The Book Selling Biz (The Last Update*)

Perhaps it’s because Amazon is refusing to sell certain traditionally published books and those authors are feeling the pinch, or perhaps it’s just a lot of self-published authors truly realizing how much work it is to market a book—but the air seems full of interesting commentary on selling books. No matter which route to publication you’re pursuing, these articles should be of interest.

✱ First thing, write a good book.

Sometimes that means getting feedback from other writers. I discussed writers’ groups, critique partners, and mentors in “Everybody’s Talkin’ at Me” but what if you don’t know where to find a community of other writers? Guesting at Jane Friedman’s blog, author Nathaniel Kressen has some concrete suggestions in “How to Build a Writing Group in Your Community.”

You’ll want to consider frequency, group size, structure, and feedback first, Kressen says. Once you’ve found some like-minded writers to participate, you’ll need to address:

• How big will the group be allowed to get and how will you add new members?
• Will you charge fees to join?
• Who will oversee the circulation of manuscripts and related critique materials?

This is a fascinating article with lots of good detail to help you start a writers’ group or improve the one you’re already in.

✱ Then, sell your manuscript.

And that includes writing a good synopsis and a good query letter. A year ago I told you the difference between a real synopsis (needed by an editor or agent) and marketing copy in “No, Actually, That’s Marketing Copy.” At Writer Unboxed, author Keith Cronin expands on this theme in “Query Detox, Part 1.”

One of the most common problems I’ve seen is writers resorting to what I call “movie trailer language.” You know, that profound-sounding narration full of powerful-sounding words, which you can usually imagine being spoken by the incredibly deep voice of that guy who does all the movie trailers: “In a world where robot weasels rule…”

Writers often use this sort of language in their queries in an effort to A) be brief, and B) sound dramatic. For example, they might summarize their story like this: “When two worlds collide, one woman has to face her own demons, or pay the ultimate price.”

Sounds great, and you can just imagine the really-deep-voiced guy saying it. But what does it mean?

I think I’ve actually had somebody send me the “when two worlds collide” synopsis. :)

Seriously, though, there’s some good stuff here, and in Cronin’s follow-up (Part 2). Check it out and then banish these errors from your promotional material.

✱ After that, sell the book.

I’ve talked a little bit about marketing in this post—“How to Love an Author”—but you can get consistently good marketing advice over at the MacGregor Literary blog. In this post—“Ten ideas for book marketing you (maybe) haven’t thought of”—Chip MacGregor is challenged to come up with new ideas. Here’s one:

2. Insert ads into the back of your current backlisted ebooks, promoting your new, soon-to-release title. It’s called “cross-selling,” and you need to be thinking about it. Sticking an ad for you new book into the back of your current one helps get the word out to people who are already reading you, and build interest in your title as it launches. Most authors won’t do this because it’s a pain, sticking in a new page in the back of all their old books. But it works—it helps you sell books.

Have a look; it could spark more ideas.

✱ It’s not over ’til …

I’ve recently read some smart people declare unequivocally that Twitter does not sell books. But if you’ve read “My Very Last Twitter Post,” you know there’s an important distinction a lot of folks miss. Twitter is about community, it’s about interaction. And this inspirational story about a disastrous book launch (originally called “Social Media Success Story”) might make a believer out of you. From being dead in the water to being number one in the Kindle nonfiction charts, Ben Hatch has a great story and five tips for success with social media.

Are We Nearly There Yet? was released in August 2011. Publicity was embargoed for three weeks to allow the Daily Express to serialise it. It all looked good. The day it was due to appear the summer riots started. The story of how my wife, two kids and I had visited every town and city in the country, been attacked by bats, snakes and had had run-ins with ghosts, Nazis and thieving monkeys, had been due to run across a couple of centre pages. Understandably, after the events that night, The Express shelved it. It was due to appear the following day then the next. Eventually, as the riots spread, it was pulled altogether. The book, apart from anything else, now seemed —who wanted to read about a family touring the UK when that country was on fire and looting its sports shops?

