You Have the Right to Remain

It’s strange sitting in a meeting where you’ve written a book on the topic under discussion and nobody knows about it.  This is one of the problems of publishing with an academic press.  Books get lost and buried.  Maybe the other way around.  A problem we academic editors frequently run into is that authors tend to think a book is a book.  Publishers recognize several different kinds of books, well represented among them those that are destined for the “library market.”  You can tell them by the way they’re priced.  Now I must confess that I’m behind the times in this regard.  I still tend to think twenty dollars is a lot to pay for a book.  I say this even though my job, day after day, includes pouring over book budgets to see how an academic book can be made not to lose money.

It costs a lot of money—most of it overhead—to produce a book.  In order not to run a publisher bankrupt, it needs to sell enough copies to cover its costs.  Library market books are priced that way because they are expected to sell only to libraries.  Certainly, if they were priced lower some academics would buy them, but the truth is not many academics do.  I realize I was an outlier when I was in the academy.  Without a research budget I would spend my own money on a book priced a hundred dollars if I really needed it for my research.  I was aware, even at that time, that others seldom did this.  As an academic colleague once told me, “I like to buy shoes.”  And let’s face it, there are just too many books out there to buy.  “Publish or perish” has more than one meaning.

So I’m sitting in a meeting where the topic of discussion is something on which I’ve written a book.  My opinion is not asked—my book is priced for the library market and I know it—so I don’t really expect it to be.  The question is whether general readers will find the subject compelling.  Speaking strictly for me I’m pretty sure they will.  I signed my contract for Nightmares with the Bible before I knew the series would be priced for the library market.  That designation also indicates minimal marketing.  What publisher is going to try to push a book that costs that much when they know individuals can’t afford it?  So I sit in the meeting and keep my mouth shut.


Pricing out of Business

Maybe you’re like most normal people and don’t pay much attention to who the publisher of a book is.  If you read a lot, and can get behind the glitz and glam of an Amazon page, you might come to trust certain publishers over others.  The fact is, despite the difficulty some of us have getting published, there are a lot of presses out there.  Some are clearly self-publishing vehicles, but many are small, independent houses that focus on specialized topics.  The sheer numbers can be bewildering.  I was looking for a reputable book on a certain subject the other day and, given my job, I always check the publisher.  Several in a row came up that I had never even heard of before.  I guess there is money to be made in publishing yet, if only one could find the matching pieces.

With academic publishing you can spend five or more years of your life writing a book and you’ll earn royalties that literally won’t cover a month’s rent when you’re done.  Even while this is happening there are people who make a living publishing books with presses you’ve never heard of.  They know how to get average citizens to buy their books.  I’ve been working in publishing for over a decade now and I guess I still don’t have it figured out yet.  It’s complex, and even with online publishing helps like agent-finding sites or Duotrope, you’ll find that each day brings its own changes.  I’ve learned through personal experience that many publishers simply don’t last.

What many of these fly-by-night publishers understand better than established academic presses is that price matters.  Well, let me put that in more precise terms, for all publishers need money—fly-by-night publishers know that average people will buy only the books they can afford.  These presses I’ve never heard of sell books for the industry standard of about sixteen bucks.  My least expensive book sells for about twenty-two and I’ve been told more than once that it’s too expensive for most mortal budgets.  Collectively, my four books cost almost $250, averaging out at sixty per pop.  Two of them were written for general readers who have no hope of being able to afford them.  I tried to find an agent for one of them, and the other was a series book (no agent will touch such a thing).  Perhaps I should’ve tried a lesser-known press that could afford to offer my books at affordable prices.   You could do worse.


Literary Life

Trying to live a literary life is, I suppose, irresponsible.  Especially if your efforts and writing bring basically no money.  It takes considerable effort to make daily time to read and write, and so much else remains to be done.  At times I feel guilty for trying.  My books have all been published, for various reasons, with academic publishers.  Academic publishers don’t try to sell many copies of an individual book, relying as they do on the long tail philosophy.  Most academics have good paying jobs that expect research and writing in return.  For the outsider, however, there are other pressing matters.  The nine-to-five being the largest among them.  And any social organizations you join to keep you sane and connected.  Then there’s social media to take your time.  And the lawn’s ready for mowing.

