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Archives: January 2005

Braking Technology: Amazon’s Recommendation Engine

I imagine that, for John Eklund, writing this essay felt like stretching so thoroughly, every joint applauded with a ‘pop.’ From Wal-Mart’s much-superior forecasting skills to the loathsomeness of book clubs, Eklund rattles off everything about the book world that’s ever irked him.

Top on his list: Amazon (and Amazon-styled) recommendations, which he argues are v. v. “bad for reading”:

I don’t really have a problem with small-scale targeted book marketing. If I’ve bought six volumes of Irish poetry over the past year, and my local bookshop has been clever enough to quietly track these purchases, is it really such an imposition to receive a postcard alerting me to a new Seamus Heany collection? But the “customer-recommends” algorithm removes the pesky human from the interaction. And it does the exact opposite of what it claims to do: far from expanding my reading horizon, it contracts it. It doesn’t show me new worlds, it tries to duplicate as closely as possible the reading world I’m stuck in. When I’m offered “more like this” I want to scream NO! Not more like that. More like something else entirely, more like some other reader I’m nothing like, more like some new and different experience.

So … I’m guessing he doesn’t like gift cards?

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PW‘s CAST-away

Further thoughts on Sara Nelson, via an anonymous reader:

The PW titles its review section its “Forecast” section would seem to suggest that these are meant to come out before publication. But the NYT and WSJ have regularly beaten them to the punch (see Janet Maslin’s review of Peter Lefcourt’s new book last week, which predates PW’s review.) Given that, perhaps they should change the name to “Post-Forecast.”

Scrapbook

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  • Old Hag uses cutting-edge technologies to spy on Michael Chabon.

  • Jennifer Weiner presents ‘How to Query the New Yorker (if you are a Female Writer of Popular Fiction who Does Not Look like Nell Freudenberg).’ “Step thirteen (ongoing): Convince yourself you didn’t want to write for those snobs anyhow. ”
  • The Chicago Tribune, celebrating Ayn Rand’s 100th, calls Atlas Shrugged a radiation leak.
  • New York Magazine loiters at the NBCC nominations party.
  • “… There ought to be a limit to the number of times an author can deliver the same goods”: the Guardian imagines rules that could save it from reviewing Anita Brooker’s novels.
  • Signing Off

    While journalists eventually get sacked for inventing interviews, there’s no rule preventing interviewees from inventing stories, or inventions. Unfortunately, even if the inventions are as far-fetched as book readings without authors, news-hungry bloggers buy them and local papers sic their ludic columnists on them.

    The St. Petersburg Times, however, reaps the benefits of sane suspicions:

    Just as our conversation was winding down, Atwood, a descendant of Nova Scotians who she says love to tell whopping lies just to see what you’ll fall for, tells me about the latest addition to her already impressive resume [...]

    On my part, I should have known better when Atwood used the words “democratising” and “change” while talking about the book industry:

    Far from estranging author and audience, Atwood said, the machine was “a democratising device” which could help authors who were not stars, and often missed out on signing tours. Her invention could change all that.

    Previously on GC: Close at Hand : Atwood, Nan Talese & Unotchit

    Million Dollar Baby

    For several days now, Sara Nelson‘s upcoming ‘letter from the editor’ has been riding the web’s tides like sewer-mangled styrofoam. We know it shouldn’t be there, but we’ve always been more comfortable littering than cleaning.

    More importantly, however: we rarely get to offer our readers an emotion as genuine, as pristine and untouched (by the super-ego), as the discomfort provoked by Nelson’s “metaphorical” baby fixation.

    Read more

    Ambiguous Preaching by the Choire

    Occasionally, a reviewer’s wit makes it hard to distinguish between a bad book (unintentionally ridiculous) and a good book (self-consciously ridiculous). So, yes, we know Choire Sicha’s a good writer, but what I want to know is if JT Leroy isn’t. (I could read Leroy myself, but my shrink says I can cut my daily sessions down to weekly if I stop reading writers in my age group.)

    From Sicha’s Washington Post review:

    In Leroy’s bitty new novella, Harold’s End, a wary, hopeless boy named Oliver is plucked from San Francisco’s infamous Polk Street hustler huddle. Plumped up in the Castro district, in the home of an older man named Larry, he is given hamburgers, the best heroin available, and a pet snail named Harold [... intended for ...] an evening of non-negotiated scatological play.

