Sadly, this isn’t a real campaign to promote reading, but maybe it should be!
I almost hesitate to post this, but it’s both instructive and amusing — in a black comedy sort of way — so I will. Another book blogger with whom I’m not familiar (a guy who goes by the nom de plume of Big Al) posted a review of a self-published eBook, The Greek Seaman by Jacqueline Howett. So far, so good. The reviewer described the book’s story as “compelling and interesting,” but ultimately gave the work two stars out of five. On his scale of reviews, he defines a two-star work as “A poor book. Serious flaws, but not without some positive qualities.” Why did he do this? Well, Big Al found the book’s spelling and grammar as being so atrocious that it frequently jarred him out of the story and seriously disrupted what should have been an enjoyable read. OK, that sounds reasonable. I haven’t read the book in question, but if it was that bad, I can see where he’s coming from. I rarely mention spelling and grammar errors in my reviews unless they’re really bad (which I rarely encounter) or if they’re amusing in some way.
But here’s why this episode is of note: the author then started responding on the reviewer’s blog in an extremely offensive manner, making numerous personal attacks against the reviewer. She was then soundly criticized by blog readers for behaving unprofessionally and the like. She kept responding, etc. It got pretty nasty and was a slow-motion train wreck. She and other authors — these mainly seem to be “amateur” self-published authors — have demanded that Big Al take down negative reviews of their books, a common occurrence I’ve heard about from other reviewers.
Let me just clarify my own policy here: I rarely write negative reviews because I tend not to read books I don’t think I’ll enjoy, and I am a fairly choosy reader. If I’m in doubt about a book’s quality, I tend not to read it. But sometimes I’m surprised by how bad a particular book turns out to be, and sometimes I review those books, as a service to other readers if nothing else. It’s rare, but it does happen. I actually have a semi-negative review coming up in the next couple weeks. There are parts of the book I liked and parts I didn’t. Overall, I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I thought I would or wanted to. But I would also never remove a negative review of a book. Quite the opposite. If an author demanded I take down a review, I’d call the author on these shenanigans and bring others’ attention to this bad behavior.
I’ve only once had a slightly negative exchange over a review with an author (I gave his book four stars out of five but criticized him on some factual errors in a particular area in which I had some professional expertise and he got a little miffed with me). It happens. My advice to authors (and this should go without saying): if you get a bad review, ignore it! It’s just a book review, for goodness’ sake! But if you must respond to a negative review, simply thank the reviewer for taking the time to read your work, acknowledge — to the extent you can — their criticisms, invite them to check out your next book, wish them well, and go on with your life. Trust me, your professional behavior will do more to win you new readers than any scathing retorts you might be tempted to make. This Howett example has clearly cost the author dearly — who in their right mind would now read one of her books once they’ve witnessed her atrocious behavior? She now needs to use a pseudonym.
I, for one, welcome negative reviews of books, whether or not I agree with them. When I’m considering picking up a book, I’ll frequently go to Amazon and start reading the one-, two-, and three-star reviews. That usually rapidly tells me if the problems those reviewers had with the book will be ones I’m likely to share. Often I can tell that the things that bothered other people will not be things that would annoy me. In any case, all reviews — good, bad, and indifferent – are useful. Reading is, and should be, a communal activity. Booklovers of all stripes need to share information about the things they read. We’re all richer for that information sharing.
Why didn’t someone tell me I needed to read this one sooner? I know I’m late to this party, but I’ve only recently read Inkheart, but I enjoyed it immensely. Sure, I had heard of it when it first came out, and what I heard sounded interested, but I never took the time to pick up a copy. That was an error.
