Thursday, December 29, 2011

How Far We've Come; How Little We've Changed


How Far We've Come

Just got back from B&N. A kind reader recommended I pick up copies of David Grossman's On Killing and On Combat to better understand the psyche of a warrior. Problem was, the e-book for On Killing was (IMHO) overpriced—and no e-book version of On Combat was even available.

To say that my experience at B&N was poor would be an understatement. I came to find a book, and I ended up struggling to find a bookstand. The changes to my local big-box-book retailer had been extensive. An enormous Nook station occupied the entire front of the store, a newly enlarged 'Hallmark store' was invading the space once dedicated to hardcover new releases, and row after row of children's toys cluttered the store's center.

I didn't even know where to go at first. The actual books now occupied the periphery, and they were both consistently out of order and in short supply. I searched the three similar sounding sections for On Killing before giving. I ended up in line at the help desk. There, the five of us standing there like grazing cattle waited fifteen minutes for assistance.

When the harried worker finally arrived, she told 2 out of the 3 people ahead of me that their books were not in stock.

One snidely replied, "But you've got Snooki," before storming out.



And they did. There were at least 20 hardcover copies of Nicole Polizzi's handiwork stacked in front of the Self-help Section.

I knew I was screwed before I spoke. The staffer had never heard of David Grossman or On Killing, the book was not in stock, and I was informed that I would have to wait a week for it to be delivered to the store. If I wanted sent to my home, I would have to pay an additional S&H fee.

I declined. Instead, I pulled out my phone, typed "on killing" into Google, and made a 1-Click purchase on Amazon. The whole process took ten seconds. The book will be at my home tomorrow, and the Amazon purchase price was $2 less than the B&N price pre-S&H.

Some context here. These are On Killing's stats on Amazon:

#2 in Books > Law > Criminal Law > Law Enforcement
#6 in Books > History > Military Science
#6 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Crime & Criminals  > Criminology

On Killing is commonly read by law enforcement personnel and was nominated for a Pulitzer. It is on the U.S. Marine Corps Commandant's required reading list. The B&N I visited was larger than a supermarket. The space reserved for Military History, Law Enforcement Lit, the Social Sciences was smaller than the parking spot for my car. Can this business model work? I have no friggin' idea—but I'd really like a place in town where I can buy some freakin' books.

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How Little We've Changed

The cover and the art above are from the December 5th 2011 issue of the New Yorker. Inside is a rather syrupy article by Adam Gopnik about fantasy books for young adults. If you can survive listening to over an hour of NPR, I'd recommend it.

Some highlights:

At Oxford in the nineteen-forties, Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was generally considered the most boring lecturer around, teaching the most boring subject known to man, Anglo-Saxon philology and literature, in the most boring way imaginable. “Incoherent and often inaudible” was Kingsley Amis’s verdict on his teacher
...
It is still one of the finest jests of the modern muses that this fogged-in English don was going home nights to work on perhaps the most popular adventure story ever written, thereby inventing one of the most successful commercial formulas that publishing possesses, and establishing the foundation of the modern fantasy industry. 
...
Modernist ambiguity, or realist emotional ambivalence, is unknown to Tolkien—the good people are very good, the bad people very bad, and though occasionally a character may be tossed between good and evil, like Gollum, it is self-interest, rather than conscience, that makes him tip back and forth. Betrayal and temptation happen; inner doubts do not. Gandalf and Aragorn never say, as even the most patriotic real-world general might, “I don’t know which side I should be on, or, indeed, if any side is worth taking.” Nor does any Mordor general stop to reflect, as even many German officers did, on the tension between duty and morality: there are no Hectors, bad guys we come to admire, or Agamemnons, good guys we come to deplore. (Comic-book moralities, despite their reputation, are craftier; the “X-Men” series is powerful partly because it’s clear that, if you and I were mutants, we would quite possibly side with the evil Magneto.)
...
What substitutes for psychology in Tolkien and his followers, and keeps the stories from seeming barrenly external, is what preceded psychology in epic literature: an overwhelming sense of history and, with it, a sense of loss. The constant evocation of lost or fading glory—Númenor has fallen, the elves are leaving Middle-earth—does the emotional work that mixed-up minds do in realist fiction. We know that Westernesse is lost even before we know what the hell Westernesse was, and our feeling for its loss lends dimension to those who have lost it. (There is also, in Tolkien, the complete elimination of lust as a normal motive in daily life. The wicked Wormtongue lusts for Éowyn at the court of Rohan, but this is thought to be very creepy.)

