Monthly Archives: May 2015

Are You Depressed by 50 Shades of Grey? Don’t Be.

The PR and media machine’s drumbeat is so hard to drown out. This past weekend at Baycon, we were privileged to make a number of new friends, and get to know great writers like Leslie Ann Moore and Deborah Pratt. When talking with Leslie, the topic of “50 Shades of Grey” came up. Those books were bestsellers, no question, I said – but just how much? And did those sales hold up over time? I told Leslie I could probably get some in-depth answers pretty fast.

Answer: no, sales of the 50 Shades trilogy did not hold up over time. The books had more than a 90 percent year-to-year dropoff between 2012 and 2013. There’s no way to tell for certain, but overprinting could be one reason for high book returns for 50 Shades‘ parent company in 2012 as well.

#Meant4Bub All Books The SameAccording to AG Bertelsmann’s annual report to shareholders, 50 Shades of Grey sold seven million print, digital and audiobook copies in 2013, including English, German and Spanish-language editions. The sales figures are for the 50 Shades trilogy, which were all published by Vintage Books (imprint of Penguin Random House) starting in March, 2012. The company’s annual report for 2012 notes that 70 million copies of the trilogy were sold between March and December 2012. The biggest bestseller for Penguin Random House in 2013 was Dan Brown’s Inferno, with a reported 7 million copies sold; the report noted that 7 million copies of the 50 Shades books also sold (in a different location of the report); overall, that doesn’t quite “add up” with all the information, all-told across the Penguin Random House portion of the report. But even if we give the 50 Shades books the total, it doesn’t add up to the 100 million books “officially reported” in several news locations. 70 million plus 7 million = 77 million, not 100 million. And from 70 million sold in one year to 7 the next = 90 percent dropoff.

In 2012, Penguin Random House made over 315 million Euros, with its reported 70 million 50 Shades books sold, but they also experienced a high rate of return on sales – 15.2 percent – with a rate of a little over 10 percent the prior year, and 11.5 percent returns noted in 2013.

The 50 Shades books appear on numerous online lists of the “bestselling books of all time.” Yet the Harry Potter books, which may or may not appear on such lists, have officially sold over 450 million copies worldwide, and have been translated into 69 languages. The Guardian reported 400 million copies sold of the Harry Potter books in 2008; it’s likely they’ve crossed the 500 million mark by now. The final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, sold 11 million copies on its first day of release in the U.S. and U.K., according to a Time Magazine overview of the series.

Can the 50 Shades books have outsold their inspiration?  It’s unlikely. The story of Christian and Ana was originally fan fiction inspired by Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight book series. These books are published by a different company, Little, Brown, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group/Lagardere. The four Twilight books are estimated to have sold over 130 million copies worldwide, according to Forbes Magazine in 2013, yet they typically do not appear on online book lists, and there are only a few publicity releases saying they’re among “the bestselling books of all time.” Actual figures are difficult to come by, but the difference between the movie revenues for the 50 Shades of Grey film ($166 million) and Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II ($292 million) show differences in overall level of interest that publicity releases and poorly-made online lists of “bestselling books of all time” can’t mask.

And these are just figures among books which have some similarities (50 Shades and the inspiration, the Twilight books). What about other popular recent book series that have also inspired movies?

According to Dan Brown himself, his books have sold over 200 million copies worldwide. The Robert Langdon series of books (Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, and the other two) are reported to have sold over 120 million copies by their publisher (the same publisher as the 50 Shades books). The Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins are reported to have sold 65 million copies. Considering the difference between the gross of the Hunger Games movies (Mockingjay: $440 million gross) and similar films (see Twilight, above), and Scholastic’s tendency to exact reporting, it’s likely that these books, in reality, have sold more copies than the 50 Shades hyped total of “100 million copies sold.”

