Category Archives: Criticism

Why anyone can succeed at publishing, or why publishing is failing

Just an abstract scenario, because I don’t want to get anyone (or myself) in trouble:

Publisher owns print rights to backlist title. Publisher does not promote said title, resting on the title either selling well on its own or rotting. Publisher has first dibs at electronic rights, fumbles them with a bad offer. Other publisher secures e-rights by offering a competitive deal. New publisher promotes same backlist title, blows it out of the water. Promoting ebook leads to collateral sales of pbook; also gets mentioned in industry news as a huge success. First publisher gets upset about accidentally succeeding, even to a minimal degree, calls the agent that represents the title, and complains about how first publisher didn’t get the ebook rights.

Yes, this really happened, like right just now, today.

Hint, first publisher: YOU DIDN’T GET THE EBOOK RIGHTS BECAUSE YOU WEREN’T PROMOTING THE TITLE AND DIDN’T OFFER FAIR ROYALTIES. Now quit harassing other people for your bad business practices and get back to work, such as it is.

Also, as a note, the phone call from the agency at your bequest to ask why their title was doing noteworthily well led to new business for us. So thanks, I guess.


On all sides, publishers are uncompetitive. They offer bad deals to their producers, pay too much for the internal services they offer to secure those producers, and then can’t figure out how to make peace with their retailers, any retailer. Only one of these facts has been in the news for the last few years, but make no mistake, all three are true.

These facts are the exact crazy-person reasons that makes me think anyone with the slightest business sense can get ahead in this industry, and also, why publishing is going down the shitter.


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The fate of indices in an ebook world

Indices are a problem across ebooks. Page numbers are no longer relevant in a digital space, which in itself makes 90% of an index immediately useless. To address this problem in books with simple indices (one page reference per item), publishers sometimes delete the page number and attempt to link the item to its corresponding reference (links being the digital equivalent to page numbers: faster, but not smarter). Creating these links is manual work that is both expensive and prone to error.

The more complicated the index, the more complicated the solutions to translate it for digital use. For example, the indices often contain multiple page references per item. Should publishers keep the page numbers as a means of having individual items to link to each particular reference, knowing that page numbers no longer apply? Regardless of what solution is reached here, since the linking is manual work, the more complicated the task becomes, the more expensive and the more prone to error the task becomes.

To be honest, of course, creating a digital index is not any more manual or prone to labor than creating a physical index, but digital publishing, though booming, is nowhere near the point of paying the sums of money that index experts (fairly) demand, and the basic reading experience that current devices aim for actually preempt putting anything close to this effort into a product. (Tablet publishing is another beast, perhaps to come to bear, but perhaps not, consider my solution below.) Therefore, we rely on the same companies to whom we outsource our digitization work, which itself even poses problems in titles that contain only narrative text and share the same escalating problems of complexity.

To respond to the index problem, I recommend implementing a solution to aggressively remove all indices from all titles. You may not feel like this is a perfect solution for your books, but let me offer the primary positive reason for which we made this decision.

All ebook readers (devices, apps, and other instances) have search functionality. Readers will have varying comfort levels searching for important terms, trained by their use of Google and other search engines. The solution is not perfect but is actually more likely to return what the user was looking for than an index, especially when you consider the human error that goes into making the digital index.

The ability to search for relevant terms is synonymous with a level of comfort with technology assumed in owning an e-reading device and provides an opportunity to improve reader experience without notifying them that a more frustrating option (a digital index) could also have been available.

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On how our culture is a cotton gin

The cotton gin was a wonderful device for its time. It mechanized an approximation of human movements, dozens or hundreds of steel fingers ripping away at the cotton the way the cotton seeds had used to rip at the fingers of workers. So close to the actual, its method was only obvious to one man (or a few, maybe; I haven’t done the research and ideas tend to appear in isolated in space but clustered in time), but once he had developed the machine it was easy to replicate, unhindered by a requirement for a particular type of power or any other obvious limitation. Human-powered crank, windmill, watermill, or electricity, it did its job just as it was supposed to, ripping and shredding and providing a small relief from human toil.

