Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue

02/23/2013

A Narrow Conception of Literary Purity


Literary Purity. Does it exist?

Oh, what can you do with a title like that? Many thoughts and images may flash through your mind, but one theme triumphs, right?

I think the above title is an example of words painting a pretty accurate picture of the inner essence of what the article/post/prose is going to be about — Something to do with people’s prejudices or restrictive view/s of what true literature really consists of (that alone would fill a dictionary).

But, in what way are we going to be talking about the disintegration of ‘pure lit’ (if, indeed, there is such a thing)?

How about taking A Narrow Conception of Literary Purity and mix in the ingredients:

literature, prose, pictures and aesthetic corruption.

Visual literature.

Music of the language.

Shake well and pour straight up and you have a fine concoction that tastes something like tonight’s post.

Sam Sacks, who writes the Fiction Chronicle for the Wall Street Journal and contributes to The New Yorker, has this insight:

Bring Back the Illustrated Book!

It’s curious how much of literature we are conditioned to consider  unliterary. Few would contest the canonization of “Bleak House,” “Vanity Fair,”  “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” but these classics have something in common we may be prone to disregard: each  was published with profuse illustrations, and in each case the author relied on  the artwork not only to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the book but to add  meaningfully to the story.

Some of the art from the golden age of the illustrated novel remains a vital  companion to the text. It is nearly impossible to go down Lewis Carroll’s rabbit  hole without envisioning John Tenniel’s drawings of a  ranting, bucktoothed Mad Hatteror of Alice  eerily elongated after eating the currant cake. George Cruikshank was such a  brilliant artist that his emotive  illustrations for “Oliver Twist” retain a tenacious hold on the imagination.  But we almost never find them in contemporary novels (on the rare occasions that  they do appear it’s as ironic anachronism—in Susanna Clarke’s “Jonathan Strange  and Mister Norrell,” for instance, or Umberto Eco’s “The Prague Cemetery,” both  of which are pastiches of nineteenth-century genre fiction). Even as graphic  novels enjoy a surge of newfound critical appreciation, the common consensus  seems to be that pictures no longer belong in literary fiction. It’s reasonable  to ask, Why not? What do we know that Dickens and Twain didn’t?

It may easy to dismiss the tradition of Victorian book art because of its  origins in cartooning. Undoubtedly, many illustrators were caricaturists in the  tradition of William Hogarth, whose raucous urban tableaux used comic  distortions to point up moral lessons. But we need only look at “Vanity Fair,” written and illustrated by William Thackeray, to see how much playful  complexity can exist within the trappings of caricature. Thackeray had aspired  to be a cartoonist before he took up writing (he unsuccessfully applied to  illustrate Dickens’s “The Pickwick Papers”), and his wonderful drawings play a  sneaky, editorializing role throughout the novel. Some are of children playing  with dolls, framing the story as a kind of metafictional puppet play. As the  anti-heroine Becky Sharp progresses in her conquest of the venal English  aristocracy, Thackeray depicts her as a man-eating mermaid, a female Napoleon,  and the  notorious husband-slayer Clytemnestra—this last portrayal was controversial  even in its time because it implicates Becky in a murder that the text leaves  ambiguous. The author is very much toying with us as he stages his  entertainment.

Dickens was dependent on artists, but when he began working with the  relatively unknown H .K. Browne (who signed his work with the moniker Phiz), he  found an illustrator willing to abide an imperious amount of supervision. Browne  has never been credited with deep artistic gifts, but under Dickens’s  overbearing instruction, his drawings began to subtly communicate the themes and  motifs of Dickens’s mature novels. Their collaboration became an essential  element of Dickens’s preparations for writing. The pair travelled together on  fact-gathering trips. Letters between them show how dictating the contents of  each panel illustration helped Dickens plan out his characters’ physical and  symbolic dimensions. In a letter to the illustrator during the composition of “Martin Chuzzlewit,” for instance, Dickens wrote, “I have a notion of finishing  the book with an apostrophe to Tom Pinch [the book’s quietly good-hearted hero],  playing the organ.” Browne’s lavish frontispiece places at its axis Tom at the  piano, and shows the novel’s other characters in miniature dancing a kind of  roundelay to Tom’s music, stressing his moral centrality.

I suspect that most fiction writers would instinctively agree that  interacting with visual representations of a book in draft can help give shape  to evanescent impressions or inspire new ideas. (In the most famous instance, F.  Scott Fitzgerald “wrote in” the image of T. J. Eckleburg’s haunting optometry  billboard after seeing Francis Cugat’s dust-jacket design for “The Great  Gatsby.”) Nevertheless, a stickier problem lies beneath the writerly distrust of  publishing fiction with illustrations. The real backlash to the universal custom  began around the turn of the century. In his 1909 foreword to a reissue of “The  Golden Bowl,” Henry James sought to explain it (brace yourself, as this is the  most Jamesian of Jamesian sentences). The danger of pictures of people and  scenes, he wrote, is that “anything that relieves responsible prose of the duty  of being, while placed before us, good enough, interesting enough and, if the  question be of picture, pictorial enough, above all in itself, does the  worst of services, and may well inspire in the lover of literature certain  lively questions as to the future of that institution.”

