concept to publication

Month: March 2008

Amazon coercing publishers to use BookSurge?

BookSurge is Amazon’s print-on-demand subsidiary. According to a story in Publishers Weekly, Amazon will not sell books printed with other POD services in the same way they sell other books. An excerpt from the story:

“I feel like the flea between two giant elephants,” said the head of one pod publisher about the upcoming battle between Lightning Source and BookSurge/Amazon. He said although the deal with BookSurge will be more expensive, he has no choice but to make the move since most of his authors expect their titles to be for sale on Amazon.


UPDATE: Amazon defends its policy.


Book sales rising

The Association of American Publishers reported on Monday that book sales rose 7.2 percent in January, with adult paperback sales showing the largest increase, an astonishing 37.6 percent.

At a time when overall consumer confidence is turning down, what could cause such a jump in book sales? I offer two possibilities:

  1. People are cocooning — staying home and reading rather than going out and spending.
  2. There is a flaw in the methodology used to produce the data. Perhaps booksellers were busy with Christmas sales and family commitments in December and slid some sales over to January in their reports.

It will be interesting to see if this uptick continues.

Gender confusion

A study by the University of Arizona has reported surprising results when testing native French speakers on the gender of nouns. Across the board, the French speakers showed less agreement about gender than expected, but this was particularly true of younger subjects — this suggests that gender is becoming more flexible (the young subjects did not test lower on other aspects of language). Heidi Harley at Language Log summarizes:

Native speakers fell into two groups: 14 adult speakers and 42 teenage speakers. On most grammatical tasks, for all intents and purposes, teenagers’ native-language abilities are identical to adults’ abilities. But when [the researcher] broke down the gender-assignment task results by age, she found that teenagers showed considerably more variation than the adults. On the 50 feminine nouns, for example, the 14 adults all agreed on 21 of them, while the 42 teenagers agreed on only one: cible, ‘target’. Of the 93 masculine nouns, the adults agreed on 51 of them, while all adults and teenagers agreed on only 17 (of 93!!)

Near where I lived near Guatemala City was a deep ravine. Residents of this area called it a barranco (masculine). Only much later did I learn that barranca (feminine) is more common.

English speakers, for whom learning noun gender is difficult, can take some consolation in the results of this study.


via Language Hat 


Vocabularium rerum

vocabularium reurm, a printed book from 1495

An early printed bilingual dictionary, the Vocabularium Rerum provided German readers with the meanings of common Latin words and phrases. This edition (photo from Helga’s Lobster Stew’s photostream) was printed in Venice in 1495. According to HLS, the book can be seen”open to the public in the library at the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry on 16th Street in DC.” The label in the photo says that there are three known copies, the other two being in London and Vienna.

Notice the perfection of the printed book as an information technology — after about 513 years, the data is still perfectly readable. From a book design point of view, observe that the bottom and outside margins are larger than the top and inside margins. On a spread, this holds the facing type areas together; it also provides a place for the reader’s fingers. This page has nice even type color, especially considering the variation in type size.

I hope that label is on acid-free paper! I would not have set it directly on the page.

Friday Roundup

Get your links here

Tuttle Publishing to distribute Asian Art Museum books

tuttle logo

The Asian Art Museum has made an agreement with Tuttle Publishing for the exclusive distribution of all Asian Art Museum books. Not only will Tuttle distribute new books going forward, but existing distribution agreements are being terminated, and Tuttle will handle the museum’s backlist as well.

The arrangement with Tuttle should give the museum more effective distribution than it had in the past, not only in the U.S. but in Asia and throughout the world.

Tuttle Publishing, which includes Tuttle, Periplus Editions, and Journey Editions, is the leading English-language book publishing and distribution company in Asia. The company was founded by Charles E. Tuttle (1915-1993) in Tokyo in 1948. His mission was to publish “books to span the East and West.” The core of the Asian Art Museum’s collection was donated by Avery Brundage (1887-1975), who, similarly, sought to create a “bridge to undertstanding” between East and West.

