02 January 2013

Air Quoted Internet Link Sausages for the "New" Year

This platter of internet link sausages is especially irritable, thanks to a migraine. It is also heavily seasoned with the internet equivalent of "air quotes."

  • As a not-so-short follow-up to my rant against genre limitations last time around, consider actually reading — and thinking about — the purported "[2012] ultimate book guide" posted at Salon the day before Newton's Birthday. To begin with, there's a severe credibility issue among the fifty individuals chosen to provide their respective single-best-of-the-year selections. All but one write only in serious/semiserious nonfiction or literary/aspirationally-literary fiction (and that one exception had her speculative fiction fabulist work published by Grove, so perhaps she doesn't count as an exception!). Not suprisingly, all but two of their selected "best of the year" selections are also serious/semiserious nonfiction or literary/aspirationally-literary works (and the two exceptions are poetry), particularly as measured by publication imprint: It's entirely from two of the six large commercial houses, a smattering of mid-sized "serious" presses, and a similar smattering of small (and university) presses of serious/literary aspirations. Not one of this supposed list of fifty best books of 2012 came from an "archly commercial" imprint, or from a diversified midsized publisher, or from a niche small press. (OK, one came from Dalkey Archive... but Dalkey Archive is no niche small press.) This is a startlingly indefensible prejudgment. I'm not claiming that no list that excludes, say, Harlequin is credible; I am, however, saying that a list that excludes not just Harlequin, but every similar and not-so-similar specialist/commercial imprint, utterly lacks credibility. Bluntly, those "prestige" imprints simply aren't very good at uniformly snapping up all of the good stuff... or excluding bad stuff. If one accepts Sturgeon's Law (90% of everything is crap), this list fails even when measured solely against the subpopulation it draws from (serious/semiserious nonfiction, literary/aspirationally-literary fiction, and poetry), let alone the entire population of works-trying-hard-to-be-good. And Sturgeon was an optimist.

    Looking beneath the surface credibility problems, though, I'm even more disturbed by a subsurface current: Hiding the data. We simply do not know how many books "competed" in each "reviewer's" mind for "best of 2012," or how those books were acquiried. None of the "reviewers" appears to extensively review books; a couple of them appear to have provided a few blurbs on works published in 2012, but that's certainly no guarantee that the works blurbed were even read, let alone in publication form. It would have been trivial for each reviewer to state the number of works actually read from beginning to end in publication form (ARC or later); it would have been trivial for each reviewer to be excluded from promoting works published by their own publishers; it would have been trivial to include links to reviews of the works in question, a number of which were reviewed at Salon. This reflects, if nothing else, the failure of Salon's editorial process to adapt to the electronic world — which is both ironic in that Salon has never had a print counterpart and far from unique. The old print-world concept of rigidly limited column-inches per article does not apply — and even if it did, a hyperlink to a separate data repository would be equally useful, if in all probability disturbingly prone to other misuse.

    Data and analysis matter. Ms Filgate and her editor and her production designer get a D– for this piece of utterly irredeemable and fundamentally misleading garbage.

  • I'm actually frightened that someone might apply Ms Filgate's/Salon's methodology to self-help books. Fortunately, a lot of the "greats" of the field are dead; unfortunately, there are a lot of snake-oil salesmen (and even true believers) out there trying to adapt those principles to the present. As "Professor" Harold Hill said, their market is "[w]herever the people are as green as the money..."
  • An interesting warning from the founder of Smashwords, who (mostly) seems to have his heart in the right place (specifically, the thoracic cavity): "Indie" and "self-published" authors will earn less from sales than they pay out for dubious packaged "author services" for the forseeable future... and beyond, if the recently-purchased-by-Penguin-and-possibly-about-to-become-part-of-another-conglomerate Author $olution$ continues buying up every competitor it can find. Of course, there's another problem lurking in there, too: The presumption that those who have "skillz" in the various areas of import to indie/self-published authors make meaningful contributions to the profitability of a given work... and that's definitely far from certain, particularly concerning both interior design and cover design. (It's virtually certain for "marketing and publicity" consultants, but in the opposite direction.)
  • Over at The Economist, "Johnson" ponders the "problem" of split verbs. I think there's a darker, perhaps subconcious, class/cultural meme at work here: Among the widely spoken languages in early-twentieth-century England and America, only English does not grammatically require split verbs (and even split infinitives) for substantial parts of its common usage. As a specific example, consider non-present-tense German... That — and the insanity of verb-number agreement in English — makes the split-verb "problem" a particularly good marker for non-native speakers of English, or at least for those who hung around with a lot of non-native speakers of English (or, more to the point, less-well-educated speakers of English and patois-English) while growing up. I don't claim that this is a dominant factor, but it certainly bears some consideration concerning force-of-law proscriptions in a steals-from-everyone language that attempts to keep verbs away from the end of the sentence where they belong.