I’ve always believed lack of time was (is) a theological problem.  I came up with that when I was an academic and had time to ponder such things.  Unlike many of my colleagues, I did research and write.  Now I want to move into that world where you might earn a little from all the effort.  And yet, that old Protestant guilt has a way of getting its talons around you.  You’re reading?  Shouldn’t you be doing those minor repairs you can handle without a contractor?  (Or at least think you can handle?)  Or maybe shouldn’t you be looking for a job that pays enough to hire someone to do such things?  And don’t you dare let that word “retirement” anywhere near your head.  What are you, irresponsible?

Reading takes commitment.  I try to read, on average, at least a book a week.  It requires a lot of time.  And a literary life includes giving back.  You want to share your writing with the world.  Hoping that either your fiction or nonfiction might eventually bring you some notice.  That’s the plan anyway.  The starving artist paradigm doesn’t feel so comfortable when you’ve got a mortgage.  Still, the imagination refuses to be tamed.  I’ve often said I could be content on a desert island as long as I had a huge stack of paper and never-ending supply of pens.  But that’s not the reality I inhabit.  That mortgage pays for a roof over my books and writing computer, always complaining it’s full.  It may not be glamorous.  In fact, it’s about the exact opposite of that.  But it is, after all, a literary life.


Free Knowledge

I was struck with an idea.  Not just any idea—an academic one.  I find myself out of practice, and wondering where to find sources when I have no access to an academic library.  I’ve spent my precious writing time for the past several days trying to bang out a respectable academic article.  It represents an area that my personal library does not cover adequately.  The fully employed academic has a library and interlibrary loan to support ideas that won’t let go.  It’s a bit more tricky for the independent scholar.  I’ve contacted local schools but during these pandemic times there is no public access.  Nor electronic access—thanks to all the fancy deals publishers make to try to keep the industry profitable.

The past few academic publications I’ve had were difficult to write, particularly the footnotes. Something the garden-variety academic doesn’t understand is that the university library is a privilege.  I read a lot.  Probably more now than when I was a professor.  Still, research leads you in directions you’d never anticipate.  It’s quite a wild ride, actually.  So with my current project (I can’t tell you what it is because someone with library access would easily be able to scoop it) I’ve had to buckle up.  As I was reading an obvious connection became clear.  It reminded me of the thrill of discovery.  The researcher has a drive for new knowledge—a treasure-hunter of the mind.  It is wonderful to be reminded that there’s more out there still to be discovered.

I’d almost forgotten how an insistent idea can push other projects out of its way.  I have any number of projects going simultaneously.  They get a few minutes’ attention before the work day starts and some of them mature enough to be sent for publication.  At any given time there’s a lot more standing behind those ideas that actually show up on this blog, or in a journal, or even in the fiction venues in which I publish.  But that idea just won’t let me go.  Even while I’m at work it lurks in the back of my mind.  The professorate, for all its limitations, doesn’t pin you down to a nine-to-five schedule even when the time would be better used otherwise.  The thing is, you can’t tame ideas.  Who would want to live in a world where you could?  So I keep working away, hoping to find a library or at least electronic access.  It’s just an idea I have.


Werewolves Not Forgotten

Copyright is a strange thing.  Without it there would be no making a living as a writer or artist or even music composer (or so I’m told).  The idea is straightforward enough—someone comes up with a “marketable” idea (how marketable varies widely), and therefore owns the exclusive rights to the expressed form of that idea.  If, for instance, the idea becomes a published book the publisher (generally) owns the rights and pays the writer royalties for the use/ownership of those rights.  Copyright, however, like fresh food, expires.  Written work or music or art becomes part of the public domain and can be reproduced by any with the gumption to do so.  There are publishers, such as Gorgias Press, that got their earlier starts by doing just that—finding public domain material, scanning it, and republishing it for a price.  All above board.

