Monday, October 31, 2011

Around the Word

Googling monkeys, publishing edition: Ready for the next phase of the e-volution? The new publishing company Hyperink, deciding that query letters are a passe way for finding promising books to sell, is going Googling for how-to subjects. They're analyzing search results and commissioning books on topics that are most in demand on the most searched engine. To get the book from idea stage to market, Hyperink pairs an expert with a freelance writer and then publishes an e-book for a fraction of a cost of the traditional publishing process (Gotham-ites, start your laptops). As GalleyCat notes, "the how-to book market is getting turned on its head" because of Hyperink's innovative strategy. And Silicon Valley is taking notice: according to TechCrunch, Hyperink won funding from one of the country's top venture capitalist firms, Andreesen Horowitz. How do you like them Apples?

Novel celebration: We thought November's National Novel Writing Month challenge could be a fun diversion for ghosts with novelistic aspirations. But e-book expert Kelly Kingman took NaNoWriMo and applied it to her life as a working writer, challenging herself to use the month of intense writing to create a year's worth (50,000 words) of blog content. She's calling her parallel task Contentpalooza, and gives tips on how to best tackle this novel challenge on ProBlogger. Do you have an equally novel way to celebrate?

Happy E-lloween! Still looking for a spooky read to celebrate All Hallow's Eve tonight? EBookNewser has a list of ten free scary e-books available today, enough reading to give you goosebumps for weeks. With classics like Dracula, Frankenstein and Fall of the House of Usher, these books will definitely get you in the holiday spirit.

Say hello to the "smart book": Atria, a Simon and Schuster imprint, is releasing its first "smart book" tomorrow. Hardcover copies of The Impulse Economy: Understanding Mobile Shoppers and What Makes Them Buy are equipped with a smart chip inside that can be read by a smartphone. Readers looking to purchase the book just tap their Blackberry or Android (iPhones don't work) to the sticker on the cover and are shown a website with further information about the book, reports Jacket Copy. Though the smart chip doesn't have much value once the book is purchased, it's kind of a nifty idea. Is this a step toward the digital future, or just a marketing ploy? Will you be buying a smart book?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Around the Word

Profane book titles are the #*&%: Book titles are getting a little bit raunchier these days. As USA Today pointed out, there's been an increasing trend of profanity gracing book jackets. From Go the F*** to Sleep to S*** My Dad Says, book titles with foul language are eliciting giggles and gasps of horror from readers around the country. So what do you think -- are we headed to hell in a bookcase?

Punctuation perfectionists need not apply: While any editor worth her red pen knows the basic rules of punctuation, correcting every mis-used comma or apostrophe may not be worth the effort. Dennis Barron, "grammar doctor" and English professor at the University of Illinois, explains that punctuation has always been fluid, so an errant emoticon or greengrocer's apostrophe ("Apple's 99 cents") is nothing to worry about, and shouldn't be a factor in judging writing expertise. Barron argues that many writers and editors might fixate on punctuation because it's easier to point out a punctuation error "than to identify why an argument is faulty or explain why a text is just not very interesting." What do you think? Should punctuation be given a break?

Word wide web: We love writing, and we love the Internet. Fortunately, the good people over at Ragan have married our two loves by compiling a list of the seven best websites for word nerds. From a site that determines the "grade level" of your writing, to a service that catches any repeated words in your text, to a motivation tool that forces you to get typing, these sites offer lots of high-tech ways to improve your writing. Do you have any favorites that you would add to the list?

Reads for a dark and stormy night: Halloween may be the holiday of costumes, candy and haunted houses, but if the predicted East Coast snow (!) drives you indoors, All Hallow's Eve is the perfect opportunity for curling up with a scary book. The Guardian has put together a list of this year's required Halloween reading. Scary sociopaths, dark dystopias and chilling crimes all fill the pages of these twisted tales. What's your favorite horror read for Halloween?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Around the Word

Author e-notations: A new social reader, SubText, is joining the ranks of the many fledgling social software for e-readers. Though social reading has yet to really take off among e-ficionados, SubText has one snazzy feature that sets it apart from the crowd -- author annotations and other enhancements included in the first 18 books to be released. Publishers Lunch reports that extras include character updates by Frances Mayes to Under the Tuscan Sun, comments by book critic David Ulin in Nathaniel West's Miss Lonelyhearts and commentary by George R.R. Martin's editor and research in Game of Thrones. Will you be testing out SubText?

