Video and Publishing

Simon and Shuster is going to post videos of its authors on the Internet in an attempt to sell more books. On the whole I think this could be very interesting. Part of me thinks, finally, some new thinking when it comes to marketing books. And then another part of me thinks, unfortunately, it still will not get around this:

“Publishing is founded on the ultimate contradiction,” said Norris of Simba. “The process of writing a book favors introverts and the process of promoting a book favors extroverts.”

It was Michael Ventura who said, “Writing is something you do alone in a room.” There is no getting around that fact. I have never forgotten that line since I read a photocopied version of his brilliant essay The Talent of the Room over a decade ago in a writing workshop.

Some writers are outgoing and great at PR. But, generally speaking, if they wanted to be in the spotlight as a person(ality), they’d go into acting, stand-up comedy, or TV news, or some other endeavor that thrives (often demands) personality-fueled celebrity. Of course, you could ask, what form of celebrity isn’t fueled by personality?

Fiction writers are not part of celebrity culture. Not in the way that actors and musicians are a part of it. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Interviews with writers tend to be about their books, their ideas, their inspirations, their craft, and their art. Interviews with celebrities tend to be touch on the album or movie they’re currently promoting, followed quickly by an in-depth exploration of whatever gossip is floating around them. Or it’s filled with inane questions, like when Leslie Stahl interviewed Felicity Huffman (during the release of Transamerica) on 60 Minutes:

Huffman has two little girls, but gives a surprising answer when asked if motherhood is the best experience in her life.

“No, no, and I resent that question,” Huffman says. “Because I think it puts women in an untenable position, because unless I say to you, ‘Oh, Lesley, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done with my whole life,’ I’m considered a bad mother. And just when I said no you, you went back.”

Can you imagine asking Philip Roth if he thinks he’s a “good husband”? Or whether he feels unfulfilled for not having any children of his own? Or asking Salman Rushdie if fatherhood is the best experience of his life? Or asking Arundhati Roy when she’s going to take some time out from all her activism to have a baby?

See where this is going?

Not being part of celebrity culture does have its benefits.

I applaud Simon and Shuster’s attempt and their creativity. While I think it will probably help those writers who are more outgoing people, it still won’t help the well-written book by the introvert. (Only good reviews and word-of-mouth can do that.) But thinking along these lines may eventualy bring about something for the video-challenged writer.

Mr. No

There appears to have been a lull these past few days in the public barb-trading during our state’s budget debacle. Last week Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) took a break to appear on OTR with Tim Skubick.

He said many things during his appearance.

  • He used the tried and true line that Republicans the country over recite, “We have a spending problem, not a taxing problem.” (Someone must have forgotten to tell President Bush and Congressional Republicans.)
  • About our governor he said, “She has some credibility problems.” (This from the man who claims he isn’t bound by the Tax Pledge he signed for Grover Norquist, but has yet to actually vote for a tax increase.)
  • About the $300 million the Senate recently cut in a hissy fit from the 21st Century Jobs Fund, he said he doesn’t want to throw money at start-up companies. (Wouldn’t want to encourage job creation when the state is losing jobs.)
  • “I don’t think we’re inflexible at all,” was his take on the Senate Republicans’ position. (So far his answer to every request for tax increases or revenue enhancements is “no.”)

Then to top it off he accused Governor Granholm of bringing “Wayne County politics” to the Capitol. So now it’s Wayne County’s fault that the budget hasn’t been set just yet?

Bishop has claimed that he, House Speaker Dillon, and Governor Granholm all had a budget agreement in place last week. But then apparently Granholm back-stabbed him by saying there was no agreement. That’s where he blames Wayne County politics.

Don’t forget though that Bishop, Dillon, and Granholm originally agreed on roughly $300 million in cuts through the Governor’s executive order back in March. Then shortly afterward without floor debate, Bishop rammed through over $377 million in cuts to Education and millions more to other programs, and then the Republicans walked away, declaring victory. Of course, the Democrats in the House killed those cuts. (It was the first time that Senate Republicans had even revealed their plan…and it was done under the cover of night…so no one could see what they were doing. Not exactly the method of the proud.)

Right after House Democrats passed their MBT to replce the SBT in a revenue-neutral move, Bishop suddenly unveiled his plan that would bring in over $600 million less than the SBT. So far, neither plan has moved very far beyond the original chamber in which it was passed.

Senator Bishop has an interesting resume. He is fluent in Spanish, having earned a degree in that language at University of Michigan, and also studying abroad for a period of time at the Universidad de Sevilla. He has also studied international law and business at Cambridge University in England and the University of Paris-Sorbonne in France. That’s pretty impressive. It’s not something the average college student is able to do.

It indicates remarkable academic success. Lately, he hasn’t had much legislative success. (But then again neither have the Democrats.) That hasn’t stopped the Senate Leader from planning for his own future. He appears to have his eyes on a bigger prize.

Bishop’s former aid Dennis Darnoi owns the domain names bishopforgovernor.com and bishopforgovernor.org.

