The Business Rusch: Priests and Mathematicians

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 Business Rusch logo webI’m a political junkie. I read everything on politics I can get my hands on—and no, I will not allow political discussions on my blog. This is a politics-free zone. So if you put your political viewpoints in the comments, I will not approve that post.

I start this way, because this blog post comes from one of the Washington Post’s political bloggers. Chris Cillizza interviewed longtime Republican consultant, Mike Murphy, about the party. (I’m not going to link to the blog to keep the politics to a minimum. You can find it on your own.)

Murphy used terms that I hadn’t seen before in that particular context. I leaned back and thought about his definitions, and applied them to the field of literature I know the best, which is science fiction. I’m teaching an sf craft course right now, and we’ve been talking about the opinions, changes, and history of the field.

But as I applied the definitions to science fiction, my brain raced ahead of me, and I realized that Murphy’s terms apply not just to the literature of the field, but to the business of publishing as well.

Murphy is describing organizational dynamics, and if I weren’t teaching a course, I’d investigate to see if the terminology is unique to him or if he acquired it from someone else like I just did. I have no time, so I’m crediting Murphy.

The terms he uses are these: mathematicians and priests. He defines them according to the party, so I can’t quote him directly (to follow my own political rules). But here’s the upshot:

Both groups agree on overall defining principles. In publishing, those principles are pretty simple: we love books and reading. We believe that people should read books, and we believe that good books should get to readers. Since we’re in business, we also believe that everyone involved in the act of publishing should be able to make money from their work in this industry. We are constantly striving to make things better for books and book people.

We differ on how to go about living our bookish/publishing lives.

The Priests believe in the High Church of Literature. Literature is something pure, something holy, something definable. Standards, quality, the best, the brightest—the Priests believe all of those terms have definitions that we can all agree about. A good book, according to the Priests, follows certain rules. Bad books do not.

Priests believe that quality is separate from what the readers want. Readers need to be guided to quality literature and once readers discover quality literature, they will never return to the bad books (or to no books at all)

The most essential part of a Priest’s belief system is that literature needs curators. Those curators have defined roles. The teacher (professor) shows a potential writer what quality truly is. The teacher (professor) also teaches the reader what quality is, opening the reader’s eyes to “good” literature.

The writer struggles in the dark, but does not achieve quality on her own. She does know, however, what quality is, and will bring others on board to help her achieve quality.

The editor refines and improves the quality of a writer’s manuscript, by “honing” the words and fixing “infelicities.” Eventually, the editor becomes a champion of the material and takes a bit of ownership in the final product—even if that ownership has nothing to do with money. The editor puts his stamp on the final book, often claiming the book would not exist without the strict hand of editorial guidance.

The critic culls through the dross of material and locates the quality literature. Often the critic shows where the editor and writer failed to achieve quality. More often than not, however, the critic will place his stamp on the product, like a seal of approval. If enough critics agree that the book is quality, then the book receives award nominations and sometimes becomes the book to read for People In The Know.

The bookseller/librarian also reads the dross and finds the quality literature. Often, the overworked bookseller/librarian relies on the critic and a few select editors to help weed through the bad books. The bookseller/librarian then ensures that the quality literature finds its way to the shelves.

Often the bookseller/librarian will put the book in a place of prominence on the shelf, often with a “Staff Recommends” label. Some booksellers/librarians publish newsletters or blogs that achieve the same purpose.

These people ensure that literature remains in good hands, that it is worthy, and that the literature receives the attention it deserves.

The Mathematicians believe in “reality.” Numbers are all important, from income to sales to statistics reflecting readership. Mathematicians do not believe in a church of literature. Instead, mathematicians believe that sales define what’s good or bad. If a book sells, then it is by definition good. If it does not sell, then it is by definition bad.

If there are curators, those curators are the sales partners, from the bookstores to the distributors to the delivery systems. But Mathematicians really don’t look at the curators.

Mathematicians are looking at measurable results.

Before the recent changes in publishing, the battle between the Priests and the Mathematicians took place inside publishing houses. When publishing houses were small, independent concerns—before the mergers of the 1970s and 1980s—there was an uneasy truce between Priests and Mathematicians.

