Tuesday News: RNA rejects self-published authors, digital book design and economic advantage, new language difficulties, and top literary put downs
BALLOT REGARDING RNA MEMBERSHIP FOR INDEPENDENT/SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS – The Romantic Novelists’ Association, the UK organization for writers of romantic fiction, recently put to a vote the possibility of self-published/independent authors gaining eligibility for full membership rights within the RNA. Like the RWA, the RNA is clearly struggling to keep up with the changes in publishing, Unfortunately for self-published authors, there was not a sufficient majority to give them full membership within the RNA, and it seems like a bitter irony for those authors, since they have no voting say in their membership status within the organization.
a. 79 = 24% voted to keep the RNA membership categories as they are at present
b. 174 = 52.7% voted to allow independent/self-published authors to become full members of the RNA with voting rights if they fulfilled certain criteria
c. 77 = 23.3% voted to create a new category of RNA membership for independent/self-published authors without voting rights –RNA News
The superior economics of well-crafted ebooks – I’d love for anyone familiar with digital book design to weigh in on this post, much of which is beyond my limited technical understanding, because I pretty much love the central message, which is that better designed ebooks yield more money for authors and publishers. Safari books is an online, customizable streaming service for books and courses, and the post was written by Liza Daly, their VP of Engineering.
Digital book design is a hybrid discipline of web design, classical typography, QA, XML development, and abuse of regular expressions and/or alcohol. A lot of it is, sadly, treated as a cost center and heavily commoditized and outsourced.
Naturally most developers don’t like to think of themselves as a cost, and take pride in their creativity and knowledge borne out of experience. Ebook developers are no different, with the additional pride that comes from being the latest evolution in a publishing tradition extending back thousands of years.
I want to convince you that craft in ebook design is not just consistent with the ethics of publishing, but also makes good business sense. –Safari blog
What Are The Hardest Languages To Learn? [INFOGRAPHIC] – Inspired in part by the discussion in the Daily Deals post the other day about the difficulty of learning Hindi, here’s an interesting infographic that hierarchically arranges 23 languages according to the number of classroom hours and weeks it takes for English speakers to learn them. Hindi is actually not in the most difficult category, but I’m kind of surprised that Swedish and Dutch are among the easiest. Also a sad reminder that no one apparently learns Latin anymore. –Voxy
Frankly my dear, Rhett Butler’s put-down is greatest of all – In addition to providing the ten top “literary put downs,” there’s also a voting option at the end, so you can vote for your favorite. I have to admit that my favorites are closer to the end of the list. From Coriolanus, “The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes,” and The Importance of Being Earnest, “The simplicity of your character makes you exquisitely incomprehensible to me.”
What’s yours, and is it even on the list? –Telegraph
I have an B&W Kindle and most books automatically open at the start of the story, skipping cover, publishing data, TOC, etc. Given the repetitive covers of print books, I’m not holding my breath over e-book covers. You’d think they could some up with a color and theme for series or something. Whenever I look up an author with lots of books, like Kleypas or Chase, I can’t figure out from the titles or the covers if I’ve already read the book.
I’ve seen some lovely magazine/catalogue apps, but, once they’ve added their header and footer to my computer’s footer, the text ends up too small for me to read and the zoom function screws up all navigation on the page. I usually click away.
Of course people learn Latin! :) It’s mandatory in a lot of high schools in Italy. All the “upper-level” ones have Latin lessons for all 5 years. If you attend one of those, you also have to do a Latin translation in order to get your high school diploma. A lot of students’ nightmare ;) Not to mention ancient Greek…
@SAO: The article isn’t really about cover design, or even the kind of interior design you notice. Her point is much more about the underlying structure of ebook design than the presentation. I thought she made some excellent points, though they are almost certainly beyond my level of technological competence to execute.
Re the RNA, I’ve wondered about joining for the last few years but I’ve never got a good answer about what value I would get for the membership fee, so I haven’t. Now I’m pretty sure I don’t want to. I would qualify because I have trad publishing contracts with Entangled. But I don’t want to be part of an organisation that treats my self published books as second class.