With the book out a month it had now missed its review window. Newspaper book pages were on to new releases. It was the same at my publisher. The PR department had new titles to work on. The book began to die. My publisher never quite put it like this but its Amazon ranking dropped into the hundreds of thousands. No-one was buying it. No-one knew it was out. That’s when I took to Twitter. I had no real hopes it would make any difference. But at least I could tell my 50 or so followers about it without it being subject to some greater and supposedly wiser authority deciding it was too late or they were too busy to do this for me.

Can you imagine how sick you’d be if this happened to you? The guy had a quote from John Cleese, for heaven’s sake! (And yes—I’d already read the book before I happened on this article.)

* And this is the last update post—hope you’ve enjoyed reviewing my archives this summer!

Tweet: It’s not over ’til … Read this inspirational story about a disastrous book launch.
Tweet: The air seems full of interesting commentary on selling books these days: have a look.
Tweet: The Book Selling Biz—new insights to keep you in the game.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in The Book Biz | Tagged as: , , , ,

You’re Mine Now: It’s All About the Relationship

I was out running errands last month, listening to NPR, which had an interview with Tony La Russa, the storied Major League Baseball manager (Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, and St. Louis Cardinals). La Russa has guided teams to three World Series titles, six league championships, and twelve division titles in thirty-three seasons, and he’s just been inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The interviewer asked about his management style, and La Russa said it was all relationship-driven: “[You have to be] very hands-on, [earn] respect and trust, and [show] players you care for ’em.”

It sounds a lot like editing.

I’d read a little about the legendary editors—Maxwell Perkins the obvious choice—but until I started doing this work myself, I had no idea, really, how tender the relationship would become. Perkins, for example, was noted not only for his editorial skill but for courtesy, kindness … and the fact that he became friends—close—with his authors.

To be frank, I don’t now know how it can be otherwise. It’s an intimacy, this work, one in which an author must lay bare his artistic effort, knowing his partner the editor will function first and most importantly as a critic. Relationship is what makes it work.

Look at this exchange between Perkins (who famously acquired F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Erskine Caldwell, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Alan Paton, and others) and Fitzgerald, just twenty-eight years old when he sends the manuscript of The Great Gatsby to his editor. “The novel is a wonder,” Perkins tells him. After his second read, Perkins calls the book “extraordinary,” then offers some constructive criticism in a friendly tone. Fitzgerald is thrilled:

Your wire & your letters made me feel like a million dollars … Your criticisms were excellent & most helpful. … Anyhow thanks & thanks & thanks for your letters. I’d rather have you and Bunny like it than anyone I know. And I’d rather have you like it than Bunny.*

Undoubtedly there was more back-and-forth before the manuscript went to press, but this exchange reveals a hands-on relationship that clearly has respect and trust and affection on both sides.

Ninety years later, Michael Pietsch (now CEO at Hachette, Pietsch’s career in New York publishing started at Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1979 and in 1991 moved to Little, Brown, where he rose to publisher a decade later) is arguably one of the most sought-after editors today—for the same reasons as Perkins: his strong advocacy for authors as individuals and the relationships he forges with them. Even as a publisher Pietsch was editing works such as Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, but he’s worked with James Patterson, David Foster Wallace, Alice Sebold, Walter Mosley, Martin Amis, Chad Harbach, John Feinstein, Anita Shreve, Rick Moody, and many, many others.

In a 2011 interview about David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, Pietsch said,

Editing with a writer is a joyous collaboration—not even a collaboration, but a conversation, a colloquy, a back-and-forth. The editor makes suggestions and proposes and points things out and acts as a sort of super-reader for the author—and the author chooses what if any of that advice he or she wants to take. That interplay with David was one of the most joyous I’ve had in my life as an editor.

I know that joy of which he speaks. I’ve found long-term editorial relationships are particularly rewarding, because author and editor know each other’s hearts, develop a shorthand way of communicating. In a Book Business interview, Pietsch noted,

I’ve worked on more books with James Patterson than with any other writer and have learned enormously from the experience the importance of frequent and honest communication. It has been made plain to me over the years that for most writers, publication is mostly long and confusing stretches of silence. Constant communication about both the broad arc of publishing goals and the immediate specifics is the best counter to the alienation that can grow in those silences.

“It’s an intimate process, and an extraordinary trust to be allowed to see a writer’s work before it goes out into the world,” Pietsch has said.

That’s exactly how I feel about it.