The Priests handled the acquisition and development of books; the Mathematicians handled the sales of the books. The two groups stayed out of each other’s way. The Mathematicians did not understand the arcane language of non-measurable quality, and the Priests believed that numbers did not reflect on the literature at hand. In fact, Priests believed that quality would “rise to the top,” if only the Mathematicians allowed the sales to develop. If enough curators had their hands on the right books, Priests said, then the numbers would grow.

Mathematicians believed that numbers did not lie, that it didn’t matter how many curators loved a book, if the book did not sell over a defined period of time, it was no good.

This uneasy truce lasted for decades. The mergers started. The corporations got swallowed up by non-readers, by non-publishing people, people who did not hold to the principles I mentioned at the start.

The corporations—which had become conglomerates—believed in the Great God of Quarterly Profits who governed the God of Stock Prices who kept an eye on the God of the Corporate Bottom Line.

These Unbelievers didn’t care if they were selling quality books or blank books, so long as those books turned a profit. Worse, the unbelievers downsized both Mathematicians and Priests without regard to the impact on the literature itself. The unbelievers saw only profits, and if profits could be achieved with good books or bad books, or with no books at all, then so be it.

The Priests thought the Mathematicians had won. But the Mathematicians had a closer handle on reality here. They realized that the Unbelievers had destroyed the delicate balance, and might, in fact, harm the publishing industry both Priests and Mathematicians held dear.

Then the changes in publishing hit, like a wave from the outside, stirring up everything.

The Priests continued their arguments for curators and for quality, believing that nothing good could come out of an unregulated system. Even the books acquired from the chaotic new e-book industry needed an editorial eye to improve them. Priestly editors claimed that their unseen hand improved previously published bestselling indie-published e-books by suggesting changes, additions, and “editing.”

Those books which moved from uncurated to curated still did not receive great attention from the critics who refused to agree that these books were quality, but at least the books were worthy of lower ranking within the High Church of Literature.

The Mathematicians got very confused. Most were no longer in traditional publishing at all. Those that remained ruled their little fiefdoms and became curators of their own. These Curator-Mathematicians, who could speak to the Unbelievers, would control which books got sent to market. But these Curator-Mathematicians were still working on future sales, not actual sales, and were attempting to predict future numbers by looking at past performance, without looking at all of the variables.

The Unbelievers wanted their profits, and started to get them again once the dust settled, by changing contracts with writers, and raking in huge profits on the digital side—charging paper book prices for an e-book license, as if those e-books had the same kind of production costs as the paper books.

Paper books, e-books, blank books, the Unbelievers didn’t care as long as they earned money.

But while this was going on in the halls of traditional publishing, something else happened. Many Mathematicians climbed out of the woodwork, those who had abandoned traditional publishing as non-sensical. These Mathematicians looked at sales figures for books that went direct to the consumer. They also looked at the places without local churches (bookstores) and at the way those who believed in reading got their fix. The Mathematicians discovered online book sales—both paper and e-book—and realized that numbers, once under the control and approval on an industry that never looked at the people in the pews, were now available to everyone.

The surprise wasn’t how few people came to the Church of Reading, but how many. The thing that appalled the Priests, though, was how many of the people in the pews ignored the sanctioned texts for bad books.

To the Priests, reading bad books is a sin. Publishing bad books is an even worse sin.

Mathematicians believed that all reading was good, that no books were bad, and that the best books had the highest sales. Mathematicians looked at quantifiable numbers—from sales revenue to sales numbers to number of readers—and claimed that each reading chair was a church, and each reader his own priest of his own personal church.

Interestingly, in this new model, the Unbelievers still had a role, but their role was to provide distribution. As always, the Unbelievers didn’t care if they sold quality books or blank books so long as the Unbelievers made a profit. The profit could be made from thousands of writer/publishers or that profit could be made from big conglomerates.

For this new group of Unbelievers, books were the exact same thing as t-shirts, and just as unimportant. Only here, the Unbelievers really didn’t enter the doctrine of publishing at all. They just provided the roads on which the books traveled to their particular destinations.

The arguments went back to the pre-conglomerate era. The Priests claim that only the priesthood knows what quality literature is, and the average reader must be protected from the bad book. The Mathematician believes that the average reader will buy more books if allowed to determine what good or bad is on his own.

Right now, both sides are struggling, fighting each other, and not realizing that the ground is shifting under their feet.

