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Monday, January 30, 2012

Facebook to go public

Any spare cash to invest?

Facebook will begin the process of becoming a publicly-listed company this week, valuing the social networking site at between $75bn (£48bn) and $100bn, reports suggest.

The company plans to file papers with the US financial watchdog on Wednesday, according to the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal.

The flotation later this year would raise about $10bn, they reported.

This would be one of the biggest share sales seen on Wall Street.

It would dwarf the $1.9bn raised by Google when it went public in 2004.

It would still, however, be some way short of the $20bn raised by carmaker General Motors in November 2010.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


It's in production

Or, at least, at South Pacific Pix they tell me that the script is being written ...

Yes, I am talking about Island of the Lost, the castaway story that has brought me a lot of fans.

Today I received one of those neat letters, this one from Queensland, Australia.
Hi Joan,

I am writing to tell you how much I thoroughly enjoyed reading "Island of the lost"

It was inspiring and I couldn't put it down. I was so enthralled by the imagery and the language you employed so seamlessly, that I was able to conjure up in my minds eye, the most vivid of images. Have you ever thought about having this masterpiece made into a motion picture? Couldn't you just imagine someone like Peter Jackson directing such an offering? With todays wonderful technology, it is possible to create almost any scene imaginable and I can imagine that your telling of this amazing story would be treated with great respect. Nothing needs to be changed and I think it is capable of being turned into a cinematic masterpiece.

Just had to say that, and would help in any way possible to make it happen.

Fantstic stuff Joan, and I would love to see this story told on the big screen.

Nick Gane
Thanks, Nick, and many thanks for the permission to publish your great letter on my blog

2011 Fantastic Year for Self-Published Freethy

One million titles sold in just one year

As usual, I had a scan through the NYT bestsellers list (print and eBooks) looking for self-published successes on the level of Chan and Hocking, but found only two, today.  One was Darcie Chan's Mill River Recluse, which I am pleased to see still doing so well.  The other was a new name to me.

Barbara Freethy

A writer who has published with Simon & Schuster (she is still on their website) and other major houses, she has taken her backlist titles after reversion of rights, and published them herself, with dramatic success.

Unlike most independently published authors, who kick off sales by asking just  $0.99, Freethy priced her books between $2.99 and $5.99.  Nonetheless, they sold extremely well, to the tune of 1,000,000 in just one year.

Over the past twelve months, eight of Freethy's seventeen self-published titles have hit the New York Times and/or USA Today Bestseller List.

In a word, she made gold in books that had been taking up space in her closet.  Having a following already would have helped a lot, but still it is amazing.

According to Theresa Horner, VP Content B&N Digital Products, "Barbara Freethy's self-publishing success proves that digitizing books can boost readership and breathe new life into older titles. Her backlist titles through PubIt!, Barnes & Noble's fast and free digital self-publishing platform, have consistently landed her at the top of the eBook list. We're thrilled for Barbara and we look forward to helping her sell the next million!"

She is traditionally published, too, currently being with Pocket.  However, Freethy is planning to self-publish e-book originals in the future. "I am excited about the opportunity to not only make all of my books available again, but also to publish new works more frequently, allowing me to better respond to the demands of my readers."

Freethy's books are sold through online retailers Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Apple, Sony and Kobo. They are also distributed through Smashwords and Overdrive to libraries and other online retailers.

You can read about her on her WEBSITE

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dolly Parton turned down Elvis

And justifiably so

He just wanted her publishing rights.
Country icon Dolly Parton refused to let Elvis Presley record her hit song I Will Always Love You because she didn't want to give up the publishing rights to the track.

The 9 to 5 singer reveals The King was a big fan of her 1970s tune and was set to head into the studio to lay down his vocals when his formidable manager, 'Colonel' Tom Parker, demanded Parton surrender her entitlement to the single's royalties.

But Parton tells US journalist Anderson Cooper she knew the financial sacrifice was too much just to have one of her tracks covered by Presley.

"Elvis was gonna record that song, he had it ready and 'Colonel' Tom Parker says, 'We have to have the publishing, or we won't record anything.' I said, 'I can't do that!' He wanted half the publishing (rights)! ...It wasn't Elvis' fault, it was Colonel Parker."

Parton admits she "cried about it" after rejecting the deal, but she struck gold in 1992 when Whitney Houston's version of the track topped charts around the world.

"Then when Whitney did it, I got all the money for the publishing and for the writing and I bought a lot of cheap wigs... with that!"

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Haunted by her own book

Some books haunt the reader. Others haunt the writer. The Handmaid's Tale has done both.

It has never been out of print.  It has been made into a film, and adapted for opera.  For some, it has become a synonym for the repression of women.  It has been admired and reviled.  And it's a book that haunts the writer.

Using the diary she kept at the time, Margaret Atwood reflects on the extraordinary effect The Handmaid's Tale  has had on the world and herself.

