Table of Contents
- Publishing’s New Gospel
- Heard On-High: Top Tin Ear
- Winter Wonderland: eBook Prices
- Penguin: OK, We’ll Settle
- Macmillan’s Sargent: ‘In the Land of Giants’
- Cutesy Name Alert: Bookateria
- Craft: ‘Segregation of the Fantastic’
- Craft: Tele-Communing
- Conferences in the New Year
- Books: Reading on the Ether
- Last Gas: What’s No Longer Useful
Not even the Angel of the Lord said “I bring you tidings that are the best ever.”
There he was, doing breaking news about the whole program going down in Bethlehem, with the glory of the Lord shining ’round about him, backed up by the Multitude of the Heavenly Host. And yet, he got the job done with the dignified “good tidings of great joy.”
I’m guessing that within hours, that show was coming out in somebody’s list: Top 10 Pasture Pageants of Year Zero.
Did you know that TIME has 55 of them? Fifty-five lists. In Top 10 Everything of 2012, And boy, are they helpful. They cover such things as “fleeting celebrities,” “worst dressed,” and “campaign gaffes.”
I’m guessing that the top three entries in every one of those 55 lists are the Fifty Shades of Grey books.
And when it comes to getting through this annual Valley of the Shadow of Top 10 lists, my advice: Take along somebody smart like Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch.
By our count the top 100 Kindle list [of books published in 2012] includes 16 titles that were originally self-published. But only five of those books are still self-published.
However glibly self-publishing authors might trash-talk “the damned publishers” and crow about how “all my money comes to me, no middlemen,” lo, the same gatekeepers those authors just tried to run down in the parking lot sure look like wise men when they turn up bearing contracts.
“All is forgiven,” pa-rum-pa-pum pum.
What won’t be a surprise is the disappointment factor: As we saw with Amanda Hocking (remember her?), not all that many angels can dance on the head of this pin.
And you can bet your Prime membership that all the scribes and pharisees this week think they’re Hugh Howey.
I hate when people say, "You can do anything if you want it bad enough." That's crap. "Want" isn't a course of action. Dreams take hard work
— Amanda Hocking (@amanda_hocking) December 18, 2012
One thing is certain: after the big, noisy exit so many self-publishers made from the Egypt of Oppressive Publishers, the last thing some observers expected to see was a camel path leading directly around to the back door. But self-publishing is beginning to look like more than the “digital slush pile” you hear about — it’s an audition for prime time.
That cloud of dust you see is Bob Mayer headed over here to tell me that there aren’t enough contracts in the world to woo him back to a publisher and that he and Cool Gus are in the self-publishing biz for good. Which is fine, there are some folks, yes, just that dedicated to the DIY way or the highway, and I’ll see you in the comments, Bob.
It's snowing! We're gonna have a white apocalypse!
— Hugh Howey (@hughhowey) December 19, 2012
Meanwhile, Cader lists these as those five still self-published titles from the Kindle Top 100:
- The Secret of Ella and Micha by Jessica Sorensen
- Down to You by M. Leighton
- The Wild Ones by M. Leighton
- Blood Stained by CJ Lyons
- The Unwanted Wife by Natasha Anders
Cader goes on:
And of those five, Leighton’s two books are also moving to Penguin Group’s Berkley–and Berkley/NAL now publishes seven more of those originally self-published books on the Kindle bestseller list
Just How Far We’ve Come From “Vanity Publishing,” in fact, was heralded this week by Jeremy Greenfield at Digital Book World, his story including this phrase about two self-to-traddies: “more traditionally self-published.”
Don’t rush by that. Savor it: A couple of books, he wrote, were more traditionally self-published than others.
And self-publishing in a less traditional way.
Greenfield is drawing a distinction between the fanny-fiction of E.L. James’ original necktier-upper on one hand, and other self-published work that does not begin life as a derivative of someone else’s work.
But I can foresee raging, entertaining battles among the self-publishers ahead, can’t you? All about who’s the most “pure” of the self-publishing camp.
