Thursday, September 27, 2012

Strict Pick: THE CASUAL VACANCY, by J.K. Rowling

I said that last week and this week's Strict Picks would be "If you happen to be living under a rock" kinds of recommendations. Although, as I was tweeting about this, I discovered that one of my writing friends apparently does live under a rock and, despite the biggest media push aside from the book I'm calling 50 Bit Grayscale, did not know that Rowling had a new book coming out.

So...

Rowling has a new book coming out today. And I'm thrilled.

Here's the summary from the publisher: 

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.
Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty fa├žade is a town at war.
Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils...Pagford is not what it first seems.
And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?
The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.

This is not HARRY POTTER. 

And yet I'm so excited to read it I may have camped in the receiving department until someone opened a box so I could read the first chapter. 

Which begs the question: what makes me so confident in an author to follow her into a completely different genre of books? Harry Potter was middle grade fantasy, this is adult literary. No matter how much I love Harry Potter, there is no doubt that TCV is going to be a complete 180. So why get so excited? 


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Series I Haven't Finished

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish that combines lists and books.  This weeks topic is...Top Ten Series I Haven't Finished. 

This bloghop was brought to my attention by Rachel over at Rachel Writes Things. Yay, I've found a new hop! 

First off, let me confess: I don't have 10. I am a sucker for finishing series, and buying them all so they look pretty on my shelf. I am that guy. On the other hand, I am totally that guy (gal) whom you want to read the first book in your series, because I'll totally read the rest of them. Especially if you have pretty covers. 

But here are the ones I haven't gotten through. You'll notice many are in the same genre...as it turns out, epic fantasy? Not my thing. 

J.R.R. Tolkien, THE LORD OF THE RINGS. I am bored of the rings. I have tried to read LOTR at least five times, first in high school, then before the Jackson films came out, then when the Jackson films were finished (because I loved the Jackson films), then when I had to teach LOTR:FOTR in the reading classes I taught, then when I was on a cruise and thought I'd have enough time to finish them (I packed them to go on a cruise! Why did I do that? There's THREE--I read SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafon instead).  I realize it's darn-near book sacriliege to have never finished LOTR, but there you are.

Christopher Paolini, THE INHERITANCE CYCLE. Now, I loved ERAGON. LOVED it. Loved it so much I went out and bought ELDEST at the 24-hour grocery at 11 PM one night so I could keep going. Loved it so much that I asked for a hardcover of ERAGON for Christmas that year so I'd have a matching set. And then? I got about four chapters into ELDEST, laid it down one evening, and never picked it back up. Now I don't remember who the characters are any more, and I have no desire to go on. 

Ally Condie, MATCHED series. I thought MATCHED was pretty catchy. But I didn't buy the love triangle at all, and I didn't care about...gosh I don't even remember his name. Kyle? I feel like it was more future-y than that. So when it split into a dual-POV in CROSSED I was pretty much done. I didn't care enough about half the cast to want to read his POV. 

Rick Riordan, PERCY JACKSON series. These just didn't cross over well enough for me. Unlike Harry Potter or some other middle grade series I've read, I felt like I was reading middle grade. There's nothing wrong with a book that's correctly written for its audience, and I can see why 8-12 year-old boys love PERCY. But he didn't hold much appeal for me. 

Two that I've started but haven't even made it through the first book: DIVERGENT series by Veronica Roth and GAME OF THRONES/SONG OF ICE AND FIRE by George R. R. Martin. The Roth series I dropped because as I read it, I was thinking, "This book opens perfectly, is paced perfectly, and is otherwise exactly what this genre should be." That was when I realized I was just exhausted from reading too much YA dystopian. Even though I knew it seemed like a good book, I was just bored. The Martin books have too many characters for me to handle at this time. My friends have told me to watch the TV series first, to have faces to put with the names, but I just don't have the time to do that right now. Maybe later.