And this on Twilight:

What’s striking is how little escapism there is in these stories of vampires and werewolves. This is how the Bellas of the world actually experience their lives, torn between the cool, sensitive boy from the strange, affluent family and the dishy athletic boy from across the tracks. It’s “My So-Called Life,” with fangs and fur. The genius of the narrative lies in how neatly the familiar experiences are turned into occult ones; the Cullens, for instance, are very much like the non-vampire family in “Endless Love”; even the terrifying Volturi are the Italian family you go and stay with in Europe. The tedious normalcy of the “Twilight” books is what gives them their shiver; this is not so much the life that a teen-age girl would wish to have but the one that she already has, rearranged with heightened symbols. Your life could be like this; seen properly, from inside, it is like this.

The rest can be found here.

The article goes down better while sipping brandy and smoking a pipe.*

B.

*Do not smoke pipes. Pipes cause cancer. I will have to irradiate you. And only drink brandy in moderation. I don't want to have to pump your stomach too.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Konrath And Crouch Freebies!

The holidays have been good to Kindle authors. Very good. I'd like to thank everyone that forced their grandmother to download my novels. It's been an amazing ride.

In return, I wanted to point out a great deal. Fresh off the cusp of selling nearly ten thousand e-books in the past week, Joe Konrath (and his friend Blake Crouch) are offering up dozens of their Kindle novels as a way of saying thank you. Both of these guys are renowned bestselling thriller authors. There's some SF and contemporary fantasy mixed in there too. You've got 36 hours to snag their backlists for free.

The Joe Joe Konrath Collection (23 free titles)

  

The Black Crouch Collection (24 free titles)

  

Crouch's Run is not on sale, but you should buy that one because it is awesome.


Also, if you haven't done so, I'd recommend signing up for the Kindle Daily Deal. It's where Amazon announces which big name book they're marking down insanely each day. Today it's Barry Eisler's the Detachment for only 99 cents. Friending Amazon Kindle on Facebook will give you a similar heads-up.



Happy Holidays,

B.


Another freebie to add. Book 1 of Michael Hick's In Her Name Series went free for the day. Fantastic book. Just look at the reviews.






Saturday, December 17, 2011

Frida Fantastic on Ebook Hell


Here's the thing. I know that most of you only want to read some good books. You don't care much about how the sausage is made. You just want it to be free of typos. I understand that. Your lives are complicated enough. Kicking back with a cup of coffee and a novel is supposed to offer an escape from the chaos. It's supposed to be a bastion from the madness. But there is a running street battle going on behind your e-reader's screen, and everyone's involved, from e-retailing giant Amazon to niche e-distributor Smashwords, from bestselling authors like King to indie authors like me, from Big 6 publishing houses like Random House to the small independents Ridan. Even independent bookstores have joined the battle—and Congress is trying to 1984 us all.

Most of these battles are are fought by lawyers behind closed doors. Only the occasional fact or snippet of dialogue ever leaks out. But if you take the time to assemble them, they paint a moderately distressing portrait. So much so that I thought even readers might like to hear a bit about it...

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In the same unpleasant month that SOPA (the tiny little act that will allow the US Government to prevent you from visiting websites) was in committee and then abandoned by the committee and then double-secretly reopened for debate by said committee, Amazon unleashed a war of roses.

First, Amazon began to squeeze the Big-6 on their wholesale pricing. They want a bigger cut of the retail price, and they want a bigger say on how their content is presented.

Second, Amazon released a price checking app. This mobile device app allows consumers to enter brick and mortar stores, scan these stores' products, and instantly get better offers on the same products on Amazon. Not only that, but some are given Amazon store credit as a reward.

Finally, Amazon announced a new KDP Select program. KDP-S is a new contract for indie authors that offers some perks in return for the indie author pulling their books from competing online retailers' shelves. If I accepted their terms, you would not be able to get my book on your Nook. Heck, you would not be able to get an EPUP or PDF version of my novels at all. But I would get to exploit some of Amazon's incredible marketing muscle. I could expect better positioning for my books, the ability to 'rent' books to Amazon Prime customers, and the opportunity to set my books 'free' for 5 days out of 90. I turned it down, but the deal proved too tempting for many indie authors. Over 40K indie-titles went Select in the past week alone.


So how did the publishing industry respond?