This is one of the earliest articulations of the existential anxiety that  still preys on novelists today. Basically, James was worried about movies. If  prose was going to lean on the crutch of pictures, however charming, it was  going to quickly find itself surpassed by far more dazzling mediums of visual  entertainment. Literature needed to apply itself to doing the things that  photography and film could not—it needed to evoke a scene’s inner workings.

In her 1926 essay, “Cinema,” Virginia Woolf reëmphasized the distinction  between visual stimulation and the ineffable conjurings of prose. When we watch  a film version of “Anna Karenina,” she wrote, “eye and brain are torn asunder  ruthlessly as they try vainly to work in couples.… For the brain knows Anna  almost entirely by the inside of her mind—her charm, her passion, her despair.  All the emphasis is laid by the cinema on her teeth, her pearls, her velvet.”

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10/05/2012

The Intra-Publishing Civil War


Print and Digital Media “Going At It”

What is the intra-publishing civil war, you ask?

It is the stress, fighting and positioning going on between the newer digital publishing aficionados and their legacy print publishing brethren. 

E-book authors still often hear “So, you don’t write real books?”  And money? The majority is still being brought in through print medium.

But, the e-books are pulling in more and more money and increasing their percentages in all areas — resulting in the newcomers brashly asserting that old publishing is dead. More importantly, digital publishing has opened the door to new very successful genres thought unprofitable before by traditional publishers.

This publishing intrigue has been in play in varying degrees for a while, lets watch some of the latest progress as reported by Aleksandr Voinov  in USA TODAY:

Publishing is dead — long live publishing

No day passes without yet another skirmish in what could be seen as a kind of intra-publishing civil war, where the newcomers brashly assert that old publishing is dead and traditional publishing refuses to die. Meanwhile, old publishing continues to account for the majority of all books sold in brick-and-mortar stores, and e-book authors still face the “So you don’t write real books?” questions when they go to conventions and interact with friends and family, most of whom were exposed to e-books only when they received an e-reader last Christmas.

We are in flux. I’m saying “civil war” because here, too, the lines are messy, sides change all the time, and so do positions. Thankfully, there’s less bloodshed, but the implications for the publishing industry and how we write, read, market and interact with each other are enormous. It’s not tidy, it is at times exasperating, and nobody can predict where it’s going — only that e-books are growing, authors are making a good living off e-books, the books on offer are often more colorful and sometimes weirder and “uncommercial” when compared with legacy publishing, and e-books are heralding the creation of whole new genres that legacy publishing, in its necessities of scale, had never truly been able to support.

For example, 10 years ago, I was told that gay romance was unsellable, and was strongly advised by several agents and print acquiring editors to not waste my talent in a niche without a future or financial viability.

Ten years later, I’m not only a writer of gay/bi/trans fiction, but I also part-own Riptide Publishing, a hot young start-up selling GBLTQ stories with a focus on romance. A gay historical romance, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, recently won the 2012 Orange Prize for fiction (and, predictably, faced the critical derision our genre seems doomed to). One of Riptide’s own titles, Stars & Stripes, recently made it into the Barnes & Noble sitewide Top 100. Riptide Publishing is celebrating its first anniversary this month, and already, half a dozen or more of our authors are earning a living off their royalties. So much for gay romance being “unsellable.”

Where many see dangers and change, and some large players are frankly still in denial or trying to turn back the wheel by deliberately making e-books unattractive or too expensive or too hard to find in worldwide markets, other authors and start-ups are creating facts. Being more nimble and more in tune with our readership, small e-book-first presses such as Riptide back genres and books that others find unviable. Overhead is lower, processes are less entrenched, and staff are often younger and steeped more thoroughly in the digital culture. They follow their passions, even when those passions are unlikely to appeal to a mass market. They take risks.

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05/20/2012

Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants


Measuring Emotional Response To Media Platforms

Time Inc. has performed a study (a biometric study, no less) that measured, in real time, the emotional responses and attention spans of viewers to content in various platforms: magazines, smartphones, radio, TV, computer, newspaper, tablets.

Guess which platform ranked the highest ?

But first, a little definition time:

Digital Native – Consumers who grew up with mobile and digital technology as part of their everyday lives.

Digital Immigrant – Consumers who encountered and used digital media later in their adult lives.

