Thursday, May 26, 2016

Stephen King joins hundreds of authors petitioning against Donald Trump

More than 450 writers, including Colm Tóibín, Geraldine Brooks and Lydia Davis express ‘unequivocal’ opposition to his presidential candidacy.

Full story here.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

It's time to stand up to greedy academic publishers

How should research travel from the notebooks, hard drives and laboratories of researchers to the desks of their peers? Who should get access? And who should pay?

Over the past few years, these deceptively simple questions have been beset with controversy. Librarians at some of the world’s wealthiest institutions have announced that they can no longer afford to purchase the materials their researchers need. Leading academics have organised boycotts, petitions and mass resignations to protest the combination of prohibitively high prices and profit margins that rival those of the big oil, pharmaceutical and technology firms. A recent paper found that just five multinational publishing conglomerates accounted for 50% of all papers published in 2013.

Full article at The Guardian here

Saturday, April 2, 2016

What Big Publishing Consolidation Means for Authors

An extract:

Within book publishing, consolidation means fewer decision-makers and fewer personalities. It means a mandate from the top to acquire only the most commercial works. Editors in New York are taught to look for a certain kind of book, and this leads to myopic thinking about what’s good, and even what’s publishable. Due to the desire for celebrity connections, big book publishing is also fueling a type of publishing that’s bottom-line driven, sacrificing the passion projects and special projects that editors used to be able to take risks on. Exclusively bottom-line driven publishing has created lowest common denominator publishing, where publishers are undervaluing (or just not seeing as viable) what’s quirky, unique, and fringe in favor of appealing to the masses. And I don’t think I need to go into a sidebar here about the general taste and sophistication level of the American masses.

If you are an aspiring author, every acquisition and merger of this type is another door being shut along your publishing journey. The barriers were already high, and with every consolidation, that barrier gets a little higher. Readers are impacted too, because we have more substanceless books than ever before, and more celebrity authors with ghostwriters telling us what to wear, how to throw a party, how to apply make-up, how to have good sex, what to eat, how to succeed. We collude, of course, because we buy into it. We are creating an upper echelon of authorship that’s based on brand and celebrity and packaging. And these choices reverberate across our media and our culture. The consolidation of big publishing is no different than mom-and-pop shops going out of business because they can’t compete with the Walmarts and the Targets of the world. So pay attention, because we’re bearing witness to the further dilution of a withering traditional landscape, the consequences of which are currently reshaping everything we think we know about book publishing (and by extension authorship and readership).
All true. Full article here

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Poison of "Sponsored Content"

Writers are the twenty-first century serfs, and the growing phenomenon of the only high(er than non-) paying writing jobs being in the field of "sponsored content" is another spike in the coffin of the freelance profession.  The amount of money corporations waste on marketing (from surveys to insultingly stupid advertisements) is staggering. Which merely gives rise to more ways that consumers can spend money to attempt to avoid advertising.  Which is why we love DVRs (for television programming), adblockers (for sane use of the internet), etc. New words that  I watch for on internet sites are "sponsored content" (other weasel words include "brand sponsors" and "featured partners")--which means advertisers are paying for the content, which is invariably favorable to their products.  I won't read any such articles. 

Here's an interesting "confession" by someone who wrote sponsored content.  The article is unbalanced, and sugar-coats some of the genres awful traits,  but some real truths emerge. 

Here are a few takeaways:

“Is there a future in journalism and writing and the Internet?” Choire Sicha, cofounder of The Awl, wrote last January. “Haha, FUCK no, not really.”

"the line between what’s sponsored and what isn’t—between advertising and journalism—has already been rubbed away"

"I should have emerged from my sponsored content gig with the kind of relieved rededication to my craft that would overcome . . .  Instead, though, my tour of the sponsored content waterfront permanently altered my own vision of journalism’s future—and not at all in a good way."

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The New York Publishing State of Mind

I've spent most of my adult life dealing with books in some form, from writing them, editing them, publishing them, to selling them---in the roles of author, editor, publisher and bookseller. Along the way I've been privileged to meet and have discussions with various other more eminent authors, editors, publishers, and booksellers. Back when I was a bookseller in the early 1990s, one such editor, then working for W.W. Norton, was Gerry Howard.  I remember spending a very interesting few hours with him back then, as he liked to keep in touch with those of us booksellers (and the store's bookbuyers) who worked at the front line of retail bookselling.  I've read and enjoyed occasional essays by Howard over the years in various venues, and now comes an interesting and pretty thorough piece in The Millions titled "The Open Refrigerator" which gives an overview of the state of mind in New York publishing among editors and publishers like Howard. I recommend it, if that at all interests you.  You can find the essay here.

There is one aspect of publishing that Howard doesn't cover, and it's a phenomenon among editors that I have found increasingly commonplace over the last fifteen to twenty years.  That is, the lack of ever getting a "no" from them on a proposal submitted.  I mean, I've had a number of nice chats (in person, or via email) with editors who make interested noises and are willing to look at proposals or books.  Some even ask to see them, and act very interested.  But somewhere along the line, they stop commenting, and cease answering emails. Politeness leaves the author to wait in limbo for some months after the editors have promised to get back to you, and then six months pass in limbo, and then one has no other choice than to give up on them and move on to another editor. Why is it that these editors don't have the simple courtesy to say no when they can't, for whatever reason (e.g., they may personally like a proposal but don't think they can get the editorial board to agree), say yes? Here's a short article from four years ago that discusses some aspects of this unfortunately common phenomenon.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Unbearable Asymmetry of Bullshit

read in full here

I'm especially pleased to have learned of the term "Gish Gallop" (I've certainly encountered in the humanities articles that are "torrents of error"): 

The term “Gish Gallop” is a useful one to know. It was coined by the science educator Eugenie Scott in the 1990s to describe the debating strategy of one Duane Gish. Gish was an American biochemist turned Young Earth creationist, who often invited mainstream evolutionary scientists to spar with him in public venues. In its original context, it meant to “spew forth torrents of error that the evolutionist hasn’t a prayer of refuting in the format of a debate.” It also referred to Gish’s apparent tendency to simply ignore objections raised by his opponents.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Publishers should pay authors as much as their other employees

"So when a publisher tells you he “shares your frustration”, ask him how much he earns – and quite how little he’d pay his lowest paid editorial assistant before he felt he was exploiting the vulnerability of their position. Before he felt he was endangering the long term sustainability of his business. Publishing is a market, but it is also a fragile ecosystem, and right now we are losing not just individual writers but entire species of authors."

Read the full article at The Guardian, here