Agent Clare Alexander said in London at FutureBook 2012 that, one of these days, we’ll have to invent publishing so we can tell good work from bad work.
So as you head back to your fields, praising all the things you’ve heard and seen in 2012, consider the approach described in one of the tenderest lines of the scriptures: Keep all these things close, and ponder them in your heart.
Not in a Top 10 list.
Lunch, West Country style. Free extras. pic.twitter.com/tiTsIP6z
— Sam Missingham (@samatlounge) December 18, 2012
Even as The Times’ Michiko Kakutani puts a self-published book into her Top 10 list — although it’s limned with references to the television machine — the concept of self-publishing as being newly OK continues to work itself farther out into the lay culture.
Kakutani’s selfer-among-the-Top-10 is the long-winded title The Revolution was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers, and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever by Alan Sepinwall. (Add 15-word titles to that Top 10 List of Things We Could Really Do Without.)
In her package, Neary does say:
It may seem that self-publishing companies are taking advantage of writers with little hope of making their money back. But even a writer with a fighting chance of success — like Alan Sepinwall — needs some help. Sepinwall hired a professional editor and used his blog as a publicity platform. But he wasn’t so sure about designing and formatting the book himself.
And Neary includes Simon & Schuster’s Archway alliance with Author Solutions, but without a word as to how vehemently many in the writing community have condemned that association. (Here is our Ether coverage of the Archway story — Writing on the Ether: Vanity Pressed.)
Instead, Neary comes in with tape of Carolyn Reidy, the S&S CEO, who justifies the move this way, talking about self-publishing;
We actually understand that it is a different world than what we do. We want to understand it, and if it is going to … be a threat to our business, we definitely want to understand it and also see how we can turn that to our advantage. And one of the advantages is, it is a great way to find authors, also new genres and new audiences.
It’s baffling, really, to hear Reidy describe self-publishing as something “we want to understand” and “a different world than what we do.” Aliens among us.
And keep in mind that S&S is the house now in a deal to do print — no ebooks, only print — on Hugh Howey‘s,WOOL books. You can find that one, in case you’ve missed it, Etherized here: Hugh Howey’s WOOL: He Holds Digital Rights.
In the Howey deal, Reidy’s people at Simon & Schuster have accommodated a strong self-publisher whose ebooks have real track record.
One of the hardest gets so far has been a deal with a big publisher in which an author keeps his electronic rights. Howey wanted just that deal, and he and his agent, Kristin Nelson held out for it. They won. S&S has only the print rights.
Some have tried to spin this other ways. But the truth is this: S&S blinked.
And to the self-publishing camp, this is comfort and joy.
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If I don't send a lot of emails, I do not get a lot of emails. I AM THE REASON I HAVE A FULL EMAIL INBOX. ME. NO ONE ELSE.
— Ginger Clark (@Ginger_Clark) December 18, 2012
It’s the second week in a row the list hit a low. The average price of a best-selling ebook for the week ending on Saturday, Dec. 15 was $8.84, down from $9.06 the week prior.
By special request of Mr. Greenfield, the Ether calls your attention to the ongoing flight pattern of ebook prices. Greenfield is working Digital Book World’s (DBW) weekly Top 25 eBook Best-Seller Lists, of course.
More lists, Jeanette, Isabelle.
As retailers have gained control over pricing for ebooks from major publishers, they’ve wasted no time in discounting those titles. That discounting, combined with the success of lower-priced ebooks has pushed the average price of an ebook best-seller down to its lowest point since we started measuring it.
Now, that’s right, of course. But Greenfield also points out that this latest drop in average pricing, as interpreted by DBW’s and Dan Lubart’s methodology, is “attributable mostly to one ebook, HarperCollins’ To Have and To Kill: A Wedding Cake Mystery by Mary Jane Clark.
The book came out in Dec. 2010. Until Oct. 2011, it was priced at $11.99. As the book ceased to be a front-list seller, HarperCollins lowered the price to $9.99. The publisher lowered the price again to $7.99 in April 2012. Retailers gained control of HarperCollins pricing in Sept. 2012 but didn’t lower its price until Nov. On Nov. 29, the price of the book was lowered to $0.99 and it immediately shot up best-seller lists.