A bookish young girl, Meggie, lives with her bookbinder father, Mo, and is plunged into a series of adventures when her father’s past catches up with them. Mo, you see, has an unusual talent: he can “read” characters out of books into our world, though he can’t quite control his ability. Years ago, he accidentally read several characters from a fantasy novel (the eponymous Inkheart) into our world and they want to have access to Mo’s talents. Unfortunately for Meggie and Mo, several are real villains who will stop at nothing to force Mo to do their bidding. The father-daughter team are helped along by a crabby aunt – who has an amazing home and book collection – and a trickster-esque figure of uncertain loyalties called Dustfinger. This is nominally a young adult novel, though it’s fairly grim (though not gory or graphic) at times, and I think that adults will enjoy it as well. Bibliophiles of all ages will enjoy the loving way that books and libraries are presented – the protagonists’ books are important characters in their own right, and their lavish descriptions will delight.
Presumably at some point in the sequels, we will actually venture into the fantasy world of Inkheart. I kept expecting that it would happen in this book, and to be honest, it’s a little disappointing that it didn’t. This brings me to one of what I consider one of the failings of the book: it’s just not “fantastic” enough. We have all the set-up we need: people with the magical ability to transfer people and things from a fantasy setting depicted in a book into the Real World. But the people brought through into our world reveal no magical powers of their own (why not, for example, have Dustfinger be a minor magician who can actually manipulate fire?), and until the finale of the book, the only “magical” creature we see is a marten with tiny horns. That’s a little weak, I think.
I give this book 4 stars out of 5, and look forward to reading the next sequel. I think it has some missed opportunities. I’d have liked to see Funke dial up the fantastic elements and increase the amount of action, frankly, and I think that had she done so, this one could have been a bigger blockbuster. But it’s a fun book, and one that should appeal to adult readers as well as bookish young adults.
Review copyright 2011 J. Andrew Byers
I don’t read a lot of webcomics, and don’t follow any of them frequently, but there’s one that I do periodically revisit: Wondermark. I recommend it highly.
In keeping with the theme of my blog — all things book-related — I’ll occasionally post a funny book-related Wondermark comic. As a writer, here’s one that’s near and dear to my heart.
I am a bibliomane. There. I said it.
I’ve known I was a “bookoholic” for a long time. Many bibliophiles suffer from this condition (a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder) to one degree or another. Symptoms of bibliomania include collecting books which have no value to the collector, purchasing multiple copies of the same book and edition, and the accumulation of books beyond possible capacity of use or enjoyment. I am able to justify at least some inherent “value” to almost every book in my collection, though I am certainly guilty of buying multiple copies of the same book (and even edition in a few cases), and I have undoubtedly accumulated far more books than I am ever likely to be able to read or re-read (about half my total library falls into this category).
In a recent piece called “Confessions of a Book Hoarder,” the author complains that he thinks that he and his girlfriend have about 1,000 books in their residence. Ha! I have almost 5,000 books, and my wife probably has close to 1,000 of her own.
For further reading on the subject of bibliomania, I highly recommend Nicholas A. Basbanes’ A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books, and of course everything else that Basbanes has written as well (if you don’t know his work, be sure to pick this one up). Biblioholism: The Literary Addiction by Tom Raabe is a short, quick, fun read that also talks about bibliomania. I haven’t read Holbrook Jackson’s The Anatomy of Bibliomania or Thomas Frognall Dibdin’s Bibliomania: Or Book Madness (the latter was written in 1811 and is in the public domain), but both also cover the subject.
In a follow-up to my last post containing some thoughts on eBooks, I’d like to discuss two additional recent articles I’ve come across relevant to the topic.
The first is a blog post by Lee Goldberg that asks the question “But what about the content?” In many discussions by eBook proponents we hear a lot about how self-publishing via eBook can be both personally liberating and financially rewarding, but we don’t hear enough folks concentrating on the content of eBooks so much as marketing them. That’s a fair criticism, but I think that the need to write a good book that can be marketed and sold as an eBook almost goes without saying. I haven’t heard anyone suggest that a crappy book will make the author a mint, if only it were packaged and sold as an eBook. Goldberg’s concern that precipitated his post is a very real one though, and one worth thinking about.