What can expect from a Bishop for Governor candidacy? I can see his campaign commercial already:

[cue unflattering picture of Andy Dillon]
A deep male voice says, “He told House Speaker Andy Dillon ‘no.’
[cue picture of Michigan State Capitol building]
He told Senate Democrats ‘no’
[remain on picture of Michigan State Capitol building]
He told House Democrats ‘no’
[cue unflattering picture of Governor Granholm]
He told Governor Jennifer Granholm, ‘no.’
[Fade to black, then show word “NO” in white letters]
And he’ll tell you, the people of Michigan, ‘no’, too.
[cue smiling portrait of Mike Bishop]
Mike Bishop for Governor, ‘No’ Means ‘No.’”

Live Ink

There’s a new way to increase comprehension of reading text online.

A new process, visual-syntactic text formatting (VSTF), transforms block-shaped text into cascading patterns that help readers identify grammatical structure. The new method integrates converging evidence from educational, visual, and cognitive research, and is made feasible through computer-executed algorithms and electronic displays. Among college readers, the VSTF method instantly increased reading comprehension and efficiency of reading online text, while reducing eyestrain. Among high school students, who read with the format over an entire academic year, the VSTF method increased both academic achievement and long-term reading proficiency by more than a full standard deviation over randomized controls.

And it turns out to look a lot like poetry as this example shows.

Book Reviews Ad Nauseum

There is a smart long article on shrinking/disappearing book reviews in Salon by David Kipen. Though I wanted to quote the whole thing, I’ll only quote one of the many perceptive things he says,

Like it or not, the indicator species for American daily journalism is the book review. Newspapers were cutting book coverage before the current flurry, among other places in Detroit, San Jose and Boston. Without exception, losing their book pages failed to stanch either reader loss or red ink. Were these papers already in trouble before they started cutting book coverage? Of course, but what did their publishers expect by further alienating people who like to read — the one constituency no newspaper can survive without? Put another way, how can institutions that cover electoral politics be so deaf to every campaign’s first commandment, namely, “Shore up your base”?

Sometimes it seems as if embattled newspapers took the “Reading at Risk” report put out by the National Endowment for the Arts (where I work these days) as a rationalization for further cuts instead of a call to action.

He points out the obvious that “readers read newspapers.”

Critical Mass, the NBCC’s blog, has a nice list of things you can do to help support (and hopefully revive) book reviews in newspapers.

The Neo-Con Experiment (Nightmare)…

…appears to be coming to an end, finally. From the Guardian,

And yet to visit the US at present, as I have done, is to experience an overwhelming sensation of drastic impending change. It’s not merely that President Bush, to whom Blair so disastrously tethered himself, is “in office but not in power”. Most Americans can’t wait for him to go, Congress is beyond his control, and the Senate majority leader, Senator Harry Reid, has told him that the war in Iraq is lost – for which statement of the obvious Reid was accused of “defeatism” by the vice-president, Dick Cheney.

Reid said the war is lost by military means, that it needs a political solution.

And how is Bush’s Surge Plan (the one he decided on instead of the things proposed by the Iraq Study Group) going? Not very well at all,

Iraq’s Interior Ministry said 234 people — men whose bodies were found throughout the capital — died at the hands of death squads in the first 11 days of May, compared with 137 in the same period of April. The tally so far for May is more than half the total for all of April, when 440 bodies were found. That was a decline from previous months.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep on saying it until the last U.S. Serviceperson is pulled out of Iraq: Our men and women in uniform should not be refereeing a civil war.

Al Qaeda will not take over Iraq if U.S. soldiers leave. (Hell, we haven’t been able to “take over” Iraq, so what makes anyone think Al Qaeda can “take over” Iraq?) Al Qaeda terrorists are less than 10% of the insurgency. They are a Sunni organization, who are in the minority, which emans they are a minority within a minority. Terrorists will not get control of the oil revenues. There won’t be any control over oil (or anything else for that matter) until the Shia and Sunni stop killing each other. In order for that to happen, those two groups have to see peace as a viable option to solve their differences as opposed to violence.

Also, thanks to this misguided and mishandled misadventure in Iraq, Al Qaeda as a global organization is now apparently stronger than before 9/11. Why? Because the U.S. has wasted time, energy, money, and precious resources on Iraq instead of Al Qaeda. From Foreign Affairs,

By rushing into Iraq instead of finishing off the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Washington has unwittingly helped its enemies: al Qaeda has more bases, more partners, and more followers today than it did on the eve of 9/11. Now the group is working to set up networks in the Middle East and Africa — and may even try to lure the United States into a war with Iran. Washington must focus on attacking al Qaeda’s leaders and ideas and altering the local conditions in which they thrive.

President Bush has presided over this mess. There is no reason to take his word on anything anymore. To vote for his policies is to vote for stupidity and incompetence at the ever-increasing risk to the lives of the American people. We need to support the Democratically-controlled Congress as they question his proposals and finally put a check on his administration.