Posts Tagged ‘jeffrey moussaieff Masson’

Is Your Local Bookstore an Amazon Showroom?

December 7, 2011

Today’s uproar de jour in book publishing is the news story that is giving a $5.00 discount on items that a customer scans using the Amazon “Price Check for iPhone App” in a brick and mortar store . The promotion is only good for 1 day and it doesn’t include books.  But people in publishing , particularly booksellers, are understandably upset about this promotion and  this app.   I knew the app was in existence but I hadn’t checked it out. I tried it earlier today. I’ll give you a demonstration.

So here’s a picture of the app icon as it appears on my new and cool iPad.  You can get it for free at the Apple App Store and download it in about 15 seconds.





I touch the app and this screen pops up. Note the announcement about the promotion on December 10 for selected categories. Also note that you are uploading information to Amazon including the geographical coordinates of your price check. You are, in effect, an Amazon secret shopper (although they aren’t paying you the  customary sub-minimum wage for the marketing service you are providing).

As you can see there are 3 ways to identify the product:  scanning, talking, and photographing. On my iPad (and on iPhones), you can do all or any of these quite easily.




Here is the book I’m testing. The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving.  It is a title by my client, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. It’s a wonderful book on the 40,000 year romance between humans and dogs. It’s a good Christmas present for your dog loving friends. And – Jeff gets a royalty on every book you buy (with some exceptions we’ll discuss below) and I get a commission on all of Jeff’s royalties for this book. So you should buy it and everyone will be happy.

Getting back to the app, first I tried the “say it” button. A microphone logo appeared and I – well – said it. Sophisticated voice recognition software translated and digitized my words and sent it on to Amazon.  Within seconds, an Amazon page for The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving popped up. I did the same with the “snap it” button. My iPad and all iPhones have cameras. Same page popped up.




Here is a photograph of me using the scanning function. I just centered the iPad on the bar code and without hitting any button, the Amazon page for the title came up again.




The Amazon title page  looks like this. Voila! Hit a button and you have bought the book. You can even do this in the independent book shop where you are  browsing, even right in front of the cash wrap where the owner is standing and glaring at you with fire in her eyes. I don’t recommend that. You should probably take the book into that dark corner over there.  Try to ignore the fact that people are looking at you funny like you are some kind of a pervert and that  the owner is still staring  hawklike at you because she thinks you are stuffing the book into your knickers.

This apps’ pretty cool, huh? And internet savvy consumers are really going to town on this.

There is something creepy about it though and troubling for me. This is the point where I have to make my obligatory statement that I am not a Luddite. And truthfully raging against technology is a fool’s errand. And Amazon is not the only company making price check scanning apps either.

Book publishers are pretty upset about the horrible troubles of  brick and mortar stores. Internet geeks say that this is just the price for progress. But it is really a little more complicated than this. We have spoken before in this blog  about the concept of “discoverability”. That is the arrangement of products that allows the consumer to find something unexpected. is not a good place for impulse buys.  There was a recent survey that indicated that 20% of books purchased online were on impulse while 40% at brick and mortar stores were. For some categories, children’s books come to mind, as much as 80% of all purchases are impulse.

A bookstore is a little like a showroom. Publishers know that and value that. Amazon seems to know it too and are exploiting that. Paradoxically the scanning apps which drive lots of business to Amazon are doing their part to insure that these showrooms will not survive. And there goes your “discoverability”.

Most of the people who read this blog are writers or book lovers. And many of you writers might simply think that this doesn’t matter. If customers want to buy online, hey, it’s still a sale. But wait. Go back up and take a look at Jeff’s Amazon book page. The page that pops up tells the customer that he can buy it used for as little as a penny. The  other featured books  are used copies as well. Who the hell wouldn’t rather have a book for a penny?

We  have spoken frequently  about the value of intellectual work in an internet culture that believes “information wants to be free”. Maybe I’m naïve or just venal, but it seems to me that writers deserve to get paid for their work. And price checking apps that drive consumers to buy books for a penny undermine that principle.

And mark this well.  It is also undermining the very stores who create those showrooms that give book lovers that ineffable experience of discovering an unexpected miracle.

As I said, there is something a little creepy about this.