When I was younger, in college when all these different ideas buzzed through the air, I championed efficiency, which is the primary mark of why the gin was so successful. Nobody would have much cared if the contraption had only save human tears; the important thing was that it saved human hours. And I, with the few hours of computer science I had taken and my love of video gaming latching me on to the internet revolution, agreed wholeheartedly that efficiency stood chief among our modern virtues: If a social or technological improvement costs someone their job, so be it! That’s the price we pay for our advancement. But, of course, thoughts of this kind can only last until the actual price is met, in this instance until I had or was trying to hold or was even trying to get a job. But, to be fair to myself, the fallacy of my enthusiasm existed and was seen before the final moment.

We have not, at this point in our history, found a more efficient means of facilitating the dreams of the ambitious intelligent youth aside from collecting them together in one place by means of separating them from their home. The metaphor is simple: the ambitious are the seeds and the rest are the cotton, and society separates us with the strong steel fingers of immobile college campuses. As early as seventeen, we’ve already left our parents and our friends in pursuit of success, left behind the plant that fostered us because there is no other choice aside from stagnation and, ultimately, the despair of not fulfilling our potential.

So knit-pick my metaphor: why are the young ambitious the seeds? Why not the cotton? This is a first draft, so there’s no real structural argument to make aside from my instincts, but I’ll tell you this: you only have to be young and ambitious for a moment past college (perhaps for a moment into your junior year, perhaps not even that long), struggling to make a mark and a difference in the world you see, to realize that the world doesn’t care about your struggle. Only the plant that left you cares, and you’ve left them as far behind as you could—in a different town, city, state, country—the only remaining vestige sometimes is a trickling pipeline of money here and there, but their support isn’t a job, isn’t what you need to get by, and no other community has any incentive to build much concern for you. In fact, more often than not they’ll cast you aside, confused at what you want to accomplish by being something other than white and fluffy and immediately employable.

The rest who stayed home are therefore the cotton because as the young ambitious youth is casting about trying to find a place to take root, the others are immediately recognized for their worth and immediately sold for wages. But there’s the argument that the seed will grow cotton itself and will therefore be worth more one day than the others, but what good is that to the seed, especially before it’s even found a niche in which to grow? And what if it never finds a niche? Not all seeds ultimately grow into plants. What good are promises for future prosperity then, to an unfulfilled seed who ended up on only rocky soil and then washed away, never to recover?

My argument here is not that seeds are better than cotton but that the gin-aspect of our society that rips the cotton and the seeds apart is damaging, specifically to the seed. To be young and ambitious is to be alone, forcefully and willfully—that’s the most hideous part—alone while the youth tries his hardest to succeed even when there’s no guarantee of success (especially in the places our American culture puts the young and ambitious: New York, D.C., and Los Angeles, other major cities notwithstanding). My argument is therefore to suggest that we find a way to allow the young and ambitious to stay within the comfort of home and tribe and therefore to have some measure of happiness, for I can guarantee you this from my vantage point: the sadness comprises every reason to quit; it does not contribute (as our cultural assumption would suggest) a single reason to continue.

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What Rachel Maddow missed in her interview with Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow spent the better part of their one hour interview discussing Stewart as a media and political figure and how his rally fit into that point. However, they were discussing two separate structures and failed, especially at a point in the conversation 40 minutes into the show, to connect their separate paradigms. However, the difference is simple.

Jon Stewart is a comedian who satirizes the news, in particular the 24-hour news cycle.

Rachel Maddow is a commentator who comments, sometimes with satire, about political conflict in America.

