concept to publication

Month: June 2008 Page 1 of 2

The linguist as Sybil

sybil: translator?

Sybil was the pseudonym of a woman whose story was told in a popular book and movie of the 1970s. She supposedly had sixteen distinct personalities. Now, studies suggest that bilingual speakers may exhibit different personalities for each of their languages.

That’s simplifying more than a bit. At Language Log Mark Liberman, in a careful, detailed, and rather technical post, examines this proposition at length. The main thrust of his argument is that any such differences are difficult to measure because of many cultural variables and in the end are probably slight.

However, this conclusion flies somewhat in the face of the felt experience of bilingual speakers. Anyway, I feel that, for whatever reason, I emphasize slightly difference aspects of personality in different languages.

I’m reminded of Borges, who claimed not to realize as a young child that English and Spanish were different languages, and just thought that his father spoke one way and his mother another. In his case then, isn’t it likely that a language associated with the father would result in a different set of attitudes and behaviors from one spoken with the mother?

A Cortazar story also comes to mind, in which Julio proposes that to imitate someone’s handwriting perfectly is to become that person, and he tells of a person who perfects Napoleon’s signature and consequently reexperiences Waterloo, Elba, and the rest. By extension, if we learned Farsi really well, wouldn’t we assimilate centuries of experience of living at the hub of the Silk Road?

Language is a complicated subject (in part because we know it only through itself), and throwing in the problematic factor of personality just compounds things. Could there be a whole new field of linguistic therapy waiting to be plumbed here? A shy person might be encouraged to learn an expressive language like Italian, a person with a tin ear might take up a musical language like Portuguese, and someone wanting to develop visual skills might learn to read and write Chinese.

Doesn’t latinate English seem to manifest a different personality than Saxon English? Could we affect personality through vocabulary exercises?

What about it, bilingual people? Do you feel different in your different linguistic personae? Do you use one language for pillow talk and another when you’re angry? On veut savoir.


Friday Roundup

“If Folly link with Elegance no man knows which is which …” — William Butler Yeats


Publishing payola

trojan horse

Want to bribe the New York Times Book Review into reviewing your book? If so, you’ll have to come up with something better than these examples of book review swag.


Mid 20th century printing

Here’s a great video about how “men and girls” made books sixty or seventy years ago. About ten minutes in length. Highly recommended.

Printing a Book, Old School from Armin Vit on Vimeo.


Via SpeakUp


2002 honest fonts

honest fonts

Why pay for fonts when you can get them free, right?

This site features fonts that really stand out in a crowd. Honest!

But sometimes honesty can be harsh.


The key to being a writer

key to being a writer

Zachart Kanin in the New Yorker


Friday Roundup | Duly Quoted


Duly quoted

  • “Harry Potter had more problems dealing with Voldemort than what we have dealing with the media and the Celtics.” — Kobe Bryant




Mr. Wright Reading has a lot on his plate. He’d better get a grip soon.

Photo from FlickrJunkie’s photostream.


For the editor in your life

Now they can take a little piece of their work home with them in the form of this lovely comma pendant.

comma pendant

(Just don’t correct that “they” to “he or she.”)

(And no, I don’t want the post recast in the plural.)


via Swiss Miss


Will Amazon take the place of traditional publishers?

stack of amazon book orders

That’s what Sramana Mitra, writing at Forbes magazine (last month), thinks. Mitra believes that publishers must be treating their authors very badly, because most authors make little money on most books.

Well, guess what: hardly anyone makes money from book publishing — except for UPS. (So, yeah, the industry needs to be reworked. But is Amazon really a panacea?)

Anyway, Mitra figures that if we just take out all those unnecessary bits that keep draining money from authors’ pockets — you know, like agents, editors, designers, marketers, publicists, printers, sales reps, and hand sellers — why, that would just leave a ton more money for the writers!

Mitra, by the way, is “a technology entrepreneur and strategy consultant in Silicon Valley. She has founded three companies and writes a business blog, Sramana Mitra on Strategy. She has a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” So what exactly does she predict?

Let’s say, in the new world, Amazon becomes the retailer, marketer, publisher and agent combined and takes 65% of the revenues, offering 35% to the author–we end up with a much better, fairer world.

