Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How Book Publishing Has Changed

"None of this is good or bad; it just is." That's how Time Magazine wraps up its review of the book publishing industry in 2009. Coming a few days after an author-with-thirty-books-under-his-belt told me that the publishing industry is in deep doodie for exactly the same reasons this article cites, I'm paying attention.

The piece by Lev Grossman focuses on authors who published their own books and ended up on the bestseller lists. Why? Because the big publishers are working from a business plan so outdated that it's become dysfunctional. Grossman calls it a financial coelacanth, which I had to look up. (It's pronounced SEE-le-kanth, and it refers to an extinct species of fish.)

Since nothing but the biggest sellers are returning profits, no agent or publisher wants to take a risk on an unknown. I like this part: "In theory, publishers are gatekeepers: they filter literature so that only the best writing gets into print. But Genova and Bary and Suarez [Lisa Genova, who wrote Still Alice, Brunonia Barry of The Lace Reader and Daniel Suarez, author of Daemon--all self-published originally and now best-sellers] got filtered out initially, which suggests . . . not only a technological revolution but also a quiet cultural one--an audience rising up to claim its right to act as a tastemaker."

The article points out innovations that are cropping up: Paperless books, like the Kindle, cell-phone novels, fan fiction, episodic blogs. Some of it scares me; some makes me hopeful. I do not know where all of this leaves the writer who is trying to make a living, but it's clear (duh) that the industry is in flux and no one really knows what will work once the dust settles.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Licensing Writers

In some cities, you have to get a license to sell your writing. I find this twisted and intrusive, but all things are relative. A friend who works for a city does not see it my way; she thinks that cities have a legitimate right to tax businesses--those taxes go to maintain the safety and ambiance of the neighborhood in which I write, after all!

We're still speaking, even though I called her code-enforcement personnel something akin to Nazi thugs.

In one Southern California city where my friend once worked--a very poor, poor city with little revenue--all city employees would write down the names and phone numbers of any company vehicles they saw parked within city limits. Someone in the office would then look up the business and--no matter where it was located--send them a ticket for doing business in the city without a license!

A most extreme example that made the local papers: a medical supply company was delivering a wheelchair to a home bound resident. They got fined, even though they'd never sold to a person in the city and probably never would again. (I believe this is where my "Nazi thug" comment came into play and threatened a thirty-year friendship.)

So check your city codes, if you're the paranoid type. And don't ignore any notices you might get from the city! In Los Angeles, a writer earning under $300,000 a year (IOW, anyone who hasn't won an Oscar for a screenplay) is exempt, but they can still be fined--for not filing their exemption in a timely manner. It's crazy. LAMC Section 21.03.

Glad I don't live in that city.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Reading up!

For the first time since 1982, adults are reading more. In 1982, about 67% of adults indulged in "literary reading" and a slow slide in that rate has had academics and critics moaning for ... um ... 26 years (reading's up, math still sucks).

Literary reading, btw, means novels, short stories, plays and poems, according to the National Eendowment for the Arts, who produced the survey. The millions of people who read non-fiction are left out, which makes absolutely no sense to me. Aren't those non-fiction books usually thicker and don't they often require far more concentration than, say, Twilight? But I quibble. Back to the survey.

The rate bottomed out at 47% in 2002, but came back up to 50% in 2008. The biggest jump was among 18-to-24-year-olds. Next highest increase: those over 75. But the survey found reading up across ethnic and gender lines. Yippee!

The whole report is here in pdf format. The press release from the NEA, here.

The Los Angeles Times book editor, David Ulin, suggests that celebrating a rise in literacy when no one could really prove there had been a drop (remember all those nonfiction bestsellers) was a bit unrealistic, and that the study seemed "more self-congratulatory than persuasive." He also points out that reading rates, although up over all, still vary greatly by ethnicity and educational level. I'd like to read more about some of his suggestions and recommend this column to anyone who's thought about what reading means.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Freelancing...it's the new black

One third of the respondents to a poll by The Daily Beast are either working two jobs, or are full-on freelancers. That's a lot. And half of those job-jugglers made the switch within the last six months, according to this article. That's fast.

The polls' results are here, in pdf format. It shows that of the 500 internet interview respondents, 22% considered themselves freelancers. Of the 500, 23% held more than one job.

Pay didn't vary too much between the freelancers and the 78% who worked for a company. 15% of both earned over $100,000 per year. 33% of freelancers and 37% of company employees earned less than $40,000.

My favorite question: Regardless of what you do now, would you prefer to work for yourself or for a company? 55% answered "For myself." Yes, it is sweet.

Tina Brown wrote a related piece, "The Gig Economy," in which she said the poll explained why it takes ten minutes to answer the question, "So what are you up to these days?"