The primary difference between them, and why according to Jon they’re not on the same level, is that Jon’s focus is on the news process while Rachel’s focus is on the political process. However, Jon’s show is so overtly political in nature that it’s hard to separate his content from political content. Jon’s show, at least according to the argument he put forth in the interview, is only accidentally politically focused. He talks about politics because news stations talk about politics. Rachel, on the other hand, talks about politics because she’s a news person, and politics is news. Therefore, her show’s focus on politics is purposeful and limited, basically different from The Daily Show’s purpose.

Therefore, the “game” that Jon references isn’t the political game, to say that he could become a political force. He’s not particularly critical of politics in general. The positive influence he seems to regret not having is on the news process: he regrets that he can’t create a news station from scratch that focuses on conflicts in the country other than the political. Rachel, on the other hand, is part of a major news network and has, presumably, the leeway to use different rhetorical approaches on her show than has been seen in the past. Jon referenced Keith Olbermann as one of the first movers in MSNBC towards the left to take up the polarizing begun by Fox  News. And while MSNBC seems offended at the accusation that they’re trying to be to the left what Fox is to the right, the change that Jon wants to initiate is that MSNBC be something other than the left to Fox’s right: he’s essential asking Rachel and others to find something other than politics and a narrative other than left vs. right by witch to define their news programs. He, being a comedian that comments on the news rather than a journalist who comments on politics, cannot initiate that shift.

Essentially, Jon wants to remain a comedian who satirizes the news, but he wants journalists to grow beyond people who comment on politics. The new conflict Jon proposes is corruption vs. not-corruption, which he seems to think is the primary purpose of news in the first place. Is this the type of news set forward by sites like and sites dedicated to the open sharing of governmental data? I’m not sure that’s what he means, because that process would allow the focus to remain only on politics and the political divide. But at least it would make the political conversation a little more complex and thereby a little more realistic.

Perhaps if Jon set out in particular terms what he means by the axis of corruption vs. non-corruption, news stations could pick it up and run with it. He is clear, however, that he is not a news person; he is a comedian that comments on the news. Rachel would do well, in my opinion, to realize that she is not a news-commentator but a news commentator, not one who reacts to the news but one who relays news, and thereby is much more fundamental, as Jon Stewart recognizes, in setting the tone of our nation’s media than Jon, whatever his ratings and media prowess.

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Theme Thursday: Fast food

**Special Note**

I have changed the comment settings on NQOKD in order to reduce the number of “anonymous” posts and the need for administrator moderation. If you would prefer to post anonymously, send your post to me via email, facebook, or twitter.


In homage to my link of the first In-N-Out in Dallas getting 12 comments where my post about Mark Twain’s finally released autobiography got 1, I’ve decided to let you write about what you OBVIOUSLY want to talk about: Fast food. You loyalties, your disgusting stories, your thoughts. Write them in the comments below.


The only right I assume from you posting a comment is that I am able to host your work on this blog for non-commercial purposes with attribution. You keep all other rights.

I do have plans to attempt to monetize this site once the boulder rolls a little further down hill, but at this point there are NO ASSUMPTIONS OF COMMERCIAL RIGHTS. I will contact authors on an individual basis for any and all commercial purposes.

Make the entries as short or as long as you want, and any genre is fair game: fiction, non-, and poetry. Publish in comments stories, no matter how polished or raw, according to the game of the week. If I like your story, I’ll contact you and ask for permission to remix your work, which I’ll post with the next week’s contest.

You have one week to submit your story, and please, please do. I don’t want this site to be my literary masturbation. Join me, and perhaps get some free editing and mentoring along the way!

The Original:


The remix:

My sister wrote me a letter where she talked about her relationship. We talk less than once a year, but she wants to correspond, preferably by writing. She’s a firebrand, a fighter; by my theory of personal overcompensation, her focus on peace and the idea of namaste highlights her ability and willingness to fight. Writing keeps things at a distance, helps keep the remove in place. She probably doesn’t like that she’s as prone to fighting as she is; I imagine hysteria itches at the back of her throat at the beginning of any conversation with an intimate, a little prod threatening to bruise if she doesn’t let loose the torrent. And she does, with skill; but still, I think it’s something she dislikes about herself.

