Table of Contents
- The Business of Writing: Ingenious Pain
- Amazon Reviews: Damned If It Does and…
- Blogs: The Dish Runs Away With the Silver Spoon
- Craft: Women Authors & Those Scarlet Initials
- Publishing Conferences: Loomin’ Large
- Books: Reading on the Ether
- Last Gas: Maria Popova’s Brain Picked
On the first day of this annus novus, Brian O’Leary looked back at his “year of blogging assiduously.” He had lived up to his stated goal of posting every day of 2012. You can check out his anniversary post on it, headlined, significantly, Call Me Maybe.
In it, O’Leary discusses with himself as much as with his readers how the experience, while rewarding, has been impossible to monetize.
I think publishing models are fundamentally broken. I’ve maintained for the life of this blog that cutting costs won’t fix the old order. We won’t win by becoming more efficient at making and marketing eBooks.
Bundled media are going away. Identifiers, to the extent that they persist, will tell a small part of the story. There will be new and different content forms, and there will be ways to make money creating and selling them. As I said this fall, it is an opportunity that probably will not accrue to many of the incumbents.
Maybe those are messages most publishers are unlikely to pay to hear or have applied to their business models.
I rarely pick up your posts because, while the content is always excellent, the titles are often completely non-descriptive and I don’t want to burden my followers with tweets that they cannot understand at a quick glimpse.
There’s a sturdy response from O’Leary in which he concedes, “It’s true; you pretty much have to read my posts to know what they are about.”
Headlines are useful, maybe…important. Content is more important to me. I’m glad that you feel it is always excellent. That’s my goal.
I like your titles just fine… I know there’s gold on the other side of the link, the titles are intriguing, mysterious and 100% Brian O’Leary.
And in that good rejoinder, Franco encapsulates what I find myself trying to say to Biba, as well — and wanting to say to others at the top of this year:
The more we (correctly) focus on industry performance, best business practices, and marketplace development, the more we need to remember that the industry! the industry! is about creativity. Business is its vehicle, not its end.
This is an industry of storytelling, a factory of fables. We forget that at our peril.
And I’m seeing too many blog posts and bits of guidance that counsel “staring into space,” taking time to regroup, slowing down, easing up.
Of course SEO technique demands planting keywords, and standard practice says headlines are the place, Biba’s right. Of course quick-read scanners want to grasp in a headline what’s what in a story. (Just look at the World War III-size headlines at GigaOM and paidContent since their redesign.)
To that end, as you know, I eagerly welcome O’Reilly Tools of Change’s Author (R)evolution Day on February 12. I’ll be participating in it, and more on that all-new conference is below.
I don’t recommend that we slow down our efforts to equip our increasingly empowered writers with everything they need to lead this business (yes, lead it) into its next major phase.
I do, however, recommend that we try in 2013 to find ways to synthesize commercial concepts and creative impulse. No sales savvy replaces the value of a truly original idea. And you get to cook the golden goose only once — there’s no second chance at those eggs.
- I see more and more writerly blog posts and advice columns discussing slowing down, reconnecting with aesthetic goals, “staring into space,” finding and enforcing time “to do nothing at all.” These are warning signals.
When Jane Friedman, host of Writing on the Ether and digital editor at Virginia Quarterly Review, updated her article over the weekend, How Long Should You Keep Trying To Get Published?, excerpts of her fine post were vehemently attacked by self-publishing people who spoke of churning out books, many books — such troubling policies as publishing 10 books before you even think of building an audience for them, for example.
- A self-publisher has engaged with me lately on LinkedIn, wanting to know why I think it’s important to have his digital-only books counted by means of ISBNs or in any other way. Who cares? he wants to know. They’re just ebooks.
Industry operatives find teaching the creative corps some elements of business to be a logical and contributing role. They’re not wrong, they’re right. I join them in these efforts, frequently.
But all of us might do well to remember that we’re purpose-splicing creativity with an unprecedented and sometimes unstable, untested bacterium of business concept and expectation. This is not something done before on this scale, in arts and letters. The endeavor is not wrong, we must hope. But neither is caution.
I’m going to borrow from Andrew Miller, one of our most eloquent voice-artists among novelists today, because I want one of his titles: Ingenious Pain.
