Monthly Archives: July 2010

A Story of Statistics

No matter what your college class was like, I am here to tell you that statistics are not boring. In fact, they can tell quite a story. Here’s this week’s story:

Once upon a time there was a company named Bowker. This company is the keeper of all bibliographic information and does everything from issuing ISBNs to compiling statistics on the industry. Every year Bowker releases information on how things are going in terms of book production. Depending on one’s perspective the information can be good or bad, but regardless of how it is perceived it is essential information that drives all players in it. The annual report for 2009 was released in April, and I thought it might be fun to see how it could impact BiblioBuffet if we chose to let it. Bear in mind this is only a game. First the facts:

Fact 1: In every year, excepting leap years, there are 525,949 minutes.
Fact 2: Bowker has projected that a total of 288,355 traditional titles were released in 2009.
Fact 3: Bowker has projected that a total of 764,448 non-traditional titles were released in 2009.

Now, let’s take a quick detour to define traditional and non-traditional titles. Traditional titles are those that come from commercial publishers including university houses. Non-traditional titles, and I am quoting Bowker here, are “books, marketed almost exclusively on the web, . . . largely on-demand titles produced by reprint houses specializing in public domain works and by presses catering to self-publishers and ‘micro-niche’ publications.” In other words, these are books you are much less likely if at all to see on any bookstore shelf.

Moving on, let’s take the facts we quoted above, whirl them up a bit in the blender, and see what comes out. With 525,949 minutes and 288,355 books per year that  means that in 2009 one “traditional” book was published every two minutes. Around the clock. No meal breaks. No weekends or holidays. No sleep. Every two minutes a new book came out. (Of that number, fiction accounted for 45, 181 books that year meaning a novel was published every 11.6 minutes. And remember, this is just for “traditional” books.)

Non-traditional books by themselves are projected to total 764,448. That’s more than three-quarters of a million of those books in just one year, which means that during every one of those 525,949 minutes 1.5 non-traditional books was published. Again, around the clock.

Is it any wonder that BiblioBuffet has established review guidelines for book submissions that excludes, for the most part, these non-traditional books? Even if the quality was equal to what the commercial/university presses put out—and it’s nowhere near that—it would simply be impossible.

Going on with a bit more math—and don’t worry, I’ve done it all for you—here is what would happen if BiblioBuffet did attempt to review every commercially published book. We would need 10,114 reviewers writing every other week to cover them all. In just one year. Just for “traditional” books.

If we were to consider adding the non-traditional books (for a total of 1,052,803 books)  we would need an unimaginable 40,492 reviewers writing bi-weekly to cover them all.

My head. It hurts.

My point is that while statistics can lie, they can also point up some real truths. It is impossible to know even a respectable percentage of what is out there. We can only pick and choose the books that interest us from the books we know about. It’s limited, but it’s also the best we can do.

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Issue of July 25, 2010

Our newest issue is filled with a wide variety of compelling reading including a essay/interview on the continuing Shakespeare authorship controversy and two different pieces that  revisit a bit of nostalgia in their own ways. A look into the back halls of an upcoming book fair provides some laughs, and a particularly important re-issued book gets some difficult and deserved attention. We hope you like it as much as we do.

Lev Raphael’s “Summer of Shakespeare” continues with his review of Contested Will and an interview with its author James Shapiro, the witty Shakespeare scholar who explores in depth the sometimes wacky history of Shakespeare Denial and the historical reasons for its tenacity in Who Wrote Shakespeare? The History of Shakespeare Denial.

Local sports columnists were once the reader’s link to the sporting world. But mergers, buy-outs and the Internet changed that sufficiently, says Pete Croatto, that many “talented, versatile writers who represent a city’s voice in the sporting world” are mostly gone. What happened? Find out in An Obituary on the Sports Page.

For Gillian Polack, it’s the past—“a half-remembered history, fading and elusive and evocative”—that is one of her favorite aspects of fantasy writing. Indeed, she found that  a certain type of nostalgia exist in all the books on her to-be-reviewed shelf possess that key element as she discusses in Dreams of Pasts.

For David Mitchell a re-issued novel about men “caught in a conflict that was far greater than any one of them . . . and of the suffering that blind adherence to hierarchical authority, the fickleness of circumstance and the arrogance of human pride can inflict” was both oppressive and joyful, an unusual mix of emotions to characterize an extraordinary novel as he shares in Where All Paths Lead.

One of the largest library fundraising book sales in the country begins in Chicago this week, and Book Fair Manager Dan Crawford takes a break from the boxes, bags, cartons, and sacks of books to share his experiences of it in Running with the Bulls Books.