Jeff Masson on the 40,000 Year Romance Between Humans and Dogs

October 5, 2010

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson first gained attention as projects director at the Freud Archives.  Jeffrey’s research led him to the conclusion that Freud erred in turning away from his insight that human misery was fueled by childhood sexual abuse.  Masson speculated that Freud gave in to peer pressure rather than acknowledge a truth that would have harmed his career.  Jeff accused the psychoanalytic establishment of covering this up for decades. For such heresy, he was excommunicated from the psychoanalytic profession and treated to numerous public burnings by its members. Since then, Jeff’s  insights have become conventional wisdom in psychotherapeutic circles.  In spite of some important contributions to our understanding of the human psyche, Freud has been discredited for his therapeutic ideas in no small account because of Jeff’s work. And Freud’s thought has been relegated primarily to the intellectual dustbin of literary critical theory.

For the last 20 years, Jeff has turned his formidable intellect to the study of emotions in animals and in animal rights. His newest book on this subject: The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving: How Dogs Have Captured Our Hearts for Thousands of Years, has just been  released. Today Jeff and I are going to talk about this very special human-animal bond.

Andy:   We are in the same family as the great apes.  We share 98% of our DNA with them.  We are not remotely related to dogs.  So how can you claim we are more like them than like chimps, for example?

Jeff: We may resemble primates physically, but when it comes to certain emotions, I think we have more in common with dogs than with the great apes.  The ability to reach out to other species, for example, is pretty much unique to humans and dogs. 

Andy: Why are we so attached to dogs, and so much less attached to, say, pigs or cows or sheep?

Jeff: Partly because we can read their emotions so easily.  We know when we do something they like.  How do you know if a cow finds you loveable?  Dogs tell us.  They rarely have a reason to fear us.  Pigs, cows, and sheep are simply food for us.  That is why I am a vegan!

Andy: You say dogs are the only animal who has benefitted from domestication by humans.  What about cats, though?  We don’t eat cats or otherwise exploit them.  And they, too, seem to have chosen us.  So what is the difference?

Jeff: The difference is that in spite of domestication cats have not changed their nature to the extent that dogs have.  Dogs want to spend all their time with us, cats only occasionally.  If they decide we are doing something they don’t like, they simply walk away.  Dogs try to find a way to interest us.  They are obsessed with us in a way that cats rarely are. 
Andy: How old do you think the connection with dogs is?

Jeff: Well, this is a hotly debated point at the moment.  I am no geneticist, so I can only answer in terms of what seems reasonable in the many conflicting accounts I have read.  The range is very wide:  from 15,000 years, to 125,000 years.  Most scholars seem to think that somewhere in the middle, around 40,000 is a good compromise.  I would agree.  But the important point is that dogs have been with us longer than any other domesticate, animal or plant!
Andy: Do you believe that barks are an attempt to communicate with us?

Jeff:  I do.  And I believe in the next ten or twenty years we will have deciphered their meaning.  There is already work on this. 
Andy: Are pit bulls different?

Jeff:  Different than other dogs you mean?  In their aggression?  I have not lived with a pit bull, but when I see them on the street, I am always a tiny bit nervous.  When I tried to analyze why, I realized that I was nervous of the “owner”, not the dog!  Dogs pretty much give us what we want.  If we want them to be sweet and gentle, they generally are.  If we want them to terrify our neighbor, they do.  But it does seem true that pit bulls have been bred to feel no pain and to fight.  I would not recommend them to a family with small children, but, you know, my ignorance is beginning to show here!

Andy: Do dogs display temperament differences from birth?

Jeff: They do.  Whether that can be changed completely over time through socialization is an open question.  I tend to think it can. 

Andy: Are some dogs “naturally” aggressive?

Jeff: They can be bred that way.  Are humans naturally aggressive?  We can certainly become that way.  But I don’t believe that a dog raised in a happy gentle home from birth will remain aggressive even if born with that temperament.  I could be wrong!

Andy: Do dogs have any kind of moral system or ethical beliefs?

Jeff: Yes, I would say they do.  They have codes of honor; you can see it when they play.  You do not attack a dog who has submitted for example. 

Andy: Do you believe dogs have any sense of death?  

Jeff: Yes. Think of dogs in a shelter waiting to be euthanized (if not adopted).  They seem to know that you are their last best chance.  Also, they definitely get depressed (or if that word is too strong, deeply sad) when a companion, human or otherwise, dies.

Andy: Why are some dogs able to attach to just about any species, not just humans and other dogs?  Does any other animal do this in the wild?  How about domesticated animals?

