concept to publication

Month: August 2009 Page 1 of 2

Pop quiz: 10 word sources

Have you ever noticed that the longer you look at any word the stranger it begins to seem? The other day a squirrel ran in front of my car, and I thought “Squirrel is an odd English word — I wonder if it comes from the French.” That guess (a guess, because I couldn’t remember the French écureuil) turned out to be right (ultimately the word has a Greek origin, skiouros), but that was just luck. I wondered how people would do at identifying the origins of some of the odder words in English, and so I created this quiz. Select the best answer for the origin of each of the 10 words.

Friday roundup

“Honour commercio’s energy yet aid the linkless proud, the plurable with everybody.” — Finnegans Wake

Have the past twenty years been an aberration in the history of book publishing?

jost amman, the printerThat seems to be the argument that Douglas Rushkoff is making in the August 24 Publishers Weekly. I have described previously the corporate consolidation that has caused the largest book publishers in this country to be subsidiaries of foreign-based conglomerates. For about as long as I have worked in publishing that has been a pretty steady trend, and not a beneficial one to either writers or readers.

But Rushkoff believes that era is drawing to a close. He writes:

The book business, however, was never a good fit for today’s corporate behemoths. The corporations that went on spending sprees in the 1980s and ’90s were not truly interested in the art of publishing. These conglomerates, from Time Warner to Vivendi, are really just holding companies. They service their shareholders by servicing debt more rapidly than they accrue it. Their businesses are really just the stories they use to garner more investment capital. In order to continue leveraging debt, they need to demonstrate growth. The problem is that media, especially books, can’t offer enough organic growth—people can only read so many books from so many authors.

So begins consolidation. In order to achieve the growth shareholders demand but the businesses can’t supply, corporations embark upon mergers and acquisitions, even though, in the long run, nearly 80% of all mergers and acquisitions fail to create value for either party. The music industry is a prime example. In the 1990s, when Sony could no longer demonstrate growth commensurate with its share price, it bought Columbia Music. At the time, newly invented CDs were selling briskly and at margins higher than vinyl records. This was because baby boomers were replacing their record collections. Once that surge ended, artificial growth turned out to be negative growth. The centralization of recording companies and labels under a few corporate giants, meanwhile, favored the rise of large distributors and retailers and the decline of local, specialized shops. Blame Napster if you must, but the truth is that the retail music industry no longer had anything to offer that the Web couldn’t.

The same thinking led the conglomerates to hone in on publishing. Top-heavy, centralized bureaucracies know how to work with a B&N better than with a Cody’s or a Spring Street Books. And they applied their generic corporate management to a ragtag crew of book nerds, most of whom wouldn’t—and shouldn’t—know a balance sheet if their lives depended on it. Finally, unable to grow as fast as their debt structures demanded, these corporations have resorted to slashing expenses.

Read more of Rushkoff’s argument here.

Pop Quiz: Identify the Commonality

What do these words have in common?

awkward birth both cake dirt gap get give ill mire muggy ransack root rotten rugged same scant scathe scowl seem skill skin skirt sky sprint steak their them they wand wrong

Answer after the jump . . .

What screen resolution is your web canvas?

Seattle-based design/branding firm Methodologie (not sure why they use the French term) have created a useful guide to web canvas size. As you may be able to see from the above detail, they estimate that everyone on the web can see a 760 x 640 px screen without scrolling, that 92 percent can do the same for a screen 960 x 600 px, and 50 percent can read a 1210 x 640 px page without scrolling, while only 11 percent can do the same for a 1370 x 730 px screen.

Pow! Comic Sans! Meets! Its! Match!

Yes, if Comic Sans (I know, I know, it’s not really a comic book font) has lost its appeal, you now have a wealth of alternatives from which to choose. If your idea of cool looks something like the sample above — who am I to judge? — you can find many many more at

Friday roundup

“Think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.” — Charles Dickens

Mailbag: Press release promoting a resource for writers

Right Reading passes along the following e-mail unedited (except for removing the publicist’s e-mail address). This is a typical form for a book press release. The brief personalized cover note shows the publicist is doing her job diligently. The writing advice is pretty standard for conventional mainstream fiction, and writers should be aware of these conventions before choosing to break them.