Let's just say that the members of the book industry are not known for calm and poise. The backlash against Amazon was quick and furious. The Big-6 began a passive aggressive campaign that involved having their writers spread the word that Amazon is actually means Satan in Gaelic. (For instance, the NYTimes published an Op-ed by Richard Russo lambasting Amazon's price-checker ap.) Competing retailers screamed anti-competitive practices. Mark Coker, head of Smashwords, alleged Amazon was attempting to clear competitors' shelves of Ebooks. Ron Charles argued in a Wash Post editorial that Amazon was bribing it's own customers to gain an advantage (an odd concept, no?). And, of course, the American Booksellers Association announced that, as usual, Amazon was playin' dirty, and remained the spawn of the Great Unholy.

But she's clearly going for the ball!
And that's not even referencing the cluster-F that was raging on KindleBoards. Over in the Writer's Cafe we authors reinacted this scene for our fans:


Then, when the self-inflicted head wounds had just about ceased oozing, Farhad Manjoo of Slate preformed one of his famous rabble-rousing cannonballs. In 'Don't Support Your Local Bookseller", Farhad argued that independent bookstores are unnecessary vestiges of a paper book past, that they harm the environment, that they are inefficient, and that they are full of pretentious scum undeserving of your nickels. The 1.5K comments on that piece indicate that the shit, as it were, had entered an apparatus with spinning rotors.

Amazon's response to the storm and furor was priceless. Famous for never revealing sales numbers, they announced they are selling about one million Kindle e-readers every week.

My E-ink brings
all the readers to the yard
I have no clear moral opinion on all of this. I turned down the KDP Select contract because I didn't like the terms, not because I was fighting against the man, man. IMHO, this is a battle between a number of big boys who already have plenty of toys. And I'm not Luke Skywalker. I'm just a humble Nerf herder. But Frida Fantastic did a great job expressing some of my long-term worries for readers and writers over on Adarna SF.

KDP Select and a Not-So-Speculative Jaunt into Ebook Hell

I love the ebook revolution. It’s fantastic that it’s easier for authors to be read more than ever before, and I heartily endorse ebook adoption across the world. My dream is that we will have a truly global reading and publishing culture, where stories will be read because there are readers for them, not because of the arbitrary decisions made by a small bunch of Americans in New York.


While this revolution can march into a better world, it can also descend into ebook hell.


This is my personal vision of hell:
  • ebooks are only available in .azw and they’re DRMed
  • Amazon is the only company that sells books in the world
  • the retailer takes at least 70% of the cut
  • all your ebooks only exist in the retailer’s servers (in the cloud), because you can’t back them up to your hard drive due to DRM
  • the retailer can continue to pull books from its digital shelves without elaborating on how the book had violated its terms of conditions or responding to its customers, because it has an unexplainable beef against gay characters in fiction (because hetero smut is okay, but somehow LGBT smut isn’t)
  • readers in “international” countries must continue paying an arbitrary surcharge
  • there are no more public libraries, because all ebook lending is done through Amazon if there is any lending to be done at all
  • and everything is YA paranormal romance


Frida's post and the comments that follow outline some of the concerns both authors and readers should have in the back of their minds as these battles play out. Personally, I love what Amazon has done for e-publishing. Amazon took a floundering industry (Ebooks had been out since the mid-90's), infused it with some breakthrough e-ink technology, and showed everyone how to use search algorithms to generate additional sales. I also respect what Smashwords has done for indie distribution (even though I can't seem to get my own manuscripts uploaded onto their site). And I've had some great experiences with indie bookstores—I especially like the ones that focus on a single genre—and I'd like to see a future ecosystem that can afford them all. Chances are, however, that the real jungle of free market capitalism will surprise us all.

B.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Zero Sum: Top 20 in YA Science Fiction & Fantasy!

First off, holy cow:


And the first page of the YA Bestseller List:


So, yea, those are two Perry Jackson books above and below Zero Sum. You know, the series with those movies? That would mean that Zero Sum is on the front page of YA Science Fiction & Fantasy. Zounds!

My thanks go out to everyone that wrote a review, told a friend, or featured the book on their blog. This adventure has been a pure word-of-mouth production.

For me, this is one to savor. The YA SFF page was the one I was shooting for when I sat down to write Zero Sight. Back when experts told me that the writing for the Zero Sight Series was way too "high level" for your average high school fantasy fan. Back when they said that the story line was far too "mature". 

