concept to publication

Month: July 2007 Page 1 of 2

Is the NYT concealing decline in print revenue?

That’s the claim of Scott Karp, who has done the kind of analysis of the NYTCO’s earnings report that most journalists fail to do. His conclusion is that the company’s reports are slickly designed to conceal what may be double digit declines in print revenue. Carp remarks:

Honestly, I can’t really blame NYTCO or other newspapers for hiding the details on their bad news. If I were in their position, I’d be very tempted to do the same. But the MediaPost coverage really highlights how easily withheld information can lead to confusion, misunderstanding, or outright disinformation.

All newspapers are working overtime to find ways to overcome the decline in print ad revenue, which is outpacing the growth in online ad revenue, but those that are public companies have a fiduciary responsibility not to hide the ball.

RELATED: Fortune Magazine: “Can the Washington Post Survive?

Academic Journals Endangered?

Dani Rodrik cites a new paper by Glenn Ellison that appears to show that top academics are publishing fewer scholarly papers in specialized and general interest journals. These writers, like many others, have discovered that on-line publishing is an easier means to reach a larger audience more quickly than print publication.

The interesting aspect of this is that it is truest of the authors with the most prestigious affiliations. Such authors do not need the validation of print. In this context, the trend is for print publication to function increasingly as a farm system for the second-tier authors.

Are we seeing a similar phenomenon in the literary world?

IN RELATED NEWS: Academic book publishing on the decline.

Companion Sites Roundup

Another end-of-month roundup of what’s going down at the sister sites.




Ten Steps to Better Writing

i go pogo buttonCopyblogger has posted a list of 10 steps to becoming a better writer. Here’s the link, but never mind, the full list follows:

  1. Write.
  2. Write more.
  3. Write even more.
  4. Write even more than that.
  5. Write when you don’t want to.
  6. Write when you do.
  7. Write when you have something to say.
  8. Write when you don’t.
  9. Write every day.
  10. Keep writing.

Well, fine. Just one problem — how is all that writing really making you a better writer, exactly? Where does reading fit into the picture?

This attitude (which derives from the Romantic poets’ cult of the self) reminds me of Barnstable Bear, a character in the great comic strip Pogo, who could write but not read. He would pen wonderful passages, but then he had to find someone else to read them for him. I have heard the complaint from writing workshop teachers that many of their students are avid writers of poetry (for example), but fail to develop because they never cultivate the ability to read it.

I submit that reading is equally important as writing if you want to refine your writing skills. And I further suggest that one should read not just the best-sellers of the day but classics, works from other times and places, works in translation, and works in other languages.

Sure writing’s important, but, as Ben Franklin said, the person who trains himself has a fool for a teacher.


UPDATE: Here is Michael Moorcock’s first rule of writing: “My first rule was given to me by TH White, author of The Sword in the Stone and other Arthurian fantasies and was: Read. Read everything you can lay hands on. I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from Bunyan to Byatt.”

UPDATE 2: From the same link, here is Ian Rankin’s first rule of writing: “Read lots.”

UPDATE 3: And Sarah Waters: “Read like mad.”


comment press example

The Institute for the Future of the Book has released a WordPress theme “designed to allow paragraph-by-paragraph commenting in the margins of a text.” Information about the theme can be found at its dedicated site, although an if:book (the institute’s blog) post probably makes a better introduction. As explained there:

This little tool is the happy byproduct of a year and a half spent hacking WordPress to see whether a popular net-native publishing form, the blog, which, most would agree, is very good at covering the present moment in pithy, conversational bursts but lousy at handling larger, slow-developing works requiring more than chronological organization—whether this form might be refashioned to enable social interaction around long-form texts.

Enabling a social approach to long texts via a blogging platform is an interesting project. I’m not certain how transparent the read/write interface is at the moment, but it’s still developing, and certainly something to watch. It seems most applicable to texts that reward close scrutiny, because it’s rather slow going. Finnegans Wake might be an interesting text to experiment with — could we add a choral audio file for different voices to add their readings to the mix?

For an example of the theme in action, click through on the image above.


san francisco public library

I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.” — Carl Sagan, Cosmos

I was astonished to read on Joe Wikert’s blog that he “hasn’t set foot” in his local “great library” in months. He’s an executive publisher at Wiley!

I work across the street from the main branch of the San Francisco public library, so I’m in there all the time (the photo above was taken in November 2005), but even when I worked elsewhere I was always a frequenter of libraries. At the SFPL they have a great service where you can request a book or CD from any of the library’s branches and they will bring it to your local branch and have it waiting for you. (This service has vastly expanded my music CD collection.) I mean, you don’t even have to go hunt up the books, and you can renew them online without visiting the library — how could you not take advantage of service like that? Plus, they have an excellent historical photo collection (which I relied on heavily in writing Bridge to Understanding).

