The ‘great and cursed work’ that was the Encyclopédie – Ideas – The Boston Globe

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Here’s the great difference between the Encyclopédie and the Internet, between what reading meant then and what it increasingly passes for today. While Diderot encouraged differences of opinion and perspectives among his closest contributors, he knew that all of them — from Voltaire to Rousseau, Baron d’Holbach to the Chevalier de Jaucourt — took the act of writing as seriously as did those who read it. No activity was more noble.

via The ‘great and cursed work’ that was the Encyclopédie – Ideas – The Boston Globe.

Ten Years of Automattic | Matt Mullenweg

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I’ll remember the days before I knew everything.

— The Automattic Creed

via Ten Years of Automattic | Matt Mullenweg.

When I was still running my old business, I always had in my back pocket the idea that if I were to ever close up shop and work for The Man again, there would only be one man I’d want to work for, and that’s Matt Mullenweg. I’ve been a WordPress user and fan for years, but I’ve also been kind of a Matt groupie, ever since I read his “How I work” profile in Inc.

It’s kind of weird now to actually be working for Matt, be on a first-name basis with him, and even get to chat with him now and then. But now that I’ve been here for just over a year and have become a part of the Automattic, I’ve come to realize that the WordPress and open source communities are bigger than any one person. While there’s a part of me that will always be a tiny bit starstruck by Matt, I’m in even greater awe of how much this little software project has grown to power nearly a quarter of the Internet. It lets everyone from giant media organizations like the New York Times and Fortune to mom bloggers with hyperlocal audiences have a global platform from which to share their ideas, their vision, their message with the world. And heck, you can even do it for free.

Remember the days when you needed to get the word out about anything, even if it’s just your neighborhood yard sale? Or when beautiful, innocent animals would perish in local shelters, forgotten because they received so little attention, and municipalities and volunteer groups struggled to get any kind of media attention? Now, if you have a message, you have the means to blast it out to the world, and at no cost to you other than your time. I’m still in shock that this has all come about in such a short period of time, but most of all I’m so incredibly proud to be a part of the company driving this forward and inspiring so much change.

We’re celebrating 10 years of being in the biz this week, and I can’t wait to see what the next 10 will bring.

Ten Years of Automattic | Matt Mullenweg

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I’ll remember the days before I knew everything.

— The Automattic Creed

via Ten Years of Automattic | Matt Mullenweg.

When I was still running my old business, I always had in my back pocket the idea that if I were to ever close up shop and work for The Man again, there would only be one man I’d want to work for, and that’s Matt Mullenweg. I’ve been a WordPress user and fan for years, but I’ve also been kind of a Matt groupie, ever since I read his “How I work” profile in Inc.

It’s kind of weird now to actually be working for Matt, be on a first-name basis with him, and even get to chat with him now and then. But now that I’ve been here for just over a year and have become a part of the Automattic, I’ve come to realize that the WordPress and open source communities are bigger than any one person. While there’s a part of me that will always be a tiny bit starstruck by Matt, I’m in even greater awe of how much this little software project has grown to power nearly a quarter of the Internet. It lets everyone from giant media organizations like the New York Times and Fortune to mom bloggers with hyperlocal audiences have a global platform from which to share their ideas, their vision, their message with the world. And heck, you can even do it for free.

Remember the days when you needed to get the word out about anything, even if it’s just your neighborhood yard sale? Or when beautiful, innocent animals would perish in local shelters, forgotten because they received so little attention, and municipalities and volunteer groups struggled to get any kind of media attention? Now, if you have a message, you have the means to blast it out to the world, and at no cost to you other than your time. I’m still in shock that this has all come about in such a short period of time, but most of all I’m so incredibly proud to be a part of the company driving this forward and inspiring so much change.

We’re celebrating 10 years of being in the biz this week, and I can’t wait to see what the next 10 will bring.

Amazon to pay Kindle authors only for pages read – Telegraph

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Amazon’s new system will cut the royalties for self-published authors who fail to hold a reader’s attention until the final page

via Amazon to pay Kindle authors only for pages read – Telegraph.

This is horrifying and a terrible precedent. Frankly, I don’t understand the position of author Kerry Wilkinson, who is quoted in the article as asking, “If readers give up on a title after half a dozen pages, why should the writer be paid in full?”

