The Passive Voice | A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing &..
The Passive Voice is an aggregated blog of the latest news in the publishing industry. Also known as the Passive Guy, this blog, while lacking a bit in the way of page styling and pizzaz, collects and publishes the most up-to-date news related to publishing and self-publishing.
In 1939, as the buildup to war in Europe intensified, a brilliant French mathematician named André Weil made a plan to emigrate to the U.S. He was thirty-three and didn’t want to serve in the army; his life’s purpose was math, he felt, not soldiering. His escape turned out to be more difficult than he anticipated, in part because, as he would write in his memoir, “the Americans, who so warmly welcome those who do not need them, are much less hospitable to those who happen to be at their mercy”—as we’ve gone on to prove repeatedly since then.
He was vacationing in Finland when the war broke out, and he tried to lay low in Helsinki but was arrested and returned to France, where he sat in jail during the spring of 1940, awaiting trial for desertion. While there, he took some consolation from the fact that jail allowed him to work undisturbed, as well as to read novels and write letters, in particular letters to his sister, Simone Weil, who was also remarkably talented, a philosopher and spiritual thinker.
Though her brother’s incarceration infuriated her, Simone saw an opportunity. His work in advanced mathematics was, to her as it would be to most of us, esoteric. Since you have some spare time on your hands, she wrote to him, why don’t you explain to me exactly what it is you do?
There wouldn’t be any point, he replied. Trying to explain my work to a non-mathematician, he wrote, would be like trying to explain a symphony to someone who can’t hear. Later he would rely on another metaphor, calling math “art in a hard material.”
Mathematics is an artistic endeavor, his words suggest. Yet Simone was skeptical. What kind of art? What is the material? Even poets have language, but your work seems to rely on sheer abstraction, she wrote her brother.
That math is an art, that one of its signature qualities is its beauty—these are ideas that continue to be articulated by mathematicians, even as non-mathematicians may wonder, as Simone did, what that could possibly mean. I myself become wary when a mathematician or scientist speaks about the beauty of her discipline, since it can seem vague and high-handed. Yet not wrong.
In the same year that André Weil spent months in jail, British mathematician G.H. Hardy penned what is perhaps still the most eloquent attempt to give non-mathematicians a sense of math’s aesthetic appeal, in the form of a book-length essay called A Mathematician’s Apology. As with the letters between the Weil siblings, it was the war that occasioned and shaped Hardy’s book, prompting him to argue that math has an intrinsic value unrelated to any military uses. His Apology is a stylish work and a wistful one. Hardy, then in his sixties, felt that he was past his prime and that writing about mathematics—as opposed to doing mathematics—was symptomatic of his decline.
“A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns,” he wrote. “If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.” Hardy went on to characterize what makes a mathematical idea worthy: a certain generality, a certain depth, unexpectedness combined with inevitability and economy.
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Philosophers can argue whether beauty is the property of an object or lies in our perceptions of it; Hardy would have it both ways. The best mathematics is eternal, he maintained, and like the best literature, it will “continue to cause intense emotional satisfaction to thousands of people after thousands of years.” Recent research in neuroscience has lent support to this idea of “emotional satisfaction.” A few years ago, a neurobiologist in London, Semir Zeki, performed fMRI scans of mathematicians while they contemplated equations they’d rated as beautiful, and a region of their brains lit up which has been associated in other studies with perceptions of visual and musical beauty. (Contemplating equations they found less inspiring, on the other hand, did not activate that part of the mathematicians’ brains.) In the brain, a mathematician’s affective response to math is similar to, or maybe the same as, the way in which we respond to beauty in the arts.
And there’s another sense in which math could be considered beautiful. In addition to the aesthetic appeal of a particular equation or a proof, there’s a kind of cumulative marvelousness to math, to its landscape of ideas. Here is an elaborate model world, in which the more you explore, the more fantastic it gets. “’Imaginary’ universes are so much more beautiful than this stupidly constructed ‘real’ one,” Hardy wrote.
I’m a happy person, though you wouldn’t think that based on a particular question I’m often presented with: what happened to you as a child? Hell, even my own mom has asked me that.
I write dark psychological suspense—tinged with horror—and the title of my sixth and latest release, The Dead Girl in 2A, does nothing to belie that fact. The space of fiction in which I exist is a cold, barely lit world where paranoia rules and people quite occasionally die—a place where trust is a rare commodity, hope is even more precious, and suffering is a requirement for (but not a guarantee of) absolution.
So people ask about my past: how I was raised, why I choose to write what I do.
My answer is always: I don’t know—however, I do have a theory.
To my memory (that’s the paranoia kicking in), I had a perfectly normal, suburban childhood: great parents, went to a good university, got a business degree. I was 33 when I decided to write a novel, having no prior experience with such an endeavor. And what I chose to write was dark. Really dark.