Unless we hand it all to formulaic genre writing, the ingenious pain which we must both train and defer to is impossible to catch, mercurial at best, evasive as a matter of course. And it can be rendered lifeless, discouraged, inert, if its energy is sapped entirely for the pop of a commercial cork.
In 2013, let’s all work to find the ways in which creativity joins the hunt for sales, the means by which discoverability embraces not only hawking our wares but also buoying and emboldening the poetics of our product.
O’Leary has become accustomed to embodying the ingenious pain of mindful expression and industry savvy. He encapsulated the mission, our mission, in his response to the helpful Biba. O’Leary was defending his headline, “Innocence and Magic,” with the gusto of someone who knows better things are near us now:
The post was intended to be evocative, a remembrance of a time when publishing felt much different for me. I’m not going to name it “My thoughts on how publishing felt when I first started working in it in 1983”. I’m just not.
And his over-arching line for all this: There can be elegance in writing.
How good that he said so. And how unsettling that he had to.
We, of all people, have no business letting business make us forget the art we serve. We can do better in 2013. Let’s try.
We don’t allow authors to submit customer reviews on their own books even when they disclose their identity.
It should tell us something that Amazon even has to include that line in its Customer Review Guidelines Frequently Asked Questions.
I mean, of course authors shouldn’t review their own work on Amazon, certainly not secretly but not even openly. What a pathetic idea.
Would you feel good about actors reviewing themselves in films? (“I thought I was perfectly marvelous and I looked great in my pink top.”) How about dentists reviewing their own services? (“I’m easily the best guy with my hands in your mouth when it comes to dentistry on the Eastern Seaboard.”) Would such reviews be treated as anything but stupid jokes?
Maybe it’s because many authors are only now beginning to grapple with the realities of a business world. Why else would they be found saying such peculiar things about Amazon’s review program, and its recent adjustments to it in the wake of the paid-review and sock-puppetry scandals?
If you need to review any of that sorry business from August, here’s how I wrote it in Extra Ether: Buying Book Reviews — Still Admire John Locke?
Of course, the usual naysayers gathered then to assure us that Amazon would do nothing to defend its review system when it was assaulted by unscrupulous manipulations. But, of course, Amazon did defend it. And now, they don’t like the adjustments. Also of course.
We recently improved our detection of promotional reviews which resulted in the removal of reviews, both new and old.
Many folks have been surprised and riled to find their reviews pulled — among them some people who concede they have direct relationships with the writers they’ve reviewed and others whose reviews fit into categories that Amazon classifies as promotional.
For some reason, this sentence seems hard for many authors to grasp:
Customer Reviews are meant to give customers genuine product feedback from fellow shoppers.
The phrases are “customer reviews” and “fellow shoppers.” Sure, authors read other writers, and authors buy books from Amazon. But they’re not in the same category of lay “shoppers” as non-industry readers and consumers who have no involvement in the business.
And yet, here is Andrew Hough writing of an Author backlash over Amazon’s new online review crackdown in the Telegraph:
Amazon…has introduced a ban on authors leaving reviews about other people’s books in the same genre because they may pose a “conflict of interest” and cannot be impartial about their rivals. This means that thriller writers are prevented from commenting on works by other authors who write similar books. Critics suggest this system is flawed because many authors are impartial and are experts on novels.
“Impartial.” Have you ever read a reviewer going on about the close personal relationship he or she has with the author being reviewed and insisting, “But that has no effect on my ability to judge this book objectively?” The phrase “mealymouthed” was created for them.
Does that kind of assertion ever make you feel, “Oh, OK, then, this person’s mother is here with a fair and balanced review?” #Cmonson. Look how some of this sounds from Hough’s report:
Joanne Harris, the best-selling British author of titles including Chocolat and the Lollipop Shoes, said authors were in many ways the perfect people to review books as they are experts on them. “One thing authors are able to do is articulate about books. They tend to read about books and their opinions… are listened to,” the 48 year-old told The Daily Telegraph.
The prolific and highly regarded Harris may be doing some wishful thinking about certain authors bringing expertise to the table when they review others’ books.
Regardless, the question of expertise is not the issue.