If you are or were the type to cut out articles from newspapers and magazines to put into books then you and Lauren Roberts have a lot in common as she shares in Literary Links.


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In Praise of Editors

At least this post is in praise of one particular editor: Nicki Leone.

Nicki has been BiblioBuffet’s Managing Editor since mid-2007, and it is primarily because of her that BiblioBuffet has the reputation for quality it has. Well, that and the writers and me as the visionary.

But in this week’s post I want to share some things about Nicki as an editor and as a person. She lives in North Carolina, in a small town not far from Wilmington. Though born and having lived in the northeast—she attended Boston College—her life is now set in the coastal southeast. One of her most startling physical attributes is her height. She stands nearly six feet tall unless she is wearing her favorite three-inch red heels. Her medium-dark hair is long and thick and swings around her shoulders. Her face is attractive, vivacious, intelligent. She commands attention not with a booming voice but with a soft one containing a slight southern accent that has been media-trained. When she speaks at conferences her connection with the audience is personal and intimate. People don’t just listen to her; they are with her.

For more than twenty years, Nicki was a professional bookseller. Selling books wasn’t just a career, it was (and continues to be) a passion. Her knowledge of books old and new is nothing short of astounding. She is in fact a reader’s reader.

The depth and breadth of knowledge she has acquired  is one of the reasons she is what I consider a natural editor. Another is that she reads with attention. And when she is reading the contributors’ columns as they come in, reading them as she assumes our audience does—with curiosity, intelligence, perhaps with more experience in a specific subject than the writer—she brings that knowledge and attention to bear on her editorial work. Rather than my telling you this, I asked Nicki to explore her own style.

My editorial process, such as it is, is somewhat ill-defined and self-invented. I can tell you what I do though.

First, I read through the piece without attempting to change or edit anything, but just to get a sense of what the writer is trying to say.

Next, I go through the piece again more slowly, change anything that needs correcting to conform with BiblioBuffet’s style conventions, fix the occasional typo or repetitive phrase, and double check facts. I don’t exactly fact-check every statement, (as must be abundantly obvious) but I tend to look things up, confirm that what the author says is true, actually is. Especially if it is a subject on which I am unfamiliar. I’ve learned a lot of military history editing David Mitchell, for example. Not just from reading his pieces, but from looking up references to make sure that dates/times/names/places are correct. I’ll also sometimes add in clarifications if I think a casual reader might not immediately understand a reference—like what “SS” stands for when you are talking about Nazi Germany, or what all the abbreviations mean on a baseball  player’s stats.  Basically, I look things up so the reader doesn’t have to.

Then, once I’m done copyediting a section, I start writing comments. That’s the most interesting part of the process for me—summarizing what I think the writer is getting at, and highlighting places where I think they could make their point better (or passages where I think they did a really great job). We live in an era now where the space between writing and getting published—online, anyway, in blogs and whatnot—is practically nonexistent. And where our common methods of expression are shorter and shorter and less and less flexible. It’s all text speak and twitter hashtags now. We rarely take the time to say what we really want to say—the way we want to say it.

As self-evident as it sounds, one of my main goals when I’m editing is to make sure that every piece has an actual beginning, middle, and end. I’m continually amazed at how much of what I read online in blogs and e-zines ignores this basic truth of composition. A lot of our columnists will tell you that I’m constantly asking them to rework their endings, so that their pieces feel finalized, rather than just fizzling out. The architecture of a column is important to me, because a good framework helps the writer to make their point more clearly and efficiently. Plus, I think pieces that have good architecture are more satisfying for the reader.

The very last thing I’ll do—and only rarely—is rewrite. Mostly I think editors should stay the hell out of the way of the writer. One of the first things I had to learn to do at BiblioBuffet was not impose my own opinions or style on a columnist. That takes some concerted effort to train yourself into, let me tell you! But sometimes I’ll think that one of our columnists is reaching for something, so I’ll offer a suggestion—always with the caveat that they should revise or reject however they see fit. I should say here that we have such a good group of writers at BiblioBuffet now, that I almost never have to rewrite anything. It’s just a real pleasure to work with all of them.

Hopefully, at the end of all this, you have a piece that is more confident, more smooth, more clear, and—most importantly—more fun and interesting for the reader.

And we know it works. What you, our readers, see is the best the writer produces because it has already passed muster with the best reader. All of us—myself as founder, the contributors, and BiblioBuffet’s readers—benefit from Nicki’s passion, experience, and background. It simply wouldn’t be the BiblioBuffet you know without her.

