Archives for the month of: June, 2020

Eric Schwitzgebel writes the blog The Splintered Mind, a romp through the world of philosophy, with a side interest in snails. He has a couple of posts about how to go about getting your book published, which are full of sensible advice. Here is Part 1 and here Part 2.

Think about who publishes the books you most use: among them will doubtless be the publisher you need. If that doesn’t clarify things, look at the book exhibit at conferences you go to, and if this or that press’ list looks good to you ask if the editor is present. Remember publishers want/need authors. Once you’ve made contact, and if some expression of even the mildest interest has been expressed, write an outline. This might seem unnecessary to you; after all you know what the book’ll be about, but doing an outline will force you to think about the structure and purpose of your book, and of course enables you to show the evidence to others. Putting things down on paper makes a big difference to your attitude towards it — I often claim not to know what I think about something until I’ve written it down — and this may of course be part of the reason for your resistance to the idea: once it’s on paper it’s no longer that potential work of genius, it’s just what it is. An outline isn’t a vast document; and after all, you’ll have to write the damn thing sooner or later. Showing the outline to an editor might even prompt useful feedback: these people live to be helpful.

Professor Schwitzgebel recommends sending your outline to a few presses simultaneously. OK, but we should bear in mind that it may be sent out to advisors whose time is limited. This is perhaps less true of a bare proposal than of an outline accompanied by a few sample chapters. Most academics are doubtless aware from personal experience just how much time can be eaten up assessing manuscripts for publishers: they do it basically for “the good of the subject”. And to release the self-same project to three or four publishers at the same time is to risk tying up limited resources and to court duplication. Better, I’d say, to go seriatim in submission.

The second part of his advice is mainly taken up with the contract. I think he exaggerates publishers’ reluctance to discuss and give guidance on contracts. As the author of an academic monograph you are probably in any case going to be dealing with a boilerplate standard contract, but there’s nothing stopping you asking for anything, including help. There may be a bit of reluctance to move off the terms of the standard contract, but if you really want to retain movie rights for your monograph on panpsychism a special clause can be added to the pre-set contract.

In his defensiveness about contract negotiations I suspect that Professor Schwitzgebel is falling victim to that diffidence that overcomes us all (almost all) when it comes to discussing money. Different societies at different times have different attitudes towards this sort of thing. As a young publisher I lived in an environment where it was not at all unusual for a dinner guest to ask you how much you paid for your house, or how much you earned. But of course that was in another country and besides the trait is dead.

So try to discuss finances as calmly as you might illustrations or structure. It’s important to bear in mind that your relationship with your publisher is fundamentally a mutually beneficial collaboration, not an arm-wrestling contest. Respect your publishers’ expertise in the publishing process, just as they respect your knowledge of the subject. Your interests ultimately coincide. Publishers might be regarded as in an existential struggle with competing publishing houses, but they need their authors more than their authors actually need them. An author can always try next door: a publisher with no manuscripts is a publisher with no future.

If like Professor Schwitzgebel you’re a philosopher, here is his ranking of the best presses at which to pitch your manuscript. The analysis is admittedly a bit circular, ending up more or less concluding that those presses who publish most of the books will tend to end up publishing most of the best books.

In my post about Half-title — written almost ten years ago — I mentioned our practice of sometimes duplicating the half-title at the end of the front matter (in order to add pages to the book in the attempt to reach an even working without too many blanks at the back). What I didn’t realize at the time is that this duplicated half-title page falling between front matter and text should properly be called a fly-title.

John Carter’s ABC for book collectors describes the situation thus: “A second half-title is sometimes found, in 19th and 20th century books, placed between the last page of the prelims and the opening page of text. This is called a fly-title. The term is also sometimes used of divisional titles in abbreviated form.”

Andrew Dangelas in a recent comment on Perfect Binding suggested that there’s a distinction to be made between a half-title and a bastard-title. He writes that there will be nothing but the book’s title on a half-title page, whereas if the page contains additional copy describing the book it should be named a bastard-title. I cannot find any written support for this theory: all the sources suggest bastard and half are just synonyms. But the idea does sound internally coherent, so there may be people out there using the terms to make such a distinction. Anyone know anything about this?



Last August I wrote about the sort of garbage fake books you can buy from Amazon if you don’t pay attention, or even if you do in many instances. Change, we hope, is on the way.

PublishersLunch of 24 June informs us:

It’s been well documented the extent to which Amazon is filled with fake, illegitimate and counterfeit editions of books as well as other merchandise. (Last year, a WSJ investigation wrote, “In practice, Amazon has increasingly evolved like a flea market. It exercises limited oversight over items listed by millions of third-party sellers, many of them anonymous, many in China, some offering scant information.”) While regularly telling people what a great job they do — as well as blaming the limitations of software, or the publishing ecosystem for not having a universal catalog of every right for every book around the world — the company has conceded more work is needed.