Cow manure. I knew what I wanted to read back when I was that age. Sugar-coatings go great on candies, but bruised knuckles make for better stories.

To Kill A Mockingbird
The Giver
Ender's Game
Starship Troopers
The Old Man and the Sea
Where the Red Fern Grows

Growing up, I loved the hard hitting stuff. I sought them out in the library. I begged my parents to let me read them. The Emails I get every week from avid high school readers confirm that they are still building YA readers like they used to. They too want their characters to struggle every bit as hard as they're struggling. They want stories that feel every bit as real.

But that kind of writing makes plenty of people uncomfortable. I almost broke down and scrapped the first scene in Zero Sum because of it. Jon Steller and I were both worried that it might be over-the-top for some. After all, there's a strongly held belief out there that such abuse shouldn't be talked about in public. But I work in a hospital. I see the results of that sort of abuse every day. And you know what? So have most high schoolers. They've heard all about Tommy or Jim or Susan or Rebecca...the ones that come to school with fingermarks on their shoulders and cigarette brands on their hands...heck, some of them have even been through that sort of brutality. In 1999 alone, 3,244,000 children were reported to Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies for child maltreatment. Who is served by ignoring such violence? And why shouldn't these children's stories be told?

Sure, writing in fantasy makes tackling these topics a bit easier. It gives us a bit more distance from the characters. But hopefully it allows us to talk about it more easily too. More sunlight on this issue can only serve to out the creeps responsible for it.

I also hope that the success Zero Sum is having encourages other writers to be bold in the YA genre. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty—just remember to treat your characters earnestly. Don't spray happy juice all over everything. Remember that serious acts require serious consequences. And give parents a heads-up in your labeling. They deserve to know what their kids are reading. If you do these things, there are scores of young adults (and engaged parents) that are willing to ponder these issues with you.

Be aware that this is the kind of push-back you'll face:


Be aware that this is how to stand tall:


And write like demons. These are the stories I want to read too.

B.

LATE-BREAKING UPDATE: 

Zero Sight broke into the Amazon Top 1,000 today. For some context, when Zero Sight first released, it never broke 1,300. Thanks for the buzz folks!


1PM PST 12/11/2011: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #982 Paid in Kindle Store

  • #19 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Contemporary
  • #19 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Fantasy > Contemporary
  • #35 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Children's eBooks > Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror > Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Magic

Thursday, December 8, 2011

An Objective Analysis of Zero Sum by Fantasy Book Critic's Mihir Wanchoo


So, I was buried in hospital fun-time when I got an excited phone call from a friend. A review of Zero Sum appeared on Fantasy Book Critic yesterday, and, wow, just wow. I'm still picking my jaw up off the floor.


The reviews for Zero Sum on Amazon have also been encouraging. The sequel to Zero Sight is now rated in the Top 20 of Contemporary Fantasy. It may even surpass it's predecessor.

I'd like to extend my thanks to everyone who has offered criticism and corrections, as well. I plan on a life of 'aspiring' authorhood. I'll be applying your feedback to future works.

I'll also be adding the corrections you sent me to the e-book this weekend. Amazon, et al. will then send you an Email when the updated version is live. Sorry again for there being typos in the first place. I'm going to try (yet again) to improve the workflow for the next book so that fewer errors survive through to the final draft (more beta read-throughs and some new editing software).

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Right now I'm dealing with a major bruhaha in the indie publishing world. Amazon has just offered to give publishers a bag of new tricks in return for offering novels exclusively on Amazon. It's called KDP select, and I've got to carefully read the new contract before I can comment on it.

In the meantime, here is some background from The Passive Voice:
Announcing KDP Select for KDP Authors & Publishers

And the relevant (monstrous) thread on the Kindle Boards:
KDP Select: Will you enroll your eBooks?

Every single indie publishing on Amazon was just handed an offer to join up this morning. All they have to do is unpublish their book on B&N, Smashwords, Apple, and company...

E-book aficionados, this development is a big deal. Depending on how many authors/publishers sign up, it may determine where, when, and how you can read e-books in the future. And this new Amazon publishing arrangement is being rolled out on the heels of allegations by the EU that the Big 6 and Apple are breaking the law. Sheesh! What a week.

B.

UPDATE #1: And Smashword's response to Amazon's new deal.