Jeff: That question is at the heart of my new book.  I think humans and dogs are the only two animals who consistently make friends across the species barrier, and I wonder if this is merely a coincidence, or if this is something we have taught each other?  I think the latter.  We reinforce a certain tendency in one another until it becomes a trait.  So it is an example of mutual domestication.  Other domesticated animals only rarely exhibit this gift.  Cats, from time to time, but not reliably and consistently, the way dogs do. 

Andy: Do dogs have any moral qualities we lack?  


Jeff:  Yes, dogs have a greater sense of friendship than we do.  They are also able to enjoy life in daily events to a greater extent than humans:  their joie de vivre is unmatched.  They attach for life: have you ever heard of a dog divorcing his human companion?  As for loyalty, well, I rest my case.  I do feel that in the future we will learn about some emotions dogs have that are beyond humans. 

Andy: Do you believe dogs can be exploited?

Jeff: Yes, and it is one of the saddest things to see an animal who wants nothing but love treated with cruelty.  Without believing in an afterlife, I believe there is a special place in hell reserved for humans who do this. 

  Have you ever met a dog you did not like?

Jeff:  Yes, but usually I look up from the leash and see the source. 

Andy:  Is our relationship with dogs unique?

Jeff:  So much so, that I would argue that dogs make us who we are.  We are human in the way we are human because dogs have been our companions for thousands of years.  We would be a totally different species without them.  I cannot imagine life without dogs. 

Andy:  Have dogs taught us to love?

Jeff:  Yes.

George Witte of Saint Martin’s Press Talks About the Work of an Editor

September 25, 2010

George Witte is editor-in-chief of St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers. He has worked at St. Martin’s since 1984.  Over the years, George has acquired and edited books by notable literary novelists including Fred Chappell, Robert Clark, Claire Davis, Eric Kraft, Janet Peery, and Gregory David Roberts;  thriller writers P. T. Deutermann and David Poyer; and a wide range of nonfiction authors including Ray Anderson, Francis Bok, Jason Elliot, P. M. Forni, Emmanuel Jal, Stephen P. Kiernan, David Kirby, Irshad Manji, Bill Reynolds, Mitt Romney, Matthew Scully, Gerry Spence, and Charles Sykes.

George is also an award winning poet whose poems have been published in (to name a few): The AtlanticThe Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, Southwest Review, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. His most recent collection of poetry is: Deniability: Poems published by Orchises Press in 2009; his first book, The Apparitioners, was published in 2005, and also is available from Orchises.

Andy: George, thanks for coming to the blog today. I’d like to talk about how you make acquisition decisions. I’d just like to add that this blog has done some entries on publisher rejection. Most recently we composed: Publisher Rejection Letters From Plato to Hitler. Let’s hope that St. Martins would publish the former and reject the latter.

 Andy: Can you tell us some of the books you have been working on lately? Maybe one by one, tell us what they are, why you are excited about them and what did you consider when you made the decision to acquire them?

George:  This spring and summer I have continued to work on the publication of David Kirby’s Animal Factory, a book on factory farms and their enormous environmental impact, which becomes more relevant each day.  (Last week’s massive egg recall is just one example.)  Kirby is a terrific investigative reporter and writes with a sense of narrative urgency; he knows how to organize complex information and science into a story about people, and he has a nose for important subjects.


Andy: That sounds like a very interesting book. One of my clients is Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, who writes about animal rights and animal emotions.  I’ll make sure he reads that book. What other book do you find exciting right now?


 George: Another recent book is Stephen P. Kiernan’s Authentic Patriotism, which seeks to reclaim the word “patriotism” from the current “us vs. them” climate of hysteria, and defines it as many of the founding fathers did: as service by citizens to country.  Stephen is a dynamic writer and speaker who inspires everyone he meets, and this book portrays a wide range of Americans who are doing remarkable, wide-ranging things that improve the lives of people in need…with no political agenda.

Andy: How many book proposals do you look at in a typical week? How do you sort through them?

George:  I read 20-40 proposals and manuscripts each week, most of the proposals for nonfiction books, most of the manuscripts fiction.  Nearly every project is represented by an agent, and the proposals are structured in roughly the same way: a descriptive overview of the book, a chapter outline (often with substantive text), at least one sample chapter, an assessment of competitive and/or similar books on the subject, and information about the author’s credentials.  All these proposals reach a level of professionalism, and all are “publishable.”