The question of fairness is.
How about Toyota dealers reviewing new Honda models? They’re expert in the automotive field. Does that sound OK?
Mark Billingham, the crime fiction author who was victim in the Ellory’s false reviews, said there was no good reason to ban authors. The 51 year-oid said: “If they are targeting authors for no valid reason then that is a shame.”
But, with all respect to Billingham, isn’t there an inherent “valid reason?”
Let’s return to the question earlier about actors reviewing themselves.
How about actors reviewing other actors? “There’s no way Maggie Smith should be getting so much attention, she was barely on screen for ten minutes in that episode.”
What if a preposterous line like that came from Shirley MacLaine, Smith’s Downton Abbey co-star? She’s an expert in the field. So would that be OK?
Or would’t the fact that they work together, know each other, may be in line for some honors for their work be a perfectly valid reason to say these talents shouldn’t be reviewing each other?
Even the good Jeremy Duns, who helped lead the rightful charge against sock puppetry earlier, seems to have gone soft, telling Hough: “It seems unfair and bizarre to target authors like that. There needs to be change but not like this.”
But it’s not bizarre. It’s correct.
It’s an element of the clean approach Duns and others seemed to think they wanted when he helped lead the “No Sock Puppets Here Please” campaign.
And authors do themselves no favors when they suggest that they should have more ethical leeway in the market than members of other professions do.
Politicians and the journalists who cover them are very familiar with the phrase “appearance of conflict of interest.”
It’s useful and widely used shorthand for the sort of thing that can blow up policy, set back legislation, ruin careers without even being true. Politicians, the smart ones, learn to do all they can to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, even if they have no such actual conflict.
And why should authors not observe the same realities as other professionals in their own fields, and understand that even if their reviews are driven-snow stuff, Amazon’s customers cannot be sure of this? If it looks like cronyism, it’s a problem — it’s as big a problem as actual cronyism — especially when such verified unethical practices as buying reviews and sock-puppeting have been brought to light.
The whole concept of customer reviews is more questionable than we may like to admit in our era of open sorcery.
It’s not that we don’t want gatekeepers, it’s that we want everybody to be gatekeepers.
But bias, whether real or just perceived, is a showstopper in marketplace gatekeeping.
And vendors — in this case, authors — can never be seen as unbiased and fair if they’re evaluating and holding forth on each other’s work. If people of letters want to be welcomed as true players in the commercial world, they’re going to need to accept how things work in the plaka.
So why the move? The Dish has immensely loyal readers (Sullivan writes that the average Dish reader spends “up to 17 minutes a day” on the site) and has around a million monthly unique visitors.
Laura Hazard Owen
In Andrew Sullivan breaks from the Daily Beast; new Dish to charge $19.99/year, Laura Hazard Owen takes on what may be a bellwether statement in corporate funding, quoting Sullivan’s announcement:
“We want to create a place where readers — and readers alone — sustain the site. No bigger media companies will be subsidizing us; no venture capital will be sought to cushion our transition (unless my savings count as venture capital); and, most critically, no advertising will be getting in the way.”
Writes Sullivan in his announcement column, New Year, New Dish, New Media:
The decision on advertising was the hardest, because obviously it provides a vital revenue stream for almost all media products. But we know from your emails how distracting and intrusive it can be; and how it often slows down the page painfully…We’re also mindful how online ads have created incentives for pageviews over quality content.
Owen points out that Sullivan will be on the program April 17 at paidContent Live, one of Om Malik’s aggressively programmed media conferences. And she adds a few details for fans who want to get into place quickly for the changeover of The Dish from The Beast:
The new site, which will be hosted at andrewsullivan.com, (will use)…the New York-based startup TinyPass, which added metered subscriptions for small publishers to its offerings in October. The Dish meter kicks in in February, but readers can pay in advance, and the Dish invites them to pay more than the minimum $19.99.
In Andrew Sullivan: “I Figured, What the Hell,” Gray writes:
“We’re well into six figures in revenue,” Sullivan told BuzzFeed Wednesday afternoon. “But there’s no meter yet, so we won’t find out how it’s really all going until mid-February.”