She wrote about smoking and how she wants to quit. It’s always a struggle, and it helps to have friends on your side. The kind who want you to quit but will let you do so at your own pace, because really a person can’t do anything other than at their own pace. Even if you want to quit, if someone pulls you along faster than you can go, it builds resentment and entrenches the habit.

But I have a habit that I like but is prone to criticism from those around me, particularly my family and significant others if not my friends in general: I play video games. On occasion, I play them far too much. As a preteen, I would hide myself away in the computer room to play Doom 2 all night. I resented family meals, where (in my memory) my sister hogged all the attention and I only spoke to be told I spoke too loudly. After eating too much, I would go back upstairs and play games until I had to go to bed, sometimes until my father had to come upstairs. I liked videogames, perhaps better than my own life, and my preference has stayed true through some other rough patches.

During my relationship with Sarah, for example, after getting laid off and losing most of the connection that we had shared as friends, I sunk into World of Warcraft, well known as a life-stealing time-suck. But I didn’t have many friends in Boston, and the few I had I lost as I sunk deeper into depression, fueled by being unemployed and unhappy in love. The more depressed I got, the more World of Warcraft I played, which Sarah began to resent as much as I resented her play Solitaire all the time, which worsened the relationship, which depressed me, which had me play more World of Warcraft. Yes, like a snail with its shell, but that’s me. We can’t all be superheroes who handle all of our problems cavalierly and correctly, eeking a smile from all those around us, and I had no idea how to solve the problems of our relationship, and neither did Sarah, and to this day I don’t know whether we tried to salvage it or not. I can list our attempts on my fingers, but their utter lack of effect on the whole debacle tempts me to discount them.

And yet I like this part of myself, the part that can disconnect from what’s going on and have a good time for a little while. It’s not my most noble aspect, but it is a moment utterly human. Constant engagement without break leads to psychosis, and I thank video games and other releases for giving me moments of rest, even moreso on occasion than sleep (I have apnea, have never and never will sleep well).

People who love you will always try to knock those parts of you that they consider weak away because they want you always strong all the time. But people aren’t like that; we have flaws and virtues, and sometimes we have parts of ourselves that are large enough to encompass both. Video games are escapism and an exercise of the mind; procrastination and catharsis. But we are full of moments and forces like that, moments and forces of blessings and curses.

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Filed under Criticism, Features, Humanistic, Personal essay, Theme Thursdays, Writing

Virgin Pulp

How many of us are inclined to give publishers a little leeway when it comes to what products they choose for their production? Publishing is a low-margin industry across the board, so if the businessmen have to cut a few corners here and there in order to bring us the books we want at a reasonable price, shouldn’t we cut them a little slack? Should we still cut them that slack if we learn, as MOBYLIVES (an excellent source of publishing news) reported on this report (covered in the San Francisco Chronicle) that some of the paper comes from virgin Indonesian pulp?

But what we’re talking about in specific is children’s books from publishers across the board, and the children’s market across all industries is unhappily tainted with reports of corner-cutting. Perhaps we wouldn’t be surprised to hear that a children’s book printed in China used that same ink mentioned in The Name of the Rose or a cheaper variant with the same implications. I suppose, all things considered, we’re lucky the books aren’t printed with lead ink!

Now I haven’t done the research on this, but I can’t really believe that the use of Indonesian pulp is an unsolvable problem. Any given forest is a renewable resource, and I don’t have many reservations about using wood, especially in the creation of paper. But I work under the assumption that if an action can be a sustainable practice then it should be. Is Indonesian paper cheaper because of the cost of labor? Then pay them to make a sustainable tree farm.