Andy: So what are the things in the proposal that really grab your attention?

 George: When I’m reading, I’m really listening…for a voice, a sense of urgency, a passion for the subject that excites me even if I have no previous knowledge of or interest in the subject at hand.  Yes, other things are important: how many books on this subject have been published recently, how have they sold, and how is this proposed book different?  Does the author have a “platform,” which can mean anything from he/she is a journalist who has published widely on the subject, or is an academic writing for a general audience, or is an expert for some other reason, or has contacts with individuals, groups, organizations, and media that can help the publisher sell, market, and publicize the book.  But the key thing is the author’s voice, which no amount of proposal-laundering and packaging can supply.  The best books have a distinctive sound and it’s audible from the very first encounter.

Andy: It sounds to me that you have pretty wide ranging interests. Do you have any special areas that might fit into the publishing program or are you just looking for good books that excite you and (hopefully) your readers?

George:  St. Martin’s publishes all kinds of books for all kinds of readers.  Different people want different things from books—some want pure entertainment, some want information about a specific subject that is important to them, some want to learn about a completely new subject, some want to be deeply moved, some want to change their lives and hope a book will show the way.  We read a wide range of books and look for those that seem the best for their intended audience.  These days, I’m looking for investigative journalism, current affairs/issues, a certain kind of memoir (usually those that connect with larger social questions), and narrative nonfiction.  I am not publishing as much fiction as I once did, but am open to a special literary novel. 

Andy:  But even if you fall in love with a project, it doesn’t mean it will get published. Where is the final decision made and who makes it?

George:  Final decisions are made at our weekly editorial meetings, with our two publishers having the last word.   

Andy: Could you tell us a little more about how you work with books after the book gets acquired?

George:  After acquisition, I’m in touch with the author along the way to delivery of the manuscript.  Some authors like to submit sample chapters or sections, others prefer to finish the book and begin editing then.  I work closely on editing—line to line as well as structural—and usually go through two drafts with the author before we have a final manuscript.   Then I circulate the manuscript to the people in house who will have a hand in its publication: art, sales, marketing, publicity, subsidiary rights, and others.  After it’s typeset, I seek out advance quotes to help support the efforts of the sales, marketing, and publicity departments, and I work with each department to provide information that will be useful in their respective efforts.   I attend a range of meetings to discuss these efforts and follow up with each department.  I work with the author throughout the publication and usually for at least three or four months after publication date, or longer if needed, to keep reaching out for readers. 

Andy: George, we are always hearing that editors don’t edit any more. It sounds to me that you are still of the old school.

By the way, I’m the agent for a lead title at St. Martins in the spring. It is called The Jersey Sting. Most people remember the unforgettable picture of the Hassidic rabbis in handcuffs. The book is about the biggest corruption scandal in New Jersey history (and that’s saying a lot.) The authors are journalists with The New Jersey Star Ledger and were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of this story.

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson Speaks about Freud

August 10, 2009


 jeffJeffrey Masson has led at least 3 adult lives and a childhood that could inspire an army of psychoanalysts. (And we will get to them later). Jeff has a PhD in Sanskrit, one of the few Americans to have such a degree. He moved to Canada and became a Professor at the University of Toronto. While in Toronto, Jeffrey trained as a psychoanalyst. In 1980 he became projects director at the Freud Archives. Jeffrey’s research led him to the conclusion that Freud made a mistake in turning away from his insight that human misery was fueled by childhood sexual abuse. There was, in his opinion, a large number of documents, chief among them letters by Freud which had been kept from public view, and that showed the full extent of Freud’s original valuation of the reality of sexual abuse.  Masson speculated that Freud gave in to peer pressure rather than acknowledge a truth that would have harmed his career.  For such heresy, he was subsequently excommunicated (I use the term advisedly) from the Psychoanalytic movement, 


 During the last 20 years, Jeff has turned his formidable intelligence to the study of emotions in animals and in advocating animal rights. His newest book: The Face on Your Plate: The Truth about Food was published by W.W. Norton this past spring. 

Jeff lives on the ocean in New Zealand (aka paradise). Check out Jeff’s website.

  Andy: Jeff, I want to talk about Freud in this interview. It seems that the people who remember your critique of Freud don’t know much about your work on animal emotions. And those who are your current readers can’t remember what you did with Freud.