About Fantasy Book Critic: Fantasy Book Critic is a website dedicated to the promotion of Fantasy, Science fiction, Horror, YA/Children’s Books and other Speculative Fiction through Book Reviews, Interviews, Giveaways, Virtual Book Tours, Press Releases and more. Launched in 2007, Fantasy Book Critic currently works with the following publishers: Tor/Forge, Del Rey, Doubleday, Hachette Book Group USA, Bantam Spectra, HarperCollins, DAW, Roc/Ace, Little, Brown and Co., Ballantine, Simon and Schuster, Scholastic, Transworld / Random House UK, Pan Macmillan, HarperVoyager, Gollancz/Orion, Wizards of the Coast, St. Martin's Press, The Overlook Press, Solaris, Orbit, Pyr, Angry Robot, Myrmidon, Night Shade, Subterranean Press, PS Publishing, etc. Fantasy Book Critic has also worked with independent publishers, print-on-demand publishers, self-published authors, and comic book publishers.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Terri Giuliano Long: Assessing Consumer Reviews


An interesting article by Terri Giuliano Long showed up on The Huffington Post of all places. They seem to have picked up a new column dedicated to the indie author movement. The content is being provided by another site called www.indieReader.com, of which Ms. Long is a columnist. All this is new to me, but the topic is most familiar:

Love it or hate it, this is an exciting time in the publishing world. Technological advances have made the long, arduous process of publishing a book cheap, easy and fast--giving voice to millions of new authors and providing readers with a richer, more interesting selection of books.


That's the good news. The challenge is, with so many new choices, how do readers determine which titles to pick?


With indie books, it can be especially hard. Only a handful of indie authors have been around long enough to have an identifiable "brand" (think James Patterson or Nora Roberts). To buy a book by an unfamiliar author, even if it costs only 99¢, readers must take a chance. This perception of risk is amplified by the stigma still associated with self-publishing. Complicating matters, traditional media rarely (if ever), review indie books, forcing readers to rely on consumer reviews--putting disproportionate authority into the hands of consumer reviewers... source

As you all know, I'm a huge proponent of putting a "disproportionate authority into the hands of consumer reviewers," but as with anything involving large sums of money, there is a certain buyer-beware aspect to Amazon reviews. Ms. Long offers some good advice here:

For a quick read on credibility, click the button to view the reviewer's profile. Does she favor a particular genre? Are your tastes similar? Do you agree with her other ratings? These answers, along with the total number of reviews--does she post regularly or is this her only review?--the length of time she's been a reviewer--three days or three years?--and the percentage of helpful votes tell a compelling story.

That's certainly a helpful tactic, but it's not foolproof. Often a great (or terrible) read inspires someone who never wrote a review before. I tend to just download the sample and examine the prose and pacing. I can usually tell in 500 words if the reviews and I are on the same page.

The best defense is probably to defer to outside sources. Subscribe to a few Goodreads book clubs and keep a few review sites that share your tastes in your RSS feed. That plus sampling has left me with more quality reads than I can hope to finish this year.

How are you going about finding new indie reads? Any tricks you can share? I'd be interested to hear about any other trick's you've discovered.

B.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Indie Book Blog Holiday Book Giveaway

Hungry for some free indie books?

The Indie Book Blog is giving away over 300 titles for the holidays.

Know of any more great giveaways? Post them in the comments section and I'll add them to this post. Oh, and if anyone has a line on a good GeForce GTX 560 Ti 2048 deal, please let me know about that too. I have needs...


^_^

Happy Bargain Hunting,

B.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Zero Sum: Top 10 In Contemporary Fantasy


I remain haunted by this song. It helped build a book in my brain which I'd love to put to paper. Too bad I'll have no time to do that. Stupid Dieter and his Top 10 Book In Contemporary Fantasy are to blame.




I'm plain staggered by the crazy surge Zero Sum is having right now—and I cannot thank you all for your kind reviews. There can be no doubt that your strong endorsement of the characters and the plot are what is driving new readers to the series. For that, I owe you some more books.

Only a few years ago, a select few decided what could be read. They were a dignified lot, but their views didn't represent everyone's. The arrival of the e-reader changed all that. Now readers can assume some of the risks. They can try out some titles they've never seen before. They can try out titles that have never even been reviewed. Sure, some of the books they take a chance on are going to be terrible—but sometimes these literary spelunkers come across some real gems, and they are kind enough to share them with the rest of us.

I want to thank the folks taking these risks. Dieter's story would have remained balled up in my skull if they take those chances. And it's crowded up there. I've got all those coagulation pathways to keep track of.

B.