This, that and t’other
A large number of articles and news reports related to writing have caught my eye in recent weeks. I thought you might enjoy a selection of them. Follow the links provided to learn more about those that interest you.
1. AMAZON AND “FAKE” REVIEWS.
A couple of weeks ago, I found all the reviews for my latest book, “The Stones of Silence“, had mysteriously vanished from its page at Amazon.com, with no explanation given. I immediately fired off e-mails to Amazon’s Author Central and Kindle Direct Publishing divisions, and awaited their response. I didn’t hear anything at first, but within 24 hours, all the reviews had been restored. A day or two later, I received bland e-mails from both divisions saying that all my reviews were there, none were missing, so what was the problem?
I’m willing to bet that one of Amazon’s artificial intelligence systems had decided that my reviews were suspiciously favorable, and decided that they needed checking. The fact that they trickled back, one or two at a time, over the next few hours, makes me think that humans were inspecting each one and deciding whether or not they were problematic.
This ties in with the whole issue of “fake reviews” at Amazon, which the company takes very seriously. A recent article in the Washington Post, “How merchants use Facebook to flood Amazon with fake reviews“, provides more information. If you sell your books on Amazon.com, this is essential reading, even though it doesn’t specifically address book reviews. The issues involved are the same.
2. WHAT OUR CHILDREN ARE READING.
Spiked Online has a thought-provoking article titled “How kids’ lit became misery lit: Adventure stories are out; tales of woe and stress and illness are in“.
According to the judges of the Branford Boase Award … fiction for young people is getting increasingly narrow and downbeat. Philip Womack, one of the prize’s judges, told the Guardian that around one third of this year’s entries were domestic dramas, all with a ‘very similar narrative’: ‘There’s an ill child at home, who notices something odd, and is probably imagining it, but not telling the reader. They’re all in the first person, all in the present tense, all of a type.’ Such books were, he added, ‘so enclosed, so claustrophobic, so depressing and formulaic… It does make for a rather depressing children’s literary landscape’.
I’m profoundly indebted to the literally thousands of books I read as a child and teenager… and not one of them was like that! May I never be guilty of writing one!
3. IS THERE A CONSPIRACY TO EDUCATE OUR KIDS SO THEY CAN’T READ?
That’s the question posed by an article titled “K-12: History of the Conspiracy against Reading“. Its answer is depressing.
The vast majority of children were reading and writing 100 years ago. Now, thanks to deliberate policies of our Education Establishment, we have two thirds testing below proficient.
. . .
[The 1930’s were] when our Education Establishment (most probably, I would suggest, influenced by Comintern subversives) abolished phonics and made children memorize words by their shapes. This approach has been a disaster, yet the public has been persuaded to accept it until this day.
I and others write constantly against this development, with less than the hoped for effect. Our society, and especially the people at the top, seem all too comfortable with rampant illiteracy. How is that possible?
Ayn Rand perfectly captured the country’s predicament in these few words: “[t]he hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody has decided not to see.”
That’s where we are. The glaringly evident escapes notice. Most Americans have been conned into not seeing that our Education Establishment (i.e., the professors in charge) must be the chief cause of illiteracy and other educational failure. Truthfully, nearly all of these pretend educators should be fired for demonstrated incompetence.
I wasn’t educated in America, so I can’t comment from personal experience: but the relatively low number of enthusiastic readers among our younger population is disturbing, to say the least – particularly to us as writers.
4. SUBSCRIPTION BOOK SERVICES CONTINUE TO DESTROY OLD-FASHIONED AUTHOR INCOME MODELS.
Last year I wrote here, in an article titled “It’s time to face facts: online lending and streaming media is, increasingly, the future of books“:
“… writers are going to have to get used to making much less money per copy of their work than they’re used to. I’ve been analyzing my own sales since I started releasing my books in 2013. There’s a very clear decline in the sales of each book, both older titles and new, as Kindle Unlimited ‘borrows’ ramp up. Combining the numbers, I’m moving a similar number of copies, but earning much less for each. Today, I’d guesstimate that I’m going to make between one-third and one-half as much per book, in total, as I did back in 2013, and that figure is continuing to decline.”
Two authors have filed a federal lawsuit against educational publisher Cengage, alleging that the company’s new Cengage Unlimited subscription service will improperly cost them sales and royalty payments … the suit claims that in introducing its subscription service, Cengage “is systematically dismantling and frustrating the business of selling Plaintiffs’ work” in favor of selling subscriptions to Cengage’s digital products. The authors, the suit states, “expect their royalties to decline substantially” as a result of Cengage Unlimited.
. . .
… in pivoting to its digital subscription service, the suit claims the publisher has “wrongfully” implemented “a unilateral change to the compensation structure for its authors,” switching from “the contractual royalty-on-sale” compensation model, to a “relative use” model, which pays authors a “fractional percentage of Cengage’s subscription fees, based on the relative use of the work.”