Back before I worked long in publishing I was going through a werewolf phase.  No, I am not a lycanthrope, but I was reading about werewolves.  I knew one of the main sources of folklore was Sabine Baring-Gould’s The Book of Were-Wolves.  Being strapped for cash (some things never change), I bought a copy published by Forgotten Books.  They’re rather prevalent on Amazon.  Although the content is free online, some of us prefer to have a book in our hands and leave the devices aside.  I soon discovered why my Forgotten Books version was so inexpensive.  It is simply a printout of the scanned book, apparently with optical letter recognition software utilized.  No serious formatting or proofreading required, a book is produced, covered, and sold.  It is a disorienting experience reading such a book.

Readers look for landmarks just as surely as a hiker or traveler of any sort.  Old books have layout and typesetting to help the reader navigate.  My copy has “Error! Bookmark Not Defined” instead of notes.  First editions of Baring-Gould, it turns out, sell for upwards of $6000.  So I continued reading.  A lack of italics and the occasional optically misread word make me wonder just how much of Baring-Gould I’m really ingesting.  Any book that begins with a disclaimer regarding possible errors should’ve been assigned a copyeditor.  SBG likes to use lots of foreign words.  They may be spelled correctly or not.  I have no notes to check.  Caveat emptor, n’est-ce pas?  The technology that allows scanned, unread by human eyes products to be sold as books makes me wonder.  No, I haven’t forgotten books.


What Have Faces To Do with Books?

I don’t write much about it because I don’t understand it.  Facebook, that is.  I’ve had an account there for many years now and with the rapid changes they make it seems you might want to major in it if you want to pursue it even as an avocation.  One of the bits of wisdom I’ve picked up from various marketers and publicists in the publishing biz is that you need to be visible on social media.  (I’ve encountered agents who actually won’t consider your project unless you already have thousands of followers, preferably on Twitter.)  The aforementioned marketers and publicists insist that you shouldn’t do all social media—who possibly can?  Just stick with the big ones, especially Twitter.  Especially Facebook.  If you’re a working stiff, like yours truly, you’re not allowed on these sites during the day, which means building a following is difficult.

The publisher of my third book, Holy Horror, hasn’t done much promotion for it.  (They also priced it higher than most of their books, forever dooming it to the dreaded library market.)  One thing I found in my few pre-dawn minutes on Facebook is a group of other authors who’ve published with this particular press.  We share ideas and ask questions.  We try to promote our work in ways that most publishers wish authors would.  In any case, we are hosting and event on Saturday, March 6, where we’ll be on Zoom talking about our books.  The event will be free and lots of interesting things will be on offer.  If you’d like to attend, you’ll need to see the link in my Facebook feed.  It’s free.  There will be a limited-time sale price on Holy Horror.

Working in the academic publishing world but not being in the academy I’ve learned that you “fall between two stools.”  Nobody quite knows what to make of you.  Editors aren’t supposed to write books, are they?  The funny thing about that way of thinking is that many editors (yours truly excepted) are among the smartest people I know.  Those who don’t have doctorates read more than most of the people who do.  It would seem that if you wanted to get some really interesting books you’d ask editors to write.  Of course, they may not be permitted to use social media during the day.  Falling between stools is a place familiar to me.  Facebook, however, seems more like an impenetrable forest.  It’s a good thing I write about horror movies, I guess.  If you’re interested in hearing more take a look at Facebook and join us on March 6.


Knowing Everything

Of all the jobs I’ve held, being an editor is the only one where strangers send random emails trying to convince me of God’s reality.  Granted, part of that may be because email is now so common as to be passé among the younger crowd.  When I myself was younger it was still just catching on.  Still, part of these strange emails is likely based on the evangelical compulsion to make others see things their way.  Someone who edits biblical studies books might seem like a good target.  I got another such email just last week, and as always, I wondered over it.  What kinds of assumptions must random strangers make about biblical studies specialists?  One of these assumptions, it’s clear, is that they suppose we are atheists.  They know this without even asking.

Technology has made such blindsiding communication easier.  It didn’t invent it, though.  It took a lot more effort to write up a letter, address it, buy a stamp, and mail it than it does to sit down at a keyboard, click, and they start proselytizing away.  In my earlier days, in other incarnations of a career, I received unexpected missives from time-to-time.  And certainly as a seminary professor you had students who had already figured everything out by the time they’d gotten to matriculation.  Many of them were coming to seminary to teach rather than to learn.  Such can be the arrogance of faith.  I fear that many of them graduated with their biases intact.  Education, perhaps, doesn’t work for everyone.