And, sooner than expected, another enabler of discounting retailers has arrived. More on that in our next section.
GINGER IS RIGHT. CHRISTMAS IS COMING. GO HUG SOMEONE.
— Paul Bogaards (@paulbogaards) December 18, 2012
On Tuesday afternoon, the Department of Justice announced it had reached a settlement with Penguin, “one of the largest book publishers in the United States,” of the ebook pricing lawsuit that Penguin had previously vowed to litigate in court.
Indeed, in April, Penguin Group CEO John Makinson had defiantly underscored that ”alone among the publishers party to the investigations that resulted in today’s announcements, we have held no settlement discussions with the DOJ or the states.”
Yes, well, not so much now.
As Weinman points out in her report, Penguin Settles with the DOJ, Removing A Merger Hurdle and Answering A Merger Question, there’s been an expectation that Penguin would have to settle with the Department of Justice in the anti-trust case before it could pursue its proposed merger with Random House. As she writes:
Now we have that answer. In a statement, Penguin noted “it is also in everyone’s interests that the proposed Penguin Random House company should begin life with a clean sheet of paper.” At the same time they reiterate their belief (that) Penguin “has done nothing wrong and has no case to answer.”
This is corporate custom, of course, even without such complications as pending mergers, the settling of cases with an emphatic absence of any admission of guilt.
As Laura Hazard Owen writes in her coverage at paidContent, Penguin settles with Department of Justice in ebook pricing case:
If and when the settlement is approved by Judge Denise Cote of the New York federal court, Random House will be subject to the same terms and will also have to negotiate new retailer contracts.
And that, of course, is the most interesting part of the settlement news. Random House was the only one of the Big Six not involved in the DoJ’s anti-trust action because it adopted agency pricing more than a year later than the other five, thus standing outside the collusion alleged to have occurred among the five publisher-defendants. But now, because of its proposed merger with one of the five involved in the suit, Random House will, it appears, be subject to the effects and obligations of the action.
The implication is that if the merger is approved, Penguin Random House as a whole would have to follow the same operating conditions with respect to ebook sales terms that Penguin alone will follow once the settlement is approved. So you can see why the parties would want to get started–and finished–with the two-year period of Agency Lite as quickly as possible.
And, still left to fight it out in court next summer? Macmillan. From which we hear now.
— Don Linn (@DonLinn) December 19, 2012
The legal bills look like the unit sales numbers for 50 Shades of Grey.
But despite the fact that his company will not be settling with the Department of Justice, Macmillan CEO John Sargent in A Message from John Sargent writes to agent and authors:
We decided shortly after the suit was filed that we would cancel all our retailer e-book contracts and negotiate new ones…All the new contracts are compliant with the government’s requests in their complaint. They contain no most-favored nations clauses and no price limits. They also allow 10 percent discounting on individual books priced at $13.99 and above. In short, we complied with the demands of the complaint the DOJ filed.
Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch sees this as something less, writing in Macmillan Voluntarily Adopts Their Version of Agency Lite, But Declines to Settle; Library eBooks Are Coming Soon:
While the new agreements do not allow discounting of ebooks to the extent required of the Settlers…It does appear to limit what the government might expect or require of Macmillan if they prevail in their lawsuit.
Sargent, meanwhile, describes a near state of siege.
We have also been pursued by 33 states, by a large combined class, by the EU, and now even our friends in Canada are taking a look.
In the most interesting passage of his piece, Sargent explains Macmillan’s no-settlement position as a protective move for retailers.
The DoJ settlement’s mandate of two years’ discounting — and the presumed need for other retailers to match Amazon’s anticipated use of that period — could mean, he writes, that “few retailers could survive this or would choose to survive this…As we heard of each successive publisher settling, the need to support retailers, both digital and bricks and mortar, became more important.”