If you believe the hype machine, you’ll think that books about masochistic sex and stalky, hyper-controlling billionaires and 21 year old virgins experiencing this type of relationship for the first time are all people want to read. You might think that people’s reading abilities aren’t very good, and they just don’t get books with complex subject matter, strong young heroines, or plotlines about mysteries at the Vatican. You might even think that young people prefer reading about domineering, sexually-demanding men like Christian Grey, and young women who think they can “fix” guys like that if they just have enough sex with them, like Ana (whose last name escapes me … and I won’t look it up). One of those millions of copies of 50 Shades sold was to me: I was assigned to write an article about it when the phenomenon first hit, and I thought it would be wrong and unfair not to buy and read the book.

People are people. They can get curious, and the 50 Shades hype, along with its good first chapters, hooked a lot of people. But as the New York Times noted in its likely-untrue report that 50 Shades had legit sold over 100 million copies, “the book’s success didn’t translate into a new interest in other erotic romance books.”

Here’s another data point. One bestselling author you may not have heard of is Iris Johansen – when I ask my students which authors they most enjoy reading, one or more students mentions Iris Johansen in every class. According to Iris’ own website, she has had 17 consecutive New York Times bestsellers, and earlier this year, her book on the NY Times bestseller list was the only one with a diverse main character (Catherine Ling, an Asian woman) and a non-stereotypical thriller plot. I haven’t read a book by Iris recently, but I recall her work as fast-paced, featuring realistic female characters, and very readable. You can tell she maintains her own website (with the help of her son and daughter) and is also a down to earth person. Hype and reality are seldom one and the same. I guess that’s why they call it “hype.”

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Does E-Book Quality Matter?

We shopped at Barnes & Noble and discovered that it’s a lonely, forbidding place for a young book.

Shopping via the Amazon Kindle: a whole other experience.

Mismeasure of Man Stephen Jay GouldThis is about the basics. Bruce isn’t sure that these details matter to readers. But this book, a revised, updated version of Gould’s classic text refuting biological determinism costs $9.99. A cool $10.00. This isn’t one of the .99 cent or free Kindle promotions. It’s an e-book version of a major publisher’s release of a classic title, one which was revised and updated by the celebrated natural historian Stephen Jay Gould prior to his death.

And this thing is a mess. Here is the dedication:

Mismeasure of Man dedicationYes, it’s really like that – a thin strip extending over 3 pages. Obviously it would be smaller or larger were I to change the font size – but no amount of Kindle fiddling will fix the problem — the underlying code is bad.

One might also think that the book has missing pages. I don’t think it actually HAS missing pages, but there are so many formatting problems that quotes, in particular, go awry, or cause later formatting problems in Gould’s text. In particular, it’s almost impossible to tell when a quote ends, and Gould’s own writing begins. Or sometimes, Gould’s writing is formatted similarly to a quote, while a quote is formatted similarly to his writing, and let’s not talk about the subheads.

The introduction begins with a quote from Socrates – first it is introduced by Gould, but again, it’s tough to tell who is saying what. This full-justification style is, for the most part (yet not exclusively) used for quotes, and Gould always quotes his sources extensively. So this sucker goes on for a couple of pages before what is being said becomes apparent.

Mismeasure of Man 1Later, I was looking forward to seeing what Abraham Lincoln so strongly expressed in the Lincoln-Douglas debates:

Mismeasure of Man 3I didn’t know these debates were illustrated! Here’s what Lincoln seems to have said:

Mismeasure of Man 4I spent some time examining this illustration before continuing on.

Ah! Here is what he said. “lower relatives according to Nott and Gliddon …” Wait! Lincoln said, “There is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. . . .” Yes, apparently Abraham Lincoln did say that while running for President against Stephen Douglas. Those famous Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Mismeasure of Man 5Following the Lincoln quote, one can see how, for the most part, the book attempts to differentiate Gould’s commentary from the extensive quoted material. One signal is the Gould’s own parenthetical citation system (Author, date, page#). The other is the text indent for paragraphs. Most of the time.