Photo credit: NASA

Having it all figured out is something many of us strive for.  We want things to make sense.  We want our spirituality to fit into this increasingly materialistic world.  Some of us go to seminary and/or graduate school to help us make sense of things.  We encounter minds further along the journey than our own, and, if we’re open, we learn from them.  For me, it’s difficult to understand how education isn’t always a humbling experience.  Oh, I get emails from academics who think they’ve figured it all out as well.  Such communications always make me sad.  The human enterprise, such as it is, has spanned millennia and true progress has only been made when people were humble enough to admit that they didn’t know everything.  They would eventually invent the internet and email.  Then those who already knew all the answers could send them to strangers to convince them of their own great learning.


Book Birthing

Books, like humans and other animals, undergo a process of conception, development, and birth.  It may seem, when holding a book in hand, that it is the singular work of one person, but in fact most books are a community effort.  I’ve read many books where the author was a specialist in one area and decided to write a book in a different field.  This used to be more acceptable, as various polymaths showed that specialization wasn’t the only way to understand the bigger picture.  Such efforts these days, however, take some convincing of skeptical editors.  And with good reason.  Factual books, especially, are subject to close scrutiny.  Does the author indeed know what s/he is talking about?  Is s/he qualified to write this book?

Recently I was reading such a book.  It was published by a university press, and the author was a specialist in one field, but writing in an unrelated one.  In my mind (so fictionally) I went through how this may have developed.  A writer goes to an editor and says “I have an idea for a book.”  From my own experience as an editor, this second party then asks her or himself a few questions.  Is this topic a viable book?  If so, who will buy it?  Is this author the right person to write it?  (It is possible that a person has an idea for a book better written by someone else.)  Depending on the author’s stature, the editor may cave and say, “Okay, but you need to let me help you.”  Editors (present company excepted) are some of the smartest people I’ve met.  They may not be specialists like professors, but they know an awful lot.  Many authors constantly question their editorial decisions nevertheless.

No matter how rational an author is, emotion plays into the process of writing.  I frequently tell my authors “the book has to be what you want it to be.”  Still, that may mean it should be published by someone else.  An author who publishes books s/he doesn’t like is not a happy person.  For nonfiction books other readers, such as peer reviewers and colleagues, also shape the final tome.  Seldom does the book in your hands represent something straight from the mind of the writer.  There are places for such things, of course, this blog being one of them.  (And there are many more.)  What makes the book authoritative, however, is that it has been fact-checked by many readers other than the author before it ever goes to press.  Gestation is important.  No book can be fully formed without it.


Mothers’ Instinct

Maternity leave (not for me, but still) demonstrates just how sexist capitalism is.  This becomes very clear in publishing where schedules are reinforced by incentives (instead of paying properly) for meeting agreed-upon deadlines.  If an author gets pregnant while writing a book—not an unusual situation—it can throw shockwaves all through a book’s schedule from production all the way back up to editorial.  Why?  Because incentives are on the line.  It’s possible to counter with what if an author falls sick?  Or dies?  Yes, these happen too, but pregnancy isn’t an illness and isn’t infrequently a biologically constrained event—there is an age at which it ceases to become an issue.  So incentives, which are based on schedules drawn up before an author conceives, put the capitalist machine into a tizzy.

If employers didn’t rely on incentives, but paid better wages, this could make the issue less acute.  The entire system is devised from a male perspective.  Sickness and death do occur from time to time, but the invariability of a schedule (which ironically takes about nine months) is based on a view that doesn’t account for the somewhat likely event of a pregnancy.  I often think about this.  The corporate structure was made by men, for men.  We now give lip-service to equality while refusing to change the masculinist structure that underlies it.  By doing so the valuable contributions and improvements that women might make are kept under the standard business model.  No wonder it feels like we’re stuck in a rut.

