Okay, everybody — just calm the hell down, already. I saw — I don’t even know how many links, yesterday, about the announcement that Oxford University’s style manual was no longer advocating the use of the serial comma, or the “Oxford comma.” That they were, in fact, recommending you not use it. This naturally lead to rioting in the streets, looting, and arson, and is generally being considered one of the Seven Seals of the Apocalypse.
I, too, fell to my knees and wept at this latest assault on our language, but –
Wait, what? You don’t know what a serial comma is? What, seriously? You don’t — I just — why are you even reading my blog? A serial comma is that last comma in a series of items, so you don’t end up with sentences like this description of Peter Ustinov: “Highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.”
I have never once heard a compelling argument as to why we shouldn’t use a serial comma. Sure, the AP Stylebook advises against it, but they’re not talking about English, they’re talking about journalism. Two entirely different languages.
Anyway, it turns out that the announcement is meaningless. That style guide I linked to above? That’s a “branding style guide” used by the University of Oxford Public Affairs Directorate, “a commercially and editorially autonomous organization.” Oxford University Press itself still suggests its use. So all is still right with the world. Thank God that’s over with.
A lot of pundits are predicting that the rise of the e-book means the extinction of the paper book. I’m not sure I really buy that. I think paper books will still be around . . . sure, the majority of books will be in digital form, but I think paper books will continue to exist as a specialized collector’s commodity. So while I don’t necessarily agree with the premise, I gotta admit that The Technium lays it out in one hell of an evocative paragraph:
We are in a special moment that will not last beyond the end of this century: Paper books are plentiful. They are cheap and everywhere, from airports to drug stores to libraries to bookstores to the shelves of millions of homes. There has never been a better time to be a lover of paper books. But very rapidly the production of paper books will essentially cease, and the collections in homes will dwindle, and even local libraries will not be supported to house books — particularly popular titles. Rare books will collect in a few rare book libraries, and for the most part common paper books archives will become uncommon. It seems hard to believe now, but within a few generations, seeing a actual paper book will be as rare for most people as seeing an actual lion.
So, okay, sure, I may not think paper books are going to disappear completely, but they are disappearing, all right. So what should we be doing with specimens of this endangered species?
Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive [...] noticed that Google and Amazon and other countries scanning books would cut non-rare books open to scan them, or toss them out after scanning. He felt this destruction was dangerous for the culture. [...]
Brewster decided that he should keep a copy of every book they scan so that somewhere in the world there was at least one physical copy to represent the millions of digital copies. That safeguarded random book would become the type specimen of that work. If anyone ever wondered if the digital book’s text had become corrupted or altered, they could refer back to the physical type that was archived somewhere safe. [....]
The link is totally worth checking out, just for the details of how they’re making this physical archive. The scale of it all is kinda jaw-dropping.
A prudent society keeps at least one specimen of all it makes, forever. It still amazes me that after 20 years the only publicly available back up of the internet is the privately funded Internet Archive. The only broad archive of television and radio broadcasts is the same organization. They are now backing up the backups of books. Someday we’l realize the precocious wisdom of it all and Brewster Kahle will be seen as a hero.
– The Technium: When Hard Books Disappear
“Someday?” Hell, I think he’s a hero now.
I love magazines. I always have, really. Part of what draws me to them is that I find something weirdly romantic about the Sisyphean effort of producing a magazine — there’s so much work that goes into the writing, editing, layout, graphic design . . . all for a publication that’s meant to be ephemeral, that will be rendered obsolete by next month’s issue.
But I kind of wish that magazines as a whole weren’t proving to be so ephemeral. Seems to me like magazines, especially fiction magazines, have been doing a long slow fade from the cultural landscape for quite a while. (Although Kristine Kathryn Rusch says that trend seems to have reversed, I can’t really tell whether she means there are more actual magazines in print, or whether on-line publications are taking their place.)
