Yawn, authors protest against Amazon's power

Another day, another complaint about Amazon's "unprecedented power over the book publishing market."  Only this time, it comes with a new twist.

Authors -- famous ones, in case you haven't guessed-- are asking the U.S. Department of Justice to begin an investigation on what (they claim) is a monopoly.  The Authors United group (you can't make this stuff up) has formally submitted their urgent request.  They even collected one thousand signatures for a letter directed at Amazon.  The U.S. Justice Department said that the agency "will review" the group's materials.

Ursula Le Guin laments:  "It does not seem wise to let one entity control such a big part of our emotional and cultural core."  Apparently, Ms. Le Guin believes that such matters are better controlled by a larger entity, namely the government.  I'd venture to guess that she discards the "emotional and cultural" contribution of the huge independent, self-publishing market which Amazon has helped spawn.   Presumably, that's not part of "our" core.
In case you missed the opening scenes to the drama:  Hachette decided that it didn't like Amazon's pricing policy, and went off in a tiff, so it could keep e-books priced as high as Hachette pleased.  Eventually, Hachette got its way.  Prices rose.

But did profits?  I doubt it.  I was on the road to adopting Kindle-style books...that is, until they got to be the same price as print.  I don't think a digital book is worth what a print book is. To me, it's a compromise.

Where did I turn?  I decided that many, if not most, of the books I wanted could be purchased through Thriftbooks and other sellers, used.  The Internet makes buying used books a snap. You can even filter by condition.  Before the web came along, I never bought used books.  Now, especially with rising digital book costs, I usually do.  On a per book basis, publishers earn less from me. Talk about boomerang.

Amazon can't control that, of course-- any more than Ms. Le Guin and her fellow authors can control technology.


Skeptical about Carl vs. Carla

In an intriguing post published in Jezebel, author Catherine Nichols claims that she conducted a blind experiment. Ooh, I love experiments!  And who doesn't want to hear about hidden gender bias?  Count me in.

Her test was:  she sent query letters to agents under her real name (she had published short stories, according to the post) and then -- after having been rejected-- sent queries to agents using a male pseudonym.  The writer in me wants to jump up and say, there you go!  It's gender bias.  I wrote the most fantastic comic novel (well, a fantastic comic novel) and most of my queries got a polite no.  Ah but if I had only been a Carl and not a Carla.

But the researcher in me says, hmm, wait a minute.  Different query letters often get different responses.  It's the nature of a query. That is why new writers are urged (not that I listened) to alter their queries.  Different pitch, different response.  When market researchers test copy, they are careful not to alter simple variables like color or size of font.  That's what we mean by a "clean" experiment. Any variable can pollute the results (this process is well examined in Allegra Goodman's novel, Intuition.)

Perhaps, as the fictive male, Ms. Nichols's letter had a different tone.  She couldn't have included her prior history, for example, so  whatever fiction she'd published or career credentials had to go out the window. "George" was presented (presumably) as a hot young debut writer-- and the same content (as many experiments show) given a new context (hot young writer) has different effects.  So, yes, there could be real gender bias (I admit that I veer sharply toward women's literary fiction, rather than its male counterpart.)  But I'm not yet convinced.  Call me skeptical, but I'd need to see the queries.

You can read her account here:

Homme de Plume: What I Learned Sending My Novel Out Under a Male Name.

Interview with novelist Craig Hart, author of BECOMING MOON

Today’s interview is with writer Craig A. Hart who has released his debut novel, BECOMING MOON, a coming-of-age story about a boy struggling to become a writer.  Craig also edits THE RUSTY NAIL.    

First, here’s some background:

Craig A. Hart is the stay-at-home father of twin boys, a writer, editor, Amazon bestselling author, lover of the arts, and only human. He has served as editor-in-chief of THE RUSTY NAIL literary magazine, manager of Sweatshoppe Media, and director of Northern Illinois Radio Information Service. He lives and writes in northern Illinois with his wife, sons, and two cats.

SARETT:  BECOMING MOON  is about a boy struggling against a repressive childhood to become a writer.  In any coming-of-age novel like yours, the reader suspects (often accurately) that the story is part autobiography.  How true was this in your case?
HART: There is certainly an element of that. It isn’t a memoir, but I did draw from my own experience of being raised in a highly conservative, largely withdrawn environment. While it was acceptable to write in my church, you were only supposed to write certain things. BECOMING MOON, while it does touch on religion, is certainly not a religious book. It is my hope to get the book banned by at least one or two conservative groups. As far as the rest goes, the book took up so much of my life over the past three years and went through so many different manifestations that even I sometimes have trouble separating fact from fiction. But I suppose that’s par for a fiction writer. There is one area I’d like to distance myself from, but to do so would be something of a spoiler, so I guess I’ll take my chances.

SARETT:  You’ve edited and now, you’re written a novel.  I imagine there’s a side of your that’s an “editor” still.   Were there aspects of editing that you had to throw away?
HART: Absolutely. I have a tendency to edit while I write. That slows down the creative process and can sometimes halt it altogether. Additionally, I often over analyze what I’m writing, which is okay in editing but deadly when trying to get words on paper.

