Trigger warnings on textbooks, novels border on ridiculous

by G. Robert Frazier

I don’t mean to sound insensitive or cold, but this whole push for trigger warnings on virtually everything is ridiculous.

According to the Washington Post article, four students, who are members of Columbia’s Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board, say trigger warnings are needed on certain texts dealing with Greek mythology, of all things. “These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background,” the students write.

When I worked as a newspaper reporter and editor, we would often include a note to readers — a trigger warning, if you will — at the beginning of stories about sexual violence. It was just good public policy to let parents know the article’s content might not be suitable for children to read. It was the same idea as ratings for motion pictures and comic books.

Trigger warnings take the idea a step further, by seeking such warnings on topics ranging from racism to classism to sexism and every -ism in between. And not just for the benefit of parents trying to monitor their childrens’ reading, but for the reader who may take personal offense to any of the issues or content within said article.

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Writers: Roll the dice to see where your writing life takes you

The Los Angeles Times recently surveyed writers participating in the L.A. Times Festival of Books about their path to literary success. The result can be seen the creation of a unique board game that lets you play along.

The board game cites interesting results along the way, including:

  • the age respondents decided to be a writer
  • 51 percent kept a diary
  • 25 percent who got an MFA in creative writing
  • most influential books in youth (Grapes of Wrath and Portrait of a Lady)
  • 58 percent of writers make a living from writing
  • how respondents published, whether with a major, traditional publisher; independent publisher; or self-publisher
  • 64 percent had books rejected
  • age in percent that they had their first best-seller
  • percent who teach creative writing

The game itself awards points for writing or winning a contract or agent, but deducts points for falling into a social media hole that keeps you from writing to losing points in a computer crash. I played the game and scored 33 points, which translated equates to: “You’re Ernest Hemingway. You’re celebrated, but not by everyone.”

Hmm, I’ll take it.

Give the game a try. (But subtract 10 points for allowing it to keep you from writing.)


Reading and Writing Around the Web for 7/20

I tried to keep the distractions to a minimum today and limit my time online so that I could do a little bit of writing. Couple of things did catch my eye and they are listed below for those interested in a bit of writerly advice or an interesting read:

First up is a thoughtful article about the psychology of flow in storytelling. There’s a fine line between keeping a reader’s attention and losing it altogether, and this article explores how writers can strive to keep that reader turning the pages.

One of Geoff Dyer’s top 10 tips for writers is to keep a private diary or journal. I started a daily journal back in December and kept forgetting about it. I’d add a few thoughts every couple weeks or so and try to recall all that had transpired in between. I haven’t touched it since April. On the other hand, I have at least been posting from time to time in this blog, so there’s that.

If you’re struggling with what to write next, actor Brett Wean recently shared how improvisation can provide your story the spark it needs.  The article addresses screenplays, but obviously can be put to work for your novel in progress as well.

In case you missed it, July 17 marked the 60th anniversary of Disneyland, “the eighth wonder of the world!” The Hollywood Reporter celebrated the occasion by reprinting an article published the day after the Southern California park opened on July 18, 1955. Admission, by the way, just $1 for adults and 50 cents for children.

Sticking with the theme of anniversaries, today marks the anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing.

And finally, author and NASA engineer Homer Hickam (of October Sky fame), shares his writing advice on his website at Homer Hickam online.

If you see something worth sharing, please do in the comments section!

Reading and Writing Around the Web for 7/19

Welcome to another edition of Reading and Writing Around the Web.

Every day I scour my Facebook feed for interesting articles and tips related to reading and writing. Some of these articles are too good to keep to myself, so I’m sharing my finds here. Bookmark the ones you like, read and discard the rest. And if you see something you’d like to share on the craft, by all means add it to the comments section below.

For those of you contemplating self-publishing your work, here’s some interesting things to consider before you do. Both come from author Derek Haines:

The rush to publish (or better yet, why not to rush!)

An essential list every author should read

Jane Friedman’s website included a couple of posts about SELF-e, a business that helps self-published authors distribute their electronic books to libraries. Unfortunately, authors can’t yet reap any monetary rewards from the program.

Another way to help promote buzz around your book is jump on the Pinterest bandwagon. Here’s how.

And now, for something completely different (to coin a phrase), here are a couple of humorous bedtime stories to enjoy (one for you and one for your little ones):

B.J. Novak’s The Book With No Pictures (all-ages)

Gwar’s Oderus Urungus reads Goodnight Moon (WARNING: adults only!)

