Recommended Reading List: February, 2015
I spent all of February reading manuscripts for the anthology workshop at the end of the month. One of the students counting up the reading and determined we all read one-million words of unpublished fiction. (See the picture to the left, taken by Brendan Swann.) Usually when a professional writer mentions that she’s read that much fiction for a workshop, the fiction is pretty mediocre. Not here. Every writer is an established pro. While some stories weren’t to my taste, every single story was well done and worth spending time on.
A goodly number of the stories were purchased for various Fiction River volumes. A few others will appear in some other anthologies edited by the editors involved. Then there are the rest, which I’m sure will appear in the various fiction magazines. The stories this time were absolutely phenomenal.
The first volume that’ll come out of this workshop is my own, Hidden in Crime, in November. The rest will appear in 2016. The last few volumes from last year’s anthology workshop will appear soon. Risk Takers edited by Dean appears this week, and wowza, wowza does it have some amazing stories. Check it out here: http://www.fictionriver.com
Needless to say that my other reading fell by the wayside, so this recommended list will be short, especially compared to January’s. Only two novels, and a few articles. But they’re all worth your time.
Delcomyn, Fred, “Jogging Memories,” Oregon Quarterly, Winter, 2014. The University of Oregon is known for its track and field. Legends came and are still coming from the school. It’s also the place that Nike was born. So this little essay on running—or jogging, as he calls it—in the 1960s before the rise of Steve Prefontaine, is fascinating.
Naifeh, Steven, and Smith, Gregory White, “NCIS: Provence,” Vanity Fair, December, 2014. Fascinating article on the death of Van Gogh. Since I’m not deeply involved in the art world any longer, I had had no idea that in the last twenty years some have argued that Van Gogh did not commit suicide.
Naifeh and Smith were among those who made that argument, and they’ve done a lot of historical forensic work. They believe they have proof not only that Van Gogh was murdered, but they also think they know who the murderer was.
Read this one. See if you agree. I’m still on the fence, but I’m almost, almost convinced…
Paretsky, Sara, Critical Mass, Signet Select, 2014. The last few Paretsky novels haven’t quite met my expectations, so I approached this one with some trepidation. Also, the cover (ugly) and the back cover copy led me to believe that this book was about something other than it was.
I thought it would be mostly about the Kindertransport, which meant that it wouldn’t be relaxation reading for me.
Instead, the book nearly gave me a nerdgasm. It was about scientists before and during the war, and their escape to the United States. There’s murder in modern times, of course, and hidden histories, and lots of physics (!) and lots and lots of lost history of the female scientists, and oh, my heavens, I can’t say enough good about this book.
Of course, our hero V.I. Warshawski gets involved in the middle of all of this, in surprising ways, and of course, there are threats to her life, and all of it is based on things that happened more than seventy years before. Did I say I loved this book? I loved this book. Read it. It’s a great place to start the series. Have fun.
Seabrook, John, “Revenue Streams,” The New Yorker, November 24, 2014. Sometimes I worry about the articles I read in The New Yorker. I know how badly they get the details wrong about my industry; I figure they do the same for others. And yet, I know how hard it is for a generalist (a reporter) to understand the specifics of another industry and to put those specifics in the proper context.
That said, I found this article on Spotify and the various revenue streams for artists fascinating. Written in response to Taylor Swift taking her music off Spotify, the article follows the streaming trends and discusses the impacts, good and bad, on musicians.
As I’ve said for a long time, the music business is about a decade ahead of the book business on disruption. One thing that indie published writers discuss continually is the ways to track revenue. Something that has bothered me for years is that the bits and pieces of revenue—a penny here, a dime there—are so hard to track, and are getting harder, not easier. Traditional publishers have to have a hell of a time.
But I hadn’t thought of the problems that the music industry has. Generally speaking, a book publishing house has one copyright to deal with per title; a piece of music might have a dozen or more. So these two paragraphs fascinated me:
Not surprisingly, companies that specialize in digital royalty collection constitute one of the hottest growth sectors in the music business. Among the leaders is Kobalt, founded, in 2001, by Willard Ahdritz. Part collection agency, part music publisher, and part tech platform, Kobalt has built a system of enormously complex Oracle databases that compute billions and billions of transactions and royalty lines from all over the world, and collects on behalf of some two thousand artists, including Paul McCartney, Maroon 5, and Skrillex, while the rest of the industry uses Excel spreadsheets to try to piece everything together. On YouTube, Kobalt’s proprietary song-detection technology, ProKlaim, detects unclaimed videos for its clients. Ahdritz says, “We create transparency, which drives liquidity, and the money is now flowing.”
Spotify’s payouts to indie labels and digital-music distributors such as Tunecore are considerably more transparent than its dealings with the major labels. Spotify sends out monthly statements showing the total streams per artist, broken down into individual songs. To come up with the royalty rate per stream, Spotify divides the monthly streams of a single artist’s work by the total number of streams on Spotify that month, and arrives at the artist’s share. It multiplies that number by the total monthly revenues, and keeps thirty per cent. Labels, publishers, and distributors then pay the artist according to their royalty deals.
There’s a lot more on royalties and payments and all the problems with just one service and a mountain of copyrights. Now, apply all of this to book publishing. Hmmm…. Looks like I’ll need to do a blog post. Anyway, this one’s really worth reading.