Phobophobics, beware: In honor of Halloween, Merriam-Webster Online has compiled a list of the frighteningly best phobias. From kakorrhaphiophobia (fear of failure) to phobophobia (fear of developing a phobia), these creepy Greek tongue-twisters will get you in the holiday spirit. Check out the list, especially if you're feeling a case of ergophobia (fear of work) and need a break.

Literate lovers: Reading has always been a romantic pastime, and lovers have been giving each other meaningfully symbolic tomes since Gutenberg. A new Tumblr site, The Books They Gave Me, pays homage to literature's role in romance. Readers submit the stories of books they received from beaus and their tales are compiled on the site. Though the list skews toward poetry (Yeates, Blake), there are some unromantic books (Allen and Greenough's New Latin Grammar, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City) with surprisingly romantic stories attached. What books do you associate with love?

Top tips: Two items from publishing expert Rick Frishman caught our attention this week: how to be as disciplined as novelist Nicholas Sparks and how to use Amazon to figure out what your readers want. An interview with bestseller Sparks emphasized the importance of writing every day. "You have to be disciplined to be successful," writes interviewer Jeff Rivera. "You have to sit your butt down in that chair and write, no matter what." When it comes to figuring out what to type once you get your butt in the chair, Amazon can be a valuable resource. Search for books that are similar to your idea and "ask yourself, if someone bought this other book would they be a good candidate to purchase mine?" Then read reviews to see what readers loved, and what they could have done without.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Around the Word

Twicks of the trade: Between the pressure to maintain a social media presence and the need to finish your next writing project, finding a digital-analog balance can be challenging for many writing pros. In the latest issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, a group of science writers -- and twitterholics -- explore this "twicky" topic and share a number of helpful insights. One writer found that shutting down his online correspondence for a few hours allowed him the time he needed to write his book. Other writers relied on time diaries to monitor their hours spent online. How do you get everything done, on and offline?

Provocative print: Good news word nerds -- smart is officially the new sexy. At least according to the tagline of a new ad campaign by the Newspaper Association of America, which is trying to counter the notion that print is dead. The Times' Media Decoder Blog reports that the ads, featuring a cartoon of an attractive woman reading a newspaper, aim to promote the idea that people who read newspapers are cultured, intelligent, informed. . . . and thus desireable. Think this campaign will be effective? Or is too late for print to revamp its image?

Success story: Two recent posts from social media guru Chris Brogan caught our eye, especially since they address the writerly task of storytelling. Brogan expounds on the importance of storytelling for businesses, and gives tips on how to craft stories that your customers can identify with. And to help tell that story, Brogan shows how Google+ can be a fantastic storytelling tool. He argues that regular, searchable posts will help "save your seat around the table" in between sales activity and engage with your customers. How do you use social media to tell and sell your story?

The 411 on SEO: To stand out amid the digital din, we are often encouraged to harness the power of Search Engine Optimization -- using algorithms to get your blog to show up on page one of Google results. But Erin MacPherson, an author and SEO expert, argues in a provocative post that it's a waste of time for most writers, unless you know how to do it right. Check out her tips for figuring out the best SEO strategy (or lack thereof) for getting your blog or book noticed. Has SEO worked for you?

The latest Word in local book stores: Bibliophiles in New York take note/heart -- there's something good growing in Greenpoint. The New York Times reported over the weekend about the opening of a delightful sounding bookshop-around-the-corner in this up-and-coming section of Brooklyn called Word. The store "not only stocks books but also strives to create a community of people who love them," reports the Times. Word features an eclectic mix of books as well as a well-read staff and a variety of quirky events like magic shows, read-athons and a basketball league. We look forward to getting some reviews from our NYC friends.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Around the Word

Why I Write: Thursday was the third annual National Day on Writing and to celebrate, the National Writing Project asked writers of all stripes to submit essays on why they've chosen to be professional word nerds. The responses they got provide a illuminating cross-section of writerly motivation and affection. If you have some free time, we encourage you to check them out here. You can also search #whyiwrite on Twitter to read some additional commentary. And if you are feeling particularly inspired, tell us what moves you to write.

Hard Times in New York town: Monday's front-page New York Times story on Amazon's (relatively) new publishing venture continues to provoke strong reactions in book world. As we noted, the response from those who have followed this story from the beginning ranged from "Duh!" to dumbfounded. Publishers Marketplace dissected the kerfuffle yesterday and concluded that, instead of taking a balanced look at the digital e-volution, the New York Times is now basing all their publishing coverage on the idea that "everything is a response to Amazon." What do you think about the criticism of the Times coverage?