If I go to the emergency room with a heart attack and die on the operating table because the EMTs didn’t get me to the hospital in time, is my family still liable for the bill?

If I buy a dress but then take it altered to my favorite tailor because I think the hem should be 2″ shorter to truly flatter me, should I get a refund from the designer for whatever percentage of the dress I cut off?

If I book a flight to Paris, but then fall in love with someone while on layover in London and decide not to continue my journey, should I demand that the airline reimburse me for the percentage of the flight that I didn’t complete?

And yes, as Peter Maass is quoted as saying in the article: “I’d like the same in restaurants — pay for how much of a burger I eat.” Or a glass of wine I drink. Or if I walk out of a movie halfway through, I only want to pay half the bill. Or better, yet, hell, just give me all my money back.

Yes, it’s true that writers can “opt out” of the Kindle Select program, and frankly, it’s not that great a deal anyway since you’re essentially getting pennies so that someone can read it for free. But it sets a terrifying precedent to a future in which writers are mere commodities in the same way that education has become a commodity, valued only for what it can produce for in a free market.

I used to think that I wanted to live forever, but now I just want to die before it all goes to hell and writers will be mere content producers, not the scribes of an age.

Who’s intimidated by Virginia Woolf?

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Well, I am, for instance.

Am reading Julia Briggs’ Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life, and am impressed by the woman’s energy and devotion to — obsession with — writing. Despite being beset by frequent headaches, debilitating illnesses and awful depression, she managed to crank out brilliant short stories, books and reviews throughout her relatively short life. I loved that to her, the work was the most important thing. She saw her art as her profession, her vocation, something to take seriously. I struggle with this myself, sometimes imagining people telling me that writing is but a hobby, a frivolous activity that should only take place outside of the restricted hours of a real job. Woolf absolutely believed not only that her writing was her gift but the work that she was put on this earth to do. Would that I could have so much self-confidence.

I knew that she had created a publishing company with her husband Leonard (Hogarth Press) but didn’t know much about it until recently. Apparently much of her work was actually published by Hogarth Press, making her one of those “self-published authors” so many people disdain nowadays. (I have a dear friend who still looks down on self-published books as a bunch of drivel written by ignorant amateurs who couldn’t hack it with a real publisher. Yes, we’re still friends, but we definitely don’t agree on that point.) I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have my own publishing company, not just for my own work but for others. Now would be the absolute worst time to be a publisher, of course, not with all these consolidations and bankruptcies, but wouldn’t it be something? Mine would likely focus primarily on works by women, both fiction and nonfiction, biographies, literary essays, philosophy, feminism, that sort of thing. Not so much the academic volumes but the more accessible work that can reach a broader, mainstream audience, the people who wouldn’t ordinarily visit a feminist bookstore, for example. I’d love to work with writers such as Jessica Valenti and Amy Richards, writers from my generation and younger who have such exciting ideas about politics and social and global issues.

Maybe someday, if I win the Texas Lotto. Awfully nice to dream about it, though.

Who's intimidated by Virginia Woolf?

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Well, I am, for instance.

Am reading Julia Briggs’ Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life, and am impressed by the woman’s energy and devotion to — obsession with — writing. Despite being beset by frequent headaches, debilitating illnesses and awful depression, she managed to crank out brilliant short stories, books and reviews throughout her relatively short life. I loved that to her, the work was the most important thing. She saw her art as her profession, her vocation, something to take seriously. I struggle with this myself, sometimes imagining people telling me that writing is but a hobby, a frivolous activity that should only take place outside of the restricted hours of a real job. Woolf absolutely believed not only that her writing was her gift but the work that she was put on this earth to do. Would that I could have so much self-confidence.