If you adult readers still can’t sleep after viewing that last one, this one probably won’t help either (sorry):

The true story behind A Nightmare on Elm Street

You may be thinking about screaming right now. Before you do, here’s what scientists now know about screams.

Good night, all!



Kindle writers: Keep ’em hooked, or pay the price

Any good book should keep readers turning pages towards the end, shouldn’t it? Why reward authors who fail to do so?

That’s basically what Amazon’s new payment plan for its Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Lending Library programs boils down to. If readers stick with an author’s book ‘til the end, the author will be rewarded. If readers close the book midway and move on to something else, again, authors will be rewarded, just not as much.

kindle screenOn the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with that concept.

The old plan provided authors with a flat rate for each borrow through the program. The payout was guaranteed regardless of how far the reader actually flipped into the book. The new plan pays according to how much of the book the reader reads.

According to Amazon, the plan was developed after extensive feedback on how to improve its payment system. Many authors with longer works apparently complained that they weren’t getting a fair deal compared to authors with shorter e-books. It didn’t matter how much prose you wrote, the payout was the same.

“Our goal, as always, is to build a service that rewards authors for their valuable work, attracts more readers and encourages them to read more and more often,” Amazon says in its statement.

So, why is everyone upset over the new payout plan?

Simply put, it means the author now has to earn his or her pay. If a reader doesn’t keep flipping the pages, for whatever reason, the buck stops on whatever page they left off. That’s a big risk for authors who thought they could bank on a certain amount of money per book download, no matter whether the reader finished or not.

Not that we’re talking a lot of money here, in any case. According to recent reports, the amount comes out to about .006 cents per page read. A reader would have to read the whole book or pretty close to it (something like 70,000 words) before the author is able to recoup the previous payout of $1.30 per book.

It also means authors who thought they could cash in with shorter stories or novellas may now have to rethink that strategy.

Few readers even cross the finish line

Most people downloading ebooks don’t even finish their books, according to a New York Times article. Authors, as a result, will likely lose out on this per page read plan compared to the flat rate plan.

The reasons for not finishing a book are numerous. A story that starts out with a bang may become muddled by the middle.  Readers get bored and find there’s something better out there. Life often intervenes and readers lose track.

Generally, my cutoff point is around page fifty. If the book hasn’t thoroughly engrossed me by then, I will cut my losses and move on to something else. Or, in the alternative, I may put the book aside for a while and begin something else. At some point, I may return to the book and give it a second chance. (I wonder if authors would get paid twice in that case?)

Another potential reason for stopping midstream: the format itself.

I’ve talked about this before, but the bottom line is I don’t like reading books on the Kindle or on the computer. It’s a fascinating irony given that I spend most of my days at the computer either reading websites or social media feeds or typing on my own book. But the fact is I prefer to hold a physical book in my hand, flipping through the pages at my leisure, or flipping back to a previous chapter if I so choose. I like being able to gauge where I am in the book by looking at my bookmark or thumbing through the pages to see where the next chapter starts. You get none of that by reading on a computer or tablet.

Case in point, I’ve got a lot of books stockpiled on my Kindle waiting to be read. None are of the KU or KLL variety. Most of the e-books were either purchases or freebies picked up during a promotional sale. I’ve flipped through some of them and even managed to read a couple in their entirety. But most have sat unopened and unread, mainly because of my preference for physical books.

Write your own guarantee

Nothing comes easy for writers.

The writing itself can only be described as a love affair with the written word. Most writers must realize by now they’re not going to get rich from it. They may just barely eke out an existence, let alone a career. Though, of course, that is the dream of all writers.

Traditional publishers take around 70 percent of the costs for the books, leaving royalties of just 30 percent for writers. Advances for books are small or nonexistent.  Independent publishers sometimes offer royalties only, leaving writers with no guaranteed paycheck.

Even marketing books is being pushed more and more on the authors rather than the publishers. Building a fan base through social media is becoming paramount to success, and even then it’s no guarantee.

So, what’s an author to do in the face of all this?

The answer is simple and it comes right back to the crux of Amazon’s new payout plan: write well-crafted books that keep readers hooked and turning pages.

Does that mean you need to rethink the way you write? That you need to write more cliffhangers, shocks and twists in your story? Not necessarily, though that may be a tactic to consider.

Flooding the market with inferior products and get-rich schemes won’t work. Finely written stories will find a way. As a writer, you have to believe that. That’s your only guarantee.

Author’s note: I posted a previous version of this article, but have since modified it to reflect the newest information.

Other takes:

JA Konrath answers questions about e-books, Amazon

What authors really think about the pay-per-page plan