And last, THE GIVER quartet by Lois Lowry. Why haven't I finished that, even though I love that series to pieces? Because she just added another book! Squee! And thanks to the National Book Festival, I have a copy of it even though it isn't out for another week! Stay tuned--it'll be my Strict Pick for October 2.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Strict Pick: WINTER OF THE WORLD, by Ken Follett

The next two Tuesdays, I'll have Strict Picks that are less, "Here's a cool book coming out," and more, "If you haven't heard this is coming out this week, you may need to see if you've been under a rock." But that's okay. I'm insanely excited about both books, so I'm going to take a minute to indulge in exploring why.

It's a worthy question. What makes an author, or a series, worth essentially camping out for?

With Ken Follett, it is absolutely his ability to throw you into the world of his characters. I once was critiquing a query on Absolute Write for a historical fiction, and my comment was to compare the book to FALL OF GIANTS, which I was reading at the time. My note was, "Your query is all about the history. We know the history. I'm not reading FALL to find out how World War I ended. I know the Allies won, the League of Nations was formed, etc. etc. What I don't know is, did Maud and Walter get together? Did Billy Williams come home from the trenches? Did Ethel settle for something less than pure passion? Did Grigori ever find Lev?"

Those are the questions history can't create...but that Ken Follett can.

I remember when someone loaned me PILLARS OF THE EARTH. For the life of me, I don't remember what on earth they said when they loaned it, but I read it. And I was hooked. Yet every time I turned a page, I found myself going, "How on earth is it possible that I am this engrossed in a novel about building a cathedral?"

Follett is a master at creating characters who make you want to follow their stories. I admit fully that I haven't finished FALL OF GIANTS yet (I've been having format problems--do I want it in e-book? It's expensive in e-book, and for that price, I'd kind of rather have it on my shelf. But I don't like mass markets, which is the only inexpensive option. And the hardcover is HUGE. Plus there are two more in the series, and I'll have to wait awhile to get matching books if I don't get hardcovers... So I've been borrowing the ebook from the library and have to go to the end of the line each time I return it). But the fact is, each time I pick it up, I am excited to be thrown right back into the midst of the characters I care so deeply about. His characters grow and change, they have faults that you can see, you can predict where they're going to stumble, but also cheer them on when they don't.

And no matter how many times I pick up a Follett book, I don't lose track of the people in it.

To me, that is a sign of a fantastic book. Where each page takes you further on the journey of each character, and where you find yourself, in the absence of the story, wondering what happens to them while you're not reading. When you reach the end of a book and think, "Hmmm. I wonder how these families go on?"

And the beauty of Follett's Century Trilogy is that these questions are going to be answered.

So because he's made me want to stay on the ride for two more books, no matter how thick, today's Strict Pick is Ken Follett's WINTER OF THE WORLD, book two of The Century Trilogy.  I won't reach it for a little while yet--I finally got FALL OF GIANTS back from the library and am tearing through it, but I'll certainly post a review when I do.

Stay tuned for next week, when I'll speculate on why I'm chomping at the bit to buy a book that crosses genres and audiences from anything I've ever known a particular author to write, with J. K. Rowling's THE CASUAL VACANCY.

Winter of the World at Indiebound
Winter of the World at B&N
Winter of the World at Amazon

Monday, September 17, 2012

Why Brick and Mortar Costs More



Back to school is always a bit of a nutty time to work in a bookstore. One, you have all the students who "forgot" to do their summer reading, who suddenly need a book right this minute (and who for some reason have missed that as being a benefit of owning an e-reader). Two, you have the students who have just gotten syllabi, whether for high school or college, who need a very specific edition of a particular book, which, because their teachers often haven't updated said syllabi in years, is often out of print. And three, you have the people who've never realized that your run-of-the-mill Barnes & Noble doesn't carry specialized textbooks like the one you need for Organic Chemistry 210.

The thing is, most booksellers in this situation, whether B&N, Books-a-Million, or indie, will do their level best to sell that customer a book. They'll offer different editions; they'll track down the book with used retailers, they'll spend hours of their time unraveling exactly which edition of the book the teacher intended for the student to have.

All of this time costs money.