This book is nearly impossible to read and understand due to egregious formatting problems and W.W. Norton snagged me for a full $9.99 for a book which I am having great difficulty reading. This is cutting down on the enjoyment and enlightenment factor as well.

So.

Because we have completed this and this and have other books in production, I know the exact cause of many of the underlying problems which have resulted in the substandard edition of The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould, which should probably not be on sale in its present form, much less on sale for $9.99. Many of Gould’s other titles are priced above Amazon’s desired ceiling of $9.99 for e-books, by the way.

First, it’s obvious no one proofread this book on any e-reader, nor did they validate it with any e-book validation program such as Sigil. In addition to the egregious formatting problems, I’ve found grammar and spelling errors. If this book, as I suspect, was converted from an original print InDesign file, and the publication date is 2006 (though I do not think this e-book was put on sale in 2006 – that’s the revised print hardcover edition), that process is quite challenging. An example of a format mistake in conversion would be Gould’s skinny, narrow dedication. It took a wee bit of time to get the dedication to Bone Music to look like this:

Bone Music DedicationAt present, InDesign will absolutely make gorgeous e-books (fixed format and flowable EPUB), but it takes plenty of work. This is not a process that will be solved by any template that’s for sale out there, nor is it something that I would imagine a person in India or Pakistan could solve. In the process, one has the opportunity to ensure that every page is proofread as closely as possible, eliminating embarrassing errors such as are found in Gould’s e-book.

One of the later steps is sideloading the book on actual devices and testing its performance thoroughly. Again, it’s impossible for W.W. Norton to have done this — or they’ve got a really horrible employee who did it, saw this stuff, and didn’t care.

I will not, like one person who bought my work, buy this thing and then demand my money be refunded just so they could write a slam review. I bought it, I paid for it, I’m going to try to read it.

This book is not alone. I have many books on my Kindle Fire, and have tested many others on the iPad and iPhone and via Calibre and Sigil. This is one of the worst I’ve seen; that’s why I’m writing about it.

“Nobody would accept something like that in a hardcover,” Bruce said. Of course not! This is today’s note on where we need to go in the future.

How can good books compete with .99 cent and free junkers when the good books themselves, are formatted so poorly they can’t be read?

Bone Music, by the way, is as close to perfect as we can get it.

 

Baycon 2015 “Women of Wonder” Schedule

Bruce and I will be at Baycon this coming weekend in Santa Clara. The theme of this year’s con is “Women of Wonder” and there are some fantastic guests, including the amazing Winner Twins, whom we met at the Writers of the Future event in April.

I want to say “thank you” in advance to the amazing con committee, and programming led by co-chairs SallyRose Robinson and Kathleen McDowell. I’m blown away – because SallyRose and Kathleen assigned me to moderate two panels where I actually have some expertise and ability to contribute to the event! Also will be reading with my awesome friends Marie Brennan and Maya Bohnhoff and a new friend I will be very glad to meet at Baycon, Laurel Anne Hill. This’ll be my story about the lady scientist and the howler monkeys. Oh My! Baycon 2015

 1. DIY Biohacking: The Next Maker Movement? on Friday at 1:30 PM in Cypress
    (with Edward Kukla) – have to bone up on this one … been a bit since I was writing about it. But those Russians! Dang!

    40 years ago, hobbyists kicked off the personal computer revolution with low-cost kits they could order by mail. In the past few years a similar shift has started in biology, where hobbyists have figured out how to build biotech equipment at 1/10th to 1/1000th of the previous cost. Why is biohacking so interesting, and what are these DIYers creating in their garages, hackerspaces, and startups?

 2. Themed Reading: Women’s Work on Friday at 3:00 PM in Stevens Creek
    (with Laurel Anne Hill , Marie Brennan, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff)

    In honor of the Bicentennial of Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, hear authors read from stories about women that have jobs in a STEM (science, technical, engineering, and math) field. 

I’ll be reading from “The Gods Men Don’t See” from Mad Science Cafe.