Whether I am hired by a publisher or an author, the expectation is that I am going to improve the manuscript—“coaching” the author with suggestions, catching issues with plot or characterization, perhaps teaching the author something about the writing craft he or she had never before considered.

When we start, I’m a friendly stranger. But I have always made friends easily (I had to: I was an air force brat), and this helps. Still, I’m careful and professional with my communication because it’s all written—and it’s so easy to be misunderstood when there’s no tone of voice, no facial expression, no body language, no twinkle in the eye. In person, these signals add a layer of communication missing from email. (Or from a fourteen-page Word doc of editorial notes.)

And let’s face it, I do bring the heat. :)

But twinkle alone won’t make an author feel better when he or she is braced for criticism that no doubt feels like a ninety mph fastball. (I’ve written about this process here and here, and there’s a good list of more commentary here.) It takes careful, gentle, friendly back-and-forth. It takes vulnerability and openness. It takes a few good belly laughs.

When we’re done, I hope we’re friends. That’s what I mean when I call you “my” author. Yes, there are “long and confusing stretches of silence” in the publishing business, but this editor tries to stay in touch, even though her most immediate concern in the manuscript in front of her. Facebook certainly helps in this regard, but that’s not what I mean. As I write this, I’m excitedly planning dinner with an author friend who will be in town for a meeting with her agent. I’ve just had an author friend houseguest; she travels quite a bit and always spends a night here on her to or from journey. I have lunch or dinner—sometimes breakfast!—with my authors who live nearby, and if you’re going to be in the area, I definitely want to hear from you.

Does Tony La Russa stay in touch with his former players? I’m betting he does, because relationship doesn’t stop when the work ends. I don’t let go of my friends easily.

* Bunny, here, is Edmund Wilson Jr.

Thanks to Ramona Richards—with whom I have a wonderful friendship—for this topic.

 

Tweet: Until I started editing, I had no idea, really, how tender the relationship would become.
Tweet: In baseball, it’s all about the relationship. Sounds a lot like editing.
Tweet: Twinkle alone won’t make an author feel better when he or she is braced for criticism.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Your Editor Says … | Tagged as: , ,

Short Saturday: Long Live the Book

We’ve been talking about e-books, most recently this week in “Book Marketing in the Digital Age” (but also here and here, for starters) … but to my mind they’re still just books. Words. Reading.

This article from the New York Times points out that some folks had other, bigger ideas for e-books:

Social Books, which let users leave public comments on particular passages and comment on passages selected by others, became Rethink Books and then faltered. Push Pop Press, whose avowed aim was to reimagine the book by mixing text, images, audio, video and interactive graphics, was acquired by Facebook in 2011 and heard from no more. Copia, another highly publicized social reading platform, changed its business model to become a classroom learning tool.

The latest to stumble is Small Demons, which explores the interrelationship among books. Users who were struck by the Ziegfeld Follies in “The Great Gatsby,” for instance, could follow a link to the dancers’ appearance in 67 other books. Small Demons said it would close this month without a new investor.

“A lot of these solutions were born out of a programmer’s ability to do something rather than the reader’s enthusiasm for things they need,” said Peter Meyers, author of “Breaking the Page,” a forthcoming look at the digital transformation of books. “We pursued distractions and called them enhancements.”

Me, I’m not really interested in the comments of people I don’t know on particular passages; I disabled the function on my Kindle that showed what other readers had highlighted in books I was just then reading. The Times and other online magazines have pursued the text/image/audio/video interactivity on long-form articles—and I find those articles fascinating—but the idea of working my way though a novel like that exhausts me. I like reading, just plain reading. No one needs to jazz it up for me. I’ve got my imagination for that.

That said, there’s a whole lot more in this article—“Out of Print, Maybe, but Not Out of Mind”—about the function of story and what happens to it as it migrates from print to the web. You might find it interesting.

Tweet: I like reading, just plain reading. No one needs to jazz it up for me. My mind does that.
Tweet: E-books: to my mind they’re still just books. Words. Reading. I like it that way.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in The Arts & Media, The Book Biz | Tagged as: , , , , ,

Recycling Is Nothing New (An Update*)

Mine has been an actively recycling household for at least twenty years, and I don’t just mean turning in soda bottles for cash. (I know that reference dates me; it can’t be helped.)

