Friday, September 30, 2005

Currently Reading...

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova.

I picked up the book because it has been on the best-seller list of many newspapers for a while and I was curious. It's a big book (over 600 pages); the story mixes several eras and spans a large chunk of Eastern Europe. It deals with a much beaten up subject: Dracula, as a man and as a vampire, mixing up real history with legend.

Kostova's historical research of Dracula as a legend and of the history of Eastern Europe, from the days of the Ottoman empire to the late 70s is as impressive as her writing skills are mundane. The ending is also a lose-lose situation: will Dracula live or die? Either way, the solution is implausible and cannot help but disappoint.

After finishing The Historian, I was left not with the satisfaction of a great story, or the awe for a great writer, but with a sense that I learned an incredible amount of the history of Eastern Europe. If only for that, it was worth the read.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Great Canadian Blog Survey

If you're Canadian and have a blog or read them, take 5 minutes to answer the Great Canadian Blog Survey. It's an independent survey led by Aaron Braaten, M.A. Candidate in Economics at the University of Alberta and aims at providing "a free, globally available report on the state of Canadian Blogging, as well as a more technical paper that will examine the differences between those who read blogs and those who choose to write them."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Reviewer's World

There's an eye-opening entry from Guest Blogger David Montgomery on M. J. Rose's blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype. David Montgomery is a freelance reviewer, and discusses how he selects books to review.

What staggered me is the number of books he receives to review, as opposed to how many he ends up reviewing:
"Deciding which book to review, or even which book to read next, is one of the hardest parts of a critic’s job. I receive somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 books every month. I try to read 12-15 and review 6 or 7."
That's over 2,400 books a year, and only in the crime fiction genre.

Wow. Now I understand why it's so hard to get someone to review your book, especially if he or she is a well-known, well-respected reviewer.

We authors all have a tendency to be self-centered. How else can we dare believe that the stories we have to tell are worth sharing with the world? Unfortunately, that quirk of personality (yes, let's euphemize) makes us think that our story is the only one that exists at this time, that the reviewer --or agent, or publisher, or bookstore-- is waiting with bated breath to receive it. I admit it, I wear these blinders. They prevent me from thinking that I don't have a hope in hell in succeeding at what I desperately want: to have people read my words. If I begin to think I'm only one in a horde of authors in stand-by mode, I'll turn off my computer and get a "real" job.

Mr. Montgomery also mentions something that I'm hearing over and over again: the only way to get noticed is to have people start talking about your book. Word of mouth, he says, "is crucial in this business".
"I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in the mystery community over the past few years, including reviewers, writers, publicists, bloggers and fans, and I get recommendations from them. A lot of what I read is influenced by what they say. After all, there’s no better endorsement than the word of someone whose opinion you trust."
Easier said than done, but feasible, on a small scale at first --your favorite bookstore, your community-- then hoping it'll spread. Takes time, and a whole bunch of good friends. Or willing acquaintances.

It's not only unknown authors like me who have a problem getting known. On her very frank blog, Tess Gerritssen talks about how difficult it is to become known, and what she think the solution is:
" illustrate just how hard it is for an author to become known. Just a few days ago, I was signing books at a Kroger's store in Cincinnati, and quite a few customers frowned at my books, confessed that they'd never heard of me, and said they weren't really willing to buy a book by someone they didn't know.

I don't know how to get past that. No amount of advertising will change it. There's only one thing that can change it: Word of Mouth. It's the most powerful force on the planet. It takes time to generate it, and in the meantime, many an author's career has crashed and burned, many an author has found himself abandoned by his publisher. We can't force word of mouth. We can't even beg for it. We can only hope it happens, that our readers like our books enough to tell their friends, their colleagues, their room-mates."
There's that word-of-mouth thing again.

So I'd like to do what Tess did on her blog and thank everyone who's ever talked about my book, who's encouraged others to read it and/or buy it. You are the ones who'll end up making it happen for me, and you deserve my thanks.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Hard-to-find Books Journal has released their fourth report "tracking the most sought-after out-of-print books in America." They claim the report is surprising and, indeed, it is.

Brave New Words

This is almost a year old, but my friend Ron Purvis sent it to me today and I got a chuckle out of it. I've inserted the entire article here, since I couldn't find the original link in the Washington Post:
The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are this year's winners:
  • Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

  • Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

  • Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

  • Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

  • Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

  • Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

  • Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

  • Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

  • Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

  • Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

  • Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

  • Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

  • Glibido: All talk and no action.

  • Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

  • Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

  • Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

  • Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

  • And the pick of the literature:

  • Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.
Yeah. I know lots of those.

Monday, September 12, 2005

What's a lulu?