He also has indicated he’s not sure how many $19.99 annual subscriptions he needs to have The Dish thrive in its new independent state. And while donations are willingly accepted, Sullivan makes the right disclaimer on this: “No member will have any more access or benefits than any other member.”
A note on BuzzFeed: See Owen’s new report on its latest (fourth) funding round: BuzzFeed raises $19.3 million in fourth funding round, bringing total so far to $46 million
Owen’s colleague Mathew Ingram of GigaOM has the right perspective on what’s being attemped here:
Sullivan is betting that his personal brand and goodwill with his readers is enough to convince a substantial proportion of them to fund his writing — a more sophisticated version of the “tip jar” model. And within minutes of his announcement, dozens of prominent Twitter users and other Sullivan fans had announced that they had already signed up.
This is where another layer of potential comes into play. Ingram goes on:
As Laura Owen notes in her post, this could have a potential impact on The Daily Beast’s attempts to launch its own subscription model: what proportion of its readers would rather donate directly to support an individual writer, rather than have a blanket paywall around all the magazine’s content?
Could we be seeing the start of another digital sub-dynamic — the move to draw one’s own audience — in which we might see a few powerful players set up paywalled shop…only to realize that most others can’t emulate that kind of success? I’m not the only one looking for a parallel here in authors moving to self-publishing. Here’s Ingram again:
Sullivan’s approach — if it works — poses a potential threat to traditional media entities that have built their businesses on strong personal brands: there has already been speculation that statistics superstar Nate Silver of the 538 blog might quit the New York Times to go it alone, and other name-brands at that newspaper and others might decide to take a similar route. Just as a growing number of authors have been cutting out the middleman by self-publishing their books, a membership model could mean independence for columnists who have traditionally been shackled to a large media entity.
There’s a real and valid test here, clearly, well worth watching. Critics, many of them wishing Sullivan well, are wondering if he can keep a staff of seven (which includes two paid interns) and operate in the black this way. Some are wondering aloud whether Sullivan’s real motivation isn’t attracting another major venue by pushing away from The Beast.
Sullivan is burning no bridges here. If this works, great; if it doesn’t work, I’m sure that there will be a fair few publications out there willing to add their names to the list of places which have hosted the Dish. It’s what the financial types call a free option. And I’m very glad that Sullivan is taking the plunge, to see just how much money is out there for someone looking to make it on subscription revenues alone.
Sullivan’s announcement article has some sobering numbers for folks who may be inspired to jump up and try the same thing. They turn up as Sullivan is writing about the need for income, sounding a call I really like hearing: valuable online content is not required, in any verse of the Bible, to be free:
We need, in particular, to get paid decently for what is extremely intense work 365 days a year. Some people I bump into ask me how we produce 240 posts a week (13,000 separate posts last year alone) or how we read the 90,000 emails we get a year. I have a simple answer: we work our asses off. And my colleagues and I deserve to be paid for it.
Yes, they do. And I wish them luck.
The Brontë sisters published their 19th-century masterpieces as the Bell brothers, because, Charlotte Brontë wrote, “we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.” More than 150 years later, women are still facing the same “prejudice” in some sectors of the publishing industry.
You may recall my mention recently of women authors using initials rather than names. Quietly, several of them have told me they’re doing it because they think male readers won’t read books by women.
Just when I thought we were going to have to do a Whole Thing about this, here’s a happy discovery that research, of a kind, is underway.
The text above is from Stefanie Cohen’s piece in the Wall Street Journal, Why Women Writers Still Take Men’s Names. Cohen writes of publisher pressure on women to masculinize their professional names.
“It sometimes makes sense for a female author to use a pseudonym, particularly when the main characters are male, or when it’s a genre with a strong appeal to men, like military science fiction, certain types of fantasy or gritty thrillers,” says Penguin editor Anne Sowards, whose fantasy authors K.A. Stewart, Rob Thurman and K.J. Taylor are women…”For a new author, we want to avoid anything that might cause a reader to put a book down and decide, ‘not for me,’ ” Ms. Sowards says. “When we think a book will appeal to male readers, we want everything about the book to say that—the cover, the copy and, yes, the author’s name.”
Cohen goes on, however, to mention that even with the famously initialed J.K. Rowling ruling the waves, the digital dynamic is less accommodating than a world of print was to such authorial subterfuge.