It's a strange and yes, a haunting story.  Read it in The Guardian.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Words they wish they'd never said

"Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific advances."
-- Dr. Lee DeForest, "Father of Radio & Grandfather of Television."

"The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives."
- - Admiral William Leahy , US Atomic Bomb Project

"There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom."
-- Robert Millikan, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1923

"Computers in the future may weigh more than 1.5 tons."
-- Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
-- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

"I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year."
--The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957

"But what is it good for?"
-- Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.

"640K ought to be enough for anybody."
-- Bill Gates, 1981

This 'telephone'has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us"
-- Western Union internal memo, 1876.

"The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?"
-- David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.

"The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a 'C,' the idea must be feasible"
-- A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith's paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)

"I'm just glad it'll be Clark Gable who's falling on his face and not Gary Cooper"
--Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in "Gone With The Wind."

"A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make"
-- Response to Debbi Fields' idea of starting Mrs. Fields' Cookies.

"We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out,"
-- Decca Recording Co. Rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible"
-- Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.

"If I had thought about it, I wouldn't have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can't do this"
- - Spencer Silver on the work that led to the unique adhesives for 3-M "Post-It" Notepads.

"Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You're crazy"
-- Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.

"Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau."
- - Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University , 1929.

"Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value"
-- Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre , France

"Everything that can be invented has been invented,"
-- Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, US Office of Patents, 1899.

"The super computer is technologically impossible. It would take all of the water that flows over Niagara Falls to cool the heat generated by the number of vacuum tubes required."
-- Professor of Electrical Engineering, New York University

"I don't know what use any one could find for a machine that would make copies of documents. It certainly couldn't be a feasible business by itself."
-- the head of IBM, refusing to back the idea, forcing the inventor to found Xerox.

"Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction."
-- Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse , 1872

"The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon"
-- Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria 1873.

"Who the hell would want to read a book about a bunch of crazy Swedes on a raft?"
-- editor, turning down The Kon Tiki Expedition

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Simon's Cat and Kitten Chaos

Simon's Cat has a new book

It's called Kitten Chaos

Can you imagine the self-absorbed feline having kitten-competition in the home?

Well, it happened, and it has been turned into a book, to follow a rash of great new Simon's Cat cartoons on YouTube.

And the book had its launch in a cinema

The great event took place at the Prince Charles cinema in Leicester Square, London. Special invitations were sent out to competition winners from the Simon's Cat website, as well as winners from the Daily Mirror newspaper.

Predictably, the entertainment was firstclass, with a "Double Trouble" cartoon shown on the big screem, and lots of input from the cartoonist (and cat owner) himself.  

And naturally, a video of the book launch was produced.  You can view it HERE

Downton Abbey controversy heats up

"Why have Americans fallen for a show that serves up snobbery by the bucketful?"

So demands historian Simon Schama in Newsweek's Daily Beast   

"Yes, I know it’s perfect in its way," he writes. "Nothing beats British television drama for servicing the instincts of cultural necrophilia. So the series is fabulously frocked, and acted, and overacted, and hyper-overacted by all the Usual Suspects in keeping with their allotted roles. There’s Carson, the beetle-browed butler. (My favorite in the endless parade of butlerian clich├ęs was Rabbits, the butler in H. G. Wells’s hymn of hate to the lordly house, Tono-Bungay.) Maggie Smith does her tungsten-corseted, eye-rolling, nostril-curling, glottal-gurgle as only she can—half Lady Bracknell, half Queen Mary (the unfailingly erect consort of King George V). Julian Fellowes has gotten this stuff down pat since writing Gosford Park, though all the main plot lines were anticipated a long time ago by Upstairs, Downstairs."

Well, you get the drift by now.  But for some marvellously passionate, well crafted prose, read the rest HERE.

In the past, Julian Fellowes has neglected the golden rule of writers -- never, ever respond to an unfavorable review -- and snapped right back. 

Responding to people who accused the show of using anachronistic language and etiquette, he declared,  "The real problem is with people who are insecure socially, and they think to show how smart they are by picking holes in the programme to promote their own poshness and to show that their knowledge is greater than your knowledge."

Oh my.  One can only wait for his reaction to this latest scathing commentary.

He should relax.  Let's face it, for all its shortcomings, its lack of originality, and its stereotyped themes, Downton Abbey is incredibly addictive.

Another interactive cookbook

It seems just yesterday that the Kung Fu Panda 2 Cookbook came out

Now there is another.

CEO Gili Abramovich (pictured) is bubbling over with the news.

"I wanted to share with you a link to our newest cookbook which is officially being launched today for the iPad – the Hello Kitty Cookbook," he wrote.

And of course there is a video.  It's at:

From the press release:

The world most celebrated and beloved kitty, Hello Kitty, brings her delightful charm and culinary ideas straight into the kitchen on the iPad with the new Hello Kitty Digital Cookbook for children. This app is the 2nd digital cookbook released by Castle Builders as part of its unique lineup of digital books for children.