I’ve understood the concept a lot longer than that, of course. I listened to stories of what my parents’ parents saved and reused during the Depression, I read in novels about folks who patched holes in shoes with old newspapers and, in fact, insulated log cabins with old newspapers. I walked through an antebellum mansion last year in which the horse-hair insulation had been supplemented with pages from postwar magazines in one of its many remodels. And although my fave dictionary tells me the word recycle was coined in 1925, the concept of reuse is much, much older.

I particularly enjoyed reading this article at Open Culture about old (thirteenth century, say) manuscripts used to line—and stiffen—a bishop’s mitre and clothing on religious statues in a convent.

Apparently, it’s a rich tradition, putting old pages to good use, once they start feeling like they’ve outlived their intended purpose. The bishop likely didn’t know the specifics on the material that made his hat stand up. I’ll bet the sisters of the German Cistercian convent where the dress above originated were more concerned with the outward appearance of the garments they were stitching for their wooden statues than the not-for-display lining.

You might be a little bit horrified at the idea of an ancient hand-lettered parchment manuscript being cut up and reused, but scholar Erik Kwakkel (his Twitter feed is a delight) tells us in this article at his blog MedievalFragments,

When Gutenberg invented moving type, handwritten books became old-fashioned overnight. All over Europe they subsequently became the victims of recycling …

Moreover, as I learned in this article from the Conveyor, the research blog of the special collections at the Bodleian Libraries,

Book recycling was common in the late fifteenth century … Because this was a period of religious reform, liturgical texts became outdated particularly quickly, accounting for their use as dress lining.

This becomes an Update* post when I remind you that even today books are recycled into other forms of art; I’ve written about this before in “This Old Thing?” and “Are Books Sacred Objects?” and “Thought for Food” and “Books and Art.” Before their words become books, writers recycle: a scene or a character cut from one manuscript might find its way into another.

I’m fortunate that I can choose to recycle not out of necessity but because I was raised by frugal parents who couldn’t give up the old ways in a time of prosperity, in spite of the fact that such frugality might have been ridiculed. Now I live in a time in which recycling has taken on a cachet of hipness (something I’ve never been) … but having said that, I’ll just note it would take a dire situation for me to tear up my books. Just sayin’. :)

* Because it’s summer and because I am slammed with work (not a bad thing) and because slammed with work means less time to write the kind of thoughtful blog posts I want to write, I’m writing a series of updates to reconnect you with my archives. But summer’s almost over, friends.

 

Tweet: My dictionary tells me the word recycle was coined in 1925, but the concept of reuse is much older.
Tweet: Book recycling was common in the late 15th century, even though that seems shocking now.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Miscellany | Tagged as: , ,

Book Marketing in the Digital Age

The other day my friend Christy O’Flaherty posted a link to a roundtable discussion about print books versus e-books and started one of her own. As you know, I’ve given up the debate: I like my e-reader for certain very specific activities—traveling, waiting in lines, walking on the treadmill—and pretty much only for fiction. I have a tendency to mark my nonfiction books, to save passages, and I find that easier in a book with paper pages.

Christy, a dedicated reader who also works for a publisher, is a self-professed e-book convert. But even she notes that using an e-reader is a different reading experience than reading from a physical book:

One thing I’ve noticed that concerns me as a reader and a member of the publishing community is that I occasionally read an entire book and fail to imprint the author’s name, or sometimes even the book title, because I’m not looking at the cover on my nightstand for weeks. I just finished A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and couldn’t tell you the name of the author. I’m currently reading a book on Scientology and couldn’t tell you the title or author. I also wouldn’t recognize either from its cover art. This will surely have an impact on the way books and authors are promoted in the age of ebooks.*

I’d never even thought about this, but holy marketing, Batman! She’s right! (Further, on my second generation Kindle, screen size limits how much of the title/author’s name I see without specifically highlighting it.)