(Ed. Note: I also act as a follow-up pair of eyes but tend to focus on copyediting and fact-checking. Given Nicki’s thoroughness, however, there isn’t much I find.)


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Issue of July 18, 2010

We’re deep into summertime, and It’s hot. How hot? Depends where you live. But regardless of where that is or what the specific temperature is or whether you include wilting humidity in that, it is likely that the heat is probably making you feel like spending the day  splashing in cool water, lying out under a shady tree or on a long porch while drinking up pitchers of iced tea, sharing a picnic in a city park, or just staying indoors with a fan or air conditioner. We hope it’s with a book in your hand too. And just in case, we’re going to tell you about some that we think are pretty darn good—or not.

Southern heat and Southern food are inevitable companions in the summer, and Nicki Leone is facing both as she ponders a vast array of garden-fresh produce and her own inclination for baking. What helps are cookbooks, especially those that teach “how to cook in the summer heat.”  Comfort food, here it comes: In the Heat of the Southern Summer Kitchen.

Summer reading as Henry Ward Beecher once said, lies between “laziness and labor.” So true! Lauren Roberts has the perfect book for that “task,” and shares her joy in it in The Hazy Daze of Summer, The Lazy Days  of Reading.

When a chimpanzee researcher is invited to a sanctuary in the Congo to study bonobos, her first reaction is not “great” but “what?” Her research soon turns up the fact that this close cousin of the much-studied chimpanzee holds the still-to-be-understood key to an unusually peaceful existence with others. Lindsay Champion finds in her memoir a powerful story of both animal and culture in Bonobo Love, Not War.

Was the “Golden Age” always “back then”? It depends on what you like says Lauren Baratz-Logsted, who takes a ride back into time through beloved books. Does she find that things might have been better? Find out in Wish You Were Here—Well, Maybe Not.

And don’t forget. You have a chance to win a hardcover copy of Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s popular young adult novel, Crazy Beautiful. See the end of her column for details. All it takes is an e-mail request to be entered!

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It May Be Free to Read—It Is Not Free to Take

And so we return to the issue of copyright today because for the last three days I have been dealing with issues of copyright infringement. It’s not fun.

Rather than relate tales that are rather high up on the frustration meter, I thought it might be beneficial to review some copyright issues that we confront when we use the Internet and certainly when we download something from the Internet should understand. Of course I am not a lawyer so you should not consider this to be legal advice, but I am a firm believer in the importance of copyright in encouraging the creation of new works. 

First, in the United States, copyright is a form of protection automatically given by law (Title 17 of the U.S. Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other works. Copyright protection extends to both published and unpublished works. It is illegal for anyone to infringe any of therights provided by the copyright law to the owner of the copyright, but it is important to be aware that those rights are not unlimited.

Probably the most important limitation is that of “fair use,” which is in the form of a “compulsory license” to reproduce or copy a limited amount of the material. There are four factors in determining whether a particular use is fair laid out by the Copyright Act:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

Publishers and publicists are aware of this, which is why you will see only portions, often interspersed with ellipses, of book and movie reviews quoted in publicity materials. But a number ofpeople who use the Internet believe that because something is free to read it is also free for the taking.


Unfortunately, the fair use concept can be ambiguous and not many of us have copyright lawyers at our beck and call to help us to figure out when a use is a fair use and when it is an infringement. Even those of us who do have lawyers often find that they speak in terms of “probably” and “likely” and “maybe” when they speak of fair use. There do not appear to be any blanket rules for determining fair use, at least based on my non-lawyer’s reading of the Copyright Office website. Indeed, depending on what material is to be copied, I am fairly certain that Fair Use standards can vary widely. Using one line from a song or poem could be fair use, or it might not be depending on the length. Using a single paragraph from a ten-paragraph review might be fair use or it might not. Would two paragraphs be? It’s hard to say. And quoting from a book—as many reviewers are wont to do—is tricky. I’ve used as many as four contiguous paragraphs from a book in a review so I could show the author’s voice. Was I getting close to the line? Perhaps. But I didn’t profit from it, and it certainly would be arguable were the publisher to question my use of those paragraphs.

Those of us who write professionally don’t tend to willfully infringe on the copyrights of others for the most part. To do so is damaging to our credibility and our reputations. When writers do cross the line, however inadvertently, they almost always are apologetic and quick to correct the problem. The trouble occurs with those who believe they have the right to take and use anything online for their personal use, whether photographs, blog posts, newspaper articles, music, or anything else protected by copyright. Some feel that if they credit the source or link back to the original source then that somehow negates their actions.

