Monday, February 27, 2012

Review + ARC Giveaway: PANDEMONIUM by Lauren Oliver

Pandemonium (Delirium, #2)Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You have your world, the way it is, you think you're ready for things to proceed exactly as they should, and then you suddenly understand the cracks in the pavement and all hell breaks loose.


The third book in Oliver's DELIRIUM series is titled REQUIEM, and given how aptly the second is titled, I'm eagerly anticipating the third.

Friday, February 24, 2012


I've noticed a trend with some self-published, and even some commercial e-press published books recently, and that's the trend to publish Kindle-only. Yes, Amazon has the largest share of e-readers, and yes, people with iPads can get a Kindle app. And it's true you can root a nook and put a Kindle app on it as well (I'm planning to do this, but haven't gotten around to it yet). And I'm well aware of all the financial incentives Amazon puts in place

But most of the time, I can't be bothered. One of the huge advantages for me in having an e-reader is to be able to nab a book, or at least its sample,  right when I think about it. When I hear about a new book, if it sounds reasonably good, I want my hands on it quickly. Amazon-only or even a 90-day Kindle exclusive means that I can't do that on my particular brand of e-reader.

Ninety days in book publishing is an entire season's worth of releases. By the time the book gets free of its Kindle exclusive, I've forgotten all about it.

Perhaps non-Kindle readers are a small enough market that the 90-days thing makes sense. But I wonder at the long-term viability of such a technique, as it seems to me to be a gamble that Amazon will remain solidly the frontrunner in ebook distribution. 

Which device (if any) do you read on? Do you run into this problem? Do you hang on to some way of remembering the book anyway? 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver (ARC giveaway of book 2 to come!)

Delirium (Delirium, #1)Delirium by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The writing: Dear god, the writing in this. It gives me hope that people will buy and read things that have great imagery, and which spend time describing the environment rather than making every single moment slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am nonstop action. I loved wallowing in Oliver's descriptions; I felt very much like I was there with Lena as she went through her story. Particularly wonderful, I thought, were the ways in which the settings contrasted--the Wilds vs. Portland, the houses in Deering Highlands vs. the homes in the rest of Portland. Oliver has a way of writing description that puts you right in the middle of the action, and for someone who tends to otherwise imagine characters kind of moving about in blank white space, that level of attention to detail was very much appreciated. There aren't senses missing in this--Oliver gets in to how things smell, feel, taste in addition to just how they look.

The plot: DELIRIUM starts out slowly. VERY slowly. Had I not been reading it mostly so that I could get to my ARC copy of PANDEMONIUM, I might have put it down. That said, there are plenty of twists and turns on this path (even if some are a bit predictable: Alex somehow not being a real Cured is foreseeable from the very first moment Lena sees him) to keep one interested. I'm happy that DELIRIUM ends and PANDEMONIUM begins with some big issues still in play, such as the ultimate fate of Lena's mother.

The book does fall in to the ongoing problem of teen trilogies, however, which is that it feels like there was little self-contained plot in this book alone. Like many others (Ally Condie's Matched for instance, comes to mind), the book ends on a cliffhanger, and it feels very much like 1/3 of a larger work, rather than a first book in a set of three. If there's anything contributing to my dropping a star on this book, it's that.

The characters: Lena is very relatable. One of my favorite tiny details about her was her friendship with Hana (Hana got her own novella, which I don't have time to read before PANDEMONIUM releases, but which looks interesting), which plays as a very normal teenage girl relationship. I especially loved that she and Hana had the "Hallelujah Halena!" cheer for each other. It's exactly the kind of thing I remember creating in junior high school, and details like that made Lena a very real, easily identified-with character.

And Alex--I loved his comfort with who he was and his ability to move in and out of Portland society. He had just enough "cool" to make him believable in all the things he's been able to accomplish, but also had a deep caring for Lena which makes him easily sympathized with.

I loved the secondary characters, also. Grace is a wonderful foil for Lena, and lets us see a lot about who Lena is as an "infected" person. So far in PANDEMONIUM, great secondaries seem to be Oliver's specialty, so I'm looking forward to getting to know them more.

My one very minor beef: Is it ever mentioned in the beginning of this book that "Portland" is Portland, ME? I spent a long time trying to figure out if perhaps the sea level had risen and that was why there was shoreline in Portland, OR, and was a little jolted to find that the book was set on the opposite side of the country halfway through the book.