There’s a reason publishers spend thousands of dollars on book covers. In a retail environment (that is, a bookstore … and probably even at online retailers), the cover is the first and possibly most important marketing element to attract a browsing customer. We bookies have been known to fall in love with a book based on the cover art alone. :)

There’s a very strong visual component to book-buying and -reading, and it’s not just about covers. An article in the November 2013 Scientific American (“The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: Why Paper Still Beats Screens”), we learn about textual landscapes:

Beyond treating individual letters as physical objects, the human brain may also perceive a text in its entirety as a kind of physical landscape. When we read, we construct a mental representation of the text. The exact nature of such representations remains unclear, but some researchers think they are similar to the mental maps we create of terrain—such as mountains and trails—and of indoor physical spaces, such as apartments and offices. Both anecdotally and in published studies, people report that when trying to locate a particular passage in a book, they often remember where in the text it appeared. Much as we might recall that we passed the red farmhouse near the start of a hiking trail before we started climbing uphill through the forest, we remember that we read about Mr. Darcy rebuffing Elizabeth Bennet at a dance on the bottom left corner of the left-hand page in one of the earlier chapters of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

In most cases, paper books have more obvious topography than on-screen text. An open paper book presents a reader with two clearly defined domains—the left- and right-hand pages—and a total of eight corners with which to orient oneself. You can focus on a single page of a paper book without losing awareness of the whole text. You can even feel the thickness of the pages you have read in one hand and the pages you have yet to read in the other. Turning the page of a paper book is like leaving one footprint after another on a trail—there is a rhythm to it and a visible record of how far one has traveled.**

Not to mention the visual convenience of page numbers. :)

Having read some about the development of the Kindle interface, I’m surprised this—the lack of a visual reinforcement in the form of a cover image—slipped by the R&D team at Amazon. (I’d be curious if they had any publishing people on that team, though.) Maybe they should hire Christy. She’s already got a solution:

You should be able to pull up the cover art at will; or the cover should come up first before you go to the page you were on. Instead of the ads the Kindle defaults to in rest mode, they should show the cover of the book you are reading, if you have one open.

Problem solved!

* Anthony Marra wrote A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. (I’ve reviewed it here.) The other book Christy mentions is Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright.

** There’s more on this subject in this article from Time (“Do E-Books Make It Harder to Remember What You Just Read?”).

 

Tweet: There’s a strong visual component to book-buying & -reading, & it’s not just about covers.
Tweet: Who wrote that book you’re reading? If you can’t remember, blame your e-reader.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in The Book Biz | Tagged as: , , , , ,

Short Saturday: “The Plot Thickens”

The standoff between Hachette and Amazon drags on while the rest of us turn to other things. (As Anne Lamott points out, “The last two weeks have been about as grim and hopeless as any of us can remember.” And none of those things include Hachette/Amazon.)

However, my friend Evelyn brought this New York Times article to my attention, and it occurs to me you’d be interested in an update.

Douglas Preston, who summers in this coastal hamlet, is a best-selling writer—or was, until Amazon decided to discourage readers from buying books from his publisher, Hachette, as a way of pressuring it into giving Amazon a better deal on e-books. So he wrote an open letter to his readers asking them to contact Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, demanding that Amazon stop using writers as hostages in its negotiations.

The letter … spread through the literary community. As of earlier this week 909 writers had signed on, including household names like John Grisham and Stephen King. It is scheduled to run as a full-page ad in The New York Times this Sunday.

Amazon, unsettled by the actions of a group that used to be among its biggest fans, is responding by attacking Mr. Preston, calling the 58-year-old thriller writer “entitled” and “an opportunist,” while simultaneously trying to woo him and his fellow dissenters into silence.

Amazon also likes to refer to the Justice Department’s 2012 antitrust lawsuit against Hachette and other publishers, but many found it shocking, really, that an antitrust case came out in favor of the monopolist. (Read here before you start bandying about words like criminal charges. Here. Or here. Snake-oil salesman indeed.)

If you’ve chosen sides, I don’t expect you to be swayed; if you can see that there are two sides to the story, you’ll want to fit this piece of the puzzle in to what you already know.

Tweet: The news is grim. And that doesn’t even include Hachette/Amazon.
Tweet: Hachette/Amazon: If you see both sides, you’ll want to add this to what you already know.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in The Book Biz | Tagged as: , ,

At Play in the Fields of the Language (An Update*)

All summer I’ve been working on blog posts, while you’ve been reading updates to my archives on Thursdays. This week we’re going to talk about words and language. Probably my favorite subject. After my son and the Irishman. And my cats. Oh, and books …

✱ Them versus us.