I got an agent with that first book, but it didn’t sell, nor did the three after that. But I kept writing and sold the following six books.
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So, here is my theory. I don’t think my dark thoughts are any different than those everyone has. When people ask about how I think of such things, I want to challenge them to tell me they don’t have morbid ideas of their own. I know they do, but they just don’t want to make that obvious, lest they be judged.
We all try so hard to hide what makes us stand out, and that’s a damn shame.
Not me. I relish my macabre side, and I love that I can create an environment that scares people, makes them lose sleep, yet keeps them turning the pages. And perhaps my greatest asset is the ability to turn it on and off.
I don’t think about my stories until the moment the laptop is open and my fingers are poised over the keyboard. Then I go into that world, maybe for only 30 minutes or an hour, imagining what happens when I place ordinary folks in extraordinary (and quite unpleasant) situations.
Email may not get as much love as channels like social media, but it remains perhaps the most important communication tool for marketers. That’s especially true when you consider that estimates indicate there will be more than 4 billion users by 2023.
But the only way for email marketing to be effective is to stay on top of the trends.
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1. It’s all about artificial intelligence.
Considering that AI has completely changed the business world, this shouldn’t be all that shocking. In fact, one recent survey found that 85% of marketers are already using artificial intelligence. They believe the technology has the power to drive double-digit growth within the next two years.
Right now, AI handles a variety of sales and marketing tasks. This includes segmenting leads and customers, engaging and qualifying leads, creating more personalized recommendations, and predicting customer actions. When it comes to email specifically, AI can do everything from generating more engaging subject lines to automating optimized content. That can boost engagement rates, along with AI’s ability to determine the best times to send email campaigns. AI can also customize email promotions and fine-tune your retargeting strategy, decreasing your cart abandonment rate.
2. Interactive content will continue to rise.
“I’m a firm believer in interactive content and I’m predicting it will continue to take off in 2019,” writes Kyle Henderick, senior director of client services at Yes Marketing. “Emails that contain games, quizzes, image carousels or simply ‘fun’’ clickability (my word for 2019) allow users to interact with the brand without leaving the email itself.” Other examples of interactive elements are clickable hotspots, navigational anchor tags, live social media feeds, and videos.
“The more brands allow subscribers to engage within emails in new ways — whether it’s a personality quiz or the ability to book hotels without leaving email — the more engaged and ready to purchase subscribers will be with the brand,” adds Henderick.
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4. Continue to think mobile-first.
The mobile revolution has been in full swing for several years. I’m still surprised, however, at how many marketers still haven’t completely embraced a mobile-first mentality when it comes to email marketing. This is even more mind-boggling when you consider that 61.9% of email opens occurred on mobile.
If you haven’t done so yet, it’s time to make sure your emails are mobile-friendly. The best place to get started is with the design of your emails. First, keep messages less than 102KB in size, and use single-column layouts. Utilize the subject line so the recipient knows why you’re emailing — and even who you are. And perhaps easiest of all, segment your messages according to users’ time zones so you’re emailing at a time when they’re likely to receive your message.
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6. Data privacy needs to be top of mind.
Cybersecurity needs to be a top concern for both marketers and their audience members. After all, 91% of all cyberattacks are a result of phishing emails, and 92% of malware is delivered by email. What’s more, in 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect in Europe, and California introduces a similar law in January 2020.
If you want to build trust with your audience members, you need to take their security seriously. The most obvious place to start is making sure that you follow cybersecurity best practices. However, you should also have a stricter subscription process, such as double opt-outs. Explain to email subscribers what data you’re collecting and how you’ll use it.
PG tends to be a tech-oriented kind of guy, but he thinks the OP emphasized tech solutions as an alternative to much more important email issues.
Know your audience – It’s not about what interests you, it’s about what will interest your readers. Your email has less than a giga-milli-tetra-second to catch the interest of the recipient. It depends to a certain extent what ereader the recipient is using, but the sender and subject may be all the recipient uses to decide whether to hit the delete key (the default key for most email users) or not.
Be reliably interesting – PG expects he’s not the only one who automatically deletes all emails from some senders because they don’t have much to say or they say the same things all the time. Yes, he might unsubscribe, but that involves hunting through the email for the unsubscribe link and, on a busy day, a one-click delete is quicker.
Don’t tempt recipients to hit the spam button – For an email recipient, clicking the spam button may be as easy as or almost as easy as clicking the delete button. Again, depending upon the email reader/service recipients use, if a recipient marks an email as spam, the email mothership may take note of that action. If enough people hit the spam button, the email mothership may classify the sender as a suspected or actual spammer. Depending on the email service, your email may arrive pre-marked as Possible Spam or simply dumped into a Spam folder for later examination by the recipient (On the Internet, later = never).