Societal change is generally slow, and that conservative tendency preserves our property and our means of making a living.  If we gave women more prominence in leadership I would hope that this would start to change.  The male-oriented viewpoints of the capitalist entrepreneur, the stolid religious leader, and the halls of government, and even education, are reluctant to let people think differently.  We want to move forward, but we’re afraid of losing what we have.  This is why the conversation needs to widen.  Maternity leave reminds us that some things are more important than work.  Care for a helpless human being is something nearly all people would support.  It’s when they grow up that society feels it can safely ignore their needs.  We need a mother’s wisdom here.  Every time a pregnancy sets publication schedules in a frenzy I ask myself why we have to rely on incentives beyond just being the most human that we can be.


Impatience

It’s only human nature, I suppose.  We see our own circumstances and fail to appreciate how others have equally (or perhaps more) complexity to juggle.  I’m thinking ahead to work on Monday.  The week before the holiday break the most popular question posed to me in my work emails was, “Why haven’t I received my copies of X yet?”  It’s a fair question.  What it betrays, however, is a lack of comprehension of just how complicated a business publishing is.  I should be flattered that we make it look so easy!  To begin with, publishing, and printing, are nonessential businesses.  Most of them may be up and running at, at least partial capacity, but the flow of materials to printers didn’t stop just because a pandemic hit.  It simply did what backlogs always do—it piled up.

Publishers have very intricate and, for the most part, efficient operations.  If a blockage occurs at any point—even the end point—other things back up.  Have you ever seen a toilet overflow?  I have, and it’s not a pretty sight.  Add to that the fact that many academics, unable to travel or do their other privileged activities, decided to finish up their books and send them in early.  Everybody should be happy, right?  Have you ever overeaten?  The happiness lasts only until your brain catches up with what your body has done.  I can’t speak for all publishers, but this combination of more input of material than expected and the inability to *ahem* process it has stressed the system.  Schedules exist for a reason.

Covid-19 has affected everything.  And continues to do so.  As we live through this pandemic we find our coping mechanisms.  Once we reach a level of uneasy symbiosis with our situation we stop thinking about how others might be dealing with it.  I think of those who’ve been out of work for months now and who’ve been evicted from homes because of what the wealthy can call force majeure and hire lawyers to argue.  Indeed, the coronavirus outbreak is the very definition of force majeure and the response we all ought to have is compassion and kindness to one another.  It’s not easy to think of other people before meeting our own needs—it’s not human nature.  Species that learn cooperative, altruistic behavior, however, are those that thrive.  As we say goodbye to a year of willful government inaction—the Trump administration knew of the danger well before it hit, but doesn’t believe in science—let’s vow to do what our leaders won’t.  Show compassion.  Recovery will occur and let’s hope we come out of it better than we went in.  This seems a good mantra for the beginning of a new year.


Wooden Translation?

The summer got away from me, as it always seems to, leaving several boxes of things yet to be sorted.  Since these boxes are in the garage where there’s no heat, doing it during winter isn’t really feasible.  Still, I found myself in the garage storage area the other day and quickly tipped open a box or two to remind myself of what might be inside.  One of the treasures I found is actually from my wife’s family memorabilia.  Not exactly a family Bible, it’s a New Testament one of her grandfathers gave one of her grandmothers as a gift.  It’s a red-letter edition, but what makes it unusual is the binding.  It has olive wood covers from Jerusalem.  The front cover is embossed with a Jerusalem cross.

Bookbinding has long been an area of personal fascination.  Growing up when and how I did, most of my books are paperbacks.  The paperback was initially one of the responses to shortages introduced by wars.  Since they were cheaper to produce they could be priced down.  I have a few academic paperbacks from the twenties (I can’t make myself acknowledge that 1920 was a century ago) whose paper bindings are literally paper.  I fear to take them off the shelf, given the fragile nature of their bindings.  Prior to that books tended to be “hardbacks.”  A piece of cloth-covered cardboard was the preferred means of protecting the vulnerable leaves inside.  Before that leather was routinely used.  Those were the days when books were properly thought of as an investment.

I often think of how little I will leave behind, at least in terms of items of monetary value.  Books seldom maintain their cover price for long.  As someone who lurks on used book websites, however, I do know that the choice tome of either quirky fiction or nonfiction under-appreciated at the time can easily jump market values with predatory sellers.  Even for a paperback.  I am loath to confess how much I’ve paid for a book I really needed for research that mere public libraries simply can’t access.  (The university library is a place of wonder, and one of the resources I most often miss in having become secular.)  Just this past week I saw a sci-fi book from the sixties I wanted to read priced at over $500 on Amazon (used).  When I went to check on it this morning all copies were gone.  And to think the world considers books a poor investment.  The real key is to be obscure, no matter your binding material.