I’ve written a lot about the differences between American English and (ahem) English English. (Here: “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Yank,” “Cuts Both Ways,” and “You Say Tomato,” for starters.)

The fact that folks get so bent about it amuses me. Who “owns” English? I’m not even gonna tackle that question, but Dr. Sandi Mann, a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK raises another: “Is It Time to Abandon UK Spelling?

I am finally holding my hands up and admitting that maybe we can no longer hold back the tide of Americanisation (Americanization?) flooding over our written word any longer. Internationalisation (internationalization?) means that we are increasingly all one community and it is making less and less sense to insist on our own way of spelling things (even if it is our language). We have to accept that American English is dominant; spoken and spelt far more than UK English ever will be again. By clinging to words like colour, flavour and centre, we risk alienating ourselves from the rest of the world and whilst at best this could be viewed at quaint, at worse we could find ourselves being dismissed as parochial and out of touch with reality.

Needless to say, she upset a bunch of her countrymen (sample responses: “Just because our relatives over the water have lazy rules in the use of their version of English does not mean it should happen here” and “A big NO to changing to the poor American spelling of words”).

Now wait, y’all. Soap-boxing is fine but no personal attacks, please. And as one of the commenters pointed out, much of US spelling was English spelling at one time. (I’ve also addressed this in one of the posts above.) English people who came to this continent were isolated from the mother tongue, which fell under the influence of French spellings (all those ise/ize differences we have now) sometime in the 1600s. So in many cases US spelling is how the English once spelled those words.

It’s an interesting argument, and I recommend the article—and the comments—to you. :)

✱ And you thought you had problems.

Before their next-door neighbors spent hundreds of years beating it out of them, the Irish had their own language. They still do, actually. There are pockets around the country in which Irish is still spoken daily (I’ve written about the Gaeltacht here); demonstrated competency in Irish is also a requirement for graduation from high school in Ireland. Irish enjoys constitutional status as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland; it is an official language of the European Union too.

But when I read this article—“Irish: A language for all speakers”—I realized it’s an endangered piece of Irish heritage.

Irish speakers talk about second-class status, but there are also tiered statuses among speakers themselves. In my experience, there has never been a grá shared between the Gaeltacht and the Irish-speaking environs of Dublin, even though Dublin has the potential to hold the key to the language’s future. Given the massive population of young people attending all-Irish speaking schools in the greater Dublin area, there’s an argument for Dublin eventually even being the largest Gaeltacht in the State.

That said, the Gaeltacht areas aren’t just about the language, but neither is the language just about Gaeltacht areas. Yet if you want to “keep up” your Irish in the capital, you’re pretty much on your own. As someone who only became fluent at 12 upon entering secondary school, “keeping up” my Irish is something I have done in isolation, although such dedication has led to becoming a presenter on TG4, an entity that has done an incredible amount to modernise, celebrate and make visible the diversity of Irish-speaking voices in the country.

This also is an interesting article—with many interesting comments—that I present just for your edification. :)

* Because it’s almost summer and because I am still positively slammed with work (not a bad thing) and because slammed with work means less time to write the kind of thoughtful blog posts I want to write, I’m writing a series of updates to reconnect you with my archives. Let me know what you think.

 

Tweet: Them versus us. Who “owns” English?
Tweet: The Irish language is an endangered piece of Irish heritage.
Tweet: Who “owns” English? Soap-boxing is fine but no personal attacks, please.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Words & Language | Tagged as: , ,

A Puke of Politicians: Collecting Collective Nouns

A book I’ve been working on has an interesting and lovely mention of terms of venery—which are a very special form of collective nouns—and it occured to me that it would be fun to take a look at them.

You know what a collective noun is—team, committee, crowd are all collective nouns. They are words for a collection of things taken as a whole. In the phrase a gang of thieves, gang is a collective noun. A pack of lies. A pair of shoes. A bouquet of flowers. You can use group to collect a lot of things: a group of teachers, a group of books on grammar, a group of symptoms, a group of examples. :)

But did you know many of these phrases we take for granted date back to medieval times? They do! A school of fish, a pride of lions, a host of angels, a colony of ants … these are so familiar we don’t even think about them. They are terms of venery, and were considered the “correct” way to refer to groups of fish, lions, angels, or ants.