This white-knight stance is the kind of positioning that makes Sargent so popular in the core industry, of course, and it extends to his calm, thoughtful view of mergers.
I do know that we are not in discussions, with anyone. This will leave us where we have always been, the smallest of the big publishers. It has never hurt us in the past, and I expect it will not hurt us in the future…We will be more than fine in the land of the giants. I expect we will continue to grow and prosper.
He also offers the standing assessment of the TOR DRM-free move: “It is still too early to tell the outcome, but initial results suggest there was no increase in piracy.”
And he adds a tantalizing note regarding libraries:
In early 2013 we will launch library lending of e-books…We have found a model we believe works for a limited part of our list, so we will now move forward.
@mikecane You don't need to agree with every word to respect him for saying them. It is better to have the argument openly.
— Philip Jones (@philipdsjones) December 20, 2012
If there’s any reason for one of his many admirers to feel a qualm in Sargent’s missive, it comes only in his references to how “consumers continue to value and buy real books,” emphasis mine. He’s writing that “independent booksellers have had a good year,” which, of course, is good news among booksellers who indeed have had that good year.
At this writing, 26% of our total sales this year have been digital. It is good to remember that means 74% of Macmillan’s total sales are ink on paper books.
And these small comments add up to a quiet, possible implication that ebooks are not quite “real” books, coupled with what Sargent describes as a recent-weeks’ softness in ebook sales. It all may be unintentional, merely a semantic choice of “real” where “print” could have been less loaded, followed by simple revenue distribution metrics. But Sargent is a careful man whose language seems rarely left to chance.
"It is hard to settle when you have done nothing wrong." – John Sargent on the DOJ: http://t.co/lev4GDjj
— St. Martin's Press (@StMartinsPress) December 19, 2012
He notes: “We continue to invest heavily in the digital side of the business” by way of finding “maximum possible distribution of your work in all formats.” Right noises there, of course, though it’s worth remembering that many observers in the business now feel that even to maintain digital as a “side” of the work, not fully integral to a corporation, may be indicative of an operation perhaps not yet fully free of an older perspective.
But here is a major publisher who at least goes to the trouble to address authors and agents in such open letters as this. And that is to be commended, without reservation. We complain a lot — and rightly — that the Big Six-becoming-Five play too much too close to their chests, rarely joining the dialogue. Sargent is an exception. And to good effect.
It's that time of year agan, when I'm reminded how much I like John Sargent: http://t.co/N643rQcD
— andrewkarre (@andrewkarre) December 20, 2012
Many industry figures are readily and deeply charmed — even disarmed — by Sargent’s tone and bearing. He writes with an air of pride that inevitably wins him such compliments as “courageous.” This, even as Cader identifies what Sargent is offering to be “their version of agency lite.”
I take nothing from Sargent in this. Instead, I point out his success in casting himself in a heroic role. It plays. This makes it all the more perplexing that other major houses’ leaders don’t communicate more, themselves. The good will Sargent generates for himself, surely, can’t be missed by his counterparts.
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In related reading: Laura Hazard Owen covers his letter in Macmillan CEO: No, we won’t settle with the DoJ in the ebooks case.
Mayan my shadow.
— Michael Crossan (@MichaelCrossann) December 20, 2012
Even our great friends at Publishers Lunch seem convinced that the reading public — let alone members of the industry! the industry! — like to experience efforts in discoverability of books in corporate-cutesy terms.
No need for me to drag out the cutesy startup names I usually flog at this point. You’re welcome, Andrew Rhomberg.
Bookophobia. Bookphilia. Bookaphile. Bookable. Bookary. Bookling. Bookese. Bookosis. Booktion. Bookism. Bookology. Bookward. Booksome.
— Brett Sandusky (@bsandusky) December 19, 2012
Let me just call to your attention the otherwise welcome arrival of Publishers Lunch’s own new book-discovery-and-almost-selling-thing, Bookateria. It relates books to news of the day, which is a sweet idea, and then offers them to you for sale, but not through its own coffers. Instead, it provides you with links to buy those books elsewhere, and it collects affiliate fees for sending you to those retailers.