Perils of publishing, part two: One overlooked nugget in the Times Amazon article is the story of how novelist Kiana Davenport got dropped by her publisher after she self-published some old short stories on Amazon. If you didn't catch it, Penguin imprint Riverhead Books cancelled Davenport's novel and asked her to return the advance after discovering she had published the stories on Amazon to make some extra cash, ostensibly violating her contract. Davenport's story is a cautionary tale to those trying to make ends meet by bridging the digital-analog divide and possibly a sign that publishing contracts desperately need an update. Check out the Times' follow-up blog post sharing more details of the complicated story.What do you think of the controversy?

Avoid dreadoric, write redonkulously: Say what you will about the Internet's effect on the English language, but one result of writing on the web has been a new crop of very fun made-up words. Ragan polled its readers to find out their favorite neologisms, and compiled a list of the top ten responses. Two of our favorites: "amazulous" (amazing and fabulous) and "drismal" (weather that is cold, gloomy and drizzling). If you have your coinage you'd like to add to the realm, let us know.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Around the Word

Crowd out: Here's a novel twist on the old new media practice of crowd sourcing. New York Times book critic Dwight Garner turned to Twitter for some public speaking advice yesterday, asking for his followers' top tips. The responses ranged from the practical ("Wear a watch") to the kooky ("Accupressure"). What advice would you give the Timesman?

Mult-e-tasking: Though the e-book market is rapidly growing, many authors wonder if penning an e-book is worth the extra effort when they're working in print as well. Alexis Grant, a journalist and social media maven, strongly advises digital double dipping. She suggests using e-books to supplement your traditional writing -- for example, writing an online-only how-to guide that complements your other work and shows off your expertise. This engages your audience, creates extra revenue and drives traffic to your blog. Has this strategy worked for any of you?

Perennial hope: With the publishing industry in an unprecedented state of flux, there are a few publishers that seem to be making lemonade out of e-volution lemons. Salon has singled out the HarperCollins imprint Harper Perennial as a particular success. Harper Perennial focuses on young, unknown authors who write quirky or avant garde fiction. With small advances to keep costs down and a particular focus on design, Harper Perennial works like a small press inside the publishing giant. Check out the article and let us know what you think -- are imprints like Harper Perennial the way to keep fiction publishing alive?

Book blasphemy or blessing? Though e-readers may have their flaws, they certainly have print books beat when it comes to conserving space. As any bibliophile with limited shelf space knows, books are heavy, bulky and fill up bookshelves quickly. One Japanese company has proposed a suitably high-tech solution: you ship them your books, they scan them to PDF, your books get recycled. This seems like a win-win for tech-savvy book lovers, who get to keep the text of their books for their e-readers while freeing up shelf space. But others see the pulping of books in exchange for electronic text as practically sacrilege, reports the New Yorker. Would you ever trade in your paperbacks for PDFs?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Around the Word

Amazon eats New York. . . . There's no clearer indication of how deeply the e-volution has shaken up the book world than today's front-page New York Times story on Amazon's aggressive move into the publishing space. As the Times reports to the larger world, Amazon's new publishing imprint, headed by literary magnate Larry Kirshbaum, will put out more than 122 titles this fall -- putting it in direct competition with publishers of all sizes. This new-found ability to develop, promote, and deliver their own product is a game changer that many equate to the arrival of Gutenberg's printing press. Amazon remains tight-lipped about the details specific to their new venture (no one knows how many editors they've employed or exactly how many books they have under contract) and these uncertainties have only helped intensify the traditional industry's already profound fear factor. As a top Amazon exec so aptly puts it, "The only really necessary people in the publishing process are the writer and reader. Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity."

. . . . And New York snickers in response: The Times story may have been eye-opening to many of its readers, but it was old news to industry followers -- and thus the subject of much snark on the interwebs. The New York Observer headlined its cheeky response, "Times Discovers Amazon Publishing." Publishers Marketplace went a step further, referring to the Times story as “Things You Know About Amazon’s Publishing, Rounded Up Into an Article.” This was definitely a classic case of the Times coming late to a trend-y party. But we wonder if the all the mocking was masking something deeper. Thoughts?