Bounce Back

Bounce-backs are when an author receives a rejection letter and immediately emails the publisher back.  They are some of the worse ways to ensure future prospects with a publisher.  Now, I’m more sensitive than most editors, but I know of none, absolutely none, who feel good about writing rejection letters.  We’ve all received them and we know how bad it feels.  In publishing in general the appropriate response to a rejection is silence on the part of the author.  Since I submit more fiction for publication than non, it is mostly in that realm that I experience rejection.  (I’ve had my fair share in the nonfiction realm as well.)  I know, however, that if I want a future chance with a publisher you simply walk away from a rejection.

Photo by Mel Elías on Unsplash

Bounce-backs are a bad idea for a number of reasons.  First of all, they don’t change anything.  Unless a rejection is conditional (it rarely is), all a bounce-back does is make an editor who probably already feels bad about it feel even worse.  Misery may love company, but it’s unprofessional to spread it around.  Secondly, bounce-backs hurt your future prospects.  Nobody wants to establish a professional relationship with someone who can’t take rejection.  A third reason is you’re asking someone who’s already considered your project and who’s moved on, to take more time with a book (or article, or story) to which they’ve already said “no thank you.”  A fourth reason is that a bounce-back announces loudly and clearly, “I didn’t take time to think about this; I’m reacting emotionally.”

One of the best things an aspiring writer can do—and this includes academics—is to learn about the publishing industry.  There are tons of resources out there.   The best information I personally have found on success in academic publishing is reading about how to submit fiction for publication.  I have a very long list of rejections to hold up against the twenty-something stories I’ve had published.  None of those rejections felt good.  Obviously, I thought my material was good, otherwise I wouldn’t have sent it in.  I try not to take it personally, but slowly learning those lessons has led to more frequent success.  You need to practice submission to get better at it.  I’m somewhat of an expert on aporripsophobia, so I can say with confidence that even a nice, polite, “thank you” in response to rejection is not favored.  Simply let it go.  That’s the professional thing to do.


Chick Tracks

Goodreads isn’t the only booklover’s website, but it is one that publishers pay attention to.  Having a following on Goodreads helps for making marketing manageable.  Or so the thinking goes.  In any case, I recently had a message on Goodreads about Holy Horror.  It seems someone has, against all odds, found the book and is reading it.  This particular reader asked me in a comment about Chick tracts.  I’ve written about Jack Chick before.  He was a veritable one-man evangelical force of super-nature.  He is responsible for many of my personal nightmares with the Bible.  His cartoon tracts were designed to scare the Hell out of kids, literally.  I read them religiously.  My Goodreads reader pointed out that I could’ve made use of them in Holy Horror.

This made me ponder the reticence of academics to address religion as a cultural force.  Chick tracts are extremely common, even today.  As I posted last year, we were handed one while walking between venues at the first annual Easton Book Festival (an event forced virtual this year by, well, you know).  Not that Chick’s intellectual ability deserves study, but his influence is undeniable.  How many of us fundamentalist kids were set on our life trajectories by tracts that looked like mini-comic books but which had an unwavering, uninformed viewpoint held as gospel?  Chick tracts broached no dissent.  The Bible alone, and the Bible as interpreted by fundamentalists alone, was the only possible way of avoiding everlasting hellfire.  Nightmares indeed.

Chick died in 2016 after half-a-century of terror (his first tract was published in 1960).  Apparently Chick was a shy evangelical and his prolific cartooning was a way of assuaging his own fears of not evangelizing.  Ironically, in his tracts he offloaded that burden onto others—kids were made to feel inferior if they didn’t talk about Jesus to their friends, no matter how shy they might have been.  There’s not much information easily available on this influential man.  A motivated scholar, I’m sure, could dig up information—nearly any life can be illuminated to some degree—but I’m not sure the will is there.  If it ever happens, I suspect the study will be done by someone like me, raised on Chick and fed steady doses of childhood Bible reading.  My Goodreads interlocutor was perhaps onto something by suggesting my watching horror has something to do with Chick tracts.  Stranger things have, I’m sure, happened.