Last Thursday, I helped a mom who had an ISBN written down from her daughter. Now, an ISBN is usually faboo--it's the easiest way to make sure we are getting the exact book that the student was assigned. But neither my manager nor I could find this ISBN. Not in the store, not in Google, not anywhere. (Mind you, this was a 10-digit ISBN, so it was years out of date.) So we started searching for the prefix in the Bowker database, to see if we could figure out who the publisher was. No such luck.

I finally just decided to throw a wild guess, since I knew Penguin had a series with a similar name (which is the kind of jump a live person can make that no computer can), and searched for the book with Penguin as the publisher. Boom. Found it. The daughter had written the ISBN incorrectly. But we didn't have a copy in the store.

I offered to order a copy for the student; we could bring it into the store, or she could have it shipped directly for even less (the price differential between the warehouse and in-store pricing often works this way). The mom, after having been helped by two booksellers for over half an hour, whipped out her iPhone, checked the price on Amazon, and said, "Well, I can get it overnight shipped for $3.99. I'm sorry. She does need it right away."

Click. Sale.

Honestly, at the time, I didn't know what to say. But next time, I won't be so tongue tied. Because as I did the math, I realized that that half-hour of mine and my manager's time cost the company around $20 in salary. So a single customer directly cost our store $20, and made no purchase. Yes, in the grand scheme of things, it's not much, compared to the thousands of dollars we sell in an hour. But that $20 has to be absorbed somewhere...

...which is something to think about the next time you see someone mutter, "I'll order it on Amazon," after a bookseller has helped them locate their book.

Photo courtesy of ImaginaryGirl via flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Friday, September 07, 2012

No Takebacks!

I bought a book last night at work. And I bought it in hardcover instead of for my nook. Why? Because I think it may disappear and I don't want it taken away.

NO EASY DAY by Mark Owen [Matt Bissonette] was supposedly vetted carefully by a special ops attorney before its publication this week. However, the Pentagon has serious concerns, and feel that the book releases classified information that affects the US national security.

It's entirely probable that the book will be recalled.

This isn't anything new. Two years ago, OPERATION DARK HEART, by Lt. Colonel Anthony Shaffer (ret.) was removed from shelves, purchased by the Department of Defense, and redacted of what DoD officials in several branches felt was classified information (though some news outlets questioned whether what was redacted ultimately posed much risk at all). It was returned from all the bookstores and distributors, and the publisher put out a redacted version, with all the black line redactions on the page.

Given that the DoD is concerned about the content of this book*, I believe that another recall is likely. So I purchased the book, knowing I was off work tomorrow and that the book may well be gone by the time I get to work on Saturday—either sold out, recalled, or both.

But here's the interesting part: I knew I needed to buy a paper copy. 

Since I own two e-reading devices, it briefly crossed my mind that perhaps I ought to look into buying an electronic copy.  But in 2009, in what had to be the most ironic move the company has ever made, Amazon deleted copies of Orwell's 1984 and ANIMAL FARM from readers' Kindle devices.

Readers were outraged, even though they were told that they removal was because their edition was plagiarized, and though they received refunds for the books.  Regardless of reason, the removal proved the additional power granted to the distributor of an e-reading device; unlike print, they can force an end-user return, even if the terms of service indicate otherwise. In print, there is no such ability; a publisher has no ability to break into your home to take your book away, nor can they require you to return it to the bookstore.

So this is still one major hurdle that e-reading needs to contend with. It is entirely possible for Amazon, B&N, Sony, Apple, or any of the content providers to yank all copies of a book which have been downloaded by their users. So far, this hasn't been used in a recall, for instance when Jonah Leherer's IMAGINE was pulled from shelves a few months ago for his own plagiarism, but the ability exists, and who's to say that a few years down the line, when e-readers are even more ubiquitous than they already are, that the idea that an ebook could be taken back becomes even more palatable?

Whether or not NO EASY DAY is pulled is yet to be seen, though I believe we'll have an answer presently. But what will be interesting is what, if anything, the e-tailers do with the electronic copies. Will they yank them and refund customers? Will they offer no time-limit, no-questions-asked refunds, as they did with Leherer?

And perhaps the more interesting question: should an e-tailer's ability to do a mass removal of an  e-book title ever be invoked?