Terms of venery arose as a part of French and English hunting terminology in the thirteenth century; they’d begun to be codified by the fifteenth century in the Book of Saint Albans (1486). The imagery and poetry of them is inspiring, don’t you think?

• a murder of crows
• a leap of leopards
• a party of jays
• a pitying of turtledoves
• a paddling of ducks
• a crash of rhinoceroses
• a labor of moles
• a siege of herons
• a charm of finches
• a skein of geese (in flight)
• a gaggle of geese (on water)
• a tidings of magpies
• a troop of kangaroos
• an unkindness of ravens
• a mustering of storks
• a cry of players (a troupe of actors, sixteenth century)
• a clowder of cats
• a shrewdness of apes
• a parliament of owls
a murmuration of starlings
• an exaltation of larks

James Lipton, the author of An Exaltation of Larks or, The Venereal Game (Penguin Books, 1968, 1977) from which I pulled this list, tells us that yes, many of the terms were humorous. In the Book of Saint Albans, nearly half the terms “refer not to animals but to people and life in the fifteenth century and every one of these social venereal terms makes the same kind of affectionate or mordant comment that the strictly field terms do.” To wit:

• a superfluity of nuns
• a diligence of messengers
• a converting of preachers
• a state of princes
• an impatience of wives
• a prudence of vicars
• an impertinence of peddlers
• a fighting of beggars
• a smirk of couriers
• a riffraff of knaves
• a rage of maidens
• a wandering of tinkers
• a rascal of boys
• a worship of writers

Lipton goes on to present more modern phrases that he’s collected over the years and invites readers to make up their own. (As noted in my murmuration post, the Irishman came up with a puke of politicians, which made me laugh out loud.) Go ahead—play the game!

Tweet: Did you know many of these poetic collective nouns date back to medieval times?
Tweet: A murder of crows, a pitying of turtledoves, a charm of finches, an exaltation of larks …
Tweet: “A puke of politicians.” Go ahead—play the venereal game!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Words & Language | Tagged as: , , , , ,

Short Saturday: On Leaving Space for the Reader

I find it interesting that author Celeste Ng read an article in the New Yorker and took it as a jumping-off point to write the article I’m using as a jumping-off point for today’s post. Here it is: “On Leaving Space for the Reader” from the Glimmer Train Press bulletin.

Both articles are are about ambiguity in fiction. The author of the first—and you should read it—concludes that ambiguity in fiction is OK. We are looking at the story through a keyhole, he says; we can only see what we can see. (That is, we can only see what the author tells us. But there may be a lot happening out of our field of vision.)

Ng takes the next logical step, reminding us there is a reader on the other side of that keyhole, and he or she has a place in the exchange between characters, author, and reader.

I loved this idea:

You need to leave a few unmapped places so the characters can step beyond the boundaries you’ve sketched, a few strings untied so that the puppets can move freely without your hand. In other words, you need a little ambiguity: a space, however small, for the reader to fit into the piece. A story needs a little room for the reader to interpret, to bring in his or her own perceptions and conceptions.

She tells of discussing her book with readers who wanted to know what happened in the places that were ambiguous … but they really just wanted her to confirm what they already believed. These readers had entered her story.

A good example of this, I think, would be Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, which provoked a lot of discussion among my friends. What? and Why—? led to intense analyzation of both husband and wife POV characters. (Movies are good for this too. How many times have you watched certain scenes in Inception, to confirm or refute what you believe happened?)

So read the article. Then remember to leave space for your reader.