Me, I read those definitions in that political article, thought about the publishing changes, and realized that I am both a Priest and a Mathematician.  I believe in many aspects of the High Church of Literature. I want someone to proof-read a book; I want a branded cover; I want someone to give the writer feedback before a book hits the market.

I also read a variety of critics—admittedly self-chosen, and not sanctioned by the real church. These critics have tastes similar to my own and curate other books for me, making recommendations based on the tastes I share with those critics.

However, I am and always have been a Mathematician. I believe that numbers tell a large part of the story of any organized system. But numbers do not tell the whole story. For example, sales will show which books are the most popular. That’s part of the story. The rest of the story is in the phrase left out from the first statement. Sales show which books are the most popular among the books published.

The illustration is this: Pretend there are 500 readers in the world. For those 500 readers, ten books get published. All ten will be read. But one will become a favorite of a large portion of the 500 readers.

Now, imagine that 500 books get published. Will each of the 500 readers read only one title? Will all 500 books become favorites? Will all of them even get read? No. But favorites will emerge. However, they won’t sell as well as the favorite book when only ten books got published.

Here’s where the number system remains in flux. No one knows the potential number of readers because no one has studied this. Not in the US, not in the English-speaking world, not in the world at large. We measure literacy rates, but we do not measure the rates of readers versus non-readers.

This is new territory.

And we cannot define quality according to the Priest’s precepts. But the Mathematician’s precepts are falling apart as well.

We don’t understand the system any more.

We need a new way to figure out success or failure, quality or crap.


Those concepts may be very old-world. They may have no meaning inside this new reality.

We’re like survivors of a great war, a settled war, screaming at each other from our divided battle lines, while the rest of the world—the children born after the peace—watch in confusion.

The world is what it is, and it isn’t what it was.

The old arguments are still being made, but they don’t apply.

We are now Priests of our own High Church; We are Mathematicians using numbers to determine our own quantifiable measures of quality.

And yet here’s what we forget. We are all Believers. We agree on our overall defining principles.

We love books and reading.

We believe that people should read books.

We believe that good books should get to readers.

We also believe that everyone involved in the act of publishing should be able to make money from their work in this industry.

We are constantly striving to make things better for books and book people.

It’s really that simple—and that easy to forget.

I love the ecumenical nature of blogging—the fact that anyone, no matter what they believe—can find and read something for free on the screen. This blog is not curated, however. It’s me, unfiltered, which makes it unpredictable, even to me.

My time, however, is not free.

So please, if you like what you read, or if you’re a regular visitor, leave a tip on the way out.

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“The Business Rusch: Priests and Mathematicians” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

21 thoughts on “The Business Rusch: Priests and Mathematicians

  1. I think Rémi made a point about Mathematicians. The proper term should probably be Statisticians.

    Still a great metaphor about the publishing industry. Of course, as De Anna stated, we authors cannot be strictly Priests or Statisticians, or a mix of the two. For the most part, we are a mix of the two, and more – like, yes, engineers.

    I recently advised a young author about her first book. I made criticisms about her book, but I told her in her career, she had to believe 80% in her readers, and 20% in other authors. Still, I advised her not to reject too lightly my globally defavorable remarks, because it was her first book.

    So yes, I acted as a priest and a curator (and I used a statistician trick to make her believe my word), which in a way made me feel bad, but my intention was to help her. I tried to argument my points in a logical way, to show her examples of what worked and did not work, and not, in any way, to rewrite what she had done.

  2. Delightful metaphor. Excellent way of showing the historical tensions and how they’re being scrambled. I was especially caight by this:

    No one knows the potential number of readers because no one has studied this. Not in the US, not in the English-speaking world, not in the world at large. We measure literacy rates, but we do not measure the rates of readers versus non-readers.

    We even measure the number of books sold (as dysfunctional as those numbers sometimes are), and the number and demographics of people who buy them. But nobody has ever bothered trying to sort out how many readers are in a given population, nor how many potential readers would exist, if books were cheaper/more convenient/more relevant to their interests/etc.

    The Priest dynamics were based on getting “quality” books into the hands of buyers, not readers. Whether those books were read after getting bought was irrelevant. Of course, that was expected to happen; that’s how they brought in new converts. But they didn’t need research from nor promotion of that aspect of the church; it happened automatically, at a pace vaguely related to the number/type/quality of books released.