Vertical integration is where Amazon is headed. Jeff Bezos is a shrewd business man. I would be very surprised if he hasn’t figured out the inefficiencies of the book publishing business and Amazon’s opportunity.

The company recently announced it would require all print-on-demand publishers to use its BookSurge print-on-demand service for their books sold on Amazon.

Over the next few years, Amazon likely will use its power to build direct relationships with authors and gradually phase out publishers and agents. It will first go after the independent print-on-demand self-publishers and get the best authors from that world. Amazon will then take on the large publishers.

For decades, the publishing industry has taken advantage of authors. Amazon: authors are counting on you to turn the table!

So all you up-and-coming authors with your first novels, get ready to pitch that manuscript directly to Amazon! Oh, and don’t forget to get yourself a really cute author photo.


And it won’t hurt (much) to do some homework: check out books for writers here and here.


Image via Matt Cutts: Gadgets, Google, and SEO.


Merry Bloomsday

ford, joyce, pound


How have new technologies affected book design and typography?

Caduceus asks that question at MetaFilter, and IndiaInk has started a thread in reply.

There have, of course, been many effects. some good, others not so good. Caduceus is probably asking for practical advice on using new technologies and media, but the question could also be answered in a broader sense. Following are a few consequences of new technologies that come immediately to mind.

  1. Maybe the most significant result of new design and printing technologies is just that publishing has become more affordable. I think it was Ben Franklin who said “Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.” Through the centuries printing and publishing required a significant investment that kept the industry in the control of an exclusive group of specialists. That has changed and now anyone can easily and cheaply publish a book (although promoting, marketing, and selling it remain difficult).
    Print on demand and short run printing have also made it possible to keep books in print that formerly could not have been reprinted because of the expense of a conventional reprint, which penalizes short runs with very high unit costs. These technologies make self-publishing (or at least self-printing) economically viable.
  2. Word processing has changed the way texts are written and edited. Authors used to resort to elaborate strategies to make revisions. Evan Connell, for example, used to retype passages and then attach the new sheets with windows cut out of the pages where he wanted the original text to remain. Today revising and moving words, passages, and even chapters is so simple that the text is rarely a continuous stream, like that championed by Kerouac, for example, and instead is more like a snowflake, with elaborations being worked on all sides around the core idea.
  3. Regarding typography, rather than working with a limited set of font sizes (in the hot type era, one often had to make do with a very restrictive font set), designers now have a nearly seamless continuum of sizes and widths to work with. It also used to be difficult to set type in anything but a rectangularly block — now limitless effects can be achieved quickly and easily. This gives designers and layout people extraordinary freedom to create spectacular results — or to screw up spectacularly.
  4. New type formats have enormously multiplied the number of typefaces available, at a low cost compared to previous technologies. There was a time when typesetters might spend years working with only one or two typefaces — whose qualities they would come to know intimately — but today people flit from one face to another, in the same work, or page, or even sentence. While the principles of good typography remain largely unchanged, type families and traditions have have become kaleidoscopically confounded.
    Typography was formerly a craft that was highly constrained by tradition — probably master-apprentice lineages of typesetters could be worked out, much as Melissa Rinne has traced lineages of bamboo artists — whereas today relatively few people working with type are educated in the craft’s traditions.
  5. The integrity of the image has been sacrificed for ease of production and the graphic artist’s command of effects. Digital photography and low-cost digital scanning have reduced the cost of photographing and printing in color, and images and texts are more integrated than they used to be and can be moved and modified together. Image manipulation is easy and can produce effects that were previously almost unimaginable. Photographs are no longer authoritative. Images are tweaked and modified at nearly every stage of production and in nearly every instance of use, making image authorship itself problemmatic.

In sum, more flexible and affordable printing and publishing options are available than in the past, with a lower bar to entry. On balance this is good, but it means that a large percentage of work is amateur in nature. Writers rush to print before their work has matured or their texts have been sufficiently edited. Books are produced that are so painful to look at they are effectively unreadable, never mind the text.

Amateurs can, of course, produce first-rate work, but the very ease with which a book can be produced makes it unlikely that many people will educate themselves on the qualities that distinguish well-made books. Probably more excellent works are being created than ever before, but as readers we are drowning in a sea of pabulum, and finding those instances of excellence becomes challenging.