For me, I'm not going to experiment. I bought a paper copy, and I'm calling "no takebacks."





*I do not in any way mean to downplay the DoD's concerns about the book's contents; I am not in the military and certainly not a Navy SEAL, and also have not yet read my copy of the book.  It is entirely probable that classified information has been divulged, and certainly clear that Bissonette violated the ethics of the SEAL community. I'm interested in this solely as it pertains to what I know, which is bookselling, publishing, and reading.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Why KDP Select doesn't give a true picture of B&N sales


*disclaimer Yes, I work for B&N in the evenings for extra cash. My opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my employer.

I've seen some posts across the blogosphere about Kindle Direct Publishing Select, the program through Kindle publishing which allows authors to have free days (usually next-to-impossible on Kindle unless you manage to get a free price price-matched) and allows books to be lendable to Prime members, etc. in exchange for the book being available exclusively to Amazon customers and their family of e-readers. I think it's innovative, and I've heard various comments on one of my main hangouts, Absolute Write, about its usefulness.

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on it, in any way, shape or form. I don't plan to self-publish and haven't learned much about the different options beyond my own sheer curiosity. If you're looking to find out about the ins and outs of KDP Select, you can do so on the KDP Forums, or (my preference) on a neutral site like Absolute Write or Backspace.

But I have seen one thing lately that has made me scratch my head.

As mentioned above, I work part-time at B&N. I find it a useful job for what I'm doing with my writing because it keeps me with one foot in the book industry, keeps me thinking about my own books professionally, and, most importantly, gives me access to lots and lots of free reading. Great job perk. So, of course, as a result, my e-readers are B&N e-readers. My comments, however, are as a nook owner, and not as a B&N employee (though part of the reason I am the former is because I am the latter).

I've noticed a trend lately that I find interesting, because I realize I contribute to it. KDP Select authors, who have tied their books exclusively to the Kindle platform for the first 90 days after release, finish with KDP Select and then are inveitably disappointed in their nook/Sony/Kobo numbers by comparison. Some use this as a reason to either keep their future books on KDP Select, or even to revert back to KDP Select with their existing title.

Part of this is simply market: Kindle dominates the e-reader market (and even the e-reader app market) and as such, the majority of buyers for any book will buy it on Kindle. But there's another factor at play in those lower non-Amazon numbers as well. Here's how this goes for me:

Scenario A:
1. A book I'd like is on KDP Select, which means I can't buy it for 90 days.
2. I might add it to my to-read list on Goodreads. But that's a long list, and there's no guarantee I'll remember to buy the book.
3. I remember to buy the book when it comes out on nook. Maybe. 80% of the time, I've totally forgotten about it, and/or am on to other things by the time it's available and am no longer interested.

Scenario B:
1. A book I'd like is on KDP Select, which means I can't buy it for 90 days.
2. I think I'd really like it, and well, hey, the author is doing KDP Select so she can offer it for free, right? I'm frugal after all. So I lurk on the author's blog to see when the free day will be, and I download it. I can only read it on my computer and my phone that way, but hey--it was free, so that's okay. I promise myself  I will pay for a copy when it's available for nook if I like it.
3. I have a free copy, and then when it's available for nook, I realize I didn't like it nearly enough to pay for a second copy. So I don't.

Scenario C: 
1. A book I'd like is available for nook the day it's released and/or is available for nook when I hear about it.
2. I buy it.

In the first two scenarios, I probably would've been a sale. But since I couldn't pay money for it, I didn't. And thus a surefire sale of the book turns into one B&N sale that doesn't come to fruition.

This is not to say that KDP Select is a mistake, by any means. As I said, I've seen many authors use it to great effect. But after 90 days, the non-Kindle market is substantially diminished anyway--either because they've forgotten about the book, or because they may have grabbed it for free. So when someone looks at their post-KDP Select numbers and says, "Gosh, it's just not worth it, only a handful of people bought," remember that a much larger handful might've bought it for their non-Kindle e-readers right away...

...it's just that now we've forgotten all about it. 

Image (c) seanbonner, via flickr,and made available under a Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 license

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