Words of self-pub wisdom: For those of you about to embark on the adventure of self-publishing, we wanted to turn you on to an illuminating tale of trials and successes that we stumbled upon over the weekend. The non-profit Echoing Green recently went through the experience of self-publishing a book and EG's leaders shared their story of DIY advantages and pitfalls on the Book Doctors blog. Though they sometimes struggled without the support of a publisher, Echoing Green used their industry connections, ingenuity and flexibility to create the self-pub project they always wanted. Has their story inspired you to test the self-publishing waters?

Happy Dictionary Day! Yesterday was the 253rd birthday of Noah Webster, making it national Dictionary Day. The MacMillan Dictionary Blog describes Webster -- who was born in Gotham founder Dan Gerstein's hometown of West Hartford -- as "the father of American lexicography." He strove to create a dictionary that was uniquely American, celebrating the immigrant influence and simplifying spellings (he's the reason we don't spell it "colour"). If you didn't get the chance to celebrate yesterday, dust off your Merriam-Webster today and remember the man who started it all.

Super Size your career: Journalist and documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock -- best known for the mega-hit "Super Size Me" -- is looking for the next great (failed) attempt at the American novel. GalleyCat reports that Spurlock has put out a casting call on their job board and is looking for a few lucky literary failures from the New York area to feature in an upcoming documentary series. Here's more about the project: "This brand new series 'failure club,' is about embracing the fear of failure in order to change your life. Meeting each week over the course of a year, 7 different people will come together to form this unique club where they will help each other achieve things they have only dreamed of." If you can swallow your pride, follow this link to apply for the series.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Around the Word

Prae tell: This year's Republican presidential debates have not exactly provided many teachable rhetorical moments. But the language blog Logophilius managed to find an enlightening one buried in Tuesday's GOP confab at Dartmouth -- a textbook example of praetoritio. That's the term for the "rhetorical device in which a speaker invokes a subject by saying that it shouldn't or wouldn't be invoked," writes Logophilius blogger Andy Hollandbeck. When Jon Huntsman teased fellow Mormon Mitt Romney by prefacing his question, "Since this discussion is all about economics, Governor Romney, I promise this won't be about religion," he used a praetoritio. Now we'll be on the lookout for the praetoritio -- and the apophasis and paralipsis -- throughout the campaign season.

Book Award blues: The shortlist for the National Book Award was announced on Wednesday, and the fiction list has some literary commentators scratching their heads. The titles are mostly low-profile works, and two acclaimed novels from this year -- The Art of Fielding and The Marriage Plot -- were overlooked entirely. After several years of surprising short lists, Salon writer Laura Miller is fed up with the "esoteric" nature of NBA. Readers don't want to be recommended a book by a "writer's writer" that they won't enjoy, and Miller argues that "the NBA has come to indicate a book that somebody else thinks you ought to read, whether you like it or not." Will you be reading this year's NBA shortlist, or are the recommended titles too much like the "literary equivalent of spinach?"

Publisaur: One of the favorite parlor games in the book world is guessing when the publishing house as we know it goes extinct. This week digital publishing guru Mike Shatzkin raised some e-stablishment eyebrows  by predicting the end may well be in sight. Writing on his influential Idea Logical blog, Shatzkin argues that e-books will make up the majority of the market sooner than we think, and that more and more websites, media outlets and brands will choose to just publish their own e-books rather than share revenue with a publisher. If no one buys print books, who needs a publisher? Take a look at his provocative argument and let us know what you think: are traditional publishers done for in the digital age?

Speechmaker Matchmaker: Vital Speeches kingpin David Murray pointed us to a snazzy new service that connects speakers looking for exposure with event organizers and media outlets. SpeakerFile bills itself as "the global source for thought leaders," and believes "there's a better way to publish the expert talent that lies undiscovered in many organizations." The company strives to connect these "key opinion leaders" with speakers bureaus and event organizers, and to help companies and events find qualified speakers and experts. SpeakerFile is currently pre-registering qualified speakers and you can sign up on their website here.

Boys (and girls) club: Book clubs have customarily been single-sex events; very rarely do the genders ever mix over novels, pastries and red wine. But in a marketing push for two new novels that appeal to both sexes, HarperPerennial and Plume are trying out a few new meeting moves to bridge the gender gap. The Ultra Violet Reading Challenge promotes the new novels Domestic Violets and The Violets of March and encourages violet-themed co-ed book parties, with the publishers offering prizes and a chance to talk to the authors online. Will you be joining in on the co-ed book club fun? (h/t GalleyCat)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Around the Word

Book burnout: When you work as a professional wordsmith, nothing is so terrifying as feeling stuck in a project you can't write your way out of. Though sometimes all it takes is a long walk or a strong cup of coffee to get you back on track, how do you know when a book is hopeless and it's time to abandon script? In an instructive interview with GalleyCat, novelist Tony D'Souza recently recounted his experience with this dilemma -- how he threw in the towel on his novel, started from scratch and wrote a better book for it. Have you ever had to retire a manuscript you knew wasn't working?