A poster at Threat Quality Press who used to work at Borders talks about some of the many way in which magazines are marketed in bookstores that just seem kind of, uhhh, not right:
I mean, in the first place, we threw out between 30 and 50% of all the magazines that we got in the store. They just got trashed at the end of the month. And I couldn’t draw down inventory for the life of me — I spent half a year trying to get the Borders Ministry of Inventory to stop sending us three copies of Fire Apparatus every month (Fire Apparatus is a trade magazine for people that want to buy fire trucks or fire-hoses). No one ever bought these magazines. [If] you’re shipping three copies of your magazine directly to the trash every month, that can’t be an effective business model.
But even more frustrating is the fact that, while all of the books are neatly laid out in their own sections by genre, all the magazines are shoved away in their own little ghetto, as if someone had taken the old-fashioned newsstands and just plunked them down inside bookstores and expected them to thrive. What happens if you try to break magazines out of the magazine section and put them where someone might actually look at them — ?
Now, when I was at the bookstore, we used to get four copies of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine every month, and we usually only sold one (if you sell one copy of a title, you will get four the next month). After an enormous amount of effort, I managed to convince one of the many sub-managers to whom I reported to let me move F&SF magazine from it’s usual place in a corner of the magazine section (next to the Paris Review and a magazine about quilting) to a special display that I made near the actual science fiction books.
Lo and behold, we sold all of F&SF that month. Naturally, we were sent six the next month, but I was told I had to move the magazines back, for reasons never made wholly clear to me. Managers know that magazines belong in the magazine section, but they all have different and unsatisfying reasons for why this should be the case.
– Some Things About Magazines « Threat Quality Press
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My friend Ron Miles, who runs the fan site about the author of the Deathlands series, got in touch with me yesterday to see if I had any time to put together a quick logo for him. Normally, I have to turn down requests like that, since I’m just generally so busy, but he caught me right when I had an hour to kill, and this is what he was asking for:
I am calling the blog PostApocalyptica, and it will be dedicated primarily to discussing post-apocalyptic fiction in film, television, and print as well as occasional bits on Gold Eagle and write-for-hire publishing in general. I just did a complete site redesign last week, you can check it out at http://www.JamesAxler.com. It’s your basic black background with red accents. I am just looking for a logo to put at the top of the page, hopefully something that screams “every bad knockoff of The Road Warrior that was ever filmed in the desert on a non-existent budget”.
Seriously, how could I turn down a design brief like that? While I may make every effort to keep this site as minimalist and classy as possible, I do have a deep and abiding love for big, garish, lurid schlock horror and sci-fi designs, so the excuse to try to make something that was deliberately kinda cheesy and in-your-face was just too irresistible. Check out my logo — oh, and Ron’s new blog, while you’re at it — at PostApocalyptica.
I’ve been seeing this news everywhere for the past few days, so I’m hardly breaking the story, but in case you haven’t seen it — J.K. Rowling is launching a new “interactive reading experience” (whatever the hell that means) at a website called Pottermore. The part that’s interesting to me is that she’s going to be releasing the Harry Potter books as e-books through this website — making her, effectively, a self-publisher, with a few twists:
Rowling will also be paying a percentage of ebook sales to her publisher – so pure self-publishing this is not, but this will be for “marketing and promotion support.” In other words, the publisher becomes the contract worker for the author, rather than the other way around. She will own the rights to her own work, control the percentage she pays to Scholastic, as well as control the types of distribution. All these are the basic principles behind self-publishing: the author assuming control. Once a writer becomes a brand, there is less need for a publisher – but these branded authors are the ones that traditional publishers need most to stay afloat. When both new and established writers start self-publishing, there’s not much left for publishers to turn a profit.
In all, this just upended the publishing industry [....]
via Self-Publishing Review | Blog | J.K. Rowling, Self-Publisher.
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent.”
— Jim Jarmusch
Another day, another new feature at Amazon, another way writers are trying to poke and prod at the system to get it to do what they want, like pinball players whacking the sides of their machines with the flat of their hands. Jim C. Hines writes:
I’ve started getting messages about the new “Like” button at Amazon. I’m paraphrasing here:
Please, please, please go to Amazon and like my books and I’ll like all of yours and we’ll get bigger like numbers and that will (somehow) sell books and soon we’ll rule the universe! [....]