 3. Closing the Gender Confidence Gap on Saturday at 10:00 AM in Lawrence
    [You are moderating.]
    (with Emily Jiang, Kyle Aisteach, Deborah M. Pratt, Heidi L Stauffer)

    Why are women less likely than men to tout themselves when a promotion opens up? Is it due to facts like parents and teachers interrupt or talk over girls twice as often as they do with boys? What can we do to reinforce confidence in young girls and help them overcome the “imposter syndrome” as an adult? Our panelists discuss how parents and people who work with kids can monitor and alter their own behavior so that they aren’t blocking the development of self-confidence in girls.

 4. The Hugo tug-of-war: Diversity of opinion among Worldcon voters on Saturday at 11:30 AM in Camino Real
    (with Deirdre Saoirse Moen, Kate Secor, Randy Smith (M), James Stanley Daugherty)

    This year’s Hugo nominations certainly have fandom talking. Is this just another periodic “all fandom is plunged into war” outbreak, or are there serious systemic issues to address?

 5. When Is a Book Not a Book? Alternative Storytelling Media on Sunday at 11:30 AM in Lafayette
    [You are moderating.]
    (with M.Christian, Margaret Dunlap, Beth Barany)

    Advancements in technology and digital publishing are expanding the boundaries of what we consider a “book”. Our panelists discuss some alternative formats, including audiobooks, podcasts, enhanced apps, and motion books.

 6. Marketing & Branding for the Author on Sunday at 4:00 PM in Bayshore
    (with Emily Jiang (M), Emerian Rich, Beth Barany, Sinead Toolis)

    Authors wanting to give up their day job and write full-time need to grapple with the challenge of cutting through the clutter of competing book titles. Hear the panelists dicuss tips and strategies on promoting your writing to your potential audience, and on how building the right identity can attract readers to your work.*

*Just because – now I’m a publisher and don’t have to worry about this any more.

Real Mexican Food is Healthy

This is the first part of Google Image Search for “Mexican Food.”
Google Mexican Food As a woman, I typically think “the way to a person’s heart is their stomach.”

That’s why I took it upon myself over the years, to learn how to cook real Mexican food. Because it is so delicious! As to these images, what Google says is “Authentic” Mexican food as depicted on the upper left, is what’s typically served at fast-food restaurants operated by Mexicans in the U.S.

The middle picture is what children are taught to color in school (much like the unbelievable request of Minnesota schoolteachers for coloring images of “Speedy Gonzales” and “Yosemite Sam” covered by this educator’s lesson about how to make Cinco de Mayo a positive, educational time in school).

To put this into context, if I put “Italian food” into Google Image search, it would come back with cheese-laden thick crust pizzas and spaghetti and meatballs (surprise! – it does). Most people are aware these foods are not what are commonly eaten and served in Italy, and also that foods vary depending on region and town and … surprise! … family traditions and preference. They may even be aware that much food cooked and eaten in Italy is healthy, following a Mediterranean diet.

The picture on the right – the one that says “traditional” – that’s the real problem one. That’s not traditional Mexican food. It’s the Taco Bell Dog type of “Mexican food” and it isn’t just unauthentic, it’s unhealthy. It is similar to the foods served at El Torito (the chain restaurants), which are owned by Mexicans, but the restaurants serve what non-Mexican patrons request: cheese enchiladas with cheese unknown in Mexico, hard-shelled ground beef tacos laden with same bright yellow cheese (I think it’s Colby Longhorn) and cheese-coated rice and beans. The taco shells themselves are a clue. While these products are sold and eaten in Mexico, they are to real tortillas as Wonder Bread is to a great loaf of Italian or French bread.

Anyway, if all you’ve ever eaten of Mexican food is the type of dish served at chain restaurants, Taco Bell, or Del Taco, you’re in for a treat. Mexican food of the genuine traditional type is very healthy and delicious. PS – if you have trouble with corn, focus on meat and rice dishes.