    Mathematicians gathered numbers related to book-buyers, to predict what they would buy in the future. And for the most part, that system worked. (Well, with a wide margin of error.) But since their system was based on “buyers of what we have now,” rather than “readers of what we have now,” they had no way of predicting which of those buyers would hop on a new trend–and which non-buyers would become buyers of the new trend.

    (None of them predicted werewolf porn, much less dinorotica, which means that the mathemeticians’ claim that they’re not concerned with quality or genre or anything other than sales, is just another lie they tell themselves.)

    As a reader, I’m absolutely thrilled with my current array of choices. The last couple of years have been the only time in my life when I always have enough to read. I never run out of reading material anymore–I now have to budget time to read.

    It’s glorious. I am content to let the priests and mathematicians bicker as long as they want… if the ebook explosion stops tomorrow, it’s possible I have enough on my hard drives now to last me the rest of my life. (I’d rather read new stuff, not just all the collections of freebies and promos and random “hey that looks interesting and worth $4” books I’ve picked up. But if I had to… I could cope.)

    For once, it’s entirely my market. I can choose to read THIS book or THAT book–or not–and still not run out of things to read.

    We’ve hit the Gutenberg Bible era of the Church of Literature.

    1. Distinguo:

      ‘None of them predicted werewolf porn, much less dinorotica, which means that the mathematicians’ claim that they’re not concerned with quality or genre or anything other than sales, is just another lie they tell themselves.’

      That doesn’t follow. They measured what they could, and what they could measure was sales. The sales of a genre that hasn’t been invented yet are zero. What is there for them to be lying about?

  3. I’m always so amazed at how thoughtful you are about the publishing world. I suppose it’s because you’ve been in this business for such a long time. Me? I just came into it when the eBook boom hit in 2011 and I’ve never looked back. I never did work up the courage to send my manuscripts to literary agents when I first started writing novels in 2009. And now I’m glad I didn’t. I’m in complete control of my titles and my readers get my books as soon as their ready. Publishing is such a great world these days! It’s about reading once again!

  4. When I read of the Priests and the Mathematicians I was reminded of Eric Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, aka CatB. (I don’t know how to embed a link so — )

    CatB gives Raymond’s view of the revolution of open source software. The cathedral owns proprietary software: Windows, Encarta. The bazaar creates open source software: Linux, Wikipedia.

    I see parallels between software and publishing.

    The cathedral has not fallen, but its adherents diminish with the turning of each page of the calendar and those who remain show no enthusiasm. Big Publishing follow this model.

    The bazaar is a labyrinth that is, for newcomers, daunting and difficult to navigate, but its adherents collect in little knots, fiercely loyal to their cause and are fired with passion. Self-publishers follow this model.

    The cathedral and the bazaar hate each other. Hate. But they have learned to live side by side. The computer I write this on has both Windows and Linux installed. I have a preference for Linux, but I need Windows for compatibility with the heathen.

    In years to come, I think publishing will look more and more like the Cathedral and the Bazaar. The media still evidence little awareness of self-published authors. Only those authors who enter into the Cathedral get wide press.

    The key difference between software and publishing is Amazon. There was nothing like Amazon for software. That will make all the difference.

    BTW in 2011 Amazon sold as many ebooks as DTBs. I have not seen Amazon publish any graphs or statistics for 2012 but if the trends continued as shown in 2011 ebooks now outsell DTBs.

  5. You don’t give Mathematicians such a bad role, Mrs Rusch, and it’s only a figure of speech anyways (and not even initially yours at that), but I’m still a bit disappointed that mathematicians are once again typecasted as numbers persons.

    Mathematics are not about numbers. Whole areas of mathematics actually dispense with numbers entirely. And the ability to, say, quickly add or multiply big numbers is neither useful to nor characteristic of trained mathematicians.

    Maths is not about calculus. It is about pure abstract logic.

    Not that it’s really relevant to your excellent article, but I felt someone had to point this out. I’ll stand back now, and listen to the discussion with the same interest as always. Thank you for your weekly articles. They have taught me a lot, and I hope you will continue for a long time.

  6. Sorry, brainstorming in your comment section 🙂

    I don’t feel like a priest OR a mathemetician, or any combination of the two. What if a book’s neither High Church of Literature nor popular?