Gili says the next step is interactive eBooks for adults.  As a life-long booklover, this has given me a great deal to mull over, and friends have also contributed their thoughts and doubts on facebook (!/druettjo).  I can envisage the magic of having videos and sound effects attached to travel books, for instance.  But, somehow, the thought of reading a novel on iPad or iPhone doesn't seem natural.  What would be the advantages? 

I suspect that before the year is out we will be getting interactive prospectuses from all kinds of forward-looking business people.

Now, there's a scary thought.  Interactive advertising!

Sea charts

Beauty versus Accuracy

When I was searching for images for Tupaia, Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator, I got great pleasure from the many beautiful old charts I found.  The map reproduced above was particularly intriguing, because it provided an excellent illustration of how little the old Pacific explorers knew, compared to Polynesian ocean lore.

Engraved by Pieter Goos for his book De zee-atlas ofte water-wereld (Amsterdam, 1667), this "sea-chart" has to be viewed sideways, with California invisibly off to the bottom right, and what little was known of Tasmania ("Van Diemen's Land") and New Zealand hovering about to the top left.  Otherwise, the ocean is almost empty -- not Tahiti, no Samoa, no Tonga, no Fiji -- and yet it was drawn for the use of seagoing folk, such as captains, sailing masters, and trading agents, who intended to venture into this unknown region.

Pieter Goos was the son of Abraham Goos, an Amsterdam bookseller who specialized in maps and charts.  As well as carrying on his father's business, Pieter produced pilot guides for mariners.  His Zee-atlas was a bestseller, going through many editions.

No one, however, kept count of the number of travelers it sent to a watery grave.

I was reminded of this when the captain of the unfortunate Costa Concordia reckoned his ship hit an uncharted rock.

Is such a thing possible today?  Maritime historian Bill Bunting contributed a useful and entertaining comment that demonstrates that even relatively recently all charts were not equal:

Forty-plus years ago I was the mate of a sailing vessel engaged on a  world voyage (he says). Previous owners had outfitted her chart locker with  British, German, and US charts for many Pacific island areas. The British charts were aesthetically the most beautiful, as elaborately engraved as old bank notes, and imparting more than a whiff of  empire, except that, with no colors, it was often not easy to figure  out where the water ended and the land began. Lines of soundings were  likely to be attributed to the HMS PINAFORE or whatever a hundred or  more years ago, although presumably these were better than nothing. 

The German charts were by far the most detailed, especially regarding  features of the land, except that it appeared that many of the island  hills and valleys were boilerplate added to fill in spaces which if left blank might suggest less than complete and thorough knowledge. 
The US charts were the most utilitarian, and did not hesitate to display ignorance when appropriate. With an obvious color scheme  differentiating land from water, they were the easiest to use and  thus the charts of choice, even though they projected all the romance of a gas station road map.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

John Burnside wins TS Eliot poetry prize

John Burnside has been named the winner of the £15,000 TS Eliot Prize for Poetry for his collection Black Cat Bone.

This year's prize has proved controversial, with two poets withdrawing because of its sponsorship by an investment company.

Burnside, 56, who chose to read a poem instead of make a speech, told the BBC he was "stunned" to have been chosen.

He said he had never considered withdrawing over the sponsorship issue.

It is Burnside's second prestigious poetry prize in under six months. The Scottish writer won the £10,000 Forward Prize for the same collection in October.

Read the full BBC story by Tim Masters

Has the earth moved?

Earth scientists studying the after-effects of last year’s Japan earthquake, registering a 10 on the Richter scale, have discovered that the shifting continental plates have tilted the earth a little further on its axis. The result is a tiny, but measurable, alteration in time, distance and position in space.

According to New Zealand website SunLive, the news that the earth has moved didn’t surprise Tauranga resident Minnie Driver, who claims that her recent accident on Cameron Road was a direct result of her sat-nav being suddenly inaccurate.

“It’s been fine for ages, but since the earthquake it keeps telling me to turn about 25 metres before I get to the junction I want. True, I’ve met some interesting people, and surprised a few who were sweeping their drives, but this is clearly a new problem. I’ve spoken to makers Tom Tom, but they have investigated and blame lunchtime drinking. That’s scandalous, and probably only partly true.”

Other supposedly incompetent drivers have now come forward, and been joined by numerous other GPS users including trampers & boaties, many of whom have been hopelessly lost and branded as ‘stupid’ by emergency service staff.

They claim that GPS systems haven’t accounted for the shift in Earth’s position.

The captain of the Costa Concordia has claimed that the rock wasn’t on his chart.

Will he now tell the world that the ‘earth moved’ for him?