Biometrics – The process by which a person’s unique physical or emotional traits are detected and recorded by an electronic device or system (e.g. scanning of the human iris in identification or measuring degrees of emotional responses). 

Understanding the results of the viewing patterns, attention spans (and what can hold them) and emotional responses to media content experienced over different platforms can be valuable in successful publishing — Both for ad sponsored, recurring content media AND, by extension, for writing, marketing and selling books.

More detailed analysis by Bill Mickey of Folio magazine’s Audience Development Spring 2012 Report:  

Time Inc. Measures Consumers’ Emotional Response to Media

‘Digital natives’ switch media 27 times per hour, but emotionally tied to mags.

If publishers think they’ve been covering the bases with an anytime, anywhere content strategy, they might be shocked to learn the results of a recent Time Inc. study conducted with Innerscope Research. Digital Natives, defined as consumers who grew up with mobile and digital technology as part of their everyday lives, switch their attention between media platforms an astonishing 27 times per hour.

That was one of the key findings of the study, called “A Biometric Day in the Life,” which used biometric monitoring and point-of-view camera glasses to follow the media habits of 30 individuals during 300 hours’ worth of media consumption. Biometric belts measured their emotional responses to various media platforms and the glasses recorded what platform they were viewing.

The other half of the study group consisted of Digital Immigrants, people who encountered and used digital media in their adult lives, who, predictably, have a more mellow media consumption patterns.

“Technology is shaping so much of how people think about media, use media, combine media,” say Besty Frank, Time Inc.’s chief research and insights officer. “We’ve started to think about all of these changes in the media specifically as they impact the notion of storytelling. We felt that the biometrics would add a new dimension to what we knew about how people use media and what the implications are for how we run our businesses and how we and our clients communicate with consumers.”

The study was particularly interesting, adds Barry Martin, Time Inc.’s executive director of consumer research and insights, because of the ability to record a subject’s emotions as they consumed their media. “We’ve done a lot of biometric work in media labs, but we’ve never been able to do it as they were going about their daily lives,” he says.

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11/25/2011

A Popular App Based on a Book Drives Sales of Both


B1SKY1

The Solar App

Could the reverse be true? Could a book based on an app produce the same results?

This is the premise in an article by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg in the Wall Street Journal … and it really caught my eye. The reason it grabbed the attention of this non-techie is simply this: I thought an app was nothing more than a computer language code that told software to do something … and I’m having trouble visualizing that into a book 🙂

Perhaps it’s a written code that translates the content of a printed book so it can go digital … But, if that is the case, isn’t that just an e-book and not an app? (Is an e-book itself an app?)

Maybe one of the more enlightened can educate me on this. I’m probably making this more complicated than it is. My mind suffers from tunnel vision sometimes. 

Jeffrey’s article follows:

Last year, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers Inc. learned that a popular iPad application based on a book could drive sales of both. Now the publisher will see whether the reverse works: a book based on an iPad app.

Black Dog this month published the print book “Solar System: A Visual Exploration of the Planets, Moons, and Other Heavenly Bodies that Orbit Our Sun” by Marcus Chown. The 224-page book, priced at $29.95, is filled with space photos and graphics that track the planets as well as asteroids and comets.

It was originally published as an iPad app for Christmas 2010 as a joint venture between the U.K.’s Touch Press LLP and Faber & Faber Ltd. Priced at $13.99, the app has sold 75,000 copies globally, said Max Whitby, chief executive of Touch Press.

In addition to presenting an interactive experience with the solar system, it contains 30,000 words of text by Mr. Chown, a science writer. The partners subsequently licensed the U.S. and other print rights to Black Dog & Leventhal. The physical book is being published in the U.K. by Faber & Faber.

Black Dog will be watching to see whether the parallel effort does as well as Theodore Gray’s “The Elements,” published in 2009 originally as a physical book. Mr. Gray subsequently teamed up with Mr. Whitby to publish an app version of “The Elements” that went on sale in April 2010 at the same time that Apple Inc. launched its iPad. “We were in the app store on day one,” said Mr. Gray.

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07/12/2011

Tablet, E-Reader Addicts Also Want Print


Printed Books Still Desired

This is not surprising to me at all … I have posted many times RE the NON-demise of the printed word.

John’s Note: I tried to link to all past posts on ‘printed word’ or ‘print’ but WordPress is giving me trouble tonight! Just go to the “search this site button” at top of this page and enter ‘print’ for my past discussions. 

Oh, the printed word has definitely gone through changes … but, think about it … these changes were brought about by what? Why, the ‘printed’ word itself, of course … only in a different format (digital), that’s all.