This summer the museum will publish an important new book on the court arts of China’s Ming dynasty.


Jonathan Williams, 1929-2008

Jonathan Williams, poet, essayist, and publisher of Jargon Society, died Sunday in Asheville following a long illness. We published a collection of his short prose, called The Magpie’s Bagpipe, at North Point Press.

Williams attended Black Mountain College and began Jargon Society in the early 1950s. The press published such writers as Charles Olson, Kenneth Patchen, Denise Levertov, Paul Metcalf, and Guy Davenport.

“I am frankly a bourgeois living in seclusion in the country, busy with literature, and asking nothing of anyone, not consideration, nor honor, nor esteem,” he said in an interview. “I jump into the water to save a good line of poetry or a good sentence of prose from anyone. But I don’t believe, on that account, that humanity has need of me, any more than I have need of it.”

The Deracination
Jonathan Williams

definition: root

“a growing point,
an organ of absorption, an aerating organ,
a good resevoir, or
means of support”

veronica glauca, order Compositae,
“these tall perennials with
corymbose cymes of bright-purple heads of
tubular flowers
with conspicuous stigmas”

O do not know the Ironweed’s root,
but I know it rules September

and where the flowers tower
in the wind there is a burr of
sound empyrean . . . the mind
glows and the wind drifts . . .

epiphanies pull up
from roots

epiphytic, making it up

out of the air.



19th-century printing press

Typographia: An Historical Sketch of the Origin and Progress of the Art of Printing was published in 1825, “Printed for Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy.” The author was Thomas Curson Hansard. The book is now available as a Google scan. Its musty pages contain some information that has been largely forgotten. Here’s a passage offering some insight into the life and character of the typographer William Caslon.

character of william caslon

As you can see, like many nineteenth-century books, this one, despite its topic, is not a good example of the typographic arts.

Is it too technologically difficult or time-consuming for the texts of these public domain books to be rendered by Google as texts rather than graphics? In this respect Project Gutenberg is far superior.


dirt for filling in a swimming pool

Rightreading is a little worn out. This is about 10 of the 120 cubic yards of dirt that he is using to fill in his swimming pool.

I think I’ll be back blogging tomorrow.

Always check your work

Photoshop is a handy tool, but don’t give yourself a pat on the back without first looking over what you’ve done.

mystery hand


via gigglesugar (whatever that is)


Corpse reborn

The following is a message sent by Exquisite Corpse to its subscribers.

Dear readers:

Did you miss us? We missed you. It’s only been a brief eon but the idiots have taken over the world, and the internet is seducing us all into trading in our brains for beads. Welcome back to the Post-Katrina Resurrection Corpse, back from a dank hiatus of one year in a formaledehyde-poisoned FEMA trailer. We festered, we raged, we contemplated suicide, and in the end, voted for life because we are a Corpse already and we hate to keep on dying, just like the ideals of the Republic. Our guest-editor for this issue is the formidable poet, publisher, New Orleanian, and homme-du-monde -et-de-lettres, Bill Lavender. Bill has ploughed through the accumulated debris in our trailer, turning over towers of submissions and lovingly removing mold and giving new lustre to tarnished but potent weapons of poesy, crit, and story-time. We will continue to exalt, irritate, surprise, be loving, merciless, and obscene, just like you. Our Bulgarian genius, Plamen Arnaudov, has updated our technology so that the Corpse may flow continually, with updates posted as quickly as the zeitgeist requires. We also welcome Vincent Cellucci, poet and chef to Our Gang, so that we might eat well while we tryst and plunder. Reader, please come back, visit, and, most importantly, re- register to join our raiding parties, and ride with the Resurrected Corpse. You don’t need to bring your own horse to the raiding parties because we are planning (secretly) to offer ship cruises to our subscribers. (It costs nothing to subscribe). And let your list know that the Corpse is back:

Happy Birthday, Henry Watson Fowler

henry watson fowlerMost posts at Right Reading are published at 5:00 am Pacific Time. But this one will run at 11:59 the night before. I wouldn’t want to be a day late in wishing the punctilious Henry Fowler a happy 150th.