Friday Roundup

“If Folly link with Elegance no man knows which is which ….” – William Butler Yeats


Editorial cartoon of the week

nate beeler: chained to the constitution

By Nate Beeler

Found type: San Francisco Galvanizing

san francisco galvanizing

I like this Deco-ish typeface on a building at Harrison near 8th in San Francisco. Check out the low cross-bars, the tiny spur on the G, the bulbous loop on the R, the very open C, and most of all the straight central section of the S. It all works.

While we’re in the neighborhood, a few blocks up 8th Street you can see these tiles facing a parking lot on the side of a building.

ulysses writ on tiles

I wonder if whoever did this ever noticed the typo in the title of the poem (or the one in its final word).


OED goes electronic

According to the NYT Magazine (via Classical Bookworm), the next edition of the OED, planned for completion after 2018, will likely only be published electronically and not in print form. It makes sense in a way, because reference books are ideally suited for electronic publication, largely because of the convenience of hyperlinks. The print OED is 20 volumes, so to track down cross-references is a daunting task. And I’m sure on-line publication is more sound financially for the publisher.

But there is great romance in that 20-volume presentation. Consulting the OED is meant to be a slow process: You’re supposed to pull out a hefty volume and carry to a desk; there is something unseemly about rushing through this book.

The OED is not a dictionary in the sense we commonly understand the term — you would be ill advised to consult it for contemporary spelling or usage. Yes, it an etymological and historical dictionary without equal, but it’s equally a work of literature. It encapsulates the British literary canon in its quotations demonstrating the historical evolution of terms. And it is so much more satisfying to peruse this massive literary sampler in the full print form (certainly not the appalling microscopic single-volume edition — which I own, thanks to the expense of the full set) than on a computer screen.

But before we lament this lost pleasure we should wait and see what changes the next decade brings in book publishing. Who knows where we will be in 2018? Whatever happens, it’s comforting to know that the OED, in some form, will be there.


More OED: I am currently reading Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages by Ammon Shea. I will post some thoughts on this soon.


This can’t be real

Can it?

World’s dumbest website, via Wonkette.


How does one become a book designer?

Several answers are offered in comments to a post on this topic at the Book Design Review. Many people suggest the “traditional” route of design school. The Book Designer offers some good advice (if not the tightest sentence grammatically), saying “barge into as many cafes, design conferences and publishing houses with your portfolio till you meet the right person.”

I didn’t notice anyone speaking up who had followed my route. I started on the editorial side, got into a little design for some folks I knew, meanwhile working my way up to director and editor-in-chief of a publishing company, until I reached the point were I could assign myself design jobs when I wanted to. Now I design museum art books (or assign them to free-lancers if I prefer). Why isn’t crossover between design and editorial more common?

I hope not to sound complacent, since I know this career stuff is hard and doesn’t necessarily work out quite the way one might like, but at the same time it is often the case that if you resist selling out, are persistent, and pursue what interests you, then when a break happens you will be positioned to take advantage of it. Of course, you always have to keep improving your skills. You have to pay your dues.

Anyway, it’s good to do different things, changing course from time to time. Otherwise your brain gets lazy working the ruts of habit, and you stop growing in a creative way — I say that wondering whether I might be treading some ruts myself these days. It could be time to shake things up …


Seen at BEA

A few sightings from this year’s book publishing trade convention:

  • Dan Halpern of Ecco Press among a group of people hoping to win Sex and the City tickets.
  • Dale Pendell (Walking with Nobby: Conversations with Norman O. Brown) strolling between halls at 9:29, headed for his autographing session scheduled for 9:30.
  • Numerous booksellers strangely still lining up for signed books from Jackie Collins
  • Desperate Scientology boothers practically kidnapping weary passersby whose attention was flagging
  • Project Runway’s Daniel Vosovic in a conservative suit, with sneakers
  • Leonard Nimoy’s publisher delivering only 15 books 0f his The Full Body Project (“interpretive nude photographic studies of full-bodied women”) for his signing (disappointing a long line of fans)
  • Like Water for Chocolate translators in a line for a book of sheet music called Mariachi for Gringos, then threatening to perform the songs on a ukulele.

ukulele rocky

Photo of some guy from Hawaii holding a uke
via Pieces and Bits.


Friday Roundup

“If Folly link with Elegance no man knows which is which ….” – William Butler Yeats


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