First up: tamales. (Ta-mah-lay). I’m enjoying this too much. I really love cooking my Mexican food.

tamales-048Tamales are totally real. They are corn husks filled with masa and any type of filling the cook wants to put in them and then steamed. I had to look quite a while before finding real ones like this (tied on both ends in the pot before steaming). Pork is traditional in southern California, but chicken and beef are also used. It is always deshebrada (shredded), not ground “whatever” like what is in the canned tamales (Gephardt!). There are also sweet tamales, with raisins, coconut or pina (pineapple). You will see “cheese and green chile” ones everywhere, for the cheese addicts out there. Like most other countries in the world, cheese is used as a condiment or flavoring in Mexico, not the ENTIRE DISH or covering/coating every surface on a plate. Tamales prepared the traditional way with fresh masa are dairy-free and gluten-free.

mexican rice

 

 

Rice! This is one type of Mexican rice dish. This traditional or common type of rice is made by frying the rice in lard first (yeah, I know. I LOVE lard and do not consider it unhealthy in moderate quantities – yes of course vegetable oil may be used and in some places chicken fat is used). You make sure the rice is nice and brown (like “Rice-A-Roni”), then you put in a puree of seeded tomatoes, one strong onion, and some garlic. You cook this until the rice has absorbed the tomato puree and is dry. Then you add chicken broth to cover it all, and throw in some chiles (FRESH) any way you like them. I include cilantro and frozen peas & carrots right out of the 99 cent bag. If you are nuts you can chop up carrots and shell fresh peas. This all cooks and steams nicely and when it’s done? AWESOME. Also there is green rice, sometimes with epazote, which is hard to find and is often stale when found, and yellow rice and of course – white rice.

mexican beans

 

These are not “refried beans,” they are pot beans. But they are AS GOOD AS refried beans if cooked right. The person here has not sufficiently cooked the onion (it was from “Foodista” or whatever). But you can do this with almost any type of bean, though pinto beans are the “go-to” bean and black beans are of course, eaten, but … people who like black beans over pinto because they get them at Chipotle? Chipotle’s beans suck. I can’t stand fast food any type of bean or rice. Because I know how to make these beans which cost pennies per serving and put all canned forms to shame.

Wash some pinto beans, however many you like. Use a colander. Pick out any rocks, deformed, messed-up bean bits, and of course, dirt. Dump the beans into a good, heavy pot. Cover them with water – at least 3-4 inches worth. Add as much coarse-chopped white or yellow onion as you like. Stick a goodly-sized piece of lard in there. Turn the heat on. I add chopped green onion (scallion) and cilantro and at least one chile. Let this cook until the beans are soft. Be sure to add water so they do not burn. You can mash them right in this pot and do not need to add them to extra lard to refry.

Unless you’re like me. Salt at the end (it toughens up the skin if you add it right away). You will throw away the nutrition and the taste if you do the “pre-soak” advised on the package, either quick soak or “overnight method”. Just cook them.

I can’t say too much authoritatively about other stereotypes associated with today’s holiday of Cinco de Mayo, but I can say that what most Americans think of, and eat, as “Mexican food” is not only inauthentic, it is unhealthy, whereas the real foods that are cooked and eaten in Mexico are healthy and delicious. Mexican people eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, including numerous varieties that don’t grow well in the U.S. but grow great in Mexico. They eat foods focused on basic nutrition and do not waste a lot of food. They value delicious, real food cooked at home with love. Give those hard-shelled tacos and giant burritos a rest and try some real Mexican food for a change. I did not address “carnitas” in this post, but here is a good website with real recipes (these are definitely varying according to taste). I will take her on for the carnitas ANY old day.

My rice:

real Mexican rice

And the carnitas:

real carnitas

 

Google Doesn’t Feature Cinco De Mayo on May 5, 2015

Google’s daily doodle for May 5, 2015 is celebrating Nellie Bly’s 151st birthday. Google Doodle Nellie Bly May 5 2015Nellie Bly is really cool. But she’s not Cinco de Mayo.

¿Se puede decir el racismo? Si, se puede!