It must be the holiday atmosphere.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Winnie the Pooh and Doc treated badly

Reprinted children's classics lacking in integrity

Parragon embarrassed

A publishing firm is investigating how mistakes, including a drawing of Doc from the seven dwarfs without his glasses, were printed in a series of Disney books.

Linda Weeks, of Maidstone, Kent, found 70 errors when she read the Parragon-published series to her daughter.

The librarian said Winnie the Pooh also contained American terms that English author AA Milne would not have written.  Eeyore, for instance, had "gotten all spruced up for spring."

The Bath-based publisher said it was disappointed that errors had been made.

But the publishing firm said some terms had been used to enable the "widest possible audience" to enjoy the stories.

Ms Weeks, who is a research librarian, said the books which contained the errors included Aladdin, Alice in Wonderland, Finding Nemo, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Winnie the Pooh.

In Snow White, the text referred to an illustration of Doc, one of the seven dwarfs, but the character had been drawn without his glasses.

"That's not Doc, is it? Doc should have glasses on," she said

Read the whole story on BBC

Children's books of the future?

It's a book for kids
And it's different

It's an eBook -- but that's not what is different

It's also a cookbook -- but that is not what makes it different, either.

It's an eCookbook for Kids that's absolutely packed with apps.

But still that's not the difference.

The difference is that it's linked to a highly publicized film.

Somehow, I thought the ultimate eBook would be a dazzling production involving exotic travel, exotic animals, or classic art.  Never did I expect that it would be an eCookbook for children that not only entices them to turn cooking into a family experience, but encourages them to read. 

And it didn't ever cross my mind that it would be designed to accompany the release of a motion picture.

Creators of children's programs for TV and cinema are always keen to find ways to extend their marketing -- content that will make extra money out of creative licensing.  That's why bookstores go in for potentially profitable sidelines, such a stationery decorated with the latest cartoon characters, "Hello Kitty" and "Angry Birds" being a couple of the latest.  And that's why giant animation firms like DreamWorks are always on the lookout for innovative ideas that lead to yet more exposure for their films.

That's what led DreamWorks to a 16-strong team of creative programmers in Israel, called Castle-Builders, which has provided just what they are looking for -- an interactive cookbook, to accompany the release of Kung Fu Panda 2.  And, if they were looking for innovation, that's exactly what they got.  (I particularly like the truly imaginative trick of shaking the tablet to get a random recipe.)

This is definitely not a children's book the way I know it.  In fact, it is so far away from traditional children's print books that it's a different form of literature entirely.  

So, how did it come about? 

It began back in 2006, when 25-year-old Gili Abramovich, armed with a MBA degree from Israel's Colman College School of Business, and expertise in software development gained during his stint of military service, founded Castle-Builders.  This was a time when touch screen interactivity was science fiction territory, well before iPad, iPhone and Android, and yet Abramovich had  dreams that he was determined to turn into reality.

"Ever since I can remember I used to have ideas that I wanted to explore," he says. "I used to write them in a notebook; the digital book was simply the first I picked up and did something about. I felt that there was a trend and I just followed my instincts.  That brought me to the unique position we are in today - having our product highly interactive and compatible with the iPad, Android, Nook, PC and the Mac."

Interviewed via the miracle of the internet, his enthusiasm is almost palpable.  "As a kid, when reading a book, I was always waiting for the photo to come up every 4 pages," he confides. "That was why I thought that kids would love having an image on every single page - and since images simply do not cut it any more, I felt that every page should offer videos and animations. I wanted to create a whole world around every story, one that pulls the child into the story and keeps him mesmerized."

He calls it "a backdoor" way of getting children reading.

Perhaps he should call it a "kitchen door" way, because it gets them cooking, too.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Photoshopping unrealistically beautiful bodies

Ever suffer from a surfeit of Beautiful People?

Common sense should tell you that those gorgeous blokes and girls splashed over billboards and magazines are not nearly so pretty in reality. 

Let's face it, it has always happened.  Cleopatra bathed in ass's milk, and arrived attired in fetchingly flattering costumes.  In the early days of cinema, actors and actresses beginning to show their years were photographed through cheesecloth.  Makeup artists were deft at covering up blemishes.

Photoshopping has taken this art to a whole new level, and there is scientific evidence out there that proves that it is bad for the health of many people.  While most merely wince when a glimpse in the mirror compares unfavorably with the cover of the latest mag, there are some who become so driven by a bad self-image that they develop life-threatening dietary problems, or embark on risky surgery.

Now, two American computer scientists, Prof. Eric Kee and his grad student, Hany Farid, have developed a program that could be used to alert readers to the amount of photoshopping involved in pictures -- rather like the lists of ingredients and their calorific content that are printed on food packages.

Their paper, A Perceptual Metric for Photo Retouching, begins with this abstract:

In recent years, advertisers and magazine editors have been widely criticized for taking digital photo retouching to an extreme. Impossibly thin, tall, and wrinkle- and blemish-free models are routinely splashed onto billboards, advertisements, and magazine covers.

