Round-up, 13 November 2012: Ballot Design, Accents, Trends, Why British Students Can’t Write, Sendak

Among the many angles in the coverage of last week’s US election, the story that fascinated me the most was ‘Ballot Design With Todd Oldham’ from the New York Times. The experts say maybe millions of votes have been lost over the years because of poor ballot design. And I had no idea that the Florida ballots with the hanging chads were such a MESS (I love their comparison!). Wow, typography is THAT important. I still find it horrifying that the world’s superpower’s voting systems are so inconsistent; surely this is too important for such variation to be permitted in things such as voting machines (paper vs electronic), in the ballot design? If this happened in the developing world, the righteous West would be crying outrage. I’m all for decentralisation, but this is chaos. Makeover time!

Talking of typography, enjoy the pleasures of calligraphy in this short film about designer and artist Seb Lester.

I’m experimenting with dictation software (Dragon on my iPad), so I found this story about Midlands accents confounding an expensive phone system at Birmingham City Council quite amusing.

From the Guardian: is crime fiction the new fashion in young adult fiction?

And from a blog I stumbled across, a good overview of trends in horror fiction.

From the American Reader, one of the more thoughtful pieces of coverage of the Penguin/Random House merger.

Which we are told is necessary to balance out the ever increasing powers of Amazon. Which doesn’t pay much tax either. I have found myself shopping at Amazon less and less this year. Okay, I might have to(?!) do my ebook of short stories there, and I am sure could save on various titles I might instead buy, e.g., at the Open Book in Richmond. But at what price: my soul, for a couple of tight-fisted quid, and crappier royalties to the writers? In you have any doubts, just watch the BBC coverage of the parliamentary grilling of the man from Amazon (he say no).

Just happened to watch The Young Apprentice candidates create cookbooks last week. Fun to see a primetime take on publishing, and I thought the kids did well (among the squabbling – some of the young women were notably obnoxious). The funniest moment for me was when the Waterstone’s buyer got so defensive about a seventeen-year-old saying their customers were middle-class. Out of the mouths of babes. But also: if you want to publish, learn to spell, or at least find someone who can.

Talking of, an oldie I recently came across: Sarah Churchwell asks in the Independent why British students can’t write like Americans. Duh, because they’re not taught how to?! Just saying. Sarah, I share your outrage. A North American correspondent points out that Americans can’t write either. Well, you can’t make it learn, but you can at least take a horse to water.

But what if the wells of academia are dry? Universities are so concerned with learning outcomes and maximising impacts and institutional targets that sometimes you wonder where teaching fits in. In the Guardian Andrew Motion attacks the government’s mercantile attitude to universities, and it’s not before time. It’s not just the government; it’s often the universities themselves too that prize the values of the market over the ideals of learning. Also from the THE is the original article launching the Council for the Defence of British Universities. Good luck to them.

Finally, the Believer interview with Maurice Sendak is super. His cranky comments about the death of publishing and the evil of ebooks were taken out of context all over. Read at the source; any curmudgeonliness must be experienced in the larger space of that rich, intelligent, funny voice.

Round-up, 25 October 2012: Murderous Self-Publishers, DRM, Supply and Demand, Handwriting, Serials

A lot of noise this week (quite rightly in my view) on how Amazon controls your Kindle content, and can shut it down at its own whim, it seems. More on this another time, perhaps, but here is the original blog that kicked up the fuss, and some other links with perhaps some of the most useful commentary:

Outlawed By Amazon (original blog)

Amazon Inspires Wave of Anti-DRM Sentiment Following Customer Kindle Shutdown (links from

I increasingly favour the DRM-free approach to publishing, at least for many aspects of content. What you give away comes back to you some way or other, I feel (but then I am a generous kinda guy, I hope). Here is an article from Publishing Perspectives describing a succesful DRM-free venture: Top SF Authors Raise $1m With Pick-Your-Price, DRM-Free E-Titles. May their success ever increase (and I love how its the genre writers who’re pioneering this).

From IndieReader, some provocative views on whether self-publishing is killing the publishing industry (basically, self-publishers need to get a bit more professional):

If indie authors are going to make their mark, they’ll need to band together, put out reputable works, and stop looking for get-sales-quick gimmicks.

And from the Globe and Mail, a pertinent discussion on the creative writing industry and whether we’re creating more writers than can or will be read, with Canadian examples: Writers: graduating by the bushel, but can they find readers? Given the laws of supply and demand, I’m inclined to think that Mexican critic Gabriel Zaid is right when he (only half?) jokes that perhaps writers need to slip a five-dollar bill into their books in order to pay their readers …

And from earlier in the week a lovely blog on the lost art of letter-writing in the Guardian. Do follow some of the links therein, and also back to the extract from Philip Hensher’s book on handwriting: Why Handwriting Matters.

And finally: I am a big fan of the idea of serial fiction, and I am enjoying the reports on Naomi Alderman and Margaret Atwood’s serialised novel The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home. I can see (see above too) I am going to have to look into Wattpad some more.