As authors become more active in selling their own books—hosting websites, attending conventions—it’s harder to hide one’s gender. And many women are refusing to write under their initials or fake masculine names…Editors are quick to note that it’s not only women authors who feel pressure to write under pseudonyms: Romance readers would be surprised to learn some of their favorite bodice-rippers were penned by men.
Alyssa Rosenberg at Slate picks up on Cohen’s article in Why Are Women Writers Still Stuck Behind Pseudonyms?:
It’s insulting that publishers continue to think that they need to cater to the ridiculous biases of male readers, particularly when the industry so easily assumes that male authors are completely capable of recounting any experience (of a male or female character) to any audience (male or female)…Critics may debate how well George R.R. Martin handles things like sexual assault as a weapon of war and the psychological impact of arranged marriages in his Game of Thrones books, but I can’t imagine that anyone would have suggested he masquerade as a woman if he wanted his legion of female characters or his perspectives on those issues to be taken seriously.
So how good to learn that author Teresa Frohock is wrapping up a kind of contest she’s been running on her site — to see just what readers could tell about who writes what. She has been running a series of short science-fiction and fantasy works without author names, some by men, some by women. Her ask of her readers:
Tell us, based on the prose, whether the scene was written by a man or a woman. At the end, I want to tabulate the results and see if readers can really tell the difference. If you want to, you may say why you feel a particular scene was written by a man or woman, but you don’t have to.
Frohock tells me she’s closing the contest just as this Ether gases. So she hopes to have some results of what her readers could do in terms of guessing authors’ gender next week, and I’ll be looking forward to hearing how it goes.
Meanwhile, as I’ve made inquiries about this business of women using initials as authors, it’s been amusing to ask folks to think of male authors who go by their initials. Initially (sorry), you think it must surely be easy to rattle off several such guys. But not so much. A.A. Milne and J.R.R. You Know Who aside, there may be fewer initialed guys springing to mind than you expect.
The sad laugh could be that initials instead of an author’s name may soon be the way to tell your author is a woman. More to come on this.
Former DBW attendees, check your email for a newly issued code offering an additional $200 off your registration for Digital Book World (#DBW13) (January 15-17) — and the associated Children’s Publishing Goes Digital (January 15). That new code ends at midnight Friday (January 4), so look sharp if you want to us it.
And I’m saying “additional” in terms of the savings, because you’re still welcome to use my affiliate link to trigger them as you register. If not already showing on your registration form, just put in code PORTER.
Conference chair Mike Shatzkin, taking his turn on the predictions mound, What to watch for in 2013, mentions Rick Joyce’s presentation at Frankfurt Book Fair (which sponsors Publishing Perspectives, host of Ether for Authors). Shatzkin writes:
Rick Joyce of Perseus presented some ground-breaking thinking at our Frankfurt event about using social listening data tools for publishing marketing; he learned that the tools were most effectively applied across categories rather than for titles.
Look for more substantive material when Joyce — who was also a terrific keynote speaker at DBW’s Discoverability and Marketing Conference in September — is onstage at DBW with Sourcebooks‘ Dominique Raccah and Publishers Lunch’s Michael Cader.
The topic of their session, set for 2:30pET on January 16, is “Driving Innovation in Publishing,” and will position one of the most bedeviling questions facing publishers today:
Should publishers rely on start-ups and other industry outsiders to invent/reinvent the industry?–or should publishers be the creators, and if so, do they have what it takes to succeed?
Also at Digital Book World, the Publishing Innovation Awards Luncheon, January 16. The awards are sponsored by Sony and AllZone Digital, and they honor the most innovative ebooks, enhanced ebooks, and book apps in 14 categories. Registration here.
And believe it or not, the DBW events start in under two weeks. Change of venue this year, don’t forget: We’re at the New York Hilton at Sixth and W. 53rd. (So handy to MoMA, as I doggedly keep pointing out.)
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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.
I’ll be doing an onstage conversation with Grub Street’s Eve Bridburg — named one of Boston’s 50 most powerful women by Boston Magazine — on The Author Blueprint for Success as part of this program, looking forward to it.