The suit also claims that Cengage is not properly compensating authors for its distribution of “digital courseware” and other add-ons such as “multimedia displays, homework, quizzes, tests and other supplements” derived from their authors’ work.
And finally, the authors claim that Cengage is refusing to share royalty and sales data that would allow the authors to audit their payments.
It looks to me as if Cengage has (probably accurately) judged the future of the textbook market, and is trying to position itself to survive: but its authors are not prepared to face the reality of lower incomes that must inevitably result from changes to their publisher’s business model. In its response, Cengage noted that “we are disappointed that this complaint was filed, as it seeks to perpetuate a broken model of high costs and less access”. From its perspective, that’s true. However, its authors apparently aren’t willing to “roll with the changes”. They appear to be locked into a traditional publishing perspective that’s ignoring today’s commercial and technological reality. Who will win? Regardless of what happens in court, the market will dictate its own terms – and only those who adapt to them will survive.
(While on the subject of subscription services, an article titled “Kindle Unlimited Royalties: KDP Global Fund and Payout Trends” offers a useful overview of Amazon’s subscriber library service. It’s a year old, but I find it’s pretty accurate, and certainly comprehensive. Recommended reading.)
5. WHY ARE WE ATTACKING OUR ALLIES?
That’s a very good question. I see far too many conservative and/or culturally traditional and/or independent voices calling out others in the same field for differences in their perspectives and/or actions. There are myriad examples. Why are we shooting at each other, when we could (and should) more profitably be aiming at those trying to destroy the society(ies) and culture(s) we seek to uphold and defend?
Writer Jon del Arroz has irritated some independent authors (I am not among them) by his brash, outspoken, “in-your-face” approach to defending himself and his work against his critics, and marketing his books. Nevertheless, he’s “one of us” in opposing social justice warriors and their efforts to impose far-left, progressive ideology upon all aspects of the publishing and entertainment markets. He’s recently written two articles that, I think, are worth reading and pondering, whether or not one likes their author:
I submit that both articles deserve our attention. Even if we don’t agree with some positions taken or approaches adopted by others, there’s the old Arab proverb: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. I think we might profitably keep that in mind.
6. MORE ABOUT VELLUM.
I recently offered in these pages a brief comparative review of Vellum, a desktop publishing program that I’m using to prepare my latest books. I’m finding it invaluable, but struggled at first to get some of the finer details right. My lovely wife found a thread on KBoards, currently dozens of pages long, devoted to Vellum and its idiosyncracies. I highly recommend it to those of you considering and/or using the program. It’s a big help in mastering the software.
7. GOING WIDE, OR STAYING NARROW?
In an article titled “Selling Out: Going Wide or Going Exclusive to Amazon“, the author examines the alternatives and explains what motivated his decision to go wide. I found it a worthwhile study of the alternatives.
The only thing lacking, from my point of view, was that he didn’t acknowledge the greatly increased administrative overhead of having to monitor sales, mount marketing campaigns, etc. across multiple platforms. The more platforms/vendors one uses, the higher that burden becomes. For a “one-person shop” like most independent authors, that can become so great that it gets in the way of writing one’s next book. I’m profoundly grateful to Dorothy for taking some of that burden off my hands; but she has her own life to lead, too, and can’t take it on as a full-time job.
Dorothy and I considered – very seriously – going wide with my current trilogy; but we simply don’t have the time available right now to deal with those issues, so we decided to stay “narrow” and launch on Amazon alone. Nevertheless, we’ll continue to keep an open mind about the situation – particularly foreign sales, where Amazon is much less of a force in the market. The situation will bear watching.
8. SPACED OUT!
Finally, I’m sure many of you have faced the conundrum of “old school” typists. We were taught, back in the days of fixed-space typewriter fonts, to use two spaces after a period, exclamation mark, question mark, colon or semi-colon, to visually distinguish the start of a new sentence from the preceding text. With the advent of variable-space fonts, that was derided as “old-fashioned”, and the argument was advanced (and enforced by many publishers’ editorial staff) that we should use only one space between sentences.
Now, an article (in the Washington Post, no less) titled “One space between each sentence, they said. Science just proved them wrong” has debunked the issue.
The major reason to use two spaces, the researchers wrote, was to make the reading process smoother, not faster. Everyone tended to spend fewer milliseconds staring at periods when a little extra blank space followed it … The study’s authors concluded that two-spacers in the digital age actually have science on their side, and more research should be done to “investigate why reading is facilitated when periods are followed by two spaces.”
Works for me! This article is written with the “traditional” two spaces between sentences, as I was originally trained. However, I’ve long since (at great effort in time and mental angst) trained myself to revert to single spaces in my books. I wonder if it’s worth the hassle to “re-train” myself back to the old ways?