A press release announces the creation of a Counterfeit Crimes Unit that “will investigate cases where a bad actor has attempted to evade Amazon’s systems and listed a counterfeit in violation of Amazon’s policies.” The process still sounds data focused — the unit “will mine Amazon’s data, cull information from external resources such as payment service providers and open source intelligence, and leverage on-the-ground assets to connect the dots between targets.” It will also help the company “more effectively pursue civil litigation against bad actors, work with brands in joint or independent investigations, and aid law enforcement officials worldwide in criminal actions against counterfeiters.”

CNBC provides the detail that the CCU team will be “made up of former federal prosecutors, investigators and data analysts”. One just hopes there’ll be enough of them to cope with the problem. I guess these internet companies can feel the tide turning on our hands-off treatment of big online companies. Google has removed the injunction “Do no evil” from its code of conduct, which doesn’t of course mean we have to look out for evil from that quarter, but does suggest that the early optimistic idealism has seeped away. Regulation looms for all these big guys, and beating the starting gun with some self-regulation of your own is obviously a good ploy.

The names of places in Britain carry historical information. Your hometown ends in -wich or -chester — clearly a Roman place; -ham, or -ton — cherchez les Anglo-Saxons. If it’s -by or -thorpe — keep your head down, the Vikings are coming. Knowing that West Chester, Pennsylvania was obviously a fortified site in Roman times provides you with valuable insights into migration patterns. Or not, of course.

When I was there, Cambridge University Press would publish books for The English Place-Name Society. These were always, to me, potentially fascinating if ultimately unreadable books. They were pale blue hardbacks, clearly destined for library shelves.

Now that everything can be found online at all levels of seriousness, the Society, based at the University of Nottingham, has taken over responsibility for their publications.

They tell us on their website “Before the Second World War, the Survey was largely limited to coverage of ‘major’ place-names, the names of towns, villages, larger rivers, forests, etc. From the 1950s onwards rich collections of minor names, field-names and street-names have also been included. (Major names are also nowadays given a very much fuller treatment than in the early years.) This detailed material provides an excellent resource for local investigators, social, urban and agricultural historians of the medieval and early modern periods, linguists, geographers and archaeologists. The growing scale of coverage, however, has inevitably slowed down the country-wide progress of the Survey, and counties are nowadays covered by multiple volumes. This accounts for the current partial coverage of some counties.”

For people interested there’s a map at their website, showing how they are getting on with regard to achieving total coverage. Their first volume was published in 1925. It looks like at least 150 years to get to the point where they want to start at the beginning again with Buckinghamshire.

For people looking for a brief survey of an immense topic here’s a post from Thijs Porck, a Dutch linguist, presenting a toponymy of English place-names. Maybe it’s because I was born 60 miles away, I find the dislocation of Carlisle on the first map at Professor Porck’s post a bit off-putting, but for all I know the town which looks like it’s located by that dot, Morecambe, may well illustrate the same point. (It probably doesn’t.) Actually most of the labelled dots are a bit off.

Here are three of Professor Porck’s heat maps.

There is of course in the natural order of things a Scottish Place-Name Society, Comann Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba. Unlike their Sassenach colleagues they do not appear to have a shire by shire book program, but do publish a journal.


Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. A protest march is easily hijacked by hangers-on out for some sort of mischief. No doubt nobody actually set out to burn down a bookstore — but there it is, a bookstore got burned down.

Here we see before and after shots of Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore and Uncle Edgar’s Mystery Bookstore, in Minneapolis, which got burned down on the first night of protests there following George Floyd’s murder. It seems that insurance won’t be covering the building’s loss. The bookstore’s owners have started a Go Fund Me campaign to support rebuilding the business.

Are we at a turning point? It does look like real reform may be forthcoming this time. Taking a strong lead, the Governor of New York has required all localities to consult widely about what sort of police force they want, and to pass a law instituting that vision by 1 April next year, or face a loss of state funding.

When we start protesting about stuff we start to protest about everything. Can the gatekeeping role of publishing really be excluding sections of the population? Publishers have to decide which books they will publish after all: nobody can take on every book ever written. I have always thought that book publishing was free of bias: everyone working there is anti almost everything you could as a social liberal think of disapproving of. But I have to admit that the scales are falling from my eyes. We liberals don’t want to be biassed, but maybe we have been unable to avoid bias.

