Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Life for Kenyan WritersI came across this article about ecnomic reality for a Kenyan writer, and pass it on. Interestingly, except for the value of the currency and the extreme book piracy, it doesn't seem all that different from what I've seen in the US.
Monday, April 14, 2008
200,000 Computer Generated BooksThe New York Times has an article about Philip M. Parker, a management professor who uses computers and programmers to cull information from the web and turn it into books. He's created - I don't want to use the word "write" - 200,000 of them that he sells through Amazon.com:
If this sounds like cheating to the layman’s ear, it does not to Mr. Parker, who holds some provocative — and apparently profitable — ideas on what constitutes a book. While the most popular of his books may sell hundreds of copies, he said, many have sales in the dozens, often to medical libraries collecting nearly everything he produces. He has extended his technique to crossword puzzles, rudimentary poetry and even to scripts for animated game shows.I've heard of the sausage factory approach before, but this is one high volume production line. The idea of having boilerplate language with specifics filled in to create a "new" document isn't new. But I wonder how much of the added content is really free of copyright restraints and available for legal use.
And he is laying the groundwork for romance novels generated by new algorithms. “I’ve already set it up,” he said. “There are only so many body parts.”
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Publisher Brings Down the House of CardsThe blog Gawker has an interesting post about how Free Press and William Morrow have essentially been complicit in yet another fabricated memoir: Bringing Down the House, the story of a blackjack team trying to beat the house in Las Vegas, and the basis for the new movie 21. Their post is based on the Boston Globe Sunday magazine story, House of Cards:
Yet "Bringing Down the House" is not a work of "nonfiction" in any meaningful sense of the word. Instead of describing events as they happened, Mezrich appears to have worked more as a collage artist, drawing some facts from interviews, inventing certain others, and then recombining these into novel scenes that didn't happen and characters who never lived. The result is a crowd-pleasing story, eagerly marketed by his publishers as true - but which several of the students who participated say is embellished beyond recognition.And publishers wonder how faked memoirs can come into being? Clearly this has gone beyond the publishers having insufficient resources to fact check and has entered the land of deliberately looking the other way:
Both Mezrich and the book's publisher, Simon and Schuster's Free Press, see nothing to apologize for. The book, they point out, was published with a disclaimer (in fine print, on the copyright page) warning that the names, locations, and other details had been changed, and that some events and individuals are composites, created from other events and individuals. Nearly all the details and facts in the book were culled from his research, Mezrich says, and where they were compressed or creatively rearranged, the fundamental truth of the story he tells is undiminished.What the hell are they thinking? Supposedly there is only one actual, real character - Jeff Ma - who ended up doing things in the book that the real Ma had never heard of. There's a big problem any time one starts to urinate in the well that provides your water - not only in the practical implications, but in the very attitude that leads the person to do it. And that's exactly what the publisher, editor, and writer have done: urinated all over the industry, profession, and reading public.
Monday, March 31, 2008
Amazon.com Tries to Bully PublishersPrint-on-demand, or POD, has become an important technology in book publishing and will only become even more so. Instead of having to pay for a run of thousands of books, individuals and companies can have single copies turned out when needed. They are more expensive, but can be the difference between financial feasibility of a new book or non-existence.
But Amazon.com is trying to force publishers that use POD technology to get it from the reseller's own division. Don't buy from them, and they disable the Buy button on a book's listing. Here's a Publishers Weekly article, and one from a writers' weekly newsletter called, appropriately, Writers Weekly.
Think I'm going to reconsider from where I buy any of my books. Any reseller with this much of a stranglehold is too big for the good of us all.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Memoirs and Faulty MemoryThe New York Times has an article about yet another imaginary memoir. In this case, a woman writing under a pseudonym (Wouldn't that seem to be a giveaway in a memoir?) claimed to be a "half-white, half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods."
Apparently not. She was all white, grew up in a posh part of LA, never lived with a foster family, never did drugs, and never ran with gangs. The 33-year-old Margaret Seltzer admitted all when her sister, who saw a piece in the Times, dropped a dime:
“For whatever reason, I was really torn and I thought it was my opportunity to put a voice to people who people don’t listen to,” Ms. Seltzer said. “I was in a position where at one point people said you should speak for us because nobody else is going to let us in to talk. Maybe it’s an ego thing — I don’t know. I just felt that there was good that I could do and there was no other way that someone would listen to it.”No, the details were taken from people she had met while supposedly working to reduce gang violence in LA. Yup, putting a voice to people is important, particularly when you're getting a significant advance to do so and, presumably, not sharing it.