SARETT: Novelist Jonathan Franzen (confession: haven't read him) said that fiction is a messy business -- and that it's dangerous for a writer to be too perfectionist.  I'm wondering how you respond.
HART: I suppose he could mean a couple of different things, but if I know what he intends then I agree (mostly). Art can only achieve perfection according to standards it devises for itself. To apply extraneous standards on any art form is dangerous. Look at various artists who are now viewed as masters of their form, but in their day faced resistance. Picasso, Kerouac, Ginsberg...the list would go on for a long time. Trying to achieve perfection in a work of art is dangerous because it is impossible to see it clearly as perfection prior to it being finished, which means it will never be finished if perfection is the goal. (And now I have a headache.)

SARETT:  When you’re developing material, which comes first -- story or character?
HART: I get scenes in my head and the ones that stick around are usually the ones I end up writing down. During those scenes, I discover the character and make his/her acquaintance. And then they begin telling me their story.

SARETT:  Did you have any literary muses that influenced the way you approached this novel?
HART: Hemingway’s THE SUN ALSO RISES and Capote’s SUMMER CROSSING were huge influences on me during the writing of BECOMING MOON. It’s interesting, because the Capote book wasn’t even supposed to be published (a whole different story), but I’m glad it was because it helped me connect with something deep inside myself.

SARETT:  BECOMING MOON won a contract with Kindle Press, through the Kindle Scout Program.  Congratulations!  Tell us how this process worked.   
HART: The idea behind Kindle Scout is to get readers to tell the publisher, in this case Kindle Press, whom they want to read. To this end, each book goes through a nomination process. Books that receive good support are then looked over by the Kindle Press editorial board and a few are chosen for publication. It was a fun, stressful, and educational experience. I’m glad I did it and I’m also glad it’s over. My fingernails are short enough already.

SARETT:  BECOMING MOON is a slender novel -- 155 pages.   Do you think traditional publishers shy away from shorter books?
HART: Without a doubt. Most traditional publishers don’t consider something a novel until it’s over 50,000 words. That is the minimum. BECOMING MOON just barely reaches that threshold. And they don’t often publish novellas because the market is smaller. One of the issues with traditional publishing is that it is first and foremost (most often exclusively) a money game. And longer novels are selling right now. Partly because of a trend and partly because people want to feel like they are getting more for their money. I understand that, but as in most other areas of life, quantity doesn’t mean quality. I would rather read a shorter book that had something real to say rather than 400 pages of high-octane text that I forgot the minute I was finished. Give me something to walk away with.

SARETT:  What’s next for you?  
HART: I am currently working on another novel. While it isn’t a sequel to BECOMING MOON, it is a variation on the same themes of self-discovery, rebellion against the status quo, and personal redemption.

You can follow Craig Hart on:

FIND the novel on on Amazon by clicking here:  http://www.amazon.com/Becoming-Moon-Craig-A-Hart-ebook/dp/B00XV5R3OW/

Humor in the Age of Micro-agression....a sad tale

Jerry Seinfeld, hardly a controversial or edgy humorist, has recently complained about performing stand-up comedy routines on college campuses.  In an interview with ESPN, he says that while he continues to play college campuses, many of his fellow comedians won't touch them for fear of backlash over political correctness.  Imagine that.  Colleges, the same places that once were the mainstay of edgy stand-up, no longer friendly to anything that anyone finds mildly offensive.

It is the age of Don't Hurt My Feelings or Else.  The Age of Micro-agression.  You know, those little barbs that people used to brush off, or ignore, or laugh about, that are now considered so painful that sensitive souls must form college task forces to avoid them.  Female student get offended by statues, much less the sex-heavy stand-up routines of an Eddie Murphy.

What a mess. Humor, by its very nature, is bound to bump into someone else's idea of good taste. That is why Mark Twain's The Adventures Huckleberry Finn is banned more than any other non-erotic book by schools.  Twain -- who was an abolitionist, and never a snob-- mocked racism by creating his clueless young Huck, who never gets it right, and the patient slave, Jim, who always does but never tells.   Of course, it uses language that we'd never use today -- and the absence of those words is something that Twain would celebrate.

As a writer, I've learned that irony, as we used to learn it, is tough for today's readers to understand.  They take it literally.  They never read irony in school (since it might offend someone, somewhere,) so they find it hard to break down.  Kids know parodies from TV-- but irony, wit, sarcasm are ignored by teachers.  Kids read a steady diet of earnest novels-- which may explain the popularity of fantasy, a world in which race and class vanish into elves and magic.

Any word, at any time, can bother someone.  Which reminds of that great line from The Pickwick Papers, in which a furious Mrs. Raddle demands to know:  "But who do you call a woman, sir?"

Call me insensitive, but I laughed.

FREE in iBooks or iTunes: Spooky & Kooky Tales

  For the month of June, this little collection of weird fiction (and some comedy with, as one reviewer notes, "unabashedly happy endings" is free in iTunes and iBooks.   The collection contains three feline tales, two in the horror vein and one that I fancy is romantic.    But judge for yourself.

One of my favorite stories appears here....but I won't say which.

I'm rather new to selling on iTunes, so let me know about your experience.  I enjoy reading on my iPad.  This book is not available on Amazon.

Download it HERE.

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