I’m not even advocating bringing the work back into the States, although perhaps I should. Keep it cheap to keep your margins, but people will pay for books that don’t promote deforestation. Make a cross-industry marketing initiative with a little foil sticker and a cute banana-eating monkey with proud wording that says, “No virgin pulp!” (It’ll be about as true of your copy as your pages, but that’s off topic.) On the other hand, if you just get your jollies from cutting down rainforests in order to print a book about conservation for children, well, there’s really nothing anyone can do for you.


Filed under Criticism, Features, Publishing

The Problem of Profit: Circulatory metaphor stated

As a small disclaimer, I’ve received one response to this idea already and would like to dismiss it out of hand: I am at base a capitalist. I believe in the free market with some important exceptions, and my base struggle here is to balance that belief with an underlying assumption in the equality of men, which is a democratic–not a communist–viewpoint. I sympathize with Marx in that our current capitalism seems to be bleeding itself dry, but I do not believe the rhetoric that a perfect society will one day inevitably replace what we have: no generation supercedes the last in those matters truly human, and inequal power distributions and massive ignorance are among those truly human matters. What I do mean to say here is that our system is broken, has been for a long time, and I offer this metaphor to propose at least one solution.


Capillaries are so small as not to be seen by the unaided eye. Therefore, the best European science use to believe, as ridiculous as it seems today, that blood did not circulate through our bodies but was constantly generated and discarded. It wasn’t until William Harvey came along and in his book On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals offered several obvious but previously unseen arguments about how difficult it would be for a body to maintain a non-circulatory blood supply including food intake and waste based on the amount of blood pumped by the heart per pump. Harvey may not have know what capillaries were, but he proved that blood must circulate, which lead to their discovery. This book singlehandedly initiated the controversy about looking at the human body as a machine instead of as a mystery, from which comes all of modern biology (most true to this tradition neuro-psychology). Regardless of the metaphysical implications of such a view, the outcome of modern medicine itself encourages the pragmatism of such a system.

A few hundred years later and in the same spirit, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations served a similar role by replacing general mysticism about what wealth is and from whence it comes. Like blood cells, every dollar has an orgination point and follows a measurable path to a knowable destination. Adam Smith may not have known what I refer to as the problem of profit, but he did know that some abuse would occur once a system of the circulation of wealth was known, and so he listed some duties to which the people should hold their sovereign. Sovereigns’ general failure to maintain these guidelines because of power’s loyalty to laissez faire has in general lead to the Marxist theory of capitalism–that capitalism holds within itself the seeds of its destruction–and the peoples’ desire to maintain Smith’s duties of the sovereign has in some places inspired socialist movements.

Despite the dollar’s basic adherence to the law of conservation and the hundreds of years since the establishment of a system of economy, Americans continue to treat wealth as if it were a part of impregnable Fortune, and this is more true the lower the monetary class of the individual in question. But I liken the American economy and Smith’s wealth-circulation application therein to describing a patients’ bleeding to death in terms of Harvey’s system of blood-circulation. Harvey describes a closed and efficient system, and modern science makes up for this error by explaining why some blood is lost and where new blood comes from such that it remains essentially a closed system. But the circulatory system becomes open when wounded, sometimes losing blood at a rate faster than it can replace the loss. These situations can prove fatal, and this is exactly the situation of the American economy.

Profit is one means by which the closed system of the American economy is compromised. Importation and out-sourcing are other wounds, but these are mostly managable by law and extremely small compared to the problem of profit. The American economy exists within a system of world economies, and importation and out-sourcing are means by which these economies interact with each other. Profit, however, is the means by which wealth is removed from circulation within a system. Therefore, importation and out-sourcing can be seen as blood donations, basically useful and on occasion beneficial to both parties, whereas profit is a bruise, a self-inflicted wound in which all material is lost and from which no benefit can be derived.


Follow-up posts will include why profit-money can be considered as having left the system and a rebuttal to the argument of incentive.


Filed under Criticism, Humanistic