Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: The New York Times

In the Age of Frenzied Book Marketing, Can the Author Choose to Stay Invisible?

People have seriously wondered that, as an author, I’m willing to both sell my books and also offer them for free… 

Elena Ferrante

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You can read about how giving books away can help an author sell more; but, you should also read about any author’s realistic expectations for book sales

So, is it any more of a wonderment that an author would choose to be invisible—not be involved in marketing events—not let folks know who they are?

The media claims that author Elena Ferrante maintains anonymity.

However, an interview with Elena on the The New York Times site has her saying this:

“…I didn’t choose anonymity; the books are signed. Instead, I chose absence. More than 20 years ago I felt the burden of exposing myself in public. I wanted to detach myself from the finished story. I wanted the books to assert themselves without my patronage.”

There’s also an article on the London Review Bookshop site that quotes a letter from Elena to her publisher, just before the release of her debut novel, Troubling Love, which says, in part:

“…dear Sandra, I will say to you clearly: if Troubling Love does not have, in itself, thread enough to weave, well, it means that you and I were mistaken; if, on the other hand, it does, the thread will be woven where it can be, and we will have only to thank the readers for their patience in taking it by the end and pulling.

“Besides, isn’t it true that promotion is expensive? I will be the least expensive author of the publishing house. I’ll spare you even my presence.”

It is said that “Elena Ferrante” is a pen name; yet, she said (in The New York Times), “…the books are signed. Instead, I chose absence.”

So, she apparently feels a pen name is a “sign” for an author; yet, it is true, she’s stayed out of the promotional circus

Yet, an interview in The Guardian has her being asked the question, “Do you ever feel that your anonymity limits your ability to shape the debate inspired by the books?”, and the author doesn’t deny anonymity.

Perhaps “…I didn’t choose anonymity…” (in The New York Times) isn’t a denial by the author that she’s anonymous but merely a stressing of her “absence”

Here’s her answer to The Guardian‘s question:

“No, my work stops at publication. If the books don’t contain in themselves their reasons for being – questions and answers – it means I was wrong to have them published. At most, I may write when I am disturbed by something. I have recently discovered the pleasure of finding written answers to written questions such as yours. Twenty years ago, it was more difficult for me; I’d try but eventually give up. Now I see it as a useful opportunity: your questions help me to reflect.”

She only does interviews by responding to written questions—she wants to be “absent”

One of my dictionaries says this for “anonymous”: “Having no known name , identity or known source”.

And this for “absent”: “Not being in a specified place”.

So, are “absent” and “anonymous” all that far apart?

And, is the author I’m writing about—the one who’s anonymous (but, didn’t “choose” it) and absent from the visible stage of the Book World—just using a gimmick to create more sales?

This response to the questioning in an interview on The Paris Review site seems to me to turn what some might believe is gimmicky marketing into a profound statement about the act of writing and the “interface” between the author and the reader:

“I’ll try to state it from the reader’s point of view, which was summarized well by Meghan O’Rourke in the Guardian. O’Rourke wrote that the reader’s relationship to a writer who chooses to separate herself, radically, from her own book ‘is like that which we have with a fictional character. We think we know her, but what we know are her sentences, the patterns of her mind, the path of her imagination.’ It may seem like a small thing, but to me it’s big. It has become natural to think of the author as a particular individual who exists, inevitably, outside the text—so that if we want to know more about what we’re reading we should address that individual, or find out everything about his more or less banal life. Remove that individual from the public eye and, as O’Rourke says, we discover that the text contains more than we imagine. It has taken possession of the person who writes. If we want to find that person, she’s right there, revealing a self that even she may not truly know. When one offers oneself to the public purely and simply through an act of writing—which is all that really counts—this anonymity turns into part of the story or the verse, part of the fiction. “

So, even if an author doesn’t remain absent or anonymous, they’re still revealing, in their book, more of themselves then they might imagine

What do you think?
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Financial “Entitlement” Morphs Into “Legal” Outrage ~ Amazon & Hachette

Heard about the Battle—major retailer and big publisher?

Does it “matter”?


But, probably not in the way most of the news coverage would have you believe.

I’m going to give you a few links to some of the more ridiculous stories; but, first, I need to give you some defense against the verbal barrage.