Must be why my acquaintances have stopped asking me that. OTOH, I don't ask them how their job is going unless I'm prepared to listed to 20 minutes of venting about the stupidity of their customers/coworkers/clients. I guess it evens out in the end.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Own a 2000-year-old Celtic pin

Seriously. For $35, this can be yours.

Check it out at Gaukler Wares. Really.

And you don't even have to dig it up. Well, ok, if you want to bury it in your backyard and get the camera out and pretend you dug it up, go ahead.

Or you could buy Gaukler's reproduction of a Celtic brooch for $45.

Am I the only one who finds it weird that an ancient treasure costs less than a modern reproduction? If women can be divided into those who wear jewelry and those who would rather look at it in a display case, I'm in the latter category.

I don't know if anyone vets Gaukler's non-custom, really old stuff as authentic, but I imagine it's for real. After all, numismatic sites sell Armorican coins for under $100, so clearly not every treasure is winding up in museums.

Besides the custom, modern work (which is lovely and very reasonably priced), you can get artefacts of the ancient world--Rus, Viking, Medieval Europe, Byzantine, Roman, Iron Age, Chinese--it's all there.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

How many books did you read in 2008?

I read 38.

I won't bore you with the list. Some were kid's books, like Inkheart and Inkspell by Cornelia Funke, but that doesn't mean they were short. In fact, the shortest book was probably The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Thank you to Frances Dinkelspiel and her blog Ghost Word for this topic! She read 35 books, and had one of her own published: Towers of Gold, about early Los Angeles history. Here is Frances' interview with a woman (Sarah Weinman) who read 462...yup, four hundred and sixty-two...books in 2008. I suspect there's a portrait of Weinman in her attic--a portrait with bleeding eyes.

38 suits me fine. So there.

(well, one I'm still working on: Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

No, I did not buy it just to be trendy. I've actually had it for 3 or 4 years, because I'm a Lincolnophile, but am just now getting around to reading it. For the record, it's entertaining and very kind to Mary Lincoln.)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Red, Red Wine

The French Paradox is common knowledge now, right? The French (who do get fat, btw) eat a high-cholesterol, high-saturated fat diet, yet suffer less from heart disease than Americans. We've all heard that red wine may be the reason.

A UCLA study breaks it down and even shows that red wine may fight Alzheimer's disease and certain tumors. Polyphenols, which occur naturally in red wine and "block the formation of proteins that build the toxic plaques thought to destroy brain cells, and further, ...they reduce the toxicity of existing plaques, thus reducing cognitive deterioration."

I'll drink to that! The study used polyphenol from grapeseed--how dull. Sticks in your teeth. I'll choose a nice Cab over grapeseed any day.

For the record, tea, nuts, berries, and cocoa also contain polyphenols. No one can prove that the polyphenols in Beaujolais are more beneficial than those found in peanuts. . . but do you want to risk your heart's health? After all, do peanut munchers at ballparks and dark bars where you drop the shells on the floor incur fewer incidents of heart disease than the French? I think not.

As for my crack about the French getting fat, I suppose I'd better back that up. Here's New York Times article from 2006 about the childhood obesity problem, which sounds a lot like the US' childhood obesity problem, with the same culprits identified: soda and snack machines at school, etc. The article also mentions that French women have less and less time to cook, and families have less and less time to eat together or linger in cafe's (which are in decline--see this post), and in short, the whole idealized French way of enjoying food is crumbling before a new paradigm of time-pressed workers grabbing high-calorie meals from fast food restaurants.

ABC News ran a piece about this in August 2008, which said, "An estimated six million French are obese, and 14 million overweight. France has an overall population of about 60 million. "

Monday, January 05, 2009

Anti-Valentines Day Cards--get an early start!

Andrew Shaffer, the wacky gentleman (I mean that in the nicest way) who combined photos of Charles Darwin with Santa Claus to create a line of Christmas greeting cards for atheists, is ready for Valentine's Day too. (read about Shaffer on Expatica, then visit his site at OrderofStNick.com.)

Some of the cards for February 14th feature Nietzsche and come in Sweet or Anti Valentines. I personally like Anti #3, with a portrait of a rather young Nietzsche and the quote, "A pair of powerful spectacles has sometimes sufficed to cure a person in love." You can browse them here.

Another of Shaffer's popular items is the Depressing Times cards, for Christmas, Valentines, and all occasions. They feature great black & white pictures from the 30s, with captions like "I made you a Valentine, but I had to burn it in a trashcan to stay warm."

If the Depression doesn't float you boat (can't imagine why it wouldn't), there are sour Valentines--ones that tell a person you're breaking up with them, or cheating, or crossing genders...but my favorite is this Gothic little number at right, with no caption. Who needs words?

None of this has aught to do with archaeology or France or writing, although I suppose it does take gall to send some of these cards out. I mean, your sister might stage an intervention or something. But they are so amusing.