I don’t get it.

LINK: Libraries Worldwide Gain Street Cred
A NEW LINK (7 Aug 07): Need inspiration? Go to the library.
ANOTHER NEW LINK (7 Aug 07): Books by mule

A Short Guide to Iraq

In 1943 the U.S. War Department produced a book offering guidelines for our soldiers fighting in Iraq. It contained advice such as this:

The tall man in the flowing robe you are going to see soon, with the whiskers and the long hair, is a first-class fighting man, highly skilled in guerilla warfare. Few fighters in any country, in fact, excell him in that kind of situation. If he is your friend, he can be a staunch and valuable ally. If he should happen to be your enemy — look out!


There are also political differences in Iraq that have puzzled diplomats and statesmen. You won’t help matters any by getting mixed up in them.

A pdf version has been posted here.


Poisoning the Well

What we get in newspaper book reviews are critics testifying to what their first encounters with a work were like, before any other people have experienced the work. There can be something awkward in such encounters that gives rise to some of the fun and sometimes frustrations of the readers of book reviews. It is like having a chance to watch someone struggling in the dark not having the faintest idea what sort of creature there might be with him or her in the room. “I feel these fleshy protuberances. Could this be the lithe proboscis of an elephant?” “Ooh, this is icky, sticky, yucky. What have I stepped into?” Awkward, yes; edifying, maybe; but this is one of the most important ways we humans manifest our freedom and model it to one another from one person to another and from one generation to another.

My friend (from kicking around Jerusalem during the 1987 Jerusalem Book Fair) Lindsey Water made some remarks about book reviewing at this year’s BEA. The text has been reproduced at Critical Mass.

Open Letter

The University of Rochester has announced a new book publishing imprint called Open Letter. The press will publish twelve books of international literature a year — I guess that means literature in translation. They will also publish an annual of international poetry. Galley Cat offers the following

“We are focusing on twentieth- and twenty-first century literature from around the world-cosmopolitan litera­ture, books that stimulate and provoke readers, and which we hope will be read for generations to come,” said director Chad W. Post, co-founder of Reading the World and former Associate Director of Dalkey Archive Press. Post is joined at Open Letter by E.J. Van Lanen, former Assistant Editor at Ecco, and Nathan Furl, former Marketing and Production Director at Dalkey Archive Press

Royal Futura

nakedness tonight

Most discussion of type in film centers on anachronisms — how could characters in a movie set in the thirties read materials set in a typeface designed in the sixties — that sort of thing. Or you hear “I loved the credits typeface, what was it?” (The folks at always know the answer.) Rarely is a movie discussed for the way it integrates type into the film itself, as Mark Simonson has done with the Royal Tanebaums. Simonson notes that director Wes Anderson’s use of Futura throughout that film “borders on obsession.” The typeface, in various forms, appears:

  • on buses
  • on hospital signage
  • on a cruise line
  • on museum signage
  • on posters
  • on books

I wonder what the significance of this type choice is. The original Futura was a pretty radical face, geometric and minimalist — Paul Renner sought to reduce letter forms to a sort of underlying essence. The result was crisp and cutting, if a bit difficult to read at times. Futura is also a broad type family, with the essential forms expressed in a multiplicity of weights and styles.

All of which seems compatible with Wes Anderson’s own style, and the ubiquity of Futura in the movie is a good example of a typeface supporting a certain tone in a work even if most people, on the conscious level, might not notice how it’s being used.

The impotence of proofreading

via India Ink

Tintin and Racism

tin tin in the congo

At the Marvel of Manga blog, a discussion came up about Tintin in the Congo and its racist elements. To recap the controversy: The strip was published in 1930-1931, when the Congo was a Belgian territory (Belgium’s colonial behavior in the Congo was particularly brutal). It was republished in 1946 with some of the colonialist elements softened. In 2005 Egmont Publishing issued a new English edition with a foreword situating the book in its historical context. In 2007, human rights lawyer David Enright compained about the book appearing in the Borders chains, and the Commission for Racial Equality labelled the book racist and demanded it be pulled. As a response, Borders removed the book from its children’s section (where it was certainly inappropriate!) and put it in the adult section. In the U.S., however, the book was removed entirely. The controversy was great for the book’s sales, by the way, as it moved up more than four thousand slots to number 5 on the Amazon U.K. list. (This summary relies on — I cringe to confess — Wikipedia.)