Last post, I talked a little about the “Gatekeeper” function that traditional publishers serve (for good and for ill), and I see this Gatekeeper function being taken over by the community of readers for eBooks. That has the potential to “democratize” the entire industry, and that’s probably a good thing. I like that basically by cutting out the traditional publishers and retail outlets, who each get a cut of the revenue as middle men, authors make more money and readers pay less. They buy eBooks, review them — and this is critical — thereby telling other readers what they liked and what they didn’t like. Good eBooks will garner good reviews and those will precipitate more sales. The cream will rise to the top. The opposite will happen to crappy books. That’s pretty cool, assuming it works. I don’t see why it won’t, but it is predicated on prospective readers seeking out multiple book reviews of eBooks they’re interested in, and it’s obviously dependent on other readers to honestly and diligently post reviews (on Amazon, blogs like this one, etc.) I think that there may be a coming author/eBook glut, and I think we’re currently in a kind of “Wild West” / “Gold Rush” period where a bunch of authors can make a killing on eBooks if they are savvy marketers. Sure, many of them may be producing crap, but it’s relatively easy to ferret that out, and I think the market will take of that problem for the most part (eventually).
Amanda Hocking — essentially the most successful self-published eBook author of all time — has, interestingly, just landed a $2 million advance for four books that will be traditionally published. The last line of that article sums up why she went this route: “I want to be a writer,” she said. “I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling e-mails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full-time corporation.” I think her traditional publisher will provide her with some very valuable editing functions and will help her get her name out there into bookstores. Not everyone lives online, and not everyone wants to buy eBooks. I have no doubt that this move will also, ultimately, increase her eBook sales of her other titles that won’t be sold by the new publisher. It’s a win-win. But she only got this deal, keep in mind, because she went the eBook route in the first place. And she can always end the arrangement down the road if it doesn’t work out. Good for her.
When you get the chance, take a look at J. A. Konrath’s blog about self-publishing via eBooks (there’s a *lot* there, so you may have to cruise around a bit).
I’m not 100% sold on the idea — as I’ve previously noted, I don’t have an eReader and could never see myself forsaking actual, physical books, at least entirely — but Konrath (along with his guest bloggers, including Barry Eisler, who just turned down a two-book $500k advance because he knows he can do better self-publishing via eBooks) has single-handedly convinced me that eBooks probably are the wave of the future when i comes to most mass market books. This type of publishing certainly appears to offer a viable way out of the trap of going the traditional route: find a good agent willing to work to sell the first book of an unknown author; find a publisher; sell the book through traditional channels at moribund brick-and-mortar bookstores.
As a follow-up to Konrath’s blog, allow me to present Exhibit B: Amanda Hocking.
Amanda Hocking is the #1 best-selling author on Kindle, making 100k+ sales every month — and keep in mind: each of her books sells for $2.99 and she makes 70% of that. That works out to a minimum of $200k/month, plus she sells a lot of books via B&N’s site, Smashwords, and she sells stuff via print-on-demand hardcopies. $400k/month is probably a conservative estimate. And you won’t see any of her stuff in bookstores, and you and I have probably never heard of her. Take a look at that list of best-selling Kindle authors. How many of those had you ever heard of? I had heard of exactly two of them, and I haven’t actually read anything by either of those two.
Here are my take-aways (and I’d be very curious to hear others’ views):
No one (I think) is arguing that traditional publishers don’t provide value-added for both readers and authors. They serve as The Gatekeeper for the industry, and so select only the “best” books to publish (which turns out to be the “best-selling,” not the “best content”). But theoretically, they weed out all of the poorly-written books. As we know, that doesn’t happen in practice always, but they do weed out some of the worst crap so we don’t have to. They also provide valuable editorial directions. We all know those authors (ahem, Stephen King and Tom Clancy leap to mind) who are “too big” to edit.
The downside to all this is that traditional publishers serve as The Gatekeeper for the industry. They select which authors can publish and what they can publish. Readers have no idea what they are missing out on because many authors are not allowed to publish. Many authors simply are not allowed to publish via traditional means and therefore have had no way to reach readers (and no way to earn enough money to be a full-time writer), at least until the rise of eBooks. eBooks provide an entirely new paradigm that has the potential to overturn the existing system.