Ed Nawotka at Publishing Perspectives, host of Ether for Authors, has a good handle on where the usefulness of the new feature lies, writing Publishers Lunch Opens “Bookateria” Book Discovery Site with Random House:
While its potential to become the “go-to” bookstore for a broad array of consumers looks to be limited, it appears to be a helpful tool for those in the industry as they seek out the titles they are reading about online.
— Brenda Hadenfeldt (@BrendaJH1) December 19, 2012
Random House is “providing technology, staff, and support services.” The back end. And in the press release, which Nawotka carries in his report, PL’s Michael Cader is quoted saying:
“In today’s world, helping to drive the discovery and sale of books is the focus of anyone who cares about authors, and the publishing industry that supports them. Bookateria lets us connect our exhaustive 24/7 coverage of the publishing industry directly to the books themselves.”
— kalen (@kalenski) December 19, 2012
All great. Especially in that you can visit it without the subscription you need to take advantage of the other great services of Publishers Marketplace. I always encourage people in publishing to subscribe to Publishers Marketplace (and Publishers Lunch, its news production). But if you don’t have that subscription, Bookateria is still available to you.
@bsandusky KEEP YOUR EYES ON MY BOOKDANKADONKDONK
— Rebecca Schinsky (@RebeccaSchinsky) December 19, 2012
Its main draw is called Books in the News, a nice slider in the T1 position of the home page that shows you some books with links to related press stories about them. That’s cool.
Bookateria. I almost dropped my Publishers Lunch tray.
At a time when our industry is fighting for some digital dignity, getting so clever every time we name something just isn’t helpful.
What is it with publishing people and cute? Can somebody answer that for me?
@bsandusky go back to bed.
— Barbara Ellingson (@MrsTomSauter) December 19, 2012
@MrsTomSauter Hey. I am pioneering businesses here. OKURRR.
— Brett Sandusky (@bsandusky) December 19, 2012
@bsandusky I thought you were having a fever dream.
— Barbara Ellingson (@MrsTomSauter) December 19, 2012
There is also a form of thinking about the market that assumes diverse people read diverse stuff, and white people read white stuff. The segregation of the fantastic, so to speak. It’s an assumption that seeps in everywhere and that has bedeviled me in some ways…Yet, and this is what heartens me, most of my readership is white and happily reading about diverse characters. And no less awesome for it.
This is hybrid science fiction author Tobias Buckell in an interview with Ether sponsor Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, 6Qs: Tobias Buckell, Traversing Publishing’s Diverse Fantastic.
Gonzalez asks Buckell, “How has being ‘light but not quite white’ influenced your writing, and external perceptions of it?”
A sort of ‘little guy playing against the dominant forces’ aesthetic seeps into my stuff. I’m interested in power dynamics, having grown up in a small nation that was buffeted by global forces and policies set by larger nations. As to how I’m perceived from the outside…In the beginning, when I was trying to sell my first novel, I had a weird experience of editors really wanting me to write, sort of magic realism set in the Caribbean…There was a strong sense that, hey, this is how you can be marketed as a Caribbean novelist.
And when asked by Gonzalez how he’s been affected by the last five years of so many changes in an author’s process and position, Buckell echoes what many writers are coping with — “new stuff to learn”:
I have to say, making sure my manuscript was really well copy edited, had a cover, interior design, was printed, and then shipped, meant keeping track of a lot of variables and schedules…Uploading digital books, testing out ereaders. More stuff. Filtering out messianic personalities who claim to have The One True Way and spread a lot of Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt on all sides, that takes work. A lot of egos are bound up in this transition…But I think cool-headed folks who diversify, roll with it, they’ll be fine. They usually are. I like my hybrid career.
many blog posts are both new and interesting — but what is new is often not interesting and what is interesting is often not new
— Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) December 19, 2012
Here’s something about the user experience of online communities that you’ve probably never considered: everyone in an online community is having a unique, individualized experience, even though they’re all doing it together.