Aren't there giveaways, other than wanting to use a pseudonym and then be willing to have your photograph taken? The writing seemed to telegraph to some critics that something was going on:
Writing in The Times, Michiko Kakutani praised the “humane and deeply affecting memoir,” but noted that some of the scenes “can feel self-consciously novelistic at times.” In Entertainment Weekly, Vanessa Juarez wrote that “readers may wonder if Jones embellishes the dialogue” but went on to extol the “powerful story of resilience and unconditional love.”I know that book publishers are short-staffed - got to wring out every last penny for the corporate owners, after all - but, really, couldn't they invest in a fact checker to make even a cursory inquiry? Let's see: $30,000 to save many times that number and enough embarrassment to fill a small stadium. Seems like a smart investment to me.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
The Wisdom of the Usual SuspectsI wish I could take credit for the title "The Wisdom of Chaperones," what with all the droning on about the wisdom of crowds, and ho, miraculously, they're supposed to come up with smart answers. Maybe they do, when they're not looking for a free lunch in a dot com bubble or heading off to blow each others brains to a gaseous physical state when at war. No, the credit for the title goes to Slate.com, for an article by Chris Wilson about the myth of online democracy in such "Web 2.0" sites at Wikipedia and Digg - or, I'd add, Slashdot.org. Wilson's essential point goes like this:
Social-media sites like Wikipedia and Digg are celebrated as shining examples of Web democracy, places built by millions of Web users who all act as writers, editors, and voters. In reality, a small number of people are running the show. According to researchers in Palo Alto, 1 percent of Wikipedia users are responsible for about half of the site's edits. The site also deploys bots—supervised by a special caste of devoted users—that help standardize format, prevent vandalism, and root out folks who flood the site with obscenities. This is not the wisdom of the crowd. This is the wisdom of the chaperones.Wilson continues to point out that in 2007, 100 people at Digg were responsible for 44 percent of the site's top stories.
I'm not surprised, having noticed something similar in a practical way. I look at the story entries at Slashdot.org on a regular basis, and I notice that most of the postings are by the same group of people. In fact, I've tried on multiple occasions to suggest a story and have never had one chosen to run. The concept runs beyond Wilson's thesis. Not only does a tiny portion of people contribute the vast majority of content (or at least popular content), but I think this can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. When publications hire writers, they often rely on the same names, because those people get the tone of the publication and are proven to the editors. There's a relationship.
I suspect there are also relationships in the social media sites. It's such a human reaction, to trust those that you know and be wary about newcomers, who might bring something fresh, but who also have the possibility of upsetting the apple cart. Even though there is no money exchanging hands, you still have the comfort of the devil you know. Of course, the flip side of this situation is the movie Casablanca, in which the local police would generally look for the usual suspects in the case of a crime, even if those people had nothing to do with it. And the line between an effective oligarchy and five year Soviet planning is, perhaps, not that broadly chalked.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Short List for Odd Book TitlesThe Bookseller, a publishing trade magazine in the UK, has released its annual short list of odd book titles. Head to the publication's web site and take your pick of the following:
- I Was Tortured By the Pygmy Love Queen
- How to Write a How to Write Book
- Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues
- Cheese Problems Solved
- If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs
- People who Mattered in Southend and Beyond: From King Canute to Dr Feelgood
- Drawing and Painting the Undead
- Stafford Pageant: The Exciting Innovative Years 1901–1952
- Tiles of the Unexpected: A Study of Six Miles of Geometric Tile Patterns on the London Underground
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Simpson Ex-Agent Accomplice After Fact?The New York Observer reports that O.J. Simpson's former sports agent, Mike Gilbert, is coming out with a book called How I Helped O. J. Get Away With Murder:
According to a brief announcement published this afternoon on industry Web site Publisher's Lunch, the book will "detail O.J.'s late-night confession" and offer new evidence showing that Simpson did kill his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her boyfriend Ron Goldman. The book also promises "information on Gilbert's crucial role in obtaining the not guilty verdict and why he stayed silent for so long."I have a dozen words: What a pig. Murder accomplice after the fact. Don't buy his book. Oh, and then there's this:
Some of the proceeds from the book have been pledged to the Make-a-Wish foundation, according to the posting on Publisher's Lunch-- a commitment most likely motivated by the public outcry sparked back in November 2006 when HarperCollins announced plans to publish O. J. Simpson's kinda-sorta confession, If I Did It.Let's add two more: blood money.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Times of London Keeps Radar Close - Too CloseNew York Magazine has an interesting piece about the ... mmm ... similarities - yes, exactly, similarities - between a September Radar articled called 100 Reasons Why You're Still Single, and a similar-sounding one - 50 Reasons Why You're Still Single - that the Times of London ran last weekend. New York compares many elements of the list, version by version. Surprise! There are similarities! (If there weren't, I suspect the New York take wouldn't have taken.)