The ubiquity of these unrealistic and highly idealized images has been linked to eating disorders and body image dissatisfaction in men, women, and children. In response, several countries have considered legislating the labeling of retouched photos.

We describe a quantitative and perceptually meaningful metric of photo retouching. Photographs are rated on the degree to which they have been digitally altered by explicitly modeling and estimating geometric and photometric changes. This metric correlates well with perceptual judgments of photo retouching and can be used to objectively judge by how much a retouched photo has strayed from reality.      

You can download the entire article and supporting material HERE.

Warning: it's not easy reading.  And the advertisers and magazine publishers who have been offered the free use of the system are predictably unimpressed.

In meantime, comfort yourself with the bracing thought that those glamorous faces and slinky bodies are the products of a computer program, not of nature.

PS.  If you like the photoshopping illustrated above, you can see more examples HERE

Publishers Weekly bestsellers January 2012

Intriguingly . . .

While the fiction list is replete with the same tired old names, several of the "collaborators" in the bestseller fiction industry have at last been given space on the title page.

Hardcover Fiction
1. "Private: #1 Suspect" by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro (Little, Brown,$27.99) -
2. "Love in a Nutshell" by Janet Evanovich & Dorien Kelly (St. Martin's, $27.99) -
3. "Death Comes to Pemberley" by P.D. James (Knopf, $25.95) 2
4. "77 Shadow Street" by Dean Koontz (Bantam, $28) 1
5. "11/22/63" by Stephen King (Scribner, $35) 3
6. "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" by Stieg Larsson (Knopf, $27.95) 10
7. "Locked On" by Tom Clancy with Mark Greaney (Putnam, $28.95) 4
8. "The Litigators" by John Grisham (Doubleday, $28.95) 6
9. "The Best of Me" by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central, $25.99) 7
10. "Kill Alex Cross" by James Patterson (Little, Brown, $28.99) 5
Hardcover nonfiction
1. "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster, $35) 1
2. "American Sniper" by Chris Kyle, with Scott McEwen & Jim DeFelice (Morrow, $26.99) -
3. "Real Marriage" by Mark & Grace Driscoll (Thomas Nelson, $22.99) -
4. "Killing Lincoln" by Bill O'Reilly & Martin Dugard (Holt, $28) 2
5. "Taking People with You" by David Novak (Portfolio, $25.95) -
6. "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30) 7
7. "The 17 Day Diet" by Dr. Mike Moreno (Free Press, $25) 4
8. "The Dash Diet Action Plan" by Marla Heller (Grand Central, $22.99) -
9. "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand (Random House, $27) 3
10. "Catherine the Great" by Robert K. Massie (Random House, $35) 10

It will also be interesting to see when Publishers Weekly updates its list to include digital books.  This year?  Next year?  Never?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Symantec sued for making false claims

Talk about stirring the pot!

A group of Indian hackers has offered support to an American man, James Gross, who has filed a lawsuit against Symantec Corp.

A spokesman for the group, which is known as "Lords of Dharmaraja," released more than 13,000 files that were part of the product's source code from a 2006 version of Norton Utilities, a software program at the heart of the legal dispute.

"Pass it on to forensics and win the lawsuit," YamaTough said via Twitter.

The proposed class-action lawsuit claims that Symantec seeks to convince consumers to buy Norton Utilities and PC Tools software programs by scaring them with misleading information about the health of their computers. Symantec has said those claims are without merit.

It was not immediately clear how the source code might help the case. And one of the attorneys working with plaintiff James Gross said that he did not welcome assistance from the Indian hackers.

Read the full story

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Reader-Written Novel

"Crowd-sourced" novel in the Sydney Morning Herald

 It was the neatest idea of the Christmas season. 

The Sydney Morning Herald invited its readers to contribute to the creation of a new art form, a "crowd-sourced" novel featuring a mysterious necklace, which was to be published over the next three weeks.

The first chapter was published on Boxing Day (December 26) in the newspaper's Summer Herald section, on and on the Herald's tablet app.

Readers were invited to read that chapter and then write the next one, submitting it within two days.

One contribution was selected and published as the next chapter (on the tablet app and online only, but still, what a great idea). The editor -- Michael Duffy -- envisaged a novel nine chapters in length, which would appear as an evolving serial for three weeks, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

There were rules.  Each chapter had to be set in a different suburb, be strongly described, and be between 1500 and 2000 words. The only necessary linking element was the necklace introduced in the first chapter. Each subsequent chapter had to explain how the necklace got to be in a new suburb -- given or sold, stolen or inherited, perhaps. The chapters could move back and forth in time.

And lo, the public responded.  The final chapter has just been published, and it's a humdinger, starring Cate Blanchett, no less.

You can read the completed novel HERE  Just click each chapter in order.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The first typewritten manuscript

Who produced the first typewritten manuscript?