Fowler is, of course, the author of Modern English Usage, which is still among the best editor’s reads. These days, the linguists will tell you that to be prescriptive is small-minded, and the enlightened and sophisticated attitude is to just be descriptive. After all, language is always evolving, and prescription tries to stop it in its tracks, which is unnatural. It’s like building a wall of sand to hold back the tide.

Prescription also has the taint of Latinate grammar going against it. Latin-based grammar was an attempt to rationalize language — which has a rationality, certainly, but a deep, fuzzy, fractile logic, full of exceptions and anomalies, and not the tidy package tied with a bow of the grammarians.

But of the rationalists, Fowler was flat-out the best. Once you have learned his distinction between which and that, you just can’t help but wince at “wrong” whiches, which seem at once ignorant and pretentious. Fowler’s distinction was not really one that existed in the English of his time, or not in any systematic way that was observed by very many writers. But it was so persuasive that generations of copy editors have enforced it on the language, and critical interpretations of legal texts may sometimes hang on it.

In a nutshell, Fowler said that the word that introduced restrictive clauses, and the word which signaled nonrestrictive ones (usually which clauses take a comma and that clauses do not):

  • “blogs that are a waste of time” — refers to a subset of all blogs, those that are a waste of time as opposed to those that are not
  • “blogs, which are a waste of time” — contends that all blogs are a waste of time

Why shouldn’t English be able to make that distinction?

Happy century and a half, Mr Fowler!


image from “Simon Winchester on Henry Fowler


Stephen Page on book publishing today

Stephen Page, publisher and chief executive of Faber and Faber, writes in an article in the Guardian that “the industry is closer now to a tipping point that would see a dramatic reduction in range, a shortening of writers’ careers, and a reading culture that errs towards mass forms of entertainment alone.” He is talking about what I have called the Hollywoodization of book publishing — the tendency to devote more and more resources to a small number of top-tier (from a sales perspective) books.

And he is beginning to see opportunities in new media to address this problem — “hope,” he says “lies in the new technology-spawned networks and print technologies that give oxygen to diversity, resulting in demand that allows online and range-holding booksellers to thrive.”

It’s nice to see the battleship of big book publishing sloooowly turning to align with the direction everyone else has been headed for some time. If only it were clearly exactly what Mr. Page is calling for. It sounds a bit like setting the publicity department loose on the internet rather than embracing new media in their essence. (Looming large on Mr. Page’s map of the future is the e-book. I will continue to regard this as a minor technological curiosity until someone shows that it’s really worth paying attention to.)

While Mr. Page’s comments are rather vague, they have nonetheless provoked a lively discussion in the comments section, which is worth checking out.

Photo Friday

La caverne aux livres, from Gadl’s photostream.

caverne aux livres, a bookstore in in Auvers-sur-Oise

Friday Roundup

Fresh links
what’s virtually new

Why are book editors so gullible?

love and consequencesFake memoirs are in the news again, with the usual hand wringing. No need to go into the details, which have been thoroughly reported. Instead, let’s think about what might make book editors so gullible.

Book editors are a peculiar mixture of optimism and cynicism. They begin as idealistic literature enthusiasts — they probably start with a ridiculously low-paying job, just because it’s “in publishing” — but those who survive are all too likely to get fried by the strains of book publishing (an extremely difficult business) and turn into cynics who will publish any crap if they think they can push it off the shelves.

But inside these crusty exteriors an optimist still lives. Each time a manuscript arrives on their desk they are hoping that it will be the book — the one that will sell like crazy, maybe be a critical success. The editor’s career, in fact, depends on that manuscript showing up.