A study on this very issue is presented in an article for FOLIO Magazine by Executive Editor Matt Kinsman:

Study Says Tablet, E-Reader Users Haven’t Given Up Print

Few magazine apps in the App Store don’t have at least one reviewer clamoring for a subscription package that bundles print and app, and now a new study from GfK MRI suggests that rather than abandoning old media, tablet and e-reader users might still be print’s best audience.

John’s Note: By the way GfK means ‘Growth from Knowledge’ and MRI means ‘Mediamark Research and Intelligence’

According to the study, tablet owners are 66 percent more likely than the average U.S. adult to be heavy users of printed versions of magazines, while e-reader owners are 23 percent more likely to be heavy print users.

The study also says men are more likely to own tablets while women are more likely to own e-readers (although I still dig my Kindle and I’ll arm-wrestle anyone at GfK MRI or Yudu who makes fun of me).

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04/10/2010

The Fate of the Printed Word…From the Print Media’s View

Filed under: future of printed word,IPEX 2010,printed media — gator1965 @ 3:13 pm

What is the future of the printed word? Is it dead? Will the new digital gadgets finally kill it off?

Maybe not.

Lets take another viewpoint…That of the print media itself.

This from IPEX 2010 (The global event for print, publishing and media that will take place this year in Birmingham, UK during 18 – 25 May 2010):

Will an iPod for Publishing Kill Printed Media?

With Apple’s iPad selling more than 300,000 on its launch in April 2010 and Amazon’s Kindle becoming mainstream, the e-reader market space is hotter than ever and poses a real threat to many print sectors The electronic displacement of print is undoubtedly shifting the competitor landscape. A challenging debate at Ipex 2010 will try to understand the opportunities and threats for printers.

Running on 20 and 24 May, Will an Ipod for publishing kill printed media? Will explore how electronic devices could affect print business models. It is one of a series of free expert panel debates at Ipex 2010 tackling some of the most critical issues facing the print industry today. Produced by world print authority, Pira International in association with Ipex, The Great Print Debates will bring together experts, thought leaders and high-profile industry representatives from 18-25 May 2010.

Playing down fears about the death of printed media, Frank Romano, Professor Emeritus, Rochester Institute of Technology and Great Debate chairperson explains “Neither an Ipub nor its Kindle or Nook manifestations will significantly affect all print volumes. They will affect some informational printed matter such as book, newspaper, and magazine volume. However, these products will continue to have a print base. The reason will be portability – you will not have to tote an electronic device everywhere you go. Print is disposable – and the batteries never run out.”

Pira Print Chief Consultant Neil Falconer also takes a positive view for print businesses but expresses frustration at missed opportunities “The digital media revolution provides printers with a life raft, unfortunately the majority are too busy drowning to realise it.”

One solution according to Pira Consultant and Great Debate chair Sean Smyth is for printers to anticipate new specifying and purchasing channels and get on board quickly. “Buyers will see print as non-key, part of a promotional or marketing spend. Expect new ways of specifying and purchasing, as a Google-App or direct from your I-Phone.”

“There’s no doubt that mainstream media is in trouble” is the more blunt view of PR and marketing commentator Stephen Waddington. “My parents will be the last generation that buys a daily newspaper. I occasionally buy a paper at the weekend when I have the time to read it but otherwise I use a variety of websites. My children will get their news exclusively from the web delivered through devices such as the Amazon Kindle or iPod.”

But Waddington believes this is a story of evolving business models rather than the death of print media per se. “By embracing the internet newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian have become truly international brands. Their challenge is monitising these new audiences.”

The Debates come at a critical time according to Smyth. “The industry is in an unprecedented period of change, exacerbated by the deep recession. Cash conservation is a short-term tactic, not a strategy to build a successful business. These debates provide an opportunity for industry players to put their heads above the parapet and think about how their businesses, and their careers, might progress satisfactorily under new conditions”.

Three other important questions will also be debated: What will the printer of the future look like?, More than ink on paper – how should printers be selling print? and Green print: is it worth it? With full audience participation and interaction, The Great Print Debates will take expert commentary, lively debate and audience interactivity to a completely new level at a major exhibition.

Audience participation and interaction using simple polling technology will allow real-time feedback and drive the questioning of the panel chair, pushing the experts out of their comfort zone. Looking forward to the Debates, Laurel Brunner of Digital Dots reminds the industry, “It’s all too easy to forget that understanding the important issues only comes with interaction and participation.”

Debate participants will take away an exclusive study with scenarios and forecasts to 2020. With input from a special panel of authoritative print and publishing experts from around the world, Print to 2020 will provide a unique global summary of the major challenges, threats and opportunities facing the global printing industry. Building upon the themes discussed at the Ipex/Pira forums, the study will offer an exclusive roadmap for how these issues are likely to develop over the next ten years. Print to 2020 is published by Pira International.

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