Biblerama

Perhaps you’ve heard—the New Revised Standard Version is being updated.  Stop the presses!  I’m sure that everyone has been anticipating this as much as biblical scholars have!  If you’ve not been able to feel the buzz maybe it’s because you’re not in the Bible publishing business.  As the discussions have been going on (rights holders are of course consulting with publishers, because that’s where the money is) a great deal of energy goes into deciding what exactly to call it.  And since Christianity is so fragmented there have to be different versions of the versions.  Some include the apocrypha and others do not.  Some prefer British spelling and others American.  Imperial interests are important, even when it comes to Scriptures.  What may be overlooked in these developments is the connection to the most influential English translation, the King James.

The King James Version was not the first English translation of the Bible, but it was the version that captured the imagination of some as directly inspired by God.  Strangely enough, King James onlyists can seldom name the translators who apparently had the divine mouth to their ears, but never mind that.  The KJV held immense sway especially among literalists because it is so quotable.  In the 1950s it was revised.  (There are, by the way, several differing versions of the King James Version, and the original included the apocrypha.)  That first major revision came to be known as the Revised Standard Version.  Translators seldom begin their task with what original language manuscripts they can find; new translations are based on existing translations in families.  It’s okay, we’re all related.

Bible closet

When I was a kid the RSV (Revised Standard Version) was considered pretty good by many.  Hardly an overwhelming affirmation, but still, it’s something.  The real concern began when the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) came out in the eighties.  The reason?  It used inclusive language!  See what happens when you allow women to read?  Ironically, the book that has been used for centuries to liberate white men is something you want to keep out of the hands of women and non-whites unless you make it clear that everyone from Adam to Jesus and Paul was a white man and this is his story.  Now the New Revised Standard Version is being updated.  Nobody’s quite yet sure how it will be denominated.  And this is only one family in a vast genealogy of Bible translations.  If you’re not in the Bible business, you’re missing all the excitement.


Anticipation

My work computer was recently upgraded.  I, for one, am quickly tiring of uppity software assuming it knows what I need it to do.  This is most evident in Microsoft products, such as Excel, which no longer shows the toolbar unless you click it every single time you want to use it (which is constantly), and Word, which hides tracked changes unless you tell it not to.  Hello?  Why do you track changes if you don’t want to see what’s been changed when you finish?  The one positive thing I’ve noticed is now that when you highlight a fine name in “File Explorer” and press the forward arrow key it actually goes the the end of the title rather than just one letter back from the start.  Another goodie is when you go to select an attachment and Outlook assumes you want to send a file you’ve just been working on—good for you!

The main concern I have, however, is that algorithms are now trying to anticipate what we want.  They already track our browsing interests (I once accidentally clicked on a well-timed pop-up ad for a device for artfully trimming certain private hairs—my aim isn’t so good any more and that would belie the usefulness of said instrument—only to find the internet supposing I preferred the shaved look.  I have an old-growth beard on my face and haven’t shaved in over three decades, and that’s not likely to change, no matter how many ads I get).  Now they’re trying to assume they know what we want.  Granted, “editor” is seldom a job listed on drop-down menus when you have to pick a title for some faceless source of money or services, but it is a job.  And lots of us do it.  Our software, however, is unaware of what editors need.  It’s not shaving.

In the grip of the pandemic, we’re relying on technology by orders of magnitude.  Even before that my current job, which used to be done with pen and paper and typewriter, was fully electronic.  One of the reasons that remote working made sense to me was that I didn’t need to go into the office to do what I do.  Other than looking up the odd physical contract I had no reason to spend three hours a day getting to and from New York.  I think of impatient authors and want to remind them that during my lifetime book publishing used to require physical manuscripts sent through civilian mail systems (as did my first book).  My first book also included some hand-drawn cuneiform because type didn’t exist for the letters at that particular publisher.  They had no way, it turns out, to anticipate what I wanted it to look like.  That, it seems, is a more honest way for work to be done.