Hanuman Maximon

I have been toying with the idea of starting a little imprint to publish mainly world literature and other titles with international scope. It would be called Hanuman Maximon. (Hanuman is the monkey hero of the Ramayana; Maximon is the cigar-smoking rebel saint of the highland Maya.)

This is a logo for the imprint. I haven’t really decided on the color scheme yet. Any reactions? (Hmmm, maybe the graphics part should be a little smaller.)

Book design battle

Over at Eye blog they’ve pitted Robert Klanten and Matthias Hübner’s Fully Booked against Jan Tschichold’s The Form of the Book in a book design battle.

Find out who wins.

Temporarily like Achilles

I’ve been reading about Bob Dylan’s recent scrape with the law in Long Branch, New Jersey, where being a complete unknown appears to be illegal. Trying to reconstruct the sequence of events, I figure it happened something like this.

Friday roundup | Duly quoted

“Think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.” — Charles Dickens

Duly quoted

  • “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.” — George Orwell

100 Best Curator and Museum Blogs; Or, Link-building Made Easy

The blog of the museum for which I do publications recently appeared on a list of “100 best curator and museum blogs.” The list was attributed to someone named Emily Thomas at That was nice, but there was no explanation who Emily Thomas is or how the list was arrived at, and a visit to the onlineuniversities site raised as many questions as it answered.

Some days later the museum received an e-mail from Emily Thomas suggesting that she guest blog for us and pointing to the list to establish her bona fides.

Mailbag: What should my royalty rate be?

Rightreading hereby initiates a new feature (no doubt destined to be as fitful as all our others) in which we answer e-mails from readers.

A reader writes

I know very little about book contracts.

Can you please elaborate on this subject?

Specifically, what percentage of each book sold should I receive as the author?


Dear reader

The most general answer is “whatever the market will bear.” If you are writing great poetry that will someday be taught in university classes, the answer is no one is likely to pay you any royalty at all. On the other hand, if you are a famous and controversial public figure — Sarah Palin say — you can pretty near name your price.

But the general answer isn’t much help to the vast majority of writers who fall somewhere between those extremes.

Try Google’s new search engine

Apparently Google has secretly been working on “the next generation of Google Search … an entire new infrastructure for the world’s largest search engine.” And you can be among the first to try it out, here:

It’s clearly faster. Are the results better? It seems they are different at least. My first impression is that they’re a little more commercially oriented — more Bing-like so to speak.

You can check out a discussion at webmaster world.


Image (detail) from Gibsonclaire’s photostream


Norwegian Hell Children

Do they sound tasty? Google Translate thinks so (if they’re marinated). Via Google Blogoscoped:


Cà d’Zan Mansion, Sarasota, Florida

Just a photo today. This view of the patio of the Ringling mansion in Sarasota — the building is rather ostentatiously called the Cà d’Zan — was taken looking out through its tinted windows.

This is from a couple of years ago. I happened across it when I was cleaning up an old photo card I haven’t used in, well, a couple of years.


A couple more photos here. Maybe more coming to the same set, if time allows.


Weekend update: personalized search

Graywolf — the search guy not the book publishing company — shows how to turn off personalized search by default in Google Chrome.

You can also get plugins for various browsers from Yoast.

Personalized search means that your search engine results will be skewed according to your browsing history.

Friday roundup

“Honour commercio’s energy yet aid the linkless proud, the plurable with everybody.” — Finnegans Wake

Why are you here?

I’m curious what topics readers of this blog are most interested in. If you’ve visited before you probably realize that this blog deals with all sorts of book issues, and some other things as well.

Order of answers is randomized. Select as many answers as you like.

[polldaddy poll=1850262]


Image from hugovk’s photostream


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