Rejecting Harry

knight bus

As Robert Peake noted in a comment to a previous post about David Lassman’s somewhat pointless exercise in submitting Jane Austen’s work for (re-)publication, publishers’ manuscript screening processes are flawed, “and such flaws are only exacerbated in a deluge. The current fiction publishing markets, like the poetry markets, are just flooded.”

That is true — at Mercury House I published maybe a couple dozen books a year, against something like 3,000 submissions. Such a flood of submissions strains resources, and it is difficult as an editor to sustain top-level judgment; at least, I know I had lapses.

That’s why on this Harry Potter weekend it’s good to recall that eight publishers passed on the first Potter book before it was accepted by Bloomsbury. (And 27 publishers rejected the first Dr. Seuss, 22 rejected Joyce’s Dubliners, etc. etc.) It’s a frustrating process, but authors should not obsess over rejection — you don’t know what was going on at the other end of the transaction. If you have lost a sale it is better to move on than to linger over the loss or despair of ever succeeding. Life under the stairs might not be forever; Hogwarts awaits.

Two Lines Translation Challenge

Two Lines, the journal of translation, is asking readers to send translations of the following lines from Machado. Interesting submissions will be posted on their website and in their newsletter. It’s an intriguing couplet. I made a submission, but it leaves out some parts of the original.

Send your translation to admin [at] catranslation [dot] org. (Tell ’em Tom sent you.) Results in September.

… caminante, no hay camino
Se hace el camino al andar

Monolingualism and Intolerance

Intolerance has many triggers and takes many forms, but it tends to boil down to in-group and out-group status. Most people favor “people like us.” (Whereas tolerance springs from an acceptance of equality in difference; Tzvetan Todorov’s formulation of this in The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other is a favorite of mine.)

What’s a bit surprising is how early the process starts, and the extent to which speech plays a fundamental role. Researchers at Harvard and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales have found that young children favor speakers of their native language — and dialect — even before they themselves have learned to talk. According to the Web of Language, “When the researchers showed babies from English-speaking families videos of English- and Spanish-speaking adults, they found that infants who have yet to master ‘Mama’ and ‘Dada’ were already suspicious of people who said ‘Mami’ and ‘Papi.'”

No doubt this attitude contributes to the fervor of anti-immigrationists.

The researchers “hint that bilingual babies may be more accepting of diversity” and that “manipulating early language experience might actually help to reduce the social conflicts that emerge later on.”

I’m thinking of translators I’ve known. Are they more tolerant than others? Hmmm. I’m not sure, but I think as a group they were more or less like anyone else.

Research article: Spelke et al., “The Native Language of Social Cognition.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 24, 2007.Via: The Web of Language

Rejecting Jane

For what it’s worth: David Lassman, director of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, submitted copies of Austen’s novels to 18 publishers in the U.K., changing only names and titles. Only one of the editors to receive the submissions appeared to recognize the work as Austen’s, and none expressed interest in publication. One of the editors did allow (tongue in cheek?) that the manuscript “seems like a really original and interesting read.”


UPDATE: In a similar spirit: The Gilgamesh epic is “dated and confusing.”


Interview with Julio Cortazar

Two hours with Julio! (In Spanish.)

Photo Outlining

lily cole Lately I’ve been playing around with a Photoshop technique for creating sketchlike outlines from photographs. The image at right began as a photo of a model named Lily Cole; you can see the original at Book of Joe in a post entitled “There’s a reason they’re called ‘The Bugs.'”

What I’ve been doing is this:

1. Desaturate the image
2. Adjust the contrast (optional; this is best done with levels or curves)
3. Duplicate the layer
4. Invert the new layer
5. Set the layer blend mode as “color dodge.”
6. Apply a “minimum” filter (listed under “other”) to the blend layer. Best is probably a small setting of about 1-3 pixels, depending on the image size.
7. Add an effect of choice (optional). In this case I applied “colorize” from the adjust -> hue/saturation menu.

Netflix model for books

BookSwim is attempting to replicate the netflix model for the book world. They’re offering a service where you pay a monthly fee and receive and return books without the obligation to purchase. No late fees.

I think this is a questionable plan. People are used to renting movies — renting books would require developing a new behavior. The turnaround on DVDs is much faster for most people, so that the value to the consumer of a subscription is greater. Perhaps most importantly, books are a lot heavier than dvds, so the postage costs will be much higher. Plus, books show wear after repeated shipping and reading (just ask publishers who see their margins eaten up by hurts and returns). That’s probably why plans start at $20/month. It would take a lot of overdue fines to make that cheaper than the library.

via literary lotus

15th-Century Type

A photoset on flickr (click image to visit). Look at the beautiful even color.

15th-century type

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