Among other featured presenters is Argo Navis Author Services’ Sabrina McCarthy, president of Argo Navis and Perseus Distribution.
McCarthy will join Penguin Group’s Elizabeth Keenan, publicity director for Plume & Hudson Street Press, on a panel titled How To Put it Together: Thoughtful Strategies Around Marketing and Discovery.
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O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change (#TOCcon) Conference (February 12-14) in New York City (the Marriott at Times Square).
Use my code AFFILIATEPA for an immediate discount of $350 on any registration package.
At #TOCcon 2013, be sure not to overlook the brace of workshops planned for February 12. While many of us will be involved in Author (R)evolution Day (your pass must include Tuesday), the workshop sessions running all day in parallel are extensive and led by a lot of talent.
And Steven Shadle on How Libraries Use Publisher Metadata.
One of the main keynotes on the bill this year is The Library as Ebook Discovery Zone: More Lessons from Library Journal’s Public Library Patron Research with Barbara A. Genco.
And among the most-watched afternoon sessions (this one on February 13), Great Expectations for Digital Publishing with HTML5 and the Open Web Platform with Jeff Jaffe of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
And speaking of HTML5, O’Reilly’s TOC co-chair Joe Wikert points out in a New Year’s post, HTML5: The code to maximizing revenue, that a new white paper on HTML5 is out from SPi Global with an extensive explanation of the pivotal position of this technology for publishing.
Don’t believe the misinformation out there saying HTML5 is a moving target, today’s investment will become worthless tomorrow, etc. You’ve got a terrific set of rich content building blocks available today with HTML5 and CSS3 so there’s no reason to wait.
And he notes that John Wheeler of SPi Global is scheduled to give a keynote at TOC on February 13, Top 10 Reasons to Plan for a Successful Migration to EPUB 3/HTML5, and a follow-up breakout session, How Do I Successfully Migrate To EPUB 3/HTML5?
Remember that code AFFILIATEPA will save you $350 on any TOC registration, no matter what package of events you choose, from Author (R)evolution Day only to the entire several days of events.
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AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs — all the wide-eyed college writers the industry can eat alive — this year goes to Boston, March 6-9.
Freezing for fiction is a tradition at this one, unique among the annual national and international conferences. The farthest south this campus caravan goes in the next five years is LA (2016). Otherwise, it’s Nanook of the Novels — Seattle next year, Minnesota in 2015.
AWP last year drew 10,000 attendees to icy Chicago (it looked like 40,000 attendees when everybody’s coats were on), and, per its copy on the site this year, AWP “typically features 550 readings, lectures, panel discussions, and forums, as well as hundreds of book signings, receptions, dances, and informal gatherings.” The labyrinthine book fair is said to have featured some 600 exhibitors last year. The Boston setup is supposed to be much more attendee-friendly, maybe even adequate food services will be there.
The program is a service-organization event of campus departments, hence the many (I mean many) readings by faculty members and a frequently less-than-industry-ready approach that worries some of us about real-world training the students may be missing. The organization, however, seems largely impervious to concerns from the outside. Not for nothing do we call campus life sheltered.
Interesting this year is the UK’s Bath Spa University’s major sponsorship. From the participation of that program’s head of MA publishing, Katharine Reeve — and the work of author and transmedia specialist Professor Kate Pullinger (who is with us for Author (R)evolution Day in February) — I know this Creative Writing and Digital Media program to be one of the most agile going at the moment. If you’re AWP-bound, I’d watch for any chance to see Bath Spa’s folks at work.
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For an updated list of planned confabs, please see the Publishing Conferences page at porteranderson.com. 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.
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
- 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)
- Amazing Things Will Happen by C.C. Chapman
- APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur by Guy Kawasaki andShawn Welch
- Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
- A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String by Joanne Harris
- The Dark Chronicles by Jeremy Duns
- Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland
- Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up by Caren Osten Gerszberg & Leah Odze Epstein
- How To Do Things With Books in Victorian Britain by Leah Price
- Jungleland by Christopher S. Stewart
- Knot What It Seams by Elizabeth Craig
- The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh
- Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchins
- Miserere by Teresa Frohock
- Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris
- The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau
- Pentecost by J.F. Penn
- Quit Your Day Job by Jim Denney
- The Ring Road by Edward Weinman
- Rush of Blood by Mark Billingham
- Sell Your Book Like Wildfire by Rob Eagar
- Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole
- Sistine by Michael Hogan
- Wool by Hugh Howey
People always talk about work/life balance, but I find that a tragic concept. I have no separation between work and my life. I don’t see what I do as work. There’s no greater joy than, as Richard Feynman put it, the pleasure of finding things out.