 Let’s go back and talk about your revision of Freud. I have to say that I read part of your book and all of the reviews. As a layman, the dispute seemed sort of like medieval hair splitting. Why was your discovery so important and why did it enrage the entire Psychoanalytic profession?

 Jeff:  It was hardly a trivial point.  I was maintaining that fantasy did not create neurosis, only reality has that power.  This was not simply my opinion, but was supported by historical documents of which analysts preferred to remain ignorant.  If I was right, then they had been unfair (verging on malpractice) to female patients who told them they were abused only to be assured it was merely a fantasy. 

 Andy: Some people think that your work was the beginning of the end of the Freudian dominion of Psychoanalysis. I know you are a modest person, but can you claim some credit here? Most psychotherapists aren’t Freudians any more, right. Hasn’t Freud primarily been relegated to literary theory and intellectual history?

Jeff:  It was not my work, but the documents themselves.  After all, you could not simply wish away letters by Freud that had been deliberately removed from the public record.  I put them back, and when people began to become aware of the implications, Freud’s reputation suffered as did that of subsequent analysts.  Eventually analysts recognized the damage that was being done by their “denial” and they switched camps.  But it was a bit late in the game.  Feminists like Florence Rush and Judith Herman and several others had been saying the same thing I did for years.  Once these new letters came to light, it gave true gravity to their views.  That said, I abhor the term “Freud basher” so often thoughtlessly applied to me.  While I have fundamental criticisms, I also acknowledge that Freud did indeed have many fascinating insights into human nature and he could write far better than perhaps any other psychologist before or since.  No mean achievement!

 Andy: But you moved on from there too. You went from being a psychoanalytic heretic to being a very eloquent (if sometimes provocative) critic of the entire psychotherapeutic enterprise. And you have expressed no less withering contempt for psychopharmacology. It there nowhere left to turn in the Massonian Universe to restore one’s mental health? 

 Jeff:  Yes, I did take a look at other therapies, and was even less impressed with them than with Freudian therapy.  I still maintain, after all these years, that the best shrink is a dog.  I really mean that too, as you know!

 Andy: Whenever we talk about intellectual history, it seems that you still maintain an admiration for Freud as a thinker who contributed immeasurably to our understanding of ourselves. Can you explain your (seemingly) contradictory feelings about Freud? What is your assessment of his contribution?

 Jeff:  I answered this partially above, but let me add that I am writing the new introduction to the Sterling Illustrated Edition of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams.  I believe that among his great achievements was:  the recognition of the importance of childhood for later human unhappiness (or trauma if you prefer); the mechanisms of defense, especially denial, repression, and counter-phobia – a marvelous idea when you think about:  we become mountain climbers because we fear heights!; the unconscious; the importance of sexuality; the primacy of dreams; the reality of internal suffering.  I could go on and on.  But I never am given the chance any longer!

 Andy: In the early 90’s, you moved in an entirely new direction. You started writing about the emotions of animals. Your first book, When Elephants Weep, was an international best seller. What led you to this fascination with animal emotions?

 Jeff:  I was disappointed with human emotions and wanted to study those of another species.  Was it possible that other animals felt more deeply than we do, or even felt different emotions?  It is an ever-fascinating question.  I did not answer, but I attempted to, and this resonated with the public.  People who lived with animals generally knew they had profound feelings, and liked seeing this view vindicated. 

 Andy: And that was followed by Dogs never Lie About Love, a book that sold over 1,000,000 copies worldwide. It really changed the way people thought about emotions in dogs. 

 Jeff:  Yes, nowhere is it more obvious that we take second place when it comes to the ability to love freely, deeply, unconditionally, than with dogs.  They are undoubtedly our superior in realms like friendship, loyalty, depth and ease of affection, and so on.  Again, I was not saying anything unknown to dog lovers over the centuries.  

 Andy: You are back to dogs again, too, aren’t you? You have a new book about love between humans and dogs scheduled for release next year. Can you tell us something about this? You must know that dog books are a cottage industry. But I think that, against the odds, you actually have some important and original to say.

 Jeff:  I hope so.  I maintain that we have become the species we are only because we co-evolved with dogs.  Dogs have been with us longer than any other animal, by far.  We go back at least 40,000 years and perhaps longer.  So there was time for us to grow in tandem, and I believe we did, which is why we are the only two species who make friends so easily across the species barrier.  I don’t think we would be the species we are without dogs.