On the subject of literary putdowns, Wilde wins for me any day. In fact, sometimes I think his entire oeuvre was one big “screw you and the horse you rode in on.” Even a somber, heartbreaking work like De Profundis has some great quotes. He was just such a master of his language; it’s a shame his society decided to tear him apart in the end.
If I hadn’t learned Latin, I would have never managed to learn Spanish or French; the structure of Romance languages is too different from English for my poor addled brain.
Dutch, Swedish (and Anglo-Saxon, much to my relief in graduate school!) are all Germanic languages very similar to English; the trickiest part of learning them is avoiding being tripped up by “false friends”.
My classical Greek is awful and I gave up on Russian; it wasn’t so much the different alphabets as all the different verb voices which I couldn’t keep straight.
Looking at that chart, I’m glad that I didn’t even try Japanese; I’m surprised and impressed at all the otaku I know who are studying that language!
@hapax: RE: the language stuff – Yup, if you know how languages are grouped and related, this infographic wasn’t all that surprising.
I do love the very amusing misunderstandings that happen when you’re trying to learn a very similar language to English. For example, English “gift” vs. German “Gift” (poison). :D
My experience supports the findings reported in that article. I learned to speak Dutch well enough to enter university in Amsterdam after a little less than a year—although to be honest I was in a situation of total immersion, which certainly makes it easier. And even now, decades later, I can watch TV shows in Swedish, Danish, and even Norwegian, and the similarities to Dutch make it possible to follow the dialog.
And as the linked language article predicts, I’ve found Japanese devilishly challenging to learn even after several years of dogged study. Fun though. Plus there was an article on the BBC news site yesterday about how being bilingual slows aging in the brain. A conjugation a day keeps dementia away?
Russian is full of false friends, most of which were borrowed from English. Medvedev stated that he was an “Adekvatny” (adequate with Russian pronunciation and ending) president, meaning fully up to the job, not meeting the minimum standard and not much more.
A Kottezh (cottage) is a large McMansion, quite possibly on the site of a quaint, little and now torn down domik, which we’d call a cottage.
And then you have to learn how to pronounce them. I remember when my husband’s aunt (who never emigrated) was correcting her sister’s (who left Russia aged 13) pronunciation of Cruise. It’s Kru-eez, not Kroos. Keks (cakes) is a term of endearment and is often rhymed with seks (sex), which is what many people do with the one they call Keks.
I am really starting to hate these infographics. If you dig through the tiny, tiny print, you discover that this is a visualization of the rankings compiled by the Foreign Service Institute of the US State Department (here’s a wiki page on it). So it is US-centric for a start, and it’s also about reading and speaking, not writing.
The other thing to keep in mind is that *using* a language well also depends on cultural knowledge, since language is not just about communication but about cultural transmission and the encoding needed for that transmission. The further the culture is from your own in terms of daily social practices and norms, the harder it will be to master proper usage.
@Sunita: I completely agree with you about the different factors that go into learning languages and the dimensions of learning.
In this case, though, I thought the infographic did a decent job of advertising its biases, with the State Dept. logo on the top of the chart, the emphasis on English language learners (which, in my cynicism, I always equate with US-centrism), and the “measure” of learning in classroom hours, which — for me, at least — indicated a language course rather than immersion in a different culture or country. I tried to point some of that out in my own blurb, but I may not have been clear enough. Of course, you still may feel that even with the disclaimers that the graphic isn’t valuable, and I can certainly understand if that’s the case.
@Serena: Sadly, in the US, it’s no longer standard, at least not at the high school level. Which I think is a huge loss, because Latin was my first foreign language, and it was immeasurably useful in helping me with other Romance languages, especially Spanish and Italian.
I’ve heard that made as an argument for Latin before, but it doesn’t make sense to me: why not just go straight ahead and learn Spanish or Italian?
I’m pretty much bilingual in Spanish, so it was Spanish that helped me scrape through Latin. At least, it helped with some of the vocab. I didn’t see much connection between Latin and Spanish grammar.
