M. T. on ©

Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.

—Mark Twain

I reply:

Mr. S. L. Clemens believed that copyright ought to be perpetual, and that it required uncommon stupidity to think otherwise. He liked to say, in tones of surprise and personal affront, that every other kind of property was eternal, but copyright alone was confiscated by the government at an arbitrary date.

Which ignored the fact that patents are also ‘confiscated’ after shorter terms than copyrights.

And the fact that real estate is liable to confiscation after a term as short as one year, if you fail to pay your property taxes; and likewise with mines. [Read more…]

Publishers and pies

Self-styled publishing industry pundit Michael Kozlowski, whose foolishness is exceeded only by his bad manners, had this nugget of conventional wisdom to offer in the comment box of an article on The Passive Voice:

Indie authors are for the most part very lazy. They spam out e-books without any regard for quality and think quantity is better. I have noticed over the years that if you mention the e-book industry declining they will always say “its [sic] because we don’t want/need an ISBN” and then they will defend the indie movement.

If indie authors really wanted to be taken seriously they would buy cheap ISBN numbers and be counted. But that takes a few hours worth of work, something they aren’t willing to do.

Indie authors for the most part are lazy, incompetent and have no regard for the self-publishing movement.

I found that I could not let this go unchallenged. My reply follows:


OK, Kozlowski. I wasn’t going to waste my time commenting on your drivel at its original location, because I have a pretty strong suspicion that disapproving comments are ‘curated’ out of existence. But you’re here, so I’ll have a bash.

We ‘indie’ authors are so God-rotted lazy that we actually start our own publishing businesses. We not only write the books; we hire editors and copyeditors, commission cover art, arrange for wholesale and retail distribution, handle our own promotion and PR, and not only that, we, unlike you, actually engage with our end customers, the readers – a section of the food chain that your part of the business is still barely aware of and never listens to. And we do all this on our own time and our own dime, without anybody paying us an advance. [Read more…]

Told by an idiot, No. 6

The self-publishing industry has allowed anyone with a computer and a small amount of money to call themselves authors. Not long ago, I read a fascinating article in the New York Times (unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find it when I did an Internet search) that questioned whether self-published authors should be called published authors. Rather, the article suggests, they are book writers who have their books printed. There is, I believe, a significant difference between authors published by traditional houses and self-published books in that the latter lack the processes that we can count on to ensure a minimal level of quality, both of content and style.

—Dr. Jim Taylor, ‘Are Self-published Authors Really Authors or Even Published?’

How glad I am that a sane, sensible, and official person has weighed in on this important issue. It is manifestly obvious that a self-published author is no author at all, and that a self-published book is not published. And since a book must have an author, it is surely evident that a self-published book is not even a book. What it is, I cannot say: a new variety of spam, likely.
[Read more…]

Characterization by M. T.

I called upon Dr. Ellis with the air of a man who would create the impression that he is not so much of an ass as he looks.

—Mark Twain, ‘Letter from Steamboat Springs’ (1863)

Why are dragons afraid of Americans?

The chief business of an essayist — I speak here of the kind of essayist that I occasionally manage to be, and that better men than I are sometimes reduced to when not at their best — is to tilt at windmills. The second greatest delight such an essayist can know is to tilt at a windmill, in the full knowledge and expectation that it is really a windmill, and that he shall end by making a quixotic fool of himself, and discover in the heat of combat that it is only a giant after all. [Read more…]

Reject yourself! (Mark Twain on quality control)

There are at least two schools of thought about editing and revision in self-publishing.

One (exemplified, perhaps, by Dean Wesley Smith) says that you should write as much content as you can and publish it as soon as it’s done. This results, I suspect, from taking Heinlein’s Rules far too seriously. Folks, they’re not the Gospel according to St. Robert; they’re one man’s opinion, and a very unusual man he was. ‘You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order’ is fatal advice for a self-published writer, because, in the nature of things, that editorial order will never come. (It did Heinlein great harm, too, in his later years, when his editors stopped trying to argue with him.)

The second school of thought, which I have seen well expressed by Joel Friedlander, is that you ought to take every bit as much care with editing and revision as if you were a conscientious publisher printing someone else’s work. [Read more…]

Mark Twain on publishers

This is possibly my favourite bit out of Mark Twain’s autobiography. He was advising Ulysses S. Grant not to publish his memoirs on a royalty basis, but to enter into a contract with a subscription publisher:

I pointed out that the contract as it stood had an offensive detail in it which I had never heard of in the ten per cent contract of even the most obscure author — that this contract not only proposed a ten per cent royalty for such a colossus as General Grant, but also had in it a requirement that out of that ten per cent must come some trivial tax for the book’s share of clerk hire, house rent, sweeping out the offices, or some such nonsense as that. I said he ought to have three-fourths of the profits and let the publisher pay running expenses out of his remaining fourth.

The idea distressed General Grant. He thought it placed him in the attitude of a robber — robber of a publisher. I said that if he regarded that as a crime it was because his education was limited. I said it was not a crime and was always rewarded in heaven with two halos. Would be, if it ever happened.

‘Advice to a Young Actor’, by Mark Twain

YOUNG ACTOR. — This gentleman writes as follows: “I am desperate. Will you tell me how I can possibly please the newspaper critics? I have labored conscientiously to achieve this, ever since I made my début upon the stage, and I have never yet entirely succeeded in a single instance. [Read more…]

‘Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences’, by Mark Twain

Originally published in the North American Review, July, 1895.


 

“The Pathfinder” and “The Deerslayer” stand at the head of Cooper’s novels as artistic creations. There are others of his works which contain parts as perfect as are to be found in these, and scenes even more thrilling. Not one can be compared with either of them as a finished whole. The defects in both of these tales are comparatively slight. They were pure works of art. —Professor Lounsbury

The five tales reveal an extraordinary fullness of invention. . . . One of the very greatest characters in fiction, Natty Bumppo. . . The craft of the woodsman, the tricks of the trapper, all the delicate art of the forest were familiar to Cooper from his youth up. —Professor Matthews

Cooper is the greatest artist in the domain of romantic fiction in America. —Wilkie Collins

It seems to me that it was far from right for the Professor of English Literature at Yale, the Professor of English Literature in Columbia, and Wilkie Collins to deliver opinions on Cooper’s literature without having read some of it. It would have been much more decorous to keep silent and let persons talk who have read Cooper.

Cooper’s art has some defects. In one place in “Deerslayer,” and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.

There are nineteen rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction—some say twenty-two. In “Deerslayer,” Cooper violated eighteen of them. These eighteen require: [Read more…]

Mark Twain on lying fallow

When an acre of ground has produced long and well, we let it lie fallow and rest for a season; we take no man clear across the continent in the same coach he started in — the coach is stabled somewhere on the plains and its heated machinery allowed to cool for a few days; when a razor has seen long service and refuses to hold an edge, the barber lays it away for a few weeks, and the edge comes back of its own accord. We bestow thoughtful care upon inanimate objects, but none upon ourselves. What a robust people, what a nation of thinkers we might be, if we would only lay ourselves on the shelf occasionally and renew our edges!

The Innocents Abroad