Novel ideas: What do Wuthering Heights and your most recent white paper have in common? More than you might think, according to a recent report from Ragan. Our friend Russell Working surveyed writers who are corporate communicators by day, novelists by night, and nailed down eight fiction-writing tips that can help jazz up your corporate copy. From storytelling to pacing to skillful use of dialogue, creative writing techniques can help make your communication more engaging. What literary techniques do you use in your day job?

Reading cold turk-e: The advent of the e-reader has been met with mixed feelings from bibliophiles; the cost of losing the physical book can sometimes be outweighed by the opportunity to buy more books without overburdening already crammed bookshelves. Edward Stourton, a journalist and book-buying addict, swore off new book purchases for an entire year and limited himself to his personal library and a Kindle. In a humorous essay about his experience for the Financial Times, he claims he wasn't completely converted by the e-readers charms, but is no longer a total book-loving luddite either. Would you ever try a year of reading differently?

NaNoWriMo: Ladies and gentlemen, dust off your keyboards -- November is National Novel Writing Month. Agent and blogger Rachelle Gardner gave us the heads-up about this exciting novel-writing challenge. Writers from all over the world will commit to writing 50,000 words of their novel in the month of November. Just sign up on the website for access to events, forums and an online word count to track your progress. Will you be participating in NaNoWriMo?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Around the Word

Writer, heal thyself's copy: As we all know, it's much easier to catch and correct mistakes in others' writing than in our own. But what if you don't have the luxury of tapping an outside set of eyes to copyedit your material before submitting it for publication? In that case, you might want to check out this handy self-editing cheat sheet that  Subversive Copy Editor blogger Carol Saller recently posted over the weekend on the Chronicle of Higher Education's Lingua Franca page. Her list of things to look out for (like "throat clearing" and pet phrases) and things you can probably ignore (the passive voice, split infinitives) are sure to help you through your next round of solo proofing. What tricks do you use when editing your own prose? 

Consider the footnote: Of all the casualties in the publishing e-volution -- brick-and-mortar bookstores, that distinctive book smell -- it should come as no surprise that the footnote has been an afterthought. Footnotes in most e-books have been relegated to the back of the text, making them endnotes, and therefore even less likely to be read. This frustrates footnote-happy authors like Alexandra Horowitz, who addressed the issue in a New York Times essay last week. "The e-book isn't killing the book," she wrote. "Instead, it's killing the 'page' " -- and the footnote along with it. Would you be sad to see the footnote go?

The future of English? Over the last few decades, linguists have watched English spread globally to become the dominant tongue in international business, politics and technology. But now that China, India, and other non-Western nations are rising on the world stage, can we safely assume English will remain the dominant lexical currency -- or could it go the way of Latin after the fall of Rome? Linguistic scholar Dennis Barron takes this foundational question for a spin on the Oxford University Press blog, exploring the possibility that English my evolve in localized spin-off languages, like Latin and the Romance languages, or that a different tongue may find supremacy altogether. Where do you see the future of English headed?

Please Publish Me: Another humor blog has found publishing success in an increasingly familiar Cinderella story. -- a site chronicling the struggles of the mal-employed -- just sold the book rights to Citadel Press, reports GalleyCat. Blogs are becoming a popular source for publishers scouting for new humor books, and many bloggers are jumping at the chance to go from the minimal revenue of blog life to a publishing deal and an advance. What's your bet on the next cult blog to score a book deal?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Around the Word

iLanguage: Of all the transformative contributions Steve Jobs made to the way we create and communicate, one of the least appreciated is his influence on modern language. To that point, word  nerd extraordinaire Ben Zimmer is out with an enlightening column looking at Jobs' gift of gab.
From "Think Different" to the incredible "i" prefix, Jobs's talent for exciting language was closely linked with Apple's success as a brand and cultural force. How will your remember Jobs's lexical legacy? 

