20 May 2008

Reversals of Fortune

The "news," such as it is, consists mostly of reversals of fortune. None involving David Marriott, fortunately.

  • One of the constant laments of unpublished writers concerns how hard it is to get out of the slush pile — the veritable, and all-too-often literal, mountain of unsolicited manuscripts sent to publishers — and into consideration by editors. This is not made any easier when publishers concentrate on outsourcing the slush pile, even on this side of the pond. It's also an incredibly stupid thing for publishers to be doing, but that's a long explanation (involving both statistical analysis and allegedly confidential data, so it won't end up here). The short version is that it costs publishers more — both directly and indirectly — to rely upon agents as their primary screening tool than it would to do that screening in-house... especially with electronic submissions. Further, the accuracy of the screening just isn't as good when delegated to others.
  • A French court has implicitly reversed the anti-Amazon free book deliveries ruling of earlier this year. What that actually means for Amazon is another story entirely, as I strongly suspect that the traditional French xenophobia will somehow result in distinguishing the ruling at hand from that big, bad Yankee outfit. In violation of European competition law, but who's counting on even-handed application of that?
  • Another effort to point out the endemic bad writing among lawyers goes astray almost from the beginning. IMNSHO, the biggest problem with legal writing is that lawyers — especially those who do not have a strong liberal arts background combined with several years after the bachelor's degree of having to communicate with others — have not read enough good writing to know the difference themselves. And, of course, legal citation "style" doesn't help. Between parallel citations and string citations — not to mention the unique-to-law requirement of putting the entire citation inline, rather than using a table of authorities for more than just a shelf-picking aid — it's a wonder that anyone can ever reach the end of a sentence intact. Even Twain would be flabbergasted.

    I've remarked on this problem before. If all we really care about is the string of citations as warrants for a particular argument, the current method of legal writing might have a shred of validity. I'm more interested in the relationship between the warrant and the argument itself, and sometimes the argument shorn of its emperor's-new-clothes reliance on "authority." So, for that matter, are judges, arbitrators... and nonlawyers.

  • There's an ongoing "book publisher's manifesto" at The Digitalist that proposes reversing some bad practices and ignores the worst ones. That is about average for these "manifestos," which virtually always offer a one-size-fits-all "solution" to the problems of publishing. Since what we know as the "publishing industry" today is the bastard offspring of a drunken orgy among either eleven or thirteen distinct niches (depending on exactly how detailed one wants to get), and the term "publishing" actually descends to us from the Renaissance-era English common law of defamation, it should surprise no one that one size usually ends up fitting nobody... and all too often ends up proposing Renaissance-era practices as supposed reforms without bothering to remember the "publishing context" of the Renaissance (and, for that matter, early Enlightenment), whether on the island or on the continent... let alone over here.
  • Money. Visual impairments. Discrimination. Now this is actually a decision that makes a great deal of sense... although the vending-machine industry is going to be awfully upset. Schade.

I'll just end this with a vial of insulin.