    Welcome Announcement

    About GalleyCat.com
    Though we currently don’t have the archives to prove it, GalleyCat launched in September, 2004, and has since been providing daily updates on Sara Nelson’s whereabouts, the NYTBR‘s downward trajectory, Steve Wasserman’s functional autism, underage writers’ sex memoir advances, Judith Regan’s cussword-neologisms, and the reincarnated-Andy Kaufman’s ULA shenanigans.

    In reality, we’ve been much more tame than that — but GC’s redesign also marks a shift in focus, from well-rounded literary linkage to a more deviant, Spiers-inflected interest in publishing news & industry gossip.

    To that end, GC welcomes any and all reader contributions; deposit suggestions, links, gossip, and criticism in our Anonymous Tip box, or get in touch with Nathalie, GC’s editor, at galleycatATmediabistroDOTcom.

    About Nathalie Chicha
    Nathalie is a graduate of Brown University (class of 2002) and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (fiction, 2004). She moved to New York in September, and writes GalleyCat from home, in a growing assortment of unphotogenic pajamas.

    The Romance of Money

    Karen Fox’s thorough survey of advances & standard royalty percentages on the part of romance publishers has been online for quite some time, but I just discovered it today (thanks to Southern Comfort: Diary of a Hype Hag). While young, debuting literary writers regularly take home outsized advances (as the Grumpy Old Bookman phrased it, “Sensible industries boast about how much income is generated by their product; publishers boast about how much they’ve paid for it.”), the romance genre, judging by Fox’s information, takes a very cautious approach to untested talent. Some examples from her list:

    Dutton/Signet/NAL (single title)
    Average advance (first book): $7,500
    Average advance (subsequent books): $36,000
    Advance range: $7,500 – $85,000
    Standard royalty percentage: 8%
    Average earn-out: n/a

    Genesis
    Average advance (first book): $650
    Average advance (subsequent books): $2,000
    Advance range: $500 – $2,500
    Standard royalty percentage: 6% “of invoice”
    Average earn-out: n/a

    Harlequin Intrigue
    Average advance (first book): $4,000
    Average advance (subsequent books): $6,000
    Advance range: $3,500 – $7,000
    Standard royalty percentage: 6%
    Average earn-out: $17,000
    Range: $11,000 – $18,000

    (Also noted: my escape-hatch plan of misusing my MFA to write a “genre” novel is the economic equivalent of flying into the sky with a parachute made of lead.).

    Pro Bronson on Writing

    I always assumed writing amounted to a slow, torturous, breakdown of a writer’s native syntax and vocabulary, followed by a blind and fearful reconstruction … But, given Po Bronson’s very different definition, I’m forced to either accept that there’s many kinds of ‘writing,’ or that whatever Po Bronson is doing isn’t ‘writing.’

    From Bronson’s “About Me” page (emphases, my own):

    My Basic Philosophy
    (as it comes to writing)

    I studied cultural economics and studio art in college. Cultural economics is the study of the interplay between capitalism and local culture, their influence on each other – Japanese keiretsu, Yugoslavian worker-controlled firms, Israeli kibbutzes, Basque cooperatives. I was expected to write an honors thesis, a hefty piece of research, 50+ pages minimum. Most people found this to be a ruinous chore; completing the task was rare. I wrote mine, then had another idea, and wrote a second, then a third, and a fourth. Four honors theses! Stanford had never seen anything like it. That was the first time it occurred to me, “maybe it’s not economics that I like – maybe it’s writing.”

    TPR, Follow-Up

    “Is Paris Burning?” asks the NY Observer.

    A source familiar with the boards’ activities said that Ms. Hughes’ firing might be a symptom of wider cultural dissonance at the magazine, and that some staff members might’ve had trouble adjusting to the fact that, for the first time, there was a more corporate element to the magazine’s direction.

    [...] “But there is no other choice,” the source continued. “The board has responsibilities that don’t have anything to do with the content of the magazine. Suddenly people like accountants are more important.”

    But, counters Daniel Kunitz, TPR‘s former managaing editor, “the makeup of that board is dangerously old.”

    “I think they’re out of touch. I don’t think they know what’s going on in the way that George did, or in a way that is best for the magazine, to keep it fresh, to keep it current.”

    No replacements have been publicly named or considered by the board. But, according to board member Thomas Guinzburg, they are “collecting names and resumes of people who want to be considered.”

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