aAlthough I’m not proud of itAs an author, I often participate in masochistic rituals to check my rankings and reviews on Amazon.
So back in the spring, shortly after my last book came out, I wrote “Puzzles” by AJ Jacobs in the Amazon search bar and press “Enter”.
My book came, of course. But to my surprise, I did several other books. Six of them. These books had titles like Summary of The Puzzler by AJ Jacobs And the Puzzler workbook by AJ Jacobs. It ranged from $5 to $13.
As you can imagine, I was confused. I know firsthand the long history of study guides and book summaries. In high school, I used Cliffs Notes to help me decode scarlet letterIts competitor, SparkNotes, is a huge company.
But my book — a memoir and a cultural history about puzzles, including crosswords, puzzles, and riddles — was released just two weeks ago. And though I was proud of it, it was not a classic text taught in schools and dissected in doctoral theses.
Naturally, I requested all manuals and work manuals Puzzle By AJ Jacobs — Four hardcover books and two Kindle e-books. A few days later, I sat down in the Aeron chair reading summaries of my book.
The first thing I noticed is that it is noticeably slight. They are all booklet sized books with a font big enough to rival that very hungry caterpillar. The longest is 49 pages, and one summary by someone named Prince Humphrey is only nine pages long. That’s some effective summarization!
Abstract covers vary in theme. Four of them have jigsaw puzzle clip art, which look good, if uninspiring. But the summary by Jerry Bishop has a cover image of a night sky with a shooting star, and another with ocean waves. Because the universe and the ocean are mysteries, I guess?
I randomly chose William Noah’s synopsis and started reading. The book opens: “This is a fun book.” Well, that’s beautiful. I think my book is a fun book. I’ve noticed a lot of sentences like this – somewhat ungrammatical, as if they were written by someone who learned English late in life. Another summary begins: “George Plimpton’s thinking exercises take readers on crossword puzzles, the maze, and beyond the journey.”
wait. I realized that. It’s a slightly modified version of Joomla in curcos My book review. The more I read, the more I began to realize that the summary paragraphs had been removed from other sources. The text is a jumble, a mixture of excerpts from book reviews, my book jacket, magazine features, and passages copied directly from my book.
Not to mention that the cut and paste job is a bit lazy. The passages are jarred, and many of the summaries are repetitive, with identical paragraphs appearing on the same page, giving many a sense of “all work without play makes Jack a boring boy”.
Many of the summaries are similar. Not identical, keep in mind, but they use a lot of the same reviews and articles. Perhaps the abstracts went to the same school of abstracts?
To their credit, the abstracts don’t always reprint the passages verbatim. It can come in handy with the thesaurus. A summary named Jane Kranz ( K is a lowercase letter, possibly a reference to a bell hook or E. Cummings) wrote that my book is “a bucket of monkey puzzle-solving fun.” Hmmm. curcos I described my book as “a barrel of monkeys worth the fun for the puzzle junkie at home.”
Sometimes, I learned new things about myself. In Jerry Bishop’s summary, he wrote, “Jacobs quit attending classes two months before he graduated from college and started completing crossword puzzles.” I don’t remember doing this. Later, I realized that these details were taken from New York times A review of my book, where the reviewer – Judith Newman – talks about skipping lessons. Bishop confused me with references.
Perhaps the worst part: many of the abstracts seem to have grown tired of summarizing my book in the middle. or even the middle. Jarir summarizes two chapters. I wrote 18, but there is no mention of the last 16.
Although most of them are similar, one of the books is fundamentally different: Puzzle game classifier, attributed to Platinum Works. What is a “classifier”? Well, in this case, it’s a book with plenty of blank pages for the reader to fill in, titled Notes, Personal Notes and my favorite, Other Things.
The non-blank pages in the workbook contain text about the riddles – and refreshingly, the text was not taken directly from my book or its reviews. Instead, the workbook is a collection of advice on solving puzzles. And they’re powerful tips, too, like “don’t push yourself too much,” which sounds good for both puzzles and diving.
It took me about an hour to read all my summaries and workbooks. In the end, I felt a mixture of feelings.
First, I was flattered that these people, whoever they are, bothered to plunder my book. But I was angry, too. I was angry on behalf of any and all unsuspecting readers who ordered a book, only to receive these worthless verbal powers. And I was, of course, upset that they might reduce the sales of my book.
But the anger tempered my amusement at how absurd these works were, how inconsistent the parts were, and how creative the rules were—like Yoko Ono’s poem. Plus, it was kind of a fun game – yes, even a puzzle! To find out the origin of the paragraphs.