    I’ll have to think about it. How *am* I assessing my success? Since July, I’ve been going, “This is the ten-year plan. I don’t *need* to assess success at this point; it’s too soon.” It’s been a useful thought; it keeps me from destroying my progress on a daily basis. But is that thought itself a ten-year thought? Probably not.

    What seems to be missing out of the priest/mathemetician model is someone who deals with trial and error. The priest just believes things to be true, and when they aren’t true, blames the larger context. If a good book doesn’t do well, it’s because of all the philistines. A mathematician measures objectively…measure measure measure, they’re busy little measurers, aren’t they? But they cannot predict emergent trends before they emerge; they cannot tell you what new thing to try. They can measure the most popular genres, they can tell you what trends are selling, but they can’t…I don’t know, reach beyond that. They’re very linear, although meteorologists impress me more and more every day.

    At any rate, the indies I know who work the numbers too much end up burning out and destroying a lot of their work, because it might screw up their numbers. I don’t want that.

    It seems like a third way would be beneficial. An engineer, screwing around in the guts of something until it works, albeit with lots of duct tape in the first thousand iterations? A demon-summoner, throwing out the worst possible ideas to test the boundaries and see what breaks? A hedge witch, delivering babies, curing diseases, selling potions, and attending deaths? Snake-oil salesmen? Con men? I briefly played with the idea of an independent farmer, but I just keep going, “Ahhhh I’m going to loose all the cattle to disease and never get them back,” and that’s not how indie books work. I don’t know. I should probably figure it out, though, at least for myself.

    However I shape that idea, it will have to include the notions that practice is different than theory, that someone who looks at the whole picture looks like a dabbler to people who specialize in any single part, that success might have to be measured in units of longer than today/this month/this quarter and that the measurement might have to be relative to something I haven’t identified yet, that there must *be* measurement in order to prevent myself from making up tales about my failures/successes, that my unmeasurable points of success (Did I make a reader happy? Did I make *myself* happy?) are valid somehow, too.

    No idea what role that is. But it’s not priesthood, unless it’s a scrubby little acolyte who’s run away from the monastery in order to hawk his own “divine relics” (guaranteed as authentic of those in the One True Church), and it’s not the halls of mathematics, either academic or economic, because I don’t just want to follow the numbers, I want to game them.

    1. What seems to be missing out of the priest/mathemetician model is someone who deals with trial and error.

      That’s it exactly. In traditional publishing, as far as I can make out, the mathematicians didn’t want to make any trials, and the priests would never admit any errors. No wonder the system was so grossly dysfunctional.

      Of all your alternatives, I like the engineer best. Most writers, I think, can strongly identify with the image of the lone inventor, tinkering in his garage until he comes up with the new invention that will set the world on fire (or not). If you’re an inventor, you learn all you can about what’s already been invented, but in the end it all comes down to your original ideas – and neither the priests nor the mathematicians, as such, are equipped to handle originality. The priests worship the great achievements of the past; the mathematicians worship the sales figures of the present. If any of them think they know the future, they’re fooling themselves.

      1. “In traditional publishing, as far as I can make out, the mathematicians didn’t want to make any trials, and the priests would never admit any errors.” Heh.

        I think right now I may be TOO close to being the lone inventor. Engineers are accountable for results.

        1. Who is more accountable for results: the hired engineer, who may lose his job if he fails but does not have to refund his salary, or the freelancer, who never gets paid at all until the product is finished and succeeds in the market?

  7. I believe most people have both sides within them, a duality if you will, and it ‘s active in most subjects not just books.

    The Big Mac has made McDonalds a lot of money. They sell a ton of them. Does that make them good? To me…no…. and I’m a far cry from a food snob.

    Let’s look at TV. Hour after hour after hour of inane, vacuous and down right tedious reality programming. Sturgeon’s law applies but is entirely too generous.

    Which brings me back to books. As a kid I read every Conan book I could get my hands on as well as a fair number of other fiction and non-fiction titles.

    As an adult I still enjoy series. I’ve read well over one hundred Star Wars books and I really don’t care that they’re not considered high literature. I enjoy the story and in the end, as a reader, that is what counts but that’s not to say don’t understand where the Priests are coming from. Have you ever seen Jerseylicious?