Mark Twain, it seems, with his story "Life on the Mississippi"

And can you blame him?  "Mississippi" is a lot easier to type than to write.

Joking aside, there is an interesting discussion developing on the internet, starting with milestones in publishing (such as the first typewritten manuscript), and focusing on word processors.

So, who was the first to produce a manuscript on a word processor?

No one knows, according to a fascinating article in the NYT by Jennifer Schuessler.  But there are plenty of guesses, mostly involving science fiction writers -- which is only logical, when you think about it.  Frank Herbert could well have been the first to submit a book on floppy disks, but in the absence of the disks themselves, let alone the data on them, it is impossible to prove.

(For that matter, it could have been yours truly.  In 1990 I produced She Was a Sister Sailor on a Brother rather like the one pictured above, and sent it to the publisher -- Mystic Seaport -- on floppy disks, which were a lot cheaper to mail than a typewritten manuscript.  They had to borrow an identical machine to read the confounded things.)

In her NYT story, Jennifer Schuessler tells us about Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, a university professor who is hot on the trail of the first word processor-produced manuscript, according to a recent lecture at the New York Public Library, saucily titled "Stephen King's Wang."  (A Wang was King's first word processor.)  Mr. Kirschenbaum also collects old word processors, and has a novel method of cleaning mother boards -- by putting them through the rinse cycle of the dishwasher!

According to Ms. Schuessler, the lecture was drawn from Mr. Kirschenbaum’s book Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing, which Harvard University Press is set to publish in 2013, or as soon as he can finish tapping it out on his iBuyPower 64-bit laptop.


Captain Underpants goes digital

At last, after six long years ...

NEW YORK (AP) — The author of "Captain Underpants" is joining the digital age and bringing back his million-selling series after a six-year hiatus.

Scholastic Inc. announced Thursday that e-editions of two graphic novels by Dav Pilkey, "The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby" and "Super Diaper Baby 2," will come out at the end of January. The releases will include deleted scenes and material about the making of the books, spinoffs of the "Captain Underpants" stories.

The proliferation of iPads, Nooks, Kindle Fires and other color devices have made publishers and authors increasingly willing to put illustrated works in electronic format.

Scholastic also announced that two new "Captain Underpants" books are arriving, the first since 2006 and continuing the adventures of schoolmates George Beard and Harold Hutchins and the principal they turn into an underdressed superhero.

Monday, January 9, 2012

eBooks with added content

Tablet vs. Simple Touch

I've been having a fascinating conversation with eNovelist Shayne Parkinson about reading books on tablets, which offer all those enticing (and very distracting) apps. 

She loves her tablet, she says, and when she reads, she just reads (more self-control than I have, I strongly suspect).  When she is not reading, she can use her tablet for a multitude of extras -- writing notes to herself, checking e-mail, updating a grocery shopping list, or just as a plain old phone.

Now I find on that a publishing company has held a survey of readers asking if they would be prepared to pay more, just to be able to read a book on a gadget that offers all those extras listed by Shayne.  The company is Cathedral Rock Publishing.  It's a small survey, but surprisingly positive.  And yes, eBook readers strongly support gadgets with additionals, such as audio and video, and are willing to pay more to get what they want.

Word for the Weekend: Menhaden

It's a fish, a very small American fish.  Also known as moss bunker, bunker, and pogy, it has been harvested for fertilizer since time immemorial.

Indeed, the name comes from the Algonquin word munnawhat, which means fertilizer.

Despite someone having fun in the food section of the Wikipedia entry, it is not generally considered to be edible, though it was once experimentally canned as "Ocean Trout."  Instead, it is harvested by the million for fertilizer and fish meal -- and the Omega fish oil that you swallow in capsule form for your health.  It's greatest importance, however, is its place in the food chain.  Like krill for giant whales, it is a necessary part of the diet of larger species.  Removing menhaden from the sea is another step in the wrecking of our planet.

This message is explored in a very well-reviewed book about this little fish, called The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America,  by H. Bruce Franklin.  It is worth hunting up the entry on Amazon, if only just to read the extremely well-written review by Mark McDonough.

In fact, whales played a surprisingly important part in the history of menhaden. As the great whales were "fished" out, reducing huge catches of menhaden as an alternative for lubricant oil became quite an industry, and schooners called "moss bunkers" became quite a common sight on the eastern coasts of America. As there was no refrigeration, the menhaden were just allowed to rot, so the moss bunkers could be smelled quite a long time before they came into sight. Working on them could not have been fun.