I also felt ashamed, because I knew I was part of the problem. People like me are led into this cottage industry. I’m a sucker for summary culture. Sometimes I watch TED Talks by authors instead of buying their book. Or I’ll listen to this app called Blink that shortens books to a few minutes of audio. Or I’ll read the Wikipedia summary of the author’s ideas. That’s not good. I know I miss the nuances and also undermine the industry I work in, but for the past 10 years, I’ve bought into the cult of efficiency. I think it’s because there is so much information, and I feel pressure on social media to keep up. Perhaps the absurdity of these summaries will finally embarrass me when I read whole books again. Can.
Another reaction? afraid. These summaries are incomplete and incomplete. But in a couple of years, will AI be able to make useful, well-written summaries of real-life books? Would anyone buy the actual book?
Finally, I got curious. This is the subject of my book, Curiosity. Who writes these books? Is it a team of people? One person? Artificial intelligence robot?
I set out to investigate. The QR codes on the back of the books didn’t work, resulting in an immediate deadlock. Amazon pages and Google results for authors didn’t yield much either.
Perhaps the most prolific of the summaries, Jane Kranz—who bothered to write her last name in capital letters in many titles—has published summaries of at least a dozen other books, including a biography of professional golfer Phil Mickelson and The Memoirs of Deborah Birx, the Trump administration official who wears a scarf. The summary of Kranz’s work was not well received, mostly succinct, one-star ratings as “a sad excuse for a book”.
Are these books legal? I emailed my friend a copyright attorney. He again wrote that these summaries appear to go beyond “fair use,” referring to the legal doctrine that allows people to quote short excerpts from copyrighted material without permission.
A few months later, I was still dealing with these thefts. But I felt better when I came up with a solution: I was posting my solution Puzzle Summary To get an insight into how to do this. Additionally, why don’t I get a portion of the earnings summary?
Summaries may be issued through a print-on-demand service. These are self-publishing platforms that allow you to get your work out, either digitally or in paperback. The business model is to print books only on demand, rather than printing several thousand copies in advance, which traditional commercial publishing does.
This allows the service to give the author a larger percentage of royalties – up to 70 percent. It also lets anyone with a credit card publish a book, which is why it’s so hard to track down the authors.
The most popular service is Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. I signed up and spent the afternoon drafting a summary of my book. I’ve summarized the introduction to my book, including my opening story about appearing as an answer to a clue in The New York Times A crossword puzzle, a nerd’s dream. I’ve summarized the second chapter, which is the chapter on the history of the crossword puzzle.
And then… I got bored. I sympathized with Kranz and Humphrey.
So to fill out some pages, I cut and pasted a LinkedIn article I wrote about the riddles it can teach us about life.
After uploading the script, I was able to play the role of the publisher, which was oddly useful. I chose the font (Libre Baskerville) and the cover design (I uploaded an image from the popular nine-dot puzzle, and thought it would set me apart from jigsaw puzzle covers. Despite my temptation, I didn’t take advantage of the Kindle’s free clip art, broken down by category. For example, it offers The “Personality Trait” section is a photo of a short kid for a double-fisted hamburger, which I think is for gluttony.)
I entered my credit card information and hit submit. Two days later, I received an email from Kindle Direct. The news was not good.
While reviewing the following book(s), it appears to be a summary, study guide, or analysis of another book:
(Does not) your book(s) do not comply with the Kindle Content Quality Guidelines because/(they) may confuse customers and make them think they are buying original materials.
What? Then how did the other summaries work? Was it posted via another service?
I looked up my competing abstracts…and they were all gone. Eraser from Amazon. Jeff Bezos seems to be making an effort to eliminate the abstract type. In 2019, an Amazon spokesperson said The The Wall Street Journal Abstracts for this book should be “differentiated enough to avoid client confusion,” and he added, “If we find that a title does not meet these requirements, we remove it immediately.” However, the campaign was not entirely successful. I’ve searched and found a bunch of other summaries still out there, and it looks like I’ve slipped through the Amazon pull network.
So it seems that I will never get rich from selling my country Puzzle summary. But no one else is likely to do that, so that’s some relief.
Summary of this article
Don’t buy a “summary” book from Amazon, because they are nonsensical word authorities created by robots or lazy cut-and-paste tools with a shaky understanding of the English language.
However, with AI getting better at summarizing books, real-life authors may be in trouble.
In the meantime, buy my book!