I knew that she had created a publishing company with her husband Leonard (Hogarth Press) but didn’t know much about it until recently. Apparently much of her work was actually published by Hogarth Press, making her one of those “self-published authors” so many people disdain nowadays. (I have a dear friend who still looks down on self-published books as a bunch of drivel written by ignorant amateurs who couldn’t hack it with a real publisher. Yes, we’re still friends, but we definitely don’t agree on that point.) I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have my own publishing company, not just for my own work but for others. Now would be the absolute worst time to be a publisher, of course, not with all these consolidations and bankruptcies, but wouldn’t it be something? Mine would likely focus primarily on works by women, both fiction and nonfiction, biographies, literary essays, philosophy, feminism, that sort of thing. Not so much the academic volumes but the more accessible work that can reach a broader, mainstream audience, the people who wouldn’t ordinarily visit a feminist bookstore, for example. I’d love to work with writers such as Jessica Valenti and Amy Richards, writers from my generation and younger who have such exciting ideas about politics and social and global issues.

Maybe someday, if I win the Texas Lotto. Awfully nice to dream about it, though.

Writing blues

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The first time I thought I could possibly write a book someone might actually want to read was probably the first time I read a really badly written book. I’ll refrain from naming it to protect the innocent — okay, fine, it was The Celestine Prophecy — but it doesn’t really matter because the book went on to net the author kajillions of dollars, not just in royalties but in subsequent book-related gigs like speaking engagements, not to mention the sale of its film rights and the various sequels it spawned. (I think there were two, which are two too many, but I digress.)

Anyhoo, I remember thinking, Hell, even I could do better than this! And so I did. Well, I tried.

I’ve since learned that good, even great writing doesn’t necessarily guarantee publishing. A few months ago I reviewed a chick-lit novel for another of my blogs and was appalled by the horrible, horrible writing. I’ve nothing against chick-lit, mind you. One of my favorite authors is the brilliant Irish writer Marian Keyes, who takes puts the “lit” in that phrase. And I actually think that Bridget Jones’ Diary is a great book.

I was furious not with the novel’s writer — I mean, the world is full of bad writers — but rather with the editor for allowing her employer (one of the world’s biggest publishers) to invest even a dime in this piece of crap. I’ve read rough drafts of fellow writers’ manuscripts that were infinitely better than that “polished” work, and yet I’m also aware that few of my colleagues will ever find publishing nirvana, at least in this lifetime. Nowadays it seems that publishers crave “buzz” more than they do good literature, that nonfiction self-help books guarantee sales while a literary author should consider herself lucky if her debut novel’s numbers hit four figures. If you want to be an author, publishers want to know your “platform,” how many subscribers you have to your (and they assume you have one), and what famous author you can get to blurb your manuscript. Writers are now expected to spend part — if not all — of their advance on their own marketing and publicity, from scheduling their own book tours to buying copies of their own book to pestering local radio stations to interview them. Too bad if your book doesn’t lend itself to talk radio. Can you imagine Somerset Maugham discussing Of Human Bondage with a DJ who didn’t even take the time to read the first chapter? Or Mark Salzman trying to discuss Lying Awake (one of my all-time favorite modern novels) with a perfectly-coiffed-but-clueless blonde TV anchor in some podunk Midwestern town?

I read a quote from a famous Hollywood actor who said that, in order to succeed, you really have to be a little clueless about the challenges you’ll inevitably face. In other words, you can’t know too much about how hard your life is going to be, how sick you’re going to get of mac-n-cheese dinners, how many days you’ll have no more than ten dollars in the bank. Having even a bit of that knowledge can strain the faith of even the most passionate writer/artist/musician.

I think he also should have added (and maybe he did, I just don’t remember) that you shouldn’t know too much about the success of others either. Thanks to the Internet, we now know more than ever about how much an author or screenwriter got for her latest novel/script, and what kind of publicity tour her publisher is planning for her (which of course the latter will completely pay for). In spite of myself I still scan the pages in Script magazine that announce the advances first-time screenwriters nab from studios. Like stories in Self and Shape about how so-and-so lost X pounds and kept it off for a decade, these little tidbits leave a painful knot of envy in my stomach. I know I shouldn’t torture myself and should instead use these examples as inspiration, but I can’t help it. The horns just come out without any extra help from me.

Funny thing. I think I get more inspiration from those aforementioned awful books that I occasionally still “accidentally” read. (That chick-lit book was given to me by the publisher to review in my blog. What can I say? I wrote how much I hated it. Never ask me to review something without expecting full honesty.) I like to believe that if shit like that gets published, my novel has a tiny, tiny little chance of finding a good home somewhere. Hey, it’s free to dream.