But the entire affair has left me with two questions. One, why did the Times only have 50 reasons? Maybe it figured those were reasons enough. The second question: Why did the Times wait so long to run its version? Answer: it takes a long time for the print copy of Radar to arrive in their offices.
Friday, September 28, 2007
Writing Around Frustration - Writers and Publishing DinosaursI've been hearing frustration from a number of writers I know and respect. It has becoming increasingly difficult to get good work published if it doesn't fall into formulaic approaches that publishers think will make money. There's a dangerous trend of experimentation and new thinking getting pushed out of the market. Publishers want writers with "platforms" to automatically sell so there is no need to invest in building word and audience over the long run. Ironically, in a business where developing something new can take multiples of the time necessary to engineer and manufacturer the latest sophisticated consumer electronics device, those running the show are ever more lusting after instant gratification.
But some writers, universities, and individuals are trying to find different approaches to getting to readers. One example is the author-run Fiction Collective Two, working with Florida State University, Illinois State University, private contributors, and the University of Alabama Press. Journalist and science fiction author Cory Doctorow has been releasing books and stories online for some time, finding that it helps build audience and, ultimately, sell copies. Self-publishing has been around for years: Walt Whitman first sold Leaves of Grass that way. But I think we're entering a time when some variation on the idea could actually go beyond getting exposure for a daring writer and ultimately save publishing from itself.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Google as PublisherI ran this on my business blog, BizBlast, but thought it might be of interest here - as I'm convinced that Google is out to become the world's largest publisher.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Jane Austen Makes the Publishing RoundsDavid Lassman, the director of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, set out to learn how the British publishing industry would react to the author. So he bundled up some introductory chapters of her books, changing some small details (names, basically), and sent them on, according to a Guardian article. Apparently only one person responded noting that it was actually Austen. ("I suggest you reach for your copy of Pride and Prejudice, which I'd guess lives in close proximity to your typewriter, and make sure that your opening pages don't too closely mimic that book's opening.") Most simply responded with form letters, though, when questioned, were saying, "Well, oh, of course we knew it was Austen, or something famous, or maybe like a movie we saw once. You know, with Emma Thompson and she plays that potential old maid? Did you see it?" OK, possibly not quite like that.
This sort of literary prank does happen now and again, and the media generally treat it as something that no one has ever before tried. I do wonder how often the editors actually recognize the text and don't bother to say, "Oh, look, you're taking the structure of X" because they're ticked that someone is trying to trick them. Then again, maybe the kids - as they're often the only ones who will live on the meager salaries - that are in acquisitions haven't read them.
Monday, July 9, 2007
New Magazine Title Muscles InWhen I first heard about Mob Candy, it sounded like a joke - the title calls itself "The Underworld Magazine of Mafia Politics, Pleasures and Power," according to a story in the Staten Island Advance:
The first issue features articles on Don Carlo Gambino's legacy; 50 years of mob "rats;" the FBI vs. Italian Americans, and a profile of Christian (Chris Paciello) Ludwigsen of Eltingville, a mobbed-up former Miami nightclub owner who once dated pop star Madonna and was the getaway driver in a 1993 Richmond Valley home-invasion murder.And the magazine's home? Staten Island. What, New Jersey and Las Vegas don't hold the fascination they once did? Local models, scantily clad, provide the "candy." How will the public react? Here's the opinion of its vice president of advertising and sales:
"Most of the responses we've had have been very positive. People tell me 'I can't wait until it comes out,'" Ms. DiPietro said during a phone interview at the periodical's first public event -- a children's fund-raiser in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.Yes, we really suggest that you give to this fund raiser - we'd hate to see something happen to your reading habits. It's supposedly a collaboration between a manufacturer/distributor of steel framing (who happens to be a former publisher of porn mags) and a clothing designer. Wonder if he does anything in cement overcoats...