Amanda Hocking may be a great writer. She may be a remarkably poor one, who is merely prolific and has a good sense about eMarketing. I have no idea — she doesn’t appear to write things I’d care for, so I’m unlikely to ever read any of her stuff. Who knows, maybe all of her 100k readers buy one of her books then hate her work (though something tells me that’s not the case, since this system is somewhat self-regulating in that readers are free to write reviews on Amazon and elsewhere and if all her readers were dissatisfied, she’d stop making so many sales). The moral of the story may simply be that if you write popular, throwaway novels that tap into the zeitgeist (the public’s love affair with paranormal romance novels in Hocking’s case), price them cheaply, and do a little eMarketing, you can reach a metric buttload of readers and, oh by the way, make a ton of money. In Hocking’s and J.A. Konrath’s cases, they have literally priced themselves out of the traditional publishing industry: no traditional publisher can offer them more money than they can make selling their stuff online by themselves.
Just received one of Wildside’s occasional newsletters which included both a list of some of their new stuff (I see that Robert Reginald and the other Wildside folks have been extremely busy) and a coupon code.
Some of the new releases that looked most exciting to me personally (there were many more) included:
Ten Little Wizards: A Lord Darcy Novel, by Michael Kurland
Sands of Destiny, by E.C. Tubb (a French Foreign Legion adventure!)
Allan Quatermain at the Crucible of Life, by Thos. Kent Miller
Charlie Chan Carries On: The Screenplay for the Lost Charlie Chan Film, by Earl Derr Biggers, Barry Connors and Philip Klein
A bunch by Brian Stableford
SEQUELS TO H.G. WELLS’ THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (I previously reviewed these three)
Invasion! Earth vs. the Aliens: War of Two Worlds, Book One, by Robert Reginald
Operation Crimson Storm: War of Two Worlds, Book Two, by Robert Reginald
The Martians Strike Back! War of Two Worlds, Book Three, by Robert Reginald
Wildside Double #16: Do the Weird Crime, Serve the Weird Time: Tales of the Bizarre, by Don Webb / Gargoyle Nights: A Collection of Horror, by Gary Lovisi
Wildside Mystery Double #4: Devil’s Plague: A Mystery Novel, by Michael R. Collings / Driving Hell’s Highway: A Crime Novel, by Gary Lovisi
Wildside Mystery Double #5: Murder of a Bookman: A Bentley Hollow Collectibles Mystery Novel, by Gary Lovisi / The Paperback Show Murders, by Robert Reginald
THE SIME~GEN SERIES
The first 6 volumes of the Sime~Gen series, by Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Jean Lorrah
Use coupon code GOWILDSIDE to save 15% on your order of $20 or more. Offer expires 4/15/2011. Valid on all of Wildside’s stuff (books, magazines, eBooks).
In addition to the 200 or so stores Borders announced a while back that they were closing, they’ve just announced that they’re closing an additional 27 stores (one more store was saved at the last second by concessions from the store’s landlord). Additionally, Borders is now again receiving delivery of new stock from at least some of its vendors, but it now has to pay for them cash-on-delivery (COD). How many Borders stores will be left by the end of the year?
My wife and I hit the local doomed Borders this weekend, and while their stock is fairly well picked-over, they’re still only offering most books for 30% off. When you factor in our local usurious sales tax (nearly 7%), they still can’t compete with Amazon. Admittedly, the remaining mainstream fiction, romance novels, and biographies are at 40% off already. When they hit 50% off, I’ll head back there and scavenge a few things.
I don’t read a lot of webcomics, and don’t follow any of them frequently, but there’s one that I do periodically revisit: Wondermark. I recommend it highly.
In keeping with the theme of my blog — all things book-related — I’ll occasionally post a funny book-related Wondermark comic. Here’s one about a kind of book that, sadly, actually exists.