Between all the Cinco de Mayo calaveras (??) and the other offensive pictures –  I’m …

I guess I’m not surprised. Taking people and things for granted gets worse every day.

mariachis  Just be happy.

shiny cinco de mayo Did they do St. Patrick’s Day?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kiss me: I’m Irish.

st patricks day 2015 Google

When I Was Six, I Made a Book

I know from observation that women, on average, have about 10 percent of the online clout “Klout” of men working in similar areas.

But where’s the data? Report after report about how women are using social media more than men. Using. Consuming. Listening to.

Things published by men.

women using social media

But yes, there are statistics, compiled by the Women’s Media Center each year.  As is customary, the report focuses mostly on the gender and ethnic background of the people making the media – traditional news, game design, television and radio, film. Publishing isn’t really covered. But there is some information about content. How many women vs. men have a voice?

NY Times Men v Women

 

“Unknown” probably refers to non-gender specific names in the survey. UNLV did the survey, so students probably did the best they could, and were right to say “unknown” if they couldn’t identify if the person quoted was male or female.

 

 

 

There weren’t many front-page stories in the New York Times in 2013 about “style,” but in that area, women were quoted half the time. In other main topics? Not so much.Topics in NY Times Quoted

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pain in the Women’s Media Center report is palpable. This Center was established by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem in 2005. I certainly know who Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda are; Robin Morgan is poet, author, activist, journalist and best-selling author. I’d never heard of her before in my life. All the Center knows to do, is what it is doing, what the founders provided funds for it to do. Count. Analyze. “Advocate.”

They did find some welcome humor in a Gawker analysis of the top newspaper columnists.

Opinion columnists chart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To which I’ll add:

old-man-smoking-cigar

In television, though it may “seem” or “feel” as though there are many new shows with minority or female leads, this isn’t the case by the numbers.

race and gender in tv

 

The cancellation of Tyler Perry’s show House of Payne took numbers back pre-2012. UCLA found a direct correlation between the ethnicity and gender of showrunners and who appeared on-screen in their shows. Big surprise: Tyler Perry is black and his shows feature mostly black characters. I’m putting this backward because “the other way around” is the way it is. Has been.

Regarding how black women are portrayed, Essence did a study of perceptions of black female characters as they are portrayed, and it is just plain too painful for me to repeat at length. Bottom line: black women see other black women portrayed on screen as such stereotypes as “baby mamas” and “fat, unhealthy black women” or “angry black women” but they think of and know more women who fit the terms “young phenoms,” “girls next door” and “matriarchs.” White women who were surveyed actually thought of black women as the stereotypes of “angry black women” or “baby mamas.” Newer terms such as “ratchet” turned up in the younger group of women surveyed.

Because these issues are separated by race and ethnicity, it’s hard to tease out the differences — which is worse? Being seen as a “baby mama,” or an “angry black woman” or barefoot, subservient and pregnant, waiting to get hit? As I saw this a.m. in a YouTube comment from a man on Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk: “Like an egg salad sandwich in Texas in the summer — full of eggs but only appealing for a short time.” The taste level on that comment was this: this guy felt fully-entitled to go on her talk and make that comment only a few days after her husband Dave Goldberg had died. And that is one of the most-powerful female executives in America; that is someone who made it all the way through, made a beautiful life, and made life beautiful for others.

When I was six, I made a book.

When I was 21, I was that egg salad sandwich. I got hit. And worse. When I was 30, I had that baby. When I was 40, I had another. He died. I never forgot about that book, the one that I made.

Now I ain’t got no more eggs.

But I’ve got a new baby. And another one.

I got me some partners too. They are women and men. They are all ages, and all colors.

Here’s another stat: against all odds, worldwide, the majority of emerging new companies are led by women. Women own fully one-third of new SMEs (small-to-medium enterprises) worldwide. They are the ones who are creating the new jobs and opportunities.

According to Igor Goldkind (not me – and last time I checked, Igor was a man), “women includes MEN.”