From maritime historian Bill Bunting:
There is a tale of a certain 3-masted schooner which loaded a cargo of "fish scrap" -- putrified processed pogy, pogy being an oily industrial fish once unsuccessfully canned as "Ocean Trout" -- at Promised Land, on Eastern Long Island, for Norfolk, where the maggoty scrap was to became a component of fertilizer. Initially the stench was all but overpowering to the schooner's people, but evidently the human olfactory system is designed to shut down in self-defense when confronted with an extreme situation, and by the time port was made the stench did not seem all that bad. But this proved to be an illusion when the captain, wife, and daughter boarded a street car only to have the other occupants depart post haste.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Rejected Names

The whaling wives of New England would be amazed

List of rejected babies' names released in New Zealand

There are some very odd names around these days, but no odder than they were back in the nineteenth century in whaling New England.  Undoubtedly because of the stern Old Testament background of many of the prominent families, names like Elijah, Uriah, Obed and Gideon abounded, while girls called Asenath and Azubah were common (though Mary was hugely popular, as was Sarah).

Well, those whaling mothers would have blinked at the list of names that were not allowed to be used in New Zealand, rejected because (a) the name is considered "undesiarable in the public interest" (b) it may cause offence (c) is too long -- meaning more than 100 characters (d) is an official title.

The most popular rejected name was Justice (or any spelling of the word)

Next came "Royal" and "Prince."

Well, good heavens above -- those names also feature heavily in lists of whaling crews and captains, a prominent fellow being Captain Prince Sherman, who was popular in all the ports where he landed.  A relative of his, another Prince Sherman, did not have quite such a wonderful reputation.  In fact, he jumped ship, and settled in New Zealand.

Then there was Royal Sherman.  And that comes from looking at just one family.  (There was a Zoeth Sherman, too.)

And how about all the babies who named after the ship!  The first "Chelsea," in fact, was little Chelsea Smith, born on board the New London sealer/whaler Chelsea, in appalling weather in appalling seas in the sub-Antarctic south.

And guess where Helen Herschel Sherman was born.  No, it's not a ship; it's a place.

Top ten rejected names:


Well, I can think of quite a few little boys who could very aptly be called Lucifer ....

First Digital Book Conference for 2012

On Behalf of Publishers Lunch

Living In A Digital Book World

The first big digital conference of the year is just weeks away and, as the headlines confirm, there will be plenty to discuss and learn about.

The show opens with a CEO's view of the future from View of the Future Redux: 

John Ingram, Dominique Raccah at Sourcebooks. John Donatich at Yale University Press, and Ellen Archer at Hyperion (preview her thoughts here: and closes at the now-traditional look at what we expect to happen within the next year with 

Evan Schnittman at Bloomsbury; Mark Allin at Wiley; Clare Peeters at Perseus; and Mike Shatzkin.

In between you'll hear individual presentations from the major etailers--Russ Grandinetti at Amazon; Theresa Horner at BN; Michael Tamblyn at Kobo--and the first conference presentation from new Bookish ceo Carolyn Marks.

There's futurist and author David Houle, and Oren Teicher from the ABA and booksellers from Politics and Prose and RJ Julia on The Bookstore Renaissance and new bookselling business model experiments underway. For original research, there will be new presentations from James Mcquivey at Forrester; Kelly Gallagher at Bowker PubTrack; Giovanni Bonfanti at A.T. Kearney; and Jack McKeown and Tom Thompson at Verso.

Plus five vertical tracks offer experts from throughout the publishing industry and beyond on technology, marketing, social media, ebook basics, the changing role of agents, global markets, illustrated books, libraries and more.

DBW has grown into a three-day extravaganza--beginning with our own Publishers Launch Conference going deep into the fast-growing digital children's market now that color devices have taken hold.

Best of all, since we are co-presenters of DBW, Publishers Lunch readers can still take advantage of a big discount on tickets--the best available price on the market. Use our code PUBLUNCH12 and you will save $470 off the full conference ticket price.

Enroll for Monday's Children's Publishing Goes Digital at the same time and you'll save another $135 on the bundle. 

There's always a big wave of registrations in January, and the show is headed towards a complete sellout, so click through now if you plan to join us.

Children's Goes Digital program

Full DBW program

Register here

Friday, January 6, 2012

UK bestsellers

Good lord, the Brits are as mad on cookbooks as New Zealanders

Bestselling books in the UK as of this moment ...

  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever Kinney, Jeff

  • The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz Avey & Broomby

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (tie-in) Larsson, Stieg

  • Jamie's Great Britain Oliver, Jamie

  • Moshi Monsters: Official Annual 2012

  • Tick Tock Patterson and Ledwidge

  • The Fifth Witness Connelly, Michael

  • The Simpsons Annual -

  • Au Revoir Liverpool Lee, Maureen

  • Home Cooking Made Easy Pascale, Lorraine

  • Dare to Dream One Direction

  • River Cottage Veg Every Day! Fearnley-Whittingstall, H

  • Don't Blink Patterson and Roughan

  • Club Penguin: Official Annual -

  • Octonauts Annual:2012

  • Sanctus Toyne, Simon

  • A Father's Revenge Neale, Kitty

  • The World of Downton Abbey Fellowes, Jessica

  • Virals Reichs, Kathy

  • The Girl Who Played with Fire Larsson, Stieg
  • Nook tablet outsells Simple Touch