    1. Yup, I’ve seen Jerseylicious. (Speaking as a Jersey girl who despises Jersey Shore; never watched it, never will.) Like you, I don’t care that it’s inane and all that, it lightens the load on my mind…and I need a lot of that these days! 🙂

  8. I think you hit the nail on the head. But one thing I do know for sure is writers during the act of creation cannot view themselves as a priest or mathematician. It is just as dangerous and pointless to write a book while sitting in a church as it would be to write it using a calculator.

    I am not sure who the active writer would be in this analogy though — Wizard, warrior, fool (or is that poet)?

  9. M./Ms. Petit got there first, but having something approaching a classical religious education, the Reformation analogy jumped out at me right away. The Church is losing control of the external expressions of belief and the route to God through Priests as the new doctrine says Believers can now have a relationship directly with their object of veneration (authors) without them. As Luther and other Reformers that came after him preached the direct connection that bypassed the corrup Church, now we have direct routes for ebooks from author to reader. And, as we have seen, just as Reform forced secondhand change even on the Church it left behind, ebooks and self-publishing, mainly by Amazon, have forced change upon the corrupt Church of TradPubs.

    Of course, with all this reform and lack of top-down heirarchy we get the equivalent of snake oil salesmen, sectarianism, cults, ripoff televangelists, bad doctrine, no doctrine, witch-burning, and you name it. I suspect that in the end we will all be better off for this reformation, just as we were after Luther’s, for all its excesses.

  10. I wish to nail my 93 feces theses on the door of the church on Hudson Street. By inclination I would be called a “priest”… but one who cries for massive reformation, and one who uses the full range of science — not just mathematics, because the data are unreliable — as a rationale. (And anyone who knows me will cringe at comparing me to part of a religious hierarchy, but that’s for another time.)

    The key problem with both the priesthood and the mathematicians is that they are in the business of fitting data to theory, and not theory to data. The respective publishing histories of Don Quixote, “Absolam and Achitophel,” The Wizard of Oz, 1984, and The Lord of the Rings rather thoroughly refute both the priestly and the mathematician approach to publishing. There’s a fairly simple reason for this: The priests are just as subject to shorttermism as the mathematicians… and for equally invalid reasons.

    As we learned at Bob’s Country Bunker, long-term publishing success requires both kinds: Country and western. On the one hand, mathematicians tend to conveniently ignore the effects of overenthusiasm for apparent trends on those trends themselves. Just try selling a celeb biography produced without the celeb’s cooperation these days; the remainders killed the subcategory, and it was predictable. On the other hand, priests tend to view quality through the lens of what they thought was good when they were in their mid-twenties, and that specifically includes rejecting out of hand material on subjects they were never trained to critically evaluate during that period. One of the reasons that the “woman writers” problem remains so annoying is the demographic of who the priests are, and more importantly who the priests were trained to evaluate as other than fluff when those priests were 25.

    The history of alchemy provides a rather ironic counterpoint. Most people who don’t know anything about alchemy (and its later offshoot chemistry) assume that it was about one of two things: Making gold or creating the philosopher’s stone. And to those who were either funding alchemists’ efforts in hopes of getting rich quick themselves or burning them at the stake for heresy and ungodliness, that was both necessary and sufficient. Those people, however, were not alchemists… nor were they interested in the more-valuable-than-gold processes and things that alchemists discovered and developed along the way, such as a reliable distillation process for producing the brandy and cognac found in both priests’ parlours and mathematicians’ boardrooms.

    Of course, one of the inevitable results of the Reformation — indeed, of all reformation-like efforts — is schism and civil war. Somehow, though, I just can’t seem to care if some or all of the current publishing bigwigs become collateral damage…

  11. Long time listener, first time caller.

    I’ve always found your posts insightful, but this … this is a work of art. Thanks!

  12. Your description of Priests made me think of the play, “Seminar.” Alan Rickman–an author turned teacher-editor for reasons too involved to explain–was the best thing about the production (some of his most withering bon mots reminded me of certain workshops), and I had a good time. (This, in spite of the fact, that critics of the play have suggested that I really shouldn’t because the writing is so “lazy” and demonstrates no real love for writing or literature. Whatever.)

    But I do remember one moment that jolted me right out of the play: at the very end, when a student’s turned in a truly spectacular book and the Rickman character offers to take the writer on and edit the book to help him shape and hone the novel into the true masterpiece it could become, if *only* he understood that need to refine and fix.

    I do believe I was the only one who laughed. Out loud. Given how quiet the theater was at that tender moment, this was a mistake.

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