Sheryl Sandberg and Dave Goldberg were thought of as the most-powerful couple in Silicon Valley. She helped him; he helped her. Together, they built their life and raised their family. Now, the family is grief-stricken because he was taken before his time.

I’m not Gloria Steinem. I’m not Jane Fonda. I’m not Robin Morgan. I’m not any person who thinks of themselves as a “brand.”

When I was six, I made a book. That is who I am.

Come and make a book with us.

 

 

Ursula K. LeGuin Nobel Laureate for Literature

In the other world that is, Ursula K. LeGuin has already traveled to Stockholm and accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature. In this world that is, she accepted the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters last November with this speech:

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and who can see through our fear-stricken society and it’s obsessive technologies to other ways of being. And even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom, poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality. Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art.”

She is speaking of what William Faulkner spoke in his 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Faulkner said (in a somewhat longer speech – he was – after all, a man):

I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

In her speech, Ursula said, “We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa.” She was referring to last fall’s commodity war between Hachette Publishing Group and Amazon over pricing policies, a war which took the books of countless writers off-sale via Amazon, inaccessible to new readers, for many months. She added, “I see a lot of us, the producers, who write the books and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write.”

Here is the underlying truth: books are not even produced and sold as well as deodorant. At least deodorant has basic performance criteria and sufficient investment is made in product development and production to ensure it has at least a moderate degree of effectiveness. The people who make it, from those who create the formulas, to those who manufacture the product, are at least paid enough to eat, have a home, and live.

There are those who would argue that deodorant is more essential to life than books. Deodorant is a convenience which enables people to exist in close proximity to each other without offending each other in a way in which we are no longer culturally comfortable.

Books, at present, are made and sold by people who have far less regard for their customer and far greater contempt for them than the average personal care product manufacturer, whether it be Unilever or Proctor & Gamble. Ursula refers to book creation (by writers), selection (by publishers), and sales (by sales and marketing staff or retailer algorithm – i.e. Amazon) as “Books, you know, they’re not just commodities.”

If books were Secret or Degree deodorant, they would work “by accident” or “by surprise” and be made pretty much for free by home workers with more chance of getting a good income by winning the Publishers Clearing House prize than they did by making deodorant that worked. They would be sold by venal, exploitive companies looking for free stuff, putting as much out for sale as possible in the hope of finding sufficient numbers of people seeking to eliminate unwanted body odor by whatever means available. If by chance, any of the product might attract sufficient customers, they would then remake the package, putting whatever random ingredients might be found as cheaply as possible into it, in the hope of convincing the customer they were buying “the exact same thing.”

That’s books. Right now. Made by companies whose businesses were set up when the “divine right of kings” Ursula refers to in her speech had been questioned only in what is today, the United States, and beginning to be questioned by guillotine in France, a question first answered by Robespierre, and then by Napoleon Bonaparte before becoming the brilliant nation that is today’s France.

In the hope – of living – right now, the overwhelming majority of writers do exactly as Ursula describes in her speech. Working for free or nearly so, they hope to put the ingredients together on the off-chance they are able to squirt their thoughts into a plastic tube and have millions rub it on their brains.

In the other world that is, Ursula LeGuin has already accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm. In this world that is, we are only now beginning the fight to liberate our hearts, our minds, our thoughts, our dreams.

If a writer cannot even live while doing his or her work? That – is the central question. Only those able to work for free, those who do not have families they must support by a certain income, those who are able to exist on patronage from powerful friends … only those tell the stories. These days. This world that is.

But, just as corporate food has had its day, having made us fat, sick and nearly dead, so too has corporate writing. It does not know it is dead yet, just as McDonalds struggles with 30 percent less profit and lower sales for the first time in its history and Kraft profits are down 40 percent.

And they try to tell us it’s because no one reads any longer. They try to say that books can’t compete with games and apps and television and films.

It’s because people aren’t interested in reading the book version of Velveeta. Over and over again.