    From Publishers Lunch

    It's already another fascinating year for Barnes & Noble, which surprised Wall Street with a number of post-holiday announcements. The success of their Nook Tablet, "which has exceeded expectations," came at some cost to their less expensive eInk device, "with a shortfall in the expected sales of NOOK Simple Touch." They say "the company over-anticipated the growth in consumer demand for single purpose black-and-white reading devices this holiday." Primarily as a result of that Simple Touch shortfall, BN reduced their guidance to investors, projecting fiscal year sales of between $7.0 billion and $7.2 billion, EBITDA of $150 to $180 million, and a loss per share of between $1.40 to $1.10 a share.
    I personally find this depressing, as it means that people want gadgets with distracting apps, which in my candid opinion is no way to read a book.  Most serious readers I know don't even want to be interrupted by an oldfashioned phone.

    The good news is that B&N holiday print book sales rose by 4%.  Overall, however, it doesn't look good for traditional publishing on paper.  Print sales tracked by Nielsen Bookscan declined over 9% in 2011.

    Trade paperback sales declined 6 percent. Hardcover sales were 7 percent lower. Mass market sales declined the most, down 24 percent.

    Adult nonfiction declined only 3%, while adult fiction dropped 18%, reflecting the continuing growth of ebooks. Juvenile books declined 5% overall.

    Thursday, January 5, 2012

    Death of documents?

    iPad used as ID

    I always make a point of scanning my passport before heading overseas, and keeping a copy on my laptop.  The same applies to any paper visas.

    This isn't just because of the risk of theft or loss.  When China was first opened to Western tourists, we were in a group heading for the Tibetan border.  At the Canton Trade Fair, a man who was with our small party borrowed all our paper visa documents for photocopying on one of the display machines.  He gave us all a second copy, and sent a couple to officials back home. The rest of us thought he was being paranoid, but the copies turned out to be very useful indeed, when the originals were mislaid by the courier.
    Anyway, a Canadian man has benefited from the same kind of precaution.

    Before Christmas, he arrived at the US border to find he'd forgotten his passport.  Yet he managed to cross the border into the US using a copy that he had scanned on to his iPad.

    Martin Reisch, from Montreal, said he told the official that he was heading to Vermont to deliver Christmas presents.

    "I thought I'd at least give it a try," Mr Reisch said, the Associated Press reports.

    "He took the iPad into the little border hut. He was in there a good five, six minutes. It seemed like an eternity. When he came back, he took a good long pause before wishing me a Merry Christmas."

    Mr Reisch, who successfully managed to re-enter Canada later the same day, has said he will not forget his passport in the future.

    I should add that he did have his driver's licence, so he did have one "real" document to help authenticate the electronic one.

    Cookbook heroine Annabel Langbein to star in NZ Book Month

    Creative New Zealand has made community grant funding available to hold at least 50 book/author events throughout the country, a key part of NZ Book Month’s community outreach.

    Annabel Langbein (pictured right) is the new celebrity reading role model who joins noted film maker Sir Peter Jackson as one of the two named so far.

    Bestselling cookbook author Annabel says she is delighted to be part of NZ Book Month. “The more time I spend promoting my books overseas the more I realise that the books we produce here in New Zealand are the equal of those from anywhere else on the planet.

    "It's important to take this time to celebrate the richness they bring to our world,” she believes.

    Booksellers New Zealand’s Project Manager Megan Dunn was delighted the popular Annabel will be a face of NZ Book Month. “Annabel’s involvement will highlight the diversity of New Zealand book genres,” she believes.

    Debut authors dominate Costa

    LONDON (Reuters) - Three of the five 2011 Costa Book Award categories were won by debut authors Tuesday, while Booker Prize winner Julian Barnes lost out to Andrew Miller for the best novel honor.

    Poet and first-time biographer Matthew Hollis scooped the Costa biography award for "Now All Roads Leads to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas" about the war poet who died in action during World War One.

    Christie Watson, a children's nurse, was named 2011 debut novelist for "Tiny Sunbirds Far Away" about a Nigerian family forced to leave a comfortable urban life for poverty in the countryside.

    And Moira Young won the children's book category for her first novel "Blood Red Road" set in a lawless future land where Saba sets out to find her missing twin brother.

    In the novel category, Andrew Miller won with his sixth novel "Pure," beating Barnes whose "The Sense of an Ending" was the Booker Prize winner in October.

    And poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy picked up the poetry prize with her latest collection "The Bees."

    The winner of each category receives a cheque for 5,000 pounds ($7,800). The overall winner, who earns a further 30,000 pounds, is announced on January 24