In The 7 key features of an online community, Travis Alber (founder of ReadSocial.net and BookGlutton.com) does you the service of sorting out some of the main bookish communities out there — and why they’re not as distinctive as they’d like you to believe they are.
All book communities strive to seem unique, from branding to features. But they’re all still made of the same community building blocks. There are key concepts and design practices that show up everywhere in digital book communities.
Sue Townsend's great The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year has quietly, without any fuss, pocketed 221,000 sales since September. Class.
— jonny geller (@jonnygeller) December 19, 2012
Alber’s list of fundamentals comprises:
- The Activity Feed
- Discovery and Browsing
- Identity and Social Connections
- Involvement with Other Networks and the Larger Web
Did you ever notice that there is never a Hobbit around when you need one.
— Philip O'Rourke. (@PiperHawk) December 20, 2012
And she includes a mercifully succinct look at some communities you come across all the time but may not have been able to sort for yourself, breaking them into four groups:
- Communities that read together (Subtext, Copia, BookGlutton, Flooved, Readmill)
- Communities that share reviews (Goodreads, Shelfari, NetGalley, Zola, LibraryThing)
- Communities that write together (Figment, Red Lemonade, Wattpad, Fictionaut)
- Communities that focus on content and context (mall Demons, ReadSocial, Quote FM)
One of the best takeaways from her write is about the role of simplicity in good community design and practice:
The Paradox of Choice tells us that people are less likely to interact if there are too many choices, so it’s important not to overwhelm users with every possible option. Communities can continue to be complex, they just shouldn’t feel that way to their members.
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Alber’s post is in the O’Reilly Tools of Change blogs and she’ll be speaking at TOC 2013 on Valentine’s Day panel in New York on The Elusive “Netflix of eBooks.” More information about TOC is in our Conferences section today.
I need your best running/workout song suggestions
— Laura Hazard Owen (@laurahazardowen) December 20, 2012
If you have a publishing conference event coming, please notify me through the contact page at porteranderson.com, and I’ll be happy to consider listing it.
Registration continues for Digital Book World (#DBW13) (January 15-17) — and the associated Children’s Publishing Goes Digital (January 15) and Authors Launch (January 18, see below). Substantial savings are available, and you’re welcome to use my affiliate link to trigger them as you register. You can also use code PORTER at registration.
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A 25-percent discount has been offered on registration — use code AL375 — for the all-new January 18 Authors Launch one-day conference.
It’s being produced by the Publishers Launch team of Mike Shatzkin and Michael Cader.
This is the daylong series of specialized presentations from a roster including Peter McCarthy, Dan Blank, MJ Rose, Randy Susan Meyers, Jason Ashlock, Meryl Moss, Ether host Jane Friedman, David Wilk and more.
My own session in this one is In the Public Eye: Media training for authors.
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The 14th Annual Winter Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators is set for February 1-3 in New York.
“This year’s conference features two jam-packed days of inspiration and the latest on what’s happening in the field of children’s literature from top editors, agents, art directors, authors, and illustrators. Make sure you look at the detailed description of each workshop on the Schedule before you select your breakouts.”
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You’re welcome to use my code AFFILIATEPA for a discount of $350 on your registration.
Among other featured presenters: Cory Doctorow, Laura Dawson, Allen Lau, Jesse Potash, Dana Newman, Kristen McLean, Peter Armstrong, Tim Sanders, Michael Tamblyn, Rob Eagar, Kate Pullinger, Kat Meyer, and Joe Wikert.
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O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change (#TOCcon) Conference (February 12-14) in New York City.
Use my code AFFILIATEPA for an immediate discount of $350 on any registration package.
#TOCcon 2013 includes a major brace of workshops for industry professionals during Author (R)evolution Day (your pass must include Tuesday), plus two days of keynotes, events and multi-tracked offerings running up to five sessions simultaneously.
And check out What Readers Want: GoodReads Answers Your Questions with Otis Chandler.