In this case, it's the idea of Bob Young, from Hamilton, Ontario (that's in Canada), a free, self-publishing, Print-on-Demand worldwide service that is revolutionizing the self-publishing industry. But the self-publishing is not only for book authors, it's also for musicians and photographers. A BBC News article explain what Lulu is about:
"Many works are rejected by regular publishers because they do not think many copies of a title will be sold, and the cost for them of going into production cannot be justified.

"Authors are rejected not because the book is terrible but because the publisher thinks the book will not sell enough," says Mr Young.

Furthermore, whereas normally the novelist or artist will get a 10% royalty of sales, with the Lulu model the creator gets 80% of sales takings and the website just 20%.

"Our income model is almost the complete opposite of regular publishers'. We provide the market and the only time you pay is when you sell a copy of your book. You don't pay anything unless you sell.
Authors build their books themselves (hence the free aspect of it) then set a price. Buyers go onto the Lulu website and buy the book there, which is printed and sent right away, in a similar fashion to Amazon or Booksurge.

Lulu seems to attract niche subjects (Titles such as Crowd Safety and Survival, or Raw Food for Busy People), although there's pretty much every subject available.

A caveat: Self-publishing means that, more often than not, the books have not been edited professionally, or that the awful gets published along with the good. Many books are rejected by publishers because they are bad, not only because they don't meet bestseller status.

And another caveat: Print-on-Demand (or POD) doesn't equate to self-publishing. POD is a printing method, not a publishing method. Lulu is straddling both, and may end up doing quite a bit of harm to the small independent publishing industry that uses POD to print its book. But then, Mr. Young would say, who cares? The publishing industry is a business, nothing more.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Buy a Friend a Book

The week of October 1, 2005 will be the last of this year (there are four in a year) for the Buy a Friend a Book week. Debra Hamel, from North Haven, CT, started this charming idea this year. She says that the rules are simple:
"Just get yourself to a real-life or virtual book store during Buy a Friend a Book Week (the first weeks of January, April, July, and October) and, well, buy a friend a book (or e-book)! But here's the fun part: you can't buy your friend a book because it's their birthday or they just graduated or got engaged or had a baby or anything else. You have to give them a book for no good reason. In fact, this present out of the blue from you should shock the pants off of whomever you decide to give it to. And it'll make them happy. And that's the point: promote reading, promote friendships. Just make sure to let them know about Buy a Friend a Book Week."
Great marketing idea, and a perfect way to please someone and get them to read.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Plot beware

Found a wonderful commentary in the Mumpsimus , based on a comment China Miéville made about his latest volume of short stories, which has a more "literary feel," according to critics. China says
" of the things you have the opportunity to do in a short story is to indulge a mood, an idea, a sensibility, rather than worrying too much about plot. So that makes it feel more 'literary', because you have the surreal/strange/dreamlike, but without the necessity of shots-ringing-out and the cavalry riding in. Then the next thing you know, people are comparing you to Borges. Cool."
Matthew Cheney then goes on to add:
"China then offers a quick equation for discussion, but it doesn't get much, and deserves a bit more: "Fantastic + plot = pulp. Fantastic - plot = literature".
All writers of genre fiction seem to suffer from this malady and rejection from so-called literary writers and readers. The Mumpsimus doesn't entirely agree:
"China's equation is, I think, more about perception than about reality -- it's an illusion that comforts both the lovers and haters of this thing we're calling "plot" (but which may, in fact, be something entirely else)."
What Cheney then explains is that plot for plot's sake is as much bad writing as plotless prose. What makes a piece of work interesting is a "love for language, metaphor, imagery, and small moments of psychological revelation," in addition to plot.

I love that: "small moments of psychological revelation." He continues to say that a story stands on its own when it is neither static (something that some readers and writers may take for literary style) nor so action-packed that the story becomes action for action's sake, without elegance.

As usual, Matthew Cheney has wowed me with his incisiveness, and his ability to express his thoughts so coherently. It is worth to go to his blog and read the entire commentary.

Weirder, indeed

From a picture of moving rocks in Death Valley, CA to that of a fetish model wannabe with a 14.5" waist, Odd Pics proves that life is weirder than fiction. Most of the pictures are commented and seemed to be "true" as far as trick photography can be detected these days.

There's also a fascinating page on Death Trivia, such as:
  • "Elvis and Charles Schultz were the #1 and #2 money earning dead people in 2002. Elvis made $31 million; Schultz made $9 million"
  • or
  • "Napoleon killed over a thousand people with a cough. In 1799 he was deciding whether to release 1,200 Turkish prisoners of war when he coughed and said, "Ma sacrée toux!" (my darned cough) which sounded to officers like "Massacrez tous!" (Kill them all!). So they did."

Now try to make up something as bizarre.