Tweet: “You need a little ambiguity: a space, however small, for the reader to fit into the piece.”
Tweet: We can only see what the author tells us. But there may be a lot out of our field of vision.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in The Writing Craft | Tagged as: , ,

Someone Is Wrong on the Internet!* (An Update)

You know, by now, how I feel about getting things right. We’ve talked about …

✱ the importance of getting quotations worded and attributed correctly (“No, You May Not Use Brainyquote.com as Your Source”)

✱ when and how to use footnotes (“Let’s Talk About Notes”)

✱ seeking permission for material you want to quote (“They Say It’s Easier to Ask for Forgiveness Than Permission”)

✱ copyrights (yours and others’), trademarks, and libel (“Legal Issues”), and even …

✱ how to be discerning when you’re researching (“The Internet Can Be Unreliable”)

As an editor, I’ve learned to question everything—even in fiction. Like the author who wanted to write that a pair of cardinals came back year after year (for ten years!) to build a nest outside his bedroom window. Because they mate for life. (Oh, please. Annual survival rates for adult cardinals has been estimated at 60 to 65 percent; due to the high mortality rate of baby birds, though, the average lifespan is just one year.) Or the author who wanted me to believe that medieval peasants bought books (and knew how to read them). Seriously, in the 1400s. Riiiight.

But most folks don’t assume that most everything they read is in error. :) Thus social media is festering with infographics that are—not to put too fine a point on it—wrong. I’m not talking about folks with an agenda. Most of us can see those fools coming a mile away. I’m talking about things that look right but aren’t, because the creator didn’t know how to correctly research and attribute.

Like the infographic called “Surprising Book Facts” I’ve seen a dozen times in the last forty-eight hours. I saw it two dozen times some fifteen months ago, and it’s making the rounds again. I’m not going to post it here because it’s ridiculous and wrong and I don’t want to perpetuate it.

My BS meter started red-lining when I read this list of “facts” (yes, those are scare quotes and I know how to use ’em). But some fella named Robb Brewer thought they were so impressive he made a little orange-and-blue infographic out of them. Then he put ©RobbBrewer.org on it (a copyright, for Pete’s sake!), vaguely mentioned the Jenkins Group as the source, and posted it on his blog.

Almost as quickly as horrified readers started passing the thing around like Moses had carried it down from Mount Sinai, other readers started scratching their heads. Uh, really? Nah. I know that’s what I thought when I saw it, weeks or months later. And that’s what this guy thought too:

So I decided to don some detective garb and investigate. And, honestly, it took about five minutes to find out that the study is not at all what it appears. How did I reach this conclusion? I called the 1-800 number* on The Jenkins Group’s website, and spoke with a very helpful gentleman, who informed me that erroneous information about this “study” has been floating around the internet, unfounded, for almost a decade.

He told me that the reason for the confusion is that the founder of The Jenkins Group once gave a presentation at an event in which he cited these reading statistics in his speech. The statistics were, as far as The Jenkins Group can recall, from a variety of legitimate sources, including the Book Industry Study Group and U.S. News & World Reports. However, since it’s been a decade since this presentation, and I suppose it’s unreasonable to think The Jenkins Group still has the notes from the speech, that’s where the trail ends. Wherever these statistics were originally published, they were clearly not published by The Jenkins Group.

All this outrage caused Brewer to backpedal too. He published a blog post about it.

An infographic I posted a several months ago has produced much interest. Several websites used the graphic on their own pages which has caused large numbers of people to blow up my email wondering about my statistical sources.

First, I created the graphic because I’m a book lover and wanted to express my passion for reading through a different method. While I’m well-versed in research methodologies, my goal wasn’t—and still isn’t—to produce a quantitative, peer-reviewed product. I simply wanted to illustrate reading importance.

He goes on to say, “I think it’s safe to say the stats from the original graphic are questionable, and I am therefore recanting any and all connection to them.” Dude. The damage is done.

To try to make amends, Brewer did some actual research and re-created his infographic with less outrageous facts. Of course, the only place you see it is at his blog.

Meanwhile, the bad infographic continues to circulate. Since I’m an editor, I’m a wet blanket in a lot of conversations about the written word, so it doesn’t bother me to tell my Facebook friends, “No, those statistics are questionable at best and the guy who created that thing has washed his hands of it.” Now, please, go ye therefore into all the world, and let’s put a stop to this thing.

* This little one-panel cartoon from xkcd is one of my very favorite. You can see why. :)

 

Tweet: Social media is festering with infographics that are just plain wrong. Like this one.
Tweet: Dude. The damage is done. Do your research before you publish, not after.
Tweet: My BS meter started red-lining when I read this list of “facts.”

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in Miscellany, Your Editor Says … | Tagged as: , , , ,