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For an updated list of planned confabs, please see the Publishing Conferences page at porteranderson.com.
Author Neil Gaiman bids farewell to book signings after 2013… http://t.co/IOmamAf2
— TIPM (Mick Rooney) (@MickRooney7777) December 20, 2012
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 Writing on the Ether Sponsors, in gratitude for their support.
Writing on the Ether Sponsors
Marilyn Dahl at Shelf Awareness has mentioned Ether sponsor Darrelyn Saloom and Deirdre Gogarty’s My Call to the Ring: A Memoir of a Girl Who Yearns to Box, writing:
This story of an Irish girl determined to become a pro boxer is absolutely captivating, even for someone (like me) who’s not a fan of the sport.
And at Boxing.com, a review from Cheekay Brandon, Boxing by the Book: Deirdre Gogarty’s Call to the Ring:
My Call to the Ring is …a coming-of-age story of the highest order, a tale of perseverance and purpose….And the most powerful, perhaps unintended consequence of the memoir: boxing as a sport is humanized just as much as Deirdre Gogarty is. That boxing can provide refuge for such a delicate spirit gives us another reason to love the sport—at the proverbial “end of the day,” boxing really is about the bonds that are formed and relationships cultivated, the kind that bring many troubled souls out of the darkness.
And Saloom tells us that New Orleans’ Garden District Book Shop will have her and Gogarty as guests at an event celebrating the book on March 1.
We are all going in circles today. #spinning
— ljndawson (@ljndawson) December 18, 2012
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- The Indie Author Revolution: An Insider’s Guide to Self-Publishing by Dara Beevas
- Grow Your Audience: The Author Platform Starter Kit by Dan Blank
- The Stars Fell Sideways by Cassandra Marshall
- Handmade Memories: Poems and Essays, 1997-2011 by Guy LeCharles Gonzalez
- 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)
- APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur by Guy Kawasaki andShawn Welch
- Come to the Edge by Christina Haag
- Dog Hills by Michael Hogan
- Digital Vertigo by Andrew Keen
- Dreaming of a Noir Christmas, an anthology from The Rogue Reader
- Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland
- Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up by Caren Osten Gerszberg & Leah Odze Epstein
- Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point to the Civil War by Bob Mayer
- Knot What It Seams by Elizabeth Craig
- The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh
- Merchants of Culture by John Thompson
- Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris
- Pentecost by J.F. Penn
- Replacement Child by Judy L. Mandel
- The Secret of Ella and Micha by Jessica Sorensen
- Sell Your Book Like Wildfire by Rob Eagar
- Sistine by Michael Hogan
#YouKnowYouAreAWriterWhen you make decisions based on what your character would do.
— K.M. Weiland (@KMWeiland) December 20, 2012
What is feminism? This is no longer a useful question in American discourse.
In a curious parallel to a publishing discussion of the week, the writer and playwright Monica Byrne makes her point at Virginia Quarterly Review — with real eloquence and grace. As Jane Friedman, host of the Ether here and VQR’s digital editor explains in an editor’s note, Byrne was asked to explain her objection to the premise of VQR’s fall-edition series, What Is Feminism? Byrne’s answer – What Is Feminism? It’s No Longer a Useful Question – is compelling, cleanly delivered, and focused.
Here’s a more useful question: Why are American media still posing questions that ask women to qualify their participation in the human race?
And moreover: Why do women still rush to answer them, as if they do?
Just before reading Byrne’s piece, I was over at Publishing Perspectives, putting together an item in Ether for Authors. The section, Genre: One Group Opts for More, is about the decision by a chapter of the Romance Writers of America to pull out of the national organization. The RWA has adjusted its regulations, requiring all its members and associates be dedicated to romance, while the chapter, which generally refers to itself as “Women’s Fiction,” is made of a diverse group of authors, for some of whom romance is not at all the point.
As I exchanged comments online with the chapter’s founder, The Last Will of Moira Leahy author Therese Walsh (co-founder with Kathleen Bolton of Writer Unboxed) and several others, I found myself wondering aloud (digitally aloud, that is) about even the phrase “women’s fiction.” To my ears, the idea of women using such a term for their art is a self-ghettoizing act, perhaps unintentional but nonetheless palpable.