Amazon for the underdog? Thriller author Barry Eisler made waves in the publishing world earlier this year when he turned down a half-million dollar deal with St. Martin's Press in favor of self-publishing his newest book. But when he accepted a hybrid deal from Amazon instead of going completely solo, e-volution advocates cried foul. Eisler spoke out about his e-publishing experience in an illuminating interview with NPR this morning, saying that he was finished with "legacy" publishers, but he didn't see a problem working with Amazon. As he put it, "If I can find a way to get readers books that cost less, and are delivered better and faster, I want that."

Self-published cinema: Self-publishing service Author Solutions is going Hollywood -- literally. The company has started a $1 million fund to acquire film rights from its self-published authors. Author Solutions has also started to finance in-house screenplay development, a strategy usually employed by traditional publishers, not self-publishing platforms. Though the project is still in its early stages, we're interested to see where it leads. Could a self-published title turn into a box office hit?

SpeechTube: Political speech junkies, rejoice! Now all the campaign speeches, debates and ads you could ever want to watch are just a convenient click away with a new U.S. politics channel from YouTube. Since YouTube has become increasingly present in the American political process -- Obama's YouTube town hall, for example -- the site has launched a dedicated political channel just in time for the 2012 presidential campaign. In addition to videos, the channel will also feature interactive statistics and analytics. Could YouTube be the new source for all things presidential? (via Mashable).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Around the Word

France's (other) oldest profession: Our ghostwriter brethren on the other side of the Atlantic made headlines last weekend when the Wall Street Journal published a feature on the écrivain public, the public writer. Public writers -- who have been around in France since the 1200s -- help mostly working class people with resumes, job applications and bureaucratic paperwork, though they are also known to write speeches, eulogies, family histories and the occasional love letter. Public writing, both freelance and government-sponsored, "is enjoying a resurgence lately," according to the Journal. We're happy to see global ghosts finding work; we just wish they were known by the cool-sounding French translation of "ghostwriter" -- écrivain fantôme.

Isn't it ironic? Irony is one of those tricky rhetorical devices that (ironically?) people often misuse. From eye-rolling teenagers to Alanis Morissette, irony has been appropriated, mangled and redefined by popular culture. If you need a refresher on the correct way to use irony, Ragan recently offered a helpful primer on the subject. Check out their do's and don'ts and let us know if you've seen jarring examples in need of ironing out.

Creative destruction: We all know the Great Recession has hit writers and other creative freelancers especially hard, but how do we measure the collective toll its taken on our community and the culture we help create? Salon has set out to answer this question with a series on erosion of America's "creative class.  In the first of the series, out this week, writer Scott Timber focuses in on the economic impact the Great Recession has had on the arts -- from shuttering independent record stores to folding newspapers. This doesn't bode well for what had been a vibrant sector of the U.S. economy.  "What the United States produces now is culture and ideas," Timber argues. "Trouble is, making a living doing this has never been harder." As a member of the creative class, what has your Great Recession experience been? 

Perseus the self-publisher: Though self-publishing has been mostly an avenue for writers trying to avoid the big names in the publishing world, industry stalwart Perseus Books Group made a splash this week by throwing its traditional hat into the DIY ring. Its new service will be available only to authors represented by an agency that has signed an agreement with Perseus. And according to the New York Times, it will also offer "a favorable revenue split that is unusual in the industry: 70 percent to the author and 30 percent to the distributor." What do you think about a mega-publisher like Perseus trying to go solo?

Book borrowing for dummies: Lending a cherished book to a friend, only to have it returned dog-eared and stained, can be a traumatic experience for a bibliophile. To avoid book borrowing missteps, check out this post from Modern Manners Guy on the etiquette of lending out your personal library. Though if you have to remind your friends that "books are not plates," you might want to get new friends.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Could E-books Breed Apathy?

By Katherine Don

Last month, I read a book on a Kindle for the first time. But it wasn’t the first time I had read this particular book; I first read Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood about six years ago, when I was a few years older than the book’s adolescent protagonist, Toru Watanabe. Years later, I couldn’t remember the book’s plot as well as I could remember the feeling it left behind – something of mournful nostalgia, muted emotions, angst and heartbreak. I also remembered the book itself. It was a light paperback, fluttery and vulnerable, like the book’s female characters. The cover image was a close-up likeness of a woman’s face. Her expression is woeful and distant but otherwise impossible to interpret. The colors are bright pink and bright purple and bright yellow: the contrast between this chromatic cheerfulness and the sadness of the face and the tragedy of the novel itself left an indelible impression: my memory of the book is bound with this cover image. I read the first chapters in the living room of my mom’s house during the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college; I remember that bright cover in the summer sun of the glass-walled room. I read the latter part of the book upstairs, in a dark bedroom, and as the novel’s morbid plot revealed itself fully, that wraithly face on the cover changed expression in the shadows.

