press)
- Perfect Skin by Nick Earls (Exciting Press)
- Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing by L.L. Barkat (T.S. Poetry Press)
- American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath by Carl Rollyson
- The Blind Giant: Being Human in a Digital World by Nick Harkaway
- Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto edited by Hugh McGuire and Brian O’Leary
- The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis
- Dana Andrews: Hollywood Enigma by Carl Rollyson
- The Dark Chronicles: A Spy Trilogy by Jeremy Duns
- Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up by Caren Osten Gerszberg & Leah Odze Epstein
- A Dyeing Shame by Elizabeth Spann Craig
- Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love by Andrew Schaffer
- The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
- Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris
- Outside In by Harley Manning and KerryBodine
- Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception by Charles Seife
- The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross
- Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield
- Veniss Underground by Jeff Vandermeer
- Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti
- Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass
— Regan Summers (@Regan_Summers) September 4, 2012
I don’t like the fact that I am more or less addicted to Twitter now, to the point where I’m not sure what I would do without it.
Almost as if to address this before the rest of us brought it us, Ingram’s Why I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter enumerates the service’s most attractive and disturbing elements.
I love the fact that Twitter gives me real-time information about an incredible variety of things…I hate that Twitter has become so big now…I love that I get a broad variety of viewpoints…I hate that Twitter is cutting off the third-party services I like to use…I love that I can get into discussions (and occasionally arguments) at a moment’s notice with someone I respect because of their output but may never have actually met…I hate the fact that trying to justify a private-market valuation cooked up by venture capitalists seems to be driving the company…
Now, about that last point? — the private-market valuation? Ingram has company on that one, very influential company, at that. This is Mike McCue:
“Twitter was created as an open platform, an open communications ecosystem, and I hope it can stay that way. You have to be really careful not to let money get in the way of that.”
In his Telegraph interview with Katherine Rushton, Twitter warned on danger of chasing money, McCue — who is also CEO of Flipboard — talks of the same dynamic that keeps cycling around in Ingram’s pieces. McCue left the Twitter board last month, and tells Rushton:
“Twitter can be incredibly valuable as an open communications mechanism but, if you close too many things down too quickly, if you think about it too short-sightedly, you could easily do a lot of damage to that ecosystem.”
But, then, we’re talking about a seemingly addictive ecosystem. And a third voice would like to call the question on that.
I am a behavior designer. I take a deep understanding of human psychology and emerging research in the behavioral sciences to build products that change user behavior in planned and predictable ways.
As members of the tech industry, we need to ask serious questions about the behaviors that we are promoting. Are we really helping people live better lives? Or, are we promoting suboptimal habits and aptitudes?
This is no rhetorical question for Hreha, and his direct, thoughtful concern is a credit to the design community I worked as executive producer with Copenhagen at Denmark’s INDEX: Design to Improve Life.
“Addictive” products are rampant in our lives — Facebook, Farmville (or any Zynga game), Twitter, Pinterest. The list goes on and on.
Funny how hard it is to concede you’re feeling the nudges of addiction, isn’t it? For that, at least, we can credit Ingram, even as we encourage him to widen the scope of his journalistic skills beyond that bluebird-cackling corridor.
Meanwhile, Hreha is not letting up. Nor is he simply tossing in a stink bomb and running. I like this guy for sitting down here, for taking hold and trying to offer the outline of a contextual approach to something better:
So what do we do? To me, the answer is simple. We should ask “why.” If we’re going to bring positive creations into the world, we need to seriously think about how our products are going to fit into, and enrich, people’s lives. What’s the reason we’re building these products in the first place?
What if we asked this with our books? Our nonfiction, our fiction, our genre and literary work, our traditionally published and self-published work. What if we asked? Look how easily the industry! the industry! of publishing can fall into the same, lunging directions that Hreha sees in tech.
The problem is that we, as a product design community, are purposely trying to create compulsions.
This is a call to make more Amazons, eBays, and AirBnBs. A call to build fewer Zyngas.
Go back up to where Roz Morris in this column points out the difficulty that publishers have in handling the unusual, the original, the non-redundant work of unique perspective and sensation. In coming weeks, we’ll begin to explore more models, more options, for authors and others in publishing to explore. Because these ruts are too deep.
As Hreha is saying to his community, so we need to say to ours:
I think we can figure this out. I’d like to use this post as a starting point for the discussion. Let’s hash it out, together, in the comments below.
I have 390 articles with the name Roddick on my laptop. He's certainly been part of my career at many levels
— Matt Cronin (@TennisReporters) September 5, 2012
Seasons in Love by Dave Malone
Poems rich in romance, life, and nature, Seasons in Love journeys through four seasons and through love that breaks and sustains us.
Ozark summer heat to winter blizzards, long-lasting love grips these poems. With words and language from southern Missouri hills, Malone takes us into the romantic backwoods of moon, creek, and mountain, but ultimately leads us to life — “it’s blue light, barely seen.”
Images: iStockphoto / Main: melhi / Malone excerpts: EvelynMcGeever