Thursday News: Amicus brief for Apple, paid reviews, is bad sex really so bad, and the Human Nature of Playwriting
In Amicus Brief, Authors Guild, ABA, B&N Back Apple – Not a surprise, right? The Authors Guild, in particular, has made their hatred of Amazon clear. And would any of us would disagree that competition is both desirable and beneficial? But Apple wasn’t found guilty of practicing agency pricing. And how is trying to stand on a First Amendment defense for what was held to be price-fixing not more disrespectful to consumers and detrimental to a robust marketplace — of literature or ideas — than any of Amazon’s legitimate business practices? Then there’s the whole problem of expecting consumers to pay more for digital books that come with fewer rights than print books. That isn’t illegal, either, but it sure is exploitive and unfair.
Indeed, the brief argues that Amazon’s dominance, achieved through “a loss leader” strategy on new releases and bestsellers, was more than a disruptive force to authors and the book business, but was a threat to free speech.
“$9.99 is not a panacea for consumers or authors,” the Guild argues. “The Second Circuit’s panel majority ignored the positive impact Apple’s entry into the e-book market and the promotion of agency pricing had on ensuring the robust discourse that is vital to democracy.” – Publishers Weekly
Q&A: How Paid Reviews Work for Indie Authors – If you’ve ever wondered how “paid reviews” work, you might want to read this interview with Patti Thorn, whose company, Blue Ink Reviews, charges about $400 for reviews (has your mouth dropped open yet?). I’m not going to claim doubt about Thorn’s intentions to be “honest,” but I think her own explanation about how to keep authors as customers kind of undermines her commitment to honesty as independence of opinion. Which is what reviewers are ideally paid for – not for a particular opinion, but for an independent opinion. Even the way Thorn monitors the reviews seems problematic to me. Why is a review too negative if it’s honest? Or too positive, if it’s honest? That still sounds like marketing without adequate separation between the marketing and the reviewing. Anyone tried this outfit?
I was searching the Internet to find out what self-published authors thought about Blue Ink Review, and one commenter on a website thought there was no way you could keep your reviews impartial, because business would be better with more repeat customers if they were always positive. How do you resist that?
Thorn: It’s a crazy business model, crazy, crazy, because you’re not creating a bank of happy customers. I don’t know what percentage of reviews we have that aren’t positive, but you’re constantly making people upset.
What I stick to is that we’re trying very hard to be a trustworthy source. We want readers to trust us, we want librarians and booksellers to trust us. If we started slanting our reviews positive, then our whole business model collapses. Part of the business model is based on authors getting exposure to these people, and if they don’t trust us, then there’s not that element. There are probably a ton of authors who just want a glowing review, but that’s not really what we’re about.
I have noticed that some other places do sometimes slant their reviews. We’ve had opportunity to review books that other places have reviewed as well, and occasionally I will find that a book that’s really terrible— verifiably, with bad punctuation and everything — gets a nice, glowing review elsewhere. We’re always kind of like, “Wow, how did that happen?”
We’re very committed to being honest. There are times that I look at the reviews coming in and I look at the book and I say, “This is too kind. We need to add some of the negatives here.” And there’s the flip side where I’ll look at the review and the book and I’ll feel that it was too harsh. Either way, we’re trying to be honest. – MediaShift
In Defense of #BadSex – Like a lot of stuff in The Atlantic, lately, I wish Allan Drew’s piece on the problem of isolating passages of sex writing were more comprehensive and nuanced. But I think his point about whether every sentence in a book adheres to Kurt Vonnegut’s rule of “reveal[ing] character or advanc[ing] the action,” is relevant to how we talk about writing about sex. We see this all the time in the way Romance is made fun of by having someone read a sex scene out of context. How often do these scenes sound anything but awkward? Is the award really encouraging better sex writing, or is it contributing to the ongoing discomfort some societies (e.g. American) have with sex as a subject of prose?
There are at least two things at stake in the bad sex awards. The first concern is that the judges might just get it plain wrong. They might anoint a piece of writing as #badsex when it’s actually, in its original context, #goodsex. Secondly, and more crucially, there’s the risk that the awards will suppress certain modes of writing—that is, direct descriptions of sex that are necessary to the narrative—therefore impeding the advancement of fiction and the emergence of new writers. The writer and mathematician Manil Suri has anticipated this effect, and has recently provided some consolatory advice. Remember: The stated aim of the award is discouragement. Which would be fine if the nominated scenes were indeed all bad, but this patently isn’t the case. It would be an aesthetic tragedy if fear of being publicly shamed for writing #badsex compelled an author to censor his or her own writing. – The Atlantic
For the first time in decades, the best book ever written about writing is back in print – While “back in print” may be a bit premature, since the book is only available in digital right now (and it seems to be doing okay at Amazon), Samuel Raphaelson’s The Human Nature of Playwriting does have a pretty interesting story behind it. Raphaelson wrote a number of noteworthy screenplays (e.g. Suspicion, The Shop Around the Corner, The Jazz Singer) and taught playwriting at the University of Illinois in the 1940s. I was curious enough to buy a copy of the book, even though I’m not a fiction writer, and I’m curious about whether anyone else knows about or has read this book? It has apparently remained kind of a cult classic for years, even when it fell out of print, and was brought back into circulation by fans.
The most useful thing The Human Nature of Playwriting does is help readers understand how the raw materials of their own life experiences can make for powerful dramatic writing. Raphaelson can be a bit of a hard-liner on this point — he regularly dismisses fantasy and science fiction writing as beneath his consideration — but his central point is a good one. Don’t just write what you know; write what you feel deeply, what scares you, what makes you laugh, what makes you want to wake up and face another day.
Thus, the book is less about the craft of writing — though it touches on it here and there — and more about how to achieve emotional impact. It’s about how to turn your specific, personal experiences into storytelling that touches on the universal, how to go from something that happened to one person to something that will resonate for all people. – Vox