When I re-read this book on a Kindle last month, I disliked it. I found the writing to be simplistic, the characters flat, the plot insipid. I attribute most of this to my changing tastes as a reader. But I was surprised by the depths of my apathy toward a book I had once liked so much. I wondered if my reaction would have been different had I read from the old paperback copy. I would have disliked the writing itself, surely, but perhaps something of what I felt before would have stirred within me. The synesthetic clashing of words and smells and tastes and sounds and images that coupled the book and its cover with the story inside the book is singular; it is tied to me, my memories, the physical book, and the story. When reading Norwegian Wood on a Kindle, I was overwhelmed by a surprisingly urgent impulse to go home and find that paperback.

In a post entitled “In which, Emphatically and Forever, I Decline to Care How Books Smell,” NPR blogger Linda Holmes lampoons the army of luddites who lament the smell-less-ness of e-books. In response, Holmes lists the various perks of e-books: changeable font size; affordability; convenience. She also mistakes the obsession with olfaction as being a simple matter of olfactory preference: “I’m not offended by people who like how books smell,” she writes. “Everything can and should have fans…the problem comes when you imply that if you do not have that instinct, then there is something missing from your life as a reader.”

For me, a book’s smell falls under two categories: Smells that lead to sneezing; smells that don’t lead to sneezing. (I’m allergic to must.) I suspect that many have latched onto “smell” as the easiest way to express something more complex that they find lacking in e-books. As Holmes points out in her blog, those who complain about smell begin with the smell hypothesis, but then discuss seemingly unrelated factors, such as where they read the book or where they bought the book.

Immanent in a physical book is not just a particular smell, texture, size, color, design and weight, but also the exchange of the book, which takes place at a store, through the mail, or elsewhere as a hand-to-hand exchange. These transactions become memories, and for me, these memories become inextricable from the meaning of the story within the book. When I later recall a book’s content, I find this recollection colored by memories of where I found it, who gave it to me, its weight, its size, its look. An e-book, in contrast, is always bought onscreen, absent a conversation with a bookseller or a drive to a friend’s apartment to pick the book up. Font and format notwithstanding, its physical presence is always identical to other books viewed on the e-reader.

This is all rather self-evident, and one could easily argue that a book’s actual meaning is better off unadulterated by the sandwiching context of the book’s purchase or the oppressive influence of the book’s smell. What I’m concerned about here is the actual formation and retention of memory, which is influenced by the five senses, and retention of narrative, which is influenced by the context in which a narrative is told.

Smell, for example, indeed prompts access to stored memories -- but only when a person is confronted again with the same smell. Similarly, recollection of a particular narrative is dislodged from stored memory in the brain when an individual enters the place in which the narrative was told, or is confronted with an object that provokes recollection of the narrative. For a book, this could mean picking the book up or entering the location in which the book was sold. Could the sensory void of an e-book actually diminish our ability to remember the content and meaning of the book within? And if so, might books with political or polemic ambitions be less influential if read on an e-reader?

To explore context and physicality as it relates to the influence of a particular book, let’s analyze the original editions of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, a pamphlet that is often cited as inciting the Revolutionary War.

Historians contend that Common Sense was widely disseminated throughout the U.S. within months of first publication in 1776. Its power is recalled as magical, as though every American read Common Sense and then instantly hated the British. In truth, it’s possible that the pamphlet’s success was propelled by a highly publicized conflict between Paine and his publisher, Robert Bell, who released the second edition of Common Sense one week after the first edition sold out before first consulting Paine – who, irate, went to a second publisher, William and Thomas Bradford, to print a new third edition. This set off an escalating war between Bell (as the first publisher) and the Bradfords (as the second publishers) which resulted in sixteen separate editions of Common Sense that were published in Philadelphia alone.

As scholar Trish Loughran writes in Disseminating Common Sense: Thomas Paine and the Problem of the Early National Bestseller,
“Paine’s commercial dispute with Bell was, in many ways, as crucial to the book’s celebrity as were its arguments for independence. Not only did this debate ensure, quite apart from the issue of demand, that twice the number of copies would be printed in Philadelphia (one set by Bell and one set by the Bradfords), but it also made the book a kind of local scandal whose fifteen minutes of fame lasted several months as Bell (at his own expense) and Bradford (at Paine’s expense) repeatedly displayed dueling full-page advertisements in opposite columns of the Pennsylvania Evening Post, each making claims not for or against independence but for or against the characters of the locally identifiable disputants.”