I don’t know why it bugs me, because most of the time, this scrounging for clicks and tags and likes and whatever makes very little difference. I think part of it is a principle thing: I hate seeing authors going down what feels like a rather slimy path. Partly it just feels sad.
Whether you agree with his gut reaction to these kind of practices or not, he makes a really excellent point toward the end of the post:
Whatever I might think of Amazon’s practices, they’re smarter than just about anyone at selling and marketing books. Thinking you’re going to beat their system and make it work to you is about as likely as heading to Vegas with a system to beat the house. Good luck with that.
– Jim C. Hines » Gaming the System
Mark Charan Newton, self-described “process whore,” shares with us his list of things he considers when he sits down to work on a new novel. Here are a few points I especially liked:
1. Have we been here before? I look at the bones of the novel and think – am I repeating myself? No. Is this a blatant rip-off of something else? No. We’re cool. Is this vaguely familiar to something else? Yes. Damn. Then what can I do to make things a little different at least? How can I put my spin on a particular trope? Crave something new, kids. Crave your own spin. Make your own mark on the world. Not radically that people think you should be locked away, but enough to make people stand up and take notice. It’s a fine line – I can’t help you with that bit. [....]
5. Are you about to move the story on? Are the words that you’re about to magically imagine onto the screen going to serve as developing the character or plot? All of them? Okay then. (Note: an editor will always slap more of this particular instinct into you.)
6. If your heart is not in it right now, walk away. Come back later. Do not sit down and write when you’re just feeling a little too tired or jaded. The words you put down will probably get taken out later, so why not just save yourself the time and kick back with a whisky instead. Get enthusiastic. If you’re not enjoying it, then why the hell should your readers? [....]
9. Who are you writing for? I fell into this trap with my first novel. Started wondering what kind of readers I should aim my novel at, what things to keep in mind, and the end result was a bit – if I’m honest, if I’m truly honest – hodgepodgey. Pick and end goal. Choose a vision. Stick to it until you’re done. Don’t start worrying about what traditional/contemporary readers might want to read.
– Personal Writing Checklist
I think I’ve run across this anecdote before, but it still made me laugh:
The author Shirley Jackson had just published her story The Lottery in the New Yorker, and caused a storm of controversy (which she describes in her essay ‘Biography of a Short Story’). In amid the ton of hate mail, and the hundreds of letters asking where in the US this tradition happened (no, really) was a rare letter of praise.
Jackson knew she recognised the name, but she had no idea where from. After trying to remember without success for a few days, she wrote a “complimentary but non-committal” [...] reply and posted it. A few days later she was talking to some friends from California (where the letter from the mystery correspondent had come from) and mentioned the name. Really they said, you had a letter from him? His name had been all over the press for weeks; he had been been acquitted on a technicality of murdering his family with an axe. With a horrible sense of realisation, Jackson went and looked at the carbon of the letter she had written; the last line was:
“Thank you very much for your kind letter about my story. I admire your work, too.”
– Why Indie Authors Encourage Axe Murderers
Oh, I forgot to mention — I did end up giving the site a minor facelift Friday evening. If this is your first time visiting the site — or if you’ve been here lots of times, but you have the short-term memory of a goldfish — the site used to look like this:
…. Except, you know. Bigger.
The site isn’t hugely different now, except:
- I removed the podcast section, since I don’t seem to be getting around to doing another podcast any time soon. I’m not even sure at this point if I still want to; I’m going to have to give that some thought.
- I got rid of the old header completely, and the new one now has my name instead of the name of the site. I’m thinking that, really, it’s my name I want you to remember when you leave here.
- I got rid of the red-and-cream color scheme. The red is a motif I’ve used since the earliest versions of this site, because of the name. The cream I added because a lot of book sites and literary sites seemed to use a similar color scheme, and I liked that similarity, but …. I dunno, the whole thing together just wasn’t working for me.
Just a few tweaks, really, but I think I’m a lot happier with it now. It looks cool and distant and creepy and elegant. I hope you like it, too. Let me know what you think.
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