You can use more than one email list – This is a baby-step in the direction of artificially-intelligent reader segmentation. Some email subscribers may want notice when you release a new book. Others may enjoy monthly updates in which you talk about your WIP, your cat, etc. If you’re worried that too many of your readers will opt out of the regular updates and just want a less-frequent new book announcement email, you may want to consider whether your emails need improvement per items #1 and #2 above.
Don’t get skeevy – If someone wants to use your email list or have you send out an email promoting a new class, etc., think hard about why the subscribers signed up to receive your emails. Presumably, it was because of their interest in you and your books. If the new subject fits within that classification, great. If not, treat your subscribers with respect and put them first.
When Lynne Truss wrote, in her best-selling 2003 grammar screed Eats, Shoots & Leaves, of “a world of plummeting punctuation standards,” she was (perhaps unwittingly) joining an ancient tradition. How long, exactly, have shortsighted curmudgeons been bemoaning the poor grammar of the generations that follow theirs? According to Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style, the answer is, like, forever: “Some of the clay tablets deciphered from ancient Sumerian include complaints about the deteriorating writing skills of the young.”
The notion of being taught language has always been oxymoronic because language is in a constant state of flux, a restless, malleable, impatient entity that, like the idea of now, can never be fixed in place. Take, for instance, the journey of the semicolon as chronicled in the delightful, enlightening new book by Cecelia Watson, Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark. The twisty history of the hybrid divider perfectly embodies the transience of language, the ways it can be shaped by cultural shifts that have nothing to do with correctness or clarity. Invented by the Italian humanist and font pioneer Aldus Manutius in the late-15th century, the semicolon was originally “meant to signify a pause of a length somewhere between that of the comma and that of the colon” (hence its design).
Other punctuation marks — such as the “punctus percontativus, or the rhetorical question mark, which was a mirror-image version of the question mark” — turned out to be passing fads, but the semicolon lasted, owing partly to its usefulness and partly to the trends of the day. For much of the early 1800s, usage of the parenthesis and the colon declined drastically. Two grammar guides of the time declared the parenthesis “nearly obsolete,” while another noted, “The COLON is now so seldom used by good writers that rules for its use are unnecessary.” As those marks waned, the semicolon waxed, flourishing to the point of overuse.
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Which brings us to the ubiquitous and notorious The Elements of Style, a 1918 primer by William Strunk, which E.B. White padded out and republished in 1959. In one breath, Strunk & White tell you how to correctly use a parenthesis; in the next they warn against “abominations” like personalize, and in yet another they decree, “Prefer the standard to the offbeat.” Are they teaching the best ways to communicate effectively, or merely passing on the preference of certain editors, writers, and linguists at a fixed point in time? And if language ceaselessly changes, can a grouping of informed suggestions remain useful? If, as I’m inclined to believe, they don’t help much at all, what can? How the hell can people improve their writing?
Let’s back up a bit: Why isn’t Strunk & White’s classic called The Elements of Grammar? For one, it dispenses with grammar in a total of nine pages.
For another, it arrived at the culmination of two centuries in which grammar and style had become synonymous — or, more accurately, had switched places. Grammar, in Lowth’s understanding, was style; since no Ur-grammar existed, even a book of so-called rules was understood to reflect the tastes of its author. But as guide after guide proliferated, and as academic consensus grew (or maybe shrank), the English language was systematized into a “logical” set of rubrics and procedures. By Fowler’s time, grammar had become Grammar, and style was what one did with it. Or should do with it: Where grammar and style were once considered to be sets of suggestions, both are now regarded as sets of commandments.
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The most famous injunction from Strunk & White — “Omit needless words” — is, of course, a style suggestion. But it is good advice nonetheless, and a vigilance against superfluity can legitimately improve your writing. Dreyer implores us to cut back on what he calls “Wan Intensifiers and Throat Clearers”: very, rather, really, quite, in fact, etc. This too is practical wisdom. But Strunk & White’s specific instruction to, for instance, “use a dash to set off an abrupt break or interruption and to announce a long appositive or summary” will only help you avoid a minor error, since using a parenthesis instead won’t make your writing less clear. And although the lucidity of Dreyer’s explanation of em and en dashes obviously comes from hard-lived experience, how exactly is it going to help me articulate the murky thoughts in my head?
Not actually about books or writing, but PG thinks a well-rested author is more productive than one who is not.
In 2011, then-deputy NBA commissioner Adam Silver told the New York Timesthat “everyone in the league office knows not to call players at 3 p.m.” This is not because 3 p.m. is when NBA players gather for a massive, secret game of knockout, although they should make that happen. It’s because 3 p.m. is known throughout the league as naptime.