The Bulgarian-born researcher and annotator, in a presentation for Paola Antonelli at the Museum of Modern Art, MoMA, last fall, proved a highly precise, concentrated speaker. While she sadly didn’t seem to want to go into the Curator’s Code she helped launch (and which I enjoy using, though it doesn’t seem to be catching fire), her role there was as part of an evening’s examination of the widely frittered-away term “curator.”
(We’re at the stage, in case you’re interested, in which actual professional, says-so-on-their-business-cards curators get down and claim they’re delighted, I tell you, delighted to have their term of art passed around like a common cold and applied to every grocery list you write. Such is the ungainly dance of political correctness in the world of actual curatorial professions these days, and this is entirely my expression of it, not Antonelli’s nor Popova’s. I felt a bit bad for Antonelli, in particular, a supreme and utterly genuine world-class curator who now directs MoMA’s new research and development program. Then again, everybody thinks he’s a journalist, too, so I’m right there with her.)
Popova’s comments here come from an interview with The Guardian’s Kathy Sweeney, Maria Popova: why we need an antidote to the culture of Google.
Relative to the headline, some of Popova’s most interesting comments have to do with her own interests and methods of working:
Much of what is published online is content designed to be dead within hours, so I find most of my material offline. I gravitate more and more towards historical things that are somewhat obscure and yet timely in their sensibility and message. We really need an antidote to this culture of “if it’s not Google-able, it doesn’t exist”. There’s a wealth of knowledge and inspiration offline, ideas still very relevant and interesting.
One of the benefits of Popova’s work, in this light, is as a conduit. As she ferrets out good material to bring to her readers, she’s getting that material, or at least top-level references to it, online, presumably in many cases for the first time. And she has a handy way of using past newspaper nightmares to describe the dangers of some contemporary forces:
There’s a really beautiful letter that a newspaper journalist named Bruce Bliven wrote in 1923 to his editor. It was about how the circulation manager had taken over the newspaper, deciding what went on the front page. Today, search engine optimisation is the “circulation management” of the internet. It doesn’t put the reader’s best interests first – it turns them into a sellable eyeball, and sells that to advertisers.
Popova is to give a keynote address at TOC this year, on February 14. If you’re unable to join us, we’ll be madly live-tweeting, I mean calmly curating, her comments, and the O’Reilly Media operation has a great way of live-streaming most keynotes. We’ll keep you posted as we get closer.
And as Andrew Sullivan “harches out,” as we say in the South, to start serving bloggery off his own Dish, it’s worth noting that Sweeney’s interview with Popova focuses at times on her donation-supported approach at Brain Pickings.
I’m hopeful that the model of micro-patronage will grow, and will help more people who are passionate about some subject to deliver it to an audience without having to be reliant on advertisers. Even today, for instance,Radiolab [a podcast produced by WNYC, a public radio station in New York City] is supported by audience contribution, and Longreads, which curates the best free long-form reading online, has paid memberships.
And among the many comments I find useful here (work-life balance among them) are remarks on the disturbing almost throw-away nature of Internet content for many. The whole article is neatly poised, and a good warmup to the February presentation plus a fine read for Popova’s fans, of course.
I worry about the temporal bias of the web – everything online is based around vertical chronology. The latest stuff floats at the top, and the older stuff sinks towards the bottom. It suggests that just because something is more recent, it’s more relevant; yet, in culture, the best ideas are timeless, they have no expiration date. This makes the internet a tricky medium for organising information and prioritising knowledge. The best thing is the obvious thing – the remarkable access to nearly infinite information. It is my hope that, as we find better ways to transmute that information into knowledge and wisdom, we’ll be better able to ameliorate the former with the latter.
Main image / iStockphoto: xyno