The last six paragraphs of Maris Kreizman’s Los Angeles Times piece Want to fix the racial disparity in book advances? Pay assistants more” appear to me to make it all clear. (Link via Lit Hub.) Her focus is on the reality that by and large black authors receive smaller advances than white ones. The reason, she argues, amounts to the reality that publishers, subconsciously almost, expect books by black authors to sell less well that comparable books by white authors — an assumption which has up until now been a self-fulfilling prophesy, regardless of what at the end of the day turns out to be the actual sales fact. The prophesy is self-fulfilling, not simply because publishers believe that black authors really do sell less well (even if this isn’t always the case), but because publishers are less well equipped to assess the prospects of black authors’ books than of white ones’. And, she argues, this results from a lack of diversity in employment in the industry, because

  • industry salaries are low, especially at the entry level
  • young black entrants to the industry can’t afford to stay
  • and often don’t find a mentor to guide them
  • so they move to better paying businesses
  • the higher up the publishing organization you look the whiter it becomes
  • editors boost book proposals on the basis of other books they have loved
  • the size of the advance is based upon the extent of the enthusiasm the editor is able to communicate to colleagues
  • the likelihood of success for a book is “measured” by the success of “similar” books
  • without willing it, editors make these comparisons with books written by people who by and large look like them, the success of whose books they can “understand”.

The people who are able survive the low entry salaries in publishing are differentially those who can afford to keep doing what they love without having to worry about making more money. If your parents are able to help out with the odd check, or if you can anticipate inheriting the family home, you aren’t subject to quite the same pressures to accumulate your own wealth, as someone less fortunately placed may be. So you can afford to keep on working in that almost college atmosphere which is a book publishing house. You feel fortunate — because you actually are fortunate.

As Ms Kreizman tells us “Editors must also fill out profit and loss statements to justify their advances. The P&L contains fixed costs (including overhead and manufacturing), and the editor’s job is to plug in the advance they would like to offer and determine how many copies the book would have to sell to justify it. Fudging P&Ls is a publishing tradition as old as getting drunk at book parties.” I’ve done both myself. The bigger the advance, the more sales you need to show. The more sales you show the greater the hype you have to create in order to “sell” the project in-house. You can best create hype for a manuscript which you can justify to yourself hyping — the sort of project you yourself would go for. We all strive to overcome the effects of our upbringing. We mostly fail.

Advance disclosure shows, via the links, much of the current turmoil surrounding this issue. Plus ça change is also relevant here I think.

The oldest public library in Scotland is still open at Innerpeffray near Crieff in Perthshire. It was established in 1680 by David Drummond, Third Lord Madertie who directed that his 400 books be stored in the attic of St Mary’s Chapel (on the right) and made available to the public free of charge. The library’s collection was significantly increased in the 18th century when Robert Hay Drummond, Archbishop of York commissioned the construction of the library building next door to the chapel and donated a large number of books concentrating on “Divinity, Classicks, History”. In 2013 the library received another donation from American bibliophile Janet Burns Saint Germain. Among this gift of rare Scottish books was what turned out to be Innerpeffray’s earliest book, the 1476 edition of the works of John Duns Scotus.

One of their treasures is their Borrowers’ Register which records names, addresses and occupations of borrowers from 1747 to 1968. They stopped lending out their books in 1968 but you can still consult them there or take a tour. Their catalog isn’t online, but their website features a sampling.

Once upon a time I did live in Perth about fifteen miles away but as far as I know I’ve never been to Innerpeffray; nor was I conscious of its existence till I recently saw their advertisement in the magazine of The National Trust for Scotland. As I was just five when I lived in Perth, my recollection is patchy: I can see the school and its playground where we lined up before doors marked Girls and Boys, and I believe I could still walk home from there. One of my fellow pupils’ granny fell off the bus and bloodied her lip while we all gawped through the iron railings. I also remember the park by the Tay, the Inches, which featured the first swans I ever saw. We lived in Perth because my stepfather was in the army camp at Findo Gask even closer to Innerpeffray. There I was introduced to Lieutenant Toursky who loved honey so much he was alleged to sweat it: a sweet man.

My military connection with the neighborhood continued at nearby Cultybraggan, which is revealed by Atlas Obscura to have been a prisoner of war camp in the Second World War. We didn’t know about this POW connection when as a teenager I was forced to go there for a week’s military training as part of the school’s Combined Cadet Force operation. (All CCF activity seemed to me like a prison sentence.) My only memory of “camp” is that we all went up Ben Lawers, which is about 30 miles away. A cloudy day unfortunately, so we couldn’t see Innerpeffray.

Although professional scribes would each unavoidably write in their own individual style, they did have standard letter forms to which they mostly tried to adhere. Certain scripts and sizes were regarded as appropriate to certain types of work: see for example Pica. This virtuosity tended to be less marked in monastic scriptoria, where a uniformity of script was more common — maybe because they tended to be focussed on one or two types of book. The professional however needed to show he could execute in a variety of styles.