Yes, naptime. NBA players—and most professional athletes who play at night, for that matter—cherish their pregame naps. And these are not necessarily quick snoozes, either; the pros measure their naps in hours, not minutes.
Thanks to the unfortunate conditions imposed by late-stage capitalism, daily naps are not an option for most people during the workweek, unless you’re employed by a Silicon Valley tech behemoth that offers to funnel you into cloisters of pods for a recharging period meant to achieve maximum productivity.
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For one, pro athletes are onto something with the mid-afternoon nap schedule, which is linked to our circadian physiology. The late afternoon is when the body experiences a natural dip in body temperature as well as energy levels—a process independent of what time you wake up on a Saturday.
On the weekends, you can pay a little more attention to your homeostatic drive—the internal urge to pass the hell out—which increases every waking hour and is amplified by physical activity and social interactions. “It’s completely separate from the cues you’re getting in your environment with light and temperature,” says David Samson, Ph.D., a sleep anthropologist at the University of Toronto. This is why your homeostatic drive is all out of whack after traveling internationally. But even at home, it’s possible you might get sleepy and want to take a nap in, say, the early evening. If you feel said nap coming on, it’s okay to embrace it.
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Samson cautions that as a field of scientific inquiry, nap research is still unsettled. But from what he and others have been able to glean, the Hadza [an African hunter-gatherer tribe] are napping, on average, for about one hour a day. “In the West, the average nap is half an hour, in the studies I’ve seen,” Samson says. “The Hadza are clocking in at 55 minutes, so almost double the length.”
Don’t blame all the vacant stores on e-commerce. Sky-high rents are squeezing retailers, too.
Although commercial retail rents are down from recent peaks, they haven’t fallen as fast as sales at struggling chains. The rents remain higher than prerecession levels in many prime shopping areas such as Manhattan, Los Angeles and Dallas.
In a high-profile example of this tug of war, Barneys New York Inc. has hired restructuring advisers and is considering several options including a possible bankruptcy filing, as it seeks to renegotiate the lease on its Madison Avenue flagship and other locations, according to a person familiar with the situation.
The landlord raised the annual rent on the Madison Avenue store earlier this year to $27.9 million, from $16.2 million, this person said. Barneys fought the rent increase but lost during an arbitration proceeding. Reuters earlier reported that Barneys had hired restructuring advisers.
The retailer also is looking at whether it makes sense to reduce the size of the 260,000-square-foot store.
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Landlords say it isn’t that simple. They argue retailers fueled demand with a flood of store openings coming out of the 2008 recession. And even when the landlords dangle lower rents, it is hard to tempt retailers to open stores when they are retrenching.
“We’ve cut rents by 30% and are offering all sorts of concessions, but we still have vacant space,” said William Friedland, a principal with Friedland Properties, which owns commercial real estate in Manhattan.
In other cases, though, landlords have an incentive to leave space vacant because slashing rents would violate their loan agreements, industry executives said. Moreover, any devaluation of the property would make it harder for them to borrow in the future.
“For these landlords, maintaining the valuation on their properties is more important than collecting an immediate rental stream,” said Richard Johnson, a partner in Odyssey Retail Advisors, a consulting firm that works with retailers and landlords. “It’s a waiting game, and many landlords would rather wait it out, hoping the market improves.”
Commercial rents in San Francisco are up 53% from a decade ago, and in Miami they are 46% higher, according to CBRE. Even in smaller cities, such as Nashville and San Jose, Calif., rents are up by nearly one-third.
One of the responses which disagreed with PG’s assessment of Audible Captions as no big deal was from Marilynn Byerly. Ms. Byerly obviously put some time into collecting links to opinions that differ from PG’s, so PG thought he should promote the comment to a separate post so no one interested in this topic would miss it.
So, PV, you are a lawyer and your wife is a published author and you are fine with Amazon/Audible grabbing a book right without a contract or payment? It’s the author, traditional or self-pubbed, who gets screwed in these situations. Always. Since this is what they tried to do with Kindle rights grab, here are some good resources to study then give us your non-copyright lawyer opinion.
“DRM White Paper AAP/ALA White Paper: What Consumers Want in Digital Rights Management,” Discusses the problems of TTS for publishers and audiobook companies because it isn’t adequately defined in a legal sense. No longer available online.
Unfortunately, due to yet another wild and crazy weekend at Casa PG, PG won’t have an opportunity to review all of Ms. Byerly’s links and prepare a response until early next week.
In the interim, feel free to comment on any of Ms. Byerly’s links or other issues you feel are raised (or not raised) by Amazon’s latest experiment with audiobooks.