Overall: This is one of the more interesting dystopian ideas I've read in a while. When I first heard the premise, I thought it sounded silly--love as a disease? But as I read and understood it not as only romantic love, but all feeling and strong emotion, I found myself strangely agreeing with many of the society's premises--that love and strong emotion causes as much destruction as it prevents, and able to see exactly how such a society might come into being. For me, that's a critical piece--can I buy in to the dystopian world? DELIRIUM delivered on that front, and that made it an enjoyable read for me. On to book number 2--and I'll be giving away my ARC when I'm done!

4 stars even on this one. One star loss for the slow start and the ever-present YA trilogy "no full plot in this book" problem.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Nab Delirium: 


Have you read Delirium? What did you think? Link your review if you have one!  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On Writing: Surprise!

The rag disappeared from her hand. 

Not long ago, one of my crit partners had a scene where she wanted to show a character being surprised by something. He was drinking a beer, and he was supposed to have been startled by his mother. 

I suggested that she write the result rather than the action itself. When we're surprised by something, we don't notice what's happening, we notice what happens because of it—what we're holding hits the floor, what we're drinking spills down our front. 
I ripped the sentence above from one of my WIPs because it's a good example of this. The character is thinking about something else, looking at something else, and she doesn't notice the person approaching her. Since she's the POV character in a limited third-person narrative, I can't very well write, "She didn't notice the person approaching." The fact that she's not noticing means that the narration can't notice, either. 

What does she notice? When the rag she's holding suddenly disappears. Then she looks up and realizes that someone else has joined her in the room—someone nosy and bossy enough to just take things from her hands without greeting (which also went a long way in characterizing the second character).

The trick: make the object of the sentence the thing the character finally notices. In my crit partner's work, it was "Beer sloshed down my chest." He didn't notice himself jump, or notice his mother--his body reacted, and his response was to the result of all of that—the thing that finally actually caught his attention. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

In Brief: Pulp

Every author hears about "returns" when they hear about trade publishing. They're often invoked as one of the big bad problems of trade publishing (and while they are a hurdle, it's more nuanced than that). There's a lot to be said about returns, and at some point I'll blog on it, but today I wanted to share this photo, which I snapped as we were closing the store location where I used to work. (I transferred locations recently due to a store closure--I will get around to blogging about that, I promise!)

This photo is why you see that little note inside a mass-market paperback that says, "If you purchased this book without a cover, it has been reported as unsold to the publisher and neither the publisher or the author have received money for it." Mass-markets have a cost of goods of cents per copy, and it is more money-intensive to return the whole book than it is worth. When you return a mass-market, you "strip" its cover, and only the cover is sent back to the publishing company, because it is light, and cheap. The actual books themselves go to the recycling bin.

Don't ever pay money for a stripcover. Anyone who has one and is selling it is criminally infringing on the ability of the author to earn money from her work. These are unsold books—not used books, not special books. Unsold. They are supposed to be destroyed.

And now you know why my blog is called "From Prose to Pulp."

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Blog Rec: Susan Kaye Quinn

I'm a big fan of the book industry, from top to bottom, with all its gnarly parts and all its pretty parts, and I always welcome wonderful reads on every aspect of it. And even though I'm still planning fully to pursue trade publishing for a lot of reasons (one of the biggies being my genre--while YA fantasy is huge in the self-pub sphere, YA and adult contemporary are kind of, well, not), I love, love, love to read smart discussions of current trends in self-publishing, especially self-e-publishing.

I've been following author Susan Kaye Quinn's progress for a while. She recently released a new YA dystopian title, Open Minds (#1 in the Mindjack triology), and she's a fantastic writer to follow when it comes to audience building. She's got two great posts up on self-publishing this past week: Seven Questions to Ask [Yourself] Before you Self-Publish, and How Many Book Sales Equals "Success" (The latter has inspired me to write my own post on number-crunching and trade publishing. Watch this space.) I find the takehome messages of both enlightening (I particularly think everyone needs to read "Seven Questions"), and if you're a fan of smart writing on the land of self-publishing, you should take a look.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The One Rule to Rule them All

I don't usually blog on the submission process. I don't think it's a terribly effective use of space. But I was reading a blog of a soon to be self-publishing author, and in it I saw something I see a lot--on author blogs, on Absolute Write, on twitter, etc. And that is the idea that agents, editors, the publishing industry as a whole are in the business of making rules and hoops and hurdles for authors to jump through in order to get their books published. 