Last year, in the post, So, What The Hell Is Wrong With Traditional Publishers?, I featured a piece by David Gaughran:

“Right after he indicates that the two essential players in the book-world are writers and readers and that retailers are at least acting somewhat rational about justifying their cut of the money (leaving agents, publishers, and distributors in a somewhat suspicious position), he says:

“’Publishers seem determined to move in the opposite direction: making the proposition of publishing with them less attractive rather than more attractive, reducing advances, worsening contract terms, and treating writers as marks rather than partners – despite whatever guff accompanies the launch of their latest initiatives.’”

And, another bit of defense against the other articles I’ll link to is this from Forbes:

As Hachette Battles Amazon, A Small Publisher Defends Bezos (Bezos owns Amazon)

O.K., here comes the media blitz

An apologist piece from The New York TimesHachette Chief Leads Book Publishers in Amazon Fight—that begins with “…Mr. Pietsch [the boss at Hachette] finds himself fighting not just for the future of Hachette, but for that of every publisher that works with Amazon.”

Hmm they seem to be overlooking that small publisher up there

Then, there’s the piece in SlateBringing Down the Hachette—that says:

“Literature could end up suffering

“If publishers make less money on every book, they are going to pay people less to write and edit them, and talented people will decide to do something else with their time.”

Maybe they could, uh self-publish………?

Plus, the article in Money MagazineWhy Amazon Is Battling Book Publishers — in Three Charts.

Maybe there’s some meat in this one but I’m a bit suspicious about reducing a complex issue to a few charts—as they say, the “map” isn’t the “territory”

And, again from The New York Times, an article that prompted the title I gave this post—How Book Publishers Can Beat Amazon—which has these incendiary words:

“…unless Amazon backs down — through public pressure or government intervention — publishers will have no choice but to employ their own nuclear option…”

Finally, a piece from the Miami Herald—“Publishers could defeat Amazon — here’s how”—which, even with its overkill title, makes a bit of sense:

“To be sure, what Amazon is doing is of the brass-knuckle variety, and while I get that authors are upset, the reality is that it is publishers who have made a Faustian bargain: Unwilling to make their cost structures viable in a digital world predicated on much lower costs and much higher volume, and unable to build their own DRM and companion devices, publishers embraced the Kindle’s DRM, and thus gave Amazon complete power over the only means of enforcing the artificial scarcity that undergirded their old-fashioned business model.”

Anyone with any opinions about this issue is encouraged to leave a comment
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This Is Your Brain On Fiction . . .

“The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.”

That sentence is from an article in The New York Times called Your Brain On Fiction.

There’s a parallel article on Buffer called What listening to a story does to our brains.

I’m going to rather indiscriminately give snippets from both articles, though I suppose, since I’m choosing which ones to share, it’s somewhat discriminate :-)

“For over 27,000 years, since the first cave paintings were discovered, telling stories has been one of our most fundamental communication methods.”

“Researchers have long known that the ‘classical’ language regions, like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are involved in how the brain interprets written words. What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so alive. Words like ‘lavender’, ‘cinnamon’ and ‘soap’, for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells.”

“We are wired that way. A story, if broken down into the simplest form, is a connection of cause and effect. And that is exactly how we think.

“We think in narratives all day long, no matter if it is about buying groceries, whether we think about work or our spouse at home. We make up (short) stories in our heads for every action and conversation.”

“The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.”

“Storytelling is one of the most powerful techniques we have as humans to communicate and motivate.”

“Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.”

And, from the Stanford News Service, an article called Fiction books give a boost to the brain.

Here’s a slightly extended quote from that article:

“Readers of literary works by the likes of Samuel Beckett, Stéphane Mallarmé and Geoffrey Chaucer are getting lots of exercise from these personal trainers for the brain.

“Literary works of fiction can offer ‘a new set of methods for becoming a better maker of arguments, a better redeemer of one’s own existence, a person of stronger faith or a person with a quieter mind’, says Joshua Landy, associate professor of French and Italian.

“New research by Landy illustrates how authors throughout the ages have sought to improve mental skills like rational thinking and abstract thought by leading their readers through a gantlet of mental gymnastics.

“In contrast to the common practice of mining fictional works for moral messages and information, Landy’s theory of fiction, outlined in his new book, ‘How to Do Things with Fictions’, presents a new reason for reading in an age when the patience to tackle challenging pieces of writing has dwindled tremendously.