It does not. Credit must be given to the original creator, but fair use rules apply in all cases. At BiblioBuffet, we take copyright seriously. For example, I link to the original material in the Imaging Books & Readng portion of the weekly Editor’s Letter rather than “borrow”the image and include it on our page.

The U.S. Copyright Office has a fabulous website where you can learn the basics of copyright law. It is a marvel of clarity and usefulness for everyone. All creators of original material should thoroughly understand copyright.  Taking someone’s images, coloring them in Photoshop, and selling them is theft. Downloading songs that haven’t been paid for and that were not meant to be distributed free of charge is theft. Copying and pasting a BiblioBuffet column into a blog is theft. All of these things, and more, are available to us to enjoy via this wonderous thing called the Internet. And many if not most are free. The key, however, is that they are free to enjoy, not to take. And if you want to “take” them, then ask. Maybe the answer will be yes. Maybe it will be “yes, the cost is . . . .” Or maybe it will be “no, but thank you for asking.” Honor that. Respect that. It’s all work on someone’s part, and all work deserves to be valued.

For more information on copyright, visit the U.S. Copyright Office (linked above). An excellent website about electronic plagiarism can be found at Plagiarism Today.

Credit for help with this post goes to BiblioBuffet contributor, David G. Mitchell, whose law practice includes intellectual property, contract negotiation, publishing, and more.  

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Issue of July 11, 2010

The height of summer calls to us in many ways: fresh fruits and vegetables, grilling, backyard games and fun, lazy weekends, suntan or sunblock lotions, and reading around the pool, at the mountains, on the beach, or simply in a rocking chair on a porch. We have some ideas for you in terms of those books as well, so do check out our new columns this week.

Can eating be considered a sport? It can, says Pete Croatto, if it involves “accomplishment, coupled with the competitive aspect.” Though he liked his current book, Pete feels the reporter’s eye took second place to his exuberance when a straightforward news approach to the high-spirited eating circuit would have been better as he describes in Hard to Swallow.

How accurate does the history have to be in historical novels in order for the novels to work for readers? Gillian Polack, a historian, ponders the reality of history and the reality of novels when they come together and finds that the narrative of the story serves as the important bridge into the story and its world for readers in History: The Past and Fiction.

A passionate interest in individuals’ stories about World War II leads David Mitchell into a different kind of story—where the soldier “seems to go out of his way to portray himself as less than a hero, and to make his readers understand why sometimes that is okay” in  Sometimes a Hero is Not Always Heroic.

Why do some family members have a bibliogene while others are immune? This question came to Lauren Roberts when, after a recent family visit, she realized how odd a home without books really is, especially when that home belongs to a sibling who grew up in the same literary atmosphere but apparently missed the Biblio-DNA.


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Books & More Books

On the right side of the book that centers BiblioBuffet’s home page you’ll find the category “Books & More Books.” Under that are links to various pages that list places and things that we feel are worthy of our recommendation. Nothing on these pages, or anywhere else on BiblioBuffet, has bought its way in. We do not sell ourselves. If the day comes—and it might—that we take on advertising it will be clearly noted and of quality.

I was just looking over some of the pages, and it thrilled me that as I clicked on various links I felt the same excitement for those places that I did when I originally added them. But I also felt a bit of guilt that they have been more or less static. I’m sorry to say that if you’ve been there a year ago you probably wouldn’t notice much difference if you checked them now.

But we do want you coming back regularly. For that reason, I plan to use August, my month off work, to update the current pages as well as to add more pages. I will not be removing any of the links on the current pages but will be adding more, about double the number on some of the pages, fewer on others. I will also be adding more pages for you, hopefully by the end of August. New ones currently in the works are:

  • Art of the Book: A page devoted to cover design, illustration, illumination, printing, and typography.
  • Fun with Language: This is where it begins—with scripts, words, meanings, linguistics, old words, new words, and vocabulary.
  • Literature in Translation: Where you can travel to places in the literature of yesterday and today.

Periodically I have been adding websites and blogs to all of them, and also writing the descriptions. The latter is what takes the most time, and it has to be done when I find extra bits of that, something scarcer than chocolate in my diet these days. But with August coming up you can count on seeing these new pages and new additions to the old ones.

BiblioBuffet was created for and is always intended for you, our readers. Therefore, we request that if you have additions, changes, ideas, criticisms, or other comments on these pages, or if you want to see pages, sites, or blogs added that you are particularly fond of, just e-mail me. I can’t promise we’ll add everything, but I can promise anything you propose will be seriously considered. Because it is as much your site as it is ours.


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