Loughran imagines that during this time, the politically conscious and higher class consumers of Common Sense might have bought the different editions as a type of prized commodity. She also points out that while Common Sense probably sold around 100,000-150,000 copies -- astronomical for that time -- many of these were purchased by the same individuals, and copies sold outside of Philadelphia would have been delivered in small and highly anticipated bundles along the King’s Highway, which ran all the way to New York City. As a physical commodity, the early editions of Common Sense were highly prized objects that would have been excitedly purchased and discussed at local bookstores all over the east coast.

The driving forces behind an e-book’s success are very different. They consist of a similarly mysterious tipping point in popular excitement -- an author’s blog explodes overnight; clicks on Amazon increase exponentially; a review is written; clicks explode again -- yet this all occurs onscreen, as does the reading of the book. Since our memories are influenced by context and physicality, will a reader feel the same visceral allegiance to a popular e-book as to a highly anticipated paper book? And when the book is polemical and requests action born of passion on the part of the reader, does the author’s task become more difficult when the finished product is not something that can be traded and held, but words in electronic typeface that with the pressing of a button will be replaced with different words from a different book? When the commodity is the e-reader itself, does the content of one particular book, held fleetingly onscreen, somehow get filed away as ‘less important’ during the context-sensitive process of memory storage and retrieval?

Loughran wrote of the influence of Common Sense:
“To the degree that printed texts—like Paine’s pamphlet, or later, the Constitution—are able to solve key problems in modern political economy (and ideologically there can be no doubt that they do just this), it is not solely because they emanate from no place, or no one, in particular, but because they have the peculiar ability to be both particular and non-particular at once. We might say that every book has, like the King before it, two bodies—one that is present in the form of a reliably fixed, real, and always self-identical material text and the other that is promised by its endlessly reproducible, presumably identical, counterparts.”
With an e-book, the body of the “endlessly reproducible, presumably identical, counterparts” becomes the sole body of the text. Books read on an e-reader are peculiarly non-particular. As for the possibility that this renders them peculiarly ineffective in evoking certain stripes of passion, or conversely deepening particular shades of apathy, I don’t know, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about.

Katherine Don is a writer and book doctor based in New York. This essay originally appeared on her blog, The Book Don.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Around the Word

Better off banned? Last week was banned books week, and lit lovers around the country celebrated the freedom to read their favorite controversial tomes. But the contrarians over at opted to turn the celebration on its head and asked their readers which time-dishonored books you wish were banned. The cringe de la cringe, so to speak, of the classics that teens have been force-fed for years. Answers ranged from Lord of the Flies to A Tale of Two Cities to a particularly sadistic assignment of Ivanhoe. What required reading did you wish was verboten?

That's one way to knock 'em dead: For all you speechwriters looking up to freshen up your repertoire, check out Vital Speeches guru David Murray's profile of "celebrant" Neil Dorward. Celebrants are professional speakers who specialize in writing and delivering eulogies at secular funerals. Murray met Dorward, author of The Guide to a Dead Brilliant Funeral Speech, at the recent U.K. speechwriters conference and became intrigued by the broader applications of Dorward's unusual niche -- and its personal rewards. "I am offering comfort, closure, healing, dignity, and meaningful words. I am invited to be part of their precious lives for a few days and I know, I truly know, that what I say and how I say it, makes a real difference to people’s lives," Dorward reports.

Talk verby to me: Remember the days when "Google" was just a noun? Verbing, "the denominalization of nouns into verbs," has become a regular ritual in modern English, and the results can range from useful to grating. While it seems natural to us to "host" a party, asking a colleague to "dialogue" sounds obnoxious. As Mark Nichols over at Daily Writing Tips puts it, "It's a democratic process: If a neologism appeals to you, promote it by using it. If it appalls you, demote it by eschewing it." What are your favorite, and least favorite, verbified words?

Social reading: With all the hype about the rumored changes to Facebook, one thing has word nerds particularly excited. Facebook is reportedly expanding the "like" function to allow users to share what they "listened," "watched" and, wait for it, "read." If the all-powerful Facebook is endorsing reading with the click of a button, that must be good news for the written word, right? Will you be using Facebook to share your recent reads?