So when editors find a promising memoir, they want it to be true. They are predisposed to believe. That’s the optimist in them. Meanwhile, the cynic in them says, Even if it isn’t true, who will know or care?

This might sound extreme, but I think it is fair to say that on some level many editors today despise their readers — they know they are putting out garbage, so if people are buying it, it must mean they have no discrimination. So the editor has come over time to believe that readers aren’t smart enough to question the authenticity of the book to be published. After all, they’ve swallowed plenty before now.

What can be done? If publishers care to change — and they will, if their bottom lines start to suffer — they need to take the process of vetting manuscripts out of the control of editors. A book editor is never going to be like a newspaper reporter who at least understands the concept of challenging sources (that’s another story).

The only safe way to handle this is for an independent person, a fact checker who is not reporting to the editor, to vet manuscripts whose authenticity can be questioned. Unless an approach like this is adopted the fake memoirs will continue to flare up periodically, as natural a phenomenon as sun spots.

The university as a center for humanities in a post-2.0 web world

RightReading would not ordinarily post an institution’s capital campaign video, but the presentation below by Richard E. Miller, Chair of the English department at Rutgers University raises some interesting issues (after the first minute and a half of departmental promotion, which can safely be skipped). The video was produced by Miller with videography provided by Paul Hammond, Rutger’s Director of Digital Initiatives, to support a Center for the New Humanities at Rutgers.

What are these new humanities? Miller says that the humanities “somewhat lost its way” — its real function is “to improve the quality of the world we live in.” He also advocates a collaborative approach to creativity, in which language and image work are brought together. Specifically, he states that “To compose and compose successfully in the twenty-first century, you have to not only excel at verbal expression and written expression but you also have to excel in the use and manipulation of images.”

One of the things that this blog has attempted to do is — as it says on this page’s footer — “to integrate the editorial and design functions, which too seldom communicate effectively.” In practice, this means the blog tends to attract some people who are interested in writing and others who are interested in design — maybe focusing more exclusively on one thing or the other would be a better approach to attracting an audience.

But that’s not what I’m trying to do. I think that some readers do share my cross-over interests, while others are open to interests outside their specialties. Miller’s approach (despite the quote cited above) seems oriented to training language specialists to work together with visual specialists; I would rather see people become creatively ambidextrous and develop capabilities in both areas.

However that might be, I believe that Miller is right that twenty-first century communication increasingly integrates language work and visual work, and I will keep plugging on way on both fronts. While I think there is still value in the fundamentals of classical education, I applaud Rutgers’ effort to keep abreast of changes in the way communication is happening, during what Miller calls “the time of the most significant change in human expression in human history.”

via Mr. Verb



wordsmith ambigram

WORDSMITHING: The process of going through a document and making sure the best possible word is used in all circumstances. —

If there is one word I would like to ban permanently it’s wordsmithing. In my day job there is someone who likes to say “Give it to Tom for wordsmithing.” The implication, to my ear, is that editing is merely cosmetic. In fact, as we know, style is content and content is style, and a good editor’s work is substantive and not just superficial.

An analogy would be accusing a politician of not being substantive because he gives a good speech. But surely no one would ever make that charge, right?


The screenshot above is from John Langdon’s Wordplay. Wordsmith is one of the ambigrams shown on the site. An ambigram is a graphic that spells a word in more than one direction. Wordmithing in this Lewis Carrollian sense is an acceptable usage.




I’ve got to break these chains

I like this 1966 video by artist Bruce Conner — featuring the beautiful Toni Basil performing Breakaway (hard to believe she is the same person who did Hey Mickey) — which I originally saw at a retrospective of his work at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. What a surprise and delight to discover this on YouTube.

Some rights reserved 2021 Right Reading. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (attribution, noncommercial, no derivs: 3.0) License (US), although some of the work this blog incorporates may be separately licensed. Text and images by Thomas Christensen unless otherwise noted. For print permissions or other inquiries please request via