Herman Strepel’s advertisement sheet for scripts, c. 1450 (The Hague, KB, 76 D 45)

This picture of a scribe’s sample sheet used as an advertisement — it’s one-sided and was probably pinned to the wall — comes from Erik Kwakkel’s blog post The Secrets of Medieval Fonts. (The text doesn’t look like it reads “lorem ipsum . . “!) Presumably such display sheets were fairly common: work needed drumming up even back then. But like all ephemera few example have survived. Another such sample sheet can be seen at Medieval Manuscripts Provenance. These sheets are directly ancestral to the printer’s type samples which were an indispensable part of the book designer’s toolkit back in the days of letterpress.

Professor Kwakkel’s post includes a link to a free downloadable book, Turning over a new leaf: Change and development in the medieval book, which will enable the enthusiast to explore change in scribal practice in greater depth.

There were three main divisions of script: 1. Caroline minuscule, 2. Pregothic script, and 3. Littera textualis or Gothic script. These did tend to be more used at different periods one after the other, but there was extensive overlap. One can see a trend from what we might regard as the most modern-looking one, Caroline minuscule, towards the sort of Gothic letter form which Johannes Gutenberg was striving to imitate in his Bible.

Three medieval script families: 1. from St Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, 14 (9th century); 2. from Leiden, University Library, BPL 196 (12th century); 3. from London, British Library, Arundel 28 (13th century)

See also Lettre de forme. . .

There’s a new Twitter hashtag #PublishingPaidMe which aims to get authors to disclose the size of their advances. John Scalzi writes a response at his blog Whatever. Here’s his post at #PublishingPaidMe.

Now I think disclosure of pay rates is always a good thing. If you know what everyone else is being paid, you are armed for your own pay negotiation. So in principle knowing what other writers are being paid in the way of advances ought to help you

But of course it isn’t as simple as that. An advance isn’t a salary. An advance isn’t even a measure of what the author ultimately gets paid. And it’s certainly not (usually*) the amount a publisher pays for the book, although many people, including authors who clearly should know better, seem to treat it that way. As Mr Scalzi points out the advance is merely a guess by the publisher at the amount of royalties the author might be due after a period of sales. It’s an estimate that a book of the sort you are working on ought probably to sell this or that number of copies, which means that they can offer to pay you up front a portion of the royalties due to you after about a year’s-worth of sales. In effect the payment of advances represents publishers funding authors while they write. Of course the publisher expects to make money off the book, and if they do the author will do so too. If the book sells more than expected, the author will be paid more: if the book sells less — the author gets to keep the advance. Not a bad deal surely. Investing in the success of the book by paying advance on royalties is a way to persuade authors to sign with you rather than with a competing publisher: it is not society’s mechanism for supporting authors.

See also Advances.


* Usually — but the advance will turn out to be the full amount paid in those distressingly common cases where the book ends up being less successful than estimated, and the advance doesn’t “earn out” because it paid royalties on more copies than were ultimately sold. These unearned royalty payments represent quite a drain on trade publishers’ resources. This is one of the calculations behind the postponing of many new books during the current business restrictions. There’s probably no right or wrong answer to the dilemma: I would bet even more advances than usual will be failing to earn out in the coming year. However, sympathy is not called for: optimism is a job requirement, and competition involves risk.



The Economist has a piece in the issue of 30 May, alerting us to the problem of quick-buck-making pseudo-academic journals.

The urgency of getting information about the novel corona virus has led to a spate of science research articles appearing un-peer-reviewed on open access sites. We need the information at once, and waiting while a research paper is debugged via peer review is a delay we all agree is unwarranted under the circumstances. But of course this doesn’t mean we all agree that peer review is in itself an unwarranted waste of time. It just means that anyone reading such a paper is responsible for applying their own peer review process, or in other words reading the research as potentially error plagued.

No doubt the majority of these un-peer-reviewed papers are by responsible, bona fide scientists, but a large section of humanity seems to be struggling to emerge from the dung heap (or maybe just wallowing there): many articles turn out to be nonsense, just cobbled together to make their authors look good for a few minutes.

The Economist article doesn’t tell us how many new predatory journals have been started since the beginning of this year, but the graph above shows steady increases since the start of this century. Cabells, an editorial services company, maintains a blacklist of predatory journals in English, and claims that while there were about 1,000 in 2010, there are now at least 13,000. These journals charge fees to authors who submit work, and try to sell subscriptions.

I still, as the ultimate cock-eyed optimist, cling to the belief that we will evolve methods of assessing the often ludicrous claims made so easily in social media. On-line discussion is still in its infancy and it would be amazing if it had come into existence accompanied by an in-built mental toolbox for deconstructing exaggerated claims. We are better at this sort of thing if we are face to face with someone, or even if we hear their voice on the radio. I can’t believe that we won’t ultimately develop an internal on-line bullshit detection mechanism.

See also Predatory journals, and Predatory publishing.