The little blurb about Arabic doesn’t even begin to get at what’s hard about learning Arabic. “Uses fewer vowels” — no. Arabic uses plenty of vowels. But they are NOT WRITTEN DOWN when spelling out words. That’s the nightmare.
Learning words is hard. Learning the sentence structure…I took years of Arabic and we’d get great big new grammar textbooks at every level and still sounded like babies.
@Laura Vivanco: It just didn’t work out that way for me. Latin was offered in my high school, I started in 9th grade, and I loved it so much I kept up with it as long as possible in high school (we moved my senior year and my new school didn’t have it), and then took it back up in college. In the meantime, I did learn other Romance languages, but the foundation I had in Latin made a huge difference. Although I also have to credit my high school Latin teacher, who was probably one of the best teachers I had in any subject, because he helped build language learning skills in us, as he was building our skill in Latin.
Also, when I got to grad school and had to have two more languages for graduation, I was explicitly not allowed to use Spanish (which is what I requested). I was told to use French (translation project) and German (language exam), because the perception at the time (incorrect but nonetheless prevailing in my department) was that most of the literary theory was written in French and German.
Latin was mandatory for at least a year in the school I went to in the UK. It was interesting to learn but I can’t say much stuck with me. I do remember someone had written in my ancient textbook the following: “Latin is a language as dead as dead can be, it killed the ancient Romans, and now it’s killing me” ;)
@Laura Vivanco: Likewise for me. The fact that I was a native Spanish speaker helped me through French and, later, Latin (which I took mainly because I was doing work in Medieval paleography). But I still had to work quite hard at Latin: I didn’t find as many similarities as I’d expected, and the fact that word order is based on different criteria also threw me for a loop. It was only later, when I did a course on Spanish historical linguistics and had to spend a lot of time explaining how (Latin) Word A transformed into (Spanish) Word B that I had a better understanding. So now I’m not just a supporter of learning different languages, but also of learning their history and evolution (as well as cultural context, as others have pointed out).
@Fallen Professor: I’m sure I’d have been better at Latin if we’d been able to listen to it being spoken, and then tried speaking it ourselves. Now I think about it, I imagine it could have been quite fun if we’d been encouraged to sing Church Latin. But that wasn’t an option and instead we spent a lot of time wrestling with Cicero and Virgil and trying to translate them into English.
@Laura Vivanco: It’s hard to know what it would have sounded like; I remember my Latin profs always saying “We *think* this is how you’d say it…” But your comment made me remember an acquaintance of mine in graduate school, a Catholic priest who told me once that Latin was still used sometimes as a lingua franca in gatherings among priests of various nationalities. Of course, vocabulary is limited for modern usage, but it was apparently useful for simple communication. Go figure!
@Fallen Professor: It’s not so very long since the Catholic Church switched from Latin using the language spoken by the congregation being addressed, so that makes sense. I imagine you could acquire a fairly large vocabulary that way.
@Robin/Janet: I didn’t mean you shouldn’t have linked to it, it’s entertaining to look at it and argue mentally with the categorizations. And it’s certainly better than that stupid HuffPo “how cultured are you” language exam that was making the rounds (that one had questions that were wrong, unanswerable with the available data, or both). But it’s such a narrow slice of information, since it’s about training foreign service officers. When a site takes info like that and reproduces it as if it’s generalizable, it’s just irritating to me after the tenth or twentieth time I see that sort of thing.
I’m still boggled, though, that the foreign service finds it harder to train people in Malay than in Dutch.
I would describe the RNA vote as a “literary putdown.”
I took Latin in high school and both my daughters take it now; my older daughter intends to take it to A-Level and possibly university. I am a huge fan of studying Latin, because it makes learning all the Romance languages so much easier, and also it helps immeasurably with English grammar and vocabulary. You could learn Spanish or French instead, but it wouldn’t give you the same grounding in language and grammar that Latin does. After taking several years of Latin, I picked up Spanish easily and can get the gist of most major Romance languages.