And I can understand where it comes from, to a degree. Yes, agents have ideas about how to pitch things. And they have ideas about what is popular. And they have ideas about what sounds like good writing. And for heaven's sake, yes,  put two agents in a room together and they may disagree on all but one thing that they both prefer to see. (Want evidence of that, mosey on over to WriteOnCon and visit the live chat transcripts from this last year's conference.) But all those things they say work? They're things they've seen work.  When you view 100 queries a day—and I can't fathom that, the most I ever saw as the slushpile reader was ten!—you have a sense of what is going to make an individual query stand out in those 100. They aren't "rules." As someone who sat on first one side of the desk and is now sitting in a tiny kid's chair on the other, as near as I can tell, there is only one rule:

Write an awesome and marketable book.

Take the time to pitch it well.

And then, be ready to keep pitching, and to keep revising, and to keep working.

That's all. Yeah, you can get caught up in write the query this way, write the query that way, don't use a penname, do use a penname, don't ever send an email with an attachment, don't double-space in an e-mail, do double space in an email, yadda yadda. But in the end, I've found that it's more about just using common sense, and being professional, and first and foremost, having a good book.

Of course, I'm not agented yet, so, take that with the requisite canister of salt. But in the meantime, I'm holding fast to a great piece of advice I stumbled across just as I was starting on this whole adventure (and I wish I could remember the source, but I don't--if someone knows, please help!):

There's a term for writers who don't give up: Published.

Friday, February 03, 2012

In Brief: I'm Judging By a Cover!

From the perspective of a bookseller with a scan gun, this is quite possibly the best spine design ever invented. (sorry for the darkness...on a bottom shelf and wanted to get it in its "habitat")

And it's a National Book Award finalist, too. Who said great design and great writing don't go together?

I am judging this book by its cover and it gets two thumbs up.

Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski at:


Wednesday, February 01, 2012

How Dare There Be a Bottom Line!

I've been lurking in, and participating in, several discussions of late on the self-publishing, e-publishing, commercial publishing debate (and I'm not going to put "versus" in there, because I really feel that all these things are important and no one is actually diametrically opposed to any of the others). One thing I keep see being brought up is the scare that "commercial publishers just publish what they can sell!" They aren't worried about quality, just look at some of the typos or the horrific writing of [Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, John Grisham, pick your poison of the day].

And here's the thing. That is absolutely true. Publishers want stuff they can sell. Why? Because when it's your book they're trying to sell, they're going to put a lot of money into it, and do their darndest to make sure it makes them (and you) money.

Here's a short story. My first two years out of college, I worked for a small publisher who shall remain nameless (mainly because I'm about to talk about acquisitions). Most of the staff were involved in acquisitions: the editors, the publisher, the marketing and sales staff, and me, the office manager and profit-and-loss statement generator.

There was a day when a book came to us. It had been previously self-published (no, self-publishing has never been the end of the road for any good book), the author had gained a good following for it, she had a niche, she had a blog with lots of followers—and this was almost ten years ago when almost no one was on blogs—the book itself was funny, fresh, and interesting. She sent two copies of the book for our consideration, and we shared it around the lunch table. And then we got to the acquisitions meeting.

Do we love this book? we asked ourselves.

We love this book, we agreed.

Is it a good book?

It's a great book. It's funny; it approaches its topic in a way no other book does; it's appealing.

Does the author have a platform?

A super platform.

And then came the moment of truth.

Are we going to be able to sell this book?

We looked at the P&L. It was in the black, provided we made some changes to the book itself--took away the fun four-color process in favor of maybe a single signature of four-color photos. The book was a outside our usual genres--in fact, we didn't have anything else like it on our list for the next eighteen months. Would the sales staff at our distributors be able to make the kind of sell-in that would justify the numbers on the P&L? Or were we overestimating, since they'd never seen a book like that from us before?

We talked, and talked. And crunched numbers, and crunched them again. And it all led to one conclusion--as much as we loved the book, and as good as we thought it was going to be--our house was not the right house. Given the other things we published, given the funds we had available to us to print, given the kinds of sell-in we could expect, we were simply not the right place for it.

It was not a judgment on the book. We loved the book. It was not a personal judgment on the author. We thought she was doing a stellar job.

It was because we couldn't make the bottom line work. And that, ultimately, would've meant that book wouldn't do as well as it would with another house.

The end of the story? We rejected, the book was eventually picked up by an imprint of S&S (I found this out four years later when I was no longer working in publishing), and near as I can tell on Amazon, it is still backlisting well six years later.

If we'd published it? It would be out of print.

That publishers are in the game to make money isn't about some dirty thing designed to be exclusionary. A lot of times, it's about what's in the best interest of the book.
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