And just last week in the Ether I’d found myself asking women writers who publish under their initials — J.K. Rowling style — to tell me why they use their initials instead of their names. To a person, the responding authors told me they use their initials in hopes of “not putting off a guy who might otherwise read my book.” The concept there is that men will not read books, at least happily, if they’re written by women. (The irony is that everyone I see using initials instead of a name is a woman. And hey, that picture on the back cover and on your Amazon author’s page is none too boyish, either.)
I can dispel that one instantly (Jo Rowling, it’s all OK now). Men do read books by women. The boys read Potter and they do know that J.K. is Joanne. It’s cool. Ease up. Hell, as I’ve said before, if I could become Joan Didion tomorrow, I’d be the happiest former man alive.
I see this pathway back to where we started:
(1) I fear that women are operating — for all the right and earnest reasons, mind you, nobody’s fault — on some misguided, at least outdated, principles in publishing. Men will read women. They’ll also read fiction, something touched on in an earlier Ether with Bethanne Patrick. Remember: On an ereader, nobody knows what you’re reading. Vast sectors of the canon have been opened to men whose main difference with women as readers may simply be that they don’t discuss their reading as much. But more important than deus-ex-gadgetry, the purview of men in culture has widened dramatically. And hanging on to stereotypical concepts of what men will and won’t read only reinforces those outmoded assumptions. You just put a book into a guy’s hand and tell him to try it. Then go away. He’ll try it, believe me. Guys are curious.
Next level out of this rabbit hole:
(2) When women use terms like “Women’s Fiction” for their work, they can hardly be helping to break down barriers to male readership, can they? Author Lydia Sharp, in talking about this with us online, made a great point: genre labels, she said, are best when they don’t name the readership for a kind of work. Name the work, not the audience.
And this is a recommendation I’d pass on to Walsh and Laura Drake, who lead the former RWA chapter now pushing off like an ice floe in choppy water.
If there’s a way to reconsider what the newly reconstituted post-RWA chapter calls itself, maybe it’s a chance to get away from “Women’s Fiction,” which really does make it sound as if it’s strictly for women. If that’s the intent, no problem, so be it, of course. But if not, there might be alternatives to pink-painting yourselves into a corner.
(3) And here’s Byrne, just waiting for us. In the course of all this, I had tweeted at one point, “Doesn’t have to be ‘Women’s fiction.’ Women can write human fiction. And stop ghetto-izing themselves.” So much more easily tweeted than done, I know, I know.
And that’s why I warmed so readily to Byrne’s forceful evocation at VQR of how binding old terms and concepts can be. She does it much better than I do, and she gets at the exhaustion on this topic that I can only glimpse at times in friends and colleagues struggling to find themselves in the confetti of old labels. Byrne:
Women are human. That means there is nothing in the spectrum of human identity and behavior that we are not. And I’m hardly the first person to make this point. I’m tired of making it. I’m tired of having this conversation. I’m tired of seeing exclusive language in American media that should know better, let alone questions like “Why Are Women Important in X,” which proceed from the assumption that females must justify their humanity. We don’t have to justify. We just are. And as for the question “What Is Feminism?”, that question has been answered beyond the point of meaning in America this past century.
I want to say to our good colleagues in the former RWA chapter of writers, look, this is a new year. Think widely, look for a new way to describe what you do together and what you want to be as a group and as individuals. You tell us what to call you. We’ll take your lead. It’s OK if it’s still “Women’s Fiction,” but give yourselves a chance to review it, don’t just default to that.
And here’s Byrne, making the case, so well, her way:
This is a new century. We deserve better questions.
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Just watched a romcom with my 11yo, her review: 'could have done with less rom & more com, also it didn't really have a start,middle or end'
— Sam Missingham (@samatlounge) December 20, 2012
Main image / iStockphoto: Darkfall