“Reading fiction ‘does not make us better people in the moral sense, whether by teaching us lessons, making us more empathetic or training us to handle morally complex situations’, said Landy.

“However, for those interested in fine-tuning their intellectual capacities, Landy said literary works of fiction can offer ‘a new set of methods for becoming a better maker of arguments, a better redeemer of one’s own existence, a person of stronger faith or a person with a quieter mind.'”

Three good articles to read in fullthree different takes on fiction and the mind

Hope you enjoy them and hope you come back and share your thoughts and feelings in the Comments :-)
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Are E-books Going to Kill Libraries or Refashion Them?

I’m referencing two stories today, both concerning New York, the world’s second largest city—one about the New York Public Library and one about The New York Times e-book bestseller list.

I often do a search on this blog after I’ve discovered another site’s story to see if I’ve written past posts that are relatable.

When I plunked the word “e-book” into the search box up there, I noticed that many of the post titles mentioned libraries—makes sense if you follow the changes happening in our BookWorld.

Just to remind ourselves what a library can be, in this world that seems to be morphing into a digital dreamscape, here’s a quote from the first article, The Bookless Library:

“…libraries are not just repositories of books. They are communities, sources of expertise, and homes to lovingly compiled collections that amount to far more than the sum of their individual printed parts.”

While it’s still true that libraries acquire more traditionally-published books than self-published, the second article, Four self-published authors on New York Times ebook bestseller list, relates this truth:

“…’readers are more focused on a good story that they can enjoy instead of where the book was published…Thanks to the internet they can research books before committing time and money on them.'”

It’s also true that folks can research books at the library before buying them.

Yet, that’s only true if the library already has the book and one is willing to leave home

If you peruse some of those past posts that the search for “e-books” yields, you’ll see that quite a few libraries are redesigning themselves to attract more patrons and working to bring e-books into the building.

The Bookless Library says:

“…several hundred prominent writers and academics, have gone so far as to allege that the NYPL’s new president, Anthony Marx, formerly the head of Amherst College, sees the libraries of the future less as repositories for books and learning than as glorified Internet cafés.”

Yet, further along in the article:

“Since 2010, a consortium of libraries, foundations, and other organizations has begun to create a so-called Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), that will, in the words of its mission statement, “make the cultural and scientific heritage of humanity available, free of charge, to all.” The DPLA aims to bring together work already digitized by a range of electronic initiatives…”

Also, I assume libraries want to have all the bestsellers available for their patrons.

Yet there are now digital books, that have never smelled like paper, becoming bestsellers.

In the article about The New York Times e-book bestseller list, Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, says:

“We knew this day was coming. Self-published ebook authors are landing on the New York Times bestseller list in a big way [and] lightning struck multiple times….It’s a big deal to see a single Smashwords author on the New York Times Bestseller list, let alone four in one week. A year ago, it was unheard of. A year from now, it’ll be more commonplace.”

David A. Bell, author of The Bookless Library, is an historian of early modern France at Princeton University, yet he wrote a fascinating fictional look into the future in his piece:

“One nightmare scenario is all too easy to imagine. The year is 2033, and the Third Great Recession has just struck. Although voters have finally turned the Tea Party out of office in Washington, the financial situation remains dire across the country. New York City in particular faces skyrocketing deficits as a result of the most recent Wall Street wipeout, and the bankruptcy of Goldman Chase. In City Hall, a newly elected mayor casts a covetous glance at the grand main branch of the New York Public Library. Think how much money the city could save by selling it, along with the thirty remaining branch libraries scattered throughout the five boroughs. After strenuous negotiations, the mayor announces a deal with Googlezon, under which the company will make fifty electronic copies of any book in its database available at any one time to city residents, for two-week free rentals on the reading device of their choice. Two years later, where the main branch library once stood, the mayor proudly cuts the ribbon at the opening of the Bryant Park Mall. As for the services once performed by actual librarians, these have now been replaced by a cloud software package, with customer service representatives standing by online in case of technical difficulties (most of them physically located in suburban Manila).”

Then, he goes on to sketch-out a far more positive and believable future for libraries

So, what are your thoughts and feelings about self-publishing, e-books, and libraries?

Will print books disappear?